David Gelphman's Blog

1 Comment

On the Debug Podcast

Recently I made an appearance on the Debug podcast, hosted by Guy English and Rene Ritchie. It was terrific fun talking with them and we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from listeners. We had so much to talk about that they broke it up into two parts.

In Part 1 we talk about how I got into computing, working with FORTH at Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, my days at Adobe Systems in the late 1980s, working at General Magic, and then RBI Software Systems. Part 1 ends just as we are talking about RBI moving to Apple to work in the Graphics and Imaging Group in June, 2000.

Part 2 begins as I arrive at Apple and begin working on Printing and Graphics just as Mac OS X was ramping up for a beta release in the fall of 2000 and the 10.0 release in the Spring of 2001. It was a fantastic time to start at Apple and be a part of its evolution. And yes, we also talk about bagels.

If you haven’t already, I hope you listen in.



How I Became a Movie Producer

In my career I’ve been lucky to get to do a variety of things. At Stanford I worked as a graduate student doing research in high energy physics. My work at Adobe, RBI Software Systems, and Apple was primarily software development, but I also did 3rd party developer support, taught PostScript programming, wrote numerous technical documents, and even wrote a book. But I never imagined that I would be an associate producer of a movie.

It started on June 26, 2012, when a New York Times article caught my eye. Filmmakers Lindsay Blatt and Paul Taggart were making a short film, Herd in Iceland, documenting the historic herding of the Icelandic horse. The story they were filming was from another world, one so different than the one I live in, but one I have a connection to nonetheless. You see, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to ride my beautiful Icelandic horse Katla for 7 years now. She takes me to places that connect me with nature in ways that I could not do without her.

David and Katla

Reading the article about Lindsay and Paul and watching the trailer to their film brought tears to my eyes. The Icelandic landscape is so beautiful and seeing the elegant Icelandic horses running freely in it was a deeply moving experience. When I read that they had started a Kickstarter project, I knew I had to participate. I wanted to see their film succeed.

I’d already been part of several Kickstarter projects and it had been quite gratifying. In each case the results exceeded my expectations, especially the project by my friend Basho Parks, who created a wonderful album with his partner Jenn Rawling.

For the Herd in Iceland project, the question was how much to contribute. I looked at the project and they were trying to raise $16,500. At that point they hadn’t raised anywhere near that much money. I saw that I could be listed as an associate producer on the project if I contributed $2000. But that was insane. Yes, I loved what I saw of their project, but I’d never sent that much money to someone I don’t know. I’ve rarely sent that much money to anyone I do know!

I re-watched the trailer and teared up once again. I really loved what they were doing with their film and wanted them to be able to do it. It was right around my birthday so I decided I’d forgo anything else for my birthday and give myself the biggest birthday present ever. I signed up. It was crazy, but I was very excited.

The DVD for the movie arrived just before Christmas. Every year my wife Leslie and I pick a movie to watch on Christmas Eve and this time it was going to be Herd in Iceland. I put the disc in and as soon as the title sequence started I teared up. The sight of those horses in that country just does it to me. Herd In Iceland small

And when the credits come up at the end, there I am as one of the associate producers.

Credits small

Lindsay tells me that the Kickstarter money is, in part, enabling them to enter their film into film festivals this year. Most recently they attended the 2013 Black Hills Film Festival and were surprised and thrilled to win Best Documentary Short.

BlackHills Herd In Iceland small

I’m looking forward to them coming to festivals in the San Francisco Bay Area and I’m crossing my fingers and hoping that they get into the Santa Cruz Film Festival. If so, my many friends in this area that have Icelandic horses will be able to come and support it. And still more people that have not seen the beauty of the Icelandic horse will be able to share in that experience.

Lindsay has a calendar of their film festival appearances, but you don’t have to find a film festival to see the film. The movie and a book of images from the movie are available for purchase.

Lindsay and Paul made a lovely film and I am proud to have been a small part of it.


AWK! That Can’t Be Right!?

Predicting when software will be ready to ship is hard. Especially when the software involved is:

  • a complete rewrite from scratch of already existing software.
  • being written by a completely different team (and company) than the one that wrote the original code.
  • a system software component that interacts with virtually every 3rd party app on the platform.
  • required to be fully compatible with the existing software, plus new software and hardware in development.

But that was exactly the scenario I was in, along with Rich Blanchard and the rest of the development team, when I was at Adobe Systems circa 1991 writing a replacement for Apple’s LaserWriter printer driver. And the software we were writing was a critical part of Adobe’s strategic plan for preserving its largest income source at the time, PostScript licensing revenue. No surprise that there was a lot of scrutiny about the project and when it was going to be completed.

Years later, the website MacJournals.com did a write up about the project, including quite a bit about what role the LaserWriter driver software played in the printing system on Mac OS at the time. I have my minor quibbles with some of the details of that write up but one thing was true: that software project really burned me to the ground and was a major factor in my deciding to leave Adobe for greener pastures in 1993.

The Definition of Bad Management

There are a lot of stories about the project I could tell that would raise the hair of every software engineer on the planet, but one clearly defines the term “bad management”.

Part way into the project, Adobe hired “Stoy Aho” to manage the project and the engineering team. As far as I could tell, Stoy had no experience managing a software project or software engineers and there was no evidence that he knew how to write software beyond simple UNIX shell scripts. And even that ability became suspect.

As the completion date for the software kept being pushed out (see the bulleted list above for why), upper level management at Adobe started having meetings every day at 8am to discuss the status of the project. Stoy went to these daily meetings to report how things were going. In order to satisfy his need for something new to report, each team member was required to write a status report each day.

But we were converging on completing the software and some of the tension the engineering team members were feeling began to dissipate; things were looking good. So it was a complete surprise when Stoy came to me and told me how worried Adobe management was about the project. It turned out that he was showing them information he had calculated from our bug tracking database. By using the rate we were fixing bugs and observing the rate that new bugs came in, he had potentially useful information about predicting when the software would be ready to ship.

And that is why he was alarmed. Despite our sense that things were going much better, his analysis of the data indicated that they were getting progressively worse. I asked how he computed the results that he obtained and Stoy said he’d written an AWK script to process the raw bug count data. I immediately demanded that he show me the script.

I didn’t know the AWK programming language but it didn’t take me long to find the problem. At a critical point in his computations, Stoy had inverted the numerator and denominator in one of the calculations, causing his script to produce results that were the exact inverse of the truth! His program showed that the faster we fixed bugs, the longer it would take to ship.

Repeat after me: Stoy’s AWK script showed that the faster we fixed bugs, the longer it would take for the software to be ready.

This occurred over 20 years ago so I don’t remember exactly what I said at the time, but I’m pretty sure my response at the time was something besides AWK.


A Fortune Cookie Determined My Future

After working at Adobe Systems for five years and with an extremely stressful software project behind me, I took a much needed 6 week “sabbatical” at the end of 1992. When I returned to work afterwards I was somewhat refreshed but also pondering what to do next.

A few months after my extended break I got a call from a job recruiter named Sondra Card. In the past I had ignored such calls but this one caught me at a time when I was wondering about my future with Adobe. And this wasn’t a call about just any company either. The company Sondra was recruiting for was General Magic, a company co-founded by Bill Atkinson and Andy Hertzfeld, two superstars from the original Macintosh development team.

I didn’t know much about the company beyond that, but I soon found out a lot more. General Magic was creating amazing software to power a new kind of handheld computer. Called Magic Cap, the software and the devices it would enable were almost certainly going to take the world by storm. As if that wasn’t bold enough, the company was also inventing a new programming language, called Telescript, that allowed creation of a program that would travel the internet on behalf of a user to do his or her bidding. To top it all off, they had the coolest company name and logo on the planet. 

General magic logo 1

After finding out a bit about the company, I definitely had to pursue the job opportunity further. Because of my strong background in 3rd party developer support at Adobe, they were considering adding me to their existing 2-person developer support group. My responsibility would be to support the first 3rd party developer building a product on top of Telescript.

As part of the interview process I met the senior people on the Telescript team and found them all to be fantastic people who were both extremely smart and quite amicable. I also found out that in addition to Andy and Bill there was a huge roster of superstar programmers, many of whom were formerly from Apple. I apparently did well enough in the interview to merit a demo of Magic Cap by none other than Andy Hertzfeld. The software was still unfinished but it was clearly something special. The use of the word Magic in the product and company name was well deserved.

With my head spinning, I was taken to lunch by one of the General Magic employees I already knew well. Paul Gustafson and I had worked together at Adobe for a number of years and no doubt it was Paul who had suggested that General Magic recruit me. Paul took me to Hunan Homes, a good Chinese restaurant just across from the General Magic office.

Paul was there to tell me how great it was to work at General Magic and find out my thoughts about working there. I don’t remember much from the lunch because my head was in a cloud. But what I do remember is that at the end of the meal when we got our fortune cookies I got the best one ever. It read: “A starship ride has been promised to you by the galactic wizzard (sic)”.

Starship Ride

Paul and I just stared at each other. We were both dumbfounded. 

A few days later I was offered the job by General Magic and I left Adobe to take it. I’ve got to say that the fortune I got at that lunch probably influenced me more than I’d care to admit. When you are promised a starship ride by the galactic wizard you just have to take it.


Promoted To Colonel

I worked with a number of my Apple colleagues for more than 20 years total at three different companies. Over the years several of them used “Doctor” or “The Doctor” as a kind of salutation for me.

In early 2010, as part of the creation of AirPrint, some new blood came into the printing team. Brian Strathmeier came in and immediately started doing great work on the testing front.  And Brian loved nicknames. Rich Blanchard became “The Admiral”. Mike Sweet became “Captain CUPS”. (Mike is the author of the Common UNIX Printing System, typically referred to as CUPS.)

Because I’d done a lot of the graphics related work on the printing team and I’d written a book about programming Quartz, the 2D graphics system on iOS and OS X, I became “Captain Quartz”. It always made me laugh when he said it. Fairly quickly it became just “Captain”. After a while I became concerned if he referred to me as “David” since something must have been extremely serious. And when someone doing QA on your software comes to you seeming extremely serious, that’s cause for alarm.

By summer 2012 I was starting to entertain thoughts of making a change at work. I’d been working on printing for 25+ years and was starting to think about doing something different. I’d worked on a lot of great stuff at Apple but I was needing a break.

But to my great surprise I found out I was getting a promotion!

In honor of my birthday, I was being promoted from “Captain Quartz” to “Colonel Quartz”. Or, as Brian began calling me: “KER-NEL!”. As a memento of this special occasion they made a T-shirt for me with a “Colonel Quartz” logo. Brandon Chelotti, our superstar graphics designer on the team, created a logo from a photo of me that I had managed to sneak into the Programming with Quartz book.

Colonel Quartz small

So I got my promotion and a cool custom made T-shirt. We were going to my birthday lunch and they insisted that I go put on the shirt before we went. I came out of the bathroom after having changed and I encountered some of the jokers on my team, lined up like a photo from The Usual Suspects

Quartz Lunch

The blurry quality of this photo exists in part because I was laughing so hard when I took it. Left to right are Brandon Chelotti, Brian Strathmeier, Howard Miller, Todd Ritland, and Victor Peng.

As a group, the people on my team had planned, designed, and executed this hilarious and touching gift and promotion for me. Lovely.

The “Doctor” title has been retired but I did make one last house call for Brian.

Making a point with Brian

Thanks to everybody on the team for doing something special. 


Eight Years Ago Today

“She woke up every day whistling.”

Her son, my uncle Allen, said that at a large gathering we had to celebrate one of the milestone birthdays for my grandmother. And it was true. It was exactly the way my grandmother was.

I asked her about it. I asked her how she could be so full of life, so glad to be alive each day. After all, she’d had plenty of sorrows in her life. She’d outlived three husbands. A tragic accident took the life of her son’s wife at a young age. Her children’s divorces took a toll on them and their children. She was outliving almost all her friends.

So I asked her about it. How could she be so loving, so caring, so positive, so everything? I probably wasn’t the only one in our whole family that wanted to know her secret. She was probably 95 at the time I asked her.

Her answer: “It’s just the way I am.”

It wasn’t something she tried to do, it wasn’t something she worked to do, it wasn’t something she attained from reading books about how to live your life. It was just the way she was. And it was wonderful.

I try, not always succeeding, to think about that answer in my own life. “It’s just the way I am.” I find that it helps me to be more compassionate and understanding towards others and myself.

A Great Friend

My great friendship with my grandmother began in 1982 while I was in graduate school. Of course I had a good relationship with her when I was younger. I remember staying over at her house when I was little. She called me “Davy Crockett” and we played Yahtzee. She was there for every event of my life: the confirmations, the graduations, the family events. She was the kind of grandmother you’d hope all children would have. But she had not yet become a great friend or at least I didn’t realize it.

Her visit to Northern California in February 1982 was the beginning of our great friendship. I was 24 years old and it was the first time she was coming to visit just me. No other family, no big family event, just me. And I was a little nervous. She was 52 years older than me; at that point she was 76, about to be 77. What in the world were we going to talk about?

And we had the best time. We talked about anything and everything. She wasn’t my grandmother; she was my friend that had known me all my life. We visited her cousin in San Jose. The cousin was 85 and her husband was 92. My grandmother moved like a young person compared to them. She wasn’t an old person at all, not physically and not in her way of thinking.

Even though her 77th birthday was a month away, my friends Aaron and Liz made a birthday cake for her, complete with 78 candles. It was a huge surprise when they brought out the cake, now a fireball, and started singing “Happy Birthday”. What a joyous occasion.

What I found out years later was that I wasn’t the only grandchild that thought she was their great friend. She was that way for all of us. It was an even more amazing part of her. She was actually interested in what you had to say. She had smart things to say in response. She was curious. She always wanted to learn something new. The qualities that made her so special to me were part of what made her so special to almost everyone she met.

Grandma With Grandkids

I remember thinking about her while I was preparing for a party at my house to celebrate the completion of my graduate degree. It was 1985, my grandmother had turned 80 that year, and I wondered how many years I would continue to have her in my life. From that point on, every time I saw her, I thought about the fact that it might be the last time. Not that I thought she would die soon but that someday she would and I needed to enjoy her while I could.

Amazingly, I had 20 more years of great experiences with her after that day when I’d thought of the inevitable. I visited her as much as I could. My trips to Kansas City to see her were packed with great conversation and great fun. I always learned something new about her life. One time I took my video camera so that I could film her apartment, her owl collection, and even some time of us just sitting and talking. I did it to capture just a touch of what it was like to be with her.

Looking at Photos with Grandma

In her later years she lived in a very nice independent living facility in Kansas City. She had moved from her apartment of 29 years on the Plaza to a new place and not surprisingly she quickly made a lot of new friends. I remember visiting one time and one of her friends said “You are so nice to visit your grandmother.” I knew what she meant but it sounded so ridiculous to me. I wasn’t there just for her; I was there for myself, for both of us, and our great friendship.

Grandma just glad to see you

My Grandma Rosa was 100 years old when she passed away, 8 years ago today. She is still greatly loved by me and those she touched in her rich, long life.

Grandma Grave Site

1 Comment

The Day Before the World Changed

Apple Comm Meeting – June 28, 2007 – Town Hall, 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, CA

Comm meetings at Apple happen a couple of times a year, with no particular schedule. While I was at Apple the meetings consisted of Steve (and later, Tim Cook) talking about the most important company news at the time. After the planned remarks, the floor was opened up for questions and if Steve or Tim could not answer the question, the entire executive team was there to provide an answer.

But the Comm meeting on June 28, 2007 was different. This Comm meeting was being held the day before the first iPhone was going on sale. I didn’t work on the iPhone development team but I could see it was going to be a game changer. A lot of people could see that at the time. Now everybody can see that it was.

Take a moment to remember what smart phones were like before the iPhone was introduced. Here’s a still frame from the iPhone introduction at Macworld in January 2007. Today’s world of mobile phones bears no resemblance to those of 2007.

Apple iPhone Intro

Town Hall at Apple’s Infinite Loop campus is a small auditorium that was used as the locus for Apple’s Comm meetings. It was where the people running the meeting were located. But these events were for all employees and because the number of employees was numerous and people were spread across multiple sites, there were a number of remote viewing locations on Apple’s campuses in Cupertino as well as other places in the world. Town Hall holds only about 300 people so essentially everyone watched the Comm meetings from one of many remote locations on various Apple campuses where it was broadcast in real time. Typically I would go to Caffé Macs which could hold a large number of people.

For this Comm meeting I wanted to be inside of Town Hall rather than watching from one of the remote viewing sites. I wanted to be in the room. That meant going very early to get in line. Even after arriving probably 2 hours early it was still hard to get in but Bunny Laden, Howard Miller, and I managed to get seats at the back of the auditorium. We’d made it in.

The buzz in the room was extreme. Steve’s arrival on stage was met with huge applause. He looked triumphant. I don’t remember a lot of details about what was said but mostly remember just the feeling of excitement about what was to come.

One big moment was when Steve announced that Apple was going to give an iPhone to every Apple employee. The excitement that was already present went up tenfold as everyone leapt out of their seats into a huge standing ovation that lasted quite a while. The cheers and yelling got even louder when Steve said that it would be the (larger) 8 GB capacity iPhone we would all be getting.

During the Q&A portion a lot of people in the audience had questions. After one or two questions about the iPhone, someone asked about something that had nothing to do with the iPhone or the whole point of the meeting. Steve was taken aback. The next question was similarly irrelevant to the meeting at hand. Annoyed, Steve answered that question with something like: “Today isn’t the day to talk about that. Today is the day to reflect on what we’ve done and what is going to happen.” THAT was why I wanted to be in that room. To hear him talk and reflect about what the team had done and what was going to happen.

If you are reading this blog, the chances are great that if you pull your phone out of your purse or pocket and look at it, you’ll see something like mine. If it isn’t an iPhone it almost certainly looks more like an iPhone than one of those phones Steve waved at during the iPhone introduction at Macworld.

Apple iPhone 5 transparent small

Of course every day is the day before the world changed because the world is constantly changing. But the feeling of anticipation and excitement I had about the future of technology that day was unlike any other I had while working at Apple. On the day before the world changed.