March 15, 2007

Living Simply

If I posted about every single episode of This American Life that I found arresting, this blog wouldn't have some stupid non-sequitur title, it would have an even stupider title more like "Glass-haus." But this story from "Should I Stay or Should I go" concerning two Apple programmers who continued to work on their project, in secret, after being fired, is definitely in the same spirit as a scientific obsession. Two guys had spent a few years trying, with limited success, to develop an elegant graphing calculator at the time they were laid off. But they were unwilling to leave the program they had to devoted those years to undone, so they simply continued to go to work. Every day they sneaked in to use unoccupied machines, lie to inquisitive employees, and work 12 hour days for no money and no recognition on a project that did not exist.

The software ended up on over 20 million computers and became the watershed program of the soon-released Power PC. I was surprised to find out that this is the same program, NuCalc, that I occasionally use for simple graphs. You can listen to the story here at the TAL site for free (skip ahead to minute 27), or read the less-audibly pleasing first-hand account.

When the flute kicks in--that killed me.