Paycheck, Shmaycheck (12/21/04)

Speaking of our imminent trip to the dense jungles and arid deserts of the American Midwest, we should probably take a moment to warn you that you're extremely unlikely to see any new AtAT broadcasts between Christmas Eve (when we depart, in three relatively people-shaped pieces) and New Year's Day (when we return, most likely in roughly six or eight chunks that are rather less well-defined). Note that we're not flat-out saying that we won't be broadcasting, mind you; we're bringing our trusty PowerBooks and hoping to produce at least occasional episodes as time permits. Historically speaking, though, we always say that, and time never permits us to breathe more than once or twice an hour, much less crank out snarky melodrama about Apple-related happenings.

We'd feel guiltier about the whole thing if it weren't for the facts that 1) most of you will also be too busy with holiday activities to miss us; 2) the flow of Apple-related news practically shuts down for the next week, so there probably won't be anything to incorporate into the plot anyway; and 3) this is free, so we'll gladly refund your money if you're not satisfied. In fact, you know what? We've already done it in advance, just in case. Check a pocket where you usually keep no money at all, and we're confident that you'll find even more no money-- everything you haven't paid us, plus interest. It's all part of our commitment to quality.

Not that we'd leave you entirely high and dry, of course: in preparation for our holiday romp through America's Heartland, we're hooking you up with a story so epic in scope and so packed to the gills with raw Apple-flavored drama, it ought to get you through the slow moments of an entire AtATless holiday week with room to spare. Faithful viewer Yaniv Eidelstein sent us a link to The Graphing Calculator Story, developer Ron Avitzur's personal account of the birth of that beloved Apple Menu item that served as a handy demo of the PowerPC's raw speed-- in a way that was, like all the best Apple products, both funky and geeky at the same time. So what's so enthralling about the story of its birth, you ask? Only this: that Ron apparently wrote the bulk of it after his project-- and therefore his contract position at Apple-- had been terminated. He was unemployed... but that didn't stop him from showing up to work.

See, this was 1993, long after Steve Jobs's departure and still years before his return. By all accounts, Apple was not the most tightly-run ship at the time. Ron's project tanked because it was "plagued by politics and ego," and when it was summarily canceled, he was understandably frustrated that a year of his work had evaporated overnight. Despite having been canned, he discovered that his "electronic badge still opened Apple's doors," so he decided to "uncancel" his little aspect of the project-- Graphing Calculator, natch-- and just kept showing up at Apple to finish his work.

We don't want to go too deeply into what happened next, for fear of ruining a rollicking good read for you. Suffice it to say that Ron wasn't the only unemployed developer showing up at Apple to work on canceled projects, and you'll marvel at the ways in which they doggedly persevered in the face of the occasional and increasingly cluefulness of Apple management and security... not to mention the utter lack of a paycheck. Oh, and at one point they launch an early version of Graphing Calculator and the monitor catches fire. How can you not love this stuff?

Sounds completely insane, doesn't it? And yet we know a few longtime Apple employees who could certainly call shenanigans on the story if it were just a delightful flight of fancy, but instead we've been assured that every word of Ron's account is 100 percent true. Seriously, read the story and then read it again; it's quite possibly the best explanation we've seen about how Apple continued to churn out products that bordered on the magical even when the company was suffering from a blight of mismanagement that may well have been a biblical plague. Simply put, the guys in the trenches soldiered on regardless, refusing to let something as inconsequential as terminally ineffective management or their technical lack of a job stop them. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll wonder if you can option the movie rights.

So savor it, people, and if you treat it right, it'll get you through any AtATless days between now and next year. By the way, about that trip we're taking: even if we don't get around to broadcasting any new episodes, there's at least a passing chance that we'll be making a visit to one of the Chicago-area Apple retail stores (we still haven't seen the Michigan Avenue one yet, for example) and/or the Apple Store Mayfair. So if you live in the Chicago or Milwaukee areas, keep at least one eye focused on the pink sticky, because we'll give as much advance notice as possible if we're going to visit a particular store, and we'd love for you to come say howdy. And hey, what better way to close out the year than with a free sticker?

SceneLink (5115)
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The above scene was taken from the 12/21/04 episode:

December 21, 2004: The lawsuits just keep on coming, as Apple sues three developers for posting prerelease Tiger builds on the 'net. Meanwhile, Microsoft loses its appeal of the European antitrust ruling against it, and finally you can get the answers to that question that's kept you awake at night for a decade: what was up with Graphing Calculator?...

Other scenes from that episode:

  • 5113: "...Two Lawsuits Leaping..." (12/21/04)   Ah, the Christmas season: that magical time of year marked by the near-ubiquitous presence of garishly festooned imitation conifers, giant inflatable lawn Santas, and extended holiday shopping hours at stores unloading impersonal pre-wrapped ties and Isotoner gloves at holly-jolly discounts...

  • 5114: On Santa's Naughty List (12/21/04)   Okay, technically we know that this is the sort of thing that we should save for Wildly Off-Topic Microsoft-Bashing Day, but we're going to address it today, instead, and for a few very good reasons. First of all, Friday is Christmas Eve, and under typical holiday circumstances, everyone inhabiting the AtAT compound would be far too giddy with anticipation of Imminent Loot Influx to concentrate even the infinitesimal lower-invertebrate amount necessary to whip off one of these episodes...

Or view the entire episode as originally broadcast...

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