My sons were musing with me about the continuing dominance of the USB interface on computers. The “Serial Bus” was originally looked down on – it was slow, it was “only serial”, and would “clearly be replaced with faster”. The new version of USB will actually likely be able to send enough data to fill up a disk with 3.5 minutes – with 250,000 songs or nearly 20,000 albums. All over ‘2 wires’. Oh – and it will charge your phone, your headphones, at the same time 😉 The wonder of innovation in computing is a story of Patience mostly… trying something, sticking with it long enough to see can you get it to catch on. And deciding that another standard is actually going to accelerate everything faster, and moving to it. Balancing Patient, and quickness has been the story of technology…
… in my first job out of college, I was designing a new display system for the Space Shuttle… actually a Memory card for that. My partner was designing the Processor card, and both were being shoe-horned into a system that was built around a Torpedo computer from the early 60’s – I kid you not. I remember realizing that this was not like a semester project, that would end with either a good grade, or not, but would end. We would continue to work on this until… we got it to work… or someone would. We got to that point – our 2nd line delivered that ultimatum that we had 2 more weeks… and then the ultimate embarrassment. Other engineers would come finish it, and probably us. We had to really slow down and talk through what we both had done, and sitting in the same office, going out with our wives on the weekend, finishing each other’s sentences – we misunderstood one basic signal. I can remember that moment exactly now 40 years ago. Damn… that is what we missed?
Like my friend Jonathan, Liz Story was a serious classically trained pianist from San Diego. Hours and hours of Patient practice got her into Julliard and was on the path of being a piano soloist – until she heard Bill Evans in a New York club. If you have never heard Bill, you could dismiss that as odd. For her, he changed her path into jazz and she started studying it seriously. Like many starving musicians, she found that it was not as easy a path, not that any path as a musician is easy. Back in Los Angeles, she continued her musical education at UCLA, but it was a job playing piano at a French restaurant that sparked her major breakthrough as a composer. Since the front casing of the piano was missing, Story had no place to put her sheet music and was forced to improvise freely. Eventually, she put some of her spontaneous compositions on tape and sent them to Windham Hill. Within four days, Will had called her back and the contract was signed for her first release, Solid Colors, an album of impressionistic piano miniatures.
There is that moment in all innovation where you are forced to be Patient – usually staring failure in the face. I have seen it often, and read about more. It is usually the breakdowns that matter – things that DIDN’T work that force you to really hold still, and wonder. So we went out to the lab, rewired the “signal” and hit reset…. and…. it still didn’t work. But for some reason, and certainly not my strong suit, I started Patiently to look at what was being written into the memory, and what was coming out. And…. it wasn’t correct in a very regular way. Back on the chalkboard, I realized not only was that signal wrong, but of the 16 memory chips, it looked like 6 were bad. Not likely, but not impossible. I went out, replaced the chips, hit reset and ….. up on the monitor came up: “MACSBUG”. The Motorola Processor boot program had not only run but run successfully through thousands of instructions and reported – “ready to do something”. THAT I also remember 😉
Liz could have very easily brought in a music stand, or asked for a better piano, but was it lazy, or just she didn’t pause to think, but either way, it changed the course of her life. She recorded a dozen more albums on Windham Hill, and while not as well known as Winston, she is a key part of their story. We see a lot of Silicon Valley people being very driven, impatient, never taking no for answer. Compromise is seen as weak – not just in technology but in everything now. Demand what you want/need/deserve… All of the reality TV – Shark Tank – which I literally cannot watch. It is not the business I saw work, or want to see work. It is the slow, moment of inspiration that – wow, what if?? And those quiet people are often overlooked until their breakthroughs change us and our world. When you see that USB – 3 port on your new iPhone, think about that interface that is nearly 40 years old… In this season of change, pause, wonder, and be Patient… and consider this… a Peace Piece.