I’m Old, Part XLIX: The Stanford Invasion

As I mentioned before, after Acrobat 1.0, there was a bit of shake up in the planning stages of Acrobat 2.0. There were plans afoot to get a UNIX version (but which one?), would DOS be a supported platform in the future, how would full-text search fit in, what about that whole OCR team anyway and so on.

I finally got to move onto the Search team full time. At this point, I was way behind the Windows side and had a huge amount of work to do to catch up. This meant that I was no longer working on the Mac viewer anymore. Mike Pell was doing several jobs (release engineering/installers, UX work, etc). So management brought in two young men from Stanford – Gordon Dow for the Mac Platform and Alan Padgett for the Windows platform. That they came from Stanford should not have been a surprise. There were a number of people on the team with a Stanford education (CS or otherwise), and there was always a lot of talk about Big Game. I neither went to Stanford not have ever had a particular interest in football, so that who thing was totally lost on me.

Both Gordon and Alan were monster coders with all the benefits of youthful energy and a fresh college education where C++ was the new hotness. When I left college a few years earlier, C++ was an idea that only existed in a bizarre compiler called cfront which turned C++ code (slowly) into C code. Microsoft had adopted C++, but there were still no full implementations on the Mac. We had used Think C for Acrobat 1.0, but it was fairly limited in its scope.

Gordon and Alan did a lot of the grunt work. For example, I had thunking mechanism that was friendly to C and Pascal calling conventions and hoisted it over to Gordon who refined it for use in Acrobat as well as later figuring out what to do when a C call into a C++ callback threw an exception and other mind-bending puzzles.

Gordon and Alan were an interesting pair – really kind of an odd couple. Gordon was very intellectual, introverted and reserved. Alan was smart, extroverted, and very outgoing. At various points, they shared work space. Gordon put on headphones because Alan programmed with sound effects. No seriously. It seemed like when he finished a particular phrase, it would be punctuated with something like “Shuh-keuh!”

Also brought onto the team was Steve Herskovitz as team lead, an experienced Mac engineer who had escaped from the ATM team. In the 2.0 product, a lot of the code was rewritten. My built-in search code, for example, got chucked. It was built for speed and light memory usage, but Moore’s law had eclipsed it entirely and instead Acrobat was going to have Daryoush Paknad’s Wordy algorithm (used for full-text indexing) instead. At one point, Steve called me into his office to go over some behavior that was in 1.0 and how it was in 2.0. He was showing me a highlight of some non-linear text and it looked awful to me compared to 1.0. I know why, too – I had sweated a lot to get the details of text highlighting correct and I took it as a personal affront to see what was happening to the product. I was being passive aggressive to Steve and he lost his temper – my fault entirely. He snapped me back to reality with one curt question: “are you going to talk or are you going to listen?” I reigned my behavior in and then tried to explain what I had done, how I did it and why and then left him with the task of emulating it as best he could. Not my problem anymore, but I learned a bit about my own pride in the process.

We had a small kitchen in our wing with a fridge stocked with soda, coffee and so on. Steve frequently brought in a grapefruit on which he wrote an abbreviation of his name: “Hersker”. One seeing one, I imagined that Steve was an agranthrope – a creature who turned into a fruit/vegetable during a full moon. I told him as much, but like many of my jokes, I think it fell on deaf ears.

It was hard seeing so much of my work getting thrown out wholesale, but most of it was for the best for the new architecture of 2.0. Besides, I was too busy trying get the Mac search engine done to spend a lot of time crying over those changes.

One thought on “I’m Old, Part XLIX: The Stanford Invasion”

  1. not=nor

    Interesting insights into the Adobe world, as you knew them.
    I would have taken a grapefruit, carefully emptied it of its insides through a small incision and filled it with styrofoam packing noodles.

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