Two Color Pioneers and a Kid from Toronto

Serendipity is a good word to describe much of my career. For some strange and unknown reason pretty much everything I’ve done has mysteriously lead to the next thing in some unexpected way. I’ve always had a great love for art and science and I chose to study both in college, unfortunately my advisers didn’t know of any fields for me to pursue so I just followed my heart and took classes until one day I spoke with an older gentleman who had a rather surprised look on his face when I told him about my studies. He needed someone that could communicate in the language of color across many disciplines, understand sophisticated electronic instruments and be willing to travel.

This company handled the Canadian division of a scientific instrument manufacturer and custom engineering company. The line that interested me most was one headed by one of the pioneers of the field and his protege another innovator in the field. My exciting new job was in engineering new system, doing repairs and spending a lot of time calibrating spectrophotometers as well as teaching customers about color science.

The teaching part brought me in front of the two pioneers when during a color seminar in the 1980’s Dr. Hunter and Dr. Harold both sat down and watched my presentation, they were sitting at a rear table in a room full of customers. I should have been at least a little intimidated with the man who wrote the book and the man who revised it watching on but I wasn’t. Afterwards they patted me on the back and said how happy they were that some young blood had entered the field.

Young blood, what is he talking about? Remember this was the early 80’s and most people didn’t have any of the electronics we take for granted today, Apple only had a tiny computer that couldn’t even remember the time and Microsoft didn’t have DOS until 1981. Even the grayscale beta of Photoshop was years from being released.

Sadly Dr. Hunter died shortly after this event but I was lucky enough to work with his colleague a number of times including an event about ten years ago hosted by an international standards organization at a fancy hotel in Miami. We were involved in a panel that was attempting to standardize the language around some newly discovered properties and techniques that were starting to be used.

I happened to be at the original meeting twenty years earlier in Tokyo where the scientist who invented the system was introducing it. We had signed on as an agent of a brand new device called an Abridgedgoniospectrophotometer, of course with such a long name you wouldn’t be surprised to hear that it produced a mountain of data, which looked like a mountain. At that time nobody had any established uses for this new machine but we all marveled at it anyway.

When you’re working on new scientific discoveries its good to keep up with others in the same field and to have some kind of consensus on what you end up naming things and that’s exactly what the meetings I attended were trying to do. Okay I have to be honest there were moments I had trouble keeping my eyes open and my head up because its not really exciting stuff and we were all kind of jet lagged but the work did get done. Actually I should say the work is still being done and it was started in the about thirty years ago! Yep new discoveries take time.

Where did I get my computer experience if PCs didn’t exist?

Another Serendipitous part of the story is my high school was very close to the manufacturer of the industrial computer we had in school and they kind of took us under their wing and gave us lots of help, in return we let them show other schools our system and its there that I got my first hands on experience with a real minicomputer, a DEC PDP 11 with rows of toggle switches and blinking lights and a funny reel to reel tape storage system.

There was no line up to use this computer after class, only a few other guys ever spent any time in the little glass room with the clackety teletype terminal and spinning reels. What I loved most was one day a week we would reboot the machine from its normal business operating system to a scientific system called Unix. My first hands on experience with a real computer.

Unix was also the backbone of industrial computing, including color science. My new employer was also a dealer of the same DEC products which was great for me as I just sat down and started working. I loved Unix, DEC, color science and travelling around the country telling people about all three. I spent almost ten years at this job and I enjoyed all but the last year as I was trying to settle down and the constant travel complicated that.

I must have logged over a million miles between driving and flying and then driving some more, its fun for a while but starts to wear on you when you start to miss the other things in your life. There’s not much that’s more depressing than looking out the huge window at the airport gate and seeing nothing but a white swirling cloud and watching the flights on the big board all get cancelled. When this happens on a Friday and you have tickets for a show hundreds or thousands of miles away then you realize how many times this exact same scenario had been played out you start looking for a way out.

Another factor in my desire to leave was we were nearing the end of the era of industrial computers and beginning the slide down the “cost is the only object” trap that has destroyed much. Strangely I had missed most of the PC revolution while working with these high quality systems. Our systems were built by and for scientists, and they were also used in some of the harshest environments. You might not believe this but our systems rarely ever crashed and could go years without a reboot, when they did crash it could spark an inquest. Ever hear calls for an inquest when your computer crashes, yea people today get off lightly.