Sunday, February 16, 2014

Meet the DOTS911 Team

Link to new DOTS911 campaign on Indiegogo:

"Meet the Magician Who Can Fix Your Crappy No Bars Cell Signal."...see the new article about DOTS911 at FastCoLabs by Jennifer Elias.

Founder/CEO: John Wilbur designed the first joystick for Pong-type games, first coin-operated billiards game, the first microprocessor-based coin operated game circuit boards, and invented the first 80-column card for Apple Computers, allowing the Apple II to be used as a business machine with a full-width display and critical in making the world’s first personal computer word processors and spreadsheets usable. He also designed and sold manufacturing rights to the first 128k RAM card for Apple Computer, i.e., the first SSD for an Apple PC, and designed the hardware and software for the first multiprocessor LORAN, the navigational system used in virtually every ship and many airplanes for the last several decades. He brings DOTS911 a track record of innovating in ways that change the world as well as experience running electronics businesses and interacting with hardware manufacturers to ensure quality, lower costs, and improve yields.

Founder: Jeffrey Wilbur has a B. S. from Yale University and a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from UC Berkeley as well as six years of experience analyzing market data, developing new products, leading research teams, interacting with customers, and shaping research strategy at The Dow Chemical Company. He has a deep technical background and extensive experience with the materials science relevant to the hardware we have developed.

Board Member: George Crow was a key member of the original Apple Macintosh team and a cofounder of NeXT with Steve Jobs. He has extensive industry experience at Hewlett-Packard, Apple, NeXT, Supermac, and Truevision.

Developers: One developer with six years of experience at a major internet-focused Silicon Valley firm and one with nine years of experience at a major internet-focused Silicon Valley firm.

Below is the text from John Wilbur's exhibit at the Homebrew Computer Club reunion in November 2013, which is also described here:

The Road to the First 80-Column Card and First SSD for the Apple Computer

Video Game Design

I had been designing and producing coin operated video games since the first big one, “Pong,” met with wild popularity. I invented and licensed the first joystick version of the tennis game to Meadows Games in 1974.

Years later I had to sue to get my royalties (after 3 weeks in court, I won.) During that time, I sold most of my video games to one of the world’s largest billiard table manufacturers, U.S. Billiards, located in Amityville, New York, starting with the aforementioned joystick-controlled tennis game.

When the movie “Jaws” was released, I made a game called “Shark Attack.” Shortly thereafter, Dick Simon, the president of U.S. Billiards, asked me to create a game that would let you play four different variations of pool on a video screen. It took 9 months to do the hardware design and write the software myself. It was voted as one of the best in show video games at the MOA and Park Show, as reported in January 1977 RePlay magazine. In order to make the design possible, I used a Motorola 6800 microprocessor and 2.2K of EPROM to control the position of the pool balls on the video monitor. I used Carl Kelb’s Astral computer as a development system, a system that he initially showed to the Homebrew Computer Club. This project gave me the expertise I needed to release space combat game (unsurprisingly named “Space Battle”) to go along with the opening of the movie “Star Wars.”

Onward To Personal Computers

I first went to the Homebrew Computer Club meetings when Marty Spergel invited me, having told me that Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs had shown a computer there, which they wanted to start manufacturing under the name Apple Computer. Marty had been approached by Steve to sell the RF modulator kit for the Apple Computer, as a way for Apple to distance itself from FCC at the beginning, and as a way to avoid spending a year trying to get FCC approval while someone else took the market from them.

Marty said he would have to come up with $25,000 for the first order, and didn’t want to add to the risk by signing a one year lease on office and warehouse space. He asked me for my opinion about the whole venture, as he was facing substantial risk. I told him that in my opinion this looked more like an opportunity than a risk, and to help mitigate what he saw as a risk, I offered to let him use two offices and a warehouse rent free for six months. I told him that if things went well, he could pay me some back rent, but if things didn’t work out, that he owed me nothing. What I didn’t tell him was that I knew more about the start of Apple than he realized.

When I was in my senior year at San Jose State, I was approached by National Semiconductor and offered a 30 percent raise from what I was making working at Siliconix. I accepted and worked for six months under National Semi’s Vice President, Mike Scott who was later to be Apple’s first president. Scotty was a smart, friendly guy who was very goal oriented. My direct supervisor told me that Scotty knew that I was going to school full time and would graduate with a BSEE in six months. He paid me a salary as a full time engineer, and told me that as long as I got my work done, that he didn’t care if I spent only 5 hours a week at National and the rest of the time doing homework. He cautioned me, though, that if the production line ever slowed down and the reason was me, that that would be the end. I never let them down, and was grateful for the latitude given. I left when I graduated, and started JRW Electronics, developing games as described above.

While I was at National Semiconductor, I was finishing school, getting my instrument rating in airplanes, working on the side repairing broken video game boards that my brother-in-law was building for Atari, investing and running a downtown movie theater with George Crow (later to be a co-founder of Next with Steve Jobs) and finding the time to raft down the Mokelumne River. Scotty found out about that and we started a friendship with my teaching him how to safely run the rapids past the warning sign at Devil’s Toiletbowl. Once, I kicked Scotty in a very sensitive body part as hard as I could one day, but that will have to wait for a future story. That it was an accident and he forgave me for it will suffice for now.

Back to how I knew about the start of Apple with Mike Scott. I was at the West Coast Computer Fair, and Mike Scott saw me and we talked. He told me of his plans for Apple and that he would stay with them only till he got them to one billion in sales. I knew Mike could do it, because I saw his intense focus at National and the kind of person he was. By the way, he told me that it was his idea to have the bite taken out of the apple. It didn’t surprise me, after remembering back to National, when the movie “Deep Throat” came out, Mike took all the managers, including me, to see it, and no, the production line never slowed down.

Designing the First Apple 2 80-Column Card

Marty was very successful with the RF modulator, and was very welcome at Apple as a “Friend of Apple.” He even had an Apple I.D. badge, number 3.5. Marty would spend time with both Steves and Mike Markkula. He told me that Apple had been unsuccessfully trying for two years to design an 80-column card and that if I could come up with a working design, he would be produce it if we got Apple’s blessing. I had it working in three weeks.

Marty got permission to contract Apple’s Andy Hertzfeld to write a firmware chip to connect it to the operating system. It worked. I even had designed a clever circuit to effectively double the bandwidth of the cheap monitors people were using to display the 40 columns. I was granted a patent for this circuit, which made the 80 columns look as sharp or sharper than the 40 columns had.

For Apple’s blessing, Marty and I went to Apple and showed the card to Woz and Jobs. Jobs liked it and said it was the first he had seen with true “descenders” for lowercase and that the typography was aesthetically pleasing and easily legible.

Then we went to get Mike Markkula’s blessing. Mike saw it and was visibly pleased. He showed us a chart, a 2’ x 3’ sheet of paper, on an easel of the new Apple 3 business machine’s projected sales. Wow, exponential growth: this was Apple’s future. Then he showed the Apple 2 sales projections on the same chart. Wow, again exponential growth, but then a plateau and a curve downward followed by a line going to zero. He concluded that the Apple 2 would be dead in 6 months. He had no problem giving us his approval for selling the 80-column card. He said he calculated that my card would cut into the sales of the Apple 3 by 5%, but that would more than be offset by the projection that the decline to zero sales for the Apple 2 would not be as steep: he expected they would instead continue to sell past the 6 month projected death.

Markkula did better than give us his blessing. In fact, he said that Apple would put an 80-column card brochure in with every Apple 2 sold. I liked Mike Markkula.

I licensed Marty Spergel to produce the 80-column card and received a royalty. Marty and I helped provide compatibility information to John Draper and others so that they were able to make word processors compatible with the 80-column card. We even facilitated compatibility with VisiCalc. Neither of us expected the market for the card to last years instead of months after seeing Mike Markkula's marketing projection. Was the 80-column card responsible for the death of the Apple 3 and the resurgence of the Apple 2? Was the 80-column card the spark that showed Apple that it could be done, allowing them to eventually design their own version and all the subsequent models that saw so much success? It certainly didn't hurt the Apple 2 family product line.

Designing the First Solid State Drive for a Personal Computer

Having seen the strong market for Apple 2 add-ons, I was happy to oblige when Marty Spergel asked me to design another card: the first personal computer solid state drive (SSD). We called it a RAM Disk at the time.

Marty was regularly doing huge mailings to his distribution network and would get a reduced mailing charge if he would sort the addresses into sequence by zip-code. On the Apple 2, it took a full overnight run to sort and print out the labels. The slowest part of the process was waiting for the disk head to move to the right track and then rotate to get the data needed to sort. What if the entire contents of the disk drive could be put into solid state memory and the computer told that the RAM was a disk drive. The SSD I designed worked so well that Marty's mailing labels only took 35 minutes to sort and print, instead of over 8 hours. Memory was expensive then, so the SSD never took off in the large numbers we saw with the 80-column card. But in the last few years, Moore's Law has finally brought us to the point that many of us have SSDs in our personal computers.

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