Dodoid Presents: A History of SGI

Last evening I stumbled upon a couple of interesting things on YouTube. Dodoid is a channel run by a young man who seems to have a thing for old technology, in particular computers from SGI. He has accumulated a series he calls, “The Complete History of SiliconGraphics (1982 – 2009)” It’s a nice romp through some history reminds me of the early parts of my working life.

No, I didn’t work at SGI. I was involved in video production. Some of the people I worked with were occasionally involved in graphics and animation, which is where I first crossed paths with SGI. That was about the the time of the SGI Personal Iris Workstation.

Later, when I moved into helping to sell graphics systems to post-production and broadcasters, I occasionally competed against software solutions running on smaller SGI systems. This was back in the mid-90s when PCs really didn’t do video in a serious way.

I recall being at Fox in LA and seeing their editorial teams working on SGI Onyx systems. Back then they ran Autodesk’s Flint or Fire software for editing, and Flame for special effects. I see that Flame still exists.

Smaller animation houses would run Softimage 3D animation on Indigo or O2 workstations, with an Octane or Onyx to render.

The Indy workstation included “IndyCam” a small fixed focus cameras intended to make it possible for users to video chat in real-time. As such, it may well be first computer to include what we now think of as a “webcam.”


Some of the sales people I worked with across the US were also resellers for companies that has SGI-based products. I can still recall the utter heartbreak some felt when SGI turned away from Irix on MIPS processors, turning to Windows NT running on Intel CPUs. There was a palpable sense of abandonment by a sales force that had fought hard to differentiate professional workstations from common PCs.

It’s nice that some young people, like Dodoid, are drawn to this corner of computing history. Although, I do admit that remembrances of troubleshooting SCSI interfaces still gives me a headache.

Then there was the time that Majortech thought they might get into selling IBM’s Power Visualization System, aka PVS. That was IBMs attempt to compete with SGI for the high-end of the entertainment business, leveraging hardware they had designed for industrial and medical imaging. That’s a story for another day.

Webcams 1: The Old Days, A Personal History

I’ve been pondering a series about webcams for some months. As the use of video becomes ever more commonplace webcams have moved into an increasingly important role in both our personal and professional lives.

My own use of webcams harkens back to around 2000. At that time I was working for an English firm, but working primarily from my home office in Texas. My boss was splitting his time between the UK and an office in the Miami area. Others were scattered about North America.

A dispersed group such as this we were making a lot of use of conference calls to have meetings. Being a smaller, privately held firm, we watched costs closely. We often used the fairly new, free conference services. We were at that point blissfully unaware of the games that they played to generate revenue.

Heck, back then “broadband” was anything over 128 kbps. We enjoyed 3 mbps x 768kbps DSL and I still had multiple analog phone lines from SBC.

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Hey, Mr Podcaster! Audio Quality Matters, M’kay?

ibm-podcast-galaxy-nexus While I travel I like to listen to podcasts. While there are a variety of podcasts that are routinely found on my cell phone, I also try new things from The Conversations Network and similar sites.

This evening as I’m on a flight to Raleigh-Durham NC I happened to give a listen to a short podcast from IBM. It was The IBM Institute For Business Value podcast entitled, “The Changing Face Of Communication.” It’s an older podcast, from June 2009.

While this file had been on my phone a while I had thought that it still might be interesting. IBM certainly knows a thing or two about communications. I was at Astricon 2009 when IBM had a keynote address. They also announced a partnership of some sort with Digium.

However, I was startled to hear the audio quality of this podcast. It’s simply atrocious. Seriously. It’s really bad.

Remember Marshall McLuhan? The medium is the message. In this case the medium, poor quality podcast audio, completely destroys the message…and along with it the credibility of the participants.

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Did Toshiba Drop HD-DVD Too Early?

Alec Saunders (a fellow Canuck) has an interesting observation about Toshiba and HD-DVD.

IMHO, Toshiba’s comment doesn’t take into consideration Blu-Ray. Not making that statement is political face-saving on their part. Alec argues that they need to move the entire value chain to sell HD-DVD. That means making & selling the technology but also ensuring that the desirable content was readily available. Their trouble is that they were unable to sustain the support of a significant mass of content creators…the studios.

To those of us with HD-DVD players (mine is an HD-XA1) we could see that this battle was over by mid-2007 when HD-DVD releases slowed to a trickle. No new content…no reason to buy the players. At the very same time Blue-Ray releases started to come in good numbers and from a variety of sources.

Now the really good question to ask revolves around did Sony & IBM really make a deal with Toshiba involving dropping HD-DVD in return for additional rights to the cell processor and related manufacturing in the far east?

Remembering OS/2

A couple of weeks ago a friend gave me a box that I had not seen in a long, long time. It’s a complete install set for IBM’s OS/2 v3, a.k.a “Warp” I could barely believe my eyes. Never have I seen a product delivered on so many floppies! There are 21 diskettes for the OS and some drivers, then another 14 diskettes for the “Bonus Pack’ which included some basic productivity software, internet access, etc.

Back in the early 90’s I was serious fan of this software, and for good reason. On a humble 486 PC running at 66 MHz it could do some major multi-tasking. It could run in 8MB of RAM, just barely, or do useful work in 16 MB. It could do some truly astounding things in 32 MB or more.

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