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Stateside with Rosalea: The Little Tool That Could

Stateside with Rosalea

The Little Tool That Could

It was twenty years ago yesterday... a weird little computer was advertised during the Superbowl, launching it on its path to change the face of computing forever. I didn't get to work on one for another couple of years, but it was in an unexpected place - an IBM "shop" on the Terrace in Wellington.

In 1986, Databank Systems was engaged in what was at the time the largest software development project in the southern hemisphere - the creation of a new customer information database for the four trading banks the company had been created to serve. Big Blue was heavily involved in the project, especially as we were using the principles of information engineering that had been developed by one of IBM's gurus.

Just before I joined the team, a new manager had been hired for the group that looked after the data model - which was what would underpin the huge new relational database. She'd come from the States and brought with her the heretical idea that someone other than IBM had a useful tool for us to use. And so it was that I got to do data entry and draw data neighbourhoods on an Apple Macintosh.

The on-line version of the San Francisco Chronicle this weekend has a photo of that little beasty in an article about its twentieth anniversary. Seeing it again, I could feel those clunky keys and that clunky mouse button beneath my hand and hear the solid sounds they made. I recall my amazement when I discovered that what made the communication possible between the mouse and the screen was a hard rubber ball.

And I remember picking my jaw up off the floor after someone pulled my Mac's power plug out of the wall and I lost two painstaking hours of drawing. Everything else we did at Databank was on an IBM mainframe whose plug was never pulled. To this day, I still have a habit I quickly developed then - saving my work every few minutes.

In the intervening years, I've worked on probably every model of Mac that was released, using all manner of applications. And, of course, I've worked on all manner of PCs. In fact, I'm typing this right now on an IBM clone notebook that I bought at a garage sale for sixty bucks. But I'll send it from my big ole desk model Mac G4, which I bought just because it's the offspring of the little tool that could.


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