A tribute to Bob Moog

In the mid-1960s, Dr. Robert Moog unleashed a new universe of sounds into musicdom with his invention of the electronic analog Moog Synthesizer. The timbre and tones of these keyboard instruments (true works of art in and of themselves) would come to define a generation of music, featuring heavily in songs by The Beatles, The Doors, Stevie Wonder, Kraftwerk and many others.

When people hear the word “synthesizer” they often think “synthetic”—fake, manufactured, unnatural. In contrast, Bob Moog’s synthesizers produce beautiful, organic and rich sounds that are, nearly 50 years later, regarded by many professional musicians as the epitome of an electronic instrument. “Synthesizer,” it turns out, refers to the synthesis embedded in Moog’s instruments: a network of electronic components working together to create a whole greater than the sum of the parts.

With his passion for high-tech toolmaking in the service of creativity, Bob Moog is something of a patron saint of the nerdy arts and a hero to many of us here. So for the next 24 hours on our homepage, you’ll find an interactive, playable logo inspired by the instruments with which Moog brought musical performance into the electronic age. You can use your mouse or computer keyboard to control the mini-synthesizer’s keys and knobs to make nearly limitless sounds. Keeping with the theme of 1960s music technology, we’ve patched the keyboard into a 4-track tape recorder so you can record, play back and share songs via short links or Google+.

Much like the musical machines Bob Moog created, this doodle was synthesized from a number of smaller components to form a unique instrument. When experienced with Google Chrome, sound is generated natively using the Web Audio API—a doodle first (for other browsers the Flash plugin is used). This doodle also takes advantage of JavaScript, Closure libraries, CSS3 and tools like Google Web Fonts, the Google+ API, the Google URL Shortener and App Engine.

Special thanks to engineers Reinaldo Aguiar and Rui Lopes and doodle team lead Ryan Germick for their work, as well as the Bob Moog Foundation and Moog Music for their blessing. Now give those knobs a spin and compose a tune that would make Dr. Moog smile!

Pro Case Study

In the second installment of our three-part series profiling Turner Construction Company, we turn our attention to the plugins Turner is developing to increase efficiencies across the global organization. Jim Barrett, Director of Integrated Building Solutions, explains:

The National Turner Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) team has developed several SketchUp plugins in Ruby to bring existing and evolving VDC processes into the simple, efficient and visual environment of SketchUp Pro.

A proprietary plugin for steel modeling and tracking was created to accelerate the use of Building Information Modeling (BIM) at the World Trade Center Transportation Hub. The tool was written to batch convert single line framing plans into 3D steel sizes, using a standard library of parts. This tool was expanded to report steel takeoffs and is now used throughout Turner to support estimating and pre-construction services.

The Place Steel for Modeling module in Turner’s proprietary SketchUp plugin

By developing our own tools on top of the intuitive interface of SketchUp Pro, we continue to increase operational efficiencies. The place steel plugin is a great example of how streamlining the modeling process by reviewing the process of modeling steel, standardizing the modeling of stock pieces, and integrating that database information into SketchUp Pro reduces redundancy as well as dimensional errors in steel sizing.

Working with several Turner offices including, New York City and Seattle, a takeoff plugin was developed to support Turner’s current approach to “Control Quantity Models” and “Gross Square Foot” takeoffs. This tool allows SketchUp models to be built for different purposes. For example, using client or business unit standards, we still achieve consistent and accurate takeoffs of square footage, count, length and volumes (using SketchUp Pro’s Solid Tools).

The Count Steel for Estimating module of the Turner plugin

Design information is still in its infancy and rapidly changing. Supporting Turner’s evolving estimating expertise, a plugin was developed to accelerate the takeoff process for conceptual estimates. This plugin allows for rapid creation of space and room plans, as well as the detailed takeoff information that is required for estimates.

The Mass Generator for Estimating module

These two takeoff plugins work together to seamlessly streamline the quantity takeoff process developed by estimators in SketchUp Pro. At Turner, we look at opportunities to develop existing processes & workflows using new tools.

A detail view of the Mass Generator for Estimating module

In this way, we aren’t teaching new workflows based on new tools as they come along (a very disruptive process for any business). Rather, we’re able to leverage the skill sets and broad knowledge bases of our VDC team to build streamlined versions of existing workflows into new tools.

LEO, the first business computer

Recently  it was the 60th anniversary of LEO, the world’s first business computer—built by J.Lyons & Co, a leading British food manufacturer at the time that also ran a famous chain of tea shops.

Lyons management had long been keen to streamline their back-office operations. In 1947, two Lyons managers visited the U.S. to learn about the latest business processes, including whether the electronic computers they’d heard about during their wartime service, like ENIAC, might be useful. (At the time, the closer-to-home advances at Bletchley Park were still a well-kept military secret.)

They returned inspired by the possibilities and keen to build a machine of their own. After several years of development, LEO, a.k.a. Lyons Electronic Office, took on its first office job on November 17, 1951—weekly valuations for the bakery division, calculating margins on Lyon’s output of bread, cakes and pies.

Until LEO, computing in a work setting was treated like a specialist bit of kit on a factory production line. Each machine was dedicated to a single task. In essence, they were narrowly defined calculating machines. The vision for LEO, in contrast, was bravely broad. LEO was a single computer capable of handling a whole swathe of accounting and bookkeeping tasks, as well as producing daily management reports.

LEO was such a success that Lyons set up a commercial subsidiary to sell spare time on LEO to other businesses, including the Ford Motor Company, which used it to process the payroll for the thousands of workers at its U.K. plant. Later, Lyons also built entirely new LEOs and sold them to other blue-chip companies of the era. In total, more than 70 LEO’s were built, with the last remaining in service until the 1980’s (not bad for a computer that took up an entire room!).

Today we view IT as critical to any enterprise, but in the 1950s, this was by no means a given, as evidenced by a quote from a 1954 issue of The Economist: “There are those who do not believe in the desirability of introducing anything as esoteric as electronics into business routine.” Things certainly have changed, and in a sense, all modern day businesses owe a debt to the LEO team.