MacDirectory Magazine

Winter-Spring 2008 (#36)

MacDirectory magazine is the premiere creative lifestyle magazine for Apple enthusiasts featuring interviews, in-depth tech reviews, Apple news, insights, latest Apple patents, apps, market analysis, entertainment and more.

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MacDirectory 149 FEATURE His teaching career began at an inner-city high school in Cleveland and his understanding of the realities of school system economics has remained with him. In a market known for its draconian licensing enforcement, Vernier's policies are, by comparison extraordinarily generous. The company's software is automatically site licensed to a school, including permission for at-home copies for both students and teachers. This came from Dave's background as a teacher. "In those days, it just seemed awful to me that someone could charge teachers hundreds of dollars for a piece of software when their whole science budget might be $500," he said. "We sold our first software for $18 and it was a site license." Vernier's growing catalog includes a library of curriculum guides, lesson plans and workbooks. Again, the company's philosophy of making its products takes precedence. Lab instructions are included on CD in a format compatible with word processors, so they can be easily customized and personalized by teachers. The company is housed in a modest looking concrete tilt-up just outside Portland, along a tree-lined street that's a short walk from Tektronix and a leisurely jog to Nike's corporate campus. In fact, in the ebb and flow of the Silicon Forest's shifting economy, the building was occupied at different times by both neighbors. Now, the sign out front reads "Vernier", its logo framed by the namesake measuring tool. Inside, the wood-beamed ceiling and subtle lighting give the place an unexpectedly comfortable feel. Vernier's headquarters went "green" before it was the in thing to do. Topping the seismically retrofitted roof are 68 solar panels capable of an annual output of 15,000 kilowatt hours of electricity. (You can monitor their output in real time at, but keep in mind that this is Oregon and sunny days can be at a premium.) The company has a long list of awards and commendations for its philanthropic efforts, making regular appearances on the list of Oregon's Top 100 Businesses. Finding Partners As interest in their products grew, Dave and Christine were regular attendees at education technology conventions around the country. At one of these shows in 1993, the Verniers received an invitation to an after-hours visit at Texas Instru- ments' suite. At first, they thought it was just another social invitation from their long-time ed-tech colleagues. They quickly learned, however, that it was the private debut of a new application for TI's popular graphic calculators, the Calculator Based Laboratory (CBL). This was the beginning of a most fruitful partnership that resulted in the two companies co-developing a number of successful products. Vernier has added a number other third-party products such as the Davis Vantage Weather Station and Bodelin's popular ProScope to supplement its extensive home-grown product line. Even though Vernier started out on Apple IIs, software development has expanded to include virtually any platform that might be found in a school, from Palm PDAs to Windows PCs (even though Vernier's entrance into the latter market was, at first, less than enthusiastic). Lately, the Mac team has been working to refine the product line's Leopard compatibility. This has been going smoothly, according to programmer Joe Kelly, with the exception of a "few little bugs." The big challenge, he says, is to implement some of the new OS features while maintaining compatibility with older systems. One of the challenges maintaining and developing programs for the educational market is not only the variety of platforms in the field, but also the age range of the hardware. Vernier works hard to make sure that their products remain compatible with legacy computers and they continue to provide support for the old equipment. Hand-held Science One of Vernier's newest products has taken the company a step beyond the line of probes, software and interface systems and is proving to be extremely popular. Vernier's new LabQuest is a PDA-sized hand-held data gathering and analysis device with a color, touch screen display, a half dozen sensor ports and the durability to survive in a high school science lab (tested specifically to survive a drop from a lab bench). It can be used as a freestanding tool (the built-in software includes a stopwatch, calculator, on-screen keyboard and the periodic table) or in combination with a computer running Logger Pro. The LabQuest runs on a slimmed-down version Linux that turned out to be quite similar to the OS behind the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) device. With a few small changes, Vernier was able to port a version the software over to the OLPC and it may become part of the revolutionary laptop's software lineup. In the 17th century, Pierre Venier's remarkable invention opened the door to the kind of precision that would be the foundation of engineering breakthroughs through the rest of the millennium. For the past 25 years, Dave Vernier (of possible but uncertain relation) and his growing company, have been developing computer-based measuring tools for the science students who will be the founda- tion of the current millennium's advances.

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