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Information Philosopher

CATALYST AWARD - ROBERT 0. DOYLE

In an era where businesses schools teach career strategies, Bob Doyle defies, rather than defines the term. Visionary, inventor, businessman, digital guru, philanthropist and more, Bob Doyle is a modern day renaissance man. Bob Doyle has a Ph.D. from Harvard in Astrophysics, and holds several patents. He invented a number of computer-based hardware and software products, including the Super 8 Sound Recorder in 1973, Parker Brothers' computer game Merlin in 1978 (5.5 million sold), and MacPublisher in 1984, the first Macintosh desktop publishing program. He was the founder of Superb Sound, a company which still operates today out of Los Angeles. Today, Bob Doyle has a new business venture, skyBuilders.com, which is developing affordable web-based solutions for organizational management and administration. skyBuilders webware is being beta tested by Boston Cyberarts Festival, BF/VF, Cambridge Community Television, as well as several other companies and organizations.

Concurrently with developing skyBuilders Timelines, he is the Digital Video Guru at NewMedia Magazine and the Director of Desktop Video Group, NewMedia Labs East. He is a full member of SMPTE, and has been studying personal computers and consumer video for the past four years. He runs a 100-plus member Desktop Video Group in the Boston area, and a similar size Camcorder User's Group. He has published several articles on Desktop Video in Videomaker, where he wrote a monthly DTV column, and in NewMedia magazine.


AN APPRECIATION OF BOB DOYLE by George Fifield

I first met Bob Doyle almost ten years ago, when a friend called me up and ask me if I wanted to see the latest video by Ricky Leacock. One of the inventors of cinema verite, Leacock had retired from his teaching post at M.I.T. a few years before and moved to France. His constant focus on small format filmmaking had led him to the new Sony 8mm video format that made "one handed shooting" as exciting in video as in film. His recent work was his first complete exploration of this new medium that also captured my heart as a video artist.

I followed the directions over to the home of Bob and Holly Doyle. About twenty of us watched "Les Ouefs - la Coque de Richard Leacock" by Ricky and Valerie Lalonde. At the end of the evening, Bob made a simple suggestion. Why didn't we meet again the following month and talk further about some of the issues that had come up. That was the beginning of the Hi-8 Users Group that later became the Desktop Video Group.

This was a heady time as the Hi-8 revolution morphed into the desktop video revolution. The tools of professional media became more and more affordable. The desktop computer became more and more powerful and video savvy. Hard drive capacity soared while costs plummeted.

Through it all the DTV Group, fueled by Holly's brownies and Bob's contacts, made itself the monthly source of cutting edge information.

Bob is the one of most generous people I know. And his generosity is geometric, not arithmatic. A central tenet of the Group was that any member could use the equipment or learn and use the software, but they must repay the privilege by teaching what they learned to someone new. They were expected to take the time to mentor those who were just coming into the Group. Hidden in this simple idea was a concept that was difficult for many to understand. To teach someone something you just learned is the quickest way to reinforce and understand the lesson itself.

Bob embodied this in his own constant teaching. I believe that there is nothing that Bob loves more than the magical transformation involved in learning a new idea, explaining to yourself so you understand it and then offering that explanation to others so they get it. And the harder the concept to conceptualize the better Bob likes that challenge. In his writings, lectures, his CD-ROMs (Bob was the first person I knew who authored their own CD-ROM!) and his monthly DVG meeting talks, Bob clarified the impenetrable and mapped out for us poor settlers the terra incognita that he was the first to explore. Bob is the only man I've known who looked pained when he was brought up short in the middle of a description of new technology because of a non disclosure agreement he had signed. And he was asked to sign a lot of them, as he became the most honest critic of the new media. In fact, his masthead title for New Media Magazine, "Digital Video Guru", was truer than anyone realized. We literally sat at his feet as he outlined for us the paths to media enlightenment.

There is a deeper substance to Bob's generosity than teaching others how to make media. Bob personifies a democratic belief that media is too powerful to be in the hands of the few. His numerous gifts of equipment to CCTV, Harvard, BF/VF and VideoSpace, to name just a few, contributed to this. And his long history of mediamade-simple, from Super 8 Sound to his latest web based project, reflects this core principle; that the more people who can make media and make it well, the better the world will be.

George Fifield is the Curator of Media Arts at the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park. In addition, he is Director of Boston Cyberarts, Inc. a non-profit arts organization that is organizing the 2001 Boston Cyberarts Festival. Boston Cyberarts is at www.bostoncyberarts.org.

TRIBUTES TO BOB

I knew Bob Doyle by reputation for years before I met him. He had started Super8 Sound, the place to go for super 8 gear. He had figured out ways to make filmmaking affordable and practical, first in 8 mm film, then 8mm video. He had invented some kind of electronic game. Then he started some kind of strange organization up on Huron Avenue in Cambridge which became the place to go if you wanted to learn about that new format, DV, that was suddenly breaking out all over. All this time, Bob was, for me, mostly kind of a concept to which I hadn't yet attached a personality.

Then about three years ago I was working on a new edition of The Filmmaker's Handbook, and needed to learn about what was happening in digital video and nonlinear editing. Everyone said, Go see Bob. At this point, the person "Bob" came into focus for me, if it is in fact possible to focus on someone who is constantly moving, explaining, tinkering, exploring, reinventing technology and himself,

From the beginning, Bob was astoundingly giving: of his time, his ideas, his equipment. "Use anything" was the basic rule at his place. It was hard at first to wrap one's mind around the concept of the Desktop Video Group, which was essentially a floor in his home filled with all manner of computer and video gear - an Avid here, three new DV cameras there. Much of the equipment was there to be reviewed for NewMedia or other magazines, but was available for "members" of the group to use. One became a member simply by asking if you could mess around with the machines. As George Fifield noted, Bob was interested in the legacy of learning, what one person understood that could be passed on to another. In that spirit. Bob was unfailingly generous with me, going over concepts, reading manuscript chapters; in part I think because he knew that if it was explained right in the book, a lot of people would benefit.

One day, while I was struggling to write about whatever "digitization" really means, I decided to go see Bob and was met at the door with the news that he was getting out of video. He had taught himself Hebrew, was going on a trip to Israel, and wanted to pursue some linguistic issues he'd been mulling over. I panicked. I still had all these questions to ask him! As it turned out, he was still willing to talk video after he got back, but it was my first look at Bob's life-long M.O.: following a spark of curiosity into some completely new territory. He's been an astrophysicist, inventor, film equipment maven, video pioneer. computer freak, teacher, writer, donor, and heart of a unique little film/video institute headquartered at his house. Recently. I heard that the Desktop Video Group has been scaled back a bit. Bob is onto new things. Whatever they are, I'm sure they'll be interesting.

Steven Ascher, filmmaker, Troublesome Creek a Midwestern; Del and Alex,
co-author The Filmmaker's Handbook: a Comprehensive Guide for the Digital Age
One of my first real jobs was working for Bob as a bookkeeper at his motion picture company. Super8 Sound. Although he was the inventor/president he would always take the time with me to intellectually explore the world's potential. Being in the presence of someone who sees the endless possibilities around them was intoxicating. Bob created an inviting world: a place you were always excited to be and where you felt you could reach your potential. At that point in time he was trying to convince me to open a computer retail store, an unheard of idea in 1978. As we would speak he would make me believe that even as a 20 year old boy, a junior in college with no money or experience, I could just do it.

It is hard to express your gratitude to someone who, in retrospect, has so profoundly effected the course of your life. Today I see myself in the shadow of his image. Instead of taking his advice on computers, I fell in love with his passion for motion pictures, inventing and living in a world of endless possibilities. This led to abandoning my career as an accountant and becoming the inventor/president myself of Super 8 Sound. Bob's inspiration refocused my energy in a new direction that I still follow today. Congratulations on this honor bestowed on you from BF/VF. Your Super 8 legacy lives on.

Phil Vigeant, President, Super8 Sound
Bob Doyle has been of immense help to us as we gradually converted from film to digital and is one of the few sources of techno-info that can be relied on.
Ricky Leacock, filmmaker
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