Meeting Joe Woodland

 Meeting Joe Woodland
So here I am, a naive store systems person trying to figure out what to do with the first electronic scanning checkstand and register. I wasn’t making a lot of progress. Even though I could converse knowledgeably with chain store executives, I didn’t really understand in my gut about the details of running a checkout register; where you needed to void an item, or do a no-sale. I didn’t know what store reports to get out of the register. I wouldn’t have known why some of the entries on them were significant, etc. So I was mostly futzing along when in walked Joe Woodland and Doug Antonelli (Human Factors engineer). Joe Woodland is the man who in 1949 had filed a patent for putting symbols on grocery products and later created a test for scanning them at the checkstand in the back room of a Colonial Supermarket in Atlanta, GA. This is the man whom I had heard was the chief strategist and definer of how IBM should get into the supermarket checkout business, the guy who is only referred to with great reverence and whose words had been quoted to me by Gordon Vick almost as if it was gospel. Joe was a short middle-aged man with salt and pepper hair that was never completely combed, a little of the mad professor about him. He walked with a little bounce and enjoyed even the hint of an ironic situation. He saw the humor in almost everything.
Joe asked if they could use the system for only a minute to check something out. I was only too happy to oblige if I could stay in the room and learn more about what they were interested in. So I stepped around to the side where the customer would usually stand, my hand on the lip of the scanner while Joe and Doug gazed down into scanner pointing out something to each other. Suddenly Joe shouted out, “Oh my eyes! My eyes! You’ve burned my eyes! Oh my eyes,” then covered each eye with one of his fists in pain, whirled around and walked fist first with a loud thud into the door they had just come through to enter the lab.
“Oh My God!” I thought. This is horrible! To call this a terrible accident is not strong enough. I’ve just blinded the person most central to this product. I’ve hurt someone badly and de-railed the whole program. And of course I’m through! How could this have happened? And, then I heard Joe laughing, then Doug started laughing, and I timidly asked “are you really OK?”
This was Joe’s way of introducing me to the fundamentals of the IBM 3666 Checkout Scanner. He showed me the two horizontal electric eyes before and behind the scanning window that opened and closed the beam. I, by putting my hands on the edge rail while observing them, had unknowingly let the laser come up through the scanning window. Of course checkout scanners use very, very low powered lasers. They take advantage of a laser’s precise frequency to keep the relevant energy very low. Lasers were chosen for its precision characteristics, not for its power. The IBM laser operated at .0004 watts. As designed it wouldn’t cause real physical damage. Now my psyche was another matter. Good thing Joe and I were to become good friends in the next few months. If you had seen us then, Joe was laughing, Doug was laughing, and I was still looking a little shocked.