Who are the Munge Brothers, & What is this Munge Thing?
pre-Munge Brother Mythology.
Prior to joining Apple Computer Australia, I worked for a reseller in Adelaide, Random Access (Random Access, Adelaide).
In early 1991 I was near a burn-out situation. It reached a point where I told the Manager of the reseller to “get me some help or else!”
Subsequently, RA advertised for another Systems Engineer. There was only one candidate who stood out: Mike Seyfang.
Prior to joining RA, Mike worked at Elders IXL (a pastrol, real-estate and brokerage company) as “End User Computing Manager.” Whatever the hell that meant … see, I was a Apple/Macintosh-centric Systems Engineer with no formal Information Technology/Management Information Systems training. Mike, on the other hand, was had a degree in Chemistry! Now, that was more relevant.
Coming from a Mainframe/PC background, and HyperCard programmer in his spare time, he was the perfect fit.
Mike remembers his first day on the job. It was straight after the Easter long weekend. I had spent it installing Ingres, A/UX and Apple’s Data Access Language on a Macintosh IIci. Without documentation. The aim was to show Mike that “we Apple people knew about serious IT stuff, too.” This weekend of hacking did not impress my wife: she was 6 months pregnant at the time! On his first Tuesday, I sat Mike down and demonstrated Apple’s Data Access Language (DAL – Again, Apple demonstrated it was sooo far ahead and then dropped the ball. RIP) as middleware to link Excel, a query tool and HyperCard to a Unix-based Relational database. Needless to say, Mike was impressed!
The very next day Mike and I flew to Sydney to meet “relevant” people at Apple Australia and other distributors. One of the most important people we visited was the legendary Apple Systems Engineer, Garry Turner. (Garry now works for Cisco). RA’s manager thought it was important to build the relationships early.
Another Gary, Gary Vial – RA’s Travel Agent – booked Mike and I in a hotel in Oxford Street, Sydney. In a twin-room suite. Now, for those of you who do not know Sydney, Oxford Street is in the middle of the gay section of the city. Mike and I had nothing against gay people, but we were both married men with kids (or on the way) — and Mike didn’t really know me at all. When the male receptionist suggested we go to the 10th floor for a relaxing spa — well, poor Mike didn’t know what to think! It didn’t help that there was a dry cleaner outside our window called the “Come Clean Laundry” Hmmm.
There are two distinct memories that I have of this jaunt to Sydney. One was Garry Turner explaining the lay of the Apple landscape. It did not bode well for resellers of Random Access’ ilk *unless* they entered the value-added side of the industry. The other was explaining AppleTalk, AppleTalk routing and networking to Mike on the flight home. Needless to say, a “defining moment” of my career.
Emerge: The Munge Brothers
So, RA had to enter the Consulting business. Thankfully, Unlce Mike (by this time we were calling ourselves Uncle Mike and Uncle Nick) had some experience — and understood all this IT/MIS stuff that Apple people tend to either ignore or hate.
Mike was an excellent mentor. In my career, he was the second to really influence my thinking and challenged me to extend myself. The first is Brian Musker, ex-MIS Manager of the Australian Submarine Corporation, now an IT consultant in the US.
RA’s strategy was to “split” into two: A Consulting business called Random Access Consulting (RAC) and a retail storefront called Simply Mac. At the time, it was a pretty good strategy.
Mike and I were the consultants in RAC. We started out by showing the world the Client/Server – DAL extraveganza above. In the end, we found that while it appealed to the IS/MIS people of the day, it was before its time. Nowadays, everyone uses the ODBC standard to do these sorts of things; Visual Basic to create front ends to relational databases. In mid to late 1991, it was just too much out there.
At around this time, someone named us “The Munge Brothers.” We had a habit of saying ‘munge’ to explain a complex process of changing data into information. Who can forget the magic hat demonstrations? Uncle Mike and I changed hats depending on who we were in the demonstration: an IT bod, an end-user computing type and a manager.
That said, we did convince one customer to create a warehouse of mainframe data on an A/UX box running Oracle RDBMS. The customer created custom front ends in HyperCard to extract data. The data orginated from a MVS-mainframe, and was downloaded via IND$FILE and bulk imported into the database. With data-warehousing all the rage (along with Intranet) — it is sad to realise Mike and I were 5 years too soon. This was to be a common experience…
It Ain’t F**cking Rocket Science!
No, this is not a Munge Brother created quotation. A certain Systems Engineer in Apple Computer Australia’s employ was rumour to have said these immortal 5 words to a non-so-technically literate fellow staff member. The story goes that he was in the midst of a DAL/Client-Server demonstration and became rather frustrated when attempting to explain what was going on.
Needless to say, the Munge Brothers took on the term “Rocket Science” to describe their anticts with technology. It colminated in the now-collectable “Munge Brother/Rocket Science” custom T-Shirts. Of which only three were made – and only worn once – the 1993 Apple Australia Christmas Party hosted by Roy Ramage.
Diversification; or the blue period
In late 1991 I was offered a consultantcy. The project was report on the implications of changing a large AppleTalk Phase 1 network to AppleTalk Phase 2. In the end, I was given a contract to implement the changeover. Now that was a Christmas/New Year break that I won’t forget.
As always with contracts, I was extended for a total of 10 months. This strained relations with the ‘mothership’, RA and RAC. For me personally, I learn much about large organisation politics and management structures. And more importantly, what didn’t work.
In 1992 we gained another Munge Brother, Paul Baily. At the time, Paul was a gifted support engineer at the Australian Submarine Corporation. He compleded the Munge Brother threesome. We added Paul to the team to do some more low level coding work. Mike and I couldn’t cut 68K assembler!
During this period, we also had other people on the RAC team: Dr Charles Hart and Peter Harris.
1992-1993 – Projects Galore
After my sojourn on contact, I re-entered the RAC team with mixed feelings. Being away from your mother-ship on a customer’s site can seriously skew your perspective – and this is a lesson that I have remembered since. For instance, you find it hard to re-establish yourself in the mother organisation and can feel an outsider.
At this time, Unlce Mike started a product called “Councillor.” It was a PowerBook-based agenda management system for Local Governments. Uncle Mike based the solution on FrameMaker and the SGML standard. Looking back, I wish that WWW/HTTP/HTML was around in mid 1992 — it would have been such an easy thing to do with Intranet based technologies.
In 1992 I started the “Macintosh Support Expert Course” — a 3 day intensive course for people supporting Macintoshes. Christmas 1992 was a hoot. The Munge Brothers hosted a Christmas party in our office — and released our now famous “Nightmare on Bent Street” Quicktime movie. Who can forget the “DOS BOX” screaming up the levels at the car park with Jimmy Hendrix’s guitar wailing in the backgound? Stunt driver: Mike, Stunt camera: Nick. Stunt Music: Jimmy Hendrix.
In 1993 we started to diversify our projects. However, there was one project where all three of us collaborated. Due to commercial-in-confidence issues, I cannot name the client — but suffice to say, RAC was in a little over its head. The experience certainly helped us all understand the bounds of our skills, and our ability to expand into alternative platforms.
1994: The End
In 1994, the Munge Brothers, aka RAC split up. First to go was Uncle Mike: he went to Ferntree. Next to go was Uncle Paul. He followed Michelle to Sydney. In early 1995, Nick moved his family to Sydney to join Apple Computer Australia.
In December 1995, Random Access closed its doors. 14 years of history went too. Its sad to realise that the amalgam of people and technologies will never be repeated. In many ways, we were ahead of our time — and if we had stayed together to the present day I am sure we could have kicked butt in the Adelaide IT industry.
Where are they Now?
Nick Hodge: (this page’s author) Technical Resources Manager, Adobe Systems. Mike Seyfang: Consultant, Microsoft Consulting Adelaide Paul Baily: Contractor at large, Brisbane
Honorary Munge Brothers:
Peter Svans, Garry Turner, Dr Charles Hart, Peter Harris.
People we would like to thank:
David Sherrah, Mark Keough, Brian Musker, Kay Lindley, Roy Ramage