In my first story, I described how frustrations with connected devices led me to start Ockam. What I didn’t describe is the backstory that led me to name the company. It is a tribute to Ockam Instruments, and it’s founder Dick McCurdy who was incredibly influential at that start of my career.
…the world of professional sailing is about to be disrupted;
Dick McCurdy published a white paper on “Improved Instrumentation for 12-Meter Yachts” as his Master’s thesis at MIT. This paper pioneered the idea to bring early ‘portable’ computers onboard racing sailboats so that the sailors could use wind and boat telemetry data, in real time, to make more informed tactical decisions on the race course.
Using the technology that Dick invented, the yacht Courageous successfully defended the America’s Cup in 1974. In that moment, sailing was forever changed from a seat-of-the-pants sport and into a data-driven one.
Building on his success, Dick built a company called Ockam Instruments to bring simplified computing technology to all racing boats. His company was named in reference to Ockham’s Razor, which, most simply, states ‘keep things simple’.
Fast forward 30 years, to 2000…
Fresh out of engineering school, I was hired by the Stars & Stripes America’s Cup team to build out the instrumentation, data logging, and performance modeling systems for their race boats. The team had a long history with Ockam Instruments, but this was my first introduction to Dick McCurdy. Throughout the 3 years that I spent working on the team, Dick was a mentor, a friend, and an inspiration.
Skip ahead, another 17 years, to 2017…
“Why doesn’t this work like an Ockam Instruments system?!”
I said it over, and over, and over, again as I ruminated on the connected device problem I was trying to solve. The elegance and simplicity of an Ockam Instruments system is breathtaking. In contrast, managing a network of connected devices feels like a gut punch.
One day it occurred to me that I hadn’t talked to Dick McCurdy in a couple years. I picked up the phone and called him out of the blue.
After a quick catch up, I shared my story about the connected device quandary. With an aged perspective, I told Dick of the appreciation I had for his teachings about seamless system design. I also shared that I wanted to start a new company, inspired by his engineering principles.
Ockam, circa 2017, is a tribute to the legendary Ockam Instruments.