Farewell, Vin. And Thanks for All the Memories

If you're connected at all with the baseball world, you're probably aware that Vin Scully will soon be retiring as the broadcaster for the Los Angeles Dodgers.  I grew up as both a Dodger fan (thanks in part to the free tickets I got from the Herald Examiner for getting good grades in school) and as a Vin Scully fan.  My team loyalties shifted over the years as I moved away and as the team that I knew (Russel-Lopes-Garvey-Cey) moved on in their careers.  But  I never stopped loving to hear Vin Scully's broadcasts.

I didn't know how good I had it as an Angeleno at the time.  In baseball we had Vin Scully.  Dick Enberg ("Oh my!") broadcast the Ram games (in their first LA incarnation). Chick Hearn (too many quotes to list, but "mustard off the hot dog" comes first to mind) held forth with LA Laker games (with, at one point, an assistant named Pat Riley).  But as Dick Enberg became a national figure, and as I moved away and experienced other announcers, I realized how special it was to listen to this group.

I had thought I would put together a tribute to Vin, but others have done such a good job I'm going to just reference them here, with a couple of thoughts.

This piece from Jayson Stark at ESPN is very good.  And there's this video from MLB.  So just a couple of thoughts.  My favorite quote from the MLB video: "For many Angelenos he's the soundtrack of our lives."

  • Vin understood never to get in the way of the game.  His best example of this, and one of my clearest memories, was his call of the Henry Aaron home run to break the record then held by Babe Ruth.  Al Downing was pitching, and Vin made the call as Aaron smashed a pitch over the fence.  And then (as Jon Miller, who I am now blessed to hear) recalled in the ESPN piece, Vin said... nothing. Silence.  For several minutes.  Silence in radio is death, but in this case Vin hit it perfectly.  There was nothing to add and he just let us experience the moment.
  • Vin's voice and tempo was so melodious, it wrapped around you like a warm blanket.  He could create a sense of drama in just announcing the next batter.  I remember thinking that I could get up and get a beer from the fridge before he was finished announcing that "Willllbuh Starrrrgelll" was coming to the plate.
  • Vin didn't just announce the game; for many of us he was the game (though to this day, he insists that it's not about him).  As noted in the MLB video, fans would go to the ball game and still be listening to Vinnie on their transistor radios.  It was as if the game didn't happen until Vin described it.
  • Vin emphasized LA's position in any game, but we was no "homer."  For Vin, he transmitted his love of baseball through his narration.  You could hate LA, but you couldn't hate Vin.  Even after moving to Stanford, I would still try to tune in late evenings to LA radio stations to see if I could find Vin on the radio.
  • Last, Vin always made you feel like a welcome guest, whether this was your first or hundredth time listening to the broadcast.  He was like a favorite uncle, that you couldn't wait to visit.

Typical of Vin, he has announced that he will not stay on to announce any Dodger games past the end of the regular season.  He has said that he feels like he's already had his "farewell tour" and doesn't want to reprise it in the playoffs.  In typical fashion, he's concerned that he doesn't overshadow the players on the field.

So thank you Vin, for all the great times.  There are other very good announcers out there, but there will never be another one like you.  So I'll wait with a smile for one last "Hi everybody!"  And if I'm lucky, I'll get to hear his, "back, back, a-waaay back" home run call, kind of like this one.


North to Alaska

So Crystal and I, along with her parents, just recently completed a nearly two-week visit to Alaska.  It was wonderful.  We were on a Holland America cruise for the first week.  After that, we rented a car and drove the Denali National Park for a few days.  Add in a few days for stopovers on the way, and there you have the itinerary.  Cruises aren't my favorite form of vacationing, but there's a lot of Alaska that is best seen from the water (the rest is best seen by air).  And we thought a cruise would be a good compromise in traveling styles between ourselves and Crystal's parents, Joe and Norma.

This was the longest vacation I can remember taking in a long time and I definitely reached the point of being ready to come home.  Rather than recount all the myriad details of the trip, I decided to focus on one memorable moment from each day.  Before going there, I can relate some feelings about the trip as a whole.

  • It was great to get "off the grid."  Yes, I checked mail periodically, but only to make sure that sales leads were getting looked after.  No social media, no furtive mail review when in cellular range.
  • Not only was I unplugged from work, but I was also unplugged from almost all the news.  No election politics.  No what-did-he-say-now Trump news.  I did catch a bit of news about the earthquake in Italy, but missed the entire Colin Kaepernick national anthem drama.  Being unplugged from the news cycle was a great way to recharge.
  • Many of my best moments came from conversations with people we met.  I met lots of people whose first impulse was to tell you about themselves, where they cam from and why, and what was cool about the place where they lived.

Day One: Vancouver Arrival

An unusual day:  warm… and sunny.  We head down to Harbour Centre and go up to the lookout for a 360' view of the city.  It's clear enough to see Mt. Baker in Washington state.  Next we wander around Gastown and have dinner. 

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Sunset from Harbour Centre

 

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The Steam Clock

 

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Joe and Norma Perusing the Menu at the Revel Room

Memorable Moment: two actually.  Watching the steam clock ring in the top of the hour.  Also, meeting some Aussies in the bar at the Revel Room, and hearing their stories of seeing heroin of junkies downtown selling stuff and shooting up.

Day Two: Vancouver Departure

Departure day.  We've been warned that there are three cruise ships leaving today, so we might want to board early.  Our plan is to get our luggage on the ship, then spend some time in Stanley Park before we board for good.  Once we go through the customs and immigration lines, there's a small mutiny and it looks like we're boarding and staying on the ship.  Cocktails, anyone?

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We're on our way!

 

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The Photographers at Work

Memorable Moment: Sunset

Day Three: At Sea

Today we're sailing; no stops, just whatever entertainment the ship has to offer.  This is a good day to fulfill my intention to go work out at the gym.  Only I can't, because the gym is closed.  Why? A passenger has had some kind of medical emergency, and they're using the gym as a staging area for getting the passenger off the ship via Coast Guard helicopter. Coast Guard Alaska in real life! In the end, the USCG determined they couldn't safely evacuate the passenger via helicopter, so they pulled a boat alongside and got the person out that way.  Hopefully there are OK!  Meanwhile, I spent 30 minutes walking up and down the nine flights of stairs on the ship.

So, we attended a cooking display with one of the ship's chefs, as well as a mixology class hosted by our BFF Walter.  Crystal got some hands-on practice with a Boston shaker.  Learning can be fun!

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Coast Guard Helicopter Circling the Ship

 

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Mixology Class with Walter

Memorable Moment: passenger evacuation

Day Four: Ketchikan

Our first port of call.  Time to see if Verizon offers cell service here.  It appears not, since my phone is asking me if I want to sign up for international data.

We decide to head out to Totem Bight State Historical Park, a few miles away.  There are lots of recreated totem poles out there, and information on the symbols and the different Native Alaskan tribes that lived there.  It's an Anthropology geek's heaven.  We opt to catch a cab there vs. take the cruise line's shuttle bus.  The driver doesn't take credit cards, but he will stop at the Wells-Fargo on the way so we can get some cash.  His stories are priceless.  He tells about one brother who owns the cab company, who has to ship his taxis to Seward for repair.  Why? Because the other brother owns the GM dealership in town, but he and the first brother hate each other.  Then there's the boy who went to explore the secret Army dump in WWII, and died a month later of radiation poisoning.  It appears the Army was dumping spent nuclear waste there; eventually a dozen townspeople died.  The driver shows us the property where the owner has cleared the land (mostly hillside) of trees and can't understand why no one now wants to buy the property.

 After our totem tour, we head back into town and walk along Creek Street (more of a wooden sidewalk) to see where the brothels were back then and to watch the the salmon swimming upstream to spawn.

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Welcome to Ketchikan!

 

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Recreated Totem Lodge at Totem Bight State Park.  The Small Entrance was for Defensive Purposes.

Memorable Moment: Our cab ride/narrated tour. This turned out to be a theme during our trip.

Day Five: Juneau

Next stop: Juneau, the state capitol.  Almost immediately after you get off the ship you're walking uphill.  We head up to the Capitol building to get a picture for Brian; unfortunately it's under restoration so you have to imagine the final product.  Next up, we're boarding a bus to go to the harbor and take a whale-watching tour.  The weather is cool and overcast, sometimes a bit foggy.  But there are smoked salmon Bloody Mary's on the boat, so we'll manage.  After a stop at their lodge for lunch we're off to look for whales.  We eventually spot some humpbacks, as well as Harbor Seals and Bald Eagles.  Plus we get to try the pickled kelp on the boat--not bad.  After our whale watching tour, we're off to Mendenhall Glacier for our first up-close glacier look.  Crystal and I leave Joe and Norma in the visitor center so we can take a short hike to see the salmon swimming upstream.

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Mendenhall Glacier

 

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Thar She Blows!

 

After our tour, we find the local Ben Franklin's to buy a replacement suitcase for Joe and Norma's that broke.  We get the parents a duffel bag, sans wheels.  This turns out to be a critical error.  We've worn Joe and Norma out with all the walking. so we send them back to the ship and stop in at the Red Dog Saloon for a beer and some country music.  As the singer says, "you can enjoy the music, or just keep d***ing around with your phones." 

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A Well-Deserved Beer at the Red Dog Saloon

Memorable Moment: Our narrated tour.  The driver is reminiscent of Napoleon Dynamite.  His stories are hilarious.  His best one:  the man who eventually admitted that the bitchy woman they had to go back and pick up at the glacier visitor center was his wife.  "Why didn't you tell me when I asked who was missing?!," asked the driver.  "Because I wanted some peace and quiet," said the man.  "Best two hours of my entire vacation!"

Day 6: Skagway

Skagway, once the jumping-off point for gold miners ("sourdough's").  Today the only industry is tourism.  Crystal and I take a walk around the town while we wait to start our sled dog adventure.  Another narrated bus ride up the river valley and into the hills.  Our driver is a former Wall Street type that one day decided to get off that train and head to Alaska.  Another common theme up here.  He says it was the best decision he ever made.

We arrive and the dogs are going nuts; they can't wait to run.  They look like muts, slighter in build than I would have thought.  These dogs are bred for speed vs. pulling a load.  Noah’s talk on mushing was fascinating.  12,000 calories a day for the dogs! Sleeping on top of your sled for 90 minutes at a time, dogs sleeping on straw despite -30 to -60 weather.  Noah's best record for the Iditarod was 11+ days.  Not my cup of tea.

Beer and a snack at the Skagway Brewing Co (Blue Top Porter and Sitka Spruce Tip Amber) and then it's back to the ship for us.

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Our Crew is Ready to Go!

 

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Sled Dog Puppies

Memorable Moment: The sled dogs.  OK, we're dog lovers so we're a bit biased.  But experiencing the joy of these dogs getting to run, learning about "mushing" and handling the puppies was a great experience.

Day 7: Glacier Bay

When we wake up we're in Glacier Bay.  It's a complete and total overload. Panoramas in every direction.  We take a zillion pictures, hoping that the next picture will fully capture the scale of the place.  Seeing glaciers was like seeing the volcano in Hawaii; it makes you feel quite small.  We saw Bald Eagles, no whales but Stellar Sea Lions and Puffins. And some Harbor Seals.  There are glaciers everywhere you look.  The glaciers crush the ground below them as they move, resulting in "rock flour" which turns the water gray near the glaciers and a milky blue-green elsewhere, due to minerals.  Iso-static expansion (aka Post-glacial rebound) means the ground is rising more than one foot a year due to retreat of the ice and removal of its weight.

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One of Many Glaciers We Saw

 

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More Glacier Scenery

Memorable Moment: Glacier Bay, hands down.

Day 8: On to Seward

Today we head west toward Seward.  We're following the Alaskan coast so most of the time there are mountains in the distance.  My sore throat from yesterday has blossomed into a full-on head and chest cold.  So I spent a lot of time in my bed.  I was happy with the gentle roll of the ship as we crossed the Gulf of Alaska; it helped me sleep.  We wen to the Indonesian tea ceremony on the ship, but it turned out not to be a show-and-tell but more just another chance to eat.  Back to bed.

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From Juneau, I Liked This Tattoo Parlor Sign.


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From Skagway:  Can I Take Him Home??

Memorable Moment: Sleeping. Also seeing sperm whales spouting in the distance.

Day 9: Overland to Anchorage

The ship drops us off at Seward, and provides a bus to take us to Anchorage.  As with other bus rides, this one comes with a narrative.  There's marathon mountain, so named because there's now a race every year to run up the mountain-are you crazy?? Traveling along the Kenai Peninsula is beautiful.  The landscape is beautiful, and we learned about what happens to people who attempt to walk in the mud flats created from the glacier deposits (think: quicksand).  We also hear the story of the guy who drove his truck out at low tide and got stuck when the tide reversed.  The tides change up to 38 feet so he had to call the Coast Guard for help... who said that, technically, he wasn't a vessel in distress.  

Once in Anchorage, we (with some difficulty) get our gear onto a shuttle that will take us to the airport so we can pick up our rental car.  Then it's over to the Fat Ptarmigan for pizza (since this place was closed on Sunday). The bus driver has some good advice about driving the Richardson Highway: "watch when the white line gets wavy.”  I'm thinking the highway is going to give way to a gravel road but that turned out not to be the case.  From here, it's on to Willow for a stay at a B&B.  We passed through Wasilla on the way, but couldn't see Russia; maybe it was cloudy.

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The Panorama From our B&B

Memorable Moment: Listening to our host as he tells us about each of the hunting trophies in his house.

Day 10: On to Denali

Up and on the road. We take a detour to Talkeetna (meaning, "where the rivers come together").  It's a bit like Boulder Creek--kind of touristy. But it's the closest spot (only 40 miles!) to Denali so it's a hopping off point for climbers.  After that it's on to Denali.  We're early arriving at our motel so we continue on to Denali and explore a bit.  We stayed up in hopes of seeing the Northern Lights but that didn't seem to happen.

 

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Yes, That's a Runway


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Local Politics in Talkeetna


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Outside Our Room at The Perch

Memorable Moment: Seeing the stars at night, including the Big Dipper and the North Star—just like the state flag. 

Day 11: All Day in Denali         

Denali National Park is six million acres, with one road running through it, and driving is restricted to the first fifteen miles of the road.  You pretty much have to see it via a bus, unless you're striking out overland on your own.  The scale of this place is incredible.  You're seeing valleys that were cut by glaciers, mountains forty miles in the distance.  We learn about the permafrost, a couple of inches below the soil surface.  It's very spongy to walk on and creates an acidic environment that causes the trees to only grow ten or twenty feet high.  The brush is about four to five feet high, meaning that brush movement is often your first clue to seeing an animal.  

We got to see moose, caribou and Dall Sheep. We didn't see bears, but they are no doubt around.  Our tour made two stops, each of which featured an Athabascan guide who told us about the land and their history with it.

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Denali in the Distance

 

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Nails. That's One Way to Discourage the Bears

 

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Lots of Scrub, Stunted Trees

 

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Fall Arrives Early in Alaska!

 Memorable Moment: Being in Denali National Park.  Our only wish was that we could spend a day or two in the back country.

Day 12: Return to Denali

Most days were governed with a "we have to get there right away” agenda.  Today we were able to change that.  We went back to Denali National Park, dropped the parents off at the Visitor Center and then spent an hour or so hiking to Horseshoe Lake.  We had a chance to practice our “hey bear!” warning calls as we hiked. We got to see the trees downed by beavers and the huge dam they created at the lake. Lot of berries and wildflowers along the way. We also got to see the train arrive at the park depot.

Denali showed me that I need to be in nature, not just see it from a bus.  I have to be in nature, give it time to talk to me.  

Following our hike we drove through to Anchorage. We stopped for photos of Denali from the north side, also awesome.

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That is a Beaver Dam

 

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What Beavers do to Trees

 

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Yay! I Made It!

 

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Train Arrival

Memorable Moment: Our hike to Horseshoe Lake.  It was very rewarding to get out and spend time off the road for a bit.

Day 13: Headed Home

We're back on the "get there right away" agenda.  At the airport three hours early; not even the gate agents are here yet. Worse: the bar isn’t open.  I manage to get a Kodiak Brown Ale before we go.  It's been a great visit, and we can't wait to get back.

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Nenana River

 

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That Dark Spot in the Center of the Picture is a Moose.  A Big Moose.

 

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Time to Go!

Memorable Moment: Remembering Denali.


My First Seven Jobs

It's an Internet thing going around, posting on your first seven jobs (search on #myfirstsevenjobs if you're on Twitter).  Once Fred Wilson and Brad Feld posted on it I figured there was something of value beyond narcissism, so I figured I would join the fray.

One thing before I jump in, is that I've noticed the people I've seen who have posted were in some sort of professional role by about job five.  I'm sure that's not always the case but I did find it interesting.

 

Job 1: Dishwasher

I was 10 or 11, and my Dad hired me to help with cleanup after Holy Name Society breakfasts once a month.  I think I made $5, and thought that was a ton of cash at the time.  I also used to see them cook scrambled eggs in a big baking dish in the oven, which ruined that dish for me for quite a while.

Job 2: Camp Counselor

I got to supervise kids while I was in the Scouts.  I'm pretty sure I didn't get paid for this job.  The most memorable moment was when I had to put nitroglycerine under a Scout leader's tongue to prevent him from having angina.

Job 3: Ice Cream Scooper

I was the third of fourth person in my family to work at a Baskin-Robbins ice cream store.  There were many memorable moments (like the time I went to work while I was developing chicken pox).  But one thing that stood out was seeing the tattoo on the wrist of each of the store owners--their German concentration camp prisoner ID's.

Job 4: Garbage Detail, Santa Monica Beach

My Dad's contribution to my college aid package was to get me a job with the City of Santa Monica, where he worked.  I worked cleaning Santa Monica Beach, starting as a "picker" walking and picking up trash, to working on the garbage trucks, to driving the trucks.  Over four summers of this work I learned and witnessed a lot.  Learning to drive a converted World War II truck that had to be double-clutched at low gears to take seaweed up the hill to a transfer station was quite a thrill.

Job 5: Hasher

My first job at Stanford was working in the dining hall.  I quickly earned a reassignment to the dishwashing area when I got into a argument with my roommate while serving dinner.  A memorable moment was when, during the Organic Chemistry term, someone created a chemical diagram for Turkey Tetrazzini.

Job 6: Research Assistant

I started this job for a small consulting company in Palo Alto while finishing up at Stanford, and transitioned into a full-time role after I graduated.  I knew how to program statistics using a "4th generation language" called SPSS so I got to work on a large dataset collected from the Bendix Corporation.  I got to learn about all sorts of multivariate statistical methods, such as factor analysis and analysis of variance.  I wrote the analytic methods chapter of a co-worker's PhD dissertation in exchange for weekly pizza and beer.

Job 7: Research Associate

I moved on from Job 6 to Allstate Insurance, where I carried out market research projects.  I finished up a project that would ultimately be used to justify Sears' move into the financial services business, a project that four other people had failed to finish.  As I sat at my desk seeing my work future unroll in front of me I had one of those, "is that all there is?" thoughts.  At that moment, the phone rang.  It was a manager from Bell-Northern Research, calling to ask if I was interested in getting into the technology world.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

 


Sales Managers on the Road: Tweeting through Toronto

I spent the better part of a week recently at Microsoft's annual Worldwide Partner Conference; "WPC" in Microsoft-speak.  I thought I'd try summarizing the week by collecting up my tweets here.  Why? First, because I'm lazy.  Second, because, you know... social media and all that.  Plus, I feel a little sorry that Twitter is getting dumped on.  But mostly, I'm being lazy.  Or as they call it, "repurposing content."

This year's conference was held in Toronto, a city I visited many times during my days at BNR/Nortel, and during my time at SOMA Networks.  It's been about ten years since I was last in Toronto (ask me about the rooftop lounge at Hooters) so I was interested to see what was old and new.  

This probably happened the last time I flew to Toronto out of SFO:  I'm on a United Airlines flight, but it's operated by Air Canada.  Which means I've gone to the wrong terminal.  Grrr.

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Next stop:  the gate.  Since my days of holding duper premium elite gold extra-special status are long over, I'm waiting for my "zone" to board when I see a couple of passengers push forward to test whether the gate agents are checking which zone you're in.  Turns out, they are.

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On the plane now, ready to enter my usual sleep state that's brought on by flight attendant announcements.

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It turns out that this year's conference is sold out, for the first time ever.  That means I'm in Toronto with 15,999 of my closest friends.  And they all made hotel reservations before I did.  So I'm staying nowhere near downtown and all the events.  But, Toronto now has very nice subway service from the airport to downtown, so that will work.  And on my arrival at conference registration, there was this moose...

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Free, working, Wi-Fi on comfortable and quiet subway trains.  Take notice, CalTrain!

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I once had a goal, while working at Nortel, to stay in every Canadian Pacific hotel in the chain; they're all magnificent.  I stayed at the Royal York once, when Nortel had their big user association meeting in Toronto and when there was a big Marketing and Product Management pow-wow on what we needed to do next with Nortel's phone  system.  It was also at this time that Nortel announced quality problems in one part of the manufacturing business (the biggest part), which caused the stock to plummet in value.  I thought some of my colleagues, who had left most of their retirement savings in Nortel stock, were going to die right there outside the hotel.

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I remember riding in a taxi down to the Billy Bishop City of Toronto airport, on a flight to Ottawa (so much nicer than schlepping out to Pearson).  Once you got past the Skydome and the CN Tower, there wasn't much going on.  Now, that's completely different.  There's the Air Canada Center, the Rogers Convention Center and a ton of condo developments.

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On to the conference.  Microsoft and GE announce a partnership focused on "Internet of Things."  I just liked this quote.

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The moose I expected.  A Blue Jay wouldn't have surprised me.  But... woodpeckers?

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How times change.  Three years ago, Dropbox was seen as "consumer" and Box was for the enterprise.  Now...

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CGNET was nominated for a Microsoft partner award.  We didn't win, but we're already doing work with the guys that did win.  And they have a Tesla as a company car.   That's pretty cool.

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I was looking for a place to grab a bite when I ended up meeting some new Microsoft partners at another event.

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More "keynote" tweets, including an announcement that Facebook has adopted Office 365.  I was just around the corner, you guys could have called me!

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Back to the convention hall.  On the way they're handing out...

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"Digital Transformation" was one of the buzzwords of the conference, but there's some truth behind it.  Businesses are moving to digital infrastructures, and those that can't support that movement are dying off.

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Time now for a happy hour out on Lake Ontario.

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Here's a nice picture of the Toronto skyline.

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I've already told the story of how I didn't realize the celebrity athletes were real.  Until I saw Bill Walton.  Trust me, I'm standing next to him.

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The next day I had to stay in my hotel room to finish a report.  I had TV on for the background noise.  Listening to the Canadian version of Guy Fieri and his shtick was...

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See, Microsoft's cloud platform is called Azure, so naturally...

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A nice quote from the Women in Technology session.

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Last party, lots of food options.  I chose...

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I couldn't leave until I'd listened to Gwen Stefani.

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And I leave you with some Canadian humor.

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The Urge to Create Meaning

I have been reading (slowly; I'm still on chapter one) a book about the origins of modern Mexican culture. It's fresh hamburger for culture geeks like me. The author was discussing how the Mexicans had created a pantheon of gods, which they used in part to make sense of their world. 

Side note: Don't go all Marvin Harris critique on me. I'm not saying Mexicans or anyone else "invented" a cosmology in order to explain their world. Maybe they did this purposely; maybe it just happened. The point is, however it happened, it seemed to work.

If you're the average citizen of Mexico and Central America, with no formal education, no literacy, forced to work for someone else and/or pay them tribute (or die) it makes sense that you'd want a way to make sense of your life. Even just the activities we now see as part of daily geology, such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, were scary and required some explanation. So, there arose a belief system that said (for instance) that there were all these gods, who didn't care that much about you and could fuck up your life if they chose to. If you placated them, they might not bother you; then again, they might anyway (this was one of the differences between native beliefs and the Christian beliefs of the invading Spaniards.) The populace dealt with changing beliefs and circumstances by inventing or promoting new gods and demoting others. (This is akin to my notion of "culture as an adaptive system" that was my Great Thought at Stanford. Whether it really was a great thought or just the result of too many beers is an ongoing question.)

All of the above would be stock anthropology fare, except for an "aha" moment I had at work soon after starting the book. I was in a meeting with one of our product partners. They had been trying for some time to reinvent themselves, and they wanted to come and explain what the new company was all about.

Our CTO and I sat down and listened as they pulled out their PowerPoint slides and started explaining how the world had changed. That's when it struck me: these people had to describe a reality in order to make sense of the actions they were now taking. Absent that explained (and, for them, hopefully convincing) point of view, their changes might not make any sense.

Thinking back over my years spent explaining product roadmaps and strategy positions, across hundreds of PowerPoint presentations (thankfully, a rare occurrence for me lately) it all made sense. To enact a new reality (for you, your country, your company) you first had to answer the question, "why?" Why do this? Why not keep doing what you've been doing? What is the rationale for change?

Having seen these slides in a new light, I started noticing how common these kinds of presentations and stories are. "Let me explain why, before I explain what."

The problem with these explanations, the problem with religious and cultural world views, is that they are but one interpretation of events. How many other interpretations are there, leading to how many different prescriptions for action? The book I was reading was all about the world view of the Conquistadores compared to that of the indigenous peoples. One set of observable events, two interpretations, two courses of action.

All of this had led me to a new way of viewing these kinds of stories. I like to ask myself not just "why" but "why this point of view?". It also made me realize that, for all our trappings of modernity, in some ways we're not very different than our pre-literate ancestors.

Culture, for the win!


The Yin and Yang of 2015

2015 was a year of yin and yang; probably every year is like that.  Mostly, this was a year that went by very quickly (where did the time go?) but also very slowly (during rush hour).

  Yin-Yang

  Yin-Yang

McCloud Thanksgiving

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Family Christmas togetherness

Norovirus

Booming business

Freeway gridlock

Dozens of flights to BUR 20150706_153619145_iOS

Blown up workout schedule

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No-shave November

A grey beard

30 selfies

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Halloween at the Hollywood Bowl with Wendy, John, Holly and Kenny

Being lost in the town you grew up in

Watching Stanford football and texting with John Gless

Losing to… Northwestern??

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The passing of friends

Weddings, anniversaries and babies

 
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Acts of terrorism The kindness of strangers
So much to share Time's up/pencils down

 


We Have All Been Here Before

Department of Obscure References

The media feed after the ISIS attacks in Paris had a familiar feel to me.  People seeking answers. People seeking revenge. People seeking solutions. People feeling like their story was being overlooked.

  • What about the massacre in Beirut? Mali? Kenya?
  • Ban the refugees!
  • It's all ___'s fault!
  • More wiretaps!
  • More drone strikes!
  • Bomb Raqqa!

And on and on.

I remember, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, a similar dialogue.  It was mostly carried out via email then, but the flow was the same.  People were hurt. They were afraid. They needed to make sense of something that made no sense at all.  And I remember, as I read the back-and-forth, thinking that we needed to cut each other some slack.  Someone took the conversation too far down the patriotism road for your liking.  OK, you disagree, but have a little patience and understanding.  You don't have to agree to feel their pain.

I've spent a good part of the last few weeks in LA, where the media is obsessed with the shootings in San Bernardino.  Maybe this is because it's a hot story.  I think it's also because people are hurting.  How could this happen to us?

Overlay the silly season that is the run-up to Presidential primaries and you have a recipe for extreme "look at me" views as candidates vie for attention and media coverage.  These stories further stir the pot, as people debate the talking points on their merits, or debate whether the points have any merit at all.

Through all of this, I suggest attaching a human face to the group you want to address.  Think about your Muslim friend, your relative who works in government.  Think about families you see that are struggling to find a safe place to live.  Would you say the same things to their face?  Maybe that should be the test.

 


The 2015 Garden in Review

The gardening season is a little like the PGA Tour.  You can "wrap around" by planting over-wintering crops such as garlic and green manures.  In this case, there really is no end of one season and beginning of another.  But for the sake of declaring the season "over," let's consider that this year's garden is done.

The pictures are here:  Now let's talk about what worked and didn't work.

Winners

Tomatoes

A big winner was tomatoes.  We have a good system down now.  My brother Patrick dries and saves seeds from the best tomato plants of the previous year.  My sister Cheryl and I baby the seedlings along with heat mats and grow lights.  Then, first weekend in May, it's into the garden.  While we cut back on production due to the drought in California, we still had a good variety of plants, with lots of production.  Patrick was nice enough to find and develop my favorite, Oaxacan Jewel.  We also had Sun Gold (a favorite), along with standards like San Marzano. But there were some new ones as well, such as a Roma that produced great dried tomatoes.

Potatoes

Potatoes also did well.  The biggest reason for improvement over last year's crop loss was moving them to a different bed.  Last year's bed had (and still has) a resident gopher, who eventually ate through the roots of every plant.  This year, we planted potatoes in a smaller, but taller, and gopher-free bed.  Lots of soil amendments and regular watering meant that the crop came in great!  As an added bonus, we were able to harvest a few "volunteer" Kennebec potatoes from a different bed.  FTW.

Cucumbers

Cucumbers were also a winner this year.  We grew them for pickling.  These were either Jackson Classic or Alibi; I can't remember.  Despite being planted in the aforementioned gopher-infiltrated bed, we were able to get a good crop without losing too many to the little varmint.  We tried enclosing the plants in tomato cages, in the hopes that the plants would grow up the cages and get the fruit off the ground.  But that didn't really work.  I think a trellis will be the way to go for that.  We did a better job of picking the cucumbers regularly, which prevented the eventual discovery of baseball-bat-sized fruit.

Mixed Results

Squash

Squash, specifically pumpkins, did pretty well.  We didn't plant summer squash, since we knew it would be likely that they would go un-picked for long periods, resulting in squash too big to want to eat.  But Cheryl likes to plant pumpkins for harvest and display around Halloween.  We planted these on the perimeter of a greens bed, and tried to trail them out onto the surrounding ground to give them room to grow.  We got enough for a small door display (Cinderella type), and a couple of sugar pumpkins suitable for eating.

As with corn, we're finding that it's hard to justify growing our own when the local farm stand has tons of pumpkins available.

Basil

Basil would have made it to the Winners category, except that we mostly let it go to seed.  It's hard to process a 4'x4' bed of basil, unless you want to make a lot of pesto.

Artichokes

We planted some artichokes last year in the half-barrels, and were happy to see second-year growth.  Unfortunately, the chokes haven't been as tasty as we would like.  Maybe we're not picking them at the right time.  This is another why-grow-it-when-you-can-buy-fresh-locally item.

Asparagus

We're thinking that our asparagus bed is not producing as much as we would like.  We're not sure if there aren't enough plants or if the bed needs more nourishment.  Asparagus is also one of those vegetables you want to check on every day, sometimes multiple times a day.  There's nothing worse than an overly tough asparagus stalk that was perfect for eating yesterday.

Beans

I really like growing beans.  And last year's attempt was a bust.  So I was happy when I was able to get beans growing this year.  I grew French Flageolet beans (thinking they were the main ingredient in a cassoulet I remember having in Paris), but I didn't get much production.  Plus, these are closer to haricots verts in that they need to be picked and eaten at an early age.  I had waited until they were plump, by which time they were past their prime.  I got more production from the Italian Tongue of Fire beans, but both varieties were planted in a bed that has a gopher.  As a result, the gopher managed to chomp through many of the beans' roots, limiting what I was able to grow to harvest stage.

Losers

Peppers

Peppers were a big loser this year.  The ones I planted in my home garden were quickly devoured by a grasshopper (more on that below).  The peppers we planted at the Hubner Farm were left without water for a few weeks, killing off most of them.  The replacement peppers never really had a chance to set fruit before the end of the growing season.  We also had a problem with a viral wilt, which damaged some of the peppers.  I did manage to get one batch of pepper sauce out of the peppers (see photo album) but not the Cayenne sauce I've produced in the last couple of years.

Garden Greens

Greens we planted at the Hubner Farm (arugula, mixed greens, lettuce) did pretty well.  Providing some sun shade helped them grow without bolting. 

Greens at my house, on the other hand, were a complete bust.  Apparently a grasshopper had taken up residence in the garden.  While it didn't touch the tomato plants, it did eat everything else I planted.  Anything green was eaten down to ground level in a matter of hours.  If you check out the picture of our round planter with greens, you'll notice that the grasshopper ate the green lettuces and left the red ones.

The best natural control for grasshoppers is a chicken, but with Mona's interest in chasing birds that wasn't going to work.  I would have considered renting one for a day.

We continue to learn and refine our garden approach.  Hopefully we can see more success than disappointment going forward!

 


I've Changed My Terms of Service

I'm sure you've seen--or rather, skimmed past--the Terms of Service that govern services like Facebook, LinkedIn and the like.  Similar to End User License Agreements, these are the things you skim over so you can quickly click Accept and move on.

Well I've decided to change my terms of service, at least when it comes to LinkedIn networking.  More accurately, I've decided to revert to something closer to my original terms.

When I started on LinkedIn, I took seriously their advice to "only connect with people you know."  I even remember an email exchange with a (somewhat distant) co-worker who wanted to make sure he really new me before he accepted my connection request.

This advice from LinkedIn was in contrast to the "LION" (LinkedIn Open Networker) approach, which was much more promiscuous about connecting.  Their argument was that you never know who you're going to want to know or be able to help.  OK, that's a valid point.

Maybe a year ago, things at LinkedIn seemed to change, in two important ways

  • LinkedIn made it much easier (a one-click experience) to request a connection.  Click the button and someone receives your connection request, with a stock "I'd like to connect with you on LinkedIn" message.
  • LinkedIn seems to have changed its stance on curating connection requests.  It seemed (and seems now) that anyone who's a member of a group with me can send me a connection request.  There doesn't seem to be any more of the LinkedIn "show me you know this person" hurdles to jump over.

In a fit of pique, I decided to go ahead and accept these connection requests.  Hey, if LinkedIn was going to make it that easy, then I was going to oblige them.  Often I would notice that the requester would show up on my "who's viewed your profile" list, making me realize they were mass-mailing these connection requests and really weren't even aware that they'd sent me a request.  So for a while I would write to them, explain that I wasn't sure if they intended to connect but I was happy to accept.  Sometimes people would write back and say that, indeed, they wanted to connect.  And I've built some good relationships out of these kinds of blind-date connections.

More and more, however, things have been getting a bit spammy.

  • Susan sends me a connection request
  • I accept
  • Susan sends me a message, pitching me on her/her company's services (lead generation and outsourced software development being the leading examples)
  • I explain that I'm not in the market for these services (something they could have surmised had they bothered to check), but hey, good luck with it
  • Susan never contacts me again

After a while, people like Susan (and their associates) show up in my news feed, and I have to work to remember:  is this someone I have a professional relationship with?  As with other social forces, the noise starts to overcome the signal (what?)

So as of today, I've started purging my connection lists of people that seemed to want to treat networking like a one-night-stand.  And I'm turning back people that have no connection to me, and haven't included a personal note with their connection request.

I've had some great conversations with people I didn't previously know, so I'm certainly still open to requests from out of the blue.  But if it looks like you're just following the LinkedIn Path of Least Resistance, and it looks like you want to sell first and help later, then I can say "it's not you--it's me."

As in, "I have this strange desire to know first and sell later.  So find a way to connect with me, show me that your interest is more than transactional, and we'll talk."