Popular Culture

276--Answering Jenny

I wrote a post in reaction to the election of Donald Trump (see it here) and cross-posted it to Facebook.  Generally that's where I get comments, especially since I am careful not to allow comments directly posted to my blog.  (After that unfortunate time someone posted links to Japanese porn sites.)

My friend, Jenny, responded with a lengthy response.  I thought it was worth capturing her comments here, and responding in turn.  So here goes.  Jenny's original post is in italics.

 

As our worldviews inform our interpretation of events in our culture, I understand why your observations expressed here bring you some measure of comfort. Even so, I think you miss the point – we’ll get there. Full disclosure: my worldview is that of a Bible-believing, fundamentalist (horrors!) Christian and a limited-government conservative. For those reasons, of course I could never have voted for Hillary Clinton, and of course (The “of course” in this sentence fully recognizes that I am but one of a very small group that held this conviction. I’m good with that, too.)  I could never have voted for Donald Trump. Also for those reasons, my interpretation of the election will be through that prism. I just want to acknowledge that up front, and while I will argue against your conclusions, I understand there are points I may be “missing” as well, because you and I see the political landscape very differently.

 I’m glad to engage in this discussion.  Conversing (arguing?) with people who hold different viewpoints is one way to make sure we’re seeing life from outside of our particular “bubble.”

I remember well the sinking feeling of watching Barack Obama win the presidency not once, but twice. I know that many on the left need that to be because of his pigmentation level, but that had nothing to do with it. The policies he advocated were not the policies I support. I also found those that had major influences in his life objectionable. That simple. So, I’m not gloating; I know how you feel. But, while I am more than a little skeptical of the president-elect, I am thankful for Republican control of the House and Senate, and very thankful that Hillary won’t be president.

So far, so good.  I didn’t mean to accuse you of being racist, if that’s how you took my comments.  For plenty of people, the election of Barack Obama was disappointing primarily because their candidate didn’t win, and their political ideology was no longer ascendant.  But I’m stuck on something Brian said to me.  We were talking about Washington and the relationship between Congress and the President.  I asked Brian why there was such animus toward Obama.  Was it just because he is Democratic? After all, there was a tremendous amount of that with Bill Clinton, but at least it seems like he was able to get things done.  In Obama’s term(s), it seemed that the only objective of Congressional Republicans was to block anything and everything Obama wanted to accomplish.  Brian’s answer to me was at once simple and shocking:  “Dad, it’s about racism.” 

Racism is a “card” is something I am reluctant to play as a first explanation for anything.  (My typical reaction to such a claim is, “bring me the statistics!”)  But the more I thought about it, the more I kept returning to that explanation.  I don’t have any statistics to share (violating my own dictum) but consider this: has any President been treated as poorly, with as much disrespect?  Yes, Congress flirted with impeaching Bill Clinton, but there at least was an act of impropriety on the President’s part to work from.  Plenty of Congresses (is that a word?) have worked to block or blunt the President's political agenda, but it seems there has historically been some level of cooperation.  But in the case of Obama and Congress, it seems to have been taken to a new level.  I believe Mitch McConnell was quoted early on as saying that the only congressional agenda was to block Obama from achieving anything.  This was something new.  Maybe it aligns with the emergence of the Tea Party.  Or maybe it aligns with race; I can't say.

I don’t know that you’ve missed this, but it is omitted in your blog: Hillary Clinton was a terrible candidate. So terrible, in fact, that a moral reprobate won. My response: Ew! that he is in but, Yay! that she is not. Apart from the fact that she is a woman (which, I fail to see a valid argument in, and which I thought wasn’t such a “fact” anymore, right?), what did she offer that was worthy of the presidency? She presents as entitled, above-the-law, and beyond scrutiny because of her lady parts. And this coming from the side that demands that I accept that boy/girl parts are irrelevant to who a person is! You even make that case here, “We had the tears, especially from women who must have thought they were about to experience what black people felt eight years ago when Barack Obama was elected President--only to have that moment ripped from them.” Why? Why would her election bring me – as a woman – some sort of euphoric experience? This woman actually stood on the debate stage and attempted to argue the virtues of scissors to the skull of a mostly-born baby for the sake of Women’s Rights. You used to keep this part quite. And how was it “ripped” from us? There was an election and the ideas that have been rejected for the last 3 elections were rejected again. In spite of Obama’s re-election in 2012 (He is a charismatic figure; she is not.), the country has rejected his platform again – at least for now. I vote on character and policy, not on genitals. To suggest that women as a group lost something on that basis alone is actually pretty insulting (though, I’m not insulted and I know you didn’t mean that, but that is how it reads).

So there’s a lot going on here.  Let me take things in turn.  First, there is a narrative that Hillary didn’t give voters a reason to vote FOR her.  And I can agree with that.  In fact, I remember reading something that said the Clinton campaign was going to continue to focus on Trump, holding him and his actions (and utterances) out as the best reason to vote for Hillary—you don’t want THIS GUY do you??  That was a sound strategy, until it wasn’t.  Hillary didn’t have a “vote for me because” story, at least not one that was easy to digest.  That story is probably there, deep in some of her policy proposals, but if that’s where to find it, then it’s buried way too deep for the average voter to find.  Remember Reagan’s “are you better off then you were four years ago?” statement.  That’s the sort of litmus test voters respond to.  And, as it turned out, there was at least one group of voters who had a clear “no” answer to that question: displaced manufacturing workers.  These workers saw their middle class incomes gashed as work was shifted to China or (mostly) automated, and no one was there to help them adjust to changed economic circumstances.  Likewise, coal miners have seen their livelihoods ripped away with the decline of the coal mining industry.  While I attribute this to a permanent decline in global demand as (in turn) the US, India and China have moved away from coal and toward cleaner alternatives for electricity generation, the narrative for some has been that this has happened due to policy choices that could be reversed.  It didn’t help Hillary when she went on about killing off coal (one of those open-mic faux pas moments) but it doesn’t change the facts on the ground.

I didn’t see Hillary as a terrible candidate, for three reasons. 

  • Compared to Bernie Sanders (another populist) I felt that Clinton would actually be able to get something done with Congress if she were elected.  After all, the last Democrat to accomplish something as President was also named Clinton.  Bernie made people on the left feel good, but I never felt that he had the agenda or the political support to cause change to happen. 
  • I don't buy into the “crooked Hillary” narrative.  I hear the accusations but I don’t see the facts.  If you’re likening Hillary to the “Washington establishment” and saying that you didn’t want more of the same, I can appreciate that thought.  In fact, that is apparently what some segments of the voting populace felt.  (It is ironic how often candidates run for President on a platform of being an “outsider”.) 
  • I see Hillary as something of a “policy wonk” to use the Washington term.  I was looking forward to seeing her bring her ideas forward and trying to implement them.  Maybe she was too nerdy to connect with voters.

And I didn’t see Hillary as a good candidate just because she’s a woman.  I also didn’t mean to say that women did (or should have) vote/ed for her because she’s a woman.  I’m with you in thinking that talent, competence and fit for the job are the reasons that I want to matter when it comes to selecting the right person for the job.

You’ve argued that this is a last gasp of the defeated-but-not-going-down-without-a-fight white man, and I think that is where you miss the point the most. You view people as voting blocks, not as individuals, as evidenced by:

  • And I thought about the demographic shift happening in America, where white men are quickly on their way to becoming a minority population. (I exclude white women because they, like all women, are already a minority.)
  • It feels more like a last stand, like the last gasp of a group trying to hang onto something that is inexorably slipping from their grasp.
  • The tide is shifting, and railing against it isn't going to slow it down or alter it in any way.

First, correct me if I’m wrong, but I see an assumption in these statements and in the liberal platform generally that somehow being a white male is inherently wrong and something to be beaten into submission. That there is some virtue in being “a Somali woman...elected as a representative” or “a woman…elected as the first Latina Senator” ABOVE or SUPERIOR to that of being a white male that would have accomplished the same. But this argument never flows the other way from the left. So, while you claim to support minorities in positions of influence, you really don’t if they have the audacity to think outside of the allowable lines liberals have drawn for them based on their skin color. Look at the field of candidates offered this primary season on both sides and ask yourself where “diversity” was reflected most. I see people as individuals made in Imago Dei, all with their own stories to tell, their own life experiences, and their own dreams. This is why I am a conservative. I believe government should get out of the way and allow people to pursue those dreams, not put barriers up or actively try to destroy people who refuse to conform.

I’m not saying that there’s something inherently wrong in being a white male (or white, or male, or… anything.)  What I was trying to say is that the world I have experienced as a white male is not the same world experienced by black males I know, or black women, or white women.  It’s hard to expand on this without getting too general too fast.  I’ll just say that I see racism and sexism in our society, and these “ism’s” have benefited white men at the expense of others.  I don’t see the playing field as being level which is one reason why I’m in favor of efforts to help make it more level.

I’m not celebrating a Somali woman elected to office as being ipso facto (hey, you broke out the Latin first) better than a white man.  My point is that this is happening, and it's unusual enough to notice.  People other than white males are being elected to posts those non-white, non-males haven’t held in the past.  Nowadays, it’s not unusual to see a black baseball player.  But before 1947 it was a big deal.  Black men were segregated into their own units in the Army through World War II; now they’re not.  Women weren’t eligible for combat roles; now they are.  What I’m celebrating is the beginning of something not being a big deal anymore.  It’s a slightly less big deal that the US could have a black President, now that we've had one.  There are plenty of countries that have had women as heads of state; the US isn’t (yet) one of them.  Someday that will happen.  And when it does, it will be because that woman was the best person for the job.  And it will be a big deal.  After it happens for the 40th time… not such a big whoop.

Which brings me to…second (and finally!). The last 8 years have been characterized by major federal overreach and severely divisive rhetoric from the top. Americans have been hammered with accusations of racism, homophobia, and sexism NONSTOP. Christians have been targeted and financially destroyed for their faith – not for chasing down and burning homosexuals at the stake, but literally for not wanting to make pastry. NUNS were sued for not wanting to violate their faith and their conscience. Our rights that have defined us as Americans have been under relentless attack – the First Amendment, the Second Amendment, and the Tenth Amendments specifically. The enumerated powers of the federal government have been violated repeatedly. The Pen and the Phone were elevated, which doesn’t seem so exciting when the rabbit has the gun now, does it? We have been told we are bigots if we don’t want creepy dudes in the restrooms with our daughters. Our police forces have been targeted and demoralized – this one, particularly personal to me as the wife of a deputy shot in the line of duty (side note: you know what never comes up when we talk about the shooting and all we’ve had to go through since? The shooter’s skin color. After the initial, “oh really? He was black?” conversation, it’s never come up again.). Obamacare has skyrocketed insurance premiums, but we’re told it’s the “Affordable Care Act,” so we must accept that, in spite of what we see happening in our own finances. Industries have been targeted and told they were going to be regulated out of business. What you see as heartwarming demonstration, I see as vandalism and violence. I see an entire generation that simply can’t handle life. I think the left has done an enormous disservice to this generation by the coddling, the “safe-spaces,” the promotion that they should never have to hear a contrary opinion. Damage has been and is being done when these students have to face the real world without understanding how to lose; they can’t think critically. I could go on.

I can’t meaningfully respond to most of this, as it would require taking your examples one by one and reviewing the facts of each.  But I do want to speak to the item that I know strikes home: the discussions about police-involved shootings of minorities.  I'm not a (willing) participant in culture wars.  And the back-and-forth about whose lives matter is not really helpful to anyone.  Yes, there’s been plenty of over-reaction to police shootings of black men.  One cop shooting one black man doesn’t by itself constitute racism.  But there have been a lot of officer-involved shootings reported, and some of those cases are hard to explain outside of a racist context.

These are people’s livelihoods. These are people’s families. The left pushed the pendulum too far, and now we are seeing it swing back. I don’t see this as a last gasp at all. I see this as the people bringing a bigger bully to the fight to stand up to the bully we’ve been dealing with these last several years. I don’t like that part, just to be clear. A strong-man is not our answer. I believe the common ground you say you are ready to look for was already masterfully laid out in the Constitution – in Freedom. Hillary Clinton didn’t represent that, as I see it. I really want to believe that the people rejected her positions and voted against those (I do not see the authoritarianism represented in many of DTs words as the road to freedom, either, but my hope does not lie in government. Plus, my own blinders prevent me from seeing how anyone could have actually voted in support of him.). Still, I do not view these results as a last gasp of a dying breed, but as tired Americans who are thankful for the freedoms they have enjoyed not wanting to continue the erosion of those rights advocated by the left. I understand we see that differently, and that’s ok. That’s freedom.

And here we agree.  To the extent that what’s happened is the pendulum-swing of ideas and policies—too far this way, now back that way—I am OK with that.  That’s how progress occurs.  Pick your favorite example of something that happens now that didn’t use to happen… or the opposite. Trump didn't win by a landslide; in fact, he didn't win the popular vote.  But Republicans did gain overall in the election.  So that would support the pendulum-swinging-back idea.  But as always, it’s a mixed bag.  As one small example, California legalized marijuana but did not strike down the death penalty.

So we will see.  Thanks for being willing to challenge me and for sharing your point of view.  This kind of dialogue is good for weakening all of our bubbles.

*


276

Fair warning: I'm writing this quickly, as I want to get it out.  So there won't be the usual citations.  Just my opinion, which I think is accurate but hey.

OK, I know it's more than that now: 279 electoral college votes and likely to climb since Arizona will definitely go to Trump.  But that was the count when I woke up yesterday morning and checked CNN.  I had gone to bed the night before with Hillary Clinton trailing.  But there was still a sliver of hope, and I wasn't going to count on the media getting the election outcome right, after getting it wrong every step of the way up to now.

But as I woke and checked the results yesterday morning, Trump's victory was confirmed.  Yes, I was shocked. Yes, I was disappointed.  "There's no way the American people will elect this clown," I had repeatedly thought.  It turns out, that was just my optimism speaking.  They could, and they did.

I don't know what this means.  No one does, and if they tell you they do, they're full of shit.

As that reality settled in, there were the inevitable stages of grieving.  We had the tears, especially from women who must have thought they were about to experience what black people felt eight years ago when Barack Obama was elected President--only to have that moment ripped from them.  We had anger, though not of the "you stole the election" sort that we saw with George W. Bush's election.  We've had protests, such as the walkout at the high school in Berkeley yesterday (student activism among millennials, or whatever that generation is called, warms my heart).

And now we, and the rest of the world, ask, "what's next?"

Where to, America?

Will we descend into fascism as Bill Maher worried on his show last week? Will we see a rollback of the liberties recently won, such as gay marriage?  Will we send Hispanic immigrants away? Will we institute some sort of religion test for Muslim immigrants?

I'm an optimist; I can't help it, it's my nature. I have a hard time believing that the election of Donald Trump is going to initiate some sort of rollback to the 50's and 60's, to a time when white men were king of the hill and everyone else "knew their place."  Then again, I had a hard time believing that Trump could ever get elected, so take that for what you wish.

Two things resonated with me as we watched the election coverage and it appeared more and more likely that Mr. Trump was going to be our next President.  First, a commentator said that Trump's victory was not only a blow to the Democratic party, but to the Republican party as well.  After all, he ran against the "Republican establishment" as much as the Democratic one.  If that's the case, it's hard to see how Trump is going to accomplish anything.  We do have three branches of government, not one.  And it's Congress that has to pass legislation to advance whatever "really terrific" plan Trump has in mind.  So if he's alienated everyone, how's that going to happen?

And by the way, I'm not freaking out about a new Supreme Court justice.  Of course, I could be wrong about that; see my comments about unbridled optimism above.  But what I've seen over the years is that Supreme Court justices tend to go their own way, despite the best efforts of Congress to steer them toward a particular point of view.

The second and more important comment from election night was from Doris Kearns Goodwin, a favorite of US history geeks everywhere.  She had been asked if there was any other presidential election that had parallels with this one.  Her answer was that the current election reminded her not of another race, but another time:  the transition from an agrarian to an industrial economy, from a rural to an urban population.  This was maybe in the late 19th century.  Her comment was that in such a time of change and uncertainty, there was a lot of fear.  People wanted to return to the life, the culture, the ways that they had been so comfortable with for all this time.  I connected that with reports that Trump's base was not out-of-work factory workers, but reasonably wealthy white men.  And I thought about the demographic shift happening in America, where white men are quickly on their way to becoming a minority population.  (I exclude white women because they, like all women, are already a minority.)  Then I connected that with a story about how people in times like this that are drawn to authoritarian figures, as a source of comfort.

So maybe I'm way out on a limb here.  But I'm not seeing this election as the beginning of a return to a white-dominated era.  It feels more like a last stand, like the last gasp of a group trying to hang onto something that is inexorably slipping from their grasp.

Yes, we elected someone that seemingly no one thought would, or should, be President.  But before people starting running off declaring some kind of mandate, consider that three states legalized marijuana in this election cycle.  And a black and Indian woman was elected as a California senator.  And (from what Samantha Bee tells me) a Somali woman was elected as a representative and a woman was elected as the first Latina Senator.  The tide is shifting, and railing against it isn't going to slow it down or alter it in any way.

The morning after election day something unusual happened.  As I was walking Mona, a gardener called me over and asked me what I thought about the election.  His English wasn't that good, but I could tell he wanted someone to explain what happened.  Should he be worried? I told him, "you're not going anywhere."  He held his hands apart, explaining that there was a giant rift in this country that needed to be closed if we were going to move forward as a nation.

And I thought about a customer I've been working with, Oscar.  He runs a sign business in Southern California, and employs a couple dozen people.  He's a hard worker--I know, because I get messages from him at 6:45 AM.  Oscar seems to represent where America is headed.  Maybe that's scary or intimidating for some people; I can appreciate that.  I don't know what it means to share the stage with people from other countries and other backgrounds, but I'm willing to be a part of it.  I'm ready to search for common ground.  Mostly, I'm ready to move forward.


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.


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 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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  20150109_175458516_iOS   20150131_184640875_iOS

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

 


When Love Wins

Last week was a momentous week, especially with the Supreme Court affirming the constitutionality of same-sex marriage.  I happened to be driving past the Facebook campus on Friday, and noticed that their "like" sign had been covered in the rainbow-colored gay pride background.

Twitter no doubt went crazy (I stayed away) but when I checked in to Facebook there were scores of posts celebrating the news, and lots of people changing their profile photos to include a gay pride background.  As I said in my Facebook post, I thought this was a big day for America.

I also noticed what was missing: reaction from those who didn't favor the idea of same-sex marriage.  Some of these friends are prolific posters, so I knew it wasn't because they had nothing to say.  More likely, they were holding off.  This got me thinking that it might help to explain my position on the matter.

First off, living in the San Francisco area, we're used to "live and let live" being the dominant ethos.  It can be easy to forget that what seems normal here is far from normal in many other places.

Second, my happiness had to do with empathy for the gay and lesbian friends and co-workers I've known over the years.  Seeing someone have to avoid sharing their personal life for fear of rejection or retribution just seemed like a terrible way to live.  For me, this ruling was about being able to say, "this is who I am!"  I couldn't be happier knowing that this roadblock to living a genuine life had been removed.

I have friends who object to homosexuality on religious grounds.  I get that, and I'm not here to change their minds.  I don't think the Supreme Court ruling threatens their beliefs.  Freedom of religion is a strong value in our country.  What you choose to believe about others, as a result of your religious beliefs, is up to you.

I also think there are those that equate marriage to a religious institution and event.  It is that, but that's not the "marriage" that is in question here.  I focus on the ability to obtain a marriage certificate--a legal document from the government.  This ruling doesn't mean that churches are now going to be obligated to conduct wedding ceremonies for people living a life those churches don't believe in.  I had the opportunity to get married in a church, and the religious leaders made it clear what was required of me (and my spouse) for that to happen.  It was in essence a business transaction:  you do this for us, we do that for you.  Even the fact that I belonged to the church didn't grant me any special privileges in that regard.

Having just finished reading a book about the struggle for ensuring voting rights for black Americans, I see this ruling in that context.  This was a great victory, but the struggle to grant equal rights to those whose sexual preferences are different than my own is a struggle that continues.

I'm not into culture wars.  I don't celebrate the unhappiness of anyone who thinks this ruling is wrong.  I'm glad I have friends with diverse opinions; it makes like more interesting.  I don't expect to convince anyone to think differently about the same-sex marriage ruling after reading this.  I do hope they'll have a different understanding.


Product Managers on the Road: Houston Edition

Worldwide Partner Congress—WPC in Microsoft-speak—is a gigantic beginning-of-Microsoft-fiscal-year sales get-together held in early July each year. Just me and 15,000 friends I haven't met yet.

I hadn't planned to attend, but my Microsoft representatives really, really wanted me to go. So they got me into the "Partner Executive Summit" the weekend prior to the Conference, and paid for my conference registration. Since the answer to all of my "how do I find the right partner?" questions in the weeks leading up to the conference was always, "go to WPC!" I figured I should go ahead… even though Houston doesn't immediately jump to mind for pleasant summer destinations.

Other than passing through its airport (the "Midnight Madness" connection to Boston remains surreal to this day), I can only remember one other visit to Houston. That was about fifteen years ago, on a road trip that included a stopover with my Aunt Bunny (the only name I ever knew her by). It was hot and humid that time, too; no surprise there. The highlight of that visit was my Aunt Bunny swatting and stunning a giant cockroach and then telling me, "Danny, you can go ahead and toss it out of the house now." Yeesh.

The conference starts on a Monday, but the Executive Summit kicks off the prior Saturday. We were in McCloud to celebrate Independence Day and Brian's birthday with the family, but I will have to cut my weekend celebration short.

Saturday

McCloud. My day starts at 2:45 AM. I get up, finish packing for the conference, pack up all the stuff that's going back home with Crystal, and make a mental note to be sure to bring Bucky, my much-traveled neck pillow that allows me to sleep more comfortably in an airplane seat.

By 3:30AM Mary (my saintly sister, who's driving me to the airport) and I are out the door, right on time. We hop into the Mercedes we've borrowed for the weekend from Cheryl (saintly sister #2) for the ride to the Redding Airport. But first, we need to get some gas. We pull into the local gas station, I push on the filler cap cover to open it and… it won't open. I push again; no luck. This is a Mercedes—everything is activated by pushing. What else could be causing the problem? After 20 minutes of brain-fogged problem-solving, including several unsuccessful attempts to reach Brian or Cheryl by phone, Mary calls it and we head back to the rental house to get the Honda and head to the airport.

Now all the extra time I had built into the schedule is gone. We jump on Highway 89, heading west toward Highway 5. It's still dark out, a great time to find a deer in the road. And sure enough, we encounter a big buck crossing Highway 89, far enough to one side not to require me to take defensive driving action. But judging from the points on that buck, I can see why he thinks he's a badass.

We get to Redding airport on time, just a few minutes behind schedule. There are basically three flights a day, so I had missed this flight, it would be a while before I could take another flight to SFO. It's a small airport, but the security is big-time. It reminds me that the 9/11 bombers got into the air traffic system at a small regional airport in Maine. Lesson learned.

The group ahead of me is from Australia, and apparently they've showed up a day after their flight… makes me think they were operating on Australia time. Somehow things get sorted out for them. Brian had showed me how to use my United Airlines iPhone app the day before, so I'm all checked in except for paying to check my bag. I don't want to carry it anyway, but surely there's no way it's going to fit on this twin-prop commuter flight. Then again, I'm apparently traveling with a group of musicians, judging from the number of guitar cases waiting to be carried on to the plane.

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On the plane, seat 2A. Dawn breaks, the thin sliver of a crescent moon fades, and we're headed to San Francisco. Once at SFO, it takes me a while to sift through all the Houston flights for mine, so I can get on the right shuttle bus from the commuter terminal to the main United terminal.

On my flight to Houston. I think CalTrain was in charge of the cabin temperature, because it's freezing. It's like they want to overcome the heat and humidity of Houston by making the temperature as low as possible on the flight. I have no jacket with me (who needs a jacket when the Houston forecast is for 90+ degree temps and 90+ percent humidity?) and good luck finding a blanket; maybe that was one of the options for purchase when I checked in.

Getting ready to land. The flight attendant, in that sweet Texas drawl, is shooing a passenger back to his seat. I can see his problem—he's located his luggage behind him on the plane, a cardinal sin. I kind of feel sorry for him, but not too much since he is sitting in first class after all.

We've landed at Bush airport in Houston. This airport is definitely Texas-sized. My United app has just told me that my flight has landed. Uh, thanks for that.

There's a message on my phone from Brian: call us right away when you land… what's that about? This is what it's about. Oh and welcome to today's reality—first news of it arrived via a fellow passenger's Facebook feed. I call Brian to let him and everyone know I'm fine, and not stuck at SFO.

At the hotel. There are an awful lot of "how to stay safe" commercials on the TV at this hotel. Makes me wonder about the neighborhood. I later learn that the area, Greenspoint, has a nickname of "Gunspoint." Ok, then! I hit the gym for a nice, long workout.

Taxi ride into downtown Houston, for the cocktail reception in advance of the Partner Executive Summit. Just like the airplane, the hotel temperature is turned way down to overcome the effects from the outside temperature. I try to be discreet as I wolf down the little spoons of Asian-flavored tuna tartare.

Sunday

Today is a full day of Partner Executive Summit sessions. I go outside my hotel to catch a cab, and my glasses immediately fog up.

It's weird working on a Sunday. It takes me a while to figure out why no one is returning my emails.

After a full day of presentations, it's time for cocktails. Actually, there are two cocktail receptions in a row… this could be trouble. I skip one reception and go to the Partner Summit dinner at III (as in 3) Forks restaurant. Time for a Shiner Bock beer; hello Texas! It may have been a mistake asking for the medium-well filet, as I get the "hey bub, you asked for it" cut from the filet mignon. Hey, who's complaining?

I finish the evening with a glass of wine at the bar. I end up leaving my work bag in the bar and get a phone call in my room… doh!

Monday

Fogged glasses again.

My morning alarm goes off as planned. Unfortunately, I've left my phone on vibrate, which means I sleep through the alarm—so much for working out. And so much for making it to Steve Ballmer's keynote. Still, the follow-on sessions are interesting. There's one on Business Intelligence that uses bubble charts to show the top musician each year. Turns out Mariah Carey has more staying power than you would think. The presenter showcasing all the cool things about Windows 8 looks remarkably like Rick Harrison from Pawn Stars.

Q&A session with Steve Ballmer. The staging of it (don't be late, he waits for everyone to be there before he comes out) reminds me of Paul Stern and his "tour" of Nortel back when. Those were not happy times.

The session format is standard talk show, two living room chairs with a little table in between. Except that Steve Ballmer doesn't want to sit back in the comfy chair and talk. He keep scooting up to the edge of the seat. After a while I realize his speaking style is like Father Dan from our church—he has that Midwest twang and he kind of shouts when he gets excited or wants to make a point. But he's well prepared and gives on-point answers, no real platitudes. Substance! But you also see some of that competitive "I want to crush the competition" drive. It's interesting that Microsoft was once viewed as the Evil Empire and now that title has passed to others like Google and Facebook.

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Partner dinner at the Petroleum Club, 43rd floor of the ExxonMobil building. Yes there is a dress code (M-F: business casual, jackets suggested). I walk over from the convention center. Since it rained earlier, the skies are clearing and it's merely incredibly humid. I make my way past the homeless people and the guys playing basketball in the city park nearby. After a half-dozen blocks, I'm at the ExxonMobil building (I'm still wondering where the Enron building was located). I look like I've walked through a waterfall to get here.

Up to the top. Nice view of the Salvation Army below, home of some of the other 99%. Where is JR? I know he's dead, I know that was Dallas. But if oil defines any place in Texas, Houston has to be high up on that list. There's a nice combo playing; they could be called, "Three Old White Guys." The music is fine, until they perform a rendition of Yes' All Good People. I'm starting to feel a little ill.

On the shuttle bus ride back to my hotel after the day is over. I count roughly two tattoo parlors, six adult video stores, five strip clubs (including Fantasy Plaza, because sometimes one building is not enough to contain one's fantasies), a couple of pawn shops and payday loan businesses, and more than a dozen boarded up buildings. Also a "Mas Club;" think Sam's Club for the Spanish-speaking population. And a furniture store called The Dump, with its tagline, "get dumped!"

Tuesday

My ritual morning fogging of the glasses.

Temps are in the 90s—cooler, but the heat index is above 100. I wanted to get up and work out, but I've got a stiff back. Or, I'm just feeling a bit lazy.

My first day of regular conference sessions. In the first session, I see one of the worst charts I've seen in a while. From my Nortel experience, I can tell it's one of those internal business plan charts that puts everything you might want to know on one slide. We could spend the whole hour just "unpacking" that one slide. Mercifully, the speakers move on.

On a side note: I think the infographic craze has gotten to Microsoft. That, and the "doors" metaphor as a replacement for "windows." The PowerPoint slides don't have titles. And there are no bullet icons. Each main idea is in its own little box. And if you want to "drill down" on something, you click on it… Open the door, get it?

Next comes the march of the acronyms. EPG, CA, MEC… "Rhythm of Business." There's no end to it; more on this later. And please, presenters, don't ask for a "show of hands." No one wants to raise their hand!

The new normal: people taking photos of the presenter's slides. A new opportunity for Evernote!

One thing I've learned about WPC is that you can't go hungry here. There's a buffet breakfast. There are refreshments all the time, and a buffet lunch—free to all attendees. Then there are the dinners and parties… Had a great BBQ brisket for lunch today, though it featured a North Carolina-style mustard and vinegar sauce. I'm surprised that made it past the Texas Board of Health.

Evening events include a "reunion" of the folks that attended the similarly named Partner Executive Summit back in March, followed by the West Region Partner Awards dinner. More booze and appetizers.

Wednesday

Slightly less fog on my glasses this morning; the weather's improving.

One of the big activities at the Conference is meetings with other partners. Microsoft even has it all wired, where you can arrange to reserve one of the tables they have set aside for this purpose; no need to meet in the coffee shop down the street (unless you aren't an attendee). A number of companies have set up meetings with me, mostly Independent Software Vendors. I don't see any immediate opportunity there (and tell them before we set the meetings) but hey, I'll meet with anyone for fifteen minutes.

Unfortunately, the execution lags. I've been on the go since early AM, and don't get lunch until 1:30 PM. Most of the events I set up using the WPC app on my phone also synch to my Calendar; but not all of them do. So I end up inadvertently blowing off two partner meetings, and get blown off by a third. I do manage to meet with an Israeli security company (with a US headquarters; this is a recurring theme…) that has an interesting encryption device. I tell them flat out not to suggest that their device would have prevented the NSA from reading people's mail.

It turns out to be a very good meeting, and kind of reminds me why I like working with startups. I had shown up early to the meeting, when the CEO was pitching to the "Google compete" people from Microsoft, and I could see them thinking, "what is your 'ask'?" One of them was kind of understanding that there was a "kill" message against Google, but she clearly knew nothing about cryptography. Her colleague had that "we're Microsoft, we're badass!" look on his face and seemed more focused on where the drinks were going to be happening that evening.

I finish up with calls to my customer in San Francisco, to get up to date on this month's planned project activities, and with a call to the boss, who is arranging my travel to DC later in the month. Things are all wrapped up by 6:45 PM.

On to Minute Maid Park, home of the Astro's. Or, as my late Uncle John loved to call them back in the day, the "Disastro's." There's this U-shaped redevelopment that comprises Minute Maid Park and the Hilton Americas hotel on opposite sides, and the Walter G. Brown Convention Center in the middle. It's a great start at some urban redevelopment. It's also clearly still a work in progress. There is a dirt lot across the street from the entrance to the park, and what are these historic-looking buildings doing here?

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This evening is the big "partner celebration," featuring Fitz and the Tantrums along with Lenny Kravitz. The whole thing reminds me of the big Nortel bash held at the end of every International SL-1 (later Meridian 1) User Association meeting.

At any rate, I'm having a good time walking around the park. It's kind of like AT&T Park except it's indoors, which makes the field look smaller than it is. And they have that funny uphill section of the outfield in straightaway center field, which always looked like an accident waiting to happen for center fielders. They're serving beer and wine, no hard liquor; probably a good call. Some of the attendees have taken the time to change into their party outfits. I cruise around looking for something that will stand for dinner. Eventually, I settle on an Italian sausage with peppers. I'm hearing the pre-band music and realize many of the songs are from my morning BodyPump workouts. I think God is trying to tell me something.

Pop quiz: which of these items can be found in Minute Maid Park?

  • Mechanical bull
  • Giant cowboy cutout picture
  • Giant cowboy boots
  • Bar tables made from wagon wheels
  • Halliburton sponsor sign

Answer: all of the above of course!

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I stay for Fitz et al, but decide I've had enough before Lenny Kravitz starts to play. As I leave the park, I pass by a Catholic church. The plaque on the church says that, "In keeping with the penitential rites, there was no heating until 1914, and no air conditioning until the 1930s." My kind of Catholics!

Thursday

Almost done. I'm going to miss you, foggy glasses.

The big news at the conference actually comes from afar: Microsoft just announced a reorganization. And so starts the speculation about who won, who lost, was it the right thing to do, can it be accomplished and so on. More navel-gazing.

I'm in my first session of the day, one of the "how to work with Microsoft" sessions I had signed up for. I actually hear the presenter say the following with no trace of irony, and no objections from the crowd: "The PTU mission is to be ATU accountable and STU aligned"… huh?

I manage to catch up with one of the partners I missed earlier in the week. They're a software developer from Bulgaria. The CEO is focused in his discussion, his partner looks like she's done for the week. We conclude that there's no immediate chance to work together, but we'll stay in touch nonetheless.

One final session on go-to-market in Europe. I'm here as much as anything because I love to hear the European accents. After the session, and some catching up on work and personal mail, I retrieve my bag and go find an actual BBQ restaurant in Houston: Tony's BBQ and Steakhouse. It's a bit of a dive, the way I like. You order cafeteria style and there aren't a lot of healthy sides to choose from. I'd love to finish my lunch with a Shiner Bock, but apparently they can't serve beer at lunch time.

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I walk back to the convention center and cool off while I wait for my bus and head to the airport. It's been a good week. But, as with all conventions, by the end of it I'm ready to get home. I've connected with a lot of good people, learned some new Microsoft acronyms, bought a Surface tablet on sale (without having to wait in line for hours), had some good BBQ and learned a little bit about Houston. Not bad for a week on the road.


Product Managers on the Road, Capitol Edition

One of our largest customers, a group of agricultural research centers, held the annual meeting of their IT Managers in early May, in Washington, DC.  I was invited to attend so that I could provide an update on a pilot Active Directory project we were conducting, and to give a talk on Microsoft's direction with respect to cloud computing.  Naturally, this meant an opportunity for another "Product Managers on the Road" edition!

Travel Day.  Flight leaves at 6 AM... yeesh. At least I have a car taking me to the airport.  Brian's with me, since he came out to make a surprise visit to Sean during Sean's chemotherapy treatment.

After saying goodbye to Brian (he's on a different flight back to DC) I head to the gate.  Okay... it's a 737 with only paid amenities.  Time to stock up on some nuts and dried fruit for the flight. I send a couple of text messages to Sean to see how he's feeling.

It's a full flight, and naturally everyone is attempting to carry their life's possessions onto the flight.  They were taking volunteers to gate-check bags; a great way to check your bags for free.

On the plane. The passenger ahead of me is falling asleep, and keeps snapping her neck as her head drops forward.  Reminds me of me at the opera.

Good news: there's a monitor in the seat back.  Bad news: I can't turn it off.  Welcome to six hours of the same Lincoln car commercial.  Or I could pay to watch network TV shows, with commercials. Wait, what?

Dante, who's traveling with me, finds the oldest Peruvian restaurant in DC.  I get to experience aji, a kind of all-purpose hot sauce.  I stupidly ask Dante if he's ever had Peruvian food, forgetting that Dante is from Peru

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Niner fans--you never know where they'll turn up. 

Meeting Day One.  At the IT Managers meeting.  I learn a new term when one of the IT Managers says he is going to “throw a spanner in the works.”

Many of the IT Managers here are European.  Maybe that's why they commented that today's hot meal is "a real lunch" compared with yesterday's cold sandwiches.  I also notice a reluctance to eat in the meeting room, even though there are more places to sit there.  This is certainly different than a startup!  There's also a bit of the "Microsoft as Evil Empire" feeling in the room.  How long until Google attains that status?

Good news: the Golden State Warriors' playoff game is on TNT! Bad news: there's no sound.  I get to watch the entire game, including two overtimes, on forced mute.  Steph Curry's face at the end of the game says, "can we just get this over?"

Meeting Day Two.  During one of the smoking breaks (!) I observe the commotion as a group of people are trying to feed/protect a duck they find nesting in the flowers.  The contrast in attention paid to the duck vs. the homeless guy panhandlng nearby is perfect.

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Yes, that's a duck nesting in the planter outside the building I was visiting.

Dante and I get to leave the meeting early.  So I take Dante to see the Capitol Building.  We're walking, and when I feel the first couple of raindrops we head for shelter.  Good thing--the skies open up for 10 minutes or more.  We end up taking a taxi the rest of the way to the Capitol building.  Of course, the rain stops as soon as we arrive.

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This is outside the World Bank, one of our customers.  But I took the photo because the logo reminded me of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Huh?

Looking for a cab after out Capitol visit.  Thanks to a kind taxi driver, I learn where to stand (and where not to stand) if you're looking for a cab, in the rain, at 5:00 PM.

Evening off.  Brian and I had planned to go see the Washington Nationals play, but I already have one experience getting rained on while watching them, so we change plans.  We end up getting some great seafood, including, oysters we've never heard of before, at Hank's Oyster Bar in Georgetown.  Then it's over to a 60s style bar for a drink.  I feel like I'm in some sort of James Bond movie.

Day Three.  Visiting another customer, have some time before my appointment.  The weather's cleared up a bit, so I take a stroll near the White House and then back to where I had been staying.  I decide I'd better eat now, since I may use up all my lunch time walking back to my hotel.  I grab a hot dog and find a bench to sit and eat.

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I can only imagine the advice McKinsey gave this vendor: "diversify!"

Now back to the hotel, to check out and go to my next appointment. 

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I found the food trucks.  Too bad I already ate lunch!

A great meeting with my customer, now on to the airport and back home... As Brian had told me, Thursday afternoon is the worst time to fly out of Dulles; all the Congress-people are headed back home for the weekend.  So everything takes longer, and my plan to change into casual clothes before the flight is for naught.  I have just enough time to get to the gate and hand them my ticket.  And who do I run into (almost literally) at the gate? Jackie Speier.  Brian interned for Jackie when he first went to Washington, so it was great to catch up with her and let her know what Brian is doing these days.

Late-night arrival in SFO.  Fortunately, I have a car taking me home so I can doze off.  Great trip, great fun with Brian and co, great customer interactions!