Archive for July, 2004

"American Idol" effects

Friday, July 16th, 2004

Has American Idol affected how we live day to day? Has hearing the placating sweet words of Paula seem false? Have the scathing brutally honest comments of Simon seem true? Who do we respect more? Has that changed us? Thousands of applicants, but so few are really top quality. The vast majority are average and know it. And a few think they’re talented and they’re not whatsoever. We are surrounded by people in similar circumstances. Some judging, some being judged. Some top quality, but most aren’t. If you’re being judged would you rather have an honest critique, or content free sweet words? Since American Idol are we becoming both more critical and more accepting of criticism. I think so, but is it a good thing?


Thursday, July 15th, 2004

The person cried in my office. I felt awful. A previous post was about this person’s work. Over the past few months I have talked, taught, suggested, and cajoled this individual to see the light, but it has been hard. Although I felt I have been very very patient, it wasn’t enough.

What’s the problem? This person just doesn’t have the experience. This person just needs to do the work again, and again, and again. This person needs to struggle to figure out how to express things in the simplest and most straight-forward, obvious way. This person needs to fix problems while realizing why they occurred in the first place and how to never have them happen again. Just too intense to do in such a short time.

What did I do wrong? A lot. I was too vocal. I said too much, too often. I should have just kept my mouth shut more. The person said they felt worthless. How sad. Previously I tried to work through this person when changes needed to be done. I discussed each change and why they were needed. Then I let the person do the changes. This was both exhausting and frustrating. However, recently and mistakenly I decided to make some changes myself. This was the final straw, and the individual gave up, and said that the work was now mine.

Work reincarnation

Wednesday, July 14th, 2004

Over your career you will have many individual jobs. When you change jobs I think of this as “work reincarnation” where you “die”, that is, you leave a job and come back into another “existence” or job. Sometime you stick with some of the same people, other times you’re on your own. Sometimes you reuse your expertise, other times you have much to learn. I call the latter “going naked” into a new job. I have been fortunate that these changes have occurred within the same company. As a result my benefits and salary have remained the same, whereas when one changes companies there can be a discontinuity (IMHO, many times this can be a jump down, yet it can be a jump up if you are a player – I’m not). In each of these jobs you meet new people, learn and try new things, and sometimes you can even change locations. I have found that earlier in my career I would stay in a job approximately five years. Now my job duration tends to be about two years. I’ve worked for many different people from a beginning manager, to a bureaucrat, to a corporate high-level technologist called an IBM Fellow. Most times I have choosen to change jobs, but sometimes, much less often, it has been forced upon me. In each of these self-imposed changes I have tried to choose what is the next “thing”, this I call “catching a wave”, that is, something that is new and has a long term and wide impact on the business. This enhances one’s resume and allows you to continue to be gainfully employed.

An incremental job

Sunday, July 11th, 2004

Since March I’ve been painting trim on the house (yes, March, it seem it’s been a lifetime). Each weekend I wake early (remember I can’t help it I just wake up) and at least one day each weekend I paint trim. I have taken two or three weekends off due to other commitments or the weather. I paint early in the morning because it’s summer and the Austin, Texas sun is brutal. At 10:30 to 11:00 AM I’m squinting in the sun, dripping of sweat, exhausted, and I call it quits.

The house is 8 years old and the trim was showing a lot of wear-and-tear. The builder used the cheapest bulk stuff to paint it. The house is brick on three sides and wood siding on the back with wood eaves all around. All the wood needed desperately to be painted. The paint was chalky, cracking or just falling off. Also there is some water damage that will also need repairing, but I thought I’d paint up to the damage first, then do the repairs.

I took a quarter-sized piece of siding off the water-damaged back section that I’ll replace later and went to the local paint store. They scanned it and made me two gallons that match. Little did I realize at the time that the sample had some water damage and a bit of green algae/mold so the new trim color is muddier with a hint of green. What is surprising it that it looks good with the bricks we have. It actually looks better that the previous color. Even the neighbors have commented about how nice the color is, and it was a total mistake.

I bought their best paint. I don’t want to do this job any more than I need to assuming that the best paint lasts the longest. By the way just this weekend I finished those original two gallons, and got two more. This time I used the color specification on the lid of one of the original cans – no more moldy paint chips and a random roulette of colors.

I started on the front eaves, then did both side eaves, and now I’m finally on the wood-sided back. My balance is not as it once was so climbing two stories on an fully extended aluminum ladder has been a challenge, but I’ve handled it. I also have a 6 foot step ladder for lower heights, and I’m even foolish enough to climb on the top step (that’s the one that says DANGER DO NOT STEP HERE – oh well, I’m short and need the added height).

I’ve had to caulk all edges and seams. The builder used cheap wood for the eaves and because I was lazy and didn’t paint earlier, there are numerous knots and cracks to fill with caulk. For knots and cracks I do this by hand, one at a time I squeeze out a bit of cault, and use my finger to smear it into the knot and smooth it. Now my finger tips are sore, because the rubbing has worn the skin off them. As one gets sore, I use another. I’m now onto my left hand.

For edges I caulk them with a caulking gun squeezing a bead into the corner. At the beginning it was awkward and gloppy, now I can stream a bead quickly, evenly, like a pro. [So a side benefit is that I could do this for hire – this thought sends shivers up my spine even considering doing this task again] Edge caulking uses up caulk at an alarming rate. So far I think I’ve used over 40 tubes of caulk. This weekend alone I’ve used on the back of the house 3 tubes left over from last week, bought 10, and now have only 2 left of them.

I’m about 30% done on the back, so it’ll probably be Fall before I’m done. Unbelieveable, but if I try to push to get this chore done I’ll probably get totally sick if it and never return to it so I do it in small incremental steps to keep my sanity. If you ever need to paint trim and a professional painter stops by and bids a few thou to do it, don’t think it’s too expensive because after the energy, and number of hours I’ve spent it’s probably well worth it. However being cheap son of a b@#$% I just keep plunking away at it each weekend. Wish me luck!

I hurt for them

Friday, July 9th, 2004

Why is it that you can’t stop being a parent? When your children were little and fell down you could comfort them, hold them, and kiss their boo-boo’s away. Now when they’re adults it’s not that easy. You want so much to do the same and somehow you can’t, because it’s typically not physical on the outside, instead it’s emotional on the inside. So now comfort is to listen, to advise, to hug and to say that it will all work out because they’re good, fine, smart, upstanding people. So I’m here in case they need me, and I trust their decisions, and most of all I hurt for them. Again, why is it that you can’t stop being a parent? Because you love them and always will.

You’d think I’d learned my lesson

Wednesday, July 7th, 2004

So I went running today. Except for a bit of rib soreness I was fine from my fall yesterday. Instead of going by the scene of yesterday’s accident. I felt that I should be safe and follow my “standard” route. So up Metric, by the Middle School, down Rampart and turn onto Parmer. There I stay on the sidewalk with two lanes of oncoming traffic beside me. Carefully I crossed at the light with the Randall’s plaza on the left and Parmer traffic on the right. In front of me a car is pulling out of the plaza. Another car on Parmer is approaching me to turn into the plaza. The approaching car sees me, slows and stops to let me cross before pulling in, but the car pulling out is looking left, thinks the approaching car is stopping for them, and begins to pull out – RIGHT WHEN I’M IN FRONT OF HIM. I begin to yell hey, hey, hey, as the SUV begins to nudge me. I put my hand on the hood. Then the driver finally sees me and brakes. WHEW! That was close, real close, too close. What is happening to me. These past two days have been unbelievable. And I thought this was the safe route – hah. Moral: Never cross in front of a car pulling out especially when you’re running next to oncoming traffic.


Monday, July 5th, 2004

Even though I had off today I didn’t sleep in. Got up early, dressed for running, snuck downstairs, opened the front door quietly, went out, picked up the newspaper on the driveway, placed it by the front door, stretched briefly, and headed out. It was a bit cloudy which was nice. I planned to come back and paint house trim so cloudy is good, very good. I chose a different route today. Previously I’ve noticed that someone or group has been placing ceramic tiles on roadside storm drains in our neighborhood. They say “no dumping, drains to creek”. They’re small and thin, about four inches square and a quarter of an inch thick. Near the beginning of my outbound run there was a broken one of these tiles laying near the side of the roadway when I ran by. Continuing on I proceeded do my run, by the Scofield condos, up Equestrian, by Karen’s house, near the Ridge pool, and began to cycle back. Without much to think about I took it easy. During times like this I just scan the sidewalk or road immediately ahead. Looping back I again I returned to the spot where I has seen the broken tile. In the past I’ve kicked cans and stones for no other reason than to see what happens. As I approached the tile I decided to kick it and slide it along the pavement. In mid-stride with my left foot back, I swung my right foot forward for my next step and to kick the edge of the tile. But it was glued down – it was immovable, and I wasn’t. YIKES! Totally unable to do anything I fell. I crashed forward. Barely having time to get my hands out to catch me, I slammed them down on the pavement. OUCH! My chest took the brunt of my fall. OOOF! My glasses skittering down the street. After a moment I got up. My tee-shirt was muddy and wrinkled. I was wobbly-kneed and catching my breath. I had just performed a massive cardio-pulmonary massage, and I felt like it. Queasy I walked for the next hundred feet. Then even more slowly I jogged the two tenths of a mile back home. My left shoulder has a big red mark on it, a deep bruise on my left hip, and my ribs hurt when I cough or laugh, but luckily no road rash on my face or chin. Tomorrow I’ll probably feel worse. Moral: I gotta stop kicking stuff when I go running.

First encounters

Monday, July 5th, 2004

“Guess who” signed on several valentines has changed my life forever. Those two words set my life’s journey on a glorious path. For years I couldn’t guess who they were from, but I never forgot them. Years later I found out that a beguiling little girl sent them to me. At the time I was a young teen. She was a tease, and I teased back. We were both very young.

All the students in Junior High School would wait outside in the parking lot before the school bell rang and they let us in. The buses would drop all the students off there. Sometime it was very cold and snowy, and they would let us into the cafeteria – it was Buffalo, need I say more. Mostly we stayed outside in various groups. The social stratum was clearly defined then. But I knew this girl’s sister, who was a year older than me, although her sister and I never talked very much. We had met in the Yorkers club, a New York State history club. It was a unique institution in Junior High. Her sister was now in Senior High School.

She was two years younger. I was a ninth grader, and she was a seventh grader. My first attempts at dating were taking place that year, but not with her. It was 1963, and the Beatles were just beginning. School dances were held at the end of school day in the gym with boys on one side and girls on the other – staring at one another. I was on the swim team having had the benefit of an above ground swimming pool, a first in our neighborhood. I was also the president of the Yorkers club, and she was in it too. So I knew who she was and I knew her family. She lived a short bike ride from my home – less than a mile.

The shift from being the top in Junior High to beginning again in Senior High took me years to overcome. I felt very awkward, emotionally immature, and socially inept. I don’t think I regained my self-confidence until after I graduated from college, if ever. So the next time she and I were in the same school was my senior year in High School, and she entered as a tenth grader. Her family was involved in AFS (American Field Service) after hosting a student from Austria. This included an open house at her home, and briefly seeing her parents. Another time the club rode our bikes to the Buffalo Zoo. She and her girlfriend were there. Unfortunately I showed more interest in her girlfriend. The remainder of the school year was a blur from SATs tests to National Merit Scholarships tests, and culminating in my college acceptance.

At university I joined a fraternity. There was insufficient undergraduate housing and over fifty fraternities and sororities. Doing it seemed appropriate, and it has provided numerous memories of good times. Yet I spent many hours working at the computer center and there I met someone. It never progressed very far, but it knocked me for a loop. She had a boyfriend yet I thought we had something special. I totally flipped over her, she encourage me, but in the end she stayed with her boyfriend. Seeing her after all this was so emotionally trying that my legs would feel weak when she was in the same room.

Later that semester at home on holiday break I was still in a funk and my mother suggested that I call “the little girl who had sent me those valentines”. So I looked up her number and phoned. She was now a senior in High School. I expected her to say no, but her reply was totally unexpected. She said that her father had just died that week. I didn’t know what to say, but she made it easier on me by saying that I should phone back when I was in town again. I did, and another enduring theme in my life began.

My dearest Kathleen, we’ve had so much to learn, and we have learned so much together – now over forty years later you are my friend, my partner, my love, and you will always be my valentine as I am yours.

I’m a movie junkie

Friday, July 2nd, 2004

What is it with movies. There are some scenes that just stick with you. For example, can you pick out which movie these scenes or dialogue came from (names shortened to make it a bit more of a challenge, but not too much):


J exits cab, holding hang-up bag. Looks at the house. On the other side of that window is a world he hopes he’s still a part of.


J enters. D is seated toward the back.

J: Hello. I’m looking for my wife.

D looks up, robbed of words. Stunned, she does not move.

J: (continuing) Alright. If this is where it has to happen, then this is where it has to happen.

D says nothing.

J: (continuing) I’m not letting you get rid of me. How about that?

He shares a look with some of the other women. She’s not going to say a word. Neither do they.

J: (continuing) This used to be my specialty. I was good in a living room. Send me in there, I’ll do it alone. And now I just… I don’t know… but on what was supposed to be the happiest night of my business life, it wasn’t complete, wasn’t nearly close to being in the same vicinity as complete, because I couldn’t share it with you. I couldn’t hear your voice, or laugh about it with you. I missed my wife. We live in a cynical world, and we work in a business of tough competitors, so try not to laugh —


I love you. You complete me.

D: Aw, shut up. You had me at hello.

Or how about

Everybody knows American isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating, at the top of his lungs, that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free, then the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest.” Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.

I wish I could have written them. Name that movie!

On to college

Thursday, July 1st, 2004

I followed in the Ivy League tradition begun by my brother, and my university, Cornell, was about 150 mile from Buffalo. I was accepted into the Engineering school which did not have a foreign language requirement. During the drive home after my campus visit when I was in high school my father said that I should become a mechanical engineer. I never questioned this, and followed this course of study like a good son, and became a BSME.

I started college in 1967, however, from the beginning things began to change. During freshman orientation some of my high school friends, who were also accepted to Cornell, and I were wandering around and exploring the campus. Someone suggested that we check out the computer center. Arriving at Sibley Hall we saw the main CDC 1604 and its attached CDC 160A for I/O. While we were staring at it one of the computer operators came over and asked if we were interested in jobs. Of the four of us who applied, two of us got jobs there, and I continued for my remaining undergraduate years including summers (I never returned home for longer than two weeks after leaving for college). The computer center was undergoing drastic changes. They were getting rid of the CDC machines and acquiring IBM equipment. They were also moving out of the on-campus Sibley Hall and putting the IBM 360 Model 65 mainframe miles away at the airport’s Langmuir Lab and positioning three IBM 360 Model 20s on campus for remote job entry. During the school year I worked about sixteen hours a week, and the income was my spending money.

One of the side benefits of the job was free computer time. During this time FORTRAN was my language of choice, actually it was WATFIV (WATerloo FORTRAN IV). For example, I’d do a chemistry lab and then spend the week programming all the calculations while at work. However I learned that it would have been faster just sitting down and doing it by hand. This taught me that if you only run a program once it wasn’t worth doing.

During the early undergraduate years my core classes were all preset, and I had no ability to chose any electives except for liberal arts ones. However several of my engineering courses did require some computer programming. This was the time when calculations were done with slide rules and Computer Science was a graduate degree. In my final undergraduate year I became a teaching assistant to Dr. Robert Chase of School of Hotel Administration helping students in a beginning FORTRAN course. While doing this I was taking my FIRST university computer science course. Yet as the year went on I was able to take more computer science graduate courses include data structures and numerical analysis.

Backing up a bit… Sophomore year I applied for the cooperative engineering program. The interviewing process included Fortune 100 corporations, suits and ties and best of all free food and beer. I was surprised to be accepted by IBM thinking that I had a position with Xerox. This is just another of those encounters where my career fate depended on chance. So I worked for IBM the Fall of 1965 during my Junior year (having taken summer school to enable it), and then the summer of 1966 between my Junior and Senior year. I worked in Poughkeepsie, NY which was the mainframe powerhouse of the corporation. Each time there I met many people and learned many things including new languages such as APL, 360 Basic Assembler Language (BAL), and BSL (a PL/I like systems programming language).

Later I was told that I would never have been hired at IBM had I not been a coop especially when I graduated with a mechanical engineering degree and in the poor economic climate (recession of 1971) at my graduation. I was told that the Poughkeepsie site hired only seven people that year whereas in previous years ten times more people would have been hired. So these meanderings lead me into a career with computers. How it happened was not by choice, but rather I would say again that it was by chance. Yet there were themes that now looking back seem obvious, but at the time so many other things could have happened. So I have the utmost respect for those people who know what they want to do and pursue it was singleminded determination, but my path was more oblique, more random.