Archive for the ‘Mortality’ Category

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I see dead people

December 9, 2012

I have reached the age where many of the celebrities, politicians and other well-known people of my youth have passed into the great beyond. This natural evolution struck me recently as I thought about the world as seen through the eyes of my 9 year old daughter. Specifically, I realized that she has no anchor (pun intended) to help her understand the events of the world.

Growing up, watching the nightly news was pretty standard for me. From Walter Cronkite to Dan Rather on CBS, and later Ted Koppel on Nightline, there is an image in my head of the voice of authority delivering the news of the day. My mental lens of history is shaped by my interaction with TV news.

Let’s just say, for the record, I watched a lot of TV growing up. I secretly believe my entire ability to deliver a sharp and funny line is due to my nightly training by Johnny Carson.

Today, the kid typically gets an hour a day of screen time. For the most part, that consists of wretched sitcoms on the Disney Channel (no more wretched, I suppose, then my watching Gomer Pyle, USMC) or animation (Phineas and Ferb is top-notch). On weekends we all get to watch competition shows on the Food Network.

There is no turning on the tube (there is no tube!) to watch the evening news because the news flows constantly through the Internet to one of the six screens I have available at any given time. It is only when major events happen that I tend to turn to MSNBC or CNN (or, if I need a laugh, to FOX News).

Back to the original point. The kid has no anchor. She is still young enough that the news is mostly irrelevant to her, but that time is quickly coming to an end. When she does get interested in the world around her, she will turn to the net just like the rest of us. The concept of a voice of authority bringing the news to her will not likely exist. Unfortunately, she will likely not know how to separate the true from the false easily either (everything on the Internet is true, right?).

I think she is missing something and that is just one instance of how all the people that shaped my sense of the world are now gone. My kid is learning comedic timing from Austin & Ally instead of Carson and McMahon. She is a digital native and the world has changed, as it always does.

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Raise your right hand

October 10, 2011

As the world mourned the passing of Steve Jobs last week, I found myself engaged in silent and personal reflection. His death at 56, only 8 years older than me, was a grim reminder of my own mortality. What am I going to do today to make a difference in my own life?

When I entered college in 1981 I used punch cards to submit programs for my intro Statistics class. When I graduated in 1985, I owned a Mac. In four years, a complete transformation of the computing universe. I wrote my Master’s thesis on a “Fat” Mac. The 9” screen on those machines never seemed too small (and today I feel cramped if I can’t write on my 23” monitor).

I was an Apple fanboy well before most of today’s fanboys were in elementary school. I was also determined to work in the computer business one way or another. By the time I was completing my Master’s degree I realized that I did not want to have an academic career (my original) goal, but wanted to go to work in the real world. When I was fortunate enough to be on a research project sponsored by Lotus Corporation (remember 1-2-3?) and got to visit their HQ in Cambridge, I knew which industry was in my future.

The software business 20 years ago was much like the software business today, except without the Internet as a driving force and without the constant scrutiny by the general media and public at large. In 1989 I moved to Silicon Valley and went to work for Ashton-Tate Corp, one of the leading software companies of the era. I was part of the “User Interface” team there and assigned to work on an important project building a spreadsheet for the NeXT platform.

There is a lot of interesting background behind why Ashton-Tate was building a spreadsheet program at all (they were primarily a desktop database company), but that is another post.Since I had experience doing research on spreadsheets already, I was a natural fit for the team. It was a top-notch team as well, with some of the best developers I have ever known, and we were building something very cool. I had a NeXT cube on my desk, which was about as cutting edge as could be then.

Somewhere along the way, my role morphed a little from just doing user interface work to becoming the product manager for the project. I was already establishing myself as more of a marketing/product type rather than a pure UI expert. Fortunately, the stars were aligned for me and in this new role I was now directly involved in our relationship with NeXT. The partner manager at NeXT was an amazing woman named Donna Simonides (who went on to great success at Netscape and beyond) and taught me a lot about partner relations.

The time came to visit NeXT HQ for a briefing. The industry was buzzing with speculation about the follow-up to the NeXT Cube and we were going to get a briefing directly from Steve. All these years later I can still recall how full of excitement and anticipation I was for that meeting.

Steve Jobs was the most charismatic person I have ever met. In the short time in that meeting – was it more than an hour? – he made an impression that lasted a lifetime. The defining moment of that brief encounter was when it was time for an unveiling. Long before we all knew about “and just one more thing” Steve was the master of the reveal.

“Raise your right hand” Steve commanded, “and swear that you will not tell anyone what you see here today”. We were about to see what the industry had been talking about in whispered rumors, the top-secret NeXT “pizza box” and before that we needed to swear an oath. With very little hesitancy, we all raised our right hand and swore an oath to secrecy for Steve. He believed in what he was doing and wanted us to believe as well. He made three grown men swear to keep a secret and we did so gladly. Then he gave us a glorious demo of the new NeXT, color monitor, and the marvelous NeXTStep OS that became the Mac OS we love today.

The news of Steve’s passing appeared first on my mobile phone as a text message from my local radio station. I had never received a text from the radio station that wasn’t about a concert or contest. I audibly gasped when I read it and felt overwhelmed with sadness. Turning on the TV and watching the news brought tears to my eyes.

The “software” business has been good to me. After I left Ashton-Tate I worked for a company called GO that was creating a computer tablet. You carried it around with you like a pad of paper, it could have a wireless phone built in, you installed applications on it for all sorts of productive tasks. It also used a pen and recognized your handwriting. A bit ahead of its time, but a marvelous peek into our present. I spent years working for Oracle and marveling at Larry Ellison and his vision for a connected future. My time at Microsoft coincided with some of the most difficult years that company ever faced (Longhorn, Windows Vista) but I developed deep admiration for what Bill Gates built. Each of these experiences helped me shape my own perspective on what really matters in work and in life.

Any life ended early – in the very prime years for a businessperson and for a man – is a tragedy. We all lost something with Steve’s death last week, a little bit of wonder, magic, and belief that the future can actually be shaped by our vision and ideas. For me, after more than 20 years in this business, I feel a deep sense of loss and the rapid passage of time.

I never saw Steve in person after that day. But, I got to shake his hand and I swore an oath. All these years later I realize that I actually swore a bigger oath that day. It was not really about keeping the pizza box NeXT secret; it was about believing in the magic, the surprise, and the wonder that we can all create if we are willing to set our sights high. I swore an oath to Steve to help participate in creating the future, and I have tried to keep that oath to this day.

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Go have that Whopper

February 8, 2006

Low fat diet does not cut health risks.

Of course, watching calories is always a good thing. Skip the chicken strips as an appetizer (or “appeteaser” as crappy chain restaurants sometimes call them).

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Admissions of mortality

November 7, 2005

This blog is ostensibly about marketing, branding, technology, and my various (liberal) views on a variety of topics. It is a forum for me to speak my mind, but I usually put some significant filters between what goes on in my head/life and what appears here.

The reasons for that are the obvious — filters make sense for most everything — and the less than obvious. Some of it relates to my employer and ensuring that I don’t say anything that is in violation of my explicit and implicit agreements with them. Frankly, I like my employer as a company (if not always as an employer) and wish them only success. Some of it relates to other people in my life and my desire to respect their privacy and anonymity. Some of it is just plain common sense.

However, maintaining a sufficient distance between the things that drive me and consume me day to day and the things I write here can sometimes be a real struggle. Like the thin screen that separates one dimension from the next in the best (and worst) science fiction, it can be easy to cross over. Sometimes things just seep through.

That is a long-winded way of saying that I am frustrated with many things and that frustration is likely to show through here. I shall do all I can to smile and say nice things, but no promises.

Marketing is not an easy profession. I could go on here about how everything thinks they know how to do marketing. Easy for the surgeon to tell me how to do a demand generation campaign, but heaven forbid I should tell him how to close a particular incision. Outside of other marketers, marketing gets very little respect. It is not something that the average non-marketing professional sees as requiring any real training, skills, or experience. Marketing is just common sense and logic, as I have been told on a number of occasions.

Managing is not easy either. After 10+ years as a professional manager I still find myself in situations that are absolutely “no-win” more often than I would like. Managing is not logical and in many ways robs us of a certain degree of humanity and dignity. There is no satisfaction in doing it wrong, and little reward in doing it right. Like most necessary evils, however, better I do it than someone worse than me.

Marketing and managing are getting me down. Running uphill again and again in both arenas has left me feeling the years on my back and seeing a merciless fog of failure ahead. Marketing and managing are things I have always thought I was good at doing. Lately I question that assumption regularly.

This is an aimless and ultimately self-pitying blog entry.

Perhaps next time I will write something more sunny and scandalous.

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My head is going to fall off

September 27, 2005

I truly believe that we are all asked to do too much in this world and that it is catching up with each of us. It is stalking me like a screeching beast inside my head, behind my eyes, deep into my shoulders and back. I unleash the beast on others as well as bear its burden myself.

Good old fashioned exhaustion is not really fun. It might come after a long trek up a mountain (real or figurative) or it might come from straining and never being able to lift the weight in front of you. In either case, it just takes over the body like a swarm of locust, a fog of apathy.

I am leaving tomorrow for another trip, this time to Rome. I really want to be excited about going, as it is someplace I have never been and is one of the foundations of modern civilization. But, I am just too tired. Perhaps once I am on the plane it will be more exciting and some of the exhaustion will lift. Perhaps not.

Nothing more particularly clever to say. My apologies to readers expecting brilliance or at least entertainment.

At least my iPod nano is coming with me.

And, I spoke to Cingular again today. She promised me the charge has been removed from my bill. Promised!

And, this afternoon (after I had spoken with Cingular) I got an automated collection call from Cingular.

And, there was another past due notice in the mail this evening.

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The simple truth

September 9, 2005

I am not known for being overly optimistic. I am also well known for being a bit obsessive.

Taking that into consideration, I am really torn up about the whole Katrina disaster. It is devastating to us as a nation and beyond devastating to the individuals who have lost lives, homes, and all means of support. It is a political nightmare, for both good and bad reasons, and will likely do far more damage than simply sully the already dirty record of a lame duck President. It is a sign of hope in the outpouring of donations from citizens, companies, and other countries. The amount of space left in the American heart to help with tragedy is truly amazing. Our brothers and sisters should always come first.

But, we can not turn our backs on nature forever. It sometimes feels as if the entire civilization we have constructed is a gossamer layer of illusion stretched across the trees. New Orleans was a disaster waiting to happen, and we all know that. Every time we build and put up the walls and dams and levees we are claiming sovereign rights over something we can not really control. Yet, we build our fortresses because it is easier to construct a wall than to move a mile left or right.

I was in New Orleans back in 1994 or ’95 for a conference. During the first day there is started to rain. By the time we all left dinner that night, the city was filled with water above my knees. Walking from the restaurant to our hotel was an exercise in fear, with the possibility of being swept down an open drain a genuine reality. People were scared.

The next day the convention center roof was leaking and everyone was going home. It was a scramble to get out of the hotel and to the airport. It felt as if I was no longer in control of my fate.

This was a mere inconvenience, although one that could have turned to tragedy quickly. The harsh reality for the citizens of New Orleans and Biloxi and other cities is far worse. It is a tragedy. It is also a tragedy that we never seem to realize that nature always wins.

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Friendship

April 13, 2005

For someone of my age, who works in a very demanding job, has a wife and 2 yr old child, and tries to get some time to myself, making friends is not easy.

It seems that the modern workplace has developed into a substitute for the friendships we all used to have outside the workplace. We are able to bond with our co-workers, but only so far. On occasion, however, we can push those boundaries and develop a real sincere friendship with another. Even then, however, the impact of a work friendship on others has to be carefully considered. Sometimes we are all boxed in by a world in which having real friends is seen as a distraction.

Friends are important. As much as we all get from our family and our work, we still need more. We need someone with whom to just chat , someone for sharing secrets, someone with whom to discuss the relative strengths of Godzilla v. Mothra. Simple things that help ground us in the larger social fabric and remind us of the essential truth that no one lives alone.

I am fortunate that I have made new friends as time passes (and as some friends fade into history). Some of these people became fast friends because there was some immediate connection. Others have taken time, but eventually became someone important in my life. All of these people bring something unique to how I view the world.

When I am feeling down I sometimes tell my wife that “I have no friends.” She then rattles off a list of the friends I have and I am forced to acknowledge the truth. The truth is I am very fortunate and become more fortunate every day.

So, if you are my friend, thank you.

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