Tuesday Dec 18, 2007

Bad Santa

I'm a bad Santa, and that's "bad" as in "bad imitation," not "bad" as in "good" or "ill-behaved." But I love being Santa, even if it's for 20 minutes in our office holiday party, and this year marked two full decades of wearing a red carpet, itchy nylon beard and someone else's idea of winter galoshes. I've gone from needing a pillow to fill out the suit and pulling the white wig down over my ears to relying on my own layers of Ben & Jerry's sponsored winter insulation and letting my own hair provide the transition to Santa's flowing and somewhat flammable white locks. This year I hit a nadir, with Maria Buoy's 4-year old daughter whispering "Why is Hal in a Santa costume?" once they had retreated to the safety of the car. When you can't fool any of the kids some of the time maybe it's time to hang up the toy sack.

Then again, I get unique pleasure out of dressing up as Saint Nick. It's seeing a kids' eyes get a little bit bigger when I call them by their last name, or when they open a toy that (not surprisingly) has arrived in their favorite color or character style. It's being able to "sell" Santa Claus, by asking for a plate of cookies (chocolate chip), or talk about how "my" reindeer are grazing at the North Pole, or even reminding the 11-year old who is too Web 2.0 oriented for Santa Claus that she used to be terrified of me, in the same suit, just a few years ago, but I won't tell anyone in public. Secrets involving Santa are bi-directional.

The question I'm asked most frequently (after "Aren't you hot in that suit?") is "How does a Jewish guy get to play Santa Claus"? The simple answer, and somewhat obvious, is that it's because I can -- not just physically filling out the red, white and black (my beloved NJ Devils color combinations, slightly scrambled), but being able to enjoy religious freedom, diversity in the workplace, and an emphasis on fun in our corporate culture. I'm quick to remind people that Hanukah celebrates a miracle of faith and belief, and I'm delighted to celebrate the season by sharing in any mythology of the season. The very right to do so is the fabric of the Declaration of Independence and was the whole point of the revolt against Hellenistic persecution that led to the miracle of Hanukah.

To borrow Elvis Costello out of context, there's nothing funny about Peace, Love and Understanding, because they are causally related. It's up to us to figure out which one to teach our kids first, such that the others follow. I'm happy to try doing that looking like the love child of Elmo and Bigfoot.

Monday Jun 18, 2007

Microloans and Information Capital

On a sweltering June day in 1999, a few of us from the Sun Microsystems Somerset, NJ office attended the Rising Tide Summit, hosted by Silicon Alley Reporter editor and bubble boy Jason Calacanis. It was intense, even for an event in the frenzy of the dot-com boom. I have only two memories that have survived the post-boom memory contraction: I met BoingBoing editor Xeni Jardin in the basement, when she was both a Hamm and writing for SAR. That has only come up once in conversation since. The more lasting impression was Nancy Barry of Women's World Banking, who spoke about bootstrapping economies through microloans, offering startup capital to labor-intensive, often women-run and home-based businesses, with reasonable payback periods and interest rates.

It was that talk that started my periodic purchase of a cup of coffee for homeless people sitting outside on cold winter days. If I can spend $5 on multiple Dunkies visits, I can also spend a buck or two to keep someone warm. Microgiving. I joked at times that an "I Give A Buck" campaign, aggregating and distributing those dollars, would be feasible. Muhammed Yunus won the 2005 Nobel Prize in Economics for proving that microcredit is both effective and a real concept.

Thanks to , I have discovered Kiva.org, an online microcredit aggregator and facilitator that delivers on all of the above.

Kiva is a great example of what Sun calls bridging the Digital Divide. It's not about moving large sums of money, but moving practical sums of information to those most in need. A $100 million budget doesn't help someone who needs $300, if the money can't be delivered in local currency on short notice. Matching the source of $300, possibly from a dozen sub-$50 lenders, to the borrower is an informational problem; that's the digital divide in real-world, proper-sized granularity. Information is capital, in the sense that it can be used to create value, has forward and time value (both decreasing) and can be exchanged. And information is the capital for the digital divide.

Monday Jun 11, 2007

Sopranos Finale: All The Ducks In A Row

Plot spoilers follow, in case you're one of the 0.0005% of HBO viewers who didn't see the last episode of The Sopranos.

If you don't follow the show, only half of this may converge to make sense. Even if you are a Sopranos fan, prepare to wade through a morass of heavy symbolism and interpretation.

Am I the only person who thought the Sopranos finale was a great piece of work? Everyone, it seems, or at least the agitated mob at the Newark Star-Ledger's Sopranos' central felt cheated, whacked, insulted and let down by the criminal non-ending of the long-running serial criminal elements. But there is a reason the show is called The Sopranos and not Tony Soprano.

I don't buy Mike Greenberg's comments this morning on ESPN Radio about the ending being a NJ-infused version of The Lady and the Tiger, with the ending left as an exercise for the viewer. Our nearly decade-long love affair with Tony's family doesn't end in speculation on what single event transpired next; the point is that something happens, and in that something there is continuity to the Soprano family. That's what a family drama brings us, each and every week. It's a set of line segments clipped from family trees, turned into storylines and then mentally set back onto the wall to connect the pictures. Maybe that's what the cat was looking for.

The ending, if you were looking for one, happened when Phil Leotardo got what he prescribed for Tony: a blunt decapitation. Tony is, was, and will be the boss. The path to Philly took a turn through the private life of Agent Harris, who showed himself not too much different from Tony, stripped of their badges of courage.

The rest of the episode - before and after Phil's whacking - tied together themes and threads the way the epilogue of a spy thriller would, piecing together the small insights that led the characters to the logical conclusions, one chapter earlier. Start with Tony quoting Dr. Melfi to AJ's shrink, providing an unprompted summary of the analysis started in the first episode: his mother poisoned their relationship. Tony paints Janice as Livia incarnate, clipping that branch from the family tree. Balance against Livia's indirect presence in the finale the re-appearance of Hunter, referred to by Carmela (in the first season), with as much derision as possible, as "Cacciatore." But the six-year older Hunter has found direction, a law degree, and perspective. She can probably even parallel park in fewer than four passes. Hunter leached the toxicity out of Meadow and Carmela's relationship without a single dollar in therapy.

Then there's AJ - ready to join the army as a soldier - the same vernacular used for first-level Family recruits as well. Tony blocks his entry to both worlds, giving AJ what he gave to Christopher, a contorted patron of the arts to his own son and not just the nephew he had previously wished into (and out of) his immediate family. Tony's attempts to make Christopher into his own likeness failed miserably for all involved but his efforts to turn AJ away from his predisposition - depression, crime, bad maternal relationships - succeeds, marked by Tony's ordering what AJ is going to want - onion rings - before his namesake arrives for the last supper.

I've read every possible explanation for the onion rings in the final scene, from an incomplete eucharist to the circle of life. They are onion rings. They're bad for you. They're food, the comfort for so many of Tony's moods. Tony orders them "for the table" -- for his family, who arrive at that table by separate paths, in their own sequence, much the way the Simpsons find the couch in every opening of America's other favorite family whack job serial.

Everyone who wanted to see Tony meet his demise, whether from the FBI, the New York crew, Artie Bucco, the missing Russians, or anyone up to but probably not including Elliot (Dr. Melfi's shrink), sees Tony as a bad guy. He is a bad guy: murderer, thief, gambler, liar, adulterer, drug user and less than ideal brother. But The Sopranos is a family drama, interpreted through a non-Cosby definition of family. The "made" in Made in America reflects on the "made men" who didn't survive Tony's family dynamics as much as Tony and Carmela making their children into something that their made-in-Italy family history might otherwise proscribe. Isn't it acceptable for them to eat onion rings?

They're finally the ducks in the pool that Tony didn't see earlier in the episode.

Saturday Mar 31, 2007

One Shining Moment, Miracles and Michael Jordan

Spend any amount of time in a meeting when I'm discussing technical leadership and distinguishing talent and you'll hear the name Michael Jordan dropped more than 3-point shots in a Final Four game. I frequently ask people to fill in the blank in "I'm the Michael Jordan of (blank)." The goal is to capture a series of contributions; to express what you're good at in terms of an area you define through technical actions: how are you like Mike? The premise is that Michael Jordan is associated with basketball, from Tar Heel to Second City to wearing #45. I use the expression to help identify one area in which an engineer is distinguished; a technical track on which their professional development is riding. It's not a single defining moment, a Miracle on Ice event setting the standard for other contributions; the Jordan reference is meant to elucidate a series of contributions.

The beginning of the Jordan highlight sequence goes back to the 1982 NCAA Championship game, in which Jordan hit a shot at the buzzer to defeat Georgetown. Shining moment material, but before the vernacular's initiation. For the past decade, CBS has concluded NCAA tournament coverage with a video montage set to David Barrett's One Shining Moment. Don't let any guy tell you otherwise -- especially a guy with kids of his own, or a guy who has been to one or more March Madness games -- guys mist up at this song. Personally, I think it's because the montage covers every small moment that defines the tournament, not just the winners' highlights. It's the complete opposite of being Michael Jordan; the four minutes of highlights include cheerleaders, mascots, bands, and players on the bench. We all see bits and pieces of life reflected in the small screen as midnight approaches, the first Monday in April. One Shining Moment reflects what life is like for the 63 (out of 64) teams whose seasons end with a loss (even the wikipedia references for NCAA results show invited teams and the opponent who beat them). If there's career advice buried in here, it's that careers are built on montages of shining moments, whether they're emails from happy customers or presentations well done or difficult problems solved with maximum doses of caffeine, creativity and collaboration.

Aside from blogging while watching the Florida-UCLA game, shining moments and tournaments are top of mind because we have just concluded our youth hockey season with a tournament in Lake Placid, New York. Each year, we make the drive north to play on the 1980 Olympic rink, skating in the shadow of the Miracle on Ice. The goal is simple: play on Sunday morning in the medal games, which requires finishing in the top four teams in your tournament division. We started this morning's play in dead last, needing a win and a tie (or two wins) to play hockey into April. Our boys (and one girl) were holding onto a 1-1 tie deep into our first game of the day, when a strange turnover in our own end turned into a goal for our opponents with 2 seconds left on the clock. Our season mathematically ended with a loss, to our league rivals coached by former 1980 Soviet Olympic team member Sergei Starikov. You can read whatever connected consciousness implications you want into this. It was a tough loss, and we had barely enough time to air out the hockey bags before we had to play again.

Our tournament and season ended five hours later, with a 3-2 win that came down (again) to the final seconds. The players piled on our goalie, shook hands and skated off the ice all smiles. We broke a 7-game losing streak spanning two years of Lake Placid tournaments with that win. It's highly unlikely any of our young hockey players will be the next Crosby or Ovechkin, creating Michael Jordan highlights in the NHL, but they are likely to remember being complimented by referees and coaches for their sportsmanship, running around the hotel and town as a team, and ending their season with a win, shining moments for any 12 year old.

Friday Jan 19, 2007


This may be a record for latest first snowfall, at least in terms of what I remember here in New Jersey. We got about half an inch last night, a nice little dusting that made it much easier for the rather lazy bluejays in our backyard to pick out the stale pretzels that we frequently leave for them as late morning snacks.

Tonight's fluff stuff was more of a snow dump than a snow fall; it began snowing when hockey practice was almost over, and by the time everyone changed, packed up, and go to their cars, it was really coming down; by the time we got home there was measureable snowman raw material. There's still a trickle of snow, the kind of snow that's hard to distinguish from wind blown rehashes of what's already down.

This is a warning sign that it's time to finally finish cleaning out the garage, so I can park indoors again, rather than spend the first ten minutes of every morning scraping "winter mix" off of the car.

Thursday Jan 18, 2007

Private Tag, Public Confessional

Mary Cay Kosten tagged me yesterday, although she did it behind the Sun firewall so non-Sun employees must take my word for it. I get to present five fun-filled formerly faintly fanned-out facts about myself, excluding my love of alliteration or anything I've blogged or podcasted about previously, greatly limiting the source material.

Warning: this post contains references to nudity, lingerie, and anatomic correctness, and it got really, really long. And in case anyone is four or five standard deviations off the mean and wants to know how I chose to relay these tidbits, they're in chronological order.

I know what the GECOS field is. My first job was at Six Flags Great Adventure. And yes, I was in the IT department, which was located in an inflatable "bubble" temporary building located on an unused part of the parking lot just behind the main entrance. The benefits were plentiful but of marginal value: an employee store that sold some of the choitchkes you could get in the park, the ability to zip in and out of the park on your break time, and employee parties that usually involved having us test out some new ride. The IT part was humorous in retrospect. First system we had was a Northern Telecom (before they were Nortel) Sycor 445, running some mutant variant of CP/M and six random pages torn from a Multics manual. Our second system was an actual Honeywell GECOS Unix-like system, which felt familiar after having used BSD Unix for the previous academic year. So munging the GECOS field in a password file isn't entirely foreign to me. Coolest thing about the job: For about two months, I worked for a guy named Rex. Funniest thing about the job: we shared the bubble building with the body puppets, those larger-than-life characters who walk around and accidentally terrorize little kids. It's hard to be serious about writing COBOL programs when a guy with a 3-foot wide head walks into your inflatable office looking for the bathroom. Best deal of the job: I once wrote some simple shell scripts for the Sycor system so that we could transmit our payroll records to Six Flags HQ in Dallas, have them processed via RJE, and receive the formatted check images, payroll register and general ledger all during the graveyard shift, when we didn't have to warn people keypunching card images that typing too fast would cause our 300 baud modem to drop the BSC connection. Those scripts saved us an average of $300 in phone bills a week. I got a $50 bonus (not in employee store credit) at the end of the summer. And it was a big deal.

I sold radio advertising. It was my first sales job, and it paid commissions. WPRB-FM is not only one of the first college FM stations, it is one of a few commercial college stations, supporting itself through advertising sold to local and national businesses. I learned about prospecting, building a pipeline, collections, cold calling (lots of cold calling), and proof of concept work (when we'd produce an ad and play it for the prospective client). Of course, part of being at the bottom of the sales pile was that you had to produce some of your own commercials after selling them, which made me (for a very short while) the radio voice of Edith's Lingerie. I still love good radio commercials, especially the Bud Light "Real Men of Genius" series.

I took aerobics classes. It was the healthiest time of my life, the last time the most significant digit in my weight was a one, and while I wasn't really flexible I at least knew where my toes were. Blame Pat Parseghian, who was my co-worker at Princeton, across the street neighbor and connoisseur of post-class take-out Chinese food.

I have no uvula. That's the anatomic correct reference, or more correctly, the anatomically incorrect reference. More precisely, I had UPPP surgery in 1989, and it's quite possible that my uvula is enjoying a nice vacation on an eastern seaboard beach with other medical waste of the era. As an aside, it's a really cool way to freak out a new physician.

I was hired by Sun as a sysadm. I started at Sun in 1989, three weeks from the end of the fiscal year when the previous systems administrator in the Lexington, Massachusetts sales office literally up and quit one day. I combined what I knew of device drivers from Princeton days with what I learned from the rest of the pre-Professional Services "Consulting Gang" and got into performance, fixing kernel bugs and networking code. Six months before starting at Sun, I had interviewed at Thinking Machines Corporation, and was offered a job that I turned down, but which would have landed me at Sun in server engineering rather than systems engineering.

With a tip of the hat to ESPN: The Magazine, here's what didn't make the list: I once made Rob Pike laugh at a USENIX conference, I believe there is a highly airbrushed but plausibly denied picture of my rear end on Internet, and I am one of only a literal handful of people who know the only building that is not named Daniel P. Arovas Hall. More on that one another day, I think.

Still reading?

I tag: Greg Papadopoulos, because I don't think anyone else has; Tom Chatt, former Princeton roommate and the guy standing next to me in the above-mentioned picture; Candace LoMonaco and Maria Buoy, the GSE Divas (they only count as one for HR, they count as one tag, too!); Sin-Yaw Wang from our Beijing office, who explained to me what "Dogs Don't Pay Attention To" means with respect to really good dumplings, and Warren Meyer, who also knows the truth about Daniel P. Arovas Hall, pointed me to Virginia Postrel's blog in the first place, and is the next Princeton author I need to read.

Postscript: Turns out that Rex actually went on to the big time after Great Adventure, as he was (until his retirement) the CFO of Isle of Capri Casinos. The things you find out using Google when you're researching a blog entry at 1:00 AM. Here's the downside: if Rex had not retired, and if the Isle of Capri bought the Pittsburgh Penguins, then I could have asked him for a job, again: driving the Zamboni.

Monday Jan 01, 2007

The 2006 List

I feel morally compelled to complete the hat trick of annual lists, as part of a continuing pseudo-tradition of checking off the year just completed. My little life snippets pale in comparison to some of the accomplishments regaled in the pile of holiday cards, paper and electronic, that we received in the past weeks. But that's never stopped me before:

Best Parenting Moment. Several contenders this year, ranging from watching our daughter discover that she loves chemistry to seeing our son volunteer as a junior coach with the NJ Devils Youth special needs hockey program. The best, though, was one of the most difficult -- our daughter decided to withdraw from synchronized skating competition after five years on teams of various levels. This would have been her year to go to the US Figure Skating Nationals, but she was no longer loving the sport enough to make up for the time invested in it. It was a long discussion, and one that had me frequently repeating my mantra about not quitting, but in the end this came down to having her focus her attention on the things she enjoys the most. Sometimes the biggest wins are from not doing something.

Best Sports Moment. Where to start? Rutgers beating Louisville on national TV, while the whole state watched wide-eyed and slack-jawed? Princeton's share of the Ivy League football title, and the first bonfire on campus in 12 years, celebrating wins over Yale and Harvard? Or for that matter, the triple overtime Princeton-Penn football game which came down to a bobbled extra point attempt, and made CNN Headline News as one of the top college sports clips of the year? Even closer to home, the NJ Devils' 11-game winning streak to end the regular season, taking them from 19 points back to an Atlantic Division title on the last day, capped with a come-from-behind win in Marty Brodeur's home town? Like the Oscars, there are so many good contenders, but we have to go with the non-obvious choice: Patrik Elias deciding to sign a new contract with the NJ Devils for 7 more years, for about $2 million a year less than he would have made in New York or Montreal, with a no-trade clause. Our family's sports hero put heart about wallet, team above self, and the local gnocchi place above some world class restaurants.

Best Work Moment. This was another category with a leading contender that got outraced to the post. In February, at the annual Sun Analysts Summit, I spoke to a room full of people about expanding Sun's developer communities to include devotees of scripting and other dynamically typed languages in addition to Java, C, C++ and FORTRAN. I was the spokesperson; the idea came from lots of hard work from Bob Brewin, Eduardo Pelegri-Llopart, Tim Bray, and others. And then we put our money where my mouth was, hiring the JRuby team. And then I switched jobs, rejoining the field organization. The best work moment of the year was our announcement of our first quarter FY2007 financial results, in which we showed growth and performance improvement across the board. The import and impact of this gelled for me while reading Buzz Bissinger's "3 Days In August" over the holiday break, a book in which he talks about professional baseball players who play below their potential, because it's easier and it's sufficient. What I love about Sun's field -- from the sales reps to the systems engineers to the service delivery engineers to the folks who dissect never-seen-before problems in the customer solution centers -- is that nobody phones it in. Everybody plays not just to their full potential, but in many cases, exceeds what they thought was their previous upper bound. Seeing that consistent demand for excellence translated into facts and figures tops the work list for the year. You can't quantify it in a spreadsheet, but you see the results in the spreadsheet's cells.

Best email. Much easier. A few weeks into our youth hockey season, I got an email from one of the new parents on our team, telling me that my son had made her son feel comfortable and welcome on the team as a first-year Pee Wee. Long after the season, nobody remembers the scores of games or what our league standings were, but the kids remember where we ate and who brought donuts, and the parents remember their new extended family.

Best new toy. Easy -- the low-power cell phone repeater I installed so that our cell phones work consistently (well) in the house. Getting a new phone helped as well, it turns out, but solid signal strength should never be taken for granted.

Best reading accomplishment. More of a prelude to reading, I managed to find three books I was sorry I never bought as a teenager, courtesy of eBay and amazon.com: Tretiak's "The Hockey I Love,"; Rick Wakeman's "The Caped Crusader"; and Willie Stargell's "Out of Left Field."

Best shopping experience. Some big wins courtesy of pointers from BoingBoing: a birthday party held at Robot Village in NYC, and a literal tasty mash-up of our favorite treats, sushi engraved and shaped from chocolate.

Best t-shirt. New category -- I used to try to remember the best poker hand of the year, but I didn't play too much poker this past year. However, Bill Bradley, our Global Systems Engineering Business Operations Director, gave me a t-shirt that reads "Eat More Pork Roll." Not exactly words to live by, unless you thrive on additives and sodium, but it has that Jersey je ne sais quois.

One day into the new year, I'm trying to follow advice offered to me by fellow writer, Princeton alum and former Sun employee Kristin L-A, who said "Set simple goals for each day." Mine include blogging more, working on that book regularly, spending more time talking to my friends outside of work, and trying to stay out of the emergency room for another year. Happy 2007 to everyone.

Sunday Sep 10, 2006

Another Kind of 9/11 Anniversary

I've been observing 9/11 for many years, as it's my birthday. It's also what kept me out of the World Trade Center on that day in 2001. Since being surprised by my family with a party several years before (and I truly, truly dislike surprise parties, believing they should be the the equivalent of a fireable offense for your family and friends), I decided the best course of action was to be on the road on my birthday. I've celebrated birthdays in parts of the Midwest where there is epsilon probability of surprise.

I have many strong memories of my birthday, and the week following it, in 2001. I was in Boston for a customer event, which we cancelled as the morning's tragedy unfolded. Our local marketing person had rented a car, so she and I jumped into it and drove about as fast as we could from Boston back to New Jersey, easily topping 100 MPH at some points. I will never forget crossing the Tappan Zee Bridge and seeing the smoke rising from lower Manhattan, visible all the way up the Hudson River. To this day, when I hear Billy Joel's "Miami 2017", the hair stands up on my neck, because many of the lyrics describe what it was like to see New York City burning.

I actually found out about the attacks when my wife called me that morning, moments after I had landed in Boston. My flight and the hijacked planes literally passed each other in the air. As the world discovered the news, it became nearly impossible to make phone calls on the east coast. I used the Sun internal phone system to call some folks in California, who were able to dial back to NJ and relay messages for me. Chalk one up for SunIT.

I spent most of the day leaving messages for my good friend Bob, terrified that he was in the WTC. Sadly, a customer of mine, two parents from our neighborhood, and one of my Princeton club mates were there and didn't make it out. While digging through old pictures this weekend, I found one of me dressed as Elwood Blues for a pseudo-talent show, and remembered that my Tiger friend was the one who convinced me that even if I couldn't sing, it would be funny.

When people ask me what I remember the most from that week, though, it's two extremes of life in and around New York. The first is that my sister was on business in Switzerland on 9/11, and she wasn't able to return to the States until that Saturday. Her flight was delayed nearly 8 hours, the limo company she had scheduled to pick her up never showed up (out of fear or confusion, we'll never know), so I sat in Newark Airport until just after midnight, having guessed she'd need a ride. After dropping her off, I drove back down the west side of Manhattan and through Times Square. At 1:00 AM, Times Square is busy any day of the week, especially on a Saturday night. That weekend, however, it was deserted -- the city that never sleeps wasn't really sleeping; it was in shock.

The other extreme is what happened that same Saturday morning. It was my one and only season of coaching youth soccer. The soccer board decided to hold the regularly scheduled games that weekend, intent on restarting the little cadences of our lives. Standing on the school fields, I saw the contrails of airplanes in the Newark airport flight path. It was the first time in five days there had been planes overhead, and I finally noticed the engine noise that we'd taken for granted nearly every other day of the year. Noise indicated normalcy returning.

The Baal Shem Tov wrote that the first time we see something, it's a miracle, then we call it nature, then we take it for granted. We don't always realize what is normal until the natural order of our lives is disrupted. What we should think then was best written by my top-ten favorite author Jodi Picoult: What if a miracle is not something that happens, but something that does not?

I'm hoping for a boring birthday, when I can be blessed by the miracles a Monday might not bring.

Tuesday Sep 05, 2006

Growth and Conjunctions

See Jonathan's latest blog entry and its comments, for the full back story, including some interesting comments on whether SUNW can generate financial traction and bridge the digital divide at the same time.

Those who claim that we are diluting our growth by focusing on social issues imply this is an either-or proposition. One of my favorite rabbis likes to say that most of the major conflicts on our globe are caused by "either-or" statements when a "both-and" conjunction would be acceptable. Applying either-or propositions too broadly causes you to miss potential markets. Those start-ups that recognize network users as both creators and consumers of content rather than separating the world into artists (who must be paid) and audiences (who must do the paying) are defining "Web 2.0" interactions. From the number of social web site icons dotting blog postings, it seems like the both-ands may be winning.

I believe Sun can both generate growth and deliver network services to largley unserved communities because they are merely different facets of the same problem. It's about cost of acquisition, cost of operation, availability of developers (who have their own cost of acquisition and operation), and network access (which is a function of, you guessed it, cost of acquisition and operation). Good things happen when you make the technology accessible by focusing on power, space, environmentals and cost. Services get built on top of that technology platform.

This isn't purely a technological postulate. Cameron Sinclair and Kate Stohr have shown with Architecture for Humanity that you can build low-cost housing out of local materials and have it feel like home. The designs captured in Sinclair's book Design Like You Give a Damn rely on disruptions to the economic assumptions make about housing in disrupted areas.

As a homework assignment a few weeks ago, Jonathan asked a number of people "What is the one thing about Sun about which you brag?" (his participles dangled but no English teachers were invited; no harm, no foul). I've learned something about these simple-sounding questions -- either you have a killer answer that jumps right out, or you're better off shutting up. I had what I thought was a killer answer -- I brag that Sun has, and will continue to, disrupt the economics of our industry. General purpose Unix workstations in the early 80s. General purpose multiprocessing servers and scalable I/O in the 90s. Zero cost of acquisition software, including developer tools, in the naughties.

The day we run out of things to disrupt is the day I worry that we're out of story. Before then, I'm confident we'll see that the participants in the Participation Age are both those who are networked (today) and those in non-consumptive, non-networked parts of the world (today). The both-and implies growth.

Monday May 29, 2006

Living New Jersey Jokes

Know me and know that I bristle at Jersey jokes. It's not just that I went to the same high school system as Bruce Springsteen, or that I spent endless summers "down the shore" or even that I witnessed the pseudo-rebirth of Atlantic City. I'm a Jersey guy, like Solaris Internals author Jim Mauro, and proud of it.

Sometimes, though, we bring the Jersey jokes on ourselves in ways that Joe Piscopo couldn't have even dreamed. Yesterday my father, son and I played the local par-3 golf course as a way to officially kick off the unofficial Jersey summer (Memorial Day to Labor Day). The course sits next to a state highway, nestled between an industrial complex, a county airport, and a big box electronics store. Very Jersey. The scorecard gives all of the ground rules of the course, including what to do if you hit the chain link fence separating course from parking lot and airport.

The last local rule is "No high heels."

I can't add more humor to that; it's the stuff Jersey jokes are made of, along with shopping malls, big hair, and people in their 40s who still wish it was the summer of 1983 when WAPP was commercial free and catapulting Jon Bon Jovi into stardom. I may miss WAPP (103.5 FM, now WKTU), but at least I was wearing sneakers on the par-3 yesterday.

Friday Apr 28, 2006

Glimpse of Great Scott

Several years ago, Scott McNealy made a sales call with me (and a host of others) to a prominent NYC investment bank. Scott had always been heavily involved with the executive management of this bank, not on behalf of Sun's banking business or his own banking, but because it was good for Sun Microsystems to maintain this kind of relationship. As a result, he frequently was asked to attend meetings that ranged from executive board room to engineering bored room.

Our joint sales call was one of the latter: we met with an absolutely brilliant bank employee, who discussed matrix math, floating point, Monte Carlo simulation and the value of epsilon in our hour together. I enjoyed it as much as Scott endured it; it wasn't really a great use of his time. As we were leaving, Scott turned to me and said "I'm glad you're here, and I hope you're learning something, because this is a bit geeky, even for me". And he said it with a smile, and with complete sincerity -- because nobody was going to get in trouble for an impedance mismatch on the executive level, or find that Scott refused future sales calls due to one random experience.

Scott has always treated people at Sun as much as his extended family as his employees. We goof up, we get a laugh out of it, and then we go out for McDonald's (seriously). Tragically, that bank employee was killed on 9/11/01, and I remember telling Scott, relating it back to our somewhat comic sales call. I'm pretty sure Scott already knew the details from his continued conversations with the customer, but he gave me a look that conveyed a sense of personal loss.

That's what it's been like to work for Scott for 17 years.

At this week's Spring Leadership Conference (also known as the "VP Barbeque Event"), one of the tributes to Scott's leadership showed him on a magazine cover hugging Jack Welch. I asked Jonathan, during open Q&A, who his Jack Welch is -- and Jonathan answered without a femtosecond of hestitation -- Scott McNealy.

That's my hopeful glimpse of the next 17 years at Sun.

Thursday Apr 27, 2006

Thank Your Admins

Quiz question: name the one person in your organization known to all of your customers, most of your superiors, all of your peers and the people who work for you, and anyone who has even the faintest interest in connecting with you?

Answer: your administrator. He or she is the only person that talks to everyone, and ensures that those people retain some interest in talking to you. Your administrator is the public face of your company and your role in that company. Friday concludes Professional Administrator's Week, so don't let the chance to say "thank you" slide.

My administrative assistant, Linda, saves my work or family life at least once a week. For a 2:00 AM flight out of Beijing, Linda noticed that I had been booked a day earlier than I wanted to leave (hmm, that date change after midnight gets you every time) and made sure I wasn't left a stranger in a strange land. She makes sure I have time to get from Point A to Point B, whether on foot or in the car, and tries to clear a path for food in whatever time zone I need to be fed. Fax, email, phone or SMS, she knows how to find me appropriately and promptly.

Most important, though, is that everyone I meet is quick to tell me that Linda is wonderful, prompt, polite, creative, and easy to work with. They're right, and not a day goes by when I don't appreciate those attributes.

The other person who gets the major kudos today is Karen, Scott McNealy's administrator. More than a dozen years ago, I made an egregious faux pas with a customer, becoming entangled in a political fight via a design document (with my name on it) that was used as an organizational forcing function. One of the people so forced called Scott's office, looking for my head. This is where Karen executed a kick save that would make Marty Brodeur proud: she informed Scott, got my line of business VP on the phone, initiated damage control both locally and globally, and within 24 hours there was a plan to repair the relationship. The "plan" mostly involved having me on the receiving end of some deserved dressing-downs, but had this festered the net result would not have been nearly as good for me, for Sun, or for my management chain.

To Linda, Karen, and the hundreds of other administrators at Sun, "thank you."

My first meeting with Jonathan

I met Jonathan Schwartz in 1996, immediately after Sun had acquired Lighthouse Design where he was CEO. At the time, I was the chief geek of the Northeast US sales geography, had recently helped spin up the first JavaDay event in New York, and Eric Schmidt (Sun's CTO at the time) was my informal mentor and someone who tolerated me as a fellow Princeton Tiger and inhabitant of its infamous "fishbowl" dormitory room.

Eric suggested that the two of us connect to discuss "the state of applications." What I remember most from that first meeting ten years ago was that I was insanely late, mostly due to traffic on the 101 freeway. I arrived in a chaotic state that only approximated what was going on in Jonathan's office at the time, as he was in a post-merger, pre-integration whirlwind.

Despite tardiness and workload, Jonathan made the time to talk. And not just a perfunctory listen-mostly mode while planning his next meeting; we spoke about application design, user experience, and how software was going to be constructed. To this day, I've found that Jonathan returns emails, stops to talk, and is an aggressive listener. You always know where you stand, whether it's admonishment not to make sports analogies (from the first software staff meeting I attended in 2002, when I briefly worked for Jonathan the first time) or telling a group of vice presidents how he measures accountability (this week's leadership meeting).

As of Tuesday, Jonathan is both my boss (acting VP of Software) and my meta-boss (CEO). It's the first time I've been older (and in worse physical fitness) than my entire management chain. It's a remarkably good feeling, because we are finally getting into an interesting state of applications on the network.

Wednesday Mar 22, 2006

Schwartz/Cuban Autographed Jersey up for auction

It's been a wild year since Jonathan Schwartz was a baller at our annual Customer Engineering Conference. After he agreed to go along with my sight gag, he graciously autographed the jersey and then we got Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, to autograph it as well.

At the time, I promised that we'd auction the jersey off in support of our work with ONE.org, the organization fighting poverty and AIDS that has been most closely associated with U2's Bono and his TED prize from 2005.

Quite honestly, the jersey project got side tracked when my family decided to move cross-Jersey last spring, and I only recently uncovered it while digging through my home office "supplies" closet (looking for glue sticks, if you need the unvarnished and sticky truth).

Today, I put the jersey up for auction. 100% of the proceeds will go to Oxfam America, one of ONE.org's partners in fighting hunger. Getting the auction set up was made trivial by eBay's work with MissionFish, allowing me to select the recipient, build the listing, and set up the flow of funds with a few button clicks. The hardest part of the whole thing was getting sharp pictures of the Sharpie work.

The auction runs through the end of March. If you want to check out the goods (and hopefully make a bid) you'll find the auction action here.

Monday Feb 27, 2006

Jolly Holiday With Mary

What is MaryMary really like? To borrow from Mary Poppins, we spent a jolly holiday with her.

She is the kind of person who will park her kids for three hours to drive an hour on a day off, to sit in a local ice rink and watch someone else's kid play hockey. The someone else would be me, the day in question was President's Day, and at the time, she was the most famous person at the Reston SkateQuest Olympic rink.

But no techno-celeb autograph signings for her. Just great cheering. She cheers the way the writes: authentic, fun, concise.

But in true MaryMary style, we needed to make the Important Connections. Think of them as the links in life that imitate a blog. So I introduced Mary to one of our team parents, a figure skating coach who had just been on his cell phone with one of his skating friends from Russia. Now MaryMary knows someone who knows an Olympic gold medalist.

When asked where her cheering accomplices had gone for the day, Mary told us they were bowling. We warned her that precisely that kind of "we're bored, let's do something different" activity led us to be watching our fifth youth hockey game in less than 48 hours, a 4-hour drive from home. My wife added that bowling doesn't seem as all-encompassing as ice hockey, until you realize that my wife (and I) went to high school with a fairly quiet, good-natured guy who went bowling on his days off -- and turned into 29-time PBA Champion Parker Bohn.

School holidays are when dreams are born, aren't they?


Hal Stern's thoughts on software, services, cloud computing, security, privacy, and data management


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