The best three days of my life? Sorry, Dan….

I’ve spent the last three days serving as an observer/coach at the pilot session of IBM’s TechGen Global Development Center. This is a development program for rising technical talent — the goal is to help them improve their technical leadership abilities by putting them into various scenarios which will stretch them. The observers this time around were Distinguished Engineers, and our purpose was to watch what they did and, later, evaluate it and give them coaching and advice. And, of course, the other reason we were there was to help the participants extend their networks.

But the program wasn’t one-sided; I can’t speak for the other observers, but I certainly gained insight into myself during the program (and especially in some discussions afterwards with the HR folks in charge). And adding the participants to my network was a gain, too!

Dan, the HR person who invited me to be an observer, wanted me to say that this was the best three days of my life, but I can’t oblige. But it was a very enjoyable (and intense) three days, and I’d happily do it again.

As I’ve said in earlier posts this week, the food at the Learning Center is amazingly good — and there’s a lot of it, too. And because they kept us so busy (last night, we were comparing notes and outlining the reports for the participants until after midnight — and the only reason we quit then was that one of our number had to drive back to Connecticut to sleep), I wasn’t ever able to get to the fitness center to work any of it off.

So when I arrived at my new hotel, the Tarrytown House, this evening, the first thing I wanted to do was go to their fitness center. It’s not as nice as the one at the Learning Center, but it has the wonderful advantage of being under the same roof as my room. And with the frigid weather tonight, that’s quite an advantage.

And the other advantage I have tonight is that I have no late night meetings, and my first meeting tomorrow isn’t until 10am. So I have hopes of catching up some on my sleep. Zzzzz……

Let it snow!

The IBM Learning Center is a weird place. It’s built in campus style, with all of the buildings widely separated — not the way I would have designed a training center in snow country. The rooms are rather spartan, but serviceable. And the Fitness Center is absolutely wonderful…except that it’s a long cold walk away from the dorms…err, hotel buildings…and it has rather limited hours (6am-9pm, with gaps during meeting times).

My meeting didn’t end last night until 8:30, so I couldn’t go to the Fitness Center then. And the weather forecast for today was snow, so I didn’t even bother setting my alarm early enough to go this morning. But the snow was very light and had ended by the time I went for breakfast at 7am; oh, well.

And I really need to get to the Fitness Center, because one thing that the Learning Center does well is feed people. This meeting includes three buffet meals a day, as well as continuously-available snacks and drinks — and it’s all tasty. But today isn’t likely to be a Fitness Center day either, because I’ll be in my meeting till 11pm. I see lots of caffeine in my future….

More perspective

I got to the IBM Learning Center a bit after midnight, and, foolishly, checked my e-mail before going to bed. I found a note from a colleague asking me if I could help out with something we were working on, because he was going to be out for a while, burying his son, who had fallen on ice while doing volunteer work, hit his head, and died.

And then this evening, I got the call I was expecting, telling me that the friend who I’d written about on Saturday had died.

May both of their memories be blessings.

They really might like their customers!

I’m sitting at San Jose Airport waiting to board a JetBlue flight to New York for a week of fun, sun (well, snow), and excitement in Armonk and Somers. The weather in New York earlier today was not good, so the incoming flight was delayed, and therefore, my outbound flight was also delayed by about 90 minutes.

I took advantage of the delay to have lunch at home instead of bringing it for the plane (of course, that means I’ll be bringing dinner for the plane instead of eating it at JFK — I think I come out ahead anyway).

Clearing security today was no hassle (unlike two weeks ago, when it took about 45 minutes). And when I got to the gate, I was very surprised to see baskets full of snacks and drinks available for the taking — I’d never had an airline do that for a mere 90-minute delay. Especially a weather-related delay, which really was out of their control. I was impressed.

I’m beginning to think that JetBlue’s slogan, “we like you, too,” isn’t entirely puffery!

No, it’s not

A few days ago, Garrett pointed to one of Al‘s old blog entries titled “Suicide is Painless-Not!”

I read it, and went about my business.

Today at the end of Torah Study, Rabbi Aron said that [name] was in the ICU at Kaiser Santa Teresa and that the prognosis was negative, and that his husband, [name2], would welcome visitors. She went on to say that [name2] didn’t want any misconceptions about what had happened: [name] was suffering from depression, and had attempted suicide.

After services, we ran into mutual friends in the parking lot who said that Rabbi Aron was going over to the hospital to talk with [name2], who was ready to sign a DNR order for [name] — so if we were planning to visit, now was the time.

So we rearranged our tickets for Pride and Prejudice and went to the hospital to do what we could to support [name2]. We had no problems finding the ICU, and other friends were going in at the same time, so we went directly to [name]’s room. He was lying on the bed, with a ventilator breathing for him, hooked up to various monitors which kept beeping ominiously from time to time. [name2] was in the hallway behind the room, with yet more friends (I’m sure we were well over the hospital’s visitor limit). He greeted us and said that he was waiting for the neurolgist’s report, but that all signs indicated that all that was left was to say “goodbye” to [name].

I don’t know if [name] felt any pain. I do know that [name2] did.

[Name2] said that the reason he hadn’t tried to “protect” [name] by telling people that there’d been an accident was that he thought that if people knew what had happened — that [name] had attempted to kill himself because of depression — that it might help someone else. And especially that it might convince someone who saw that someone else was talking about suicide (or was just depressed) to get that person some help.

And that’s why I’m relating their story. At this point, it’s the most useful thing I can do for either of them.

D’var Torah: Parashat Toldot

Although Diane and I are no longer running the informal minyan at Shir Hadash, we’re still very involved. So today, she’s reading Torah and I’m leading the service and giving the D’var Torah (the discussion of the portion). And here it is.

D’var Torah: Parashat Toldot (Genesis 25:27-34)

“I’m famished; let me gulp down some of that red stuff.”

“He ate, drank, got up, and left.”

Those sentences come from today’s portion, but they are also all too typical of our lifestyles today. How often do you just grab whatever’s convenient? How often do you gulp it down (maybe while you’re driving or working)?

I don’t know about you, but I have to plead guilty on both counts – especially when it comes to having lunch. All too often, I find myself squeezing in lunch during a telephone call, hoping that the people on the other end can’t hear me chewing. And now that I have a wireless headset, I can even stay on the line while I get up and go (I do try to remember to use the mute button).

But was Esau just famished, or was there something deeper? An alternative translation is “exhausted” or, as in The Five Books of Moses, with introductions, notes, and commentary by Everett Fox (New York: Schocken, 1995, p. 117), “weary.”

In fact, Esau was so worn down that he didn’t even pause when Jacob told him that the price of the meal was his birthright – he just wanted to eat, drink, and go on his way.

In today’s world, it’s very easy to get worn down by the press of events and the demands on our time – even when one is relaxing by watching TV or reading a magazine, there are endless calls to buy, sell, or donate. And you’re likely to be multitasking anyway.

Today is Shabbat, a day when we’re supposed to slow down (stopping is probably impossible!), do no work, study, and reconnect, with God, and with ourselves. That’s our birthright – but we have to be careful not to give it away for a shiny new toy or a glass of red stuff (even if it’s fine Pinot Noir!).

Shabbat Shalom.

Frantic Friday

“Work expands to fill the time available” — Parkinson’s First Law

I’ve had several demonstrations of Parkinson’s Law this week, and I am now a true believer. Again.

Last night, Jeff needed help using the Geometer’s Sketchpad to do some homework (due this morning at 8:30am, of course); he’d e-mailed his teacher, but no answer was forthcoming (probably because said teacher was on the train home and disconnected), and so he turned to me.

The problem seemed simple: construct a triangle with sides 15, 11, and 7, and measure one of the angles. But he couldn’t figure out how to construct the triangle.

Geometer’s Sketchpad is a very interesting program, and I wish I’d had it when I was a kid — but it isn’t particularly easy to use. It has a help system, but it’s not very helpful — and “triangle” doesn’t appear in the help system.

There isn’t even a simple way to draw a line of a specified length that you can freely move around the screen — instead, you have to construct a point, translate it by the length you want, use the two points to create a circle, then create another point on the circle, draw a line segment connecting that point to the center of the circle, and then hide the circle and the second point you constructed. After that, you have a line that you can rotate and move as you wish.

Jeff’s teacher had given them a reminder of how to do the problem — construct some circles and intersect them. But the reminder didn’t remind Jeff sufficiently, and it didn’t mean anything to me. So I told him to try looking on the web for hints — with no success.

And we kept trying to create circles of the appropriate size and position them so a triangle would magically appear — no dice.

Eventually, I suggested that he use the circle method to construct the three line segments he needed and then drag them to form a triangle. Then we un-hid the circles that he used, and voilà — we knew how to construct the triangle he needed, and do it properly.

(The trick, by the way, is to construct two concentric circles, one of radius 15 and one of radius 11. Then construct a circle of radius 7 and move it so that its center is on the circle of radius 15. The points you need are the center of the circle of radius 7, the center of the circle of radius 15, and the point where the circles of radius 7 and 11 cross.)

But by that point, it was 10:30pm, and we were all very tired, having been flailing away at the problem for hours. It would have been far easier to do it with paper and pencil, but that wasn’t the point of the exercise. I guess.

Today, I arranged my own demonstration of Parkinson’s Law. I won’t go into the gory details, but suffice it to say that I was busy reading The World is Flat so that I could return it to the library and writing an evaluation of some proposals — all of which had to be accomplished by the end of the day today. I managed, but with less than 10 minutes to spare.

So I’m definitely ready for the weekend. Unfortunately, I don’t expect it to be very restful — tomorrow, we have Torah Study, services, San Jose Rep’s production of Pride and Prejudice, and then I have to pack for a week-long trip to the East Coast. I guess the flight should be restful; JetBlue doesn’t have DC power on their planes, so I can’t use my computer the whole way!

Preserving my past

After nearly six years of providing free hosting, Userland has announced that they’re going to turn off the free EditThisPage servers today. And that, of course, includes my old site, Defenestration Corner.

Thanks to Lawrence Lee at Userland, I have a full copy of my site in Manila’s native form; I’ve also used XML-RPC to grab all of the content as XML files. Now all I have to do is finish writing a program to repost the content here.

I’m glad they only have the new stuff

I got sucked into joining Amazon Prime while we were ordering textbooks for Jeff this summer, and ever since, I’ve been checking Amazon whenever I needed anything, because, after all, two-day shipping is free!

For no particular reason, I decided to see what their pricing was for Charmin, and was happy to not see any prices quoted for “used” goods. I think it’s still cheaper to buy on sale in the store, too.

But I have to give bad marks to, who runs an ad on the results page for this particular search — if you click through to them with Safari or Firefox, you get a page telling you that they don’t support anything but IE. That, my friends, is a crappy attitude.

Remembering the Internet Division

Yesterday, Irving Wladawsky-Berger wrote an interesting piece about the IBM Internet Division.

I wasn’t at quite the same level as Irving and John, but I was there for the whole process, and my days in the Internet Division were some of my happiest at IBM. My team, the Internet Technology Team, was composed of great people who knew that they were doing important work. We didn’t have to worry (much) about funding; we didn’t have to worry (much) about making the quarter’s numbers; we just had to transform IBM.

My main role during that period was to be IBM’s lead representative to the W3C. This involved a lot of politics, coordination, and tracking, which weren’t my strong suits then (and still aren’t), but I also got to do technical work.

In particular, I served on the HTML Editorial Review Board (later renamed the HTML Working Group) and the Document Object Model WG. This was in the days of the Tag Wars, and although IBM had its own web browser, Web Explorer, with its own proprietary tags, it was clear to me that IBM’s best interests would be served by getting agreement on a real standard for HTML and discouraging vendors (including us) from implementing their own tags. And that’s what happened, though not easily.

I also had the joy of becoming IBM’s porn expert for a time. That didn’t mean that I got to look for porn at work, but rather that I was asked to come up with a strategy to keep the proliferation of porn from slowing the growth of legitimate e-commerce on the Web. (Well, it was that or work on banking security solutions.) So I wrote up a quick proposal for a rating system which could be used by providers or third-party raters, and circulated it around. Eventually, IBM convinced Microsoft and Netscape to work under the auspices of the W3C to create a standard for creating rating systems, and I was heavily involved in the process, most notably as co-author of the PICS Rating Services and Rating Systems Recommendation.

The Internet Division didn’t have a long life, though — we had a perpetual “going out of business” strategy. As projects became successful, they moved into the more traditional development areas, such as Software Group. Eventually, we had colonized enough of the rest of the company that there was no need for a separate Internet Division, and it vanished from the orgcharts.

My team moved with Irving to the Linux strategy area, and I eventually left the team and returned to the Research Division.