Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Really, Truly, Empty Nest, Part 1: Crying Over an Old Blanket

After school on Tuesday, we drove to Utah to move my lastborn son into his dormitory at Brigham Young University. Once he was moved in, he was off to play with his roommates without even so much as an "okay, bye." We had to hunt him down in his dorm room to get our good-bye hugs.

Please don't misinterpret me. I’m not complaining at all. It looks like we did it right again. We may actually go five for five on raising our kids right.

We picked up our youngest daughter at the SLC airport on Wednesday night (from AZ, visiting a friend) and took her back to the airport on Thursday morning (to NC, visiting mission friends). Then we got onto I-80 and drove back to Colorado by ourselves, and we've been kind of in a daze since we got home. There are no kids here to worry about! For the first time in 30 years!

Emotions are kind of confusing right now. We're mostly numb. My sweet wife got teary on the way to the airport Thursday morning, about something only tangentially related to the empty nest. She thought it was silly. I don't know what my daughter thought. I thought, "I'm sure lucky to be married to this woman."

I got teary on Saturday morning. Wanna know what caused it? I know it's because of the empty nest, but that's not what caused it. It's even sillier than whatever caused Mama to cry. (No, this isn't a contest. I'm just being honest.)

Before we got married, my fiancée made a quilt for me. It had mountains all over it. It was gorgeous. I loved it. I used it until we got married.

My firstborn son appropriated that quilt at some point in his childhood, and it stayed on his bed until he left for the Air Force Academy. Then my lastborn son appropriated it, and it stayed on his bed until he left for BYU. I ended up sharing that quilt with my sons for 30 years.

There was magic in that quilt. Remember how it had mountains all over it? Well, by sharing the quilt with my sons, I also shared my love of the mountains with them. And as surely as the colors in the quilt faded over the years, my sons absorbed that love of the mountains and made it their own.

Yesterday, Saturday morning, I was staring at that quilt sitting in the laundry basket where my lastborn had deposited it, and I realized that, faded and flattened though it might be, it was mine again. I thought about the fact that I had loaned one of my most precious possessions to my sons for 30 years, and never resented a minute of it. I would rather have shared it the way I did, than kept it and preserved it and never passed on that part of me to them.

And although it sounds silly now, that's the thought that made my tears start to flow.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dr. Jack Horkheimer, the Star Hustler, passes away

I just found out that Dr. Jack Horkheimer, the animated and personable host of "Star Hustler" (later renamed "Star Gazer"), passed away on August 20.

Horkheimer's PBS show was only 5 minutes long, and it was always worth watching. He delighted in teaching his audience about something that was happening in the sky that they could go see RIGHT NOW.

His program started as a local Miami feature, then went national and finally international. Horkheimer was on my list of "people I'd like to meet." It's too bad he left before I could meet him.

He moved to Florida on a doctor's advice. He had a lung condition that did better in the warm, humid climate of Miami. Apparently the doctor gave good advice. He finally succumbed to the degenerative lung disease, but he lasted until age 72, so that was pretty darn good.

I'll miss Dr. Horkheimer, his enthusiasm and knowledge, and the words with which he closed every show: "Keep looking up!"

Randy Cassingham posted a great eulogy for the man at his This is True website. Go take a look.

Friday, August 20, 2010

"Loud Pipes Save Lives"?

I heard it again this morning. One of the radio morning show DJs said, "I'm a firm believer in 'loud pipes save lives.'"

Most people know that he was talking about motorcycles. The theory is that the loud noise of an unmuffled motorcycle exhaust alerts automobile drivers to the biker's presence, which makes the biker safer.

I think that "loud pipes save lives" is insincere and hypocritical. Helmets save lives too, and yet way too many owners of loud bikes refuse to wear a motorcycle helmet. It's all about personal freedom, they say, as they oppose laws requiring them to wear a helmet.

Okay, forget the law, then. Just wear it out of common sense, okay?

(I still shake my head when I think of the Harley rider I encountered on I-25. He was roaring along on his bike, with his helmet firmly strapped to the seat behind him.)

I will believe the sincerity of the "loud pipes save lives" argument when I see its proponents wearing helmets while they ride. Until then, in my opinion, they're merely being obnoxious and hypocritical.

(On the other hand, I will smile and give a thumbs-up to any bareheaded rider honest enough to say "Nah, I just like loud pipes.")

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A funny malapropism from a Clive Cussler novel

I enjoy reading Clive Cussler's fiction. My youngest son has been a Cussler fan for quite a while, and I have picked up his books and read them when I've found them lying around the house. After savoring the cinematic man-feast that is the movie Sahara, I decided to read the book.

Cussler has had a very successful life, and I respect him for all that he's accomplished. In addition, he tells a good story. However, you have to be willing to forgive his rough writing to enjoy the story.

No, not "rough" as in "raunchy." Cussler can't be bothered putting that stuff into his yarns. His books may be rated PG or PG-13, but only for violence. "Rough" as in "trying to ride a bicycle down a gravel road."

Sometimes his unorthodox word choices leave the reader scratching his head in confusion. Oh, that's another thing: he keeps using "bemused" when he should say "amused." "Bemused" means "confused."

These are just little things. It's pointless for me to find fault with someone as rich, as famous, and as bestseller-y as Cussler. Besides, I'd love to go camping or sailing or something with him someday, and I don't want to get on his bad side.

Having said all that, I cannot resist quoting one of the unintentionally funniest lines I found in Sahara. In fact, this line was the whole purpose of this blog entry. Everything that I've written up to this point (and the next paragraph) are just to set it up. Are you ready?

Okay, the setup: in Sahara, the good guys discover a solar-powered waste disposal facility in the remote desert reaches of Mali, and they decide to shut it down after using it to burn through the remaining hazmat inventory. Here's the hero's sidekick talking about it:

"After cutting off all incoming waste shipments by train, we've kept the solar reactor burning day and night."

The reader pauses.

The reader furrows his brow in confusion.

The reader blurts out: "WHAT?"

Monday, August 2, 2010

Microsoft can still be competitive - if they want to

Microsoft is the company everybody loves to hate. With a near monopoly on home and business computer operating systems, MS has been the bully in the computer marketplace for a long time. Not many people feel sorry for MS when it stumbles or otherwise runs into difficulty.

I worked for a division of MS for a while. It was a great work environment, and the group of people I worked with were talented, were motivated, and enjoyed some degree of autonomy. They had a solid product line and, as far as I can tell, it sold well. (Do you have an MS optical mouse on your desk?) I would have loved to become a permanent MS employee.

I understand that not all divisions of MS are as fun to work in as that division was. That's the nature of a megacorporation like MS. I can live with that.

Recently, MS has made some major missteps in the mobile computing arena, leaving MS with single-digit market share in mobile phones, tablet devices, and mobile phone and table operating systems. To quote from TechRepublic's Jason Hiner:

So Microsoft has talked about five different mobile platforms in 2010: Windows Mobile 6.5, Windows Embedded Compact 7, Windows Phone 7, Kin, and Windows 7, with very little explanation about how these platforms relate to each other and which ones Microsoft wants to use in which settings. Is it any surprise then that Microsoft is flailing so badly in the mobile space and has no coherent tablet strategy?

And I think it’s fair to say that Microsoft’s tablet troubles are indicative of the larger problems that are haunting today’s Microsoft — similar teams competing for resources, minimal collaboration between similar projects, and not enough vision from the top to get everyone pushing in the same direction.

Charter wars like this are not uncommon in large corporations. Back in the day, Hewlett Packard had at least three different dialects of the BASIC programming languages, and at least four different small computer/workstation architectures. Now, as Hiner points out, MS has five different mobile "platforms."

Charter wars, if managed properly, can be a healthy thing for a large corporation. Small businesses can't afford charter wars, but big ones can. Charter wars give competing ideas the chance to duke it out in the lab, and again in the marketplace, and a skillful management team can use the charter wars to weed out the weakest ideas — just like those reality TV shows — and find the best idea for the company to pursue.

One of the challenges for upper management is knowing how long to let the charter war run. That takes a deft hand.

Charter wars are by their nature messy, acrimonious and bloody. It's unnecessary, but unavoidable. Some of the losers will go to work for the winning team. Some will quit out of frustration or hurt feelings. Some will simply move on to something else inside the company, and talk for years about how their vastly superior project got unfairly shafted. Eh. Welcome to the corporate world.

Microsoft can afford the "similar teams competing for resources" and the "minimal collaboration between similar projects." That's the essence of a good charter war. What MS needs, though, in order to get through the charter war and come out with a real competitive product, is "vision from the top to [manage the charter war properly and eventually] get everyone pushing in the same direction." That's what they're lacking.