Thursday, March 26, 2009

Liberty Man

The market's been doing good lately. I think I'll worry about losing my job now.

At work, they're getting rid of the mainframe computer. That's where all my stuff is. Where all my eggs were hatched. It's been my meal ticket since I retired. I know things nobody else knows. I can do things nobody else can do. But nowadays there's little call for the things I know and can do, so they're getting rid of the stupid computer.

Something to think about on my way home.

Something to distract me from the usual distractions on Highway 61. For the past couple of weeks, I'd been noticing the kids waving signs out in front of the H&R Block office. Dressed up like the Statue of Liberty, with a little headpiece of Statue-of-Liberty rays coming out, and a pale green Statue-of-Liberty dress flowing down, almost covering their jeans. There were boys, and girls, too, of every gender, but no more than two on any given day, waving their signs, paid as it were to act silly for the benefit of H&R Block.

There's been a pretty high turnover, but most of them come back at least once. In the beginning, I think they thought it was cool, but I believe it got old fast. Toward the end of last week, the kids were holding the signs up in front of their faces, so nobody could see them. I can imagine the tweets not going in their favor. Sic transit gloria.

Yesterday was something different. A grown man. With a light beard, possibly in his thirties, wearing the Statue-of-Liberty suit, with the rays coming out, and jumping up and down and waving the sign. He grinned at me when I went by.

Today, in my distracted mood, I wasn't looking for him, but there he was. Again. Jumping up and down and waving at the cars going by.

I thought, maybe it's the Manager of the H&R Block office, and he couldn't get any more kids to do it, so he had to get out there himself.

But I wasn't in the mood for humor. So I decided that he's probably just another joe who's lost his job by the grace of God and now he's just out there doing what he can.

As I passed by, he grinned and gave me a thumbs up.

You gotta love this country, man.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Cueless in Redmond

In the eighties and nineties, I was a grunt programmer and that qualified me to put in some quality time at Microsoft University, where in those days all us hacks got educated.

Microsoft was cool, then. I went there several times. The Snickers were free. I saw the Big Rock Candy Mountain flowing. And I ate the hamburger in the hamburger joint. I did Redmond.

But the time I remember is when Louis Kahn and Greg Johnson went with me. I don't remember the year, but it was when everybody on campus was saying that "Microsoft is betting the company on NT."

At the time, both Louis and Greg worked for me, although that's what you might call a euphemism. Both of them were smarter programmers than I was. Louis, in particular, was a wunderkind who became financially independent in the computer business when he was 17.

I once went to a computer networking conference with Louis back when networking was the coming thing. On the first day, we walked into the conference room and were immediately surrounded by at least 20 people. They all wanted to talk to Louis. That's when I found out that Louis was famous. A guy next to me said, "Who are you?" I said, "Louis works for me." The guy edged away. After that, if anybody asked, I said, "I'm with Louis."

But when Greg and Louis got together, they were like big kids. The first thing they wanted to do, when we got in to Redmond, was go to a local arcade and play the video games and drive the racecars.

Then we hooked up with Dave Edson, a Microsoft programmer Louis knew, and we all went to a fancy pool parlor, which, we were told, was a classy place to hang out in town. Now, in those days, Dave Edson was known for being the guy who ported Tetris to Windows, but he made us go all the way to his place first so he could get his cue stick.

I said, "Don't they have cue sticks at the place?"

Edson said, "This is my cue stick."

I stood rebuked. He brought a little black case from his house and showed it to me. The cue was inside, and it came in two pieces that screwed together. All in all, a precision instrument. I was impressed.

At the pool parlor, Edson said to me, "You want play a game?"

I explained that I was a terrible pool player. The truth is, I watched my father once take two bills off a couple of slicks by running the table while holding his cue in one hand, but I know nothing of the game. And, especially, I told Edson, I did not wish to play anyone of such a high calibre as himself.

He said, "I'm not that good. I'll show you how."

I said, "I left my cue at home."

He showed me the cue rack.

As it turned out, Dave Edson was no better at playing pool than I was. We fumbled our way to a draw, if that's what it's called.

The next day, he showed us his office space in the part of Microsoft that students usually didn't get to see. He told us that everybody in the area knew it was his space because it had all his things in it.

Later on, in the break room, we talked a little shop.

I said to Dave, "How do you think NT is going to work out?"

Dave said, "Microsoft is betting the company on NT."

Greg told us how Louis had stood up in a national meeting when he was still a kid and told a big company that their technical architecture was all wrong. Everybody on the dais was confounded, but Louis was right and they were wrong.

Greg said it was like baby Einstein, tugging on Newton's cape.

Edson then paid homage, saying that Louis was a genius of networking, while he, himself, was "network clueless."

I said, "Me, too."

And Louis laughed out loud.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Wooters and Finckner

For all I know, they're still out there somewhere, going around on "Cripple Creek".

Billy is posing. Eddie is playing. I took the picture.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Blue Yodel

The sixties started in 1965. I watched the thing go by from the sidewalk. My hair didn't get long until 1972.

That's when it got down to me. Square-toed boots and jeans, hair all messed up. At work, I hooked up with a bunch of kids, half my age, because one of them was going with my secretary, Janet. These kids were into playing guitars and getting messed up. They let me go along because I had once stood in the presence of Hank Williams, Sr.

We'd go to somebody's farmhouse, at night, deep in the woods of Maryland or Delaware, I never knew which side of the line we were on, but there'd be a crockpot going and we'd get inebriated and all stand around playing guitars, except me. I couldn't play. They'd run through the chords of "Cripple Creek" over and over again. What you have to understand is, there'd be nobody singing. Just a bunch of guys, going through "Cripple Creek". It always seemed a little funny to me at first, but as the evening wore on, it would start making perfect sense.

I'd begin to think I could almost sing. I knew this song pretty well, but in my condition, I could usually only remember the first verse. Anyway, later in the evening, I would find myself looking for a point of entry to come in with the verse I knew and, when I did that, it always got a reaction from the group. I couldn't sing very well, but they were nevertheless grateful for it.

On weekends, we would get in cars and go to local music festivals, way out in the country. There was always the fantasy of entering the band contest. I strongly discouraged the idea every time it came up, but that didn't stop them from standing out under a tree and running through "Cripple Creek" one more time.

You'd see all kinds of people at these affairs, in different stages of consciousness. I saw a young, very pretty girl in a thin cotton dress, walking around with her arms hanging down limply, one hand holding on to a bottle of Jack Daniels that was half-empty.

The guys begged me to sing a verse with them, but I told them I couldn't do that in the light of day. Billy Wooters was the one Janet liked. Eddie Finckner was quiet and shy. He didn't have a girlfriend, but he had real musical talent. Billy just played guitar and a little banjo, but besides that, Eddie taught himself mandolin, fiddle and piano, too. Billy said the band ought to be called "Wooters and Finckner". That was OK with Eddie. He didn't care.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Hard Times

In 1971, I was a young man at the very edge of the world. Everything beckoned. Fortunately, I didn't need much.

In January, 1972, I was in Boston at a conference. It was bone-cold and snowing. I'd been reading in different places about the show that George Harrison had thrown for Bangladesh. And the record was being released that week. In the U.S., I read in the paper, it was being released first in Boston. I was in Boston.

At lunch, I excused myself from the bunch I was with and walked five miserable blocks from the hotel to a record store that I had looked up in the Yellow Pages. I gave $12.50 for the album and walked back.

Of course, I couldn't listen to it until I got back home. But, when I did get to hear it, it was overwhelming. Gods of our time, Harrison and Dylan and their lesser angels, Billy Preston and Leon Russell. Dylan did a long set and sang everything wrong. Two months later, I couldn't hear those songs any other way.

A year later, I escaped from the stock market with $274 left in my stake. But I had a good job, paying $15,000 a year.

In December, 1978, I was at a conference in Washington. It was a two-day affair, but after the first day, I excused myself from the bunch I was with and flew back to Atlanta so I could see Dylan perform at the Omni. There was music in the cafes at night and revolution in the air.

Hard times.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Pardon my enthusiasm

Now that I've started up, you're gonna get tired of hearing me going on about Obama.

Have you noticed how he is, unabashedly, putting on a strong, moralistic tone with us, the nation? He's telling us we're gonna have to start being good. When was the last time you heard that from a sitting President? Memory fails.

Clinton could have been that way when he was in. He had the charisma, the right slant of eye and crook of finger. He could have been a contender, but he threw it all away for a little personal development.

But Obama. You know. You just know.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

World Without End

I never saw the movie, "Wall Street".

I didn't have to. Back in the early eighties, I watched the local news and, now and then, high school seniors were interviewed about what they wanted to do when they grew up. To a one, they all said, "I want to get rich." The best minds of that generation all had hippie parents and they all said, the hell with it. They wanted to be shown the money.

Michael Douglas said it was all right and the race was on. Get the money and wallow in it. And so we did. I, of course, arrived late, just as the pumpkin was pulling up outside, but I got my share.

Now, folks are saying the party is over. They might be right. Good piece in the New York Times, today, by Thomas Friedman:

Friedman gets paid to take the long view, forwards and backwards, and, in a few paragraphs, he lays out the forehead-slapping thesis, that we should have known we couldn't keep doing all that stuff forever. He calls it "The Great Disruption." Starting right now. Tell your grandkids, when they ask you why they have to keep working in the field.

I accept the thesis, but I'm not so pessimistic about it. It's time to roll up our sleeves again and get to work. Forget about the money. Fix Gaia. Stop blowing everything up. Make a place for everybody at the table.

Amazing that, at this juncture in history, we get Obama.

Yahweh's up to something.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A World without Windows is like a Door without Knobs

People used to talk about the next Dylan. For a while, John Prine was going to be the next Dylan. Nowadays, to be the next Dylan, you'd first have to pencil a mustache over your mouth. I don't know what Dylan is thinking about these days with this look he has, but it's brilliant.

I used to think about the next Microsoft. I couldn't imagine Microsoft ever being dislodged from its perch. Whatever the next thing was, I thought, Microsoft would buy it or steal it or destroy it.

I was wrong. It's clear who the next Microsoft is. We're witnessing the slow historic movement of tectonic plates against each other, with one moving up and one going under.

The PC is taking its place on the shelf with the polaroid camera and the portable typewriter.

Within ten years, Microsoft will be a backwater company, like Adobe.

Ballmer is the perfect Peter Boyle Frankenstein to ride the Slim Pickens rocket into the ground. His engineers will reproduce all the technology, but they still won't get it.

They won't be able to see what's happening.

No Windows.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

I dreamed I saw da Vinci

Back in the renaissance, Leonardo was a very smart man. But, in my dream, I was trying to explain to him what an IPhone is. It wasn't easy.

He didn't get the concept. Finally, gesturing with my hands, I told him it was communication at long distances.

He said, "Oh. A miracle from God."

I said, "Exactly."

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Redemptive Power of Regret

Picture this, if you can. You may have seen it. Henry Blodget, last Wednesday, in his Tech Ticker video, exclaiming, "I'm a huge fan of Obama! I thought his speech last night was tremendous!"

It gave me a warm feeling all over. I had the same reaction Henry had. I was glued to the tube.

And now I'm sorry that I may have been unkind to Henry in these pages.

I'm sorry that I've made fun of him. I'm sorry that I compared him to Anthony Michael Hall in the boy's room. And I'm sorry that I said his tie was way too long.

Forgive me, Henry. It's Sunday.