Thursday, October 06, 2011

Steve Jobs' impact on my life

I'm sure there will lots of wailing and gnashing of teeth today over Steve Jobs death.  I am very sad about it and I feel his loss personally.  A friend of mine suggested it is like Alfred Nobel, who continues to have an effect on lives long after his death, but very few people can claim he had an effect on them personally.  However, I actually do claim Steve Jobs affected me personally, and perhaps more importantly, professionally.  Please don't dismiss me as an iFanboy, this isn't that story.

I was in sixth grade at Belvedere Elementary school in Omaha, Nebraska.  Another teacher entered our classroom and asked for me.  Huh?  What had I done?  She took me out of class and led me down the hall to the "computer room" which was outfitted with a dozen or so Apple II computers.  She then asked me to show her students how to use them.  In a flash, I realized that not everyone got it the way I did.  From that moment on I knew I wanted to work with computers.

In Jr. High, there was again a room full of Apple II computers.  I tried to get as much time on them as I could.  The only class that was available was this wierd hybrid of Typing/Computer Education.  For 3 days each week we learned to type, but NOT on the elegant computers with their magical green screens, but on manual typewriters.  The other two days each week we got to use the computers, complete with writing programs in BASIC and carrying around my very own "password" protected 5.25" floppy disc.  Oh how I resented those days we wasted pounding away on manual typewriters.  Naturally, I joined the Computer Club, which was really just an excuse to play rudamentary games.

In high school the Computer Lab had a bunch of Apple IIs, a few Macs, and even an Apple IIgs.  The IIs were familiar, but started to feel dated, and the Macs were very cool, but too "simple" somehow, so I ignored them.  Besides, I only had eyes for the room full of IBM Model 30s hooked together on a Novell network.  Ah, this was powerful, shared drives and text messaging between workstations!  (Hey, give me a break, I only thought I knew everything.)

Now on to college.  As I mentioned above, I never had any doubt that I would study computers.  There was a time when I thought I might want to build them rather than program them, however my first electronics class cured me of that!  Programming was where it was at.  The first few classes I had were on familiar IBM PCs, but soon they let us loose on the mainframe, a VAX (not a big one, but still a HUGE computer compared to my previous experience).  With this came terminals with a graphical interface, which made it easy to write code in one window and execute it in another.  Revolutionary!

Now I realize I haven't mentioned Steve Jobs in the last few paragraphs, so if you are still with me, thank you, I'm getting back to him soon.  The school I attended, the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, created an innovative program in 1990 called IFYCSEM in which first year students were taught an "Integrated Curriculum" where they had a computer at their desk in every classroom as a teaching aid, to work their problem sets, and even to take tests.  Here's where Steve Jobs comes back into the picture.  The computers all the Freshmen used were NeXT computers.  At this time, many universities had NeXT computers, some even had as many as 5!  Rose-Hulman had over 100!!  That meant they were plentiful enough to be usable by students besides those in IFYCSEM, namely, me.

To this point, I enjoyed working on the VAX, and had also been exposed to networked Sun 360s and was conversant in *nix OSes.  The Sun computers were nice, but I always felt XWindows was klunky.  When I sat down at the NeXT, with its sleek graphcs, integrated Workspace, a suite of development tools, and powerful BSD Unix core, I was hooked.  I had actually disdained the Mac to this point as not being for Power Users, because it was too hard to get under the hood.  It was great if you liked drawing pretty pictures or writing a newsletter, but beyond that I didn't see the point.  But, here was a computer with all the pizzaz of the Mac, and all the power I could want under the hood, easily accessed by launching a command prompt.  So, I dove under the hood, like a shadetree mechanic, learning whatever I could by poking around.

I learned enough to land a summer job at Rose-Hulman writing fluid flow simulation software for the Mechanical Engineering department.  The software was used the next school year to teach IFYCSEM Mechanical Engineering students!  This was my first real paying gig as a Software Engineer, and also my first software actually used for a purpose other than making a grade in a class.  Oh, that felt good!

That next school year was my senior year, and the Computer Science department required a Senior Project.  Naturally I wanted to do something on the NeXT.  My team decided to create a teaching tool for CS100, the intro class every freshman was required to take.  It would essentially be a computer language with a simple Pascal-like grammar and an IDE on the NeXT which focussed on debugging and understanding the state of all variables and the call stack, very visual.  We won an award for it: ACM Student Competition (scroll down to 1993, Undergraduate).  In the 1994-5 school year the "Prizm Toy Box" was used to teach some sessions of CS100, replacing Fortran (yes Fortran!).

In for a penny, in for a pound!  Having hitched my wagon to NeXT and the OS (NeXTSTEP) this far, my job search after college heavily leaned towards companies using this technology.  After all, I was good at it, and I truely enjoyed working in that environment as a developer.  Also, if you look at your history, the next best things at the time were DELPI and Visual Pascal!

Moving right along, I got a job with a consulting company that had caught the NeXT bug and started doing projects for them.  The big one was a transcription system for a Chicago hospital.  On another one we worked closely with the sales team at the NeXT office in Chicago.  I soaked it all up like a sponge.  After 3+ years at that job, I took a job in Chicago at NationsBanc-CRT as a GUI guy doing (...drumroll please...) NeXTSTEP development!  By this time NeXT had gotten out of the hardware business and was running on Intel-based PCs.  A good move in my opinion.

While I was there, Apple acquired NeXT, and things got really interesting.  OPENSTEP was just about to break out, and it became Rhapsody, which eventually became Mac OSX.  If NeXTSTEP was Awesome, then Mac OSX was AwesomeX (see what I did there?).  As I said before I wasn't really impressed with all the eye candy Mac OS had to offer until they put the power of NeXT under the hood.  The NeXT dev tools lived on as did their sesibilities about user interface design.  I had read NeXT's User Interface Guidelines book cover to cover -- and still find most of the suggestions relevant today.

So, where do I get off saying that Steve Jobs affected my life personally?  My whole first decade as a technologist was shaped by technologies he envisioned and ideas he advocated.  I never met the man, I didn't always agree with him (I liked my "scribbly" Palm Pilot), and I don't even know if I would have liked him as a person, but his life affected mine on many levels.

As for the iFanboy stuff, I own an iPod and a Macbook, but I also love my Droid X and my Galaxy Tablet.  Truth is, I love technology so while I repsect a lot of the stuff Steve Jobs did after Mac OSX, I'm not really a slave to it.  Last thing I just want to say it, better than anyone since W.C. Fields, Steve Jobs was a showman and knew how to give a killer demo!  Put him on stage and you were sure to sell products.  Of course, it didn't hurt that the products he was hawking were actually pretty good.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Movember - Week 1

Well, it has been one week since I changed my image. I am no longer startled when I look in the mirror, but I sometimes think I know the person looking back at me. For those of you who are still not clear on where your money goes, check out their Outcomes page.

Also, I have a MoSpace page on the Movember website, complete with up to date pics. For the click-impaired, here's my mustache in all its glory...NOT! Truth to tell, I'm a little disappointed. I feel like I could have done better by drinking chocolate milk! I'll do better next week. In the meantime, don't punish the Prostate Cancer Foundation for my weak showing. Please donate!

To donate you can either:

  1. Click this link and donate online using your credit card or PayPal account, or
  2. Write a check payable to the ‘Prostate Cancer Foundation', referencing my Registration Number 1391346 and mailing it to:

Prostate Cancer Foundation
Attn: Movember
1250 Fourth St
Santa Monica, CA, 90401

All donations are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Movember - before and after

As promised, here is an updated photo. I have to say I completely underestimated how weird this would be for me.

Friday afternoon, myself and my teammates all took over the public restroom on our floor of the office building we work in. One of our co-workers wanted to witness this historic event, but her gender was an issue. To be as accommodating as possible we left of the bathroom door open while we worked.

The most amusing part of the whole thing occurred when another tenant came to use the facilities. I didn't see the look on his face, but I can imagine his reaction when he saw three guys shaving, two more standing around taking pictures, and a (gasp!) woman in the bathroom. She offered to leave, but I believe we ruined the moment for him. Under similar circumstances I might have even had a case of bashful bladder myself!

Anyway, back to my own reactions to the event. As I said, it was a little bit strange for me. I felt decidedly unsettled, and every time I caught sight of myself in the mirror, I couldn't help thinking "who's that guy?!?" So, please help me cope with this traumatic event by donating to the cause...

To donate you can either:

  1. Click this link and donate online using your credit card or PayPal account, or
  2. Write a check payable to the ‘Prostate Cancer Foundation', referencing my Registration Number 1391346 and mailing it to:

Prostate Cancer Foundation
Attn: Movember
1250 Fourth St
Santa Monica, CA, 90401

All donations are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.
For more pics, including a preview of what I might look like at the end of the month, check out the pics of the whole event:

Friday, October 31, 2008

Movember - no it isn't a type-o...

Raise your hand if you've ever walked for charity. I'm talking about a sponsored walk where you solicit pledges on a per-mile basis and then wake up really early on a Saturday morning and join hundreds of other people pounding the pavement in support of a good cause. I've always felt the act you perform in order to convince people to donate is arbitrary, whether it is walking, jumping ropes, baking, or ... growing a mustache, as long as you put yourself out there and support a worthy cause.

If you haven't heard of the month of Movember, I'm not surprised. I hadn't heard of it either until a coworker invited me to join his team. Movember is a replacement for the month of November, in which for one month, men grow a mustache (or "mo" in Australian slang) to raise money and awareness for men's health issues, specifically, the fight against prostate cancer. The catch is that you have to start with a clean slate!

For me that is a really big deal. For the last 15 years I've been a beard/mustache wearer. My face hasn't seen the light of day since the summer of 1993, shortly after I got my first job out, right out of college. My facial hair is an essential part of my identity. So much so that my wife has never seen me without facial hair!!! She once saw my high school graduation picture and said flatly "that's not my Dave." Last night took clippers to my beard and I have to admit I'm a little traumatized. I don't even know if I remember how to shave.

So here's the pitch. At 2:30PM today (Halloween, 31-Oct-2008), I and my Movember teammates are going to shave our faces clean. Then, we will grow our mo's until the end of the month. All through the month we will take pictures to chart our progress. Since this is mustache only, we are not allowed to grow anything below the chin, although I believe elaborate sideburns are allowed as long as they connect to your 'stache. Please donate to support me.

<--Before the shave...

Donations are tax deducible, I will submit your details and the Movember Foundation will issue you a receipt at the end of the month for donations over $250.00. You can use either credit card or PayPal online. If you prefer to pay offline, I can accept checks and cash and will submit your details to the Movember Foundation.

To Donate



Write a check payable to the ‘Prostate Cancer Foundation', referencing my Registration Number 1391346 and mailing it to:

Prostate Cancer Foundation
Attn: Movember
1250 Fourth St
Santa Monica, CA, 90401

[Update: 3-Nov-2008] Here's the pics from before and after together.
[Update: 7-Nov-2008] Here's the pic after one week.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Going home again

You will all be relieved to know that I get to go home on Wednesday (tomorrow!!!). There is no one in the entire world who will be more relieved than Christie, however. If you've been keeping up on her Daily Ranch blog then you know she has not had it easy. When I get home, I will take the rest of the week off so I can help her get back on her feet. My trip home also coincides with the start of the summer guesting season. Our good friends Karen & Aud are coming out for an unprecedented 20 days, and their son Alex will be with them for at least a week of that. They are really great about pitching in where ever help is needed, so my hope is that Christie can recover pretty easily.

The big news for me is that the next week, I have the opportunity to work from home. My boss agreed to a trial week offsite to see how it goes. So, even though I have to work, I will still be home for a week and a half, which will be the most I've seen Christie since heading off to Chicago in March. I'm so excited I can barely concentrate at work. I'm doing my best though!

Monday, May 12, 2008

You have the right to be annoyed

Now that I've moved back to "the city" I guess I have to deal with attitudes and prejudices held by the public. I'm a firm believer that regardless of what the media says, folks are basically decent. If everyone worked off that assumption I think the world would be a better place. Unfortunately, I found a place in Naperville, IL that doesn't seem to have faith in the common man.

I was going to meet up with a friend of mine to get a free chair. He had a recliner he didn't need, and offered it to me to help furnish my apartment. We agreed on a time, and I headed over to his place on a sunny Saturday afternoon. I called him on my way over, and he was running late, so when I got there, I parked in front of his house, rolled down the window and listened to the radio. A Prairie Home Companion was on NPR so I didn't really mind sitting and waiting.

My friend lives in one of those neighborhoods that is all curvy streets and cul-de-sacs. Very family oriented, with big yards and little traffic. I was facing the entrance to my friend's dead-end when a police car turned down his street. My first thought was that it was nice to know the cops even patrolled little neighborhoods. Then the patrol car accelerated in a manner I can only describe as aggressive, and another patrol car turned into the neighborhood. Somehow I just knew they were there for me.

The faster car pulled around the cul-de-sac and blocked me from behind while the second car parked in the middle of the street blocking me from the front. As I said, I'm not one to think ill of people without cause, but it was clear to me that one of my friend's neighbors had called the cops on me. It was also clear to me why they called the cops. Had I been parked in a shiny BMW or a Hummer they wouldn't have given me a second look. However, I was sitting in my newest pride and joy, a 1994 Nissan Sentra Coupe.

My car is the epitome of Basic Transportation. It is old, has a few rust spots, door dings, and paint chips, and the trunk no longer closes perfectly due to a rear-end collision in the car's recent past. I paid $2,000 cash for this car and was pleased to find that two grand can still buy a decent car that runs well and gets good gas mileage. Just to be clear, this is a nice, older car, not a sh*tbox.

All of this went through my head before the nice officer could approach me. When he did, he asked what I was doing there. I told him I was meeting my friend who was running late, and pointed at his house. He asked for my friend's name and my ID. I provided both, politely. I even offered a copy of my temporary registration for the car, since I had an in-transit tag issued by the state of Montana taped in the window and I could tell the officer was mighty curious about it. He took both and went to the other squad car presumably to find out if I was a dangerous criminal.

While Officer One and Officer Two conferred my friend drove up. He had to negotiate around the cars blocking the road but eventually headed for his driveway. The officers asked him if he knew me and when he confirmed my story, they returned my license and registration, thanked me and departed. As they departed a third squad car pulled into the neighborhood, but after a quick conference with the other officers, Officer Three departed without a glance at me or my friend.

It is moments like these that I'm glad my Momma raised me right. Just as I knew the cops were coming for me, I also knew that whoever called them was peeking through their curtains hoping for a show. I was sorely tempted to shout "are you happy now?!?" or stand in the middle of the cul-de-sac and give a 360 degree one-finger salute. However, due to my good upbringing, I simply went inside with my friend. Besides, good entertainment ain't cheap and I don't work for free.

You may be wondering if I jumped to conclusions, and the truth is we'll never know. However, one point of evidence in my favor was shared with me as my friend and I loaded the recliner into his minivan. Evidently the lady two doors down gives piano lessons and strange cars are often parked on the street with parents waiting to pick of their children. To his knowledge, this is the first time anyone called the cops.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Chapter n+1: A New Adventure

Given the "downturn" or "slowdown" or whatever you want to call it, Christie and I have been increasingly leery of returning to Bank of America. The question quickly became, if not BoA, where? We figured I'd have to move at least temporarily in order to find work. Well, if I'm going to move, it should be somewhere I'm already comfortable, so that means Chicago.

I have a ton of contacts in Chicago, and notification of my intent to relocate brought lots of interesting possibilities. The most interesting was at Sky Road LLC, a software company catering to small to medium sized trading firms and hedge funds. Their business model is to wrap up existing software and vend it as an ASP (Application Service Provider) which means their customers don't have to have a large IT department, like BoA or Citadel. The best thing about Sky Road is that I already knew 5 of the 20 employees, so I felt confident I would fit in. Also, with my 10+ years working on financial software they felt confident in my abilities.

Now it is the beginning of my third week at Sky Road. I am staying in an extended stay-type hotel and getting to and from work using their shuttle. I have been looking for apartments and found a nice place 1.3 miles away from the office. My next big thing will be buying a car. I figure we can get a halfway decent car for a few thousand dollars. My commute is short, and beyond work, I just need to get groceries and maybe go to a movie now and then.

At work, I definitely jumped right into the deep end, but was pleased to discover I am a good swimmer. My experience working for banks and hedge funds has already paid dividends because I understand what is being asked of me and can accurately discourse on many topics. My first task is a big one, slated to take 6-8 weeks. I understand how to do this sort of thing, but the challenge before me is to figure out how Sky Road does this sort of thing so that I don't have to throw away my first effort, or heaven forbid, reinvent the wheel.

Christie is holding up pretty well at the ranch. We've got people helping with the feeding right now so she doesn't have to do too much on a given day. It is my hope she can use some of this time to recuperate from the long and difficult winter. Spring is around the corner and with it comes foaling season. Christie has a long list of guests slated to visit this summer, so she will rarely have to handle the ranch all alone.

We've been apart like this before, but during the year I lived in Chicago before working remotely from the ranch, I was able to travel home every other weekend. This time around money is a little tighter so we are jumping into this new adventure not knowing how it will work. One thing I do know, even with so many miles between us, we will figure it out together, and that makes all the difference.