Nov 26 2014

What I’m Reading: The Innovators

Published by under Books,history,Technology

The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution

 

I have succumbed to the world of books-on-tape and been using the 90 mile/2x daily commute from Cape Cod to Burlington to do more than listen to NPR and curse my hollow, rat-on-a-wheel existence. I’ve been a fan since my commute to and from Manhattan for Eastman Advisors, but perhaps Gibbons’ The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire wasn’t the wisest first choice for an automotive literary experience. In 2001, when I briefly did the same commute to McKinsey & Co’s short-lived TomorrowLab, I listened to lectures from The Learning Company, thinking I was being super efficient and relentlessly self-improving like Dr. Evil’s father the baker who claimed to have invented the question mark.

Audible is definitely making the commute a lot more enjoyable. I’ve tried dictating into a voice recorder and plugging the results into Nuance software’s speech recognition software, but I can’t compose via dictation and feel like an utter asshole in bumper-to-bumper holding a little red Sony recorder under my chin and pretending I am composing literary genius (note to self, search to see if any significant piece of literature has ever been dictated).

So far this fall I’ve listened to The Map Thief; Peter Thiel’s From Zero to One; and Chris Anderson’s Free, along with a steady diet of podcasts, usually Drupal and open source related. I was always impressed by the anecdote that George Gilder, the Forbes columnist and newsletter writer wrecked a couple cars out in the Berkshires because he was fond of driving around listening to technical lectures and proceedings from the IEEE and other deep-geek gatherings. The story, unconfirmed, was he put a car or two in the ditch because he’d get so wrapped up in talks about erbium-doped fiber amplifiers.

Now I’m into Walter Issacson’s breezy history of the computer, Internet, and digital revolution and I’m liking it, even if everything is old news because I’ve worked in the industry since the early 1980s and have read pretty much all the histories and biographies of the computer age. Walter’s biography of Steve Jobs was a huge bestseller and I enjoyed it very much as it taught me two things about Jobs which I did not know before: Jobs didn’t flush toilets and he banned Powerpoint.  In Innovators, Issacson does a fine job of keeping the history from falling into the rat hole of theoretical science, injects some good human drama and tales of eccentricity, and connects it all together in a way that a Millenial obsessed with hooking up on Tindr and managing their social networks might actually pause and pay some respect to the geniuses (mostly men, mostly working during the Great Depression) who invented the vacuum tube powered 50-ton monster computers that got things rolling.

He begins with the tale of Ada Lovelace, daughter of the poet Lord Byron, a passionate mathematician who is regarded as the first computer programmer because of her work with Charles Babbage during his development of the mechanical calculator, the Analytical Engine during the first half of the 19th Century. Then a leap to the second half of the century, and the mechanization of the US Census by IBM’s early founder Herman Hollerith (this cutting down the analysis of the census from an eight year manual process to just one); and then to 1937 — the year it all came together in the US, England and Germany for a bunch of unconnected inventors and scientists who looked at the technology available to them and managed, through a combination of vacuum tubes, hardwired circuits, electric-mechanical relays, “memories” made out of rotating tin cans and lots of scrounging, to independently invent variations on what are now regarded as the first working computers.

There’s something about listening to the excitement caused by the Mother of All Demos (Douglas Engelbart’s demonstration of the first mouse, graphical user interface, and network in 1968), the founding of Intel by Bob Noyce, Gordon Moore and Andy Grove, the impact the MITS Altair had on the Bay Area’s hacker/maker subculture, the development of the Internet’s protocols out of ARPANET…..all familiar stories, but very chilling when told through an Android phone mounted on the dashboard of a car, a pocket computer with more storage and power that ever could have been conceived of and yet…..

That future was always in the minds of people like Vannevar Bush — the man who forged the collaboration between the military, academic and industrial research during World War II and was the “Scientist-in-Chief,” advising presidents from FDR through Eisenhower: he described the personal computer he called a “Memex” in a famous essay published by The Atlantic, “As We May Think.” Alan Kay at Xerox PARC and his vision of the DynaBook in the early 70s. Ada Lovelace speculating in the 1820s that someday there would be machines that could help create art.

The theme that fascinates me — a theme emerging from listening to Chris Anderson, Peter Thiel, and Issacson — is that the greatest invention in all of the Information Age is debatable, but the one that is most intangible is the way “innovation” is defined and happens. I personally detest the way “innovation” is tossed around by buzzwordists along with “impactful” and “pivot” like verbal styrofoam peanuts; but a tangible definition and set of conditions conducive to it occurring is coming together in my mind. Hence, Churbuck’s Theory of Innovation:

  1. Those who talk about innovation generally don’t understand it.
  2. Innovation is not a synonym for creativity or discovery — creativity and inspiration are required, but the words are not synonyms. Galileo didn’t innovate his heliocentric view of the universe — he proved through a telescope that the planets orbit the sun (and pissed off the Church in the process).
  3. Innovation strictly defined in my mind is the commercialization of invention. Bear with me, for this is the fine distinction between discovering some new truth: “Silicon doped with impurities will become a semiconductor” that’s a discovery, an invention.  Putting a logical circuit on a base of doped silicon by printing a pattern of conductive lines is an invention and can be patented. Realizing you can cram all the logical functions required by a computer’s central processing unit onto a single chip and then selling the hell out of them (as Intel did) I argue is an innovation. Science leads to discoveries. Innovation applies those discoveries to products or processes.
  4. Innovation is an “aha” moment to be sure, but it usually doesn’t happen alone, by a lone genius in a garage, but in a group of collaborators in the right combination of environment and management structures. Flat organizations based on a meritocracy are far more conducive to innovation than old command-and-control structure. Open sharing of invention and discoveries is the fuel for innovation — innovation is derived and borrowed from many sources and crushed by patents and secrecy.

I highly recommend the Thiel book — his view of what it takes to build a company, as well as Issacson’s — it’s more about the management and culture breakthroughs than anything else. Flat organizations, rewarding individual contributors with a piece of the action, and leadership that makes decisions and shepherds projects towards clear goals while deflecting distractions are as important as any factor, technical or creative. Issacson provides an excellent example: Texas Instruments took the invention of the transistor by Bell Labs and made the first transistor radios — reducing a bulky device that sat on a table and required tubes to a form factor the size of a stack of index cards. As luck would have it, the first transistor radio coincided with the emergence of rock-and-roll, and for the first time teenagers could listen, in privacy, to the music their parents hated on the living room Philco. The invention — the Regency TR-1 — was the innovation of a new “use case,” the transistor itself was introduced to the public consciousness, and the result was as profound (if not more so) than the iPod 50 years later.

It’s a long way of my saying, it’s good to stop and take stock of the invention that surrounds us and realize that in a very short span of time — 50 years essentially — we’re gone from “Shake Rattle and Roll” in our pockets, to The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire on our dashboards.

 

 

 

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Nov 24 2014

Sean Kelly

Published by under Cotuit

I learned last week from my friend Elizabeth Gould that the “Voice of Cotuit,” Sean Kelly, has passed away. I met Sean in June of this year (2014) at the Cotuit Library after I gave a talk on Colonial Barnstable as part of the town’s 375th birthday celebration. Sean sat right in front and afterwards complimented me with an awesome baritone voice right out of radio. I had no idea about his career as a broadcast journalist, but a few weeks later heard the voice again when I watched the Barnstable Land Trust’s video about the campaign to save the woods around Lowell Park, the baseball field of the Cotuit Kettleers. Sean narrated that piece by Maryjo Wheatley, giving it an impact that only a great narrator can.

From his memoir, this biography:

“Sean Kelly covered rebel conflicts in Africa, civil wars in Indochina, peace talks in the Middle East and the downfall of the President of the United States in Washington.He was ambushed in Zimbabwe and death-listed in El Salvador. But not all of his career was spent chasing chaos. He also went to the Seychelles Islands to report on the first flight of the Space Shuttle and to South Africa for the presidential campaign and election of Nelson Mandela.

Between deadlines, there was time for humor, compassion, good food and wine, even romance along the way.

Born and raised in California, Kelly reported for the Voice of America, the Associated Press and several other new organizations during a forty-year professional career in journalism. He worked in print, radio and television. His books include “Access Denied: the Politics of Press Censorship’, and “America’s Tyrant: the CIA and Mobutu of Zaire”.

He and his wife Helen Picard divide the year between Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and Cape Town, South Africa.”

Here’s the Cotuit video which Sean narrated for the Barnstable Land Trust:

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Nov 16 2014

The Map Thief: in the stacks of Sterling

The time came in college where I had to foot the bill and as part of my tuition plan I needed to work a campus job. The usual scholarship gig was washing dishes in the dining hall — one of those hair-netted jobs that seemed embarrassing because you cleaned up after your friends, but when I went to the campus employment agency to fill out a form I happened to be there as a courtly looking professor kind of man was posting a job in the Sterling Memorial Library’s print shop for a printer’s devil.

I interrupted his conversation with the clerk and introduced myself. He was Professor Dale Roylance, the curator of the library’s typography collection and its Arts of the Book department, a room on the ground floor that displayed the art and science of typography from Gutenberg through the modern era. He questioned my qualifications, he was looking for an experienced printer’s devil with some time in one of the many letterpresses around the residential colleges; and realizing there was no bullshitting the man I was honest and admitted to having no experience or even interest in bibliography and letterpresses. I was a writer and wanted to experience the mechanics of book making first hand and appreciated the craft from having run my high school newspaper and the agony of producing that every week. He was skeptical, but agreed to give me a chance. He warned me the work was tedious and messy — largely consisting of cleaning up after him, wiping up ink, cleaning platens, and putting type back in its proper cases.  He’d teach me anything I wanted to learn, but only after I took care of the boxes of scrambled or “pi’d” type and various chores such as cutting mats for  exhibits, and being his errand boy around the other presses on campus.

Every afternoon from one to three, I’d walk to the library, step behind the main library call desk, walk down stairs to the vast basement and unlock the door to the Yale Bibliographic Press. On the main bench would be a list of things Professor Roylance wanted done.  Go crosstown to the plate maker and pick up some copper engravings. Un-ink and then unlock two chases — the iron rectangles where the type was set, spaced and locked down with quoins — and return the type to the right job box. Set and print six copies of the new library hours and mount in the wrought iron frames at the entrances. Run over to the Beinecke Rare Book Library and get a few rare botanical woodcuts for some forthcoming exhibit. Pop up to the fifth floor map collection and ask the curator for a list of maps for a forthcoming exhibition on Colonial cartography.

I’d turn on the campus FM radio station and play jazz in the subterranean  press room while I put on an apron, folded a sheet of the New Haven Register into a pressman’s cap, and pushed around a pushbroom for a while. The press had to be kept clean. Dust ruined print runs and Roylance was a little OCD — which I came to learn was a requisite character trait in a good printer. The worst part of the job was breaking down the chases he’d left behind — he was nearly never there when I was there, preferring long lunches at the Faculty Club to managing me — full pages of type for some special project he was working on. Type setting (and un-setting) is done using a wooden tray criss-crossed with dividers known as a California job box. This is like a QWERTY keyboard of sorts — every letter had its own special compartment, and each box comprised the totality of that type face in one specific point size. The Bibliographic had full sets of Times New Roman, Goudy, Baskerville and Garamond in every size from 6 to 96 point in bold as well as italic versions. There were other fonts as well, but just the main four typefaces occupied a huge storage space, each job box weighing over 25 pounds.

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The brilliance of the job box was the size of each letter’s compartment was proportional to the frequency of each letter’s use in the English language. Hence “E” had the biggest compartment and “Q” one of the smallest. One learns to “touch-type” and work a case without looking at it, and with practice the task of returning type to the box gets fairly automated. Setting type, the act of composing a line of text, was far more fun and challenging. A tool called a “composing stick” is used, set to the appropriate width of the text and held in one hand while the other hunts through the job box for the next letter or spacer.

Composing backwards and upside down takes some getting used to, and I was slow and sloppy with my leading, hyphenation and never had the patience to do justified margins.

There were three presses in the Bibliographic Press, but the prize was the 1830-era Albion drop press. I loved that press. It was one of the old Benjamin Franklin style presses, with a big lever one would grab with both hands and swing to drop the platen and make the impression. This is the Albion from the Bibliongraphic Press. It’s since been pulled out of the basement and put on display. I worshiped this thing.

albionpressWhile placards and exhibit note cards were the stuff I was mainly asked to print, occasionally Professor Roylance would pop in and teach me some new aspect of the craft. One month he taught me how to make marbled end papers, a cool process like a Grateful Dead light show at the Fillmore where a solution is prepared, inks are “floated” and swirled into amazing patterns, and a sheet of paper is pulled up  to lift the inks from the carrying solution. I remember the recipe called for carrageenan, a gelatin derived from a particular kind of Irish seaweed. Roylance also taught me binding, leather work, embossing, the fine points of spacing and of course the amazing glossary of specialized terms known to printers as part of the craft.

The library became a home – a monastery away from classes, my social life, my daily rowing practices. It was one of three jobs I held down. The first was delivering the New York Times every morning to 300 campus subscribers — a dark o’clock job that involved running up  lots of dorm stairs on the eastern side of the campus and which got me warmed up for the morning crew practice at the Payne-Whitney gymnasium where running a dozen flights of stairs a dozen times every day was the worst part of the off-season training regimen. In the evening, after the crew team returned from Derby and the Housatonic Rover, I’d put in two hours at the Chapel Street Wine Shop, delivering kegs of beer around campus in the store’s incredibly abused delivery van (more running of stairs, only this time with full kegs of Heineken or Michelob). But the library was the best.  It smelled … like a grandfather.  It was an amazing stack of precious knowledge made even more cool by the glowing alabaster walls of the Beinecke Rare Book library, a cube rumored to have a Halon fire extinguisher system that could suck all the oxygen out, kill the patrons and staff, but save the rarest books on the planet. Walking past a Gutenberg bible, getting to hold the original palimpsest of Lord Jim with Conrad’s corrections and notes, checking out Captain John Smith of Virginia’s map of the New England coast — the same map he gave to Prince Charles to do the honors of naming the places on it (hence the future King named the Charles River after himself). Beinecke was the library to end all libraries, but Sterling was my favorite.

The library was, for me, the best part of the last Indiana Jones movie. Sterling is the setting of the end of the motorcycle chase through the Yale campus at the 2:44 mark.

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Cartography was, and still is, a happy thing for me, especially staring at antique nautical charts. One of the best classes I took in college was taught in the Sterling Memorial Library’s map collection by the map collection curator, Alexander Vietor. The only assignment I remember was to use the university’s computer lab to develop a computer generated map using quantitative inputs. The whole thing was done on punch cards which were submitted for a batch processing run and then output onto a big graphics plotter. I did a map of New England ports with each proportionally sized according to the numbers of barrels of whale oil landed in each in 1824. Between that class and my daily duties in the press, I got to handle some amazing maps, stuff that has come back to the public consciousness thanks to E. Forbes Smiley — the map thief chronicled in an excellent book published last spring by a Boston author, Michael Blanding: The Map Thief: The Gripping Story of an Esteemed Rare-Map Dealer Who Made Millions Stealing Priceless Maps.

E. Forbes Smiley III was a well known dealer in rare maps who served a select set of private collectors (one of whom, Norman B. Leventhal, owns some homes here in Cotuit and donated his collection to the Boston Public Library). Smiley, an over-extended, suave self-taught expert in colonial American maps, resorted to theft from a half-dozen university libraries, stealing hundreds of one-of-a-kind maps over the years by simply ripping them out of atlases. His undoing was when he dropped an X-Acto knife on the rug at the Beinecke in 2004 and was arrested and investigated by the FBI. His impact on Yale, Harvard, the New York and Boston Public Libraries is incalculable. I read the book with keen interest, realizing I had personally handled some of the materials Smiley stole. There were a lot of scholars and collectors who passed through the Sterling and Beinecke stacks in the late 70s when I was a student at Yale and Smiley was still a student at Hampshire College. Some wealthy student bibliophiles were renowned for their dorm room collections.  One, the scion of a Manhattan real estate empire, was operating a thriving business on campus as an undergrad, and another went on to be Smiley’s more vocal critic, W. Graham Arader III, who was dealing rare maps from a Yale dorm room during my time in New Haven. The New York Times said of Arader at the time of Smiley’s arrest: “At Yale, he [Arader] said, he focused on “blondes and squash,” but became interested in maps after he met Alexander Orr Vietor, the curator of Yale’s map collection. Before long, Mr. Arader was selling maps from his dormitory room. “I love maps, and when you get hooked, you get hooked,” he said.

I was hooked but more on the book making side of things and less on collecting stuff. After all I was paying my through school and my earnings from the library went right to the bursar to off-set my tuition. My masterpiece was the printing of a full chapter of Moby Dick — Chapter 23, “The Lee Shore” — made famous in the great baseball novel, The Art of Fielding. After graduation, when I applied for a internship at the Boston publishing house of David Godine (publisher of Andre Dubus among others), Godine himself, a bit of a prickly man, was ready to blow me off as just another Yale grad dishwasher looking for a publishing job when I pulled my manuscript out and handed it over for his inspection. He pulled out a loupe and started examining my kerning and inking very carefully, criticizing the descenders on my “P’s” and generally ripping apart my work before looking up, smiling and saying, “I started out with a letterpress in my barn. It gets in your blood. The ink I mean. Doesn’t it?” I landed  the internship (unpaid of course) but the best memory of my eleemosonary employment at Godine was when he handed back the Melville manuscript and told me it was “nice work.”

It’s sad what Smiley did to some irreplaceable maps but he also changed the way libraries operate and from the book’s account, ruined forever a sense of trust they had in the scholars who depend on them.  Extensive security, new rules, and a general climate of mistrust has crept in behind the damage Smiley’s done. Whatever undergrad is lucky enough be the Sterling Memorial Library’s printer devil probably doesn’t get the keys to the kingdom like I felt I had.

I offer this because I started musing about my career in “content management” and my place as the last of the “typewriter generation” — those 50-somethings who didn’t have computers in college but did their work on Olivettis, Smith Coronas and IBM Selectrics. As I finished my first novel the final semester of my senior year (unpublished but proudly sitting on a shelf in the Scholar of the House collection inside the Sterling), the college’s Scholar of the House program arranged for me to hire a professional typist to produce the final manuscript. Due to the deadline I would drive to her home in Orange, Connecticut and spend hours transcribing onto her new Wang word processor, the first of it’s kind with big floppy discs the size of album covers. Those green letters on the black screen. The ability to move paragraphs, to cut and paste …. it marked the beginning of three decades working with words on computers. That summer, as a cub reporter at the Cape Cod Times, I worked on a typewriter, glued my pages together with a pot of rubber cement, and moved stuff around by cutting it out with scissors and pasting it back manually. By the end of the summer the Times was going computerized, and at my next newspaper job at the Lawrence Eagle Tribune I worked at a Hastech terminal, and was given a Tandy T100 with rubber suction cup modem for filing from the State House press room on Beacon Hill at 300bps. I haven’t seen a typewriter, let alone an Albion drop press and California job box since. Now I’m all about cloud-hosted Drupal and “content.” Somehow I don’t imagine anyone who has ever set a page of type by hand has ever called the result a piece of “content.”

 

 

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Nov 13 2014

On Being Manly (in which I go to Australia)

Published by under General,Global,Travel

Robert Hughes, the late Australian-born art critic, wrote a masterpiece of history in 1987, The Fatal Shore, in which he called his native land a “…cloaca, invisible, its contents filthy and unnameable.”

He was referring not to his own, but to  English attitudes during the Georgian era towards his yet unsettled country as England prepared to empty its hulk ships and festering jails onto the First Fleet sailing off to Cook’s oversold Botany Bay in what would come to be known as the “Great Transportation” — the forced resettlement of hundreds of thousands of petty thieves, whores, and miscreants. They had formerly been sold into indentured servitude to America prior to Great Britain losing that convenient dumping ground because of the American Revolution. No more America meant England needed a new dump and that Hughes chose a scatalogical simile is all part of the global conspiracy to paint this great country with cliches perpetuated by Men At Work, the “throw-a-shrimp-on-the-barby” guy, Discovery Channel’s “Weird Things that Will Kill You in Australia,” Mad Max and the Great Humungous, and the unnamed wit (I suspect Jeremy Clarkson) who called the place the “Alabama of the World.” Crikey, let’s give Australia a break. I’d move here in an instant.

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I myself was transported to Sydney earlier this week courtesy of a seat in economy class on United Airlines and an invitation to attend a press conference announcing my company’s relationship with the Australian Government. I managed to read Thomas Keneally’s A Commonwealth of Thieves as well as re-read Fatal Shore during the 15.5 hour flight (versus five months for the First Fleet), and arrived at Kingsford Airport on the shores of Botany Bay on a muggy day in the southern hemisphere’s version of late spring. The Sydney Opera House conveniently revealed itself during the descent, looking smaller than I imagined (a view from 5,000 feet will tend to shrink objects).

My colleague suggested a hotel at Manly Beach, an eastern suburb of Sydney fast by North Head, the northern promontory at the entrance of Sydney Harbor. Soaked in a funk of plane sweat, all I wanted was a shower, but of course the room wasn’t ready when I checked in so I staggered around the waterfront and the “Corso” in a jet lag fugue taken to an extreme by the International Date Line. Was it Sunday or Tuesday? I left California on Saturday night, but it was Monday. I think. As Hughes writes in Fatal Shore,  the poor bastards that were first shipped off to Australia could have been embarking on a trip to the moon, except for one difference: you can see the moon from England.

First thing I did was flush a toilet to see if the water drained counter-clockwise due to the Coriolis Effect. It did not. According to Wikipedia: “Contrary to popular misconception, water rotation in home bathrooms under normal circumstances is not related to the Coriolis effect or to the rotation of the earth, and no consistent difference in rotation direction between toilet drainage in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres can be observed.”

My colleague met me for lunch. He observed my wretched condition and asked if I might like to go for a swim, motioning out past the tall Norfolk Pines at the beauty of Manly Bay, the surfers riding the Cabbage Palm break and the infinite Pacific beyond.

“Box jellyfish. Great White Sharks. Stingrays. Saltwater Crocodiles. I don’t think so,” I said, beginning a five day recitation of every Australian cliche I could think of.

My room was (and still is) on the backside of the hotel, away from the beach, facing some place named with a lot of vowels in it, like “Woolooloogong” or “Baggahammas” and it was very thoughtful of the desk clerk to put me in a room overlooking a school playground filled with two hundred identically blue uniformed screaming children who seemed to be on perpetual recess. A cricket pitch is across the way where — I shit you not — they practice bagpipes at night. A weird bird that looks like a cockatoo flies by every five minutes and makes a noise like a pterodactyl that has gargled Drain-O.

corso

I finally received my shower and then lunched with my colleague. After bidding him g’day I vowed not to break the first rule of coping with absurd jet lag: do not touch the bed while the sun is shining and don’t hunker down in a hotel room when you could be out walking it off. So I set out to explore Manly Beach. I  love a place named by the founding governor of Australia — Arthur Phillip — because he thought the aborigines on the beach looked quite manly. That they ran a spear through his shoulder next to a beached whale because they were tired of all his colonial incursions is besides the point: Governor Phillip survived and even accepted the locals had good reason to be miffed, what with the smallpox and pilfering convicts and what not and ordered the red coats not to go looking for revenge.

Where the governor was speared now stands the Manly Wharf, home of the “World Famous” Manly Ferry that connects to Sydney’s central business district in what I wager is the world’s most beautiful commute. I strolled down there on evening one, found a brew pub, and drank myself into a condition where sleep might be possible.

Tuesday was the big day, my reason for being there, a press conference in Sydney with the Chief Technology Officer of the Australian Government and 17 members of the local tech and business press. I like hanging out with reporters because I used to be one. I also know what I used to call ex-reporters with titles of “VP of Corporate Marketing. Flaks. Australia actually has a thriving press. There’s a half dozen actual paper newspapers in the hotel lobby every morning with lurid headlines about well endowed young women who died from Ecstasy overdoses. It was actually kind of great to schmooze with tech writers who had also worked for the late Pat McGovern at IDG, and in the published aftermath from the press conference they were more than kind even if one quoted me al s a company executive 11,000 miles away and another told me I looked like Jeff Bridges. The Big Lebowski version. Which means I must need a haircut.

A reporter interviewed me with an iPhone. I realize my mouth was hanging open, slack jawed, for most of the interview.

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Wednesday morning I decided to check stuff out and went on a hike to North Head, a national park south of Manly that encompasses an old World War II artillery fortification for the coastal defense of Sydney. After a monster hill climb that turned me into aquaman, past the ubiquitous Crossfit box, I turned onto a trail and started getting lost in the outback of Manly. Signs warning of the endangered Bandicoots, bizarre birds, bees without stingers, skinks, gowannas, unseen marsupials, all of a sudden I was conscious that I wasn’t walking on the paved esplanade past the hotels and schnitzel shops, but in the bush where even the plants might kill me.

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I found an army observation hut, went inside, expecting a gigantic spider attack, looked out the window for the Japanese Fleet, and seeing nothing but ocean all the way to the South Pole, went on my merry way, poking around a massive gun battery with a really big gun, then onto a very sombering memorial walk commemorating the Australian military a day after Veteran’s Day, the inscribed paving stones dotted with red paper poppies.

Then the pay off. The big view. A REALLY awesome view. Cliffs like you don’t want to fall off of. Surf booming 100 feet into the air. Time to break out the cellphone and take some pictures.clifs

 

 

After that expedition what is there to really say?  The people are really nice, healthy, drink in pubs they call hotels. Like their beer cold. Drive on the wrong side of the road. Are cheerful to strangers. Don’t push in lines and smile a lot. I couldn’t find “Australian cuisine” — but pieced together that “bugs” refer to lobsters of some sort, there is kangaroo meat on some menus, they are keen on Mexican food, the Thai is outstanding, and lamb on a pizza is a common thing.

Sydney is gorgeous, clean, cosmopolitan, and I even heard a didgeridoo by the ferries at Circular Quay.  Now I get to fly back to the dank cold darkness of New England and wonder what cliches we’re known for. Oh, and the English dumped a ton of criminals on the Puritans, so we Americans can embrace our convict heritage too.

 

pano

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Nov 06 2014

Whereabouts 11-7/11-14

Published by under Travel

Off to San Francisco then Sydney, returning Friday the 14th

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Nov 06 2014

Beer for dogs

Published by under Weird,WTF?

Yesterday colleague Bryan House (@bryanhouse) ended Acquia’s first customer conference, Engage, with a beer tasting demonstration. Everybody was served a flight of beers, a snack tray of two kinds of malt, some fresh hops and a few coffee beans. As a failed home brewer (my product made excellent slug bait around the zinnias and tomatoes), hearing a professional brewmaster talk about the factors that go into a great beer was a great education and excuse to quaff an Octoberfest, a local beer (Narragansett Autocrat Coffee Milk Ale) and a Dogfish 90-minute Imperial IPA.

But when Bryan showed this beer, from BrewDog, the strongest beer in the world at 55% alcohol, I could only think: “Dogs would go insane for that shit.”

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Nov 02 2014

Dead Neck Dredging Update: ConCom approves reduced plan

Published by under Cape Cod,Cotuit

The long standing proposal to cut off the western tip of Sampson’s Island and pipe the sand east to the Osterville end of the barrier beach moved forward last week (Oct. 30, 2014), when the Barnstable Conservation Commission approved the revised application by the owners of the island, Massachusetts Audubon and Three Bays Preservation. The approved plan reduces the amount of dredging from the original request to shave off 800 feet (or 233,000 cubic yards) from the Cotuit end of the spit, in half to 400 feet and 133,600 feet.

Lindsay Counsell, the executive director of Three Bays told the Cape Cod Times the reduction means another permit will need to be filed in six years in order to keep up with the constant drift of sand from the eastern, Wianno Cut end to the Cotuit end. The point of Sampson’s has changed dramatically in recent years, with shoaling reducing the width of the channel and forming a “bulb” on the Nantucket Sound side of the spit, revealing an interesting bank of clay-like material. Public opinion has been mixed — according to the Times article, the ConCom received an equal number of letters and statements for and against the proposal.

I’ve been for the plan from the beginning based on the historical configuration of the beach, the fact it was last cut back in the late 60s, and that the “natural” evolution of the spit is in fact man-made due to the decision to break Dead Neck in the early 1900s with the Wianno Cut — the breakwaters effectively blocking the natural littoral drift of the sand and forcing, a hundred years later, dredging to restore some semblance of equilibrium. A breach of Dead Neck would imperil navigation through the Seapuit River; the spoils will build up the beach and create more nesting habitat for piping plovers and terns; and widening the Cotuit entrance will dissuade fools from swimming the channel, ease navigation, and slightly improve tidal flushing.

I empathize with those who love to sit on the point of the island in the summer months, but trust they will still find a sandy stretch on the cut back island. I disagree with the environmental argument that this is messing with mother nature — historical charts indicate a far different configuration before man-made interference and man-made steps are required to get the place back to some semblance of its natural state. This is private property, a long standing bird refuge for endangered species, and not a public beach. The caretakers are within their rights to expect regulations will be followed.

I have no idea if this is the final step in the long process or even when if ever the dredge will arrive and begin work.

Cape Cod Times Article

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Oct 28 2014

I’m back

Published by under General

Apologies to loyal readers for the monster crash that took down this blog for the last month. It happened shortly after I accepted the automatic upgrade to WordPress 4.0 (which had nothing to do with it evidently). One day the site was throwing off a “suspension” notice courtesy of my ISP — Meganet Communications in Fall River, the former Cape.com — and when I called Derek at Meganet operations he said the blog was throwing off a gazillion errors to the point where it was dragging down the performance of every other customer site on the shared server, including my beloved Cotuit Kettleers.

I made a few attempts to get into the site through cPanel to grab a backup so at the very least 11 years worth of posts wouldn’t be lost (nearly 7,000 posts) but the site was so sluggish it was nearly impossible to even log in, let alone run any file operations. Derek and I went through the file structure and there were simply too much crud in there to begin to make an educated guess what was taking it down. My suspicion was some old WordPress builds I had sloppily conflated into the main MySql database were overloaded with spam and hadn’t been weeded out in years. So I deleted those but still the problem persisted.

Finally there were some signs of life. Meganet migrated me to a new server to stop Churbuck.com from killing their other customers and the old Churbuck.com homepage came back to life, but not this blog. Last night their techs identified the culprit as a broken Twitter plug-in. That was disabled and here we are.

I love WordPress — I’ve been on the platform running my own build since 2004 when Om Malik persuaded me to stop blogging on Google Blogger and move over. From those early days of the Kubrick template and the first version of Mullenweg’s masterpiece to the most current version, WordPress was the tool that cured my cacoethes scribendi. But I’ve been a bad admin and taken it for granted and let the side rails get cluttered up with dumb, unused plugins and finally one has bitten me in the ass.

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Sep 21 2014

Paul Noonan has passed away

Published by under Cotuit

My dear friend Paul Noonan passed away at home in Cotuit yesterday, Sept. 20. As the arrangements for his memorial come together I’ll share them here, along with my memories of the man. My condolences to his brother and sisters and his many friends.

Paul noonan

Like most people I googled his name and found this fitting tribute to Paul in a cruising guide to the New England Coast. This was doubtlessly back in early 90s when he was driving the red jeep with the “Friends Don’t Let Friends Vote Republican” bumper sticker, clam rakes hanging out the sides because he was off to perform A Blessing of the Rakes in Waquoit Bay for his pal Chiefy. That was just before he totaled my Volkswagen Fox at the corner of School and Main — essentially Cotuit’s Time Square — when the “brakes went beserk.”

Rest in peace you old salt.

 

By Paul Fenn and W. Wallace Fenn in A Cruising Guide to New England Including the Hudson River

By Paul Fenn and W. Wallace Fenn in A Cruising Guide to New England Including the Hudson River

 

Tom Burgess’ Eulogy

I’m indebted to Marylou Noonan, Sally Noonan Ratchford, Janie Hayden Uyenoyama, Sally Hinkle, Alex Lowell, and David Churbuck for help in composing the obituary that formed the basis of this Eulogy to which I have added what Paul might have termed the “juicy bits.’

Tom Burgess     

 Paul David Noonan, 71

             We are gathered here today to celebrate the life and to mourn the passing of a colorful Cape Cod character, Paul David Noonan.  Both locals and tourists knew him as the eccentric and witty man behind the counter at the Cotuit Grocery during the 1990’s and later as the erudite advisor to those looking for old and interesting volumes at the Parnassus Bookstore in Yarmouthport, where he worked from 2001 to 2013.  But perhaps a majority of us are here to say a final thank you to Paul because we owe him a debt of gratitude for some act of charity, gesture of support or bit of wise counseling that he offered us over the past half century.

He was born on January 19, 1943 in Marblehead, Mass. and was the son of Paul J. Noonan and Bernice (Lucey) Noonan, whom he cheerfully called Bernice “Banshee” for her continual and fruitless attempts to make him toe the line during a boozy and conflicted adolescence.  He grew up in Marblehead and later in West Bridgewater, Mass., where he attended public schools.  His family summered in Cotuit, and Cape Cod eventually became both his spiritual and physical home.  I first met Paul at the Loop Beach when I was 13 or 14 and Paul occupied a permanent position at Janie Hayden’s, the Lifeguard’s, feet from dawn to dusk.  He seldom if ever went in the water and seldom if ever stopped talking. A few sunny afternoons listening to him converse on the beach with the late Ray Smith was the equivalent of a course in liberal politics and theology 101.   His predilection for dressing totally in black in his period of his teens attracted the bemused interest of our parents and foretold his life long interest in the clergy.  He attended Tabor Academy and graduated from Cape Cod Preparatory School in Santuit, Mass. in 1962.

Paul started his career with books with the Harvard University Libraries where he worked first at Lamont Library and later at the Fogg Museum Library from 1964 to 1978.  Here began his interest in local history.

Born and raised a Catholic, Paul was from the first a both a reformer and a deeply spiritual person, who looked both inside and outside the church for inspiration and fulfillment.   While in Cambridge, he began working with needy, addicted, and homeless as a lay volunteer under the auspices of the Episcopalian Cowley Fathers, driven in part by his own work as a recovering alcoholic, which began in 1967, and then in the late 70’s as a member of the monastic community of Oblates of the Incarnate Word, where he donned the black monastic robe for which he had been modeling for the years of his youth.   Paul’s decision to become sober was for him rather like Saint Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus.  It coalesced his energies outside of himself and impelled him to think of others, while he maintained a complete resistance to attempts to reform or change him by friends and family.

He entered the Order of the Most Holy Trinity following his departure from Cambridge.  While in Baltimore, Maryland as a novitiate, he became deeply interested in the history of Afro-Americans in the tidewater area and later throughout the country.  This became one of several life long passions.  However, he found the tenets of the Catholic Church too confining and left the Order in 1979.

He returned to Cape Cod and settled in Provincetown, working off and on as a fisherman and attending St Mary’s of the Harbor, Episcopal Church. From his late teens he had been unabashed about his sexuality often declaring that he was “as gay as the Christmas goose.”  Of course, he settled happily in Provincetown, where he once exulted to us that “even my laundryman is gay.”  But Paul’s sexuality was very much subordinate to his thirst for social justice for all.  He administered to the needy, recovering alcoholics and those suffering the then scourge of AIDS while going about his day to day life, which was punctuated with more than occasional fireworks of political activism.  He served as Town Clerk of Provincetown for several years until he chose to depart to reside with his elderly father.  This characterized his life from then on, in which the political was often public whereas the charitable was personal and often private.

Upon his return to Cotuit, he worked for the Barnstable County Registry of Deeds, where the work appealed to his interest in local history.  It is rumored that this employment terminated when he attempted to unionize the employees – a testament to his equal desires to be a force of social justice and a very annoying gadfly to those in charge.

Soon after his return to the mid-Cape, he joined the Society of Friends, and eventually became Clerk of the Sandwich meeting.  In this capacity he was instrumental in enlarging the meeting and opening the meetinghouse for year round worship.  He became an authority on the early history of the Quakers on Cape Cod and lectured on this topic frequently.  This proved to be perhaps the happiest time in his search for spiritual fulfillment as the patience and pacifism of the Quakers cooled the flames of 60’s radicalism and brought Paul to new methods of helping others.

During his sojourn in Provincetown, Paul had made close friends with some members of the Wampanoag Tribe.  Upon returning to Cotuit, he became a vigorous ally of the tribe in the quest to achieve recognition of tribal status from the Federal Government.  From this time onward, he counted many of the Wampanoag elders and their kin as close and dear friends, which is why we are here in this Meeting House today.  In his office of clerk of the Sandwich Quaker Meeting, he spearheaded a joining of hands between the Cape Cod Friends and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. For his numerous works on their behalf, he was the first non-native-American to be awarded the Lew Gerwitz Spirit Award by the tribe. Until a month or so ago, he regularly visited elderly companions of his in the tribe to offer them his friendship, companionship and solace.

Paul’s reputation as a character was fueled by his acerbic wit and twinkly-eyed cynicism. When he left the Registry of Deeds, he worked first at the Kettle-Ho Restaurant in Cotuit and later as the regular holding down the cash register at the Cotuit Grocery.  Here and later at the Parnassus he found a secular pulpit and a continually changing congregation.  His love of banter and repartee earned him special mention in the Cruising Guide to the New England Coast.  If I may quote: “In behind the Town Dock is the Cotuit Grocery, with a colorful employee named Paul Noonan in residence.  The Grocery carries a nice selection of liquors and food and does deliver. Mr. Noonan, if you run into him, won’t service fiberglass boats or Republicans.  So don’t call if it bothers you to be scrutinized for your choices.  […] Take your chances with Mr. Noonan. It’s worth it.”

Many of the younger generation did take their chances and learned gradually that “What can I get you, you wretched little child?” was a term of jesting endearment from a softhearted curmudgeon.  A life-long Democrat, he particularly enjoyed sending up members of the opposite party when they were across the counter.  When a local Republican gentleman opened the grocery door one day and asked if his dog could enter the store, Paul replied that the dog was welcome but he had the gravest doubts about the possibility of entry for the dog’s master.  Age seemed to bring about even a grudging camaraderie to this combat, and only last week he was chatting to my Republican brother – deemed “the archfiend” by Paul.  My brother, of course, always knew Paul as “The Shining Path.”

During late 80’s and early 90’s, Paul continued his work informally with the needy and deprived and formally as an elected representative to the Barnstable Town Meeting and later as Town Councilor for Precinct 7, the village of Cotuit, in the years 1991 and 1992.   He engaged himself continually with village and town organizations.

Beginning in 2001, as the indefatigable “clerk” of the Parnassus Bookstore, Paul returned to the books he loved.  He was an excellent salesman and a learned commentator who earned mention in the Cape Cod Times and local guidebooks: “Visitors were happy just to wander through the stacks in search of whatever, perhaps hoping for some banter with the store’s idiosyncratic employee, Paul Noonan. Clearly a frustrated comedian in search of an audience, Paul’s quick one-liners and snappy retorts are equally as fun as finding a dusty tome among the chaos.”

A decade ago, Paul left the Sandwich Quaker Meeting during a period of dissension and turned back to the Episcopalian Church, attending St. Barnabas in Falmouth and St John’s in Sandwich. A great believer in the power of prayer, he lately sought and gained admission to a contemplative prayer order.  I believe he saw himself in many ways as a latter day mendicant monk.

He continued his interest in Afro-American History and was called upon by the local chapter of the NAACP to research topics on their behalf.  This led him to establish a relationship with the Sisters of the Holy Family in New Orleans, with whom he corresponded frequently and to whom he was devoted.  In the past year, he donated his collection of books on Afro-American History to the Zion Union Heritage Museum in Hyannis.

Paul was also devoted to his longtime housemate, Gary Gifford, a commercial shell fisherman in Cotuit, who died in 2010, with whom Paul worked from time to time.  This relationship inspired Paul to revive the “blessing of the shell fishing fleet” in the Three Bays and to lobby hard for the interests of shell fishermen in the town of Barnstable.

There are a lot of us here who particularly remember Paul as the foremost unofficial representative of the Lord God on Cape God, for whom Paul often donned the very black robe that hung in his closet and married, buried and baptized those who counted him as a friend, an advisor and a counselor and their offspring.  I know of this first hand as Paul married our daughter, and buried my son and my son-in-law within the space of three months.  I remember very little of those black days except that Paul’s reassurance somehow led me to believe that neither I nor the world had gone mad.

A very sound appreciation of Paul in the late ‘90’s was lately given to me by Christina Kelley.

“Paul Noonan revels in his self-inflicted image of rebel and non-conformist.  A true radical, he always finds some injustice to lash at.  Mellower now (the once-brown beard is white) than some years ago, his has become a more gentle radicalism.  Don’t expect to find Paul tossing rocks that might hurt people at the barricades.  His criticism is more of ideologies and collective actions, less of individual people.  He will allege and skewer the abuse of police power, then say he finds it an honor to live in the same village as an Officer […].  He has an abiding passion for social justice, but he exercises it within the group of most patient and tolerant people, the Quakers.  He embraced their teaching after years in the church of those of his ancestors who were Irish.  And, yes indeed, as Brother Paul David during part of the 1970s, he wore a friar’s black robe with a blue cord or cincture, a member of the monastic community of Oblates of the Incarnate Word, in Cambridge.”

“You can say -­ and this is a compliment – ­ that for the 32 years of his uninterrupted sobriety, Paul Noonan has been drunk on life. It exhilarates, turns him on. His laughter rings in large rooms. A Well-flavored Life.”

It is said de mortuis nil nisi bonum, that one should not speak ill of the dead, but no one is entirely without failings – and I would have to say that, when pressed or lectured by well meaning friends and family on matters of his own health, his finances, and lately his eclectic mode of attire, Paul developed what I might term a tangential relationship with the truth. This often created stormy relationships particularly with us miss-guided well-wishers.  And, he treated his “motorcars” abominably.

Lately, He suffered more and more as time went on from bouts of anxiety, depression and even agoraphobia – perhaps as he intimated his own demise.  That said, we all remember that he did draw his sword enter the battle with alcoholism from which he emerged victorious.   Now, we mourn that late in life he lacked the energy and strength to do the same against tobacco with the lamentable result that we are here today far earlier than we should have been.

In sum, all of us here took a chance on Mr. Noonan and it was worth it.  It is his manifold virtues have brought us here, and we all seek to emulate them.  We can be firm in our knowledge that Paul’s virtues in the scales of life far, far outweighed his failings, and we can be confident that in the final judgment he has been deemed a valiant Christian Soldier, who, like the Saints who so nobly fought of old, has finally won his cross of gold.

God rest Paul David Noonan.  Amen.

 Friday, September 26, 2014

Thomas Knight Burgess

 

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Sep 07 2014

Silicon Valley & Parachute Journalism | Om Malik

Published by under General

When working for Forbes, I pointed out the dichotomy to my then boss, David Churbuck and he quipped: “Classic Parachute Journalism.” According to Wikipedia, “Parachute journalism is the practice of thrusting journalists into an area to report on a story in which the reporter has little knowledge or experience.” This is a term that has typically been used in context of reporters sent to foreign lands to cover hot stories.

via Silicon Valley & Parachute Journalism | Om Malik.

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Aug 22 2014

Go Ride Boat

Published by under Cape Cod,seamanship

boating

Just a lazy cruise around Grand Island in the gloaming of an August evening and what do we see but this vision out of The Great Gatsby, the magnificently restored 104-f00t Trumpy Fantail, Freedom of Newport, RI (naturally). I gave her all the channel she wanted.

 

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Aug 12 2014

The Kettleers of 2014

Published by under Baseball,Cape Cod,Cotuit

Cotuit’s baseball season came to an end last night as Falmouth took the second of the three-game Western Division championship with a blow-out 17 hit, 10 to 2 victory at Lowell Park.

I missed the game but as I drove into the village around 7:45 pm I passed the remnants of it and saw  a Kettleer walking down Lowell Avenue onto Main Street in his untucked uniform, his host family surrounding him, escorting him home f or the evening after a season of highs and lows, two bats sticking up in the air from his backpack on his shoulders, the wooden bats the Cape league is known for.

I didn’t catch a lot of games this year due to a variety of excuses, but I did catch a wonderful come-from-behind performance against Bourne over the weekend. Cotuit was down 5-0 and the air was out of the home fans’ tires, when the Kettleers rallied in magnificent fashion to tie the 3 game series at one apiece. It was the perfect game, vintage Mike Roberts baseball, all the more memorable because my friend Jim D. turned to me at one point when Cotuit had runners at first and third and said to me: “Watch the runner at first get into a run-down so the runner at third can steal home.”

Five seconds later exactly that occurred, chaos ensued, and the fact that Cape Cod baseball is far more entertaining than pro ball was underscored.

Congratulations and thanks to the Kettleers for another great season.

Just a few more months to find the cash to save the woods behind the ball field. At the Bourne  game the Barnstable Land Trust ran some yellow tape across the area of the outfield that would be lost if the land isn’t preserved. Essentially the park would become unplayable as a big slice of outfield from the flagpole to the visiting bull pen would be lost.

Here’s Barnstable Land Trust’s Casey Dannhauser throwing the first pitch at the last Bourne game of the season.

YouTube Preview Image

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Aug 10 2014

Happy 375th Barnstable

Published by under Cotuit,General

image

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Aug 09 2014

Sailboat sinks after collision off Nantucket

Published by under General

Sailboat sinks after collision 080714.

Incredible pictures. Such a shame, a Concordia yawl is my dream boat and a true work of art.

Update: she’s up

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Aug 07 2014

Clickhole or Die: The Fight Over ‘Sponsored Content’ Is 150 Years Old

Published by under Advertising

Clickhole or Die: The Fight Over ‘Sponsored Content’ Is 150 Years Old.

Excellent and eye-opening piece on the history of advertorials, the “native advertising” of yesterday.

 

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Jul 28 2014

The New Kingmakers — book review

Steven O’Grady is the co-founder of Redmonk, a developer-focused tech analyst firm, and a very smart analyst at that. I first got to know him in 2006 via my old boss at Lenovo, the  CMO Deepak Advani who had a deep interest in Open Source and developer relations from his days at IBM. O’Grady and his co-founding partner James Governor gave us invaluable insights into the Open Source market, something that was unexpectedly crucial to Lenovo’s digital marketing focus as unbeknownst to us, one of the iconic Thinkpad laptops had been embraced as a reference platform to simplify hardware driver development for new distros.

Steven is also a great fan of all things Red Sox (his blog “Wicked Clevah” is one of the few I read) and is a striper fisherman up on the coast of Maine where he works and lives. So our orbits have overlapped on a few vectors.

This past spring he published with O’Reilly Media a very compelling argument that developers are the “new kingmakers” in contemporary IT and corporate digital strategy because of their crucial role in building value, defending against disruption, and making the technology decisions formerly reserved for procurement teams and the CIO. The result is a complete over-turning of the way organizations select and deploy technology, putting the developers in charge of the tools and standards that govern IT-enabled innovation and operations. We intuitively figured that out at Lenovo under the premise that when anyone makes a technology decision — “what phone should I buy? what laptop? what software?” — they turn to the most technical and expert person in their network. For those of us trying to build an influencer model online to sell computers, that audience was comprised of developers. Make them happy, give them what they need in terms of information and content, and they in turn will be the ones who declare if your technology is crap or not.

O’Grady nails the impact that the developer community is having on tech — from standards to commercial software to the way companies hire and retain the best coding talent they can find. His point is going to be very bleak new to the marketing teams at B2B tech companies. All those white papers and conferences and drive to get to the CEO and the COO and the CMO and the CIO ….. guess what? Developers could care less and they are the ones who matter.

In the latter half of the 20th century, developers were effectively beholden to their employers. The tools they needed to be productive — hardware and software — just were not affordable on an individual basis. Developers wishing to build even something as trivial as a website were confronted by an unfortunate reality: most of the necessary building blocks were available only under commercial licenses. Operating systems, databases, web and application servers, and development tools all required money. To get anything done, developers needed someone to write checks for the tools they needed. That meant either raising the capital to buy the necessary pieces, or — more often — requesting that an employer or other third party purchase them on the developer’s behalf.

“The new century, however, has ushered in profound and permanent shifts in the relationship between developer and employer. No longer is the former at the mercy of the latter’s budget. With the cost of development down by an order of magnitude or mode, the throttle on developer creativity has been removed, setting the stage for a Cambrian explosion of projects.

“Four major disruptions drove this shift: open source, the cloud, the Internet, and seed-stage financing.”

Basically, the point is that the company may buy one set of technology but developers will be developers and build stuff with the tools they want to use, not the tools the CIO negotiated a good price for out on the golf course.  Rather than put up with “official” technology, developers just get stuff done with the right tools — generally free tools — that get the job done.

“….the balance of power began to tilt in favor of developers. Developers, not their bosses, became the kingmakers. Technology selection increasingly wasn’t determined by committee or bake offs or who played golf with the CIO, but by what developers decided, on their own, to use.

“MySQL salespeople used to walk into businesses, for example, only to be told that they were wasting their time because the business wasn’t using any MySQL. At which point the MySQL salesperson would reply, “That’s interesting, because your organization has downloaded the package 5,000 times in the last two years.” This was and is the new balance of power. Not for every technology sector, of course, but for more every year.”

This is a very concise and accessible book — aimed at the marketers and executive management of companies who rely on developers to build their success.  In my bookshelf of tech books that matter, this one will have a long shelf life. If you’re managing digital strategy,  evaluating tech vendors, or trying to market hardware and software, this book can be digested in less than two hours and will, trust me, have an impact on how you see the new world.

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Jul 18 2014

Keep Lowell Park Green

Published by under Baseball,Cotuit,General

YouTube Preview Image

Nice job by Maryjo Wheatley on this video for the Barnstable Land Trust’s efforts to save the land around Lowell Park, home field of the Cotuit Kettleers. I was happy to sit and talk with her but didn’t expect, well, you’ll see… Maryjo is an amazing videographer, she worked for WGBH, the legendary PBS operation in Boston, and was in communications at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute back in my Forbes days. She helped me get a story about the very earliest GPS digital charting technologies back in 1993. Her husband, Capt. Bob Boden is a distant cousin and long-time friend. The three of us sometimes catch the Kettleers together — but this has not been the most baseball-ish summer for me. Too much client work is keeping me locked to my desk, then add in house guests, bad weather….there’s still time.

Anyway. back to the cause at the center of the video. The Barnstable Land Trust has until the end of the year to come up with the money to complete the purchase of the 19-acres of woodlands that surround Lowell Park to the north and the east. At risk is a key part of Cotuit’s open space. For the team, what’s at risk is a really nice “batter’s eye” in terms of an uninterrupted backdrop behind the pitcher so the batters can pick up the ball hurling towards them at 90+ mph.

The BLT is conducting their annual fundraising, auction, to-do on Ropes Field this Sunday afternoon from 3:30 to 7 pm

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Jul 14 2014

The Charles W. Morgan Comes to P-Town

I NEVER go to Provincetown in the summer. In 56 years the thought of driving a distance equivalent to a trip to Boston, down perilous two-lanes of distracting tourist drivers to visit the clogged streets of the zoo that is P-Town has never even crossed my mind. But yesterday, in lieu of beating over to Martha’s Vineyard in southwesterly breezes gusting to 30 knots, I easily agreed with the suggestion we show my daughter’s boyfriend the “real Cape” and head to the outermost tip of the peninsula. As we walked down from the parking lot behind the high school at the Pilgrim Monument I looked out over the harbor for the masts of the Charles W. Morgan, the oldest floating commercial vessel in the United States, the last of the wooden whaling ships, recently restored at Mystic Seaport and now on its 38th voyage, the first time it has sailed in decades.

“I knew there was a reason he agreed to do this,” said my wife, long ago having resigned herself to a lonely marriage of antisocial, agoraphobic behavior by me, the man-who-does-not-dance. There were masts abounding, but none of a New Bedford whaling ship. I had followed the progress of the Morgan from Mystic up to Buzzards Bay and then through the Cape Cod Canal, and knew she would be in Provincetown.  I’ve been aboard the ship a few times in the past at Mystic Seaport, where she has been the main attraction since 1941, but always assumed she was just an exhibit, too fragile to risk the sea.

The six of us walked to the end of the town pier, bustling with little shops, visitors arriving from Boston on the fast ferry, charter captains hosing off their decks and getting ready for their next set of sports. At the very end of the quay was a replica of a merchantman from the 1700s — a Mayflowerish sort of thing — and a not very pretty schooner, but no Morgan. A big inflated sperm whale was tethered down, nose into the southwest wind pushing white caps out in the bay into the Wellfleet and Truro shores.

“There’s a ship,” my daughter said. Out of the harbor, on the other side of the little flat-sided lighthouse at the tip of Long Point, were the masts of a bark-rigged ship slowly sailing in from Cape Cod Bay.

It was the Morgan, returning from a day sail out to Stellwagen Bank, a fertile marine sanctuary a few miles north of Race Point where right whales and finbacks cavort all summer. The ship was in port for some sort of whale awareness event, and around the inflated whale on the pier stood an helpful young woman answering questions about the state of the whale preservation movement. The exhibit had a sense of apology about it, that yes, this was a magnificent ship that embodied a rich part of America’s maritime past, but all those whales the Morgan helped slaughter were, well…..in the past when people didn’t know any better and petroleum hadn’t been discovered yet.

The ship rounded Long Point and tacked around into the wind to pick up a mooring a half mile off the end of the pier. She was not coming dockside. I was a little disappointed, the sight of an actual whaler riding at anchor was such an anachronism I turned to my son and said, “Imagine hiding in the bushes in Samoa in 1850 and seeing that arrive and drop anchor.”

“With a crew of syphilitic, dregs-of-New-England sailors,” he cracked wisely. The rest of my entourage was profoundly bored by the fact that a piece of American history was riding at its anchor in front of them in the same harbor where the Mayflower arrived in the late fall of 1620. They headed back to the insanity of Commercial Street where a man in an orange skirt and orange cat-in-the-hat hat was riding bicycle hawking tickets to an appearance by Baltimore’s pencil-moustached auteur and director of Pink Flamingos, John Waters. My son and I sat on edge of the pier, legs dangling down, and appreciated the view. Being a pedantic bore, I started the history lesson of the Morgan.

She was built in New Bedford in 1841, at the height of the American whaling fishery, a time when Nantucket and New Bedford whaling ships were exploring every corner of the Pacific from New Zealand to the Arctic, from Baja to the Okhotsk Sea of Siberia. This was the world of Herman Melville which he captured in the two books that made him a best selling author — Oomoo and Typee — an account of his voyage to the South Pacific and desertion with another sailor to live among the Polynesians.  This was a time when New England whalers were the most well-traveled people in the world.  Pushing  into uncharted waters — literally — at huge risk and discomfort to fill their holds with whale oil, bone and baleen.

The ships were slow. Built big and heavy to hold a lot of barrels of oil, a crew of 35 men, and the brick fireplace — or “try works” — that sat amidships where the big blankets of whale blubber were cut into chunks and rendered over the flames into big iron kettles into oil like big blobs of fishy Crisco. The decks were soaked in oil: slippery, rancid, foul and treacherous.  Only the Captain and the officers got rich. They worked for the ship owners — the Coffins of Nantucket or the Howlands of New Bedford — and received a share, or fraction of the profits. The crews were drunks and petty thieves, sea sick farm boys, Wampanoags and Pequots trying to work off debts, escaped slaves, Irish immigrants, veterans of the War of 1812. The only things that kept them in line were the fists of the officers and their ignorance of celestial navigation. Oh there were mutinies, but for most whaling voyages — generally lasting three years — the biggest risk was falling overboard, being killed by an angry whale, or merely suffering an accident on deck in a pre-OSHA era.

The Morgan was of a classic type of ship; a couple thousand were built in Mattapoisett and New Bedford. This is the type of ship the Pequod — Captain Ahab’s ship in Moby Dick — was. Melville wrote in the novel, published in 1851 — ten years after the launching of the Morgan: 

… a rare old craft…She was a ship of the old school, rather small if anything; with an old fashioned claw-footed look about her. Long seasoned and weather-stained in the typhoons and calms of all four oceans, her old hull‘s complexion was darkened like a French grenadier‘s, who has alike fought in Egypt and Siberia. Her venerable bows looked bearded. Her masts…stood stiffly up like the spines of the three old kings of Cologne. Her ancient decks were worn and wrinkled, like the pilgrim-worshipped flag-stone in Canterbury Cathedral where Beckett bled. But to all these her old antiquities, were added new and marvellous features, pertaining to the wild business that for more than half a century she had followed…She was apparelled like any barbaric Ethiopian emperor, his neck heavy with pendants of polished ivory. She was a thing of trophies. A cannibal of a craft, tricking herself forth in the chased bones of her enemies. All round, her unpanelled, open bulwarks were garnished like one continuous jaw, with the long sharp teeth of the Sperm Whale, inserted there for pins, to fasten her old hempen thews and tendons to. Those thews ran not through base blocks of land wood, but deftly travelled over sheaves of sea-ivory. Scorning a turnstile wheel at her reverend helm, she sported there a tiller; and that tiller was in one mass, curiously carved from the long narrow lower jaw of her hereditary foe…A noble craft, but somehow a most melancholy! All noble things are touched with that.”

The Morgan escaped the fate of most whaling ships. A lot were lost at sea, sunk by storms, wrecked on uncharted reefs, driven onto lee-shores, unable to beat their way to the open sea. One, the Essex, was rammed and sunk by a pissed-off whale.  A bunch were lost in the arctic, done in by greedy crews who overstayed their welcome and were frozen into the pack ice. The Civil War took its toll when the “Great Stone Fleet” — about 40 whaling ships — were filled with rocks and scuttled by the Union Navy in an attempt to blockade Charleston, South Carolina. The end of the age of sail and the rise of steam did in the rest, but somehow the Morgan escaped the wrecker and even found a second career in the early silent movie era as a prop in three movies. She was rotting in New Bedford harbor in 1924 when a steamer caught fire and nearly destroyed her in the process. The fire — which was extinguished by the firemen of Fairhaven — raised awareness that the Morgan should be preserved, and eventually the one-legged Colonel Edward Howland Robinson Green, son of the notorious “witch of Wall Street,” Hetty Green, was persuaded to pay to have her restored and towed to his seaside mansion in Dartmouth, Mass. where she was pulled into the mud and put on display.

Green, who lost his leg in childhood when his miserly mother refused to pay a doctor to set a broken bone, was the heir to the great Howland whaling fortune and kept the Morgan in decent shape until his death in 1934. Four years later the Great Hurricane of 1938 demolished New Bedford and the Morgan was damaged.

In 1941 she was dug out of her mud and sand berth, towed back into New Bedford harbor, patched up, and eventually towed to Mystic, Connecticut to become the nucleus for Mystic Seaport, an amazing maritime museum (where I spent many month in the late 1970s while majoring in American maritime history at Yale).

She was patched up and put into another muddy berth, and over the years millions of visitors explored her decks and learned about the amazing history of whaling. But she never sailed again.

Occasionally they’d unfurl her big sails at the dock — sometimes one could see them luffing uselessly as they sped by in a car on Route 95 — but she was basically beached. I never expected the Morgan to sail again.  A few years ago, at the Coastweeks rowing regatta, my son and I explored the Seaport after my race. It was his first visit and we had a lot of fun exploring the exhibits, the old rope walk, the sheds of catboats and sharpies, skipjacks and pinkys. The Morgan was in dry dock to be rebuilt from the keel up. We were able to go aboard even though work was being done, and poked around the decks, me droning on about his great-great-great-grandfather Thomas Chatfield’s ship, the Massachusetts, and speculating what life must have been like for a Cotuit man in his early 20s to be given command of a 100-foot long ship and sail it from Edgartown to Siberia and back. And then do it four more times before the outbreak of the Civil War.

So yes, there’s an ancestral connection to these ships. A reminder that somewhere in my DNA is the stuff that made a man run away from home, go to sea, and live a life killing huge beasts in strange oceans on a floating fireplace.

The fact I actually saw one of those ships under sail yesterday — not being ceremoniously towed around like the USS Constitution is every summer  (the Constitution is the oldest floating American ship, the Morgan the oldest commercial one) but actually sailing– was very emotional and more than worth the long drive from Cotuit to see. I’d give a lot to experience such a thing. A few years ago I organized an expedition of a couple dozen friends down to Newport to sail a pair of America’s Cup 12-meters, and those five minutes I spent at the big wheel made me smile all over.

The Morgan heads to Boston, then back through the Canal. She’ll be n display at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy on July 26 and 27.

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Jun 25 2014

When buying a State Rep won’t work, throw more lawyers at the problem

Published by under General

Neighbors raise ante in oyster fight | CapeCodOnline.com.

The Greedheads of Popponesset Bay will not go quietly as far as Richard Cook’s oyster farm is concerned . Having failed to sneak in a midnight amendment to the state budget to declare his underwater clam farm a “marine sanctuary,” they are falling back on that time-honored last resort of the wealthy which is to out-lawyer the little guy. Sort of like raising the bet  in a poker game until everybody has to fold.

Having been denied by every Mashpee board with a horse in the race, the homeowners (a largely  anonymous group who have hired Sandwich pettifogger Brian Wall to keep dragging things along), are now appealing to the State Supreme Judicial Court to kick the case to the Cape Cod Commission for their review because it is a commercial venture.

The appeals court already slapped Wall and his waterfront clients down when they said their objections are without claim because the project is outside of the town’s zoning authority because it is beyond the extreme low tide mark.

Three years and counting. And all over a clam farm.

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Jun 25 2014

Dealing with Biters

Published by under General

With regards to the biting soccer star from Uruguay, I offer the following solution to FIFA’s disciplinary committee:

My father , the late Tony Churbuck, had a proven parenting technique for stopping the biting of siblings and friends. This was a man who’s life’s motto was “Don’t get mad. Get even.”

He would examine the bitten party, calm them down, and check to see if their skin was broken and if they needed hydrogen peroxide and bandages. After calm and quiet was restored he would call the biter over and ask them to present the same body part on themselves that they had just chomped on the victim.

The biter, lulled into complacency by watching his victim be consoled and examined for damage, would usually approach Tony and sheepishly extend the same body part. At which point Tony would take a nice, firm grip (from which there was never any escape) and bite the biter. Hard.  He would do this to cousins, even visiting friends, and always deny it if accused.

If I were FIFA I would hire Mike Tyson to deliver the penalty.

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