Wednesday, December 11, 2002

It seems to me that my perception of the relationship of technology to company has changed once again. For a long time…maybe back in my childhood…companies were these things that endured. In the words of Jerry Porras, the best ones were “built to last”.

Around 1999 things changed. I sat in on a meeting of the executive committee of a board of directors, and Bill Miller from Stanford and boards too numerous to count, who is not exactly noted as a wild man in business circles, wondered aloud whether companies were now “built to flip”. That seemed easy and right.

Technology was changing so rapidly that it was imperative to keep on the leading edge. Companies became vehicles to do just that. Take Netscape. They were born in 1994 blossom, had the biggest one day pop (at the time) with their IPO, believed their own hype, took on the world, lost to Microsoft, and got sold for parts in less than 6 years.

Then all those companies grown by just infusions of money died – like so many hydroponics plants when the water shuts off. Big companies figured out that simple ideas with big marketing are still simple ideas, and no cause for alarm.

So today, the life expectancy of companies is once again increasing (mostly because of the pruning of unfit start-ups). And the evolution of technology is also occurring at a much more predictable pace…we’re still following Moore’s Law, but it’s no longer resulting in a massive company spawning frenzy.

The half-life of technology is once again shorter than the half-life of companies and their business relationships.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Recently one afternoon, Scott (a friend from college) called and invited me to attend a seminar for his course on "Comfort" that he was teaching at CCAC. I agreed to go. The topic was going to be appropriate technology and wheelchair design the speaker: Ralf Hotchkiss at his lab on the SF State campus. I agreed to go. I wasn't prepared for what I encountered there. I guess I expected to find a university industrial designer who imagined and drew ergonomically advanced titanium and carbon fiber motorized craft for the handicapped.

Boy was I wrong. We arrived at the lab -- on an upper floor of a science building. This lab was more like a welding shop than a high-tech design studio. Things were actually being built. One of the lab assistants was working on a motorized scooter, trying to modify it to add a seat. The class arrived, and we milled around waiting for Ralf. Just before the hour, Ralf arrived -- using a wheelchair. He began his talk with us rather informally, zooming around the lab; pulling many different kinds of wheelchairs off racks, and having us all sit in them.

My preconceptions were in sore need of adjustment. I've never used -- or even sat for an hour -- in a wheelchair. I've never experienced how hard it is to simply roll one down a hall and into a classroom. Variations in the floor that I take for granted walking presented significant obstacles in the wheelchair. Desk heights, door widths, sharp corners, and thresholds...I did not think of designers solving problems from wheelchairs themselves. Nor had I thought much about appropriate technology.

Ralf has.

For a couple of hours we sat in the various Whirlwind chairs. For a few moments we experienced the innovations he’s made to enable well-designed wheelchairs to be created and maintained using materials and techniques found in the poorest parts of the developing world. Built and maintained by the people who need them in those places.

This set me thinking about my experience with the high-tech world. In the developing world, it’s common to find clones copied design from the US with pirated software. These are alien products. Swallowed whole, without local modification.

What is the equivalent of appropriate computer technology? How dramatically things will change when we begin educating the disenfranchized and the marginalized about technology that can be created using the resources available locally; addressing the needs they (not we) find there; in the context of their culture, with a deep understanding of the impact of its use.

Monday, November 11, 2002

We’re making steady progress on our new company. Last Friday, we shipped our latest work off to México, where it will be installed permanently at a children’s museum. Production came down to the wire, and we were just finishing up the packing when the shipper arrived.

This was our first time shipping anything this large out of the country. The shipment went in two crates: one 1x2x10 feet, and the other 4x5x5 feet. The first one was about 3/4 full of extruded aluminum (and some steel). The second one was for the electronics, tools and spares. Neither was movable by a single person. We requested a truck with a lift gate, but the one that arrived didn’t have one. We’re not really set up for moving stuff – we don’t even have a hand truck.

Scott went out and tried to find the someone connected with a neighboring forklift, but he couldn’t find its driver. We tried finding a building with a loading dock…thinking we could wheel the crate up a ramp. Nothing. So all 5 of us did what we had to do. We lifted the two crates and put them on the truck.

Anne said: “It’s like when parents lift a Volkswagen to rescue their child.” It was. Except that our child is the size of the car, and is taking its first steps all the way to México.

Tuesday, November 5, 2002

Election day. Like many people, I am wary of our political circumstances. But this is an old story. Shakespeare and the Greeks have written all about it before. I am reminded, and in a weird way comforted by a line of dialog from the film Nicholas and Alexandra:

“Strong men do not need power; the weak are destroyed by it.”

I want the US to be (or to become) one of the strong. But I worry that the power and control we wish for will ultimately be our undoing.

Will it be easy to change our present course? No. Is the present course deeply perilous? Yes. Will we stumble or fall? I don’t know. Will we all go down with the ship? I don’t know, either.

I do know that today, fed on a steady barrage of images of fear and terror, America seems to be capable of only desiring something that sounds like safety and security. Trading cold comfort for chains, indeed.

It’s hard work to imagine, desire, and ultimately conjure a better future. We certainly must be aware of what might be lost. But we have much to do.

I choose optimism over despair as my militant position.

Hopefully yours,

Monday, October 28, 2002

On Sunday, I witnessed an amazing act of will. At 9am, 700 swimmers swam from Angel Island to Tiburon, across Raccoon Strait. The water was brisk, with the most optimistic temperature report reaching a balmy 60 degrees. Nevertheless, several attempted the swim without wetsuits. One of those intrepid souls was my friend, who traveled to the Bay Area on Saturday just to swim. She described the swim as hand-to-hand combat for about 200 meters, then uninterrupted swimming for about a mile (sighting the finish buoy, but it never seeming to get close), then hand-to-hand combat for the last 200 meters to the finish. When she crossed the finish line, someone asked her if she could feel everything. She said no, so the paramedics carried her to a warm ambulance to recover. She did recover, and when she did, she found out that she won her division.

--She has a will of iron.

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

It's turned an early winter here. And I really shouldn't complain about it, but what can you complain about, if you can't complain about the weather? It's in the 60's and foggy. Damp and cool -- not what you think of first, when you think about California. I will admit that it is better than where I come from -- last night they had freezing rain. Still, I want a warm sunny day.
Archeon, from the ancient Greek, is translated into English as the magistrate's house, a place where records are kept. Records of a kind are kept here, too. If you can't find something here that you're supposed to, you'll need to ask the archon.

Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Not too much later...

This week has been a bit smoother. Lauren is away at swim camp, Hill and Lukie have reasonable carpool needs -- but they are at either end of silicon valley... Beth is on school overload again. I've done a couple of actual business things that may eventually bring in some money. I'm getting ready for burning man. I should be quite out of place there, but I'm up for it. Maybe I'll find the right camper and have a blast anyway. I need sunglasses, contacts and attitude.

After BM, getting serious about revenue again.

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Well July went just as fast. Here's this month's highlights: A beautiful 4th of July, daily carpools (starting at 6:30am to synchro practice, then 9:30 pick up from swim practice, 10 pickup from synchro, drop at Mitty and Gallagher by 10:30, Noon pickup at Gallagher, and 12:15 at Mitty, shopping, a couple of errands, and that's it for the carpools).

There have been two funerals this month. Ryan McLean, age 20 months, and Anna Frost age 82 years. Worlds apart. A trip to Chicago for one funeral with Lukas. That included Sailing, the farm, Anne Sathers, Gummy and the cousins.

A trip with Lauren to LA for a boom for the Olson. Stopping at Olson 30 Nationals, and then a visit with the Watkins in LA, MIB 2, and a nice drive with stops in Solvang, and Santa Barbara.

The carpools at the end of the month are more bearable 8:30 Hill to Castelleja, and Lukas 9:00 to Hillbrook pickups are at 4 and 3. Lauren is at the US Open in Detroit (she's in 23 with figures, and in first going into the finals for team). Beth is halfway through her summer program. I've read about 12 books, moved TRS a step closer, and have the Leo grant to write.

It's good.

Monday, July 1, 2002

Jesus! It's July already. Where did June go? Well, Graduations (2), Troy NY, Bangkok Thailand, Home, sailed for a few days, and about 95 hours of carpools. Oh yeah, and eb is taking 32 hours of college credit in accounting in 8 weeks. Whoowie! Not to mention starting another company, helping a non-profit, and trying to figure out what I really want to do when I grow up while having a massive allergy attack.


And it's all going pretty smooth. So far, so good.

Thursday, June 6, 2002

The to do list is somewhat shorter after a hard day at it. Only a couple of pages worth of things to go this week.

Today was a day of lasts. It was the last day of pre-school for my son Lukas. He has been going to TenderTracks for the past two years. TenderTracks is a uniquely Californian creation. It's one teacher, six kids and a volkswagen van. They meet every day, and go hike every day rain or shine. Through it, he has learned to carry a backpack, walk everywhere, identify plants and birds, and animals, and rocks, sing songs, and all of the other normal pre-school things. He's sad about leaving it, but happy with his next school.

My eldest daughter Lauren has been hanging out in a burger joint every Thursday afternoon after school, and today was the last early day of school for her. She's off to high school in the fall, and so it was the last corn dog at Tom's. Lots of endings today.

Wednesday, June 5, 2002

I have the to do list from hell. It is staring me in the face, daring my to get anything done. Well, I already did, so there. Next on the agenda: PAYING BILLS, maybe we should call it paying the WILLIAMS, since they're big now. Too bad I can't just blog them.
It turns-out that blogger is smarter than I thought, and that I gave it too long a pathname to publish this file. Cutting that down resulted in this getting published at long last.

Today has been a day of getting to it and getting things done. The first thing was picking up my parents' old 8mm films from a service bureau. I had 111 reels of film transferred. They are now on 7 tidy miniDV casettes next to my computer. My brother will pull them into his computer, and then we'll edit them...I'll tell you how it goes.
Allrighty then

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Here is my first experiment in blogger, written from Larry Kagan's office at RPI