Yearly Archives: 2007

three months!

It’s weird — it seems almost like yesterday that I started my new job. I keep meaning to talk about it a little, and now I’m sitting here three months (and a bit more) in — and way overdue at posting here about things.

It’s a nice, quiet, bachelor weekend. Laurie’s up in Yosemite on a photo and hiking trip, taking a few days off. I’ll probably go up in late march, maybe early april, after her last surgery and when she’s recovered. This gave her a chance to get some R&R in before the next round (and honestly, with the hassles of kennelling the cats and birds, it seems hard to justify long weekends away together — although in this case, I’m in the middle of a few things where being home is useful.

For those who are complaining that it’s been too long since the last volume of this series, I can only answer guilty, and like George R.R. Martin, start this volume with a recap. It’s hard to believe it’s been almost six months since I left Apple. At this time last year, I was still convinced I was a lifer.

I left Apple in Mid-september, and Laurie and I took off on a couple of weeks of real, uncompromised vacation up to the pacific northwest and back down the coast. Got back the start of October and started interviewing. I ended up deciding on going to StrongMail. Since Laurie and I both realized that once I started it’d be a while before we could do much travelling again, we agreed that she’d take off on a trip to Lassen before the weather closed it down, and then I’d take the week before starting at Yosemite. Laurie had a nice trip doing photo work in Lassen, came home, and then her appendix filed for divorce the next Saturday afternoon — and divorce was finally granted about 5AM on sunday. This obviously changed plans and complicated things. Fortunately, I was not working during her time in hospital and for her first week or so at home, which helped a lot for both of us.

And that was the situation when I started StrongMail. In retrospect, I should have listened to myself and delayed starting another couple of weeks. There was enough going on that I feel like I didn’t have my A game right away, and it frustrated me. A couple of weeks in, things started to click better, and now, I’m really happy with how things are going (and so are they, they tell me).

Who is StrongMail? It’s a startup, about 70-80 people, funded by Sequoia, which is building email appliances. I work in professional services as their architect, helping companies figure out how to integrate the beast into their IT infrastructure and business practices — or how to create them and become an effective email sender. One of the things I’m working on these days is a soup to nuts best practices on how to create various email systems from scratch. To a good degree, I’ve traded in my compiler and copy of vi for word, visio and powerpoint, and if I’m not doing much coding these days, I’m spending a lot of time helping people understand how to code things well.

One thing they’ve asked me to do, but we’re still figuring out how best to do it, is to get involved with MAAWG. I’ve agreed, and I’m looking forward to it, because one of the things I came to realize was a negative at Apple was that my old organizations preferred keeping a low profile, so there weren’t many opportunities for me to get involved in the groups that help set policy in the field. MAAWG’s doing good work at helping mail senders and receivers understand each other and work out common standards to fix the tower of babel that is email these days.

A side effect of the MAAWG stuff is that I now have, much to my amusement, something I never had or could have had at Apple: a formal corporate bio, which we spent a few days working on and discussing just how many times we could put StrongMail in (we settled on 2). Since this is simply too much fun to keep to myself, here it is:

Chuq Von Rospach serves as a professional services architect at

StrongMail, where he helps customers integrate its appliance into

their existing environment and design new state of the art digital

messaging solutions based on the StrongMail platform. Previously, Chuq

spent 18 years at Apple computer, where he designed, implemented and

operated their marketing newsletter system, along with several other

core projects. At the end of his tenure, Chuq served as senior

architect for Apple’s in-house direct marketing email systems. His

career prior to Apple includes stops at both Sun Microsystems and

National Semiconductor. He has more than 20 of years experience in

operating and managing online communities based on email, web and NNTP

protocols.

When I decided to leave Apple and start looking for a job, I more or less did so because I felt I needed to cut the stress and simplify my work life to let me better balance work with the rest of my life (and, he says as a deep subtext, give himself a decent chance of losing weight, which I simply wasn’t able to do at Apple because of the demands of my old job. Now, let’s keep it real: I loved Apple, I loved my job, I loved the people I worked with — but it’s also real that when I handed in my badge and headed for Canada, I was pretty heavily worn out; nobody can claim I didn’t give my all for the cause — and that’s something I’m proud of. But I figured I was going to find a nice job coding somewhere, take a step back, go to a larger, stable company (hint: I fully expected to go to work for Yahoo somewhere, somehow — and came close a couple of times) and go do something other than email.

Which is how I ended up at a small startup doing email systems in a role that’s really a step up for me and making me grow and stretch in new and interesting ways…. And, believe it or not, the stress IS down, my enjoyment of the job and the people I work with is equal to Apple, and I’m having a ball.

And in that, there’s a learning experience to share with others: I made the assumption (and it’s probably not a bad one, but it clearly isn’t the ONLY option) that to simplify my work I’d need to go to a less challenging job, or at best, a sideways lateral into doing something similar. Because of that, early on I was focussing less on positions like engineering manager or architect, and more on IC type positions — and that was in retrospect a mistake, probably what kept me out of Yahoo at the time. On the other hand, I made no assumptions that it was ONLY yahoo I’d go to, and I interviewed pretty widely and considered every option I could dig up — and I came around to what I really found interesting instead of what I thought I’d find interesting, and I ran with it. the key here was a brutal self-analysis of every interview I did; being really honest with myself on how I did, how I felt, how I reacted and whether it was something I felt like pursuing.

I found myself, much to my surprise, a lot more motivated and interviewing well when talking to VP and CxO level people than programmers; when talking policy and strategy instead of arrays and hashes. I was probably THE most surprised person to find that out of the bunch — although there were a number of serious geek jobs that tickled my fancy, too (hi, Ryan; hey, Igor) — and I still really would love to work for Tim some day, but the logistics of living down here simply made that not work this time…

It turns out that (at least for me) getting the life balance back was more about not being the point man for everything — and working with fewer timezones — than it was simplifying the work itself. And for me, now, it’s not so much about what’s next, but taking what I taught myself and learned from my cohorts at Apple — and having a chance to maybe influence and improve many companies through improvements in our product and services, and through my consulting as a PS person, and whatever happens with my involvement with MAAWG and others.

And that, I gotta say, sends me to work every morning with a smile on my face…

The things you discover….

Weekend plan:

1) take cats to vet for checkup

2) winter garden cleanup

3) put the rest of the christmas stuff back in storage

4) sharks game saturday night

5) go birding on sunday.

6) work on “outsider’s guides”

Weekend reality:

1) tear apart bedroom to find cats

2) take cats to vets for checkup

3) decide as long as bedroom is torn up it’s a good time to shampoo carpets

4) find out the carpet shampooer has died a hero (hey, it moved here with us from Mountain View….)

5) off to target for a new carpet shampooer

6) decide to watch the sharks from home — if we stay awake

7) we did (barely)

8) decide to stay home and take it easy, work on “outsider’s guide”

9) spend hours wandering around groups.google.com going “gee, did I really write THAT crap?”

10) afternoon nap

11) catch up on Mythbusters episodes

12) realize it’s time to crash…

How things change. Anyone who knows cats understands how the weekend went sideways. ours have this innate, psychic ability to know that the cat boxes have been pulled from storage, even if they’re not able to see that they’re moved. at some point, Archie will look at one or the other of us and canter off; we now know that he’s headed into hiding, and he usually grabs Manon and she runs off with him. If we’re lucky, it’s under the bed (if it’s not, it’s in the garage or storage room, and then we’re in big trouble)

extricating them involves tearing off all the bedsheets, then leaning the mattress and box springs against the wall with the door and closet closed and locked, and then grabbing the cats (who have welded their claws into the carpet) and stuff them in boxes. If we’re lucky, we can do this in about 20 minutes… We made the vets with 5 minutes to spare….

One of the things we discovered was that quiet, lovable Manon has another side to her. See, in the past, since Apple had christmas week off, we’d head down to my family in LA and board the animals, and the annual checkup and shots happened magically when we were gone. We’ve actually never been IN the room during a checkup since Manon’s kitten check. This year, with everything changed, we had to do the checkup ourselves.

Manon was mostly cooperative; until the vet went to take her temperature (I’ll stop a second while you ponder how cats get their temperatures taken; it’s not under the tongue). She just made it quite clear that wasn’t going to happen, and the vet smiled and declared it optional. More amusingly, when we checked her files, we found out teh ONLY time her temperature has been taken was her kitten checkup. Shots? Mildly annoying? Thermometer? not a chance.

Archie wasn’t happy, but he let us do the necessary.

Both are healthy, both are now up to date on shots and boosters. Manon is 14.5 pounds, and about a pound heavy. Archie’s 12+, and right on. All is well in the world.

And, as long as we have the bedroom torn apart, we can shampoo the carpets and get under the bed easily. No problem!

yeah, right. ohwell. I’ll finish the shampooing of the rest of the house next weekend…

I had a great time wandering through the old blog postings and the old USENET stuff today. wasn’t what I’d planned, but what the heck. Nice to run into some folks (virtually) that I haven’t seen in years. Interesting that I can go back 20+ years and document that I’ve averaged a posting a day that entire time. (note I said interesting; good? useful? productive? god knows…)

And we’re mostly up to date on TV again, except for the last two episodes of Battlestar, which I’d probably say was the best written thing on TV if it wasn’t for Dr. Who coming out of britain… just finished viewing 2nd season from Sci-Fi earlier in the week, and the way they ended year two blew me away. I’ll miss you, Rose Tyler. (now, how do they top this?)

The USENET Olympics

Someday, some poor student working on a Ph.D. is going to try to explain USENET and how it operated (and didn’t) as part of their thesis; maybe they’ll be crazy enough to look at it in the wider context of the birth of the Internet in its current form, and whatever it decides to become.

I doubt there’s a better explanation for what it was like to live through USENET from start to finish than the USENET Olympics. Scott Forbes had this wonderful ability to both put things in perspective and make them horribly funny at the same time, without ever taking things very seriously. Sort of like Dave Berry, sort of like Scary Movie, finding the essence within the silly.

So running into this again today was truly a trip back to the past for me; for most of you, for all I know, this is going to be gibberish….

(and, in fact, I did actually use the phrase “they aren’t rules, they’re guidelines” in the last couple of weeks, and then laughed a bit. Much to the confusion of the people I was with at the time; I declined to explain then, because that was a rathole not worth travelling. But the answer is actually here in Scott’s piece…..)

Google Groups: rec.arts.sf.misc:

[Chuq and Peter are walking away from Lawrence Stadium on a

road made entirely of asbestos bricks.]

Peter:

>Isn’t there SOMETHING you can tell me about this place, other

>than the obvious “Wizard of Oz” parallels?

Chuq:

>You must find the answers for yourself. There is no other way.

Peter:

>Who or what is at the end of the road? Emerald City? The Wizard?

Chuq:

>It will all be clear to you when we reach the end of our quest.

Peter:

>Look, all I want to do is change the Guidelines. Why is —

[There is a terrifying high-pitched wail, trailing off into

frequencies beyond human hearing, and filled with terrible purpose.

A Rulewraith on a winged steed descends from the sky, blocking

the path before Peter and Chuq. The Rulewraith looks suspiciously

like Jose Martinez:]

Rulewraith:

>THE GUIDELINES ARE INFLEXIBLE! THEY MUST BE FOLLOWED TO THE

>EXACT LETTER WITHOUT ACCOMODATION! THEY MUST NOT BE BENT OR

>ALTERED OR MODIFIED! YOU WILL NEVER CHANGE THEM!

[Horrified by the evil in the words of the Rulewraith, Peter

stands frozen in sheer terror. Chuq calmly pulls a bucket of

water out of his cloak and throws it at the Rulewraith.]

Rulewraith:

>AIYEE! I’M MELTING!

[The Rulewraith dissolves, leaving an inky puddle. Peter stares

at the puddle, then stares at Chuq.]

Chuq:

>Please do not say those words again.

Hockey Day in Canada

A Theory of Ice: The First Nation of Hockey:

Today is Hockey Day in Canada. I don’t know what that means, really, but it means something. It is a commemoration of hockey in a nationalistic vein, a celebration of the idea that there is some deep, reciprocal relationship between Canada and hockey that transcends the simple statement that a lot of Canadians like it.

A national sport is a shared image.

[….]

There must, I think, be an equivalent image of hockey for Canadians, some meta-scene of the sport that speaks in some mysterious way to the sense of national identity, but I don’t have that image. All I know of hockey are actual players and actual games, a thousand specifics in search of a generalization. I have no sense of the Platonic ideal of Canadian hockey, but I wish I did, because I think somehow that it would then be more meaningful for me.

So to the various and sundry Canadians who might stop by this site today (or tomorrow, or the day after that), what’s the image that makes hockey more than just a sport for you? Not the logic of it, but the visceral sensation of it, that thing that flashes through your mind for a second when you think of hockey, which makes it not just yours personally but yours as a Canadian?

I’m not Canadian, but I’ve been given honorary Canadian status by a bunch of my Canadian friends.

Here’s my view of Hockey Day in Canada as the crazy American guy.

Laurie and I haven’t missed a HDiC since it’s inception. (yes, we live in the U.S. Sitting out on the roof is a StarChoice disk, next to the DirecTV dish, in the shadow of the original dish, a 10′ Big Ugly that we’ve finally decomissioned, but these have given us access to CBC for the last decade+, and more recently, TSN and SportsNet. And yes, on New Years Eve, we celebrate the way Canadians do, by curling up around the TV and watching the Air Farce Chicken Cannon. But I digress. But thank you for nailing those damn beavers!)

Hockey Day in Canada started out fairly simply: the NHL offered CBC a saturday where all six Canadian teams played each other, and CBC realized it needed to do something to fill in the gaps around the games. They’ve done so by going back and celebrating the roots of the game, by going out into the community and meeting the people that make hockey happen around Canada, by examining the sport and looking at what works and how to make it better.

To me, I think the best way to explain HDIC to Americans is not through baseball, but football. Imagine a Superbowl Sunday where all of the pre-game and post-game was focussed not on commercialism, but on the game; John Madden in Plano Texas, talking about Texas High School football, while Marv Albert heads down to Florida to talk to the coach of the Seminoles about the college game. There will be discussions with former players about growing up in football and the people and things that helped them succeed. You’d see pee-wee players being taught by NFL coaches, and you’d see stories about how these non-professional teams and leagues and programs have been built around their community, and built community around their program.

Every year CBC chooses a city to host HDiC; this year, it was Nelson, British Columbia. The focus was on the volunteers — the people who donate the time and sweat equity to make hockey at a local level work. There are secondary broadcast locations, this year, Yellowknife, Camrose AB, Tignish, Prince Edward Island, Toronto and Regina.

It is both a celebration of the bond between Canadians and their national sport, and a recognition that the NHL is but one small part of what “hockey” is; and an appreciation for all of those people and places — the 4AM practice, the hockey mom, the rink rat, the pee-wee coach — that both make Canadians Canadian, and makes the NHL possible.

Now, Laurie and I have spent a lot of time in Canada — we head up there on vacation whenever we can. We’ve met lots of neat people up there, and considered relocating on and off. It’s given us an opportunity to see hockey in a number of places and at many levels. One thing that HDiC means to me is the NHL is not hockey; the NHL is a business based on hockey. Hockey is a game that no lockout and ruin. It’s a game you can’t truly understand if all you see is a game on TV or from a seat in a big arena. It’s a game that, to understand, you have to get away from the business part of the game back into the grassroots; get away from the double-decker arenas. The best hockey game I’ve ever been to was in Victoria, between the Victoria Salsa (seriously; owned by the owner of the local mexican restaurant) and the Cowichan Valley Capitals. It was in the old (now gone) Victoria Memorial Arena — built in the 1940’s, shaped like a Quonset hut, and about as comfortable. You stare down to the end of the rink, and there’s a Stanley cup banner (Victoria Cougars, 1924-25).

Now, the Salsa and Capitals are Junior A (minor junior) — 15 and 16 year olds. If you’re a canadian hockey player, at this age you generally have to make a choice; Major Junior (the WHL, OHL, QMJHL) leagues, or minor junior. If you go to major junior, you lose NCAA eligibility, so minor junior has become the career track for kids moving into US college scholarships. These are the last stops before turning pro (or going home). Most kids in the league, of course, go home. The only players we’ve seen there you might have heard of is a kid named Kariya (not paul, his brother Kevin, who went to UofMaine, but he’s even smaller than his brother) and Tiger William’s son.

Now, as you might imagine, a couple of teams of 15-16 year olds is not (by any definition) the most skilled hockey you’ll ever see. No 100MPH slapshots, you aren’t going to see tape to tape passes three times in a row. But it doesn’t matter; what made that game so — transcendent — to me was the place and time. That building had serious history, and you could feel the stories and events in its bones; the kids were playing — maybe a bit for a chance at future, but mostly because they loved the game. And we found ourselves surrounded by about 3,000 folks, most of them in jerseys, almost NONE of them in jerseys of the teams playing, because they were all wearing the jerseys of their own teams.

And THAT MOMENT, a bunch of people who love hockey standing around watching a bunch of kids who love hockey, in a funky old building — and a Stanley Cup Banner (the last Cup awarded to a non-NHL team, in fact) – that moment is what made me really understand what hockey is and why it’s so important to Canadians. And it changed my view of the NHL forever, because it put the NHL into perspective with the greater part of the sport. the NHL is merely the tip of the iceberg most of us see. going and finding the rest of the iceberg is how you truly come to understand the whole of it.

And that — that moment in victoria, and the search for the whole iceberg — is Hockey Day in Canada.