Yearly Archives: 2011

Five years ago today…

Apologies in advance. this is long, this is personal, and this is probably going to annoy some of you. If you’re the type of person who doesn’t like long and personal on someone’s personal blog, go and read the lolcats site for a while, Thanks.

When it Changed…..

Five years ago today I sent out the email to my team announcing I was leaving Apple after 17 and a half years. I posted a copy of it here. I left slowly, working with my bosses to make the transition smooth, so it was two months before I actually handed in my badge and became a free agent.

It was an interesting time in my life. At that time, I said this:

So I’ve made the tough decision that it’s time to make a clean break of it, take a little time off, and then find a new position where I can make a fresh start in a situation where the stress levels are easier for me to cope with.

I’m not really happy with this decision; the word I’d use for my feeling is that I’m comfortable that it’s the right one. I’m not leaving for a new position; I’ve just started exploring what I might want to do, and what might make sense.

With the passing of time and the sharp focus of hindsight, I have to say it was definitely the right decision; in all honesty, I was tired of Apple, and Apple was tired of me, and we both needed to make the break. You can see from Apple’s stock price since then just how badly they missed me.


Two events precipitated this decision, although it was honestly a long time coming. The first one was when a really neat lady I liked and respected asked me an unfortunate question when I was having a bad day, and I went off on her. It was mean — it was abusive — she didn’t deserve any of it, and 30 seconds after I did it, i was mortally embarrassed at what I’d done. It was also something that you can’t undo with apologies, although i definitely tried. It was at that moment that I realized if I was that stressed out that I was losing it that badly, I had to make changes before I did something seriously dangerous or the stress killed me. (to her great credit, she eventually stopped being freaked at the thought of being in a room with me, but it is one of those moments in my life I will never forgive myself for).

Then a few weeks later, I was in a planning meetings when the alarms went off because the system was down. It turned out the database machine threw a drive, the primary data drive. On the primary master server, which was two weeks from being made a fully redundant, multi-machine server with automatic failover. We were that close from avoiding this disaster — and that drive was basically the one piece of the system that wasn’t redundant or easily replaced on failure; of course, it was the piece that fried. We knew about the risk, we were working to resolve it, and we missed it by THAT much.

It took us 13 hours to bring the system back live, swapping in one of the redundant slaves in the mysql pod and turning it into a master. There was no data loss (thank god), but still, that was one of the most stress-filled, panic-inducing times I’ve had in my life. At the end, I wandered into my director’s office, slumped to the floor, looked at him, and told him I couldn’t do that again. I was done. He sent me home, told me we’d talk later, and I went home and slept for 15 hours.

We agreed on two months as an offramp, plenty of time to bring up the new team and train them. That gave me, I thought, time to find a new project and home at Apple; in reality, I had no clue what I wanted to do — only that it was time to stop doing what I was doing — and didn’t try very hard. So I handed in my badge, got in the car, and drove off the face of the earth for a couple of weeks, my first “no phone no modem” vacation in years.

That project started out as a skunkworks with myself and one other programmer to see if it made sense to bring Apple’s marketing email inhouse. It turned into a behemoth that when I left was conservatively driving $50m a year in revenue and we were showing at least $10m a year in cost reductions within the company with a team of about seven. It was recognized as having the best ROI of any project in Apple IT — ever. We extended it for use globally, localized to something like 20 languages. It was the first Apple IT project to make significant use of open source technologies and be hosted 100% on xserves, so we blazed a few trails I’m rather proud of. it was (and still is) one hell of a hack; the team that took it over has done an awesome job and done some nice things to it I wish I’d thought of. If there’s one thing I’m really proud of, it’s that the transition went off about as smoothly as you could hope for, which is what I wanted. The whole open source thing was a fascinating experiment in itself (by design), and both a blessing and a curse, and deserves some discussion on its own; maybe later I will get to it.

What I didn’t know then, wouldn’t know for another six months, was that 95% of the problem I was having was sleep apnea. I’ve talked about that before, so I won’t go into detail, but in the 18 months before I left Apple I gained 90 pounds; in the 5 years since I’ve gained 15, ten of that in the last 9 months while we’ve been driving to get the TouchPad launched (and now I’m working to change that and pull that back). What I do know is when I got the apnea treated, my blood pressure dropped more than 25 points and a whole lot of problems in my life went away.

The last five years have been an interesting journey, in both the literal and chinese way. The executive summary of the last five years:

  • Sleep Apnea — once I was diagnosed and treated, my blood pressure dropped over 20 points. It’d progressed enough I was falling asleep in meetings. But the first night I put on the CPAP, my life changed radically, and I’ve never looked back. But I was very close to falling asleep at the wheel, or snoring myself into a stroke.
  • When I left Strongmail, it was with the intent of launching a site called Dare2Thrive, and try to break out onto my own. A secondary deal I thought I had with a friend blew up in my face, costing me a chunk of change, and then it became clear Dare2Thrive was dead on arrival (I really need to talk about that some day), so I took it out behind the barn and shot it. This, needless to say, did wonders both to my self-image and my pocketbook, but not as badly as if I’d launched the thing. I did, however, self-destruct in interviews for weeks, costing me a couple of really good jobs and probably guaranteeing I’d never work for Yahoo without a name change (not that, as it’s worked out, that this is a bad thing).
  • I got my exercise program up to about 1 1/2 miles three times a week, which was making nice progress on my weight, and then stepped in a gopher hole, tearing the meniscus in my right (good) knee. Which didn’t heal, which is how we discovered the arthritis in both knees. Neither of which is operable, until we decide it’s time for replacements. Fortunately, 500mg of Relafin twice a day keeps them mostly functional and it hasn’t seemed to progress much. But that indirectly caused a serious case of tendonits in one ankle, which took nine months to get rid of. That made life interesting (and exercise impossible) for most of 2008.
  • But 2008 was the year my dad got sick and died; it was a year of tests and hospitals and funerals and laywers, as I spent a big chunk of time in SoCal (or in transit: 12,000 miles on the subaru, just driving up and down the state) and helping mom get settled and things under control with the estate and her life. When I surfaced, it was October, and honestly, I remember almost none of it.
  • Somewhere along the way — my best guess is around March — I went diabetic, but we didn’t diagnose it until 2009 when the simptoms got significant enough (significant enough: blood sugar > 400, tryglicerides > 600, blood pressure way up…). Fortunately, it all responded well to treatment and is well controlled and stable without a lot of fuss.
  • And once I got that under control, I went and fired up the exercise program again — and fell down and went boom, going back on the shelf for about two months before I could even think of doing any significant exercise again (not that I wanted to; given recent history, it’s suprisingly hard to get up much enthusiasm to try again, although I’ve been starting slow and trying to build carefully…)

I mention all this not to whine or elicit sympathy, but to bring forward the thought. Sometimes life is good, sometimes it throws you challenges. It was Nietzsche who said that which does not kill us makes us stronger. It was in a hotel room on the road, with dad in the hospital and it increasingly seeming like he’d never get out, my ankle wrapped in ice so I’d have a chance of walking the next day (because i had no choice), Laurie hundreds of miles away, feeling very much alone and tired of it all.

And I had a moment that can only be described as howling at the moon. I found myself yelling at nobody in particular that if life would just leave me alone for a while, I could get this all under control and be happy again. That was the moment I realized that life didn’t owe me easy, that it was up to me to make it easy. And that I didn’t like who I was, and until I fixed that, nothing was going to change.  I had no idea what it meant at the time, but I knew it was important to find out. And that’s been the journey since.

Five years ago I was in dream gig with a great team, awesome bosses for a company that was changing the world — and I was absolutely miserable (and really had no idea why).

Today? Much different gig — but a great group of people I enjoy being around even more than my team at Apple, which is something I never thought I’d find. Great challenges, lots of fun, lots of work to do. It’s hard to believe five years have passed. I feel like I’m a much different person than I was.

And I’m happy. With what I do, with who I am.

And isn’t that what really matters?

Whenever I end up talking about Apple with folks, there is one question that always pops up, so I figure since I brought it up myself, I might as well answer it. That question  is “Would you go back?”

The answer is yes, with some qualifications. Apple is doing many good and interesting things, and in many ways, is changing the world (mostly for the better); there are lots of challenges there to take on in the right situation. but the implied question within that question is whether I miss Apple or feel some need to go back, and that answer is definitely no. I left at a time when it was the right thing to do, had a great run there, regret almost nothing, and enjoy what I’m doing now. I’ll admit that I’ve looked into a couple of positions there over time, but in each case, it was a position targeted at an internal candidate.

If the right situation came up, I’d do it. A lot of where my interest today is around photography imaging and how technology and people (i.e. this “social” stuff) come together. Apple still seems to me too afraid of losing control of its message to embrace social — just look at Ping (sorry, really qualified and talented folks who built that). That’s a social media for companies who are afraid to be social, and that’s just not that interesting to me, and not close to what I was encouraging people to consider even before I left.

But if you’re smart, you never say never.

I’m not sure what the five years have in store. Good times for sure, challenges just as surely. All I know is that I’m looking forward to seeing what they are…




Two Bay Area Restaurants

This week I wanted to give a quick shout out to two local restaurants I’ve really taken a liking to.

A friend of mine has a sort of hobby — he likes to discover the restaurants his favorite chefs go to when they take a night off from their own kitchens. It’s an interesting way to find hidden gems, and they aren’t necessarily famous or expensive; it’s quality food that comes first.

A recent find here is Vedas Indian Restaurant, which is in Milpitas, not a town you normally think of for great restaurants. In fact, it’s a rather unpresuming place, in a strip mall on a secondary street and from the outside doesn’t look very distinctive. Inside? it’s beautiful, and it’s full of really awesome food.

We’ve eaten there twice now, and I’ve been blown away both times. They have their standard menu, but they always have specials as well, and on our last visit we found out they’d just brought on a new chef in from India, and he’s been using specials to experiment with some new dishes. We tried a couple of those experiments, a cooked chicken wing appetizer that we all loved (“this is how buffalo wings should be made!”) and a vegetarian dish that my friend raved on. They also shared a special bread that was cooked in no oil and had parsley added to the dough that was quite tasty.

Being a carnivore, I tend to eat from the tandoori and curries. This last visit I tried the Basil Murgh Makhmali Tikka, tender and moist, and the Daal, which was one of the best Daal soups I’ve ever had. They also do a mango and avocado salad that’s quite tasty. Laurie tends to eat the lamb or goat, and my friend is a fish vegetarian, so we tend to hit most of the menu over time. Everything we’ve ordered there has been astounding.

The restaurant has a very good wine list, and this last visit we had a rather nice Argentinian Malbec from Filus; that should be a hint that this isn’t a list full of generic Napa Chardonnay by the glass. Pricing on the wines is reasonable, and the servers are happy to talk over the list and help you find something you like.

The service has been fine on every visit; attentive without hovering or trying to be your best friend. We typically set our reservations for 7 or 7:30 and it’s not unusual for us to stay at the table for 90 minutes or two hours; typical for an Indian restaurant, when we arriver they’re almost empty, and when we leave, they’re packed.

Pricing is moderate; we’ve spent about $50 a head on our two visits there, including cocktails, wine and tip. Of the various indian restaurants we eat at (including Maudhuban in Sunnyvale and Mynt in San Jose) this one’s rapidly become my favorite.

If you’re looking for something more Italian and upscale, you might want to try Tigelleria Risorante in Campbell, right on the edge of downtown. This is a small place doing very well-prepared Italian dishes using organic and heritage ingredients. The dishes are generally not complicated, but they are cooked as well as the chefs can make them. Menus are changed quarterly. They do both pastas and meats here, plus they do a full charcuterie with cheese, meat and veggie boards that include both locally sourced artisan meats and cheeses and high quality, imported italian options as well. I strongly — very strongly — recommend that at some point you bring a couple of friends and you all agree to share a few boards off of the charcuterie. You won’t regret it. As someone who’s occasionally driven to speaking in tongues by a well done cheese board, their selection left me speechless and whimpering.

Our last visit, we tried their carpaccio and a gelato al peperoncino appetizer (chili pepper ice cream over arugula with aged vinegar and pine nuts); their soup was a carrot, potato and parmesan soup that was velvety and would have made a great entree, they’ll usually have a gnocchi on teh menu and it’s always been light and fluffy. Our last visit the menu included everything from squid ink noodles with shrimp and asparagus in a paprika and cream sauce to wild boar tenderloint to a seared duck breast that was cooked perfectly and was quite tasty in a wine and orange sauce. Their menu is appropriate for both vegetarians and carnivores, and as you can see, this is not your lasagna and pizza roadhouse.

desserts are just as innovative, and the wine list is extensive and they have a full bar including a selection of grappa.

Tigelleria isn’t inexpensive; we typically end up spending $100-125 a head. But for that price there’s usually two bottles of wine, cocktails before, grappa or cordials with dessert, and a full meal and a tip. The staff is well trained and attentive and it’ll be hard to avoid the owner, since she likes to wander the room and make sure everyone is happy.

It may be headed towards the “special event” price level for a restaurant, but it’s not a formal place like Manresa or Kuletos; it’s that nice combination of really great, serious food in a place that isn’t taking itself too seriously.

Because of the price, though, it’s a place we tend to visit about once a quarter to try out the menu when it changes. It is, however, a very good value for the price, and you can keep the cost more moderate by being a little less — enthusiastic — about the wines and cocktails. Still, it’s fun to once in a while just go and pamper yourself, and this is a good place to do some pampering.

(If you’re looking for more of family-style italian restaurant that you won’t mind going to on a regular basis, we really like Mama Mia’s, also in Campbell, where you can get in for a good meal and a bottle of Chianti without upsetting your bank account). I typically judge an italian restaurant by the lasagna, not just because I really like it, but because it’s a dish that suffers if the kitchen is just going through the motions, but if they really care about the food, it tends to shine. It’s quite good here, and this is a good place to come for a nice italian oriented seafood dish, because they always have one on special based on what’s good in the market).



Closing out the hockey season…

With the draft happening over the weekend, now’s a good time to close out last season and take a final look at hockey for a while. At least until free agency, which will happen at the end of this week.

To close out my playoff predictions, I picked the Canucks, so I missed on the final round. Still, I was 11-4 in picking the playoffs, which is pretty good if you ask me. I’ll take it.

I don’t talk much about the draft, because I don’t get a chance to see the prospects and I therefore think critiquing the choices is a silly thing to do. I’ll leave it to the experts.

The Sharks highlight during the draft wasn’t their drafting — a few days before the draft, Setoguchi signs a three year deal at about $3m a year, which I thought was a fair deal for both sides. And then suddenly finds himself a Minnesota Wild when Wilson trades him (and a prospect and a draft pick) for Brent Burns. At first glance this looks like a sign and trade, but Wilson has said that wasn’t true, and he’s typically a straight shooter. I believe him when he says the deal didn’t happen until after the signing — but that ignores the reality that the deal Setoguchi signed was an easy deal to build into a trade, and Wilson clearly was willing to trade him; once Seto was signed, I’m not surprised there were phone calls inquiring about him.

Without actually saying “I called it”, I did speculate on the Sharks deciding to shake up the forward lines, and that I felt Setoguchi was the player most likely not to be a Shark from the top six forwards come camp:

If there’s a top 6 shakeup on the sharks, I would be picking him as the player to shake up, if I could. I certainly would be trying to sign him for a shorter deal for not so much money with incentives.

And as it turns out, that’s what happened. Brent Burns? Very nice pickup. Physical, and he’s the kind of player Wilson finds that makes you go “how did he do that?” — in one transaction, he brings in depth to fill out our blueline, replaces Pavelski on the power play point to allow him to play forward, gets Pavelski off the third line and back in the top six forwards, and adds some nice physical play. And he does it with a player that has one year left on his contract, but seems very signable by the Sharks, not someone likely to jump to free agency.

When pavelski is a third liner, you have forward depth to spare, so using it makes sense. I really like this deal on all levels, even though we lose a good prospect n it. It’ll be good for Setoguchi as well, I think.

So, Wallin, Nichols, Mayers and Setoguchi out, and it’s not July 1. Burns in on the blueline. Desjardins filling in Nicholl’s role. Pavelski slipping into the top six forwards, so there are a couple of 3/4 line forward spots at grabs, and a lot of good talent that played part time last season taht can fill it in,  like Mike Moore. Still some work to do on blueline depth, but the team could open camp tomorrow and I think it’s a better team.

Elsewhere in the league?

It’s great to see Winnipeg back, and that they’re the Jets again. Now the hard part starts, which is making money in Winnipeg. I feel pretty good about that happening, though.

And while it won’t happen this season, Atlanta -> Winnipeg means realignment. The rumors have the league looking at a four division, two conference format, with Columbus and Detroit going east and divisions organized around timezones. I’ve been a strong critic of Detroit going back to the east (because it makes the west look even more like a poor cousin to the eastern conference), but I like this rumored realignment a lot, because th schedule gets re-aligned as well, and the plan is to have everyone play a home and home against every team outside their division. I’ve wanted that for a long time, and if they bring that in instead of the current schedule, they have my support.

The realignment rumors also indicate they’re looking at doing first round playoffs in-division, then reseed within the conference for later rounds. I like that as well, so here’s hoping it all comes through.

Drew Remenda gives his view of re-alignment on the Sharks blog. I like it with one exception. That is that he has two 8 team divisions in the east and two 7 team divisions in the west, and I’d prefer the conferences to be 15-15, which means one team needs to move west. And that means either detroit or columbus, but that admittedly screws that team a bit, so it probably shouldn’t happen. But I’d rather the conferences be balanced if possible (and if the league eventually does expand to 32 teams, which I don’t expect for at least five years, it reduces the probability of needing major realignment again. So maybe we go with drew’s idea, but I’d still like to find one team to move west… although I can see why neither of the logical suspects would like that idea much.

One last item I had flagged to mention: the league is tweaking rule 48, the hit to the head rule. I thought it was a good first try at controlling this problem, but also didn’t go far enough — but how to handle this without removing the physicality from the game is a complex dance and not easily resolved (blanket bans to hits to the head won’t work, not at the NHL level). The previous rule made it illegal to hit to the head on a lateral or blind side hit; that restriction is deleted, and so now any hit where the head is targetted and the principal point of contact is now going to be illegal. You NHL players that roll around the ice with your elbows up, get ready to sit.  At first thought, I think this is an appropriate change, but until we see how it’s enforced and whether the players pay attention, I need to reserve judgement.

Also changed for next year is rule 41, the boarding rule, making it clear that players need to protect a defenseless player and avoid or minimize a hit against one. That’s true both along the boards and in an icing situation, and makes illegal a few hits from last season that weren’t illegal (but should have been), so I like this cahnge as well.

So barring a major free agency surprise by the Sharks or a big trade, that’s probably about it until camp opens. The Sharks seem well down the path I wanted to see towards being a bit different and a bit better going into next season; the Jets are back in town (san jose arena music folks, haul out that dusty copy of West Side Story!), and the league is grappling with the hits to the head and pushing the rule forward since it clearly didn’t fully protect players last year. And we’ll see how that goes.

So, when does the puck drop? Can’t wait!



So You Want To Be A Pro Nature Photographer

So You Want To Be A Pro Nature Photographer | Outdoor Photo Gear:

Nature photography is one of the toughest fields of photography to make a living in. I’ve found that for me being diversified is the key to making it. Having multiple streams of income keeps the money flowing. Those streams all take a lot of time to keep them flowing.

Here’s something I learned as a fledgling science fiction writer back in the day, and which is part of the reason I retired from writing to focus on high tech geekery:

If you want to be a pro photographer or a writer or a dancer or a whatever, you have already failed. Because these are very competive disciplines, and you will lose out to the people who HAVE to be one.

If you aren’t driven to succeed, you’ll get run over by those that are.

That doesn’t mean you can’t generate some income, whether it’s selling the occasional story or print. But make a business of it?

Want isn’t enough.


The Art of Editing

OP – The Blog» Blog Archive » The Art of Editing:

So this is an area where I think we can all help each other. Who do you turn to for objective feedback about your work? What kind of experiences have you had with camera clubs, or photo-sharing web sites? Please let us know by posting a comment!

This is something I’ve been chewing on for a while; I’ve found people and groups on flickr who’s feedback I trust and appreciate, but it’s tough to pull these resources together. I don’t know how someone who’s not quite so — outgoing — as I am does it.

I think you could build a criticism site around a Stack Exchange model quite successfully. Don’t use formal groups, but use an ad-hoc criticism setup with a karma/reputation metric to help people understand which opinions are recognized within the community. This was on my short list to design and see about launching this year, until I realized I’d have no cycles for something like this most of the year so I tabled it. But I’d love to see it. I’d love to join it. I’d like to build it some day, if I ever have time to do it properly. (still undiscovered is the underlying funding model; I’d like to charge a minimal fee for critique submission just to keep the noise level down and self-limit posting frequency and try to encourage it towards the serious user; you could waive fees based on reputation and frequency of recognized contribution; you could use fees to build a reward structure to reward contributors — and you could use the results to generate galleries and curated showings that might drive traffic, and perhaps build a sales area off the side. Lots of capability here, both to create a community that might drive something like JPEG or affiliate with an online sales gallery system like Imagekind…)

But one thing I’ve realized is if you don’t have the cycles you can’t sweat the details, and if you don’t sweat the details if doesn’t thrive. so it’s better to not do something than do it badly. But I’ve looked around for a site that organizes critique sessions and the like, and I haven’t found one I’m interested in joining or participating in. So I’m still doing ad hoc things….