The Future of Computing

Digital Rules by Rich Karlgaard is almost always thought provoking. Recently he pointed to a fascinating article by George Gilder titled The Information Factories.  Gilder talks about how  we are moving towards massive centralized computing and what this means in terms of power consumption and  computer design. He estimates that "the total of electricity consumed by major search engines in 2006 approaches 5 gigawatts…..   Five gigawatts is almost enough to power the Las Vegas metropolitan area… on the hottest day of the year."   

Gilder who is known as a futurist says that "For the moment, at least, the power of massive parallelism has far outstripped the promise of alternative computing architectures" but he anticipates that just as centralized computing gave way to the PC revolution the pendulum will swing again. New technologies and the next wave of innovation "will compress today’s parallel solutions…. and transform the calculus of storage, bandwidth, and power that gives centralization its current advantage."

I think it is prescient that when he is talking about the future of computing he  quotes Andy Bechtolsheim who is one of Sun’s founders and is currently Sun’s Chief Architect and Senior Vice President of Network Systems. I predict and, in fact, hope that Sun will manage to lead the way into this new future.

The Big Day!

I think it rather ironic that I left Sun after 18 years at least partly because of the possibility of being laid off. Sun does so many lay offs that they can say that lay offs are a core competency.Today I was laid off by a profitable company that is rated one of the very top companies to work for in the country. Of course this isn’t the whole story. Had I looked I might have found another job and then I would still be employed. Instead I quite happily chose to retire.

So today is probably the end of my work life. I say probably because I haven’t ruled out taking on another job or consulting assignment that really excites me. But for now I have reached that very exciting major milestone, Retirement! I am still sad to see the project I put all my energy into for the last 17 months die and I am sad to be leaving a lot of new friends but mostly I am very  excited about all the possibilities in front of me.

A few updates on activities this week…. My non fiction book club met Wednesday night. we read Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA by Brenda Maddox. In this biography Maddox does a masterful job of describing complex science and of telling Franklin’s story. It is a compelling book and I highly recommend it.

Last night we went to Yoshi’s and saw Earl Klugh perform. I always enjoy live music at Yoshi’s and although I wasn’t familiar with Klugh’s music I really enjoyed the show.

Santa Cruz County Open Studios Art Tour

Last weekend we went to the Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County’s 21st Annual Open Studios Art Tour. This is the third or fourth year we have attended and we always have a good time. To attend the tour you buy a calendar and map of the almost 300 open studios and then you pick the ones you want to visit. The tour runs over three weekends so you can visit as many or as few as you want to.  There are several reasons why the tour is a fun thing to do. The obvious first reason is that it is interesting to see the art. But in addition to seeing the art it is also fun to meet and talk to the artists, to see where and how they create their art and to drive around Santa Cruz county and see the beautiful scenery and homes.

This year my favorite artists that we visited were Julia Cairns, Michael Eckerman and Marilyn Kuksht.

Julia Cairns is an artist/ illustrator who lived in Africa for a number of years and has illustrated several children’s books. I really liked her paintings too. Her studio was in an old house overlooking the ocean half way between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay. As an added treat we got to see a wild bobcat out the window of our car as we were navigating the dirt road leading to her studio.

Michael Eckerman uses river rock to make the most wonderful sculptures and fireplaces. His studio was in a residential area of Santa Cruz.

Marilyn Kuksht does metal sculpture. The works that she was displaying had a marvelous  way of flowing and of symbolizing their subject that I thought was very powerful. Her studio was north of Santa Cruz, just off highway one, right next to a field of Brussels sprouts.

Some of the studios on the tour will be open next weekend. Eckerman is the only one of the the three artists above who will be open. If you get a chance try to go next year. I highly recommend it.

The HP Soap Opera

I’ve been following the HP board of directors melt down for a while and have formed opinions about the key characters in this drama/tragedy/comedy. There was big article about it in last Sunday’s San Jose Mercury News. I also watched the 60 Minutes interview with Patricia Dunn which helped me clarify my thoughts.

In case you haven’t been following this story. Patricia Dunn was chairman of the HP board of directors. Jay Keyworth a member of the board was leaking secret information from board meetings to the press.Tom Perkins was also on the board and was good friend of Keyworth’s. Dunn commissioned an investigation to find the leaker and unmasked  Keyworth. Perkins quit and stormed off the board. He supposedly quit because he found out that the investigation used shady techniques to get the phone records of board members. Keyworth was voted off the board and Dunn has since been forced to resign from the board. She has been indicted for her roll in the investigation. Here are my caricatures of  Dunn, Keyworth, Perkins, and the lawyers Baskins, Kiernan and Sonsini. My opinions are just that my opinions, so take them with a grain of salt.

Patricia Dunn is an extraordinarily smart and hard working woman who got to her position as chairman of the board of HP through team work, being smart and hard work. She came from a very modest background and has overcome enormous obstacles to get where she is.  I’ve worked with women like her and I have nothing but admiration for her and what she accomplished. Given that she is responsible for some very unethical perhaps even illegal behavior it may be surprising but I admire what I believe is her honesty and work ethic. She was torpedoed and sunk as a result of  scheming and dishonesty led especially by Perkins. She took the bait and the bad guys won. Of course the buck stops with her but she was certainly misserved by her lawyers who should take a lot of the blame for this mess. I think I identify with her. If I worked harder and was more driven I could imagine myself in her shoes. Hopefully I wouldn’t have approved the investigation but she certainly was in a no win situation.

When you’ve got a team like HP’s board where the team members don’t trust each other you have a dysfunctional team. The only way to fix such a team is to get rid of the rotten apples and if you can’t prove who the rotten apples are it is pretty much hopeless. Dunn would have failed is she didn’t identify the leaker and what she did to find him has also destroyed her.

Tom Perkins is the rich venture capitalist who personifies all that is wrong with business. He thinks the rules don’t apply to him. He seems to think he is smarter than everyone else and instead of being forthright and open he enjoyed masterminding the fall of Dunn. Dunn said "He wanted me off the board. This was to get me off the board. I don’t know if he ever thought through the consequences that would go beyond my getting off the board,"  I’ve also worked with people like him. I have an almost visceral reaction to him based on my experiences. Unfortunately being political and underhanded is often a game that works. My impression is that Perkins enjoys the game and he won this game at the expense of HP and its employees and stockholders. Ugh!

Jay Keyworth is another rich old guy who thought the rules didn’t apply to him. I’m sure he would encourage punishing leakers but he thought he knew better than others what the press should know.

Finally the lawyers. I am with Rich Karlgaard, Publisher of Forbes, that the HP lawyers should be fired. They can take a lot of the blame for all this. Dunn depended on them and they didn’t do their job.

Finally I am reminded of something I learned in an ethics class at Sun, If you aren’t sure about whether something is ethical think about whether it would be a problem if it appeared on the front page of the New York Times. Your answer to that question is a great smell test for whether something is OK to do or not. It is too bad Dunn as the captain of the ship didn’t apply this test before she OKed the leak investigation.

Shopping for a New Computer

Since my Compaq desktop computer died several months ago I have been using my work laptop as my home computer too. But now that I only have 6 more days of work left before I retire 🙂 I need to buy a new home computer. Since I am planning to do a lot of traveling and blogging as I travel I want to buy a laptop. I already have a good monitor and keyboard for home use. I am just starting the shopping/ research process. I would be very interested in any suggestions or advice that people might have about what to buy and how to buy it.

On Beauty by Zadie Smith

Last night was my monthly book club meeting. I led the discussion for the book On Beauty by Zadie Smith. What follows is the essentials of my presentation.

The Author

Zadie Smith was born in October 1975 in Brent, a mainly working class area of Northwest London. She was born Sadie but at 14 changed her name to Zadie. Her mother was Jamaican and emigrated to England in 1969. Her father is English. Her parents divorced when Zadie was a teenager.

She studied English literature at King’s College, Cambridge. While she was in college Smith published some short stories and a publisher offered her a contract for publishing her first novel. She decided to get an agent. After reviewing little more than the first chapter the Wylie agency took her on.

Her first novel, White Teeth was auctioned off to publishers even before it was completed. It became an immediate best seller when it was published in 2000. White Teeth sold more than 1.5 million copies to English language readers and was translated into almost 30 languages.

Her second novel, The Autograph Man was published in 2002. It was a success but was not as well received by reviewers as White Teeth.

After The Autograph Man was published Smith became a Radcliffe Fellow at Harvard. She took a variety of literature courses and taught a class called “20th Century Reading for 21st Century Writers”. The class was “an examination of the formal mastery of a clutch of 20th century novelists concentrating on how their individual practices might assist aspiring 21st century writers”

On Beauty is Smith’s third novel. It was published in September of 2005.

Zadie Smith married the poet Nick Laird in 2004. They live in Kilburn, North London. The poems in On Beauty are from his collection To a Fault.

Her younger brother Ben is a youth group worker at a local school, working largely with the children of refugees and asylum seekers but he is also working on a career as the British rapper Doc Brown. He contributed some of Carl Thomas’s imaginary lyrics in On Beauty.

Most of the above information comes from the Wikipedia article on Zadie Smith.

The Booker Prize

On Beauty was short listed for the 2005 Man Booker Prize.

The Booker is given for the best original full-length novel written by a citizen of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland in the English language. Other books on the 2005 short list included Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro , Arthur & George  by Julian Barnes, A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry, and The Accidental by Ali Smith. The winner was The Sea by John Banville.

Interestingly enough the 2006 Booker Prize winner was announced last night. From the press release…

“Kiran Desai was tonight (Tuesday 10th October) named the winner of the £50,000 Man Booker Prize for Fiction for The Inheritance of Loss, published by Hamish Hamilton.”

“The Indian-born writer has a strong family tie with the prize as her mother Anita Desai has been shortlisted three times since 1980 but has never won. This year, however, her daughter, Kiran, has won the acclaimed literary prize.”

“Author of the 1998 universally praised Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, Desai is the first woman to win the Man Booker since 2000 when Margaret Atwood scooped the prize with The Blind Assassin. Her winning book, The Inheritance of Loss, is a radiant, funny and moving family saga and has been described by reviewers as ‘the best, sweetest, most delightful novel’. ”

The other 2006 shortlisted titles were:

Kate Grenville – The Secret River
M.J. Hyland – Carry Me Down
Hisham Matar – In the Country of Men
Edward St Aubyn – Mother’s Milk
Sarah Waters – The Night Watch

Points for  Discussion

The End of an Apprenticeship?

Smith wrote a review of her own first novel White Teeth for a literary magazine. In it she said “A twenty-three year old first time novelist is fortunate indeed if one out of every fifty sentences is truly their own. And by this I mean not only its subject but its rhythm, syntax, punctuation, and, should it aspire towards comedy; its punchline. To her credit, there are moments when Smith manages this… but often she doesn’t”

On Beauty was written almost 10 years after White Teeth during which time Smith did a lot of work to study the novel form. Reviewer Wyatt Mason in the October 2005 issue of Harpers Magazine says  that  “it would not be unreasonable to expect that … On Beauty, could prove to be the culmination of her ambition to write a novel  “truly her own”… she shows new writerly confidence and poise. There is less of the showboating prose that too often marred White Teeth.”

Smith based the novel on E.M. Forster’s 1910 novel  Howard’s End. I haven’t read Howard’s End but apparently it starts with Helen’s letters to her sister about her falling in love with someone from a different class and On Beauty starts with Jerome’s emails about falling in love with Victoria. Switched umbrellas become switched CD players and an inherited house becomes an inherited painting.
The reviewer Mason says that Smith “has yet to sit down to show what she can do. Instead she has shown who can do – pretty much anyone.”

In an interview on the Penguin web site Zadie Smith says “I suppose I still think of myself as an apprentice, and this was the end of one part of my apprenticeship – ‘learning to write an English novel’ I know many people think of me as too slavish to that tradition, but that’s because I grew up feeling so far from every tradition; I overcompensated. Working through my Forster habit has got me to a new place."

Another reviewer Andrew Hay, in the Spring 2006 Oxonian Review of Books says  says “One suspects that Smith’s own narrative powers will truly bloom when she, unlike her sad characters, is able to write ‘as she really is,’ rather than as validated by her homage to Forster. If On Beauty is indicative of a novelist still in the process of realizing her own novelistic identity, the future looks promising and it will surely be worth the wait."

Too many characters? and too unbelievable an ending?

Reviewer Mason says that “Smith has put so many characters into the mix and made them dance through so many rooms that she succumbs – by way of trying to tidy her narrative tensions – to an ending in which her characters adopt attitudes so incongruous with what she has established for them, so emotionally unconvincing, that they instantly liquidate the steady deposits of belief Smith had earned early on.”

Examples of this include that when Howard sleeps with his son’s ex girl friend who is also a student there is no sign of the “ seriousness of his transgression.”  His family “implausibly remain fundamentally supportive and nonjudgmental”. His wife attend his lecture, his children hate him but still live with him.

Human Relationships and a Sense of Self

Reviewer Andrew Hay says that “On Beauty offers the reader some remarkably subtle observations of human relationships at the individual and familial levels in the world.” He says that with the possible exception of Carlene Kipps, every character in this novel experiences a separation between immediate self and his or her idea of that self. Indeed Howard’s theory that the appeal of Rembrandt’s portraits lies in an innate human need for external reinforcements of one’s self and one’s place in the world is deeply entrenched in the relationships On Beauty presents.”

Zadie Smith says “The search for an identity is one of the most wholesale phony ideas we’ve ever been sold…… The Belsey children need to stop worrying about their identity and concern themselves with the people they care about, ideas that matter to them, beliefs they can stand by, tickets they can run on. Intelligent humans make these choices with their brain and hearts and they make them alone.

What Could be Left Out?
Reviewer Hay also says “ the novel’s comedic tone is wonderfully preserved. That said, more forceful editorial intervention might have saved certain parts of the novel that seem tiresomely overlong and uneven intone.”

What’s Next
In her Interview on the Penguin web site Smith says “I think the biggest change in me and my writing is the realization that in the end my best work might be nonfiction. I’m writing criticism now and I feel so much more confident and happy about it. It allows me to express my passion, which is really other people’s fiction. I find it hard to express anything really personal to me in the fiction: I’m too self conscious. But maybe that will change."

The Art

Just as the house in Howard’s End is the key symbol in  On Beauty the key symbol is the painting Maitresse Erzulie by the Haitian painter Hector Hyppolite.

The painting that Howard uses for the first class of the semester is Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp.

My opinion of the On Beauty

Zadie Smith is certainly a very talented writer. Her dialog, her settings and her characters become very real as you read On Beauty. You can’t help liking these people most of the time.They become so real that I had to do the equivalent of what I do in embarrassing scenes in a movie when I cover my eyes. As I read On Beauty I had to skip over a couple of scenes in which Howard makes a complete ass of himself. By the end I really don’t like Howard.

I know the book intentionally leaves a lot of things unresolved but for me that makes the ending very unsatisfying. In spite of that I enjoyed On Beauty and agree with the reviewers that Zadie Smith is an amazing writer. It will be very interesting to see what she does next.

I’m Retiring!

I’m going to retire! As I blogged about a month or so ago the product I was working on was canceled. The core team working on the project was told to find new jobs. I thought about it  and decided that I really didn’t want to look for a job. This last year and a half has really burned me out. I had been planning to retire next year and the more I thought about it the more it just felt right to move the date up. So it’s not certain (I may still change my mind for the right job.) but I’ll probably be retiring in the next month or so. I am excited about it. I had been really stressing about the whole situation and when I made up my mind it just felt right.

Except for three two month breaks, (one for the birth of each of my two girls and one for a vacation trip to Alaska) I have worked almost non stop for the last 32 years! It will be interesting to see how I adjust to not working. My career has certainly been a big part of how I define myself. In fact during hard times in my life my success at work greatly helped my self esteem. But at this point in my life I have lots of joys and interests outside of work and I really don’t think I’ll have too much trouble adjusting. And retiring now doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll never work again. It just means I’m quitting for now.

So what will I do with my life? I have a long list of things I want to do. Some of them may never happen or I may change my mind once I try them but it will be fun to start working on the list.

  1. Spend more time with my Husband, my Daughters, my new Grandson, my family and my friends. There never seems to be enough time and now I’m hoping there will be.
  2. Exercise more regularly – weight lifting and  walking.
  3. Sell our house and move. We don’t know where but exploring the possibilities will be a big part of the agenda for the next few years.
  4. Improve my piano playing skills. I’ve taken lessons for the last several years and I am looking forward to having more time to practice.
  5. Blogging – I want to get to the point where I blog about interesting things every day. I want to improve my writing and blogging skills and I think the best way to do that is to just do it regularly. I also want to redesign my blog and explore some of the technology I’ve gotten behind on since I started my current job.
  6. Travel – I’m looking forward to taking some long trips both within the US and abroad. Duke and I have talked about spending several months in Spain or Portugal or Australia or any of a whole list of other places. The idea is that if we rented a place and really explored an area then friends and family could come visit while we were there.
  7. Gardening – This is one of those things I’ve always thought I would like to do more of. We shall see.
  8. Hiking – My goal is to do at least one long hike a week.
  9. Financial Planning – I’m hoping to do what it takes to complete the practical experience for my Certified Financial Planning certification. I’m still exploring how I will do this and then there is the question of how I will use the CFP once I get it. I’ve got lots of ideas to explore.
  10. Guitar – I keep thinking I’d like to start taking guitar lessons again.
  11. Read – I love to read.
  12. Programming – I haven’t done it in many years but my degree is in Computer Science and for a long time I’ve been intrigued with the idea of working on an open source project.

So that’s it! My overarching goal is To live,To love, To learn, To be useful and most of all To be interesting. I’m planning to remake this blog into a chronicle of my journey into the rest of my life.

20th Anniversary of Schoenberg Guitars
Do you know what a luthier is? I didn’t until Friday night. A luthier builds guitars. Friday night we attended a concert to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Schoenberg Guitars. I love guitar music but before Friday night I didn’t know what a Schoenberg guitar was. As I understand it, Eric Schoenberg designs and builds these one of a kind guitars and now they are also hand built one at a time for him by 5 other world class luthiers.  Schoenberg is to guitars what Steinway is to pianos and Stradivarius is to violins.

The guitars are masterpieces. The wood, the workmanship,  the curves and the richness make them wonderful just to look at. But the sound is truly breathtaking. In the hands of the artists who played the guitars sang. The concert was in the small 142 Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley. It was easy to imagine I was a guest at a small get together of guitar aficionados just listening to the music.

And the music was beyond description. They invited five of what must be the world’s best players. First there was Mike Dowling who writes, records, arranges and performs. Listening to him I knew immediately what a special evening this would be. Next was Laurence Juber. His music was bit more showy but it was stunning. Juber toured and recorded for three years with Paul McCartney’s band Wings. Next was Muriel Anderson who played the harp guitar as well as the classic guitar. Finally there was Jorma Kaukonen and Barry Mitterhoff. Jorma use to play with Jefferson Airplane and now he Miteroff and Jack Casady make up the group Hot Tuna. Mitteroff is a mandolinist.

The tickets to this concert were one of my birthday presents from Duke. After the four hour concert which seemed like it lasted one hour, as we walked back to our car I could only smile and relish the memories of what was undoubtedly a once in a life time experience.