The Casual Blog

Tag: Red Hat

The eaglets fell but are OK, as am I, having retired

The eaglet last week at Shelley Lake

Last week one of the two eaglets at Shelley Lake fell from nest and was rescued.  The following morning I got some pictures of the remaining youngster and the storm-damaged nest, and caught up on eagle family news with other eagle fans.  I went up there again yesterday, and learned that the other eaglet had also been found on the ground and also got rescued. I saw one of the eagle parents fly to the nest site and perch briefly, with its back to me, before flying out again.

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Jocelyn and Kyle came down from New York to visit and help with a surprise party dinner for my retirement.  Yes, this week, after 32 years as a licensed attorney and 11 years as vice president and assistant general counsel at Red Hat, Inc., I came to the end of that chapter.  Mainly I felt happiness and excitement, but there were other complicated feelings, including regret that I won’t be as close on a daily basis to my work friends.  

But I’m looking forward to new adventures.  I’ll be the father of the bride in Jocelyn’s and Kyle’s wedding.  I’m planning on learning some new dishes to cook for Sally, and getting some golf coaching from Gabe. Also, in the next several months I expect to be traveling, studying photography, and making photographs of various living things, including flowers, fish, and grizzly bears, and lots of birds (like puffins, cranes, snow geese, and penguins).  

I’ll be exploring new piano repertoire, including more Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, Brahms, and Debussy, and also reviving my jazz studies, which have been sitting in storage for quite a few years.  I’ll be sketching with pencil and paper, and also with an iPad. I’m hoping to improve my language skills in French, Spanish, German and Italian. I’ve also got a long English-language reading list — mostly history and various branches of science and philosophy, but also poetry and fiction.

My retirement dinner at Caffe Luna. Left to right: Jocelyn, Kyle, Sally, me, Gabe, and Clark

First off, though, I’m taking a few deep breaths.  When I left Red Hat on Friday, I went up to Raulston Arboretum to check on new flowers.  Then I stopped for coffee at Cup A Joe’s and sat for a while with a new e-book (Machines Like Me, by Ian McEwan).  It was a new thing for me to sit reading well after I finished my beverage, with no urgency to get to the next thing.  The next day, I went to our rooftop pool area with Jocelyn and Kyle to chat and read, and for the first time since we moved here almost 10 years ago, I got in the pool.  For such a hot day, it was surprisingly chilly and refreshing.

My walk to work, seeing Before Midnight, and eating at Dos Taquitos

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Now that we’ve moved our offices into Red Hat Tower, I’m within walking distance of work. How sweet it is! Last week I went carless three times. If I focus on moving along, I can make it in seventeen minutes. On a warm, humid day, that leaves me in a bit of a lather. On Thursday, I went a little slower, and took some pictures with my trusty Canon point-and-shoot, which are above and below in the order they were taken.
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On Saturday we went to the Rialto to see Before Midnight. I loved the two predecessor pictures, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, both of which were romantic but also smart. Along with My Dinner with Andre, these movies prove that great conversations can be art. In both earlier movies, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy were astonishing in their seeming naturalness, and with great chemistry.

In the new movie, they return as the same characters, but middle-aged, and firmly a couple, with children of their own. Instead of gauzy romantic possibilities, they have frustrations and disappointments with life and each other, and anger. But they’re still talking. Boy can they talk! I really liked the movie.
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There’s a little conversational strand early in the film about the nature of the self that could have been inspired by The Self Illusion by Bruce Hood, which I’ve been re-reading. Hood works hard to deconstruct the conventional view of an unchanging self with conscious thought at the center. The characters briefly take notice of the force of this argument, but then do what we all usually do, which is plunge into a narrative.
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After the movie, we had dinner at Dos Taquitos on Glenwood. We’d tried to get in twice before, but both times the place was packed and the waits were long. The third time was a charm, although even at 9:00 we still had to wait half an hour. It was lively, with busy, colorful decor and lots of noise, and the food was just fine. I think the secret of their popularity is: it’s relatively inexpensive. And their margaritas have some kick.
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Beautiful Miami, and the social requirements for innovation

My room at the W in South Beach

My little burgundy Briggs & Riley roll aboard has been getting a work out these last few weeks. It was barely aired out from our trip to B’s memorial in New York before it got repacked and reloaded on American flight 1541 for Miami, where Red Hat hosted a management summit.

We stayed at the W, where I had a room with a balcony overlooking the beach. I never actually made it onto the beach (too busy), but I got a few deep breaths of ocean air and on the way to lunch by the pool glimpsed some pretty girls in bikinis. The room was hyper modern, black and off white, with mirrors, reflective metal, white granite, black wood, and many different textures. The shower was bounded with clear glass on one side and translucent glass on the other, with water jets arranged at the normal head level, along with chest level and thigh level. When I finally figured out that the hot and cold indicators were reversed, I had a great shower.

We had sessions with leading economists, business analysts, management experts and others about technology trends and best practices. We were also urged during breaks and meals to mingle and network. As a moderate introvert by nature, where the assigned mission is to make contacts in large groups of strangers and then having interesting conversations, I always feel a certain dread, which can verge on panic. What if can think of nothing to say? Or the new acquaintance has nothing to say?

Over the years, I’ve gotten more adept at handling or avoiding such social emergencies, and usually end up, despite the initial dread, talking with nice people and having a good time. And so it was in South Beach, where I met a lot of interesting and friendly Red Hatters, including some who shared some of my personal enthusiasms (such as sports cars, skiing, and music) or had surprising enthusiasms of their own (such as sailing, flying, and triathlon). Of course, everyone was very bright. I felt privileged to be associated with all those gifted people and with the mission of Red Hat.

Speaking of useful interactions, on the plane ride back, I read an interesting piece in the current New Yorker by Johah Lehrer called Groupthink: The Brainstorming Myth. (The link has only a blurb; payment is required for the entire article.) Lehrer recognizes that today creativity and innovation are generally the products of group collaboration. He notes that important scientific or technical problems are incredibly hard, and researchers are specialized, “because there’s only so much information one mind can handle.” As one scholar put it, “A hundred years ago, the Wright brothers could build an airplane all by themselves. . . . Now Boeing needs hundreds of engineers just to design and produce engines.” Because of complexity, “people must either work together or fail alone.”

Lehrer goes on to discuss the classic strategy for coming up with new ideas — brainstorming, or having groups quickly generate ideas while prohibiting all criticism. He provides scholarship showing that, despite being widely practiced, brainstorming isn’t very effective. More effective than simply encouraging ideas is allowing room for conflict and dissent. He also explores the optimum degree of social intimacy for producing a Broadway hit (moderate) and the kind of physical space that produces groundbreaking science (Building 20 at MIT). It’s worth reading.

A note on corporations and on a Porsche museum

Last week the Red Hat senior management team met for two days in Raleigh. We’re an international company with management that’s widely distributed, and so there were a few team members that I had not met before, and others I got to know better. They were for the most part lively and interesting.

So what is a corporation? In our meetings we spent some time discussing public ownership and shareholder value. But the profit motive is generic. Just as every human has to eat, every corporation has to make money. There are many ways to do those things. There are also many attitudes and activities that make a corporation, or a person, distinctive. The reason the workers get excited about coming to work (if they do) is something other than the excitement of enriching investors.

Red Hat has a lot of people who are passionate about their work, in part because of the exciting technological challenges, and in part because of a set of widely shared values. Our open source products grow out of values and customs that include transparency and collaboration. This is one of the things about the company that I find distinctive and inspiring, but it also presents challenges. In acting as an attorney, there are obvious limits to transparency, because attorneys must take account of and honor competing values, including confidentiality. There’s a built in tension in the value sets that’s challenging.

A special treat of the meeting was dinner at the Ingram collection in downtown in Durham. It’s a semi-secret institution that turned out to be a proper museum devoted to my favorite automobile, the Porsche. It had some 35 vintage and rare Porsches along with a couple of stray but also gorgeous new Ferraris. The Porsches included several historic 356’s, many variations of the 911 (though they didn’t have anything to line up with my particular 911s (Clara)) a Carrera GT supercar and a recent GT3. Some of the examples took years to obtain. They were all lovingly restored and displayed. One could trace the stylistic touches through the years that connected the designs organically, like DNA.

The Ingram collection could be viewed as conspicuous consumption that takes the category to a whole new level of wretched excess. But it felt more like the Rodin sculptures at the NC Museum, or the Frick collection in NYC. Frick’s former house, a mansion facing Central Park, contains a collection of old master and Impressionist art that is pound for pound one of the best in the world. I presume, without having studied the issue, that Mr. Frick was a robber baron with the worst of them. But whatever his personal failings, his collecting became itself a creative act. And so has Mr. Ingram created a sort of collective work.

It was interesting that the collection not only discourages photographs, but goes so far as to impound cameras from its guests. I can understand the need to be security conscious, but I wondered if anything else was going on. It did occur to me that if class warfare ever breaks out, the mobs with pitchforks might show up in a state of dangerously high excitement. But they might settle for a Porsche.

Golf guilt and gratitude

It feels delicious but somehow wrong to play golf on a regular workday. Even when the event is a company tournament, even when there’s been a sign-off from management, it still seems illicit. Particularly when the temperature’s in the mid-70s, there’s not a cloud in the sky, and the greens are healthy, it seems like it can’t be permissible. The blood of my hard-working, self-denying Calvinist forebears resists — and then capitulates.

And so it was that I played in the first Red Hat invitational golf event with colleagues and assorted Red Hat vendors last week. The event was at Crooked Creek, a pretty course in southern Wake County. I took my first adult golfing lessons there about ten years ago, and so it has a special place in my golfing heart. Although the overall yardage is on the short side, the fairways are narrow, and the course in general punishes imprecision. Considering the dry conditions of the past months, it was in good shape.

My golfing has recently been in a threshold state — possibly close to a new plateau. From time to time I get a foretaste of the golfing promised land, where a long smooth swing connects the dimpled white ball to a high parabolic arc, which settles in the center of the fairway an easy short-iron from the green. Other times I endure the bitterness of inexplicable shanks, gouges, and gaffes. But this is part of the extraordinary demands and attractions of golf: at any given moment the next shot could be a hopeless, round-destroying disaster, or it could be perfect beyond all reasonable hope.

We played a best ball format, in which the best of four balls off the tee is used for the next shot forward. It keeps things from getting too heavy. The foursome shares the joy of a well-played hole and divides up the guilty misery of one that is played poorly. I enjoyed my golfing colleagues, and particularly Steve G, who drove our cart and hit the ball a ton. We were proud when he won the long drive contest. On the other hand, the pace of play was painfully slow. I also struggled with an odd pain in my right leg. But we filled the time with pleasant chat and enjoyed the beautiful fall day.

I thought of my father’s attempt to introduce me to golf when I was a young teenager, and regretted that I rejected his offering. It would have been a good thing to share, when we couldn’t find much in common. I also thought of my father-in-law, who gave me the gift of a set of Callaway clubs and encouraged me to have a go at learning the game in mid-life when my own kids were adolescents. He helped me see that my resistance to the game was based on prejudices (too Republican, too fat, too white, too snobby) that were somewhat (though not completely) unfair. And he pointed me towards the undeniable beauty of game: courses that are in essence gardens, the grace of skilled play, and the gift of golfing friendships. It was an excellent gift. I’m sorry we didn’t have more chances to play.

My favorite gadget

My iPhone is a marvelous gadget, but as will happen with gadgets, the magic has faded somewhat. Part of it is simple familiarity: a year-old gadget is just not as exciting as a new one. Part of it is competition: I’m in that wonderful phase of new love with my iPod. Also, with the introduction of the slick new iPhone model, my 3G seems the tiniest bit frumpy. And part of it lately has been frustration with minor glitches from the new operating system, which I downloaded three weeks ago. In particular, the device started asking me for a password to my voicemail, and I didn’t have a password. I was locked out.

I’ve been super busy at work lately and simply haven’t had the combination of free time and fortitude needed to call AT&T, navigate the voicemail system, and get a sentient human to solve the problem. Meanwhile, there’s been a constant low-grade worry that someone might leave me a voicemail that could have consequences if left unattended. It’s probable that a business voicemail to my iPhone would have a related voicemail on my office phone, or a related email somewhere. But not certain. And there’s even less certainty that a personal voicemail would have a margin of safety. How many friendships have been lost due to ignored phone messages? There was definitely risk involved.

Last week at Red Hat we had the mother of all meetings, a week-long assembly of the legal department personnel from around the globe. In addition to organizational and speaking duties, I contributed many hours of attention to the presentations. I particularly enjoyed getting to know some of my really interesting colleagues from distant offices (Singapore, Beijing, Sao Paulo, Munich, Mountain View, Tysons Corner). And in the course of a gadget discussion with Tom Y, I got a lead on how to solve the voicemail problem — attwireless.com

So, finally, on Saturday morning, I woke up early, went to the gym, swam 1700 meters, did some yoga, got some gas for Clara, came home, walked Stuart, fed him and the cats, had some coffee and cereal, read the Times, and then went to attwireless.com. It took some looking about, but I finally found the proper tab for resetting the wireless password, and got it done. But along the way there was one last challenge.

I had to choose security questions and enter answers. The questions were mostly in the form of What’s your favorite whatever — favorite food, movie, song, etc. You’d think, or at least ATT&T must have thought, I’d know such things. But I could not come close to determining what I would probably say in the future was my favorite in any of the categories. There were too many possibilities, too many things in each category that I really liked and might on a given day think could be my favorites. And for things I really care about (including movies, food, and music), I hate the thought of being unfair and untrue and designating as a favorite something that is not the true, ultimate, most fantastic favorite. Admittedly this was a minor problem, but still, a problem. In the event I could not remember my password, missing the security questions as well could be a real headache.

Fortunately, in the end, there were questions involving personal history that I could substitute and be reasonably confident that, absent traumatic brain injury or dementia, I’d answer consistently. So, I’m back in business with voicemail. Somewhere ahead there’s a new gadget problem, but right now I’m good. iPhone, don’t tell anyone, but you’re my favorite.

More fun at Red Hat, trying Mirage, yoga, and mindful driving

After the intensity of the trial in Texas and a great win, it was another intense week back at the Raleigh office of Red Hat, digging out of the pile of backlogged work and dealing with new emergencies.  Not for the first time, I felt on Friday as though I’d done a months’ worth of work in a week.  The range of activities was typical, but as always, varied — from solving specific IP problems to formulating strategy to addressing customers’ legal questions to being interviewed by reporters to writing and editing for opensource.com to drafting commercial agreements to dealing with management challenges — and along with these dozens there were literally dozens more still on the short term to-do list. I deal with one interesting issue after another, some of them important, all day every day.  I am never bored.  Is it stimulating?  Yes.  Exhilarating?  Yes.  Stressful?  Yes.

So as a matter of surviving and flourishing, on weekends I try to find some space to recharge and rebalance — some social time, some time alone, some time to care for the mind and body.  As to the social part, on Friday Sally and I went to Mirage, a  brand new club on the ground floor of our condo building which was having its pre-grand-opening.  It’s large (capacity 650) with a dance floor, large island bar on the ground floor, sushi bar in the back, second floor balcony space with another bar, and various side rooms.  The decor uses Egyptian motifs in a Vegas way, large video projections, a mirrored ball, and the waitresses in short gold-plated dresses.  The over all effect was glitzy but not gaudy.  We ran into Charles, who did a short speech as part of the dedication, and Ann and several people who live in the building.  We enjoyed talking to friends.  The sound engineering seemed good — very loud, but somehow tweaked so that it was still possible to talk.  Also, happily, the sound was not audible in our apartment.

I woke up early on Saturday and started to head over to Pullen Park to swim some laps, but then checked to see whether there was a  yoga class at Blue Lotus, which is next door.  There was:  Yvonne was scheduled for 8:00 to do an hour and a half open level class.  From past experience, I’d learned that open classes with Yvonne are fairly advanced classes, and for less advanced students, there’s no quarter given.   So it proved to be.  Yvonne likes to share inspirational words on such themes as oneness and truth, and she pushes the class past known limits of strength and flexibility.  After the first half hour, I wondered whether I could just hang on to the end.  I did, barely, soaked in sweat.  But I felt good the rest of the day.  I have no well-developed theory of why yoga helps over all well-being, but for me, it does.

I took my little German sports car out for a run in the afternoon.  Just east of Raleigh, Old Milbournie Road winds through farm fields and pastures, forests, lakes, and country stores.  It’s got some great curves and hills — an excellent road for just driving for fun.   When I got there, there was a caravan of minivans and pickup trucks led by someone proceeding 10 miles under the speed limit (45).  I had in mind the possibility of exceeding the speed limit (no worries — not too much), but this was clearly  not going to happen, so I tried to practice patience and enjoy the beautiful countryside.  Coming back, though, I had a stretch of the road to myself.  I felt the subtle weight shifts as the vehicle took the curves at speed, and the G forces as I accelerated out of them.  The sound of the exhaust note rising and falling as I shifted between third and fourth was like music.