Saturday, August 30, 2008

T - 32: Live from Sydney. It's Saturday Night!

I wish Linda's sister, Sandy, hadn't called last night. I was happy to talk to her, especially when she told me she read this blog first thing every morning. But later she told Linda that she really hated it that I haven't been posting on weekends. I wish she hadn't said that.

I mean, how can I refuse requests from the audience - especially when you can count them all on both hands? So here I am on Saturday getting ready to blog away. But before I got to the topics at hand, I got an e-mail from my friend Andy who read all my posts from the beginning this week (and then had the nerve to tell me I must have a lot of time on my hands!!!)

Andy commented on what he called my "verbosatility", which I took to mean that I was basically putting the blah-blah-blah in blogging.

So my challenge today is to do a post for Sandy while limiting my verbosatility for Andy. I have decided that I may just do a few bullet points of a few random things I noted this week that didn't have quite enough meat to fill out as full-blown posts:

1) I noticed that when Linda is sorting clothes for the wash, she segregates her underwear from mine. I can understand why she wouldn't even want to go near my underwear, but I am surprised she thinks my underpants may do harm to hers before they get washed.

2) Davy read the blog and noted that the ad running under the clocks was for caskets. I then looked through the rest of the ads they run and saw that they were for estate planning, wills, family counseling and searching for your surname. I think Google is making some assumptions about me.

3) Went to Lily's school play Thursday night. A tedious and otherwise uninspired production was briefly brought to life when a radiant young girl in a blue dress spoke the immortal line to the Lost Boys, "You're acting like bullies!" A star was born that night.

4) Watched Obama's acceptance speech Friday (our time). As someone who used to give speeches competitively (hmmm, there's a sport that even the Olympics rejected), I am in awe of his skills as an orator. Can't say more or my father will stop reading my blog and my audience will shrink by 10%.

5) Andy used the word "verbosatility". Yet I knew what he meant.

Friday, August 29, 2008

T -33: Simply the Best

Today marks the end of one the greatest journalistic efforts I have known. After more than 12 years, Linda Kennedy this afternoon wrote her final editorial and shipped the final pages of the last issue of CIO Magazine that she will edit.

Much, much more than my own retirement next month, this will significantly affect the great things our company does. I know I ran an article about her from IT Journo a couple of weeks ago, but today I want to add my own thoughts.

As both her husband and the head of the company, I could not be prouder. She led the magazine she founded to more industry awards than any other Australian business publication has ever won, including the only time a publication has been named Business Magazine of the Year in consecutive years by Publishers Australia.

She herself has been named Editor of the Year by two different groups, and she has personally won three awards for her editorial writing. She stopped nominating for awards five years ago because she saw no benefit in winning more and, to be quite honest, she was tired of the way some lesser colleagues envied her achievements.

Until this morning, she was the longest-serving and most successful editor in Australian IT publishing. In our international company, the chairman and owner asked her to head up the global product support center for CIO magazines around the world, which she has done for six years.

I wanted to write a tribute to her in her final issue, but in typical editor fashion she rejected the idea and refused to give me any space in her magazine. "Too much like log-rolling," she said. That's OK. I have this blog.

I am biased, of course. Not only because I am her husband, but because I know how many weekends and nights she has spent reading and researching in order to keep her magazine ahead of the pack. What seems so effortless upon completion is unbelievably hard work, and her involvement in the most minute details of the process meant that the unbelievably hard work was principally hers.

I doubt if any of her colleagues here in Australia even know it, but one of the most remarkable things about Linda's career is that her success has been achieved in relatively few years. She did not enter the workforce until she was in her early 30's, having stayed home to raise Matt and Jay. She didn't start working in media until 1986. Yet by 1990 my predecessor here in Australia had asked her to become editor of PC World magazine, and by 1996 I had asked her to suspend her own successful business and help me out by coming back to launch CIO.

But probably the best tribute I can make is to repeat here one of the many great columns that she wrote, this one in the middle of the great economic downturn following the crash of the dotcom companies. That downturn severely affected all of us in the Information Technology (IT) business, but with her ability to put every problem into perspective and add a large dose of humor, she brought our dramas back to earth. I think you'll see why LK is such a star.

February 2002

Well, well, well. A new year and the prognosticators are out in force - even in these pages. Me, I'm a bit more cautious; I like a sure bet. So here's my sole 2002 prediction, and it's a stone-cold winner.

Put two people involved in IT (even if their "involvement" is nothing more than each of them owning a single share of Microsoft stock) together in a room and they'll start conjecturing about when technology spending will resume. Put three IT people in a room and they'll debate when spending will start again. Bring four IT people together and they'll start a PC magazine. But that's okay, because anybody stupid enough to start a PC magazine in the current climate, well, you don't want them working for you. (Joke: put five IT people together and they'll hire Gary Jackson as MD.)

Apparently no one, no where, no how has an iota of an idea as to when the dollars will start flowing once more. Personally I think IT spending will start this year at 2.43pm on July 10, but I've already gone on the record saying I'm making a single prediction here and I'm sticking to my guns. However, I do have an idea that may help kick-start things in its own small way.

Would all of the people, in all of the businesses around Sydney kindly get back to me regarding the quotes I've requested for jobs around my house? If all of you do, I think I'd make quite a decent injection of cash into the economy. Then you all could buy some technology (like a phone, for God's sake!) and that would stimulate more spending, and . . . well, you get the picture.

Look, I know that's a pretty piss-poor concept, but I'm desperate so cut me some slack. My husband's ticked off because after a year in our new house we still don't have curtains in the bedroom. He's tired of getting dressed under the sheets in the morning; it wrinkles his suit.

I'd like to use our spa, but we're waiting (with very sore muscles) for the quote to create a platform and benches for it. We need light fixtures in two remaining rooms, but it appears that every "consultant" coming to the house quits within 24 hours (is it that much of a challenge?). I have a vague memory of traipsing around the yard with someone who looked like a gardener (shorts, boots, dirty fingernails - no, on second thought that was one of the lighting consultants) and discussing grandiose plans (my husband has a thing for running water). Right now, I'd happily rent a goat to clean things up, but doubt if I could get a quote.

You know, maybe this isn't such a bad idea after all - if it's happening to me, it must be happening to some of you. There could be millions of unspent dollars out there, just waiting for a quote. Let's come together and lobby the government for a "Quotation Day". The only problem is that we'd all have to stay home, so there'd be no one to talk to regarding when IT spending will pick up.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

T - 34: Bronze to New Zealand

I mentioned my company awards yesterday, but to be fair and balanced I need to mention a few of my less wonderful efforts.

There was, for example the launch of Computer Living Magazine. I could tell you how we set a local industry record by printing a million launch copies, but how the magazine never sold more than 20,000 copies a month. I could even tell you that I may have been just a little naive to be influenced to do this by our partner who - not surprisingly - ran the printing plant. Or I can just tell you about the time the owner of our company and I were alone in an elevator about two years after we had closed the magazine. He looked at me and smiled. "Computer Living," he said. "Don, we think of that as your million dollar training program."

Another open-and-shut case was the Australian edition of The Industry Standard, a newspaper about the Internet industry that we managed to launch the same week that the dot-com companies collapsed on Wall Street. This publication holds the distinction of spending more on its launch party than it made as a title.

I could mention the millions we lost on the launch of Australian Biotechnology News or the Home Entertainment Show or even my first-ever magazine launch named Profit - which, of course, never made one.

But these failed efforts are just dim memories. If I am to write about my biggest failures, there is one light that shines dimly atop the scrapheap of my career. And that was when I took over our operations in New Zealand.

Desperately in loss for several years, the NZ company was in danger of being closed if it didn't turn around quickly. "I'll save them," I said in my most heroic voice, and I took the Kiwis under my wing and merged them into our Australian business.

Thinking of myself more or less as Saint Donald of Sydney, I went to convert the Shaky Islanders to profitable capitalism. Regrettably, the natives more or less thought of me as an arrogant, power-grabbing, fat bastard interloper who didn't know half as much as they did about their business.

They were convinced my emphasis on profits would rip the heart out of their company and ruin the great business they were running. I soon concluded that they could not win a bronze medal in a two-horse race.

Well, no one needs the gory details. Suffice it to say that there are now only a few Kiwis whom I like and surely even fewer who like me. And of course the land of the All Blacks produced a company whose ink was All Red. At least I now understand how appropriate it is that New Zealand is home to more flightless birds than any other place.

As a footnote - if the true test of a person is to make lemonade out of life's lemons, I guess I ended up passing this exam. Rather than close the NZ operations, I started the discussions that led our chief Australian competitor to acquire them. It had no effect on our local business, but it has given me a warm feeling to know that Cloud Cuckooland is now their problem. From what I hear, they're not in the mood to thank me.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

T - 35: Hi-Yo Silver! Away!

I have begun to clear out my office. Yesterday I threw away dozens of reports that seemed critical to keep at one time and were useless now. I saved some end-of-year company reports from 1991 through last year in case Davy, my successor, ever wants some historical perspective on the job. However, I am pretty sure that this attention to the past only happens when you're close to retirement.

When I started to clear out the bookcase on the far wall that I never use, I was hit with some real dilemmas. There were lots of the things that the company has given me over the years - all stamped with the logo, all bearing testament to something or other that happened ages ago but which I no longer recall. Some were mementos of meetings, like "Worldwide Managers Meeting, 1995", but I don't even remember which city we were in that year. Frankly, not having any idea where we were or who was there lessens the sentimental value just a bit.

Several of the items were awards the company gave me. I have pictures of me receiving some of the inscribed silver plates, and from the look on my face I am pretty sure I was incredibly happy to receive them. But now I look at the inscriptions - things like "Greatest Increase in Paid Circulation" - and I do not even remember which magazine that was for. More than that, I know this is not one of the defining accomplishments I will want to recall in my retirement. Lily is not likely think her grandfather was great because he sold more subscriptions than anyone else in 1992.

I have seven silver plates. I have those glass things with etched stuff inside them. I have a silver pitcher, a crystal globe, a Cross pen-and-pencil set in a marble base. Linda and I are in the process of reducing the stuff we own, and here comes all this stuff from the office. What do I do with them?

Obviously, the seven silver plates won't even make a complete setting for dinner. More than that, I don't know if our guests would be impressed or put off by having their main course set on a plate reading "Highest Profit Margin" or "Greatest Increase in Online Visitors". There's the other problem that somewhere around 2007 the company downsized its awards, so the last couple of plates don't even match the first five.

Anyhow, back to my dilemma. Do I create a little post-work shrine to my accomplishments and company memories and visit it on days when I don't feel important anymore? Do I see if anyone on eBay will pay good money for a silver plate reading "Highest Percentage Growth in Profits"? Would the glass globe and star and boat sell at a garage sale? Should I stash it all in a box and put it in storage, and let the kids figure out what to do when I finally kick the bucket? A silver plate to the best suggestion!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

T - 36: Gold! Gold! Gold!

I had lunch with my friend Jon today. He reads this blog, and he told me he was surprised I hadn't written anything about the Olympics. Figuring this blog has an audience of about, oh, four or five, that means Jon represents at least 20% of my audience. I guess I had better write something about the Olympics even though they are now over.

I hadn't written about the Olympics because I really wasn't into them very much this year. Oh sure, it was impossible to ignore them completely. I did check out Australia vs Montenegro in water polo, the finals of team rhythmic gymnastics (loved the ribbons, Ukraine) and women's taikwondo (heavyweight division), but apparently that barely qualified me for the minnow division of Olympic viewers.

We had some people in the office who kept running off to the boardroom to sneak a peek at whatever was on the TV. I only went once during the work day - to watch one of Michael Phelps' later races - and I really didn't watch much more at home.

Some of this was due to Linda's decision that reruns of last year's Masterchef competition were more intereresting than greco-roman wrestling, rifle shooting or archery. It's tough to get some women to develop an interest in sport.

The main reason I didn't watch much, though, was that most of the Olympic sports really are pretty boring. There's a good reason I didn't set my recorder to capture the latest matches in field hockey, badminton, trampoline or handball. And those are, at least, more interesting than such sports as weightlifting, yachting and whatever they call that bicycle race where the two contestants try to go as slow as they can for most of the race. Actually, I like that last one because I am pretty sure it is one of the few Olympic sports where I could be competitive for at least the first half of the race. Assuming I didn't fall over.

This does raise a good point. As we Boomers grow older, we need to start lobbying for the inclusion of sports in which we can excel. The modern biathlon - lawn bowling and 10-pin bowling - would be a winner. Or how about a new pentathlon - sudoku, bridge, no-limit Texas hold-em, Scrabble and freestlye standing still. If it came down to an Aussie versus Yank for the gold, I don't even know whom I'd cheer for, but I know I'd watch it.

Monday, August 25, 2008

T - 37 The List Grows Longer

Today is Monday. Two weeks ago I vowed that on every Monday until I stop working I will write a list of five things I will do when I retire. I know one thing I will not do when I retire. I will NOT promise to do lists every Monday.

It seemed easy enough when I started out. But even in the beginning I screwed up. I figured I would have to come up with 30 things (5 x 6 Mondays), but somehow I miscounted what were actually eight Mondays. So it's 40 things I need to come up with. The problem is that after only 10, I am already asking people to suggest things to add to the list.

Linda thinks the list should include clipping my toenails every week. Given the scars on her calves, I can understand why she feels that way, but that isn't really the sort of list I was thinking of putting together.

My father, with his 80+ years of wisdom, suggested that I have a bowel movement every day. Again, that isn't exactly the sort of list I was thinking about. And in fact if Linda keeps putting jalapenos in our food, the challenge will be to have only one each day,

Despite the less than lofty ideas being put forward by my family, I will today soldier on and add five more items to the list. Since much of what I want to do with my time in retirement is to write books, today's list will be five things I will research and learn more about as I investigate topics for my writing.

1. The Cracks in the World.

Ever since Linda and I read Simon Winchester's "Crack In the Edge of the World" and "Krakatoa", we have been smitten with the idea of checking out the places where the earth's fault lines exist. At first, I thought this was just Linda's excuse to visit San Francisco, but she's definitely into checking out Iceland, Indonesia and other geological hot spots. I am, too. It might make an interesting travel book.

2. Teachers

I am probably prejudiced because I studied to be a teacher and loved doing it. Everyone feels teachers are the key to our children's futures, and yet with crappy pay and weirdly run school systems, we do nothing to attract our brightest university students. I think it would be worth figuring out what is going on and what we can do to fix it. It will also be interesting to see if there are significant differences between US and Australian systems.

3. Cousins

I have something like 50 first cousins. Most of that number are from the Kennedy clan. Thank God my mother's side were Protestants, or I could have had 100 cousins, I suppose. For years I have thought how interesting it would be to put together profiles of each of them and get a sense of how my generation developed and how we changed the family of which we were a (very) large part.

4. True Crime

There are some interesting crime stories here in Australia that may or may not be worth researching. I am a sucker for stories about swindlers and con men and Australia always has been home to lots of such people. As interesting as the best true crime books can be, I am just not sure that's where I want to spend my time.

5. Facebook

This is actually research for a paperless work of fiction I am thinking about. I can see setting a story in an online social network, where the only way you can get the full picture is to drill through the web sites of the various characters. To do that, though, I will have to learn Facebook. It may sound simple, but suffice it to say that I signed up a couple of weeks ago to the site dedicated to networking with friends, and I have signed up only one friend, Megan. And until she noticed I was there, I am pretty sure I was setting a record as the least sociable social networker in the history of the site.

Like so much of my life, I seem to have got it twisted around the wrong way. Most people hope to write a best-selling book so they can retire. I hope to retire so I can write a book - admittedly, not likely to be a best seller.

Friday, August 22, 2008

T - 40: No Escape from Reality

The show Alan Sugar was on is the UK version of The Apprentice. It says something about Linda and me that A) we watch the show religiously and B) we are quite adamant that Sugar is vastly superior to Donald Trump, who started the series in the US.

We hope for the worst for the villain-like contestants, and like wrestling fans cheer if they get their just rewards at the end of a show and fret if they somehow squirm off the hook and one of the good guys gets the flick.

In fact, the good guys on this show aren't all that likeable. They're the aggressive, self-centered sales and marketing types from Britain who, in real life, we have worked with too much and don't like at all. But, much like most political elections, you end up picking the best of a bad lot, and once you do that you end up cheering them on as if they were wearing your family's crest on the back of their jacket.

Actually, The Apprentice is a bit of a variation for us. I think you will notice a trend among our other favorite shows.

We love Masterchef, the BBC cooking reality show. We won't miss an episode of Hell's Kitchen, Gordon Ramsey's cooking reality show. We are addicted to Top Chef, the US cooking reality show. Probably no surprise to know that, when it was airing, we were pretty well hooked on The Next Food Network Star, a cooking reality show.

We didn't care all that much for Kitchen Criminals, another British cooking reality show, but we watched it faithfully anyhow. By the end, we were really hoping that Laura, the lapdancer from Liverpool, would impress the judges and change her life from working the tables, so to speak, to running the kitchen. Alas, Harj, the doctor, beat her on the day. We're pretty sure it was Laura's salmon ravioli that did her in.

Which really goes to show how crazy it is to be watching these shows and convincing yourself that one contestant is a much better cook than another. They call them reality shows, but the truth is the audience can't really taste the food. The fact that we decide one is better than another must surely be a testament to either the cleverness of the TV producers or the complete gullibility of their audience. Apparently, the proof of the pudding is in the viewing.

Mind you, this probably makes it seem that all we do is watch cooking reality shows and the odd episode of The Apprentice. Nothing could be further from the truth. Next Tuesday we're down to six girls on America's Next Top Model. I think the tall model is a lock to win it all.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

T - 41: "Memories, like the whatever whatever of my mind . . ."

This memory thing is starting to get to me.

Last night Sir Alan Sugar was TV. My mind went into hyperdrive. Alan Sugar, Alan Sugar. I know something about him, I thought, what is it? Then it hit me. "Alan Sugar! He's the guy who started Amstrad!" I blurted out to Linda.

She looked at me strangely - the way you might if your six-year-old child suddenly spoke fluent Greek. "Yes," she acknowledged, "that's right. They just said that when they introduced him on the show."

It seems I had remembered that Alan Sugar had founded Amstrad. I just forgot that I had heard it about three minutes earlier. So much for feeling like I had a great memory. It's a feeling I've become quite used to.

When I first noticed that my sharp edges were getting very fuzzy, I worried briefly that this not-remembering stuff may be something serious. Not Alzheimers, but some early sign that my wayward youth (and even more wayward adulthood) may have somehow damaged the little neurons that zip around the filing cabinet that is my brain. Or perhaps I had developed adult-onset attention deficit disorder. AADD, if you will.

But when I thought it about more, I realized that it was far more likely that I wasn't remembering lots of things because I was multi-tasking, which is a face-saving way to say I was not paying attention. When Alan Sugar was introduced on the show, I was reading a website while waiting for a good hand while playing poker online - and also listening to Linda talk about her day, as well.

Let me tell you, in the attention span sweepstakes, TV and the website would tie for the bronze medal. Poker - because it is for money - gets silver. Linda - because it is for things far scarier than losing money - wins gold. But to be fair, even getting first place doesn't stop her from complaining that I am selective in what I hear. Or at least I think that's what she said. I don't always pay attention.

The irony is that one of my early jobs was to be the memory guy for a politician I worked for. We'd go to a function or fundraiser, and it would be my job to spot someone heading toward us and say, "That's Mary Smith. She gave us $500 in the last campaign. Ask about her husband John, who just had minor surgery."

I could do this all night, my boss was considered a brilliant people-man who remembered everyone's name and knew a little bit about them. He was a pre-West Wing Martin Sheen in a very small pond.

Nonetheless, we lost the next election anyway. As I recall, memory isn't always as important as it's cracked up to be.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

T - 42: And I Am a Material Boy

Hi. My name is Don. I am a gadget addict.

I love my MotoRazr2. I love the new Panasonic HD DVD recorder. I adore the Nikon F80 digital SLR. I even know it's called the N80 in America. I can't take a trip on a plane without my iPod Touch.

And in yesterday's post I was a little loose with my language. I didn't actually install speakers. I put in the "Yahama Digital Sound Projector". In so doing, I relegated to the storage bin a functioning Bose Lifestyle system that was, in the mid-90's, one of the coolest things you could get.

I hope it doesn't sound like I am bragging about having these things. Hey, anyone who wants to run up their credit cards can get them. I am writing this because I am quite surprised that I have such a passion for all these new electronic marvels and don't know how it started. I am pretty sure I wasn't this materialistic in my younger days, although I vaguely recall that I was just about the first on our block to own a VCR player.

There is a downside to this, of course. The mini-CD player and recorder sits quietly upstairs, still waiting to actually play and/or record a mini-CD. Which would have been good to do, I suppose, since the mini-CD portable player is also waiting to play something.

In 2007 I saw the coolest little PC and bought an Acer ultralight notebook. When the keyboard stopped working in June (OK, when I spilled coffee on it in June), I couldn't wait to get to the Apple store to buy a Macbook Air.

And that's where a very big downside occurred. Linda and I were in the middle of a fantastic trip that included my 60th birthday party in Rutland, a week with Lily (oh yes, and lots of other family members) in Disneyland and a cruise to Alaska. Pictures were more important than ever, and we took tons, loading them onto the Macbook Air and deleting from the camera to make room for more.

The downside of gadget addiction hit when the Macbook Air wouldn't start after two weeks. No worries, as we like to say here, it was under warranty and Apple would fix it. Well, yes, they said, we can fix it but the way we do that is usually to put in a new hard drive and we cannot return yours to you. But can't I just buy the old one from you? Nope, they said.

But I need the pictures on this hard drive, was more or less my argument. Tell it to someone who cares, was more or less theirs. And in the way that only companies with attitude (and poor workmanship) can be, they tried to make it seem as if it was my fault for being so stupid as not to have backed their machine up given the (strong) possibility that it would stop working properly.

Long story short -- I had to pay almost $400 to get a disk recovery specialist to get the pictures off the hard drive before I could let Apple fix their product that had only worked about two weeks. Of course, once they repaired it, it turned out a cable was loose (shoddy manufacturing) and they did return my original hard disk with all pictures intact. I don't think the disk recovery guy is going to return my money, though, and I am sure Apple isn't going to chip in.

It turns out that I am not alone. Today I read a post at the TechCrunch blog about how they are starting to come to the conclusion that Apple quality is slipping, even as it gets a reputation for building cool products. You can read Michael Arrington's post and the readers' comments here.

I would like to think that this lesson may help me cure my gadget addiction. Only I know it won't. In June, for just a second, my heart beat a bit faster when Linda showed me a catalogue full of products that help older people do things like put their socks on without bending over or get rid of that searing pain in their heels when they first wake up. As Linda pointed out, about half of the products in that book woud be of benefit to me now and who knows how many down the road?

No, the doors to the world of gadgets is just getting wider, and I am not about to let a few bad experiences keep me from it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

T - 43: The Speaker of the House

What was I thinking?

I mean, I know full well that I am HORRIBLE at doing things like installing speakers to the TV.

I know this because I have a history of, to be nice to myself, slight errors. I have drilled unnecessary holes in bookcases and in the floor (Linda didn't even see the humor in that one), stripped the wrong wires bare, forced plugs into incompatible holes that were just waiting to break the prongs. Well, OK, I will stop beating myself up.

Except today I decided to switch over my speakers to a newer, digital system. I did it today because Linda had to host a day-long conference, and I knew it was critical not to have her in the house. (The picture here was taken to prove that point. I mean, there is no way that she would have been able to calmly watch this happening. Believe me.)

Anyhow, I started by pulling all the wires out of the old system. I then removed lots of bits we don't use anymore. (Who would think CDs would become passe so fast?) I ended up with bits all over the floor and tables, but when I went to put the new, streamlined speaker system in I was faced with a problem.

I had about 10 connectors dangling from various places and only four slots to put them in. Earlier in my life, I would have panicked, but I had planned this well. I knew Linda wouldn't be home for another 8 hours, so I took my time and did something I don't believe I have ever done before. I acted deliberately and methodically.

It was a strange feeling to act that way. The fact that it worked - and fairly quickly - may however be pure coincidence. Nonetheless, I am thinking of trying it the next time I make a mess out of something most people find simple.

Many years ago, I thought it would be cool to get a chain saw and use it clear some tree limbs. Linda laughed quite hard, but when she realized I was serious, she put her foot down more firmly than she usually does and threatened dire consequences unless I got that idea out of my head. Later that week I was talking to my mother and complained about it. Her very fast response was, "Oh God, listen to your wife on this one."

But after today I am thinking that just maybe - with a few more successes like today's speakers - I may be looking at power tools in my life some time soon.

PS And yes, I wrote to Jamie.

Monday, August 18, 2008

T - 44: The Postman Already Rang Twice

Today is Monday, so that makes it the day I have vowed to add five more things to the list of what I will do when I retire.

Last Monday's list included writing to all the people to whom I owed letters. The next day I decided that I did not need to wait for retirement to do that and responded to my first long-lost correspondent. In this case, it was my ex-wife Jamie who had sent a really nice letter via email on my birthday.

In a brilliant maneuver to show me up, she not only replied immediately to my letter, but sent a second two days later. So, after not answering for sixty days, I restored our correspondence to balance, but it only lasted 24 hours before I owed her another letter. And two days later, I owed her two.

I should add that Jamie and I are poster children for Amicable Divorce and have remained friends long after we broke up. Linda likes Jamie a lot, so if I don't keep up the correspondence I can't even use the excuse that Linda is jealous because Jamie would know it's not true. I could admit that I'm lazy and inconsiderate, and I am pretty sure she would accept that explanation.

In her second letter to me, Jamie recalled a poem I wrote when we were together. I have only a vague memory of ever having written poetry, and have not even thought about writing a poem since Jimmy Carter was president. Two months ago I would have bet the house that I never wrote anything that anyone would remember so many years later. But in that space, my second wife and my only father both reminded me of poems I had written - and both even remembered some of the words.

Astonishing to me, since I can't remember what I watched on TV last night.

Anyhow, this all leads me to this week's list of Five Things I Will Do When I Retire. And this week's theme is that I will do five things that I used to enjoy doing and have, for whatever reason, stopped doing.

No 1: I will write a poem.

Advantage: They don't have to rhyme any more
Disadvantage: Does anyone read poems any more?

No 2: I will teach kids

Advantage: I know lots more now than when I was certified to be a teacher
Disadvantage: Do the kids care about any of it?

No 3: I will learn something new that is totally unrelated to the career I am finishing

Advantage: Aging slows if the brain is active
Disadvantage: The brain slows as you age

No 4: I will listen to new singers and bands and fall in love with some of them

Advantage: This is a bit of a cheat since I have already started doing it since I bought the IPod
Disadvantage: Turning the IPod volume up enough to hear in my left ear is likely to render my right ear almost as deaf pretty soon

No 5: I will get involved with a community association

Advantage: That is probably a good way to meet lots of other old farts
Disadvantage: That is probably a good way to meet lots of other old farts

Now that I've written this post, I have absolutely no excuse not to answer Jamie's two letters. And let's face it, if a third gets in before I reply, I am a complete loser. And yet, I just know that somehow, some way, I am going to procrastinate. Maybe not. I'll let you know tomorrow.

Friday, August 15, 2008

T - 45: Vanity Fare


I knew I was bald. It's hard not to notice when your comb slides straight across your forehead to the back of your head. But until yesterday I hadn't noticed that I was losing even more hair in the back of my head.

Believe it or not, when I saw that picture of me taken from the back, I immediately thought, "My God, I'm losing my hair." I know that may seem stupid since I had obviously already lost an awful lot of it, but nonetheless it was my first reaction.

That surprised me because I don't normally think of myself as a vain person. I think anyone looking at me would have guessed as much. Besides the likelihood that my shirt will have a grease stain in the middle of it if you catch me after lunch, there's the even more obvious fact that I am the man most likely to get the word "plus-sized" applied to men as well as women.

Actually, when it comes to making yourself look good, I don't think a man's concept is quite the same as a woman's. In our shower, Linda and I share the shampoo and the soap. The other 12 containers aren't mine, although most have to do with hair so that may not be a fair comparison. If we go to the sink instead, we share toothpaste and mouthwash. I have a razor and toothbrush there. Linda owns the other 15 tubes, cans and containers.

OK. I will readily agree that she looks much better than me. (We won't go into the times when people assume I am her father.) But I don't think I could even keep track of 27 various products as I get ready to face the world in the morning.

Several years ago, Linda convinced me to go metro and I started putting this men's moisturizing lotion on my face. I liked it so much I got a couple of extra jars. They're still on the shelf because I stopped doing it about two weeks after I started.

That extra 45 seconds each morning started to seem like it was adding too much time to getting ready. Besides, what do I care if the skin on my face is smooth. It's certainly not going to help me look any better.

On the other hand, after looking at that picture, I am starting to wonder if a comb-over might not just do the trick.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

T - 46: Today It's All About Her

I am going to take the day off today and just post a story written about my wife, Linda, in a local web site dedicated to IT publishing. I have always been very proud of her career, and still love her despite the fact that she continues to make jokes about me.


Kennedy gets set to leave CIO editor post

by Jennifer O'Brien for Media News

IDG veteran and powerhouse Linda Kennedy is gearing up for a sea change as she prepares to hang up her CIO editor hat and president of enterprise role as of October 1st. But she won't be stepping away entirely from the tech publishing house as she will continue to head up the CIO Executive Council.

"I was doing three full-time jobs, but now I'll just be doing one, and I won't have to be in the office every day," Kennedy said of her upcoming shift into a slower pace.

"Originally, my intent was to retire at the same time as Don. I couldn't have him kicking back and having all the fun. On a personal note, I'm not going to leave Don at home to mess up the linen closet and all the glasses."

Kennedy said the move to semi-retirement has been in the cards for some time. "It was almost four years ago, back in July 2004, when we made the decision to retire. As part of that transition, we also wanted to help transition the company away from print to new media and also find new ways of engaging with the audience."

But Kennedy said her recent work on the executive council has inspired her to stay in the role a little while longer.

"I don't plan to stay in the council role forever, but I want to see it through to the next level. I enjoy working with CIOs on a one-to-one basis," she said.

"It's great to be involved with a group that are so involved. I feel the human interaction, and the things we're doing, and where we're going, is so much more quantifiable than doing a magazine. You're not in a constant feedback loop with the magazine, whereas with the council the outcome is so broad and personal. It's a different kind of satisfying. When I started, it was a leap as far as knowing you could make a difference."

And while Kennedy prepares for her life change (and admitted she's pleased to take a break from daily deadlines; "god it's nice after a decade of deadlines"), she reflects on her close to twenty years at IDG.

"The magazine remained true to itself, and so did all the people involved, and all the writers," she said. "I come from a background that says, create a magazine that people will need. The audience creates the need for advertisers, and we ran true to that. Not all stories have to be negative. We never gave into outside pressure. We were true to the ideal to write stories that resonate with the readership."

Kennedy said the magazine has come a long way since the early days when it was a product awkwardly called IT Casebook, which was an adjunct to Computerworld and dished out feature stories about senior IT people and the issues surrounding the business relationship.

"If I had any regrets, it's that CIO started out life as IT Casebook. The name is too much like the term case study."

But things turned around, she said, once the magazine stood on its own two feet. "The smartest thing we ever did was roll it out on its on own, making it standalone."

Asked her biggest challenge in her role, she said "it was always staying ahead of the curve."

"A newspaper by definition is dealing with news of the moment. I'm not saying they never look over the horizon, but the pump is primed because there's always something happening: new product, new CEO info. News is driven by the events of the day. Whereas a mag like CIO isn't event driven. To get people to read it, you have to give them something they're not getting someplace else. What's happening today is not enough, it has to be tomorrow, a look over the horizon."

Asked some of her greatest achievements and milestones, she humbly praised the team around her.

"It's very tough to put a milestone or to put something you're proud of as an individual thing, when it's part of the work that everyone has done," she said.

"I'm proud of the magazine and all the people who've been part of it. To work with people on a regular basis with the calibre of Sue Bushell to be with me from day one. I've had the best collaborative team on a long term basis. Take for example, Beverley Head. The day she left the Fin, I got in touch with her. Caron Schumann, she's the person who's done my illustrations from day one. The whole is bigger than the sum of the parts, and it's not about me."

Kennedy who started at IDG in the US, working for Digital News doing the product profiles, landed a job at PC World when the husband-and-wife team ventured Down Under (Don came over as editor of Computerworld). Kennedy eventually became the PC World editor, which she said is an early IDG factoid that many don't seem to know about.

"I was so proud of it because I was not a PC person," she explained. "I was at Digital and had PCs at home, but no one would ever accuse me of being a techie. No one would have asked me how to change a motherboard."

During her time as editor, the team's coverage of the Windows 3.0 story stands out for Kennedy. "This was pre-Internet days. We had news feeds, which came over teletype, but there was a lag time. While [Australia is] a global country, there was no huge vast communication. There was nothing coming out of the US, so it was personally great for me because I put the team on the ground and we did a lot of local coverage," she said.

"Looking back, here was this non-techie person being attuned to something in the market. Although, it probably would have been more noteworthy if I had missed it."

Indeed, there's more to Kennedy's future than work as she plans to jump into travel mode.

"I want to go stand at the cracks at the edge of the world," Kennedy said. "I want to stand at as many places as we can where plates meet. For example, Iceland and the North Atlantic plate. I would love to stand at places like the San Andreas fault and places in Indonesia."

But don't expect to see Kennedy doing the stereotypical retirement thing and travelling around Oz in a camper van. "I don't think you can put Linda and camper van in the same sentence," she chuckled.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

T - 47 It's Sport, Jim, But Not as We Know It

Today the Red Sox scored 10 runs in the first inning and needed their ace reliever, Jonathan Papelbon, to eke out a 2-run, come-from-behind win, 19 - 17. This is one of those days I really miss not having someone around who has even the slightest understanding of baseball.

(I should add that Linda understands it after years of Little League with the boys and softball herself. However, I should also add that Linda just doesn't care. Last week when I tried to tell her about the storybook Red Sox debut of Jason Bay, I got a distant gaze and a "That's nice, dear" response. I didn't even bother telling her about Manny's debut with the Dodgers.)

Learning all new sports was one of the really strange things about moving to Australia. The games they prefer here are Aussie Rules football, cricket, rugby and rugby league. Ha! I bet most Americans didn't even know that rugby and rugby league are two different sports. Well, even Linda knows that. As she explains it: "Isn't rugby the one played by the rich people's kids?" Actually, she's more or less correct.

Cricket, of course, is famous for the fact that it can be played for five days and end in a tie. Most Yanks watch a game and start to do mental lists of things they've been meaning to do for the past ten years. I, however, like cricket. Think of it as baseball on valium - lots of valium. But it's interesting in a waiting for something to happen sort of way.

Aussie Rules is fun to watch, except they hold the match in a stadium about the size of a small city so you end up watching the jumbotron and eventually realize that you could be watching TV in your home where it's warm and the drinks are free.

For Americans, here's a quick rule of thumb to help you understand Aussie sport:

Cricket is baseball without a desire to end the game some time this year.
Key difference: They actually bring out a drinks trolley to serve the teams on the field in the afternoon.

Aussie Rules is like soccer, football, lacrosse, Gaelic football, and roller derby, and played without protective helmets.
Key difference: To what? It's really not much like any other sport Yanks know.

Rugby is like football without blocking or forward passing.
Key difference: No shoulder pads or other protective gear. Ouch.

Rugby union is like rugby only it's for the kids of rich people.

On the plus side, things are better here now than they used to be for transplanted Yanks. We had no pay TV for the longest time, but now we get a weekly fix of three or four NFL games. It's called gridiron, and the live games often start at 4am Monday our time, but never mind. It's really football.

And Major League Baseball has for three or four years offered a subscription service that lets you watch all games live on your PC. Most of the games come on in mid-morning Sydney time, so I have been sneaking in a peek now and then during work. One of the great promises of retirement is watching it full-screen with the sound on.

Now if only I can find someone to talk about the game with me.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

T - 48: My Mother Raised a Good Boy, So Why Am I So Rude?

Making that list yesterday got me thinking later. I really do have lots of letters and e-mails from people - from friends - that I never quite got around to answering.

Now I know my mother taught me to be polite. Hey, I thanked the doctor who checked me for colon cancer. Given what that lady did to me with that long snakey camera thing, that is as strong a sign as I know that I was raised to be polite no matter what.

And yet, there's this issue of all those letters and messages. Sitting there. Silently accusing me of being a rude boor. Making me feel guilty day after day.

I must have had some intention to answer them or I wouldn't have let them hang around like great roadsigns alerting everyone to my rudeness. And yet I haven't answered them. And now I feel guilt and, unfortunately, have a lot more work ahead of me.

First, there's the extra burden if I finally do get around to writing. Can't just say, "Great news! Keep up the good work!" when it's been a year and a half. No, now I have to write a long letter or risk looking like I'm just doing the e-mail equivalent of cleaning out the basement. Which would make me look even ruder than I already do.

And the even easier option has vanished like last month's sunshine. I can't just pick up the phone and say, "Hey, got your e-mail and thought I'd call." No, now I have to start such a call with "Hi, This is Don. Remember me?" and the long pauses can mean only one thing. Oh sure, they remember me, but they're so peeved at not getting a response to their message that they see an opportunity to officially forget me now that I've asked the question.

It would be easier to just make a mailing list and send the same letter to everybody I owe a response. But I'm pretty sure most of them would think that was even ruder than not answering.

So today I started answering those letters. Just one today. It took a long time.

Tomorrow I will try to write another one.

But I have to tell you, after all this effort I will be really pissed off if they don't bother to respond.

Monday, August 11, 2008

T - 49: Making a List, Checking It Twice

I now have only six more Mondays in which I will earn a paycheck.

That isn't the worry. The real concern is the question I keep hearing - "What are you going to do when you retire? " And when I say I keep hearing it, I don't just mean the people at work, the friends we visit, or even complete strangers in the street. I mean, I keep hearing it because Linda has started waking up in the middle of the night and whispering it in my ear over and over again.

I have decided I need an answer to the question. Or, to be more honest, I need to be able to say something that sounds like an answer to the question. So, I hereby dedicate my last six working Mondays to help me. Every Monday I am going to put five things on a list that I plan to do when I retire. By the time I get to the starting line (notice I didn't say finish line?), I will have 30 things I plan to do when I retire. That should shut them up.

So, with no further ado, and in no particular order, here are five of the things I plan to do when I retire. And in keeping with my recent birthday, today's entries have a "60" theme.

1. I will walk 60 minutes a day.

The Positive -- This will help me lose weight, make my muscles and joints work better, and improve my heart.
The Negative -- I've never done it in my life, and nothing has been stopping me. What makes me think I will really do it now?
Plan B --- If it is all too hard, I will at least walk 60 steps a day and mumble when I tell people about it.

2. I will earn at least $60 a day.

The Positive -- Isn't it obvious?
The Negative -- It's hard to do it every day playing online poker.
Plan B --- Would you like fries with that?

3. I will diet until I lose 60 pounds.

The Positive -- The clothes at the bottom of the storage bin will fit me again.
The Negative -- I may not like the way my feet look.
Plan B -- Belly bands and liposuction.

4. I will write to 60 people who have written to me and never received a reply.

The Positive -- Some of them may forgive my rudeness in not answering.
The Negative -- Most will wonder who I am.
Plan B -- I will only write to the four people I actually know, and not bother with the 56 trying to sell Viagra, insurance and Russian brides.

5. I will post 60 pictures of my granddaughter Lily to Shutterfly.

The Positive -- She is beautiful, and family and friends will love looking at them.
The Negative -- It is so difficult to know what to do with the remaining 1,200 pictures.
Plan B -- Does Shutterfly have limits on how many pictures you can post?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

T - 50: Staying Up Is Hard to Do

It has been just about two months since I turned 60. But today I am much more aware that is only 238 months until I turn 80.

We had a dinner party last night with great friends. The last taxi left at 1:30am and we were in bed by 2. That didn't used to seem late to me, but boy does it seem late now.

Staying up late was one of the great joys of my youth. That was when things happened, when the world got to be a lot more fun. Now I know it really meant that late at night was when the old farts were sleeping.

Tired doesn't begin to describe how I felt today. Well, actually it does, but it's not all. Add in achy and grumpy and just about any of the other 7 dwarves.

It didn't help that I had to do a squillion dishes and a bazillion wine glasses. But if you've read other posts, you would know that this is my forte and I can hardly complain.

No, the problem is pure and simple. I am getting older and what used to be fun just ain't anymore.

Oh well. It's 8 o'clock at night. I am tired and cranky and don't feel like writing anymore. So goodnight.

Friday, August 8, 2008

T - 52: The Lonely Bull

It's not lonely at the top. It's lonely at the end.

For 17 years I have been running a company here in Australia, and I have never been lonely. If I had a visitor in my office, the chances were good someone else would pop their head in during the meeting. It was a dead cert that the phone would ring in the middle of any meeting.

Well, that is until this year.

Just before Christmas holidays last year, I told the company I was retiring in September and named my successor who is working as my deputy this year until taking over when I go.

And just like that - I swear, before the last person had left the company meeting - I became the guy nobody had to suck up to anymore. You could feel the air rushing from my office as the power vacuum set in. I had become the Maytag repairman of company presidents, the lamest of lame ducks, the old guy in the corner who new employees wonder who he is - and never get told.

(Cue "The Lonely Bull") Yesterday is a good example. Nobody came into my office all day. What was once the hub of the business is now an abandoned warehouse. Actually Davy, my successor, came in toward the end of the day. He's a really good guy and will do a great job but the best thing about him is that he rang and asked, "Have you got a minute?" before coming down. He knows I have hours.

He came to tell me some things he had done which was nice in a courteous sort of way. It was kind of like the fact that ex-presidents of the US still get national security briefings. As if the new guy ever really cares what they think. I mean, I imagine whoever gets the job of briefing George W next year won't consider that they drew the long straw.

And George W, of course, brings me back to my main point. A lame duck may still have the big office, but those of us who are short-timers know that the seat of power ain't what we are sitting on anymore.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

T - 53: Cold Feet and Clean Kitchens

We inherit so much from our parents. Our values, our sense of humor, our looks, our hairline and, I'm pretty sure in my case, my waistline and underbite. But there are other things we inherit that surprise and delight.

From my mother Norma, for example, I have inherited the need to keep my feet outside the blanket when going to bed, not bringing them under the covers until they are chilled and ready for warmth. Since I am pretty sure this need for cold feet was not something she trained me for as an infant, I remain in awe of genetics to know that somewhere in me there is a chromosome that says, "Just like your Mom, you need to get your toes cold before you go to sleep."

Red, my father, has given me so many things, but the one that I never suspected until recently was a compulsion to empty the dishwasher. Hey, we didn't even have dishwashers when I was growing up. But to my amazement, when I have stayed with them the last few years I have discovered that both my Dad and I cannot let a clean dish linger in the dishwasher in the morning.

I discovered this because Red usually clears the dishes when he first wakes up. That might not seem so noticeable except that nowadays that might be 3 or 4 am. I don't think it's a case of his belief that the early bird gets the worm as it is a terrible fear that the dishes might get dusty if they're left in the dishwasher much longer.

As you can imagine, this very early clearing of the dishes makes a bit of noise. And from a dead sleep I have more than once heard the unmistakable clink of plate upon plate. The first time I bolted up, feeling a strong sense of threat. "Someone is clearing MY dishwasher," my mind screamed until I realized I was at my folks' place and my domain was not under threat.

And it is that domain that has led me to what I think is a great idea that may be in the early stages of building a franchise if it works out as I hope it will.

It all started a while ago when I was clearing the dishwasher one morning and realized it made more sense to set up Linda's place at the table. Since she only drinks coffee and doesn't eat breakfast, this meant putting a single small spoon at her place. It looked lonely.

So I filled a creamer with milk and put it there. Still needed more, so I got her dispenser of Equal tablets (think of them as Pez for the calorie-conscious). Hey, she smokes. I got an ashtray (another item in the dishwasher that didn't need being put away). May as well get her cigarettes and lighter. Got the newspapers from the driveway and put them on the table.

Voila! Linda walks into what, for all intents and purposes, is a 5-star B&B in her very own home!

It's a great concept. So great, in fact, that each day I expand it.

For the first time in our 25 years together, I now make the bed every day. I always put a coaster and a clean ashtray next to the chair she sits in at night. Yesterday, I folded the next sheet on the toilet paper roll to have a point, just like in a 5-star B&B.

Tonight I am going to surprise her with a chocolate on her pillow.

I don't know how to commercialize this, but at the least I might become a best-selling author with a title like "How to Make Your Home into a 5-Star B&B".

I should add that I am pretty sure I did not inherit any of this from my parents. But I am dying to ask my sons if they have begun to fluff their pillows.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

T - 54: Chief non-Cook and Bottlewasher

This morning we had our first discussion about just what exactly I plan to do once I no longer head up the publishing company I've been running since 1991. And more importantly, just what exactly we are going to do when the paychecks stop.

So far the options are interesting. I can do the cleaning and we can save the money from our cleaning lady. I can do the lawn mowing and save the money from our gardener. It's a great leap to go from senior management to the maintenance department. But in a sense, I've already been preparing.

For the past couple of years, I have been responsible for kitchen maintenance. While Linda is a masterchef and grows more creative with every episode she watches on the cooking channel, I am becoming very territorial about the room in which she works.

I clean it, therefore I own it.

It may seem like a fairly normal division of labor, but it's not. I started cleaning the kitchen because apparently I was the only member of the family who could figure out how to open the dishwasher. When the boys were with us, they - and Linda - all seemed uniquely unable to traverse that tricky last foot-and-a-half between counter and dishwasher. Being a puzzle addict, I solved it fairly quickly and began loading everyone's dishes.

That, of course, meant that I also unloaded everyone's dishes. Well, no one needs to hear the history of how I became the mastercleaner of the kitchen. But one thing led to another and today I am contemplating extending the franchise and spending the last quarter of my life as the mastercleaner of the house and mastermower of the lawn.

This may have its limits. I am already keenly aware that it's fairly easy for the cook to hear what a wonderful meal they have served, but no one ever tells you how clean their plates are.

That's OK, though. I have plans. These things can be leveraged. More tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

T - 55 Today's lesson is pictures

Happy birthday to me. Actually it was five weeks ago, but I thought it would be a great chance to learn how to add pix to the blog and put up a shot that reminds me of what a good day it was.

That's son Tom and mother Norma at a great party given by my brother Bob and sister-in-law Debbie when I turned 60 in June and was able to get back to Rutland.

So many family and friends showed up. It almost made me happy to be getting old!

Monday, August 4, 2008

T - 56 days until liftoff

This is a pre-season entry in this blog. It opens officially on October 1, which will be the first day of the Fourth Quarter, my retired life.

For now, this is just a chance to learn how to blog and play around so it can happen in 56 days.