A War Game

A rite of passage at school I remember, even 45 years after, was graduating from writing with a pencil to ink. Writing with a pencil meant you could erase and fix your mistakes. Ink meant that what was written was permanent.

Erasers were sold for both, but in my experience, only the pencil part worked well. The ink part (blue) made a mess or broke the paper.

It wasn’t until we mastered our (cursive) writing that graduation happened. I remember vividly practicing each letter in the alphabet until I could neatly write “a”, “b”, “c”, etc. and I could join them to make words.

And I also remember when my teacher told me “You can use your pen now!”. I was proud of the achievement. Pens became an essential part of my early education with the perennial and distinct blue stains on my fingers. And I’ve never lost love for fountain pens since then. I still use them to this day.

There were various types of ink. Blue was the mandatory color. For some reason, we were not allowed to use black ink until many years later when I had calligraphy classes. And we’d only use it for the gothic script. Not sure why.

But blue ink came in two types “permanent” and “erasable”. The “permanent” was darker blue and the normal rubber erasers had a very hard time with that. The “erasable” which was much lighter, was easier.

Sometime in middle school chemical erasers were introduced which were a small miracle. These were pens with a white tip embedded in a chemical that would make ink disappear. That made my life easier, and maybe a little bit more reckless as now my writing had a Plan B if I messed up.

And that gave me an idea to create a “war game” that became quite popular at my school. The idea was very simple:

  1. Take a piece of white paper and divide it in 2 areas
  2. Draw guns, bases, trenches, tanks and soldiers
  3. Then each player would surround their pieces with “mines” and “defenses” which were drawn with the chemical eraser.
  4. Take turns to draw (with ink) “attacks” from one side to another. If the ink hit a “mine” it would be neutralized.

It was fun. I loved drawing maps so I got creative with rivers, mountains, sandbags, and many more features. There was probably equal joy in drawing as in playing. You could cheat of course, as in most games, but there was no fun in doing it and it was easy to figure out who did it. I quickly avoided repeated offenders (who I can’t even remember).

The Brick

There are lot of trails where I live. You can leave civilization for a few minutes by just entering some of these into the woods. I have self-appointed myself “Protector of the Trails”. I carry a bag where I put all sorts of things that don’t belong there: plastic bottles, cans, plastic pieces. Thankfully, there are not many.

I find it easy to let my mind wander off climbing through these paths with Kate. Listening to the tiny drops falling from branches. Seeing specks of dust floating and forming rays through old stumps, and new trees growing on them when the sun shines.

I have come to recognize the shapes of the roots, the marks on the boulders, the pebbles around the tiny streams that change over the seasons.

One of those pebbles in a nice corner of my favorite trail was oddly shaped. It was barely surfacing over the dirt, half hidden behind the rotting leaves of the fall.

Every day I would walk past it, and every day I heard it telling me to set it free. I scrapped a little bit on the corner. It was lighter colored than anything surrounding it. This morning, my son came along, and we walked again past it. I picked up a twig and slowly removed the muddy contours, revealing a shape that is infrequent in nature. A perfect square. Its corner to be precise, although the vertice was long gone.

Slowly, the pebble gave away its secrets. And another shape emerged. An unmistakeable “R” next to a “B”. I removed all the dirt and mud on half of the perimeter of the pebble. And all from the top. The pebble was a brick.

Born in the XIX century in Scotland it turns out. “PATENT R.BROWN & SON PAISLEY”. Its journey from Paisley, Scotland to Redmond, WA will remain a secret forever. Did it arrive in a train? on a boat? was it destined to some other place? Was it part of a building? Throughout its existence it must have witnessed hopes, sadness, joy, celebrations, ambitions, progress, decadence and oblivion. Until it encountered us. And now with this post it enters the virtual and the digital. Transcending its ancestral earthly existence and becoming immortal.

I Believe

I was inspired by this post that Manu Kumar wrote. Manu is an entrepreneur and an investor. One of the first investors in our company, Auth0. I admire his integrity, passion, and dedication. And just his extraordinary human qualities.

I could have written the exact same thing, so I took the liberty to copy and edit the most significant parts and added some personal context to also make it clear what I believe in. I have left in highlighted italics all the parts that I got from Manu’s original text.

I come from a family of immigrants, I’m a mix of many peoples: Mediterranean, Central European, and Native-American. I am an immigrant myself, a US citizen, a founder, and a builder. I came to the United States because I believe in the institutions and the principles this country was founded on. While an imperfect implementation, I see the United States’ core values of freedom, justice, courage, equality, and pursuit of your dreams as some of the most powerful forces for human advancement.

These last four years, our elected leaders have not lived up to these values. They have not moved the country forward, but thankfully, our democracy allows them to be replaced and allows for renewal. The wisdom of these founding principles protects us from mistakes like this administration. Four years is a very short time in the life of a nation, although it might seem a very long time in our own lives.

In this context, here’s what I believe in:

  • I believe in facts, in Science, and Scientists, and not in politicians who make up and spread lies and misinformation.
  • I believe in Global Warming and that human actions are destroying the delicate balance of our planet. If you haven’t already, please watch David Attenborough’s documentary on Netflix: A Life on our Planet
  • I believe in using renewable energy sources and eliminating fossil fuels — it is possible.
  • I believe in having healthcare for everyone — because as COVID-19 has shown in a way like we’ve never experienced before, that we’re all connected.
  • I believe that women should have equal rights and most importantly have the right to make their own decisions about their own bodies.
  • I believe that love is equal and any adult should have the right to marry whoever they want, and be afforded the same protections, benefits, and social contracts.
  • I believe that Black Lives Matter — and that the law enforcement system in the US has a clear and demonstrated issue of different treatment based on the color of your skin.
  • I believe that no civil society needs to have guns, and especially not assault weapons. And if we did that, then our local law enforcement would not need to be equipped as if they are going to war with a nation-state on every call. And if we did that my kids wouldn’t be practicing “Code Red” drills on how to hide quietly in their school closet.
  • I believe that diversity leads to creativity and I support and encourage people of all races, all genders, all ages, all origins, all cultures, all sexual orientations to coexist and not only tolerate each other, but learn from each other and thrive together.
  • I believe that the rule of law has to apply equally to everyone, from the person on a street to the President of the United States.
  • I believe in free speech, facts, and truth.
  • I believe that TV media and social media have broken business models that lead to the propagation of biased and misleading information in self-reinforcing echo chambers. If you haven’t already please watch The Social Dilemma, also available on Netflix.
  • I believe that it is important for us to realize that at the core of it all, most humans want the same things. So we need to live and let live, and as Sting said “We share the same biology, regardless of ideology.”
  • I believe that access to education is one of the most powerful methods to unleash human potential. And that education should be a right afforded to everyone.
  • I believe that anyone aligned with the nation’s values should be welcome.
  • I believe in the deep power of human potential regardless of disabilities, mental or physical. And that is it our responsibility and duty to find ways to realize that potential and improve our communities.
  • I believe silence makes you complicit.
  • I believe we can fix things. We can learn from mistakes and that technology, a uniquely human capability, plays an important role. 
  • I believe our country has risen to the occasion and has worked in unity before when confronted with big challenges. And prevailed.

I know my superpower. My superpower is to create something from nothing. To take an idea, to bring people and resources to it, and make it grow. And I believe that a startup is the most efficient agent of change. I believe that businesses’ success should be measured in their financial outcomes and their social responsibility actions simultaneously. And that businesses with outstanding economic success without social impact, are not truly successful.

Our elected leaders and representatives should be held accountable and measured to what we aspire to be. To be the “best of us.” They should lead by example. They will be human, and imperfect, but they should strive to improve themselves towards the ideals that as a country we set for ourselves. The ideals that resonate with us as American citizens.

We don’t aspire to be racists, misogynists, narcissists, liars, careless, irresponsibles, and incompetents. We need leaders that represent the opposite. That will work for an equal, inclusive, empathetic, rational, accountable, and humane society.

I earned my right to vote in this country the hard way—it took me years to earn that right. I am not a Democrat, and I am not a Republican. I like to see myself as fiercely independent. I am an American. 

We take the right to vote for granted. It is a very hard-earned right. It took us centuries of struggle to get it. It took generations and lives. Many on the surface of the earth still don’t enjoy the right. Use it!


Navem habemus

After 2 years and 2 months, I finished our boat. It’s been a long, hard and very rewarding experience. It is a good feeling to “paddle your own boat”.

First, it looks great. And it is not just me saying that. A few people said to me “nice boat!”. One asked where I’ve got it from. I know it is not perfect and has some areas I could have done better, but this is my first one, and I rather have a good boat I use, than a perfect one the I never row. I will use all the learnings and experience, if I decide to build another one some day. If I do so (not anytime soon), it will likely have a sail.

In addition to looking good, it actually handles really nicely on the water. In the calm waters of the Lake I took it to, it is a real pleasure to paddle on it. It is also very comfortable and spacious.

I’ve taken it through some of the same routes I did more than two years ago with my previous (stolen) boat. I’m so fortunate to be able to do so. It is so peaceful, full of life, and incredibly beautiful. And even though it is tiring to paddle, it fills your soul with new energy.

Pictures are worth thousands words, so here it is:

Salve mundi!

Latin was a mysterious language, even though my mother language derives from it. It has a reputation for being hard, and well…dead.

But it turns out the language is very much alive. Hiding perhaps, but very much alive in plain sight. 60% of words in English are derived (or exactly the same) as in Latin. Here’re a few examples: dental, agriculture, nautical, puerile, insatiable, amicable, affiliation, and thousands more.

As we entered the COVID-19 dominated world, I was committed to come out of it better. And one of the things I started learning is Latin.

I started with DuoLingo (which has a beta version of the course) and I’ve kept the discipline of doing a few lessons every day for now 80 days non-stop!

I started with some fear, and low expectations, but over the last weeks I have loved it. I actually loved it so much that I have bough Wheelock’s Latin (7th Edition) and the corresponding workbook.

DuoLingo was very good to get me started, but Wheelock’s book is more comprehensive and formal, with lots of information, phrases and practice.

It is a true wonderful feeling to read the words on a paragraph in a new language and make sense of it. It is as if an entire new brain popped inside you.

After weeks of practice, I was able to read this paragraph. My first full one in Latin:

Maecēnās et Vergilius mē hodiē vocant. Quid cōgitāre dēbeō? Quid dēbeō respondēre? Sī errō, mē saepe monent et culpant; sī nōn errō, mē laudant. Quid hodiē cōgitāre dēbeō?

The fragment is from Roman poet Horace. Also from him, was my second paragraph:

Agricola et vītam et fortūnam nautae saepe laudat; nauta magnam fortūnam et vītam poētae saepe laudat; et poēta vītam et agrōs agricolae laudat. Sine philosophiā avārī virī dē pecūniā semper cōgitant: multam pecūniam habent, sed pecūnia multa virum avārum nōn satiat.

I came to appreciate the compactness and logic of the language, and interestingly enough, I learnt even more about English and Spanish.

When you arise in the morning…

“When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love …”

Those words were written by the most powerful man on earth about 2000 years ago. He was the absolute leader of the most powerful empire then, ruling over a lot of the known world. He commanded with absolute control one of the most efficient and ruthless armies humanity organized across many peoples and lands.

Although he could have anything he wanted, and he could do whatever he wanted, and had all the money in the world; it was not Power, Riches, or Control that he was appreciative of as he woke up. It was to be alive, to think, to enjoy and love.

I don’t have his power and influence (by a great length), but as I’ve just turned 50, I have come to appreciate the same things: to be alive, to think, love and enjoy. I have lived a very good life for which I am grateful. I love and am loved. I feel alive, and I can also enjoy many things.

And, because no one knows how much they have left on this tiny pebble floating on the Universe, I will live my life as the precious thing it is. Each day, as if it was the last, and each day better than the previous one.

Thanks to my wife, my sons, my parents, grandparents, my sister, my adopted parents and brothers and sisters, and my family. Thanks to my friends, teachers, coaches, and mentors, to my colleagues, clients, and competitors, who have all collectively made these first half of the century worth living and memorable.

And onwards to a better, exciting, and meaningful time to come. No matter how long it is.

An encounter with my 25 years younger self

I recently found a stack of Floppy disks while cleaning up my home office. I was curious about their contents, but I didn’t have a way of reading them anymore. No computer at home had the required drive to read them anymore.


I left them alone for a few months and then curiosity picked up again, so I did a quick search on Amazon, for 3.5″ Floppy disk drives and to my surprise, I found one that came with a USB connection, making it readable on any modern computer.

A few days later, I’ve received the SMS notification that it had been delivered. I admit I was excited!

Despite my enthusiasm, I prepared for the fact that all information stored in the diskettes would be unreadable. As a practicing stoic, premeditatio malorum helps set expectations and live a better life.

The process was seamless. Plugged it in, inserted the unassuming diskette and heard the long-forgotten sound of the drive reading (or attempting to read) the disk. A few (long) seconds later, and when my hopes were low, I saw a list of files coming up on my Mac Finder! A bunch of bitmap files and two MS Word documents.

I decided it would be better to copy all the files to my local drive to speed up things. A little while later, I had all files copied, and then I opened the first BMP file to find this:


If you noticed, the picture is tilted because this was from before digital photography became mainstream. It is actually a scan of an actual photo.

It took me just an instant to recognize it. My two hands digging into an Abbott Laboratories CCX biochemistry autoanalyzer. I am wearing my old then most favorite watch.

According to the file metadata, the file was originally created on Sunday, March 24th, 1996 at 7:49 PM.

My best friend Rudy and I were working on what turned out to be an extremely successful project. Probably one of the most fulfilling projects in my professional life.

We essentially built a hardware add-on for the analyzer, which automated a bunch of processes, saving hours of work.

The system had 2 components:

  1. A PC program (written in Clipper and C)
  2. A board based on the Motorola 68HC11 processor that plugged into the analyzer’s CPU and performed additional functions (including reading barcodes, connecting to the analyzer keyboard, touchscreen, and robotics), all written in assembler.

I found this header file of the Clipper program:

* CCx data manager system.
* By: K&W Software Resources.
* August 1994.
* The second great project of K&W SR.

* By: Eugen & Rudi.
* Dedicado a nuestras pacientes novias, que han preparado toneladas de
* panqueques y miles de litros de ta y kilolitros de cafe au lait para
* que este proyecto funcione.
* (Nota: nuestro anterior proyecto tambi‚n fue financiado gastron¢micamente
* por ellas. Gracias con retroactivo).
* Julio de 1994
* Octubre de 1995. Adicion de la funcion de HOST QUERY con el HQX.
* Dedicado a Mad*** & Mar***.
* Que con su infinita paciencia y apoyo hicieron que este proyecto
* llegara a buen termino.

“K&W” was the name of our company (our 2nd names in German). And a dedication to our then girlfriends: Mad*** & Mar***. Turns out they are both our wives today :-).

K&W did not survive as an entity, but my friendship with Rudy did. And when he married my sister Mar*** (yes, Mar*** in the header is my sister), we became family. And I’m grateful that he not only is still my friend, but he became my brother.

Both our wives supported us back then and continued to do so over the last 25 years. Through many ups and downs.

The two MS Word documents were manuals. One for the hardware installation, the other was the listing of the uController code. And there were also funny sections I’ve completely forgotten about:


“kowaschjkii” was our internal name of our office. KEF is my initials in German. RWR are Rudy’s initials in German, because German is kühl.

Even more impressive to me was finding the source code for a very simple “database” module I wrote for memory-constrained systems. I copy-pasted the entire code into my Arduino IDE, and after very few adjustments compile it and run it. :boom:

I guess we develop unique traits as software developers. I recognize my C code writing “prose”. The naming of variables, the comments, the error handling, the pragmatism in the design (there’re no horrible shortcuts, but I’ve mixed C++ and C liberally without being a purist on anyone).

Programming changed my life for the better. And like 25 years ago I still enjoy the practice, and I still feel the thrill of a program that works, and the challenge of finding the reasons why it doesn’t. Software is the ultimate puzzle.




The Special Books that Shaped my Life

Among the many many books that shaped my life, a few remain in a select category. Unfortunately,  I discovered them later in life. I wished I had read them before I turned 20.

But, as the saying goes, “better later than never”. These books arrived at many of my multiple life crises. A great example of their teachings: AMOR FATI.

The first one is “The Manual” (εγχειριδιον or Enchiridion in greek) from Epictetus. This is a concise book with 53 chapters, most of them just a few paragraphs long. The book was written by Arrian, a pupil of Epictetus in the 2nd century AD. And it is a summary of the longer Discourses.

One of the most important and central ideas (which is core to stoicism), is the dichotomy of control. The book opens up with just that: Some things are up to us, some are not… The notion that much of what happens to us in our journey through life is entirely outside of our control. And that it is pointless to focus on the things we don’t control. Instead, we should focus on the things we do control. And that is mostly ourselves: our judgments, our perceptions, reactions. It is a surprisingly simple recipe for happiness, and so challenging to implement. Related to this is the notion that nothing can harm us, except ourselves. It is our judgment of events that cause angst, pain and ends up harming us. Control your judgments and you are invincible. Of course, this is easier said than done.

But I became a convert years ago, and since then, I have followed this and other stoic principles. I started the Enchiridion and followed other classic authors: Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Montaigne.

The Enchiridion, I liked to so much that I ended up copying it entirely by hand as an exercise. It took me a few months as I transcribed each chapter, but it was fun to resurface my high school calligraphy lessons.


As Epictetus said, “Philosophy is for living, not just learning.”


Building “Pul”, a Sassafras 16 canoe

In June 2017, I bought a canoe on Craigslist. Living just a relatively short walking distance from the magnificent Lake Sammamish, it seemed silly not to have any floating vehicles.

We used it half a dozen times. I built a PVC pipe dolly to take the boat walking. It was fun! We paddled (I paddled) on Sammamish river, collected tennis balls from the adjacent off-leashed dog park, picnicked on the opposite shores of the lake. Weathered some light winds and motorboats’ wake and felt like I was crossing Drake’s channel. I floated around the remains of the long-gone Campbell Lumber Co., an old timber facility that continues to rot away after a hundred years. It was great.


And then one day, the canoe was gone. In more than 15 years of living in this area, I’ve never had anything stolen. Maybe I got too confident. Maybe (as my wife suggests), someone thought that is was “free” as I left it in my driveway. I don’t buy it, I think it was stolen, I reported it to the police and such, but it is gone.

After my initial shock with the news, (and some sadness for the loss), I figured it was the best thing that could have happened, because now that I had no boat, and having the great experience that we had, I found renewed energy for a much more ambitious project: building a boat. A wooden boat. A beautifully crafted, head-turning, elegant, awesome boat.

Choosing the boat

Long-time ago I bumped into Chesapeake Light Craft. I loved their designs and the stitch & glue building method looks approachable. Especially for someone that has never done it before. And they have great tutorials and content.

After looking through their catalog, I finally settled on the Sassafras 16. They call it a “canoe”, but it kind of looks like a boat. And the shape is just beautiful.

From their website:

The lapstrake canoe is an ancient craft. In its recreational form it had already reached a very high pitch of refinement by the 1880’s, in the hands of artisans like J. Henry Rushton. Something about the combination of lightweight utility and easy, graceful lines makes the lapstrake canoe a very desirable creature, indeed.

Chesapeake Light Craft first introduced the lapstrake Sassafras canoes in the late 1990’s.  Named after a placid and scenic river on the upper Chesapeake, these handsome canoes are at home in rivers, lakes, and bays, able enough to surmount wind chop and powerboat wakes, and to carry a good load.

Lapstrake canoes built the way Rushton did it require extremely sophisticated skills and equipment. Using CLC’s exclusive LapStitch™ process, assembly is accessible to beginners.  There’s no mold, no lofting, no spiling, no tricky joinery.

That sounded really inspiring, so I bought the kit … in February 2018. Today it is November 2019, and I am still building it. Not CLC’s fault. The kit is just great. I’ve been busy and I can only spend a few hours every other weekend or so. So my progress has been … well… slow.

But I am getting there. It’s now looking like a boat:


And I am confident that by next Summer (2020), I will be able to launch it and float once again through Lake Sammamish. I fantasize about taking it downstream through Sammamish River, all the way to Lake Washington.

The name

My previous canoe didn’t have a name. It was just “the boat”. But this one will have one. I thought about naming it “Prinz Eugen”, but I settled for “Pul” which is a name that honors my wife who not only gave me encouragement but actively contributed to the project (and all other projects I started in muy life).







Thoughts on GoT series finale

Last Sunday was Game of Thrones series finale, and Twitter is outraged. As I read the stream of tweets, it was easy to jump into the conclusion that EVERYBODY hated it.

But of course, another explanation is that only ones those that took the time to post on Twitter to dump all their rage actually hated. The rest (of us) were still enjoying the episode. I even saw someone on Twitter, who self-admittedly wrote they didn’t care about the series at all but hated it anyway…sigh…Twitter.

I actually liked the finale very much. It was a good ending! Here are my lessons, reminders, and takeaways from some of the most important characters:

  • Daenerys: they say, power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Being so sure of yourself can make you blind. Dangerously blind.
  • Jamie Lannister: sometimes it is not power that blinds us, but love. Not forgiving, but somewhat more understandable. In the extreme, love can make us do terrible things, including ending our own life.
  • Bran: making choices for the greater good can be very tough. Being an effective leader requires a healthy dose of compromise and pragmatism. Bran also shows appreciation for delegation and the importance of a team.
  • Sansa: I liked her passion for self-determination.
  • Arya: I empathized with her courage to take her destiny in your hands, perhaps a risky destiny.
  • Jon Snow: as with Bran, doing the right thing can be very hard. Choosing your battles, knowing when to retreat, and not losing hope for the future, even if it looks grim at the moment.
  • Tyron: everything is an opinion. You can be an imp, and you can still change the world for good. Laugh at yourself.
  • Sam: he showed how humor is perhaps one of the most potent forces.
  • Grayworm: resentment is poison. Holding grudges keeps you down. Better to purge the bitterness quickly and move on.
  • Cersei: you harvest what you sow.

Update: brilliant article from Yuval Harari. Loved this sentence:

You would have thought that encountering fire-breathing dragons and fighting an army of living-dead would have a greater effect on people.