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 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 enjoy so 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.

diskette

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:

BARCODE6

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:

68hc11code

“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.

encheiridion-ep

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.

canoe-1.png

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:

pul-1

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.

 

The Books That Shaped My Life – College

When I started college, I found myself surrounded by people….like me! We were all nerds. I met my great friend Rudy, with whom I started my first company. He then married my sister and we become not only great friends but also family.

He went to a german school, and through him, I got immersed in the german culture. I studied German for a few years and got quite fluent in it. Es ist Schade, dass Ich es sehr selten üben kann.

Through him, I met new people, and one of them (Sebastian Goelitz) introduced me to the world of science fiction. I discovered Isaac Asimov, Philip Dick, Frederik Pohl, Brian Aldiss, Fredric Brown, Theodore Sturgeon, among many many others. With their books, I rediscovered the wonders of imagination. I read so many of these books.

The ones that pop to mind and have been very impactful:

  1. All of Foundation and all R. Daneel Olivaw (Asimov)
  2. The Helliconia trilogy and Galaxies as grains of sand (Aldiss)
  3. Gateway (Phol)
  4. More than Human and The Dreaming Jewels (Sturgeon)

I wished I had their imagination, and I am grateful I discovered them.

 

 

EY – Entrepreneur of the Year – 2018 – Pacific Northwest

Last night I attended the Ernst & Young gala in Seattle that celebrates the “Entrepreneurs of the Year” on various categories.

I won the “B2B Software and Services“. Which was quite unexpected! My category was full of amazing companies, including my friend Manny Medina’s Outreach.io.

I enjoyed the process and was impressed by EY organization and commitment. And I had a lot of fun throughout it. Also very impressed by al the other (nominated and winning) entrepreneurs this year. Each one’s story was very inspiring.

EY Entrepreneur of the Year Awards

This was my acceptance speech, inspired a little bit on my previous post on “self-made men”:

Standing on this podium, it is tempting to think I’m here on my own merits. But I believe that “self made men” are a myth.

Countless people have contributed to our lives, and I’m no exception. My parents and grandparents, my sister, my family, my wonderful and always inspiring wife, my children, many teachers, coaches, mentors, managers, colleagues and my team. All of them inspire, love and help me every day.

And while this award has my name written on it, I like to think it belongs to me as much as it belongs to all of them. 

Thank you all, and thank you EY.