Stories

Thank You for Everything, Mr. Grove.

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In January, 1995 I was concluding dinner in Palo Alto with Intel managers from the Hillsboro Architecture Development Lab. We had been negotiating Seer’s continuing development of our synth/audio engine into the forthcoming Pentium. As we were leaving, boss Don Dennis asked me to pause to meet someone. I demurred, but he routed me to an adjacent table, containing a few Intel officers I recognized, and simply interrupted: “Here he is, Andy. This is the synthesizer guy.”

And right next to me rose Andrew Grove, in a gently-reddish sweater, turning and graciously extending his hand. He looked me in the eye and said, “Thank you. Thank you. And if you ever get another great idea like that, you be sure to let me know.”

“Thank you so much, sir. I’m deeply honored, of course. We’ll keep at it.”

With reason, many entrepreneur/inventors consider such meetings, however brief, as the high point of their careers. And that reflection illuminated my evening drive.

Two months prior, Mr. Grove had upset CES by announcing Intel’s initiative to migrate natural data types to the motherboard—with an argument that rested upon demonstrating for the first time a laptop running Seer’s real-time audio synthesis. The Native Signal Processing War was now on with Microsoft over how quickly the industry would adapt to faster processors.

Thank you always Glenn Spencer, Avram Miller, Ralph Smith (Intel Badge #14) and Andrew Grove, who somewhere along the line signed-off on Intel’s relationship with “a bunch of Birkenstock-wearing hippies.”

President Obama in San Francisco

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Follow Your Bleahs: Life According to Squeak the Goat

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Revised: 20120726

I am sure I’ll be tweaking this tale for years to come, but the basic elements are simple and fairly profound. Philosophically, the story has the merit of making its point entirely without invoking the tiresome debate of behaviorism versus consciousness. Theory of mind is conspicuously irrelevant to the lessons here, which more suggest Aesop updated.

We had a large male Nubian goat, Austin, with his sidekick Swiss Mountain mini, Squeak, in symbiotic relationship with two Australian Shepherds; though Jasper the older male dog naturally assumed the role of enforcer over Rockett the younger female. It was all great fun: you learn that Shepherds do their job entirely without biting—breeding having removed that trait which would have damaged the stock. The goats often roamed freely on an acre of mixed but rather level terrain. To teach the round-up I only needed to show Jasper once that he could not enter the goat pen. Rockett innately followed Jasper’s lead. As well, it seemed that—cognizant of the rules—when the goats got bored they might tease the dogs into chasing them into safe home base.

Perhaps a year after we were given him, Squeak took ill, increasingly and seriously: we had to give daily shots. The trend continued inexplicably downwards. The vet was mystified, but gave him about two weeks.

I was sitting on a box in the pen pondering the literally groundless situation when Squeak playfully butted me in the leg.

Eureka. Bingo. DUH! Swiss Mountain goat! As in, jump up and down the hills all of your life! I spent the rest of the day nailing up pallets and scrap wood into four landings of increasing distance and height, with some side ramps. No competition for Anaheim’s Matterhorn, but no lines either.

Yes. Squeak took to the contraption rather naturally, played up and down; no doubt fell a few times, surveyed things from elevated privilege, and made it to the top in a few days. After two weeks he effectively recovered, and flourished thereafter.

It seems that as a matter of life or death Squeak just needed to ‘be himself’, that is to say, actually and only what evolution and breeding had made him. His ‘disease’ resulted from combined placement in a critically deficient environment, while lacking the human’s dubious skill at so subverting and denying this vital, and more individualized, need for—what Maslow famously encapsulated as—self-actualization.

Asked to bring the point further home, Squeak had an extraordinary vulnerability that was not his creation nor apparent responsibility. Though I claim no specialty in goat psychology it seems his adaptability may have been stunted, but accommodation is certainly limited wherever breeding dominates. It is a fair and fascinating question how his numerous siblings might have reacted.

Regardless, as accidents result from tolerance buildups, it is important to see that Squeak’s acute reaction resulted within a situation that to all surface appearance seemed entirely benign and beneficial (food, space, partner, care …). Yet, within the seeming ‘perfection’ to most, accidentally lay a lethal combination of incommunicable torture for at least one.

Adults have responsibility for actively ensuring that their and all children get an appropriate Matterhorn; one that truly relates and endures under their seasonal grazing trends. And when we fail to do that, or later on, society fails to open the promised and marketed ramps and landings of upward mobility, we should not at all be surprised that a small percentage of the herd will be slowly driven insane or to suicide—which under the circumstances we are entitled to say Squeak was doing ‘unconsciously.’ If Squeak had been armed and exposed to enough TV to be versed in current human escape ritual, he would have shot me, the dogs, Austin, then himself.

Instead, I got butted in the leg. It rarely happens that way. No, you have to look for as many other hints as you can; for, the members of our herd have already been well-conditioned to not make their real needs obviously known by head-butting—as efficient and refreshing for humans as such a direct method of communication might nevertheless be.

Echoes of A Departed Dog

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Out of the corner of your eye you wonder if she is at the door.
When it rains, you wonder if she is OK; in or out? needs drying?
Before you leave, you check where she is.
If she isn’t in the kitchen, you peer into the living room.
You lock all the yard gates for no reason.
If others will be late, you still think to feed her between 5:30-6.
It gnaws that instead of whatever you are doing,
you should at least be taking her for a walk.
You realize the privilege of having witnessed, perhaps assisted, Nature’s intent to exemplify pure life, pure will, pure thought, and pure love.
You recall one of the few useful things a Western philosopher (Schopenhauer) has observed:

“How is a man to get relief from the endless dissimulation, falsity and malice of mankind, if there were no dogs into whose honest faces he can look without distrust?”

Glenn H. Spencer passes

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“Gave up science career for music.”

Particularly at Glenn’s service where many spoke, I learned how enthusiastic a believer he was in every one of his students and friends. Which I mention in order to qualify the following story.

Of Glenn’s many musical qualifications were that he spent years discussing music and aesthetics with Stanford roommate, twelve-tone composer Roger Sessions. So, when Glenn tells one that Earth Sighs is “the most beautiful piece he had ever heard” and goes “way beyond Mahler” it resonates nicely (even if it can’t possibly be true).

Aware of his work leading the Stanford spinoff Music Special Interest Group (MUSIG), I looked up Glenn when moving from Los Altos to Palo Alto. MIDI and the new multimedia explorations I was reporting interested him so much Glenn quickly became the charter President of the local Stanley Jungleib Fan Club. He volunteered to become my secretary — which I could not accept. And his ringing endorsement probably caught the ear of his jazz piano student Avram Miller, the same Intel V.P. who initialized Seer in 1991.

Glenn would have loved the world wide web. The web might even have been able to keep up with his thirst for knowledge of all kinds and passionate interest in passionate things. Glenn descended from that last man speaking in the Symposium.

Portola Valley Anti Blue Oaks Development

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I entered this too late to win, but coalesced a surprising amount of counterforce which could have continued. Instead, compromise led to the formation of the Town’s Open Space Acquisition fund; encouraging councilman Nancy Vian to dub me “the next Jon Silver”— after a former, well-loved, conservationist Mayor who had moved up to the County Planning Commission.

Consulting Technical Writer, CAVRO

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1980.01 — 05 Consulting Technical Writer, CAVRO SCIENTIFIC INSTRUMENTS, Sunnyvale

Wrote and produced manuals for assembly, operation and service of chemistry Pipettors and Dilutors. Sort of a residual obligation. An anonymous woman there used to play with my hair. Strange, secretive or confused firm.

I moonlighted under the name Edutechnics which reflected but did not fulfill my interest in Educational Technology—a forerunner of ‘Multimedia’—before anything was possible; when progress was hopelessly hamstrung by bizarre synchronization schemes amongst devices—such as slide projectors and cassette decks and perhaps DOS—that really had no business talking to each other seriously at all.

Started at Sequential Circuits

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There are the intentional things one does towards one’s path. And then there are the accidents. How I got started in the synthesizer business couldn’t better illustrate the interplay between my background, dumb luck, and Jungian timing.

We were living in a unique redwood cottage secluded in the middle of a downtown Palo Alto block ­ a real find, although stiff for us at $300/mo. It was not unusual for people to leave notes on our door ­ “if you are ever going to move please let us know!!” One day such a note was left on the business card of a Carla Carlberg, an associate of the Guitar Player / Contemporary Keyboard magazines. I had been reading CK for a year already and had decided I should be writing for them. I used the opportunity to call Carla, talk about the house plan and ask whom I might direct my resume to at CK. She responded with the name Tom Darter, Editor. I sent my materials in but nothing else happened.

…Until one evening early May in that same cottage when I got a call from a woman who said she was vice president of an electronics company and she would like to talk to me about their need for a technical writer. It is a real sign of those times that my first reaction was that this must be some crank call. There just weren’t women vp’s at the time. Most of what she was saying about synthesizers flew right past me until she said that she had received my resume by way of Keyboard magazine. They were growing and had exploding needs for docs. Click. Gee, thank you Mr. Darter!

I arrived to learn that Barb Fairhurst was across the street in the orchard playing Frisbee. She set a strong, active tone for Sequential. Manuals were under Marketing on her side of the company. And after seeing my Deterline, Ampex, and solo Chemetrics work combined with organ depth and classical and jazz practice, she hired me. (This after I tortured a while about turning down another offer from a mainstream word processing company!)

It turns out that Tom consulted for Sequential at the time; we shared some operation manuals for a while as I brought up Technical Publications. In telling Tom this story involving Carla some years ago I learned that Ms. Carlberg passed too early. Certainly before I could ever tell her with thanks about the ball she set in motion.

The day I started, Prophet-5 serial number 184 — the first of the coveted Rev 2 series — shipped. My first task was to come up with the materials to support service in the field. It took the rest of the year for me and a couple of drafters to thoroughly document the Prophet-5. I am sure that this tested everyone’s patience; but the result gave the strongest possible impression that the company was serious about the quality of its technical support.

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