A Eulogy for Boots

(This was a eulogy I wrote for Robert Dove, my father-in-law. He passed away in May and the family held a memorial service in June. I was unable to attend, but wrote this, which my daughter, Layci Nelson, read. If I can get the video of that I will post it here later.)

Aren’t we lucky? Isn’t this a great day? Isn’t it wonderful, all of us here, all in one place, celebrating the life of Robert Michael Dove. Boots. Our friend, our father, our father-in-law, our grandfather, our great grandfather, our uncle, our great uncle, our brother, our husband, our brother in law . . .

His magic? He somehow had a way of making each one of us feel singularly special, as if we each mattered most in this world. Weren’t we lucky?

My first real memory of Boots was during my freshman year of college. I flew to Maryland during spring break to visit Darla. Boots pulled into Washington National Airport in his long, yellow Cadillac. He greeted me with his booming baritone, I slid into the leather passenger seat and thought, man am I lucky.

I remember that first week, and the constant chatter and noise: Boots calling to his family, and his constant hum and whistle, punctuated by the occasional holler. It was incessant, and also somehow comforting, especially having grown up in a quiet house, where passions were suppressed. Boots lived his emotions out loud. And I remember thinking: Isn’t he lucky?

There are millions of meaningful little stories, ones that spoke to the essence of this man and his compassion, and spoke to the regard with which he held everyone he met. The kind of memories that stick with us forever, peaking around corners to surprise us, like getting a wild card on your final turn.

He worked his way into our lives in profound ways. “I want to show you something,” he would say, and the thought he had put into that something were clear demonstrations of his inner complexity, and how much he truly cared about you. Once, he spent hours rigging up an orange picker to make it easier for me to reach the fruit at the top of his tree. He knew I loved those oranges.

Once, when Darla was a young girl, Boots, who had served for 10 years in the National Guard, took his daughter’s ponytail in his hand and asked: “Dee Dee, do you know how you get in a foxhole?” “No,” she replied. At that, he raised her ponytail and replied: “You lift up its tale.” For the next 30 years, every so often he would just grab her ponytail and say “you lift up its tale,” and they would have the kind of laugh you have when little experiences like that stack up like layers, forming an unbreakable bond.

For his son Robert, it was being able to share in his father’s music and actually play in The Memories with him; for Tim it was Saturday night drive-ins and fishing trips; for Shelly it was a picture of Casper that he once sent her, all colored in and glittering; for Susy it was a Valentine’s Day card after a heartbreak; for Darla it was a surprise 7-11 Slurpee in a time of stress, using every bit of money Boots had in his pocket; for Darleen it was how he told her he loved her “all the muches in the world.” It was Boots trying to revive the family’s frozen rabbit by placing it on the stove to thaw. And it was a million of these moments.

It was the nicknames — his wee, his flea, his weetzie, his pie, his Rob-bob.

Once, Boots and I were sitting together at a dance competition or recital or something, and he looked up at an Exit sign and said: “Do you see that?” He was fixated on it, imploring me to look at it again. “Look,” he said. “E Exit IT. Isn’t that fascinating? E Exit IT! Have you ever noticed that before?” I looked at him like he had two heads. “Look! E Exit IT. I’ve never noticed that,” he said. I didn’t know what that meant, or why it struck him, but it was always a source of great amusement between us. Whenever I was with him, I would find the Exit signs and say “there it is again,” and he would nod excitedly and laugh, and tell me he couldn’t understand why I wasn’t equally fascinated. I was; just not by the sign.

Boots constantly found surprise and joy in ordinary things. I think that’s what always made each one of us feel special in his presence: he could celebrate just about anything, and he did. Weren’t we lucky?

Boots believed in other things — UFOs and aliens. He believed in re-incarnation, describing in detail a point and a place during the Battle of Bull Run where he had previously met his death. I’ve always imagined that life would be far more interesting if we all were lucky enough to believe in the things Boots believed in.

He played the numbers, guessing at the results through a combination of license plates, birthdays and digits he would see in his dreams. He won a little money here and there–money he was quick to give away, spend on more lottery tickets, or use to pay a bill, but he never got rich. He would curse the television, or blame the volunteer who picked the balls when he didn’t win, but I always thought he played more for the hope and anticipation rather than the actual money. Because if his luck was dry at 7:30 every weekday night when those lottery balls were drawn, it was full and rich for the other 23 hours and 59 minutes.

He met the love of his life for a fleeting moment in the summer of 1958, only to run into her again by chance in November of that same year on a snowy day, on a street in Washington D.C. Weren’t they lucky?

He got into the National Guard when he was 16 and he sent money back home to his mom to help provide for his younger siblings. Weren’t they lucky? He survived an explosion in a boiler room, dragging himself out into the snow and managed to save his own life. Aren’t we all lucky?

He was my father-in-law, but so much more than that. My own father grew up fishing as a boy in Montana, and yet it was Boots who bought me my first fishing pole. My father was an exquisite carpenter, and yet it was Boots who bought me my first tools. Thanks to Boots, I forced my own father to do some of those things with me. I wonder if Boots knew any of that.

Some of my favorite moments were simply playing cards, for hours on end, cigarette smoke swirling, a couple of beers Boots always set aside for me. Whenever he got a good card he’d say “Oh, HELLO!”

The Boots I saw was the kind of man who would get down on the floor with his grandchildren to play, yell with them at the characters on TV, help them build whatever they could imagine in their heads, and proudly display the end result in the most prominent place he could find. I was always afraid to let my boys use power tools, but I would come over to Boots’ house and see them with an electric saw or drilling holes and making the best of Boots’ treasure trove of screws and washers and knickknacks my boys would use to accessorize their concoctions.

Once, Joshua was dead set on building a throne, and it was a notion I quickly dismissed . . . but not Boots. Josh built that throne with his biggest cheerleader egging him on. Boots knew how to help, but also how to make the kids feel like the projects were their own. Josh is now prone to make 22-foot dragons, 5-foot 3D castles. His room is a cavern and a showcase for his enormous imagination. It hasn’t escaped me that left to my own devices, I would have squashed Joshua’s creativity, where Boots threw fuel on that beautiful fire.

If I’m honest, there have been times during our lives together that Boots was a better father to my own kids than I was. More than anything, he taught me that it’s never too late. How lucky was I.

From the very beginning Boots shared a special bond with Joshua. He has the same bond with all of his grandchildren, of course, but Joshua required a special guiding hand back in those days. If you were telling a three-year-old Joshua that you were changing the round tire, he would argue with you about whether it was really round. His favorite word, spoken resolutely, was “no.” Boots was one of the very few people who “got” Joshua. He called Josh “my little wee.” I remember trying to call Joshua that a few times, and he would have none of it. That was his grandfather’s special name. There will never be a Dumbledore for Joshua like Boots was, and he always will be. Even from beyond this earth, the bonds Boots built are unbreakable.

Who didn’t feel that bond? When he first became sick, the kids at his crossing guard station made him pictures and cards. You see, he didn’t just direct the kids through traffic and to school, he knew their names, he encouraged them, he teased them, he played with them. He made them feel special. They KNEW they were lucky.

I came over to visit with him after his cancer diagnosis. He had decided he wouldn’t receive treatment. It was just he and I that day. He switched off his movie and put on the Maryland game, because he knew that’s what I’d want to see. He told me what a great life he had. He had his friends and his family and that that’s all a man needs. He told me that he was happy, that he had no regrets. He said: “I’ve been so lucky.” Weren’t WE lucky?

With each recovery Boots found new life and brought new joy. I’ve never seen anyone live their final days with such grace, grabbing each of them in his warm embrace. He bragged to his visitors about the marvels of modern medicine, his amazing wheelchair, the incredible hospice staff, the promise of a motorized scooter, which he wanted to use to race his aged neighbors. He discovered the iPad and Facetime. He would call you just to see how YOU were.

Even knowing each shallow, oxygen-assisted breath could be his last, he breathed life into everyone. All around him were friends and family who looked upon him as someone who was dying, but this was a man who was truly living.

E-Exit-IT, Boots. I think I get it now. It IS fascinating.

He was a plumber and a crossing guard and a painter and a singer. He always said he never had an enemy. He loved his bird Ricky and his dogs Tammy and Muffy and ET and Pommy and Tonka, and they adored him. His eyebrows were like caterpillars and they came alive when he slept, twitching with his dreams; and he could snore the paint off the walls. He believed he was in the Battle of Bull Run and he believed in aliens and he believed he was always one night away from winning the lottery.

But more than that, he believed in us. We were each his Oh HELLO.

Weren’t we lucky? AREN’T we lucky?


Blinded By False Redemption

Buddy Gray visited our family twice a year to tune our small, humble piano. For an hour his jokes and his loud southern twang and the promise of pitch descended onto the silent pallor of our Maryland home. Upon finishing, Buddy would always sing one of his own Christian songs, banging recklessly in marvelous opposition to our own timidity, his notes resonating well past supper.

Our home felt empty for days after he left, even with four children, a dog and a cat. I think my mother bought one of Buddy’s records but it was nothing like having him in person, his squat, home-fed Pillsbury body jumping off the bench in rhythm to his song, momentarily transforming our living room into a Godful honky-tonk. He played so loudly I couldn’t make out the words, just the magic feeling behind them, but maybe that was just our walls vibrating with the thrum.

Buddy Gray was blind, the result of an accident when he was much younger. Alabama was his home. He had a wife and children — girls, I think — but he traveled to southern Maryland every six months to tune and repair pianos and to preach his gospel of redemption. I was an easy convert, compelled now to search unsuccessfully for trouble to be redeemed of. I could never picture myself at 13 or 14 with long hair, using drugs and women.

Then again I couldn’t picture Buddy Gray that way either, but I was always looking for affirmations not just of God’s existence, but his willful involvement, tweaking and correcting us each toward a better path. Or at least guiding the Lakers past the Celtics.

Our piano was handed down through generations, and moved from New Jersey to California to Maryland to Alabama to Florida before settling in northern Virginia with my sister, the only one who took an active interest in playing. Linda gave up the piano shortly after being forced into a recital, a frightening experience for someone never comfortable with a spotlight being poured onto her developing interests. Her legs shook so badly during the performance I was surprised her notes didn’t also quiver.

There was nothing remarkable about our piano, a Wurlitzer console that belonged to our grandfather. It’s the kind you would expect to find propped up against a dining room wall in the 1940s. Its body is a faded, crackling yellow, and its brown, wooden roll top cover blankets the keys. Buddy would shake his head when he tuned it, imploring my mother to continue its maintenance, under his care of course, every six months. She would nod her ascent violently, probably wondering how to enlist the support of my cheap, unsympathetic father. Come to think of it, I’m certain the piano lessons we children so often protested fortified an argument we were never privy to.

I hated playing the piano, but Buddy’s visits sometimes made me reconsider.

The first time Buddy was to come to our home, my mother warned us about his blindness, and as with most things like this (race, heritage, handicap) she taught us to celebrate the difference rather than gawk or cower or judge. I remember not wanting to stare. My sisters and I gathered around and watched Buddy work, his big burgundy satchel’s shiny leather reminding me of something a doctor might bring to a house call, only bigger and practically bursting with the weight of his tools.

He would practically disappear into the piano’s insides, placing his odd rubber wedges among the sets of strings that corresponded to a key, and then he would pound a note and apply his tuning lever to the pins to adjust the string, which stretched like a cat’s meow, or the accent of his voice, now quietly packed away, replaced by a mystical concentration. Buddy would insist on absolute silence, and in time we would scatter back to our lives until it was time for him to play his encore.

I don’t remember Buddy using anything like a chromatic tuner. Occasionally he’d bring out a tuning fork, but his ear was so locked in he could hear things we couldn’t. Note by note he would go, moving his wedges, pounding a key, tweaking a string until it was properly tamed. Sometimes he would revisit a pesky string and strive for a perfect sound that escaped us all. I’d never met a piano tuner before, and haven’t since, but I imagined him to be the best at his craft, such was the spellbinding impact on me.

During each visit we thought we knew Buddy better. He would reach out his hands, guessing at how tall my sisters and I had grown since his last visit, always a little taller than his hands reasoned. My mother quizzed him about his life in Alabama. His wife. His kids. His works in the name of God.

When Buddy was finished tuning, he’d boldly proclaim the piano good as new. I could never tell the difference. But it never really mattered. He was larger than life. Full of life. He told stories of the evil of booze and drugs. Buddy’s was a turnaround story, about a bad man who had embraced Christianity, life and family, and changed. The man we saw here, tuning our piano. I wanted some of his God.

Years later when I had a driver’s license it was somehow arranged that I would drive for Buddy during his visits. I don’t know whether he inquired or my parents suggested, but one bright morning in the summer of my 17th year I found myself driving down the highway to Waldorf, Maryland, where Buddy was staying with friends for his two weeks of piano tuning. It would be easy money and I would get to know Buddy even better, listening to his stories and soaking up his wisdom.

I’m sure I arrived early that first day, but Buddy was already up making phone calls and confirming appointments for later in the week. Some of the family was awake, and they had that weary look of the morning. But it might have been that they’d already had their fill of Buddy’s loud echoes.

We set out and Buddy set the rules. His goal was to get in and out of each house within an hour so that we could maximize the day. He had each day planned with the precision of his beloved pianos. His appointments were handwritten in a spiral-bound notebook, which held the schedule and addresses in his eerily precise penmanship, but it was all in his head anyway. He was like that.

I would drive him, guide him to the house and to the piano, his hand on my elbow, and then I was free for the hour, free to listen to him tune or to read or snoop around. I listened to him chat with his clients, filling the room as he had done so many times at my own house.

The allure of that faded quickly in the first couple days. I suppose there are stories you can only hear so many times.

Buddy Gray taught me the uncanny power of the blind. He had grown up in southern Maryland, but he had been blind for at least 20 years before I met him. Yet he knew every turn on every road we drove. He would give me a few directions and after driving on a highway for more than 20 minutes, he would suddenly announce that our next turn was in 500 yards.

My gasp must have been audible because then he started doing it more, just to prove that first one wasn’t a fluke. And then he would just laugh. I would never know those roads or have turn by turn directions in my head like Buddy did. His sight was intuitive, unexplainable.

And Buddy knew about sound. I don’t just mean singing on pitch and tuning a piano or being able to play a song by ear, though he was pretty good at all that. He could also throw his voice. I had an old Chevy Camaro with a 350 V8 engine and it just barreled down the road, growling as it went. That car meant business and on some of the hilly, windy back roads that led to those big colonial-era estates, I would just start to let the car take over.

Buddy would let me go for a while; I suppose even a blind man knows what’s fun for a young boy. But one time I heard a siren and all feeling left my body. I frantically searched my mirrors, and seeing nothing I finally pulled over, confused and scared. Buddy just laughed. He’d been whistling that siren and somehow threw the sound of it behind me. He was like that.

Sometimes the houses we visited would be empty, the door unlocked and a check sitting on the piano. In other houses maids or housekeepers would greet us. But mostly there were families and they’d all take to Buddy like mine did. Many of them lived in gloriously large houses and the pianos were epic compared to the one we owned, gleaming like polished ebony trophies in their dedicated rooms.

Occasionally we would encounter a lost cause, a piano with its paint chipping away like a dilapidated, abandoned house. The owners of these were almost never home, and tuning them wasn’t really an option because the interior workings were usually even more diminished. We would quickly assess the situation and depart without bothering to take the check, but the mood was punished by the harsh judgement of Buddy Gray, who was intolerant of poorly kept instruments.

In hindsight it was likely just intolerance for having his time wasted, the wrath of which I would occasionally feel if I couldn’t find a road, or miscalculated a turn a few days into our time together.

We worked long hours and I would often return home well after dark, collapsing in my bed. When I dropped Buddy off, he would immediately take to the phones to reaffirm the next day’s appointments, call some of the homes he hoped to visit later in his tuning tour, having me read off the phone numbers one by one. He was relentless.

My exasperation with the pace and his persistence grew to match his impatience. Buddy liked to make the most of his waking hours. Even our stops for food were of the fast variety, and I built up a stomach of iron to march against the threat of too many Big Macs and french fries and milkshakes. When I returned home my Camaro’s back seat looked like a drug store parking lot and smelled like grease. I took solace from the monotony’s crescendo with a long, hard shower.

When Buddy and I finally got to know each other better, the things that once uplifted me about him grew oppressive, the jokes heard across the zip codes, the folksy wisdom of a recovered malcontent, the glory he gave to his God.

Over time, his interactions with me became jarring. He asked me what the woman whose piano we had just tuned looked like. At first I figured this was just that blind part of him trying to see. But in time, I measured more behind the inquisitions. In time, with use, he too fell out of tune.

Riding the high of one particular visit with one of his long-time clients he asked me to verify that the eldest daughter of the last client had developed breasts. He asked it innocently enough, as if his extra senses and his brilliant memory had calculated a maturation. Then he told me that I had merely confirmed what he already knew, the way he always knew.

I had somehow completely missed his deception. He admitted that he would pretend to reach out to see how tall a teenage girl had grown, but that he always purposely reached too low, for he would have easily heard the girl’s height by listening for the source of her voice. Buddy Gray had been eagerly feeling teenage breasts for years.

Turns out he was like that, too.

I don’t know why he told me about this habit, or did so conspiratorially, as if our perversions ran in harmony. He must have thought I was still in his thrall. His powers of perception had mysteriously failed him, or I had credited them too abundantly.

Buddy’s time in our lives was almost inconsequential. My parents and siblings are hard-pressed to remember any details about him, even the self-proclaimed redemption orchestrated by his glorious God.

Funny how I can’t get his song of hypocrisy out of my head.

Yasiel Puig, Jack Clark, the new iPhone, Nissan Versa and other stuff on my mind

On weekends my mind’s real estate is more like an ancient city with its intractable alleys, and where I’m easily lost in forgotten crevices. On Sunday nights I always find myself returning home feeling as if I’ve left so much unexplored, but also satisfied by what I’ve done with the freedom time allots. Here are a few of the crevices I explored . . .

–> Who would you rather?

My friend Laurence Bekins showed me an article about SocialCrunch on PandoDaily, saying that it reminded him of a game called “Who would you rather” that was played at UBM, a company that once employed us both. I have absolutely no idea what he’s talking about, nor any recollection of what I did in the vast stupidity of my youth. (But if there was a game in which someone was forced to say if he or she would “rather” >insert lascivious action here< person X or person Y, I’m quite sure it was introduced into the company by a few people who came before me, and who will, for now, go unnamed . . . but they know who they are.)

–> Could you drive a Nissan Versa?

Certainly the Nissan Versa is a fine enough automobile, but on the west coast it surely must be designated as a kidnapper-mobile after its use in the tragic abduction of Hannah Anderson. Much as the Ford Bronco (unknown fact: I own one) is still associated with O.J. Simpson’s epic police chase, I’m not sure the Versa will ever overcome the assignation. Nissan should not only rename the car, it should issue a recall and slap a new label on every single one of them (or at least the blue ones). My suggestions for the new name: “The Nissan Hannah.” Or maybe call it “The Nissan Vice Versa.”

–> Food Hacks

These food hack videos are brilliant. They are short and useful and entertaining. The last two, especially the one on hiding your valuables at the beach, are great. The one on keeping your straw from floating out of the soda can is also good, but do people really use a straw in a soda can? Now if these guys can just come up with a hack for easily doing the dishes . . .

–> Where did Yasiel Puig come from?

The Los Angeles Dodgers have had quite a year, going from last to first, and there seems to be no end to the trajectory. The emergence of Yasiel Puig coincides with the period in which the Dodgers have been playing above .800 baseball, and while that time frame also includes many other great performances, like the unbelievable relief pitching and a scalding hot Hanley Ramirez, Puig has been the one dominating headlines. This phenom comes from Cuba, and his journey to the United States is still a mystery, and includes speculation that he came via Mexico, and that he was delivered through a network controlled by a Mexican drug cartel. In other words we may never know exactly how he got here, but if we did, maybe we could write it into the next immigration reform legislation.

Read this great Yahoo Sports story on part of Puig’s journey.

–> Does WGNU in St. Louis have any guts? Or is Jack Clark crazy?

Retired baseball player Jack Clark, in his first week co-hosting a sports talk radio show in St. Louis, accused (or perhaps inferred) Los Angeles Angels star Albert Pujols and Detroit Tiger pitcher Justin Verlander of using PEDs. WGNU fired Clark and Pujols is saying that he’s going to sue Jack Clark. In the case of Pujols, Clark claims that Chris Mihfield, Pujols’ personal trainer, told him that Pujols was using PEDs.

These are dangerous times, where players are frequently viewed as guilty due to drastic changes in performance, or appearance, or both. Pujols has long been the subject of PED speculation, and like every other player in his situation, he not only denies it vehemently, but attempts to ruin the lives of those making the insinuations. If he’s innocent, he has every right to contemplate a lawsuit (although if Mihfield is his source, he’s got a bit of protection there; Mihfield is also denying having told Clark that Pujols was juicing). If he’s guilty, he’ll become the next Lance Armtsrong or Ryan Braun.

The swiftness with which the St. Louis radio station fired Clark is mysterious. It wasn’t a suspension, followed by some fact-finding. Just a firing. Maybe Clark is crazy and half-cocked, and this was just far past what the station could accept, but if they’re simply tucking tail, shame on them.

–> The new iPhones are here!

Apple will unveil its next iPhone on September 10, according to AllThingsD, which rarely gets major news happenings wrong. Apple’s reputation has taken a beating lately, since the only real breakout smartphone news the company has had centers on a new look for iOS. The natives, as they say, are restless. Will Apple come out with something that is both new and affordable? Maybe something bigger? Maybe both?

For Apple to outdo expectations this time around, they’ll have to do something big, something surprising. We will likely see different form factors and price points, although Apple is loathe to go completely down market. Big deals would include something meaningful around commerce, or a TV or video subscription service (just a start here would be fine). But these things are mostly powered in software, or in the cloud, or through partnerships. The phone hardware hardly matters now. Give people better battery life (if they JUST fix this, they’ve won), a thinner and bigger phone, a few more colors, a better camera coupled with some fancy photo capabilities, maybe NFC and fingerprint authentication and you’ve done all you can.

–> TechCrunchy?

I haven’t read TechCrunch for a while. After all the principle players left, I found the writing and editing uneven or poor, and the stories were often of the “me too” variety. But this weekend, I did find one interesting article that delved into what Amazon and Zappos are doing in Las Vegas. A bit utopian, but it’s still a fun read.

–> One more thing

What I’m working on: For this week, I’ve got a story coming on why SAP mobile president Sanjay Poonen left his cushy post to go run end user computing at VMWare (not really VMWare’s sexiest place to be, it would seem to me). I’m also looking at SnapLogic, which makes technology that allows enterprise IT to connect cloud applications. Right now, it sounds too good to be true. We’ll see.

What I’m drinking: I continue to visit as many different coffee shops as I can. One of my favorites is Portola Coffee Lab in Costa Mesa. It’s crazy expensive, but you can get your coffee made just about as perfectly as it’s capable of being made. It also does food pairings, which you have to sign up for. It is insanely well staffed, has lots of choices, and a very palatable work environment . . . except that the WiFi is so poor that I suspect I could carry my bits out of the building faster. That pretty much prevents me from every working there, unless what I need to do doesn’t require the interwebs.

Another favorite is Kean Coffee in Newport Beach. It’s owned by Martin Diedrich, who makes a big deal about how he selects his beans. I’ve actually seen his team in the store doing tastings. When I really want to buy the best coffee to make at home, I go there. But I can’t work there: the place is absolutely packed, so it’s hard to find a table, and there’s no WiFi.

My other favorite place is in San Juan Capistrano, and it’s called Hidden House Cafe. It’s tucked away behind the train tracks in the historic Los Rios part of this great town. Like Kean and Portola, Hidden House roasts single origin coffees. It also has a killer carrot cake muffin and almond croissant.  I go to Hidden House most often because it’s close, it has great WiFi and it’s just a pleasant place to work; on the downside, it doesn’t have close to the variety of coffee that Kean and Portola Coffee Lab have. All of them, by the way, provide elegant latte art.

Now to the original question: I’m drinking either the El Salvador or the Ethiopian from Hidden House this week (I worked at Hidden House on Saturday morning). I bought a bit of both. French Press, of course. And black, since you asked.

What I’m listening to: Avicii’s Wake Me Up. I just can’t get enough of that haunting voice and that folk-meets-rave mix.

What I’m reading: This week I hope to finish John Banville’s Ancient Light.

Pole dancing, resistive RAM, SAP, mullets, startups galore; aka my eclectic reading habits today

My simple goal is that you’ll never figure me out: why I read what I read, why I write what I write, why I like to put the silky part of a blanket on my face like I did when I was three years old (I will later claim that the last part of that sentence was an iPhone auto-correct). So I offer you my daily intake for the past 24 hours.

–> SAP finishes hybris deal. (And a shameless plug.)

The acquisition spree of Oracle, Salesforce and SAP seems never ending. It’s even wearing me out a bit, and I was initially skeptical and lethargic about the SAP-hybris deal, but the more I dug into it, the more excited I got. hybris is the real deal, taking on the likes of IBM, Oracle and eBay, legitimately, in e-commerce. But e-commerce is so much more in this new world of customer experience. I published a piece on PandoDaily that goes into a bit more depth, and also gives my take on why the company spells its name with a lower case “h” (hint: it’s all about ee cummings). And Doug Henschen, my former InformationWeek colleague and perhaps the best enterprise software writer out there today, also published an excellent analysis.

Coverage: Here’s my piece, and here’s Doug’s.

–> What’s your next smart phone?

I’ve been thinking a great deal about what my next smartphone will be, given that my contract with AT&T was up, I moved to T-Mobile, and I still haven’t bought the newest phone. I have, on loan from Samsung, the Galaxy S4 and the Galaxy Note II. The Note II is a little big for my taste and I force myself to use the pen just for testing purposes. With the new Motorola phone (nothing special on the hardware side, but a couple of interesting features on the software side, most notably the ability to “listen” for my commend), and LG’s new and gigantic G2, not to mention the waterproof Sony Xperia Z and the HTC One, the choice really comes down to more than just phone tech specs. The phone is a bit of a status item, so what it looks like matters, and how it feels (after all, you have to carry it around wherever you go), but things like how quickly you can take a picture, and the software features that make the phone a true digital assistant will become the crucial decision points for most people.

Coverage: See this excellent piece on ZDNet on why hardware specs will start to matter less. Also, read my friend Harry McCracken’s piece on Time on the Sony Xperia Z (by the way, you can get any smartphone waterproofed by companies like Liquipel). And finally, while I really like the new BlackBerry Z10, that company keeps coming up short — here’s a piece on ZDNet about more executive departures, and a piece on GigaOm about Microsoft making inroads on BlackBerry.

Bonus: What, you want my choice?! OK, I’d buy the Samsung Galaxy S4 if you put a gun to my head right now. I wrote about why I think the Galaxy S4  is THE ONE back in April, and not much has changed my mind.

–> Can’t we just get to the pole dancing? (aka “what some of my friends are doing”)

Some of my friends and former colleagues are up to some fun things lately. First, Georgina Burnett — on-camera superstar, life coach, director, producer — decided to take up pole dancing and produced a video (no! it’s not like that! it’s exercise, not stripping!). Second, my former boss Ed Grossman launched his new company Activate — I think it’s going to be very exciting. Third, Andie Rhyins, another former colleague from my UBM days has joined a new media company, called Ozy Media. And finally, my good friend and colleague David Berlind has taken the post of editor-in-chief for Programmable Web, one of my favorites.

Coverage: Here’s Georgina’s video, and Ed Grossman’s latest post, and a Fortune piece on Ozy Media, and finally the announcement about David.

–> OK, now you’re going to bore us with some techie thing on Resistive RAM?

Flash memory is all the rage. No, seriously, it is. OK, so don’t believe me, but one of the interesting new developments is around Resistive RAM and a company called Crossbar. The memory chips Crossbar is making hold a terabyte of data, are super fast and very efficient. HP apparently created the idea, using what it calls memristors (there’s also a company by that name, I’ve heard). Freescale spun out a company called Everyspin that makes magnetic RAM (MRAM). Bottom line: your computing devices are going to practically have the capacity of data center servers!

Coverage: Here’s VentureBeat’s piece on Crossbar.

–> Startups from New York City’s Dreamit.

I love startups. The demo day from Dreamit featured several interesting ones. My favorite, in reading the coverage, was Miner, which creates a virtual storefront on your mobile phone, based on your location. Also, TradeUp brings builds a connection between online courses and entry-level jobs.

Coverage: VentureBeat has a list of 15, BusinessInsider picked 5, and PandoDaily covered its favorite, TradeUp.

–> One more thing.

I’m always reading The New York Time’s Maureen Dowd.

Bonus: What I’m drinking. I love coffee, but I especially love the specialty roasters that are popping up everywhere and I like to try them all out. I recently visited Bird Rock in San Diego, and bought the Ethiopian Natural Yirgacheffe. It’s dry processed, and I really like the subtle flavors of blueberry and strawberry (yes, I’m one of >those< people, but I refuse to use words like “notes” (as in “notes of blueberry”) and “mouthfeel” (as in “chocolatey mouthfeel”).

What I’m reading & why: August 6, 2013

As a technology journalist, part of my job is to keep up on the industry beyond what I’m able to cover day-to-day. Occasionally I’ll share a list of pieces I’m reading and what strikes me about them, just briefly. I’ll also expand a bit beyond just technology when the mood incites me. You’ll find that my main sources of information don’t change that much, but I hope to evolve that in time (sometimes I just come to rely on certain brands for certain insights).

–> Media will never be the same.

Recent days have seen Newsweek, post-failure number 2, go to International Business Times, the Boston Globe extricating itself from the New York Times, and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos making a personal purchase of The Washington Post, a newspaper I grew up with and am still very fond of.

Coverage: An excellent New York Times piece on Tina Brown (she tried to merge The Daily Beast and Newsweek into . . . something), The Wall Street Journal on the Bezos-WaPo hookup (I also liked this PandoDaily piece from Sarah Lacy), and just for fun GigaOm’s story on one of my new favorite web publications, Quartz, and its spin on incorporating reader engagement alongside the content. For a look at how Demand Media is evolving its business model, read PandoDaily’s analysis of eHow Now, a subscription service that matches experts with audience in near real time.

–> Fun Startups

For my money, PandoDaily and VentureBeat have been covering some really interesting startups lately. Here’s a PandoDaily piece on Food52, an interesting food recipe site with a slightly different model, and VentureBeat’s post on UrbanBound, an online relocation service;

–> FreedomPop expands its network offerings to Sprint LTE.

I’m not sure why MVNO (mobile virtual network operator: it’s not operating the network, but it’s acting as if it does) news like this is getting so much play today, especially when it involves Sprint LTE, but I suppose part of the appeal is that this growing service (it has 100,000 customers and growing) keeps adding to its lore. FreedomPop offers customers 500 MB of broadband service for free, and charges above that threshhold.

Coverage: On VentureBeat and GigaOm.

–> Misfit Shine sexy wearable tech (but what the f$#% does it do?!)

Wearable tech (gadget watches, health bands, Google Glass and other sensor-based technology) is all the rage, and everyone is looking for that first big hit. AllthingsD wrote about Shine, with backing from Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, Vinod Khosla’s Khosla Ventures, and co-founded by former Apple CEO John Sculley. The piece talks at length about how pretty and jewelry-like the device is, but never really quite explains what it does.

Coverage: On AllThingsD.

–> InfoSec bonanza

Information security continues to be a top concern at most companies, and new products and new approaches are always emerging, even during the summer; perhaps specifically during the summer, thanks to the annual summer gathering called Black Hat, a premier security industry conference in Las Vegas (disclosure: I led the acquisition of Black Hat by my former company, United Business Media).

Coverage: Here’s GigaOm’s piece on Defense.net, a DDOS-defender flush with $9.5 million in Series A funding. Also, here’s VentureBeat’s article on FireEye’s IPO (FireEye is one of a handful of startups in the active defense space, and its CEO is Dave DeWalt, former CEO of security giant, McAfee, which is now part of Intel). Also, my former colleague Tim Wilson, who heads up Dark Reading, wrote this post summarizing some of the Black Hat Conference themes. Finally, here is CRN’s list of 14 hot companies coming out of Black Hat.

–> That one more thing: SAP’s Sanjay Poonen to VMWare?!

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote in PandoDaily about all of the departures and re-shuffling that seemed to be happening in the industry, especially at VMWare, SAP, along with Microsoft, Google and Fusion-io. One of SAP’s departures was its mobile chief, Sanjay Poonen, who seems to have landed at VMWare.

Apple silence is deafening and even Obama can’t help

We’ve heard only whispers lately of the mobile patent wars of 2012, but this weekend President Obama vetoed an International Trade Commission import ban on older iPhones and iPads, which the agency had ruled were violating Samsung patents. At this point, Apple can use a little help, even from the White House. Indeed, at Apple’s new pace (read: slow) it’s unclear which iPhones and iPads don’t fall under the “older” label.

Samsung continues to flood the market with new phones, trying out every shape and size and name; I mean, honestly, “Mega”? What’s next, the Samsung Absurd? But the company has a couple of unmistakable hits with its Galaxy S line (now at S4) and it’s phabulous phablet, the Note (now at Note II). I have been using both, and while I prefer the S4, sometimes I find that I rarely have to use my iPad when I’ve got the Note II.

Meanwhile, in less than a month, Samsung will likely come out with the Note III, if the tea leaves are being read correctly. The company has invited the press to an announcement on September 4. The screen size is expected to bump up to 5.7 inches (from 5.5 inches), with a resolution of 1920×1280 (from 1280×800), and it is also rumored to have a 13 megapixel camera (the Note II has an 8 megapixel camera).

This follows the much-anticipated announcement of Motorola’s Moto X, the company’s first real flagship phone as part of Google. The Moto X was more modest in hardware features, but made up for it with some exciting software additions.

Meanwhile, HTC is rumored to be announcing its own phablet, the HTC Max, in September. (What comes after “Max”?)

All of which begs the question: how can Apple possibly keep up, introducing one device at a time? The company long ago ceded the smartphone category to Android, but now it seems to also be losing its edge in tablets: IDC’s latest numbers reveal the slippage, in the midst of a continued tablet boom.

A helping hand from the President isn’t going to help. Your move, Apple.

A night in suburbia with Styx and new memories

It has become suburban habit to gather in gated communities on a summer night, congregating in a park beneath stars and moon and the steady sedation of bottled cocktails, awash in anticipation of some forgotten musician bent on squeezing a few final pennies from the remnants of our memories. Saturday night in Mission Viejo, CA, it was Dennis DeYoung, the former lead singer and songwriter for Styx. He played mostly Styx music, the sole exception being “Desert Moon,” a hit from his days as a solo artist.

Here’s are seven things I learned that night:

1.) DeYoung, at 66, is still an incredible vocalist. He doesn’t have the strength and range to sing every song, but he comes through with surprising vocal polish in those classic ballads, like “Lady” and “Babe.”

2.) All of the big wind-up songs — “Grand Illusion,” “Come Sail Away,” “Best of Times” — sound formulaic by today’s standards: the heavy dose of synthesizer, the perfunctory pause for the obligatory guitar solo, and the slow build up from drippingly sweet ballad to all-out guitar rock-outs.

3.) Not that DeYoung and Styx were ever, you know, Ozzie and Black Sabbath, but it’s still difficult to see him prancing around in a white pants and a vest, telling corny jokes and, it must be said, seeming more like Barry Manilow than long-haired rock star. It makes me cringe to think that, 25 years from now, my kids will have to watch Billy Corgan croon “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” with kick-line dancers or something.

4.) Of all the Styx hits, who would have guessed that “Mr. Roboto” would be the most anticipated? For me, though, it was “Renegade,” and the memory of it caught me a little by surprise.

5.) DeYoung wrote “Babe” as a gift for his wife and recorded it as a simple demo. Styx producers heard it and thought it might make for a hit. DeYoung met his wife when he was 17, and she 15, at a high school dance. They’ve been married for 43 years. I’m unclear, but dazzled that his marriage lasted through a successful musical career. Bravo.

6.) Suburbia is an easy target. It is sport to identify the archetype. But there is an unabashed spirit there, too, one that champions love of family and friends, even if the chicken wings come from Costco.

7.) Children will always surpass your expectations, and in ways you hadn’t imagined. As I drove my 20-something daughter home at the end of the night, after another painful week of family implosion, she reminded me that despite what often feels like the defiant daily refrain of failure, our family had accomplished incredible success. I drove off renewed, and in my head I heard Dennis DeYoung’s words from “Lady” again: “your hands build me up when I’m sinking.”


Welcome to my new home page. I will be updating my site in the coming day. In the mean time, enjoy this read:

My latest on PandoDaily, answering the question: Why do Salesforce and Oracle keep buying social and marketing companies?  http://ow.ly/ny0YO

This is a piece about the evolution of digital business, about a 360-degree view of the customer, the ability to listen to that customer by observing behavior and listening to social signals, and then delivering offers and opportunities at just the right time in the customer buying cycle. Oracle and Salesforce have spent billions of dollars on acquiring expertise in this digital marketing supply chain, and there are many other companies springing up to fulfill on this promise.