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A Thanksgiving Essay

If you know me (and most of you do), you know I believe one can't apologize too much. I am sorry last week's notification of the column forced each of you to scroll past 50 or so names, wasting Internet and mental bandwidth. I am going to try to remember not to do it wrong again.

Now, you may well be asking yourself, where's the table of contents? The letters? The humor?

I'm breaking format this week for the holiday. If Walter Winchell and Herb Caen can do it, I can do it. They exchanged three dots for an essay on special occasions. That's what I'm doing.

Speaking of Walter Winchell, there's a great HBO Biopic which premiered Saturday night and will be repeated. I've read all the major Winchell bios. The movie does a pretty good job on a complex subject and actor Stanley Tucci really captures Winchell.

Anyway, I got some interesting commentary from Craig Reynolds and funny stuff from my mother. I had some comments about Microsoft and Comdex, about impeachment and Japan. In short, what Caen used to call a pocket full of items (amazing how they accumulate in your pocket when you decide to write a column).

I decided all of it would keep. It is late Sunday night, and I decided I would write about Thanksgiving.


I know I have a lot to be thankful for. I have a great job, I have my health, and I have my family. I can't imagine why I would bother getting out of bed each morning if not for my wife and my two girls.

Don't get me wrong. I still love what I do for a living, but the greater meaning of my life, and my most important role, is as husband to Vicki and father to Marlow and Rae.

Which is why I took Monday and Tuesday off this week. Marlow has those days off as well, Rae has Wednesday, and we all have Thursday and Friday.

If it isn't too late, take an extra day or two off this week, especially if your kids get extra time off. (This doesn't apply to those of you not presently working. You know who you are). If it is too late, take some extra time around Christmas. Nothing happens that week anyway.

I think we all lose perspective sometimes, forget what's really important. We get wrapped up in our jobs and spend too much time working on them, both at home and in the office. I have two thoughts on this.

One is an old aphorism, nonetheless true for being hoary: no one ever said on their death bed, "God, I wish I'd spent more time at the office."

The other is something my mom used to say to my dad. My father was a dedicated and hardworking milkman. If the dairy called on Sunday to say a grocery store was out of milk, my dad would drive in and spend the several hours needed to load up, drive to the store, then drive back to the dairy and thence home. Periodically, mom would say, "Paul, 30 years from now, who's going to be there for you, your family or that damn dairy?" As it turned out, the dairy went bankrupt, but we're all still here for him.

I think of that often as I have to make choices between work and home life. Whenever possible, I choose home life. In fact, I work at home--have since 1979. In my case, this has erased the line between home and work, in time as well as in space. It has been worth it to me to be here to see my daughters grow up.

I eat breakfast and dinner with them every day. I see most of their concerts and sporting events. I help with their homework. Sometimes this means staying up until Midnight or 1, or getting up at 4:30 a.m. instead of 5:30 a.m. to get some work done. So be it. Working at home means a certain loss of professional companionship. It has required me to forgo several potential promotions. It has limited me professionally. So be it.

I begrudge, bewail, bemoan nothing. I wouldn't trade the presidency of this company or any other for the years I have spent with the girls.

Not everyone can work in a home office. Some people aren't temperamentally suited to it. Some don't work in a field where that's possible. All I say is, if you can, do.

And the next time you have to make the tough call between the meeting and the soccer game, go to the soccer game. You'll never regret it. I am thankful for my family. Be thankful for yours.

Public Service

Marlow has been selected as a subject for a PBS Frontline documentary on the subject of meritocracy in college admissions. She was picked because she's applying to both Harvard and the University of California. Thus, I had occasion to spend 45 minutes going over her Cal admissions essay, in front of a video camera and a crew of three. This resulted in a rather more intense session than might otherwise have been the case.

The subject of her essay is public service, noblesse oblige, the obligation of the fortunate to give something back to society. We worked out the subject together, after concluding that "the person I admire most" and "an example of adversity I have overcome" would not work for her as topics.

She concludes with the words of the Bible (even though she is an atheist), as rendered by Lyndon Johnson when he withdrew from consideration for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968. "Of those to whom much is given, much is asked." (The quote, as rendered in the King James bible, is actually much less eloquent.)

The best put-down of Dan Quayle I ever heard (and there are so many good ones to choose from) was that he was "born on third base and thought he hit a triple." If my daughters never suffer this delusion, I will consider myself a success.

During this Thanksgiving season, I give thanks, as I often do the rest of the year, for the many benefits bestowed on me by society and my family.

I don't believe in self-made men and women. Yes, our choices and actions have a lot to do with where we end up in life. I am not advocating some kind of laid-back, que serra approach to life. But no one is an island, complete unto themselves.

Those of us born white, American and middle-class, raised in safe neighborhoods by intact families with reasonable incomes, who attended public schools that were still reasonably well funded and safe, have a leg-up over about 99.99 percent of the world's population that has nothing to do with how smart or hard-working we are. Maybe I wasn't born on third base, like Dan Quayle, but I was born somewhere between first and second, and I had a hell of a lineup in front of me and behind me to insure that my team won the game. Some of the win was the result of skill. Some of it was luck of the draw. Most of it came from society, which built the stadium and wrote the rules, things I could never have done by myself.

So, I have always felt a requirement to give something back to society. I gave more time and effort when I was younger. Since Marlow got active in basketball five years ago, I scaled back on outside commitments, first quitting the MIT Educational Council, then stepping down from the Orinda Planning Commission at the end of my one-year term. I plan to give more time when I am older. For now, I give money. There, I violated one of the rules I gave Marlow for her college essay; don't mention the negative stuff, just the positive stuff.

I threw the negative stuff into this essay to let you know we all fail to live up to our expectations of ourselves from time to time. No shame in that. As they say in the dieting game, if you missed a freeway exit, would you drive home and start the journey over? No, you'd get off at the next exit and do your best to get where you're going by another route.

Richard Dalton, a friend for most of my adult life, says he never took a consulting job where they wouldn't let him start with an assessment of the present situation. "You can't get where you're going until you know where you are." The next thing he required was a clear goal. "If you don't know where you're going, you can't get there." He probably lost a lot of business by asking for these things.

This is all by way of saying that many of us were more idealistic when we were younger, and once gave more to the community and the world than we do now. Take stock of where you are, and where you'd like to end up. Try moving towards your goal. Don't give up if you miss your exit a few times.

The period from Thanksgiving to Christmas is the one time when this dog-eat-dog society actually sends us messages that remind us to think about someone other than ourselves. Listen to these messages.

Give thanks for your family, your friends, and your good fortune. Spread that good fortune around in any way you can.

Have a lovely Thanksgiving with as much of your family as you can manage to gather around. I promise to be much less serious next week.


I suspect there are very few of you reading this who didn't come here as a result of my weekly "alert service," in which I send you a piece of e-mail telling you what's in this week's column. But in case you wandered by in some other way, if you're enjoying this, write me at [email protected] and I'll put you on the mailing list.

By the way, as I started writing this (just after posting last week's column) the counter was at 124; that's more than 40 visits a week!

By semi-popular demand, I am leaving quoted material in a larger typeface this week (several people complained about the quotes in small type). Let me know which size you like for quoted material; the one I am using this week or the one I used in prior weeks.

As I copyread the column just now, it occurs to me that I am really starting to feel like the late Herb Caen. Not in the sense that I'm feeling dead (at least not yet--tired, yes, but not dead), but in the sense that my column is really starting to be written by my readers, with me providing the glue and what a Forbes editor once called the "writer's guiding intelligence." It's fine with me (I have very erudite friends); I hope it is fine with you. The proof, as they say on the net, is in the counter.

Bill Gates By Someone Else

Why should I bother with original analysis, when someone else has made the point so well? This from Procomp, an anti-Microsoft Washington, D.C.-based trade association:

There's that word again - "snippets." Whenever Bill Gates puts his foot in his mouth, Microsoft blames the government. This time, the shift-the-blame ploy came from Gates himself. In a Wednesday interview broadcast on ABC's Good Morning America, Gates whined again:
"They take every piece of e-mail I've sent, pick the ones that they think can confuse people," Gates said. "They take a little snip of that, then they edit the videotape and don't show my whole deposition, they show these tiny little things. The government could have called me as a witness. Why didn't it."
What Gates didn't say his that it's Microsoft's lawyers who on October 20 kept the deposition under wraps by asking the Appeals Court to reverse Judge Jackson's order to make the entire testimony public.

Gates also failed to mention that Microsoft also chose not to put him on the witness stand.

Web Site of the Week: TechWeb

After several weeks of reticence, I guess it's finally time to fess up. This is where I work. This is where I put in my 40 hours... each day. At least that's what it seems like.

Many of you... Well some of you... Well, one or two of you...

OK, none of you have asked, but what I do is multimedia production on the web. Where you can hear the most of me (if you have RealAudio installed on your computer) is at TechWeb's Week in Review, which I produce. I also read (and write) the weekly news summary at the top of the show. Actually, effective next week, we won't be doing a news summary any more, but you can always go to the archives and listen to old ones! The point isn't the news, it's listening to me!

Most days, I also produce, write and introduce our audio coverage of the Microsoft Antitrust trial.

You could hardly tell it from looking and listening (except at the very start, where I give an over-the-top reading of the line "You're listening to TechWeb Today, your technology news channel"), but I am also the writer and producer of TechWeb Today. This is our daily audio/video program which uses the RealNetworks G2 player. This is a pretty exciting opportunity and our biggest multimedia product, with about 15,000 visitors a day. The reason we get so many is that we're a default button on the G2 player when you install it, along with the big boys, CNet and ZDNet. That, and of course, our great content. During the Microsoft trial, we are using the technology channel to present our Microsoft coverage; the video from CNBC is often the meat in a Paul Schindler sandwich. If you got and listen, you'll see what I mean.

Anyway, that's what I'm doing for a living these days, so feel free to wander over there and increase our traffic numbers.

It's a long way from that spoon with a string tied to it.