Boulder: the hinterland

Continuing my “Boulder weekend”, I spend this morning exploring the hinterland. (Feel free to follow along on the map.) Starting from Louisville, I drove up Route 36 into Boulder, then west along Canyon towards Nederland. After climbing for 15 miles (from about 5500 ft. to 8500 ft.) the road emerges next to a wholly improbably lake: this is Barker Meadow Reservoir in Nederland. Negotiating an unexpected roundabout (traffic circle) in the centre of Nederland, I headed north along Route 72, the Peak to Peak Highway. At its highest point the road is around 11500 ft.*, and there are several peaks nearby around 12-14K high. Eventually it joins Route 7 and drops to “only” 7500 ft. in Estes Park, where I arrived around 11:30.

I had planned to explore Estes Park and maybe have lunch there, but I quickly changed my mind. There were hoards of people there for the Longs Peak Scottish/Irish Highland Festival, many of them wearing inauthentic kilts and other unflattering garb. I hastily turned east on Route 36 back towards Boulder; as I left Estes Park the westbound traffic into the town was backed up for miles. I counted myself fortunate that I’d chosen the southern route.

I emerged from the front range in Lyons. The transition is startling: one minute you’re negotiating switch-back curves with cliffs towering above you, the next you’re driving across featureless rolling terrain with nothing much of geographical interest until you reach Kansas City, 600 miles to the east. After Lyons I decided to continue my explorations, so instead of continuing down Route 36 to Boulder I took Route 66 to Longmont. Downtown was hot, dusty, and deserted, but I found a decent lunch and a surprisingly good Hefeweizen at the Pumphouse Brewery. From there I headed down Route 287 through Lafayette (I think I blinked and missed it) to Broomfield, then drove back up Route 36 to my hotel in Louisville.

I took a bunch of pictures just north of Ward on Route 72 (altitude around 10K), and some more on Route 7 close to Mount Meeker. I’ve uploaded them to Flickr, as an experiment.

And one note for Chris: I passed lots of cyclists on the Peak to Peak Highway. Very impressive, at that altitude.

* This is the only spot height I could find on the web, but it seems a bit high; 10K seems more likely. Does anyone have a topographic map of the area?


Back in the 1980s* there was an electronic composer called Larry Fast who performed under the name Synergy. Since few record labels were interested, he started his own, Audion. I bought a number of Audion recordings (on cassette), including some by Synergy and a couple by an English keyboard/programming wizard called Garry Hughes. The latter’s work really grabbed me; it reminded my of one of my favorite American synth instrumentalists, David Van Tieghem (who was on Private Music).

Time passed, and Audion failed, as most independent labels are destined to do. In the late 1990s I looked around to see if Gary Hughes’ and David Van Tieghem’s work was still available. David showed up at MP3.COM (remember them?), and I bought all of his CDs. Garry Hughes… nothing. A few comments on music discussion lists about “whatever happened to…”, but the trail was cold.

Last weekend I was going through a massive “media reorganization” at home: disposing of tons of books, moving CDs from racks to storage chests**, and so forth. At the bottom of a pile of forgotten stuff, I came across the Garry Hughes cassettes. I put them aside with the intention of eventually ripping them into iTunes, and that evening I decided to do a serious web search to find out what had happened to him. Fortunately the spelling of Garry with two r‘s is relatively rare, and I started to come across references to a producer by that name. Further searching revealed that he’d produced a group called Euphoria in 1999, and it then turned out that he was also a member of the group. Was it the same guy? According to, “Euphoria make slide-groove “guitronica,” blending spacey beats with looping spoken word, breathy vocals, multilayered guitar wash, and intense yet playful drum and keyboard programming.” A possible confirmation: one of my favorite Garry Hughes tracks was a piece called Inkstick, which features a sample of a woman saying, breathily, “I quite like that sound”, over and over.

It turned out that the first, eponymous album by Euphoria was available through iTunes. One short sample was promising, so I plonked down my electronic dosh and bought the whole album.*** It’s wonderful, with contributions from some of my favorite musicians and composers (Anne Dudley from Art of Noise, pedal steel wizard B. J. Cole, and Roy Babbington from Soft Machine). The basic sound comes from the interplay between Ken Ramm’s slide guitar and Garry Hughes’ programming. (And if it’s not the same Garry Hughes, the coincidence is remarkable.) Highly recommended. In fact I think I’ll just download their second album, Beautiful My Child….

* I may have got some of the history wrong; I haven’t researched it recently. Corrections are welcomed.
** If the music is all on computer and iPod, may as well store the original CDs out of the way.
*** Some time I must write about how iTunes has finally killed the idea of deferred gratification.

Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra

This weekend I’m going to set work aside and immerse myself in Boulder. Tonight I met some old friends for dinner and a stroll along the Pearl Street Mall. Tomorrow evening I’m going to a concert by the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Leslie Dunner:

  • Sibelius Andante Festivo
  • Brahms Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D major, Op.77 (Corey Cerovsek, violin)
  • Nielsen Symphony No. 4, Op. 29, ‘The Inextinguishable’

7:30pm at the Macky Auditorium. As for Sunday… well, we’ll just have to see.

Approaching the end of a hectic week

As I mentioned, I’m visiting the StorageTek facility in Louisville, Colorado this week and next. I find that there are two distinct aspects to what I’m doing here. The obvious bits are the formal meetings – reviewing engineering processes, planning various meetings between Sun and StorageTek engineers* (including a big colloquium next week), and coming up to speed on key programs and technologies. Those are keeping me pretty busy. Less obvious are the ad hoc interactions, on topics ranging from programming tools to document archival, from differences in IT infrastructure to the various techniques used for gathering customer requirements.

If you think about it for a minute, the task of integrating two large companies is truly daunting. There’s a fine balance to be struck. At one extreme would be treating StorageTek as “separate but equal”, operating it as a wholly-owned subsidiary with little or no day-to-day interaction. At the other extreme would be Borg-style “assimilation”, submerging all traces of StorageTek’s culture and practices. Neither is appropriate to this situation. StorageTek is a successful, profitable company, highly regarded by its customers: it’s critical that we preserve that. But both Sun and StorageTek have been limited in what we can do historically: Sun because of an incomplete approach to storage, and StorageTek by a “plug compatible” business model that inhibited innovation at the edge of their systems. The value of the merger is that each company offers new possibilities to the other. Together we have more choices: more ways to address the acquisition, processing, and storage of data from end to end. For me, the way to achieve the right balance is to encourage the business unit managers to conservatively adapt the organization, projects and products to ensure business continuity, while at the same time developing a network of the key innovators – architects, researchers, engineers – to open up the possibilities of radical synergy.

Back to the daunting nature of the task. Like all such endeavours, the elements usually turn out to be simple: meetings of individuals or teams to identify and solve pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. And the ad hoc interactions provide the “jiggling” that allows the pieces to fit together (or sometimes identifies a piece that’s in the wrong place). We never budget for these activities, but without them it’s really hard to finish the picture.

* Yes, I know that we’re all Sun now, but I need some language to refer to the two groups. Maybe oSUNW and oSTK, for “originally Sun” and “originally StorageTek”.

Buddy, can you spare a dime

What’s all this in the Los Angeles Times? “The U.S. will halt construction work on some water and power plants in Iraq because it is running out of money for projects, officials said Wednesday. Security costs have cut into the money available to complete some major infrastructure projects that were started under the $18.4-billion U.S. plan to rebuild Iraq. As a result, the United States is funding only those projects deemed essential by the Iraqi government. […] Less than half of the U.S. reconstruction money has been spent, but in some sectors, such as electricity and water, security costs have eaten up much of the budget.”

Not a good way to impress the Iraqis with American efficiency and win hearts and minds.

The shame of Gretna

Read this account of a group of people (mostly tourists, but including EMS specialists) trying to get out of New Orleans last week:

“As we approached the bridge, armed Gretna sheriffs formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads. This sent the crowd fleeing in various directions. As the crowd scattered and dissipated, a few of us inched forward and managed to engage some of the sheriffs in conversation. We told them of our conversation with the police commander and of the commander’s assurances. The sheriffs informed us there were no buses waiting. The commander had lied to us to get us to move.

We questioned why we couldn’t cross the bridge anyway, especially as there was little traffic on the 6-lane highway. They responded that the West Bank was not going to become New Orleans and there would be no Superdomes in their City. These were code words for if you are poor and black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River and you were not getting out of New Orleans.”

When the investigations into this shambolic and horrific event take place, they must take account of the screw-ups and abuses at all levels. Yes, of course Bush must fire Michael Brown and fix FEMA, but it’s equally important that people like these Gretna sheriffs pay for their crimes. (We’re talking jail time here.)

(Via Sully.)

Not refugees but detainees….

Gitmo in Oklahoma? Boing-boing has this Blog account from Oklahoma “FEMA Detainment Camp”: “Jesse Jackson was right when he said ‘refugees’ was not the appropriate word for the poor souls dislocated due to Katrina. But he was wrong about why it is not appropriate. It’s not appropriate because they are detainees, not refugees.” Frightening. And don’t expect any press coverage. Well, maybe that’s too pessimistic….

Metal detectors? Good grief….

Apparently one reason that people couldn’t be evacuated from New Orleans by air is that there weren’t enough metal detectors, x-ray machines, air marshals, and TSA personnel. I have this vision of a group of refugees – with no more than the clothes they’re wearing and a few plastic carrier bags of personal effects – being forced to take off their wet shoes for x-raying….

Back to Colorado

I flew out from Boston to Denver this afternoon for a ten-day visit to StorageTek. I have an unusual role in all of this, with one foot in engineering and the other in human resources. My main objective is to facilitate the smooth integration of the Sun and StorageTek engineering communities. Now as you’d expect there are groups busily working on what the merged organization structure should look like, who reports to whom, and what the engineering deliverables are; similarly there are HR teams mapping job grades and benefits and stuff like that. I’m not trying to duplicate their efforts. My focus (colleagues might call it a long-standing obsession) is on connecting the engineering community: bringing together creative engineers who might otherwise be isolated in “stove-pipe” organizations, fostering the kind of conversations that create new opportunities. For me, the person who put it best was Lou Gerstner of IBM. Here’s an excerpt from an interview with BusinessWeek about his book Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?

Q: In the book, you use the phrase “counter-intuitive corporation.” What do you mean?

A: There is this view that has been prevalent for as long as I’ve been in the business world that large companies are slow, ineffective, and that small companies are faster, better, more entrepreneurial. I don’t buy into that. It’s harder to make large companies faster, entrepreneurial, more responsive. But it doesn’t mean they can’t be that way.

This is probably the subject of another management book, but this is all about creating organizations where knowledge moves in a different way than control. Large companies have to have elaborate systems of control because there’s lots of things to count, oversee, report, and add up. You create this kind of skeleton of an organization, which keeps it upright and moving. But you don’t want knowledge, which is what people really leverage in a large institution, moving along the same pathways as control.

You’ve got to free knowledge so that it moves horizontally in an organization, not hierarchically, and allows organizations to leverage the fact that they have a big presence in various markets so they know things. That knowledge can move across the enterprise. Smaller companies have no way to leverage information.

So that’s what I’m up to, in a variety of ways: fostering the horizontal flow of information. To me, that’s what makes the difference between a bunch of engineering teams and an engineering community. And we’re not just talking about product development: this has to include research, development, manufacturing, pre-sales, consulting, and support. More anon.