Tag: IBM

Blast from the past: IBM

A powerful reminder of ethical business practices.

First the background to today’s post. (You may want to settle down with a glass of something; it’s a bit of a ramble!)

In 1968, I emigrated to Sydney, Australia.  In those days, one could get a sponsored one-way flight ticket to Australia for 10 GBP if one intended to make Australia your new home.  Once there, I obtained a sales clerking job with the Australian division of the famous British company, ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries).  I had previously been working for a UK part of ICI Plastics, British Visqueen Ltd, in Stevenage, Hertfordshire.

Going to Australia came about because in the UK, I had been dating a Finnish woman who, together with her parents and sisters, was living in Sydney.  So when Britta returned to Sydney I thought ‘what the hell’ for a ‘tenner’ I can follow her out there.  (We subsequently married and Britta is the mother of my son, Alex, and daughter, Maija.)

Via very circuitous circumstances, I ended up as a freelance journalist working for a Finnish magazine KotiPosti.  Britta and I spent many months in 1969-1970 driving 30,000 miles all around around Australia finding Finns in the most amazing places doing the most incredible things, and me writing about them.  Then I was invited to travel to Helsinki and in 1970, Britta and I decided to go to Finland via the Trans-Siberian Railway, all the way from Nakhodka in Eastern Russia, on the Sea of Japan, to Moscow, thence on to Helsinki. The route being via Vladivostok, Irkutsk (where we took 24 hours out to visit Lake Baikal), Novosibirsk, Moscow, St. Petersburg (Leningrad) and the short hop to Helsinki.


What on earth does this have to do with IBM?  Hang on in there! 😉

We initially travelled from Australia to Japan because in 1970, Expo 70 was being held in Japan, and KotiPosti had asked me to write about the event.  One of the most impressive stands at Expo 70 was the IBM stand.  Frankly, it blew me away.

So now fast-forward to Britta and me having completed our stuff in Helsinki and on our way home to Sydney, via London of course, because I still had family in England.  A couple of evenings after we had arrived at Preston Road, Wembley, where my mother’s house was, I read an advertisement in the daily evening newspaper, The London Evening Standard, (still going strong) that IBM UK Ltd, their office products division, were looking for salesmen.  I had been so impressed with IBM at Expo 70 that I seemed unable to resist applying for the job.  To my amazement, I won a place in IBM’s sales team and was with IBM for 8 years – we never returned to Australia.

Fast forward all the way to present times.

A while ago, I signed up to the Current and Ex-IBM Employee Group (Unofficial) on Linked-In.  Yesterday, a member of that group published, The Original IBM Basic Beliefs for those that have never seen them.  They really are worth sharing because how much better would our corporate world be if all businesses subscribed to these beliefs.  Here they are:


The Original IBM Basic Beliefs for those that have never seen them.

Respect for the Individual
Our basic belief is respect for the individual, for his rights and dignity. It follows from this principle that IBM should:
1. Help each employee to develop his potential and make the best use of his abilities
2. Pay and promote on merit
3. Maintain two-way communications between manager and employee, with opportunity for a fair hearing and equitable settlement of disagreements.

Service to the Customer
We are dedicated to giving our customers the best possible service. Our products and services bring profits only to the degree that they serve the customer and satisfy his needs. This demands that we:
1. Know our customers’ needs, and help them anticipate future needs
2. Help customers use our products and services in the best possible way.
3. Provide superior equipment maintenance and supporting services

Excellence Must Be a Way of Life
We want IBM to be known for its excellence. Therefore, we believe that every task, in every part of the business, should be performed in a superior manner and to the best of our ability. Nothing should be left to chance in our pursuit of excellence. For example, we must:
1. Lead in new developments
2. Be aware of advanced made by others, better them where we can, or be willing to adopt them whenever they fit our needs.
3. Produce quality products of the most advanced design and at the lowest possible cost

Managers Must Lead Effectively
Our success depends on intelligent and aggressive management which is sensitive to the need for making an enthusiastic partner of every individual in the organization. This requires that managers:
1. Provide the kind of leadership that will motivate employees to do their jobs in a superior way.
2. Meet frequently with all their people.
3. Have the courage to question decisions and policies; have the vision to see the needs of the Company as well as the division and department
4. Plan for the future by keeping an open mind to new ideas, whatever the source

Obligations to stockholders
IBM has obligations to its stockholders whose capital has created our jobs. These require us to:
1. Take care of the property our stockholders have entrusted to us.
2. Provide an attractive return on invested capital
3. Exploit opportunities for continuing profitable growth

Fair Deal for the Supplier
We want to deal fairly and impartially with suppliers of goods and services. We should:
Select suppliers and according to the quality of their products or services, their general reliability and competitiveness of price.
1. Recognize the legitimate interests of both supplier and IBM when negotiating a contract; administer such contracts in good faith
2. Avoid suppliers becoming unduly dependent on IBM

IBM should be a Good Corporate Citizen
We accept our responsibilities as a corporate citizen in community, national and world affairs; we serve our interest best when we serve the public interest. We believe that the immediate and long-term public interest is best served by a system of competing enterprises. Therefore, we believe we should compete vigorously, but in a spirit of fair play, with respect for our competitors, and with respect for the law. In communities where IBM facilities are located, we do our utmost to help create an environment in which people want to work and live. We acknowledge our obligation as a business institution to help improve the quality of the society we are part of. We want to be in the forefront of those companies which are working to make our world a better place.

Thomas J. Watson, Jr.
April 1969


1969! Coming up to 45-years ago.  Sometimes one wonders if society has learnt anything in the last five decades!

The book! Chapter Twenty

Learning from Dogs

Chapter Twenty

Philip was about to pick up his case and return to the cool of the airport concourse when out of the corner of his eye, right at the last minute, he saw a tall, elegant, blond-haired woman heading for the airport doors in a manner that suggested she hadn’t seen him.  Before he even had time to draw breath and sing out a caution, she careened into his right shoulder almost knocking him into the pillar besides which he had been standing.

She stopped, turned towards him, and reached out to hold his right forearm in her right hand.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, Mr. Bond.  It is Mr. Bond, isn’t it? Mr. James Bond?”

In Philip’s most wildest of dreams he would never have anticipated that his first new minutes on Mexican soil would turn out like this.

He guessed who this attractive woman was.  The smooth English accent was a bit of a give-away, the laughter in her voice confirming it was planned.

“Oh, you must be Molly? Lisa had mentioned a few times that she had an English friend here in Mexico.”

Then from out behind another tiled pillar popped Lisa.

“Hi Philip, welcome to Mexico.”

Lisa came over and gave him a long hug.

He picked up his case and followed the two of them the short distance to the car-park.  He noticed the gaiety between them. Within moments they were alongside Lisa’s car, a Ford Explorer according to the badge on the rear of the vehicle.  Of course, a make unfamiliar to him.  He would have described it as an American version of a compact Estate car; apparently known as an SUV in this part of the world.

However the make and type of the vehicle wasn’t so much the focus of his  attention.  It was rather how on earth he was going to get in.  Because, as Lisa opened the tailgate, there was revealed more large plastic sack-bags of dried dog food than he had ever seen in his life.

“Hopefully there’s just enough space at the top for you to slide your suitcase in.  Will it fit?”, Lisa enquired.

He pushed a couple of the topmost bags to either side and just managed to squeeze his case in over the top.

He backed out and straightened Up. Molly had now opened the right-hand door to the rear bench seat.

“Sorry if it’s a bit cramped.  We’ve had a bit of restocking of dog food.”

Molly wasn’t kidding, Philip thought, as he shuffled onto the nearest remaining piece of the bench seat that wasn’t covered from seat to roof-lining with clear-plastic wrapped cardboard trays of canned dog food.

Molly sat down on the front passenger seat, Lisa started the engine, doors were slammed close and they eased out of the designated parking area. Within moments they were clear of the airport zone and heading more-or-less South.  Well that was Philip’s estimate looking at the setting sun low down off to his right; its golden rays accentuating the dry, desert landscape that seemed to run all the way to the horizon.

His eyes were drawn back to all the dog food. “Gracious, someone’s got a few pet dogs at home.”

He noticed a look pass between Lisa and Molly.  It was Molly who replied.

“Lisa has five dogs and I have fourteen.”

“Did you say fourteen! My goodness, that sounds like a story.”

As they sped along what appeared to be signed as Highway 15, Lisa chatted away to Philip explaining the story about the dogs.  How for many years she and Molly had been working together in rescuing dozens of feral dogs, so many of whom roamed the streets of San Carlos.  Then them finding homes for the dogs most often with Americans coming down visiting San Carlos.

He looked across to Molly sitting in the front. “So how long have you been living in Mexico, Molly?”

“Oh, for almost twenty-five years.  I came down here with my husband when he and I wanted a change from the USA.

As he listened, he started to focus on her accent.  English it was, without any doubt.  But better than that, for if asked, he would have guessed a London accent, even perhaps an East London or Essex accent.

“Molly, hope you don’t mind me asking but I’m hearing a London accent. Is that correct?  Where were you born?”

“In Essex,” she replied.

“Ah, thought as much.  I know Essex pretty well from my years as a salesman in that part of the world. So in which part of Essex were you born?”

There was a pause before Molly answered, a lovely tease in her voice, “The worst part of Essex.”

He stopped and thought about his memories of Essex.  There were quite a few places in Essex that might qualify as the worst part.  But listening to Molly’s accent was giving him a clue. He took a stab at the place.

“I think you were born in Dagenham. You know, where the huge Ford factory is.”

Molly’s answered with a giggle, “Yes, that’s right.  How very clever. What made you guess Dagenham?”

“Well, when I was selling for IBM, I got to know that part of Essex especially well. Called on many of the Ford suppliers that had businesses in and around the Dagenham area. Places such as Romford, Rainham, Barking.  I heard something in your voice that suggested Dagenham or close by. Because, as you go further out, to places like Basildon, Brentford, even Chelmsford, the local Essex accent starts to take on more of an East Anglian twang.”

“You mean posher than Dagenham.” Molly put on a thick Cockney overlay that, nonetheless, only accentuated the underlying playfulness in her voice.

“So, your turn. Where were you born, Philip?  Have to say you sound too posh for East London or Essex.”

He was tempted to play games in return but didn’t have time to think of a cheeky retort. “I was born in North Acton in North London but almost from my first year lived and grew up in Preston Road, about a mile from Wembley Stadium.  In fact I could see the stadium buildings from my bedroom window.”

Molly’s gift for accents was obvious as she came back in a pseudo upper-class tone of voice, “Oh, Wembley.  Oh, I do say, how delightfully charming.”

They chit-chatted back and forth for some time as the miles sped by before Philip sensed, not quite sure how, that Lisa was feeling a little left out.

“Lisa, so back to the dogs.  Is it normal for you and Molly to have so many dogs at home?”

Lisa replied, “Not really. A short time ago the local animal shelter in San Carlos, where both Molly and I used to help out, closed down.  Many of the dogs were at risk of being put down.  So the ones that could be placed elsewhere we took them in ourselves.”

The conversation in the car fell silent for a while. The flight down from Los Angeles on top of some residual jet-lag from his flight across from London, the smooth motion of the car and the approaching dusk all conspired to make him just want to close his eyes for a few minutes.

He was suddenly awake with the turning off of the engine.

“Whoops, sorry about that. Obviously dozed off.”

Molly turned and looked at him. “Don’t worry, you were snoring so very prettily.”

Philip felt himself blush as he got out of the car with the two of them.

“Sorry, Philip,” Lisa said. “We’re not quite home.  This is Molly’s house and we are just going to put her bags of dog food in the back of her car for now.”

Philip went around to the back of the Ford and removed his suitcase.  Molly opened a large pair of brown-painted metal doors to reveal a rather grubby white van-type car parked in her driveway. She opened the tailgate and he watched as Molly and Lisa carried the bags and trays of cans from one  vehicle to the other.

He looked around him.  It was now early night. A warm, sub-tropical night that, quite suddenly, reminded him of nights in Darwin, Northern Australia.  There were a couple of street lamps shining their sodium light along an unsurfaced dirt street with properties to both sides.  He walked a few paces so he could look down the side of Molly’s house and saw the black surface of a sea possible only twenty yards beyond the far edge of the property.  The architecture of the house itself looked very non-European.  Philip reflected that in more ways than one this was a very long way from Devon.

He jumped into the front seat where Molly had been sitting as Lisa started up the car.

“Looks like quite a location where Molly and Ben have their house,” he mused aloud.

“Just Molly now, Philip.  Ben died back in 2005.  He was a great guy.  He and Molly had the house designed and built for them by local Mexicans when they first came down to San Carlo more than twenty-five years ago.”

He noticed just a hint of something slip across his mind, something not even as clear as a thought. Some tiny patter of emotional excitement that Molly was a single woman.

A few minutes later, as Lisa drove up the hill to her house, a combination of Philip’s exhaustion and the darkness of the night made it difficult for him to really get a clear idea of what the house looked like.  For sure, it gave the impression of being a grand place but, then again, the feeling of it still being very much a working construction project.

Half-an-hour later, that was confirmed by Don as all three of them sat around a table alongside a grand motorhome.

Lisa explained that they still hadn’t moved in to the house but that they had made him up a bedroom in the bodega.  Frankly, he hadn’t a clue as to what a bodega was but presumed that was the large awning with sides that he had been shown to when they arrived. So after a light snack, all that his stomach could take, he excused himself and promptly got settled into his nominated bed and barely before he could register the comfort of the bed and the wonderful night sounds around him, he was gone.

He slowly awoke, looked at his watch that was still on his left wrist and saw that it was coming up to 7 a.m. It had felt like a week’s deep, dreamless sleep; the sleep of all sleeps.

There was a hint of the coming dawn in the sky as he went outside and took in a few lungfuls of clean, fresh air.  This pre-dawn light to the sky was on the horizon to his left as he stared out over a bay with the calmest of sea surfaces one could imagine.  There wasn’t a breath of wind. Total calmness.  He pondered about the strange interface between a calm, benign sea that had not even a single fishing boat upon it, together with the steep, barren slopes of mountains pressing up almost to the edge of the town and then elsewhere the views housing lots, construction projects, more smart homes and a golf course.

The air was noticeably cool so he went inside the bodega to find a sweatshirt. He went back outside and quietly sat on a garden chair and just allowed the peace of the surroundings to wash over him.  It had all been quite a year.  Here he was sitting in the most different of settings he could imagine, a little over a week before Christmas Day but, much more significantly, only four days from it being exactly a year since Maggie dropped her bomb into his life.

Lisa’s ‘what are you doing for Christmas’ question some seven months ago had certainly set some wheels in motion.

“Hi Philip!” It was Don coming across from the motorhome to say good morning.  He stood next to Philip and said how he never got tired of the view across the bay.

Don turned to him, “Hey, Lisa says that we should take breakfast over at Rosa’s Cantina.  As you can see, we really are not yet set up for cooking arrangements.”

“That’s fine, Don. Very happy to let you run my life.”

Lisa stepped down from the motorhome, telephone in left hand, “I was going to give Molly a call to see if she wants to join us at Rosa’s.”

She pressed a button and raised the phone to her ear, exchanged a few words and called out, “All arranged, she will see us there at 8 a.m.”

Lisa then came across to Philip, asked him how he had slept and showed him the bathroom and showering facilities.

They had just seated themselves at a table at Rosa’s Cantina when Molly breezed in.  She was wearing a white cotton blouse over white jeans and a straw Stetson hat over her blond hair, the hat sitting a little way back on her head.  Despite Philip not being the best observer in the world of what a woman was wearing or her make-up, he couldn’t help noticing Molly’s rich red lipstick on her lips. There was something about Molly that signalled she was one-hundred-percent woman.

She parked her sunglasses across the front rim of her hat as she came into the shade of the Cantina.

“Hi everyone.  Did you sleep well, Philip?”

“Thanks Molly. Yes the sleep of a lifetime, I’m glad to say.  Heavens, what with your white jeans and your Stetson hat there’s a bit of an equine look about you today.”

Molly laughed, “Are you saying that I look like a horse! Not much of a greeting to a woman, if you don’t mind me saying.”

They caught each other’s eyes as Molly sat down at the table. The laughter in her eyes was unmissable.

Breakfast was ordered and an hour passed by in an easy and gentle manner.  At one point, Lisa asked Molly whether she had had a result from the auction. Molly replied that she hadn’t but that she expected to hear today and had her fingers crossed it would be a winning bid.

Molly turned to Philip who was looking quizzically at her .

“I’ve put in a bid at a silent auction for the most incredible carved dining table and chairs that you can imagine.  Genuine Mexican hand-carved and just stunning.  If I win it, I’ll invite you all round for dinner.”

After breakfast and back at the house, Philip was introduced to Lisa’s dogs.  They were all lovely animals that were both curious and affectionate towards him.  One of them, a creamy coloured, short-haired, bright-eyed dog, perhaps eighteen inches to her shoulders, looked as though she wanted to jump on his lap.  Lisa said that her name was Shilo and that she was a dear. He was sitting down and patted his lap; Shilo jumped up without hesitation.

As he cuddled Shilo, Lisa explained how she had been found on a local street one evening, going through a pile of rubbish.  She had been very thin and very wary of humans. However, Lisa put some food down for her and very slowly was able to coax her into her arms. As Philip stroked Shilo and felt her settle into his lap he suddenly felt very guilty that until this moment Pharaoh hadn’t even entered his mind.  He realised how much he was missing him.

Later, towards the middle of the afternoon, Lisa came across to where he was sunbathing, on the sixteenth day in December as he could hardly believe, and announced that Molly had, indeed, won the silent auction, that the huge table was being delivered tomorrow and on Tuesday evening they were all invited to dinner.

“Let me tell you, Philip, Molly can cook up a storm of a meal. It’s going to be quite an evening.”

“Can I go and buy some wine for the occasion?”

“No, but you can do me a favour.  That same day, the 18th, I need to take the Ford into the repair shop over at Guaymas; about fifteen minutes away.  There’s a potential issue with the steering.  The local Mexicans are brilliant with cars, all types, and most likely will fix the problem in half the time and half the cost of doing the same thing in the States.”

She paused. “But whereas Don can follow me in the morning in his Jeep and bring me back, later in the day that’s going to be a challenge. Because I will have dogs to feed and getting myself ready for Lisa’s dinner.  So wondered if you can you go into Guaymas with Don to pick up my Ford?”

“Sure, I can. No problem.”

“If you follow Don back into San Carlos and go straight to Lisa’s house, just a single turn off the main road, then Don can come and collect me and we both will then come over.”

So it came to pass. Philip drove Lisa’s Ford back from Guaymas and arrived at Molly’s house a little after 5 p.m., the setting sun still allowing him time to be shown around the house.  It was a magnificent property without being ostentatious, with glorious views out over the bay.  The main living room had a wonderful domed ceiling and the new carved table that Molly had acquired at the auction set the whole room off in the grandest of styles.  He could hear the dogs elsewhere chattering happily.  Molly said that the next time he came across during the daytime she would introduce them all to him.

She offered him a glass of wine and, together, they sat on the verandah and made small talk.  Philip was aware how easy it was to be with her.  Not only was she a good listener, she was, as he would say from his sales days, an active listener.  He found that very flattering.

As Lisa had accurately predicted, the meal was outstanding; beautifully cooked and beautifully presented.  Later they all sat outside on the verandah savouring their glasses of wine before Molly went and prepared fresh coffees for all.  Much to Philip’s surprise, a little before 8 p.m., Lisa turned to Don and apologised saying that she was feeling too tired to stay much longer and could Don take them home.

Lisa turned to Philip.

“Listen, there’s no need for you to come back now if you don’t want to.  You got my Ford and you know the way across to the house.”

Just to check, Philip talked the short route to the house over with Don, who nodded, and a few moments later, with Lisa and Don gone, Molly came back out to the verandah.

“Do you want to come into the living room?  Don’t know about you but it’s starting to feel a little too cool for me.”

He took the few steps into the living room and sat back in a comfortable wide easy chair.  Molly refreshed his glass. Two of her dogs came up to his legs and looked up at him with longing eyes.

“That’s Dhalia to your left, and the other is Ruby.  They are both Mexican street dogs that were rescued which I was unable to find homes for.”

He looked at Dhalia and Ruby.  They were both similar in height and fur colouring; shortish, light-brown, straight hair with bright-eyed attentive faces on bodies of about eighteen to twenty inches paw to shoulder.  Ruby, the slightly heavier of the two, jumped up on to the free part of the seat cushion next to where he was sitting. Dhalia stood up on her hind legs, tail wagging fit to burst, and placed both front paws on his knees.  He idly stroked each eager head with each hand.  Ruby, without meeting the slightest resistance from Philip, softly shuffled her body so that her front legs were across his thighs and laid her head down on her front legs.

“They’re beautiful animals, with such gentle natures,” he said to Molly. “I would have expected feral dogs to be, oh I don’t know, more wild, more feral.”

He went on to add, “And there’s something else I’ve noticed about your dogs, Molly, and that is how you have many more female dogs.”

He sensed he may have touched on a sensitive issue.

“Philip, some of the locals around here are very poor.  They will sort through bins looking for anything to sell, trade or eat; not even immune to stealing stuff to sell on, and so on. While in some ways I can understand what the poorer Mexicans have to do, there is one practice that still hurts me even to think about it. I’m referring to their habit of impregnating mother dogs so that when the mother has puppies, they may be sold for a few pesos. But because they can’t afford to keep that mother dog, frequently I find them thrown out on the street not long after she has had her puppies, often with milk still in her teats.”

She paused before saying, “That’s why the majority of the dogs I have taken in are females. That’s why they are such beautiful creatures.  Dogs understand.”

There was a long silence. He was surprised to find himself empathising so strongly with the pain of these mother dogs. As though his experiences of having Pharaoh in his life and the intimate ways that Dhalia and Ruby were connecting with him just now were opening something inside of him; something older than time itself.

Molly cleared her throat. “So, it sounds like it’s been a bit of a year for you.  Lisa filled me in on the details. Must have been a tough period for you.”

“Well, from what Lisa mentioned I’ve not been the only one hurting.  She told me that it wasn’t too long ago that your husband died.  Damn sight worse  losing a long-term loving and devoted husband than what I went through, me thinks.”

Molly replied in a quiet, reflective voice. She talked about her late husband who she had known and loved for years, how he had died of dementia brought on by burst blood vessels in his head, how she had looked after him, non-stop his last few weeks.“Ben and I were married for over twenty-five years and he was so good to me all that time.  But in the end, the dementia turned him into a man I didn’t know and, I hope you’ll forgive me saying this, I was grateful when he eventually died.” He heard the conflict in her voice.

“How old was Ben when he died, Molly?”

“He was much older than me, some thirty-two years my senior, so he was eighty-eight when he died.  I know what you are probably thinking, that I was some young, blond bimbo who grabbed hold of an older man for his money and all that.  But it wasn’t like that at all.  We were genuinely good to each other over all those years and he loved me and I truly loved him, right up to the last.”

“Molly, did you say Ben was thirty-two years older than you. Because,  Maggie was eighteen years younger than me. Interesting pair of age gaps.” He paused, “But I’m sure, indeed certain, that Maggie and I had nothing like the relationship that it sounds as though you and Ben had.”

There was something about this evening, something about Molly’s openness, her seemingly sincere interest in his past, that led Philip to open up his heart and his soul.  He talked, talked and talked, his flow of recollections of past times broken only by questions from Molly. Questions that always seemed the most exquisitely pertinent ones to ask of him.  Questions from this woman who two days previously had met him for the first time.

There were several moments in his recounting of his past years when the emotion caught in his throat; when the corners of his eyes became moist.  Unerringly, each time this happened, Ruby looked at him directly with her soft, brown eyes and licked the fingers of his nearest hand.  And each time that Ruby licked him Dhalia uncurled herself from the carpet just in front of his feet, stood up and put her paws on his knees.

Molly spoke of how all her rescue dogs offered her so much love and affection. How they seemed to know that this particular human had saved their lives.  At a deep, inner level he sensed a common thread. A thread of unconditional love from Molly to these dogs, Ruby to Dhalia, who, in turn, were offering him a feeling of being accepted as worthy of their unconditional love.  He started to understand the potential bliss of living with so many dogs in one’s life.

It was an unbelievable evening in which he lost complete track of time but not only that lost the need to even know the time.  Thus hours later, when he did look at his watch, he could not believe that it was fast approaching eleven-thirty at night.

“Oh, Molly, I’m so sorry.  Seems as though I have just dumped my life story and more on you. How embarrassing. Just look at the time; I’d best be going.” Ruby completely of her own accord slipped off Philip’s lap.

Moments later he stood up and was immediately struck by how far away from everything once familiar to him it all felt now.

They stood just inside the front door.

“Molly, thank you so much for this evening, for letting me practically talk non-stop like that.” There was a pause before he said, “May I ask a favour?”

“Of course, what is it?”

“I would love a hug.”

She silently opened her arms and he just melted into her body.  He knew that it had been a long time since he had needed such a hug and a lifetime since a woman had hugged him like this; being hugged by a woman who seemed to be accepting every part of this torn-up man.  There was a deep compassion and acceptance flowing from her. Ruby and Dhalia watched them; each vigourously wagging a tail.

4,434 words. Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover

The book! Chapter Nine.

Life is full of surprises and that seems to apply to writing a book as well!

I was chatting to Jeannie yesterday afternoon taking a break from, yes, you guessed it, book writing!  Speaking about another aspect of ‘write a book in November’ that had been unexpected; that of the range of emotions associated with the task.

First up was excitement that I had committed to the idea.  Next was surprise that I had actually got stuck into it.  Then came the feeling of being over the worst, that I really would write a 50,000 word book. But what followed next, to a certain extent reflecting my present mood, is that writing words for words sake is one thing, writing something that would result in a compelling and engaging story is something completely different.

As you can see my emotions are rather at odds with what NaNoWriMo published yesterday:

Wrimos, congratulations. You’ve made it through the strenuous Week Two, and emerged (mostly) unscathed. Not only are you past the halfway point of the month, but you’re far enough into your novel that actual things are (likely) starting to happen.

I’ve always found the shore of Week Three to be the most exciting place to stand, and the trip through it the most exhilarating portion of the month. You’ve gotten to know your characters, the story has a discernible shape and trajectory, and it’s just so thrilling to go play in that world you’ve crafted.

That being said, a brief addendum: if the bogs of Week Two sucked you in a bit, and you’re behind on word count, don’t despair. Week Three’s momentum is fantastic for helping get back on track.

Ah well!


Learning from Dogs

Chapter Nine

Philip easily found the house, a relatively modern brick-built detached house in a suburban road just off the Torbay Road, the road that connected Torquay with Brixham and then on to Dartmouth.  Indeed, as Philip turned into the concrete drive that lead to the garage door, a neat garden on his left, he realised that a much shorter way back home via Totnes would be along the Preston Down Road just a couple of turnings from where the Atkins had their home.

Jonathan opened the front door just as Philip’s hand went to the bell-push.

“Ah, excellent timing.  Helen has just left so there’s been no need to ask you to park at the kerbside. Do come on in.”

He led Philip into a front room that seemed to be set up as an office room or study.

“Can I get you a warm drink? Coffee, tea?”

“I would murder for a tea, missed my second cup of the day to be here on time.”

“Oh, apologies, hope this wasn’t too early to meet up?”

“Jonathan, not at all, I was just kidding.  Well, maybe partially kidding!”

This levity from Philip came naturally and spontaneously, reflecting a sense of openness that he couldn’t put his finger on. That same feeling that he had had when listening to Jonathan’s presentation back, golly when was that now, he had to think for a moment, back in the Autumn some two months ago now.

Over the hot cup of tea, Earl Grey as Philip noticed, a favourite of his, Jonathan outlined his background.  That he was a registered psychotherapist with a Master’s degree in Core Process Psychotherapy, whatever that was Philip mused, and, interestingly, a qualified teacher with a teaching degree from Exeter back in 1989. Going on to add that he was a member of the Institute of Transactional Analysis and a licensed practitioner in neuro-linguistic programming.

At this point Jonathan paused noticing that Philip’s eyes had started to glaze over.

“Sorry, Philip, guess this all is a little mumbo-jumbo for the uninitiated,” going on to suggest that Philip can look up the full details on his website. Philip made a note of the web address.

Philip then paused before saying, “Sorry, Jonathan, I’m sure your background is crucial in terms of your professional way of life.  But the challenge for me before even thinking of being your business mentor is that there is nothing in my background that would allow me to understand your experiences, to know your world.” Philip paused, and then added, “Well, I guess I now know who to call if I become even sillier than I already am.”

“Philip, just stay with me for a little longer while I explain what my  situation is.”

Philip looked down at his notebook, drew a line under the website address he had just noted, put down the time and date and looked back up at Jonathan.

“I have been working as a psychotherapist for a number of years on the payroll of an Exeter company; Cowdrays.  It was something I needed to do in terms of becoming fully accredited as a psychotherapist.  It’s a long and drawn out process.”

Just as well Philip thought.

“I am now very close to the point where I want to stand on my own two feet and run my own business.  That’s why hearing you speak at that Exeter event was so useful.  I appreciate you saying how you don’t understand my background in detail.” Jonathan took a couple of breaths and continued, “But while I’m clear about the services that I can offer and where I would like to operate, when it comes to starting, running, and more critically, marketing my own business, frankly I haven’t a clue.”

Wow, Philip thought, still looking down at the page on his knee.

“So it occurred to me when listening to you speak whether you were still taking on clients and whether you felt you and I could work together?”

Philip let a few moments pass, trying to listen to the quieter, inner parts of his brain.

“Jonathan, In principle, I believe I have the experience and background that you are looking for.  But here’s the rub. My knowledge of your market is practically zero.  OK, I’ve been on the receiving end of some counselling, some relationship counselling, but many of the terms you used when explaining your background, terms like neuro-linguistic programming, did I hear that correctly?”

Jonathan nodded.

“Those were terms I didn’t understand at all. Even the phrase core process psychotherapy didn’t mean much to me.  So what bothers me is whether or not I could properly and competently understand your clients, in other words your potential customers’ needs.  Because if I can’t within reasonable time understand exactly who your potential customers are, what they have, what they don’t have, what they need, what the payoff is, sorry to use such a clumsy term, and more, I can’t competently mentor you.”

Philip went on to add, “Back in my old days of selling for IBM, we described the process of selling a product to a customer as the business of understanding need, feature and benefit.  OK, I was only selling IBM Selectric typewriters, you know the old golfball typewriters, but the principle is still the same.  That for every aspect of a service that you wish to sell to a customer, you need to understand fully what the customer’s need is for that service, how it can be described in terms that the customer understands and, finally, why the Jonathan Atkins’ service is better than your competitors.  Sorry if that sounded too much like a lecture.”

Philip realised that he had become quite agitated in those last few minutes and consciously breathed in and out a few times to settle himself down.  Jonathan had noticed but instinctively knew that Philip had a few more thoughts to offer.

Philip smiled, “Sorry, I got a little passionate just there,” and went on to say, “I think what I was responding to was the potential appeal of working with you but, at the same time, realising that I just didn’t have the appropriate experience of your likely market segments; to use some more jargon.”

Jonathan looked Philip in the face and said, “How well do you understand business people?”

“Er, that sounds like a trick question,” Philip replied with a smile across his face.

“No, it’s not.  For the area that I wish to be in is the area of the relationships that professional persons have in their workplace. Let me explain.”

Philip sensed something significant was about to happen.

“Professional people, managers, directors, even lawyers, those that are more likely than not to be driven people, they are much more likely to have some interesting childhood experiences, various levels of parental issues of one form or another, than people in general.  In a very real sense, those backgrounds give them the edge, the fuel, for want of a better term, to succeed.”

Again, Philip felt a breath of something blow across his consciousness.

“However, the very drivers of success are also the root causes of the many issues that these people have in managing their teams and, frequently, in getting the best from their suppliers and other key business relationships including, of course, their relationships with their customers.”

Jonathan added, with a wry smile on his face, “You see I can dish the jargon just as well as you.”

Philip smiled back and could sense where this was leading.

“So, it’s my guess that first as a salesman for IBM, then when running your own company selling software around the world, and now mentoring those already running their own businesses, you have a much better idea of this group of people, the personalities, the frequent lack of mindfulness, what may be expressed as their emotional ignorance, than you first thought.”

Philip got it.

“Well, yes, of course.  I just hadn’t thought of it in those terms.  As a salesman both for IBM and then for my own company, I must have met on a personal one-to-one basis, thousands of business people.  In fact, it got to the stage where I could make a private guess as to whether or not I was going to sell to that person within the first couple of minutes of meeting them.

Philip reflected for a moment, then went on to say, “In fact, my very good Californian friend, Danny Mitchell, who was my US West Coast distributor and with as many years of selling experience as me, used to say exactly the same thing.  That he knew whether or not he was going to close the deal within the first five minutes.”

This was starting to be very interesting.

“Philip, you don’t need to worry yourself about all the strange terms and descriptions that are wall-to-wall in my line of work, you need to understand that what I seek to offer are reliable, people-centred, sorry another term, ways of allowing professional people to realise that a better understanding of self, of who they are, can offer huge dividends in understanding others.  That, of course, if we are talking about a business, has a direct and hugely positive effect on the performance of that business.”

“OK, I’m sold,” Philip said, as he threw his arms up in mock surrender, going on to add in a light-hearted almost frivolous mood, “Of course, you do know that the easiest persons to sell to are salesmen!” He noted how comfortable this new relationship with Jonathan seemed to feel.

They then talked through the mentoring aims, agreed on the financial terms, and the usual other bits and pieces that such a new relationship often entailed.

“So, Jonathan, in terms of a schedule, when you do want to get started?”

“Frankly, Philip, there’s going to be a slight delay.  I’ll tell you why. Namely, that it’s not going to be possible for you and I to work together until not only have I resigned from Cowdrays but then worked out my notice.”

Philip showed with a nod that he understood this.

Jonathan continued, “What I am thinking is once the New Year is here and the coaching programme for the early part of 2006 is settled, then I will know what my obligations are to Cowdrays and when would be the appropriate time to give notice.”

Adding, almost as an afterthought, “And my inclination is that I should offer three months notice but appeal to Cowdrays that if it makes no difference to them, could I be released earlier. So it could well be heading towards the middle of 2006 before I can come to you unencumbered, as it were.”

“Jonathan, that’s not an issue at all.  In fact, it will give me plenty of time to think things through.  Because, what’s clear to me is that building your own business will require much more sensitivity than a classical start-up.  It’s not as though you can shout across the roof-tops, ‘are you a professional person who screws up relationships, because, hey, here’s someone who can really help’, much as it would be nice to do so.”  There was a hint of a giggle in Philip’s voice.

Philip made a few notes, closed his notebook, and started to rise from his chair.

“Once again, Jonathan, thank you so much.  I’m going to enjoy working together; hugely enjoy.  You and your family have a wonderful Christmas and a very Happy New Year.  Going to be quite a year, me thinks.”

“Philip, you too.  Be in touch just as soon as I can.”

With that Philip bade farewell to Jonathan, unlocked his car door, started up the engine and reversed carefully out on to the street.

Yes, 2006 looked like being quite a year.


1,980 words. Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover

The book! Chapter Four

A bit of a slog just now!

My sub-heading is further forward in time, as it were, than Chapter Four represents.

Because at the time of preparing this post for today. i.e. yesterday afternoon, while I am releasing Chapter Four to you very forgiving readers, in terms of my current position, I have just started Chapter Eight. So on the NaNoWriMo website, my word count is, or will be within the next hour, around the 16,500 mark, as opposed to the word count at the end of Chapter Four which was 10,100 words.

On one hand that feels like some achievement but the reality is that it is very close to where I have to be today, to achieve the 50,000 words by the end of November and, guess what, another 1,660 words has to be created tomorrow, and Tuesday, and Wednesday, and ….. I’m sure you get the message.

Anyway, enough of this waffling, I have words to write! 😉

Here’s Chapter Four that continued from Chapter three here.


Learning from Dogs.

Chapter Four

Upon his return to Harberton, Philip’s change of mood was unmistakable from that when he and Pharaoh had left the house a little over three hours ago. He opened the front door, allowing Pharaoh to push past him, as he always did, and stepped into the house.

Maggie was downstairs in their bedroom sorting through laundry. Philip, led by Pharaoh, went in to the room. He sat on the edge of the made-up bed.

“Guess what, Maggie!” he exclaimed. “We had the most amazing stroke of luck.”

“Come on,” Maggie replied, “Let’s go upstairs and I’ll make us some coffee and you can tell me all about it.”

As they sat drinking their coffees, Philip explaining the chance meeting with Angela and next Wednesday’s appointment, the grey cloud was breaking up and letting a fitful November’s Winter sun through the pair of full length windows that looked Southwards out over the tiny cul-de-sac where their house was situated.  Maggie and Philip had lived here for some eight years, coming together to live here about a year after they had first met. Luckily, at that time Philip had been in rented accommodation in a farmhouse just a couple of miles away.  So when Philip suggested that he and Maggie buy a house together, it was an uncomplicated move.

They had struck lucky in finding the property soon after this house had come on to the market.  It was actually a converted stone cow-shed that had originally been built over two hundred years ago.  The stone barn, to give it a more accurate description, was the typical Devon stone barn in that the cattle were accommodated, stable fashion, at ground level and the hay was stored on the level above.  At that time, the barn would have been on the edge, and connected to, the open grassland to their West.  But when the barn was taken out of agricultural use and sold, it had only a fraction of that pre-existing grassland attached.

The local guy who had done the conversion some twenty years ago had done it as an ‘upside-down’ house with the living rooms above the two bedrooms and family bathroom on the ground level.  But despite it being a smallish house, it was full of character and Philip had been lucky to find out about it.  In fact, from a casual remark over a pint of Devon ale in the Church House Inn, the local village pub.  Philip had idly asked David, the publican, if he knew of any houses for sale in the village.  David had put a hand up to halt Philip in mid-sentence and called across the bar, “Barry, someone wants to buy your barn!”  And that had been that.

Before Philip knew it, Wednesday morning had arrived. Monday and Tuesday had been busy days for him.  Since he had returned in 1993 from a few years living overseas, he had found himself being asked to provide mentoring support to a number of other entrepreneurs.  Philip had been fortunate to start his own business back in 1978 after leaving IBM in the UK, and even more fortunate to have someone contact him in 1986 enquiring if Philip might be interested in selling out.  Ever the salesman, Philip was delighted to close the deal and take a few years off bumming around the Mediterranean.

This part of South-West England had many who either wanted to start their own business or needed support in developing an already established operation.  It wasn’t a great money-spinner for Philip but the connections and the variety of different businesses out there, plus so many fascinating entrepreneurs, made it very enjoyable.  Plus he, himself, was constantly learning new ideas.

Of course, any reminiscences of the past had Philip lingering in the memories of those years from 1978 through to 1986, the years that he ran his own business. Way back to the early days of business computing. Back to a chance meeting with the sales manager of Commodore Computers UK at their Chiswick headquarters to the west of London.  How he had become the sixth Commodore Computer dealer in the UK based in Colchester in early 1979 and been offered the opportunity of distributing a word-processing program for the Commodore ‘PET’.  While he hadn’t a clue about computers, Philip had left IBM as an experienced word processing salesman.  In a dramatic turn of fortune, Philip went from having trouble spelling the word computer to being able to offer the Commodore Computer with word-processing software for businesses for around a tenth of the cost of then ‘stand-alone’ word-processing machines.  It really was a licence to print money.

He must have become lost in thought to the point where Pharaoh had to remind him with a nudge from a warm snout that they were going out and to, please, open that front door! A very excited Pharaoh bounced down the steps, he sensed something very different about this day.

Again, South Devon was offering typical November weather with low grey clouds and the promise of rain. Philip had Pharaoh’s regular leash plus he had grabbed the body harness that was such a gentle alternative to tugging on a dog’s collar.

As he drove across to Staverton to walk some of Pharaoh’s excitement away, before going on to Angela, his mind drifted back to those days of running his own business, reflecting on how quickly demand for his software had him setting up country distributors right across the world.  In America, he had set up a distributor for the eastern part of the USA in Philadelphia in New Jersey, and in Southern California had likewise appointed a distributor, Danny Mitchell, for the western half of the US.

Dear old Danny Mitchell, what a character he had been.  No, that’s wrong, it should be what a character he still is!  Danny and Philip had formed a fantastic relationship that was still going strong today after more than twenty-four years.

It was a little after nine-thirty when he parked nose-in to James’ field gate.  He let Pharaoh out of the car, locked the car doors and opened the gate to the upper field.  Just for a change and just as much for the experiment, once the gate was closed behind them, he commanded Pharaoh to sit.

“Pharaoh, stay!”  Philip quietly unclipped the leash.  “Pharaoh heel!” Philip slapped his left thigh with his left hand, and set off down the grassy path.  As he hoped, Pharaoh trotted beautifully to heel, even up to within a few yards of the edge of the woods.

“Pharaoh, sit!”  Philip rubbed Pharaoh’s forehead, just where the blackness of his snout filtered into the black-brown hair across his wide, brown eyes.  “There’s a good boy.  Go on then, off you go.”

Pharaoh was away into the trees.

Philip found one of the stumps he used for such mornings, swept the back of his coat underneath his backside and sat down on the old oak stump.

The hour passed as gently as one could ever wish for and, as if on cue, Pharaoh trotted up to where Philip was still sitting just about when it was time to be off to Angela’s place.

Soon they were back in the car and Philip reversed out into the lane and repeated the car journey of just last Sunday.  He couldn’t square the circle of the events since that Deborah Longland had marched them off, figuratively speaking, from her class just last Saturday afternoon.  It seemed like a lifetime ago.  That old chestnut came to mind; one of many that he was apt to use.  The one about never underestimating the power of unintended consequences!

As they nosed again into Angela’s yard area, about ten minutes before eleven, she was there expecting them.  This time the muddy overalls and red plastic boots had been cast aside for a pair of freshly laundered blue jeans, fitting snugly around her hips, over a pair of soft, walking shoes, topped with a cotton blue-and-white blouse showing from under a woollen pullover.  Angela’s face declared more make-up than last Sunday.

“Morning Philip,” Angela called out in a bright and breezy manner as Philip closed his driver’s door behind him.

“Good morning to you, Angela.  What’s the plan then?”

“It’s quite simple, Philip.  Just walk him on his leash over towards that fenced off pasture, just where I’m pointing.  Stop before reaching the gate when you are five or ten feet away.”

Philip opened the tail-gate quietly surprised that Pharaoh was in a very contented mood.  Despite the lure of so many new sights and smells, Pharaoh sat on his haunches as Philip clipped on his leash.

“Down Pharaoh. Pharaoh sit. Pharaoh heel.” Bless him, Philip thought, he’s behaving immaculately.

As they came to a halt, Angela standing a little before the gate, Philip noticed that in the far left-hand corner of the pasture were two dogs. Philip was totally thrown by Angela’s next instruction.

“Philip, I’m going to open the gate a little and stand back.  Just slip inside the field, let Pharaoh off his leash and then leave him to do just what he wants to do.”

“But Angela, I can’t guarantee that he won’t go across and be aggressive to those dogs over there.”

“Don’t worry, Philip.  This is not as random and unplanned as you may think.”

Angela then unlatched the gate and opened it towards her by quite an amount.  She then stood back.

Pharaoh looked at the open gate and the two dogs a good hundred yards from him in that corner of the field.  Philip released the leash and stepped out. Pharaoh walked confidently in beyond the open gate and further on for about twenty-five yards.  Pharaoh hesitated.

Then came the call from Angela that would be destined to be in Philip’s consciousness for the rest of his days.

“There’s nothing wrong with Pharaoh!”

Philip practically choked on getting his next words out. “Sorry? Not sure I heard you correctly? Did you say there’s nothing wrong?  But don’t understand.  How on earth can you tell so quickly when Pharaoh’s hardly even entered the field?”

“Philip, it’s very easy.  Because my two dogs haven’t taken any notice of him.  He’ll be fine.  Let’s just lean on the fence and watch the three of them and I’ll explain what’s going on.”

Philip came up and lent his arms over the top horizontal rail of the fence, its height comfortably allowing the rail to run across his chest and under each armpit.  Angela, being a little shorter than Philip, stood next to him with her hands on the rail.

“Those two dogs of mine in the field are Sam and Meda. They are both teaching dogs.  Sam is a teaching dog, a male, that we would describe as a Nannie and Meda is a female teaching dog more closely described as a Mentor.  Don’t worry just now, I’ll explain all later. Let’s just watch Pharaoh’s interaction with them for a while.”

Philip was silent, utterly overcome with emotion.  He loved that dog of his so much and had been so worried these past few days that to have Angela’s endorsement of him in this manner was joy beyond joy.

He watched as Pharaoh came up to Angela’s two dogs, head slightly lowered, tail down, seemingly offering himself to Sam and Meda as a submissive youngster ready to learn.

Sam took no notice at all of Pharaoh as Meda partially encircled Pharaoh, sniffed his bum and then, miracle of miracles, softly touched wet nose to wet nose.  Pharaoh noticeably perked up and as Sam came across to greet this new companion, Pharaoh’s tail gently wagged a return greeting. Sam then hung back as Meda appeared to take Pharaoh on a bit of tour around the field, sharing this smell and that smell.

“Do you know what, Philip,” Angela remarked, “I’m pretty sure that Pharaoh is another Mentor.”

She continued, “I can see no difference in their hierarchies.  In other words Pharaoh is not dominating Meda, neither Meda dominating Pharaoh. I think you have a wonderful German Shepherd.  Wouldn’t be at all surprised if I can’t use him teaching some of the poor dogs that come this way.”

Angela added, “Let’s call them in and I’ll make us a nice cup of tea and open your eyes to the magical world of dogs.”

With that Angela called out to her dogs and over they came, Pharaoh happily in tow.  Philip was able to call him over to the car and Pharaoh jumped up just as happy as a dog could be.

Sam and Meda had parked themselves somewhere else and Angela pointed Philip towards a static caravan that seemed to be the customer’s lounge.  Inside, there was a small gas burner and within minutes the kettle was singing out in the unique way that full kettles sound when they are warming up.

“Sit yourself down in the corner, Philip.  Won’t be long.  How do you take your tea? White with sugar, or …”

“Just white with no sugar, please Angela.  Must say that I could murder a fresh cup of tea.”

“Tell you what, why don’t you go and bring Pharaoh to be with us in the caravan.  This story about dogs could take a while!” Angela winked at him.

Moments later, Pharaoh was curled up contentedly on the opposite corner cushion.  Shepherds, like most other breeds of dogs, but ten times more so, loved being in the company of humans chatting comfortably together.

Five minutes later, fingers around the warm, white china mug, steam rising from the freshly brewed tea, Philip was all ears to learn more about dogs in general and teaching dogs in particular.

Philip knew that he was on the verge of embracing dogs, in every single meaning of the word.  It was a magical morning.

2,330 words Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover

The power of thinking

It’s easy to underestimate just how powerful the brain can be.

Last Friday’s post was called Instinctive behaviours and explored the notion of instinct, coming to the conclusion that almost everything the brain does is a result of learning rather than genetics.  Yet acknowledging the vast amount of brain activity that runs in ‘background’ mode or subconsciously.

That was brought home to me in spades as a result of being introduced to the flying of gliders, or sailplanes in American speak.  The year was 1981 and working near to me in my offices in Colchester, Essex was a gentlemen running his own company, like yours truly.  His name was Roger Davis and we were sharing a beer one day when the subject of flying came up.  It piqued my interest so, as my logbook declares, on the 7th June, 1981 I had the first of two flights in a glider with Roger at the controls.  The place was Rattlesden Airfield, an old wartime airfield near Felsham, Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk.  The gliding club was Rattlesden Gliding Club.

RGC header

The glider we were in was known as a K-7, a high-wing, two-seater (naturally!) glider with the instructor sitting behind the student.
A K-7 typical of the glider I first flew in at Rattlesden GC.
A K-7 typical of the glider I first flew in at Rattlesden GC.

Anyway, some 43 flights later, I was signed off to conduct my first solo flight in the K-7.  The date was 5th September, 1981 and my flight time was just 4 minutes!  I was hooked.

In over 10 years of flying amounting to more than 1,400 flights I had the great fortune to experience much of the magic of flying relying on nothing more than the currents of air.

Ahh! Memories!  Over 10 years of glider flying, amounting to more than 200 hours of flight-time, 17 different types of glider.  Longest flight was 5 hours, 16 minutes including a climb to over 6000 feet above sea-level on the 7th July, 1985 in a single-seater LS4 glider type.

So what’s this got to do with subconscious thinking?  Simply this.

One quickly learnt that once the decision had been made to land, most frequently because one was unable to find further, or any, rising air currents the brain had a major computing task in hand.  As the aircraft descends, the air currents change and the direction and velocity of the wind changes.  There is no engine to allow one to abort the landing; to do a ‘go round’!

One of the key visual judgments was determining the point of touchdown: not too early that might risk a ground contact before the start of the runway, and not too late which might risk running out of landing space.

Thus the brain was operating clearly in two modes.  Consciously, computing second by second where the touch-down point was going to be and, subconsciously, the flying of the glider as in operating the joystick and rudder pedals in support of the touch-down ‘computations’.

Moving on.

In last Friday’s post, I also wrote this: “Plus something that could just possibly be the key to mankind having a long-term sustainable future on this planet: The Power of Thinking.

That ‘something’ was me reflecting on an article in the October 7th edition of FORTUNE magazine.  Not something I read on a normal basis but just happened to come across that edition – and glad I did.  Because there was an article about IBM’s new supercomputer Watson.  The link to the summary is here, from which I republish this:

Dr. Mark Kris is among the top lung cancer specialists in the world. As chief of thoracic oncology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering (MSK) Cancer Center in New York City, he has been diagnosing and treating patients for more than 30 years. But even he is overwhelmed by the massive amount of information that goes into figuring out which drugs to give his patients — and the relatively crude tools he has to decipher that data. “This is the standard for treatment today,” he says, passing me a well-worn printout of the 2013 treatment guidelines in his office. We choose a cancer type. A paragraph of instructions says to pair two drugs from a list of 16. “Do the math,” he says. It means more than 100 possible combinations. “How do you figure out which ones are the best?”

It’s a huge problem. More than 230,000 Americans will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year. Almost all of them will receive chemotherapy. As crude as the existing guidelines are, says Kris, they won’t be followed more than half the time. If we bumped up adherence by just 10% to 20%, he says, as many as 30,000 people might live longer. Never mind curing cancer — shouldn’t we be able to get the best available combinations of medications to sick people now?

That’s the question that led Kris to IBM. He saw that more information was not the answer. What doctors needed was a better brain — one that could instantly vacuum up facts, draw deeper connections between data points, and remember everything. They needed Watson.

Just read that last paragraph again.  That it’s not about information, it’s about offering humanity computing power that can see things that humans might not easily see.

Thus, I mused that when mankind gets to the point where there is total and complete commitment to finding a non-carbon-burning way ahead for every living thing on this planet we won’t have the luxury of countless years working out the new journey directions.  Maybe, just maybe, computing power a la Watson might just be our saving grace.

Curious to learn more about IBM Watson?  Then here’s the relevant website.

Closing my Windows.

A big move on in my computing. 

Warning! Today’s post has almost nothing to do with dogs plus if you are not into computing then you may want to come back tomorrow! 😉

A little over a week ago I ordered an Apple Mac computer.

So what, I hear you say.

Well one way or another, I have been associated with personal computing for too many years and with the Microsoft Windows operating system equally for a long time.

Here’s that history and, be warned, I do go on a tad!

In 1970 I joined the Office Products (OP) Division of IBM in the United Kingdom.  I joined as an office products salesman and after my initial training was based at IBM OP’s London North branch in Whetstone in the London Borough of Barnet.  I loved both the job (remember the Selectric ‘Golfball’ typewriter?) and the company and conspired to win the prize of top UK salesman for the year 1977.  By that time, IBM was selling dedicated word-processing (WP) machines.  They offered powerful benefits for companies of many sizes and, as an experienced WP salesman, I was enjoying the fruits of that success.  Thus it was that in 1978 I attended IBM’s Golden Circle celebrations for 1977 country winners from all around the world.  The Golden Circle celebrations were held in Hawaii!

I returned from Hawaii with the clear idea in my mind that this was the time to move on; my ego didn’t like the idea of not being number one again!  So within a couple of days of returning to my sales branch, I announced to my manager, David Halley, that I wished to give three months notice.  I can still recall David’s rather shocked response with him saying, “But I always thought Golden Circle was an incentive event!

In those days New Scientist magazine was a regular read for me.  During my time of working out my notice I read in the magazine about this new personal computer from Commodore Business Machines that had been launched in the UK.  It was called the Commodore PET (Personal Electronic Transactor) and had been unveiled in 1977 at the US West Coast Computer Faire.  I was captivated by what I had read.


I had casually mentioned it to Richard Maugham; a good friend and fellow office-products salesman working for Olivetti UK.  Richard said that coincidentally a close friend of many years had just been appointed sales manager for CBM UK Ltd.  That friend was Keith Hall and on making contact with Keith, I was invited to go and meet him and learn more about this funny device.  What I hadn’t bargained for was that Keith was yet another smart salesman; Keith and Richard had met when they were both salesmen working for Olivetti.

When I asked Keith the retail price of the ‘PET”, his immediate reply was, “Well why don’t you become a dealer and I can sell you one for 30% less!”  Like most salesmen, I was always a sucker to a good sales pitch! I signed the necessary paperwork. (It is very sad to say that Keith died a few years ago, at far too young an age.)

So it was that towards the end of 1978, I became the sixth Commodore computer dealer in the UK, opening my small store in what had once been a Barber’s shop in Church Street, off Head Street in the centre of Colchester, Essex.  I called my business Dataview Limited.

Frankly, I hadn’t a clue as to what I was doing!  If it hadn’t been for a gigantic stroke of luck I would not have lasted long!

That piece of luck was meeting someone who was a programmer for a large, traditional computing company, ICL, who had bought himself a Commodore PET and, just out of fun, was writing a word-processing program. Now if I didn’t know about computers, personal or otherwise, I certainly knew about word-processing.  When I looked at what Peter D. had written I practically wet myself.  Because, I was looking at a program that even incomplete already offered three-quarters, give or take, of the functionality of a £20,000 IBM Word Processor.

I offered to guide Peter in refining and honing his software which he graciously accepted.  Then a few weeks later Peter casually asked me if I would like to sell the software.  I jumped at the opportunity and in due course Wordcraft was launched under the Dataview umbrella.  (And do see my footnote!)

But back to my Windows journey.

In 1981 IBM announced the release of their own personal computer.


With my love affair with IBM not even dimmed, becoming an IBM PC dealer was a must.  An IBM PC version of Wordcraft was developed by Peter and now things were really rocking and rolling.  Then in 1983 Microsoft announced the development of Windows, a graphical user interface (GUI) for the operating system MS-DOS.  MS-DOS was the existing operating system on the IBM PC.

By the time I sold Dataview in 1986, Windows was well on its way to evolving into a full personal computer operating system and ever since that time my own PCs have been Windows based.  (Difficult to imagine now how in those early years Windows didn’t achieve any popularity!)

OK, fast forward 27 years to my present machine running Windows 7, Google Chrome web browser and all the fancy ‘cloud’-based applications of today.

Much of my time spent writing and blogging relies on me being online.  Like so many others, as soon as I turn on my computer it becomes an online PC.  On average, I am working in front of my PC for about 3 to 4 hours per day.  However, slowly but surely over the past few months I have become aware of a number of strange occurrences, the most annoying of which is the regular ‘hanging’ of my Chrome browser.  This was happening at least on a daily basis and required the complete rebooting of my PC – a right pain in the posterior!

Muttering about this to friends who know a lot more about computing than I, raised my awareness that the privacy and security of one’s computer was no longer to be assumed.  Then just recently, I read online,

A Special Surveillance Chip

According to leaked internal documents from the German Federal Office for Security in Information Technology (BSI) that Die Zeit obtained, IT experts figured out that Windows 8, the touch-screen enabled, super-duper, but sales-challenged Microsoft operating system is outright dangerous for data security. It allows Microsoft to control the computer remotely through a built-in backdoor. Keys to that backdoor are likely accessible to the NSA – and in an unintended ironic twist, perhaps even to the Chinese.

The backdoor is called “Trusted Computing,” developed and promoted by the Trusted Computing Group, founded a decade ago by the all-American tech companies AMD, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, and Wave Systems. Its core element is a chip, the Trusted Platform Module (TPM), and an operating system designed for it, such as Windows 8. Trusted Computing Group has developed the specifications of how the chip and operating systems work together.

Its purpose is Digital Rights Management and computer security. The system decides what software had been legally obtained and would be allowed to run on the computer, and what software, such as illegal copies or viruses and Trojans, should be disabled. The whole process would be governed by Windows, and through remote access, by Microsoft.

Then a few paragraphs later:

It would be easy for Microsoft or chip manufacturers to pass the backdoor keys to the NSA and allow it to control those computers. NO, Microsoft would never do that, we protest. Alas, Microsoft, as we have learned from the constant flow of revelations, informs the US government of security holes in its products well before it issues fixes so that government agencies can take advantage of the holes and get what they’re looking for.

Now I’m using Windows 7 so imagine my angst when I then read:

Another document claims that Windows 8 with TPM 2.0 is “already” no longer usable. But Windows 7 can “be operated safely until 2020.” After that other solutions would have to be found for the IT systems of the Administration.

That did it for me – time to move on from Windows.

Many Apple-user friends said that I should switch to the Apple Mac; that it was the only logical way to go.  I checked that all my important software applications that I used under Windows were compatible with the Apple Mac Operating System and thankfully they were.  I was speaking of Open Office, WordPress, Scrivener, Picasa, Skype.  Then I started to browse the Apple website.  I was clear about wanting a desktop machine, an iMac, and pretty soon realised that my change of personal computing was going to cost me around $1,500, perhaps a little more.

Then Dan Gomez, both long-time friend and Apple user, in browsing the web came across the Mac mini.  He called me and I took a look.  For well under half the price of an iMac, I could get a great alternative to my Windows PC and use many of my existing peripherals.

A quick conversation with Zachary of the Apple Mac mini sales team and the deed was done!  So all that remained was the great transition!

The box arrived last Wednesday.

Surely too small for a full-blooded personal computer?
Surely too small for a full-blooded personal computer?

I resisted opening the box until last Friday when I had some decent spare time.

This is a long, long way from the Commodore PET!
This is a long, long way from the Commodore PET!

Plugging it all together was easier than I feared.

Just screen and keyboard/mouse and we are good to go!
Just screen and keyboard/mouse and we are good to go!

Then the acid test. Could I even understand how to operate it?  I put that off until Saturday!

The new Mac mini system  on the right, all ready for me to play with!
The new Mac mini system on the right, all ready for me to play with!

I have to say that first impressions, especially of the elegance of the display and the icons, were great.

But this had to be a fully functional machine for me.  Where to start?  By downloading and installing the most critical of my software needs: Scrivener, my writing software.

Imagine my great pleasure and huge relief when less than a couple of hours later, not only had I downloaded and installed Scrivener for Apple Mac OS but had passed the latest backup file across from my Windows PC and accessed it on the Apple.

My (very) draft book file installed and running on the Mac mini!
My (very) draft book file installed and running on the Mac mini!

So, all in all, despite this being very early days, it’s starting to look like a great change.

However, I mustn’t close without thanking a few people:

Dan Gomez and John Hurlburt, friends and Apple users, and in John’s case experienced on both Windows and Apple systems. Guys, I couldn’t have made the decision to change without your kind, generous and supportive advice.

Zachary Brown of Apple sales, Mac mini team. Zach, I know it’s your job but nonetheless you did and said all the right things. (And the new screen is much better than my existing one!)

Last but not least, my dearest wife Jean, who just let me get on with things and even though I knew she didn’t have a clue as to what I kept muttering on about, never let on.


Earlier on I wrote about launching Wordcraft, the word-processing software for personal computers. That was in early 1979 and later that year I was invited to present Wordcraft at an international gathering of Commodore dealers held in Boston, Mass.

During my presentation, I used the word ‘fortnight’ unaware that Americans don’t know this common English word.  Immediately, someone about 10 rows back in the audience called out, “Hey, Handover! What’s a fortnight?”

It released the presenter’s tension in me and I really hammed my response in saying, “Don’t be so silly, everybody knows the word fortnight.” Seem to remember asking the audience at large who else didn’t know the word.  Of course, most raised their arms!

Now on a bit of a roll, I deliberately started using as many bizarre and archaic English words that came to me.  Afterwards, the owner of the voice came introduced himself.  He was Dan Gomez, a Californian based in Costa Mesa near Los Angeles and also involved in developing software for the Commodore.

Dan became my US West Coast distributor for Wordcraft and was very successful. When Dataview was sold, Dan and I continued to see each other regularly and I count him now as one of my dear friends.  Through knowing Dan I got to know Dan’s sister Suzann and her husband Don.  It was Su that invited me to spend Christmas 2007 with her and Don at their home in San Carlos, Mexico.  Jean also lived in San Carlos and was close friends with Su. Together they had spent many years rescuing feral dogs from the streets of San Carlos and finding new homes for them.

Thus it was that I met Jean.  Both Jean and I were born 20 miles apart in London!

So from ‘Hey, what’s a fortnight’ to living as happily as I have ever been in the rural countryside of Oregon.  Funny old world!

The marriage of Jean and Paul wonderfully supported by Diane, maid of honour, and best man, Dan Gomez.
The ‘voice’ Dan Gomez – Best Man at the marriage of Jean and me, November 20th 2010.

Understanding Europe!

A delightful tale sent to me by Richard Maugham.

Richard and I go back too many years!  He has been a dear friend despite the obvious hurdle that when we first met, he declared that he was a typewriter salesman for Olivetti in the UK with me admitting that I was a typewriter salesman for IBM UK!  Here’s the story.



Not Helga’s Bar!!

Helga is the proprietor of a bar. She realizes that virtually all of her customers are unemployed alcoholics and, as such, can no longer afford to patronize her bar. To solve this problem she comes up with a new marketing plan that allows her customers to drink now, but pay later.

Helga keeps track of the drinks consumed on a ledger (thereby granting the customers’ loans).

Word gets around about Helga’s “drink now, pay later” marketing strategy and, as a result, increasing numbers of customers flood into Helga’s bar. Soon she has the largest sales volume for any bar in town.

By providing her customers freedom from immediate payment demands, Helga gets no resistance when, at regular intervals, she substantially increases her prices for wine and beer – the most consumed beverages.

Consequently, Helga’s gross sales volumes and paper profits increase massively. A young and dynamic vice-president at the local bank recognises that these customer debts constitute valuable future assets and increases Helga’s borrowing limit. He sees no reason for any undue concern, since he has the debts of the unemployed alcoholics as collateral.

He is rewarded with a six figure bonus.

At the bank’s corporate headquarters, expert traders figure a way to make huge commissions, and transform these customer loans into DRINKBONDS. These “securities” are then bundled and traded on international securities markets.

Naive investors don’t really understand that the securities being sold to them as “AA Secured Bonds” are really debts of unemployed alcoholics. Nevertheless, the bond prices continue to climb and the securities soon become the hottest-selling items for some of the nation’s leading brokerage houses.

The traders all receive six figure bonuses.

One day, even though the bond prices are still climbing, a risk manager at the original local bank decides that the time has come to demand payment on the debts incurred by the drinkers at Helga’s bar. He so informs Helga. Helga then demands payment from her alcoholic patrons but, being unemployed alcoholics, they cannot pay back their drinking debts. Since Helga cannot fulfil her loan obligations she is forced into bankruptcy. The bar closes and Helga’s 11 employees lose their jobs.

Overnight, DRINKBOND prices drop by 90%. The collapsed bond asset value destroys the bank’s liquidity and prevents it from issuing new loans, thus freezing credit and economic activity in the community.

The suppliers of Helga’s bar had granted her generous payment extensions and had invested their firms’ pension funds in the BOND securities. They find they are now faced with having to write off her bad debt and with losing over 90% of the presumed value of the bonds. Her wine supplier also claims bankruptcy, closing the doors on a family business that had endured for three generations; her beer supplier is taken over by a competitor, who immediately closes the local plant and lays off 150 workers.

Fortunately though, the bank, the brokerage houses and their respective executives are saved and bailed out by a multibillion dollar no-strings attached cash infusion from the government.

They all receive a six figure bonus.

The funds required for this bailout are obtained by new taxes levied on employed, middle-class, non-drinkers who’ve never been in Helga’s bar……………………….!


I can add not a single word to this!

Transitions, pt One

Reflections on these present times.

Want a brilliant idea for tomorrow? Stay in the present!

Dogs do this wonderfully.  I am told that followers of Zen Buddhism discover peace and grace from embracing the present. But is there more to this?  Is there some deeper psychology involved?  Does our species have an intrinsic challenge in terms of staying in the present?

My musings on this arise from a couple of recent conversations.

The first was with Peter McCarthy from the Bristol area of West England.  Peter and I go back a few years (at my age, everything goes back a few years!) and at one stage I did some work for Peter’s company, Telecom Potential.  Just a quick aside, Peter’s company was based in the magnificent Clevedon Hall, a mansion built in 1853 as a family home for Conrad William Finzel, a German-born businessman.  Here’s a picture of one of the rooms,

A room at Clevedon Hall

Peter, like me, is sure that the period in which the world now appears to be, is not some cyclical downturn, not some temporary departure from the national growth and employment ambitions promoted by so many countries.  No! This one is different.

Peter is sure that a major transition is under way, as big as any of the great societal upheavals of the past.  And, for me, a fascinating comment from Peter was his belief that the key attitude required for the next years would be innovation.  Peter reminded me that we tend to think of innovation as applying to things physical, scientific and technical.  But Peter sensed that it would be in the area of social innovation where key changes would arise and, from which, these large societal changes would flow.

Then a day later I was chatting with one of the founders of a brilliant new authentication process, Pin Plus. It is a very smart solution to a major global problem, the weaknesses of traditional password user-authentication systems.

On the face of it, Pin Plus is obviously a better and more secure way of authenticating users, and a number of key test customers have borne this out.  Jonathan C was speaking of the challenges of convincing companies to have faith in this new process.  This is what he said,

More than once, indeed many times, I am told by prospects something along the lines that the IT world has been looking so hard and so long for a password solution that a solution can’t possibly exist.

Let’s ponder that for a moment.  Are we saying that a far-sighted approach to the potential for change is not an easy place for some, probably many, human brains?

Indeed, Jonathan and I mused that here we were, both speaking via Skype, an internet telephony service, both of us looking at different web sites in support of many of the points that we were discussing and totally dependent, in terms of our mentoring relationship, on the technology of the internet, a multi-node packet-switched communications system that was a direct result of the American shock of seeing the Russians launch the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, into low earth orbit on the 4th October, 1957.

Launch of Sputnik 1

At that time, it would have seemed impossible for anyone on the planet to see that the American response to Sputnik 1 would eventually lead to the vast packet-switched network that is now the modern Internet.

But why do we regard the ability to look into the future so utterly out of reach of the common man?  Look at this, the Internet Timeline here.  Look how quickly the response to Sputnik1 gathered pace.  See how Leonard Kleinrock of MIT way back in May, 1961, presented a paper on the theory of packet-switching in large communications networks.

So maybe there’s a blindness with humans.  A blindess that creates the following bizarre characteristics,

  • Whatever is going on in our lives at present we assume will go on forever.  I.e. the boom times will never end, or the period of doom and gloom is endless.
  • Our obsession with how things are now prevents us from reflecting on those signs that indicate changes are under way, even when the likely conclusions are unmistakeable.  The ecological and climatic changes being the most obvious example of this strange blindness that mankind possesses.
  • Yet, unlike animals and some spiritual groups of humans, truly living in the present appears incredibly difficult for man.
  • However, the history of mankind shows that our species is capable of huge change, practically living in constant change for the last few millennia, and that a very small proportion of a society, see yesterday’s article, is all that is required to create a ‘tipping point’.

I want to continue with this theme but conscious that there is still much to be written.  So, dear reader, I shall pause and pick this up tomorrow.

Just stay in the present for twenty-four hours!

Mandelbrot and fractals

Concluding article on the great Benoit Mandelbrot.

Yesterday, I wrote about Benoit Mandelbrot but wanted to save some additional information for today.

There’s a very comprehensive review of Benoit’s life on a website called NNDB.  In that review, it mentions his association with the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center where he worked for 32 years.  It was while working for IBM that he published the paper that established his credentials world-wide.  Taken from the IBM website is this extract,

The father of fractals, Dr. Benoit Mandelbrot, passed away from pancreatic cancer on October 16, 2010. He was 85.

Benoit, IBM Fellow Emeritus, joined the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center in 1958 where he worked for 32 years. His 1967 article published in Science, How Long Is the Coast of Britain? Statistical Self-Similarity and Fractional Dimension, introduced the concept that a geometric shape can be split into pieces that are smaller copies of the whole. It wasn’t until 1975 that he defined the mathematical shapes as fractals.

Here is another website that has fractal images taken from the Mandelbrot set.  An example.

Just stunningly beautiful!

Finally, if you go to this website there is a slideshow of stunning images of fractals in honour of the great man.

Bananas and common sense!

This is more than about the problems with Toyota.

The Economist is a newspaper.  It was first published in September 1843 which, of itself, makes it a notable newspaper.  Many years ago, more than I can recall just now, I became a subscriber to the newsprint version of this weekly paper.  It has become such a companion, so to speak, that when I left the UK in September 2008 to come to Mexico I made arrangements to continue receiving The Economist each week.

However, the Mexican postal system, despite being thoroughly reliable, is rather slow and, rather logically if you muse on it, the postman always only delivers when there is more than one item.  Thus the particular copy of The Economist that carried the story about Toyota arrived late and with three other editions!

Let me turn to the point of this article.

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