A bird does not sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song.

23 July 2012

(Repost) On Muses, and Other Imaginary Things that are Real

This is a re-post from June 5, 2011, from a different blog I was keeping at that time.  Today, apparently, is the day for spring cleaning old blog accounts -- I found and got rid of two of them that I had long since forgotten.  This was one of the entries I wanted to keep for future reference.

I just watched this 2009 TED Talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, on the subject of creativity and "divine inspiration." In it, she postulates the idea that imagining one's creative inspiration as an external entity might provide a more constructive approach to creative work than assuming your creative genius resides solely within you. She argues that letting your creative genius take the form of a "muse" or a "daemon" may take the pressure off. You do your work, and sometimes your muses show up, and sometimes they don't. You do your work regardless.

What I find fascinating about this idea is its psychological merit. Regardless of your belief system or notions of "divine intervention" or mythology, you can use a construct like this as a relief valve for feelings of pressure or frustration or "stuck"-ness. If offers a way of seeing the creative process as a collaboration between the individual and the universe, giving permission for flashes of brilliance to come into your head as well as out of it. Realistically, most, if not all creative people have had at least one moment of blissful, thrilling inspiration that they could not explain. While this notion does not quantify it for purposes of evidence-based science, it does serve as an explanation. If we accept the notion of science as that which we can explain, and "magic" (or divine inspiration, or flashes of brilliance, or whatever metaphor you like) as that which we cannot explain yet, we leave room in our world for these crazy ideas. Work hard, yes. Never give up. Devote yourself tirelessly to the work you know you exist to do. And trust that in so doing, something will happen that you don't necessarily understand, that will give significance to your work beyond anything you had thought possible.

10 July 2012

Hell Week

The week of October 7, 1996 was uniquely brutal, as we wrapped up the press kit materials, sent jobs to the printer and received cases back, stuffed press kits, double checked recipient addresses and generally got ready to go public with this grand new invention (T zero was to be the morning of October 16.)

Launch day was not "product launch" day -- it was just the day we announced this thing that had kept us all buried in NDA hell for the preceding six months.  But the anticipation of being out from under that, and our beliefs about what it would cause in the market, had me, at least, on the edge of my seat. (I suspect the caffeine may also have been a factor.)

I was asked to write the cover letter for the announcement packet, which would be signed by Casey, our CEO.  I was flattered to have the opportunity to speak in the voice of the boss, and did my best to say it the way I thought he would say it.

Finally, with no time to spare, we finished assembling all the press kits (there were somewhere around 300 of them, if I remember right).  They included shelf tag cards that explained the upgrade process and other items with the bright red and black x2 logo, a white paper that explained how the technology worked, and assorted other stuff.  It was all put into a very unassuming plain white folder with the U.S. Robotics logo in the lower right hand corner, and when you opened it, it fairly slapped you with bold x2 graphics.

And a cover letter from Casey, whose first words were "Welcome to the future."

*   *   *

Our competitors had made announcements of speed-doubling technologies prior to this point, with the main effect that U.S. Robotics stock went up.  The night before launch, on the strength of a "teaser" press release, USRX gained $8.78 a share.

And that afternoon, we put those 300 announcement packets on FedEx trucks, to hit the desks of every one of our resellers by 10:30 the next morning.

*   *   *

And on that morning, this was what the media received:


Internet Service Providers Embrace New x2 Technology; Plan Field Trials
& Roll-Out

Skokie, Ill., October 16, 1996 -- U.S. Robotics (NASDAQ:USRX) today announced a key breakthrough in modem technology that provides Internet and on-line connections at speeds nearly twice as fast as those currently available over standard telephone lines.

U.S. Robotics' new x2 increases the top speed of a standard modem for downloading data from 28.8 or 33.6 Kbps to 56 Kbps -- equivalent to many Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) connections, but without the need for expensive new central office equipment required by other high-speed technologies.

Service Providers Sign Up for x2
U.S. Robotics also announced that the world's leading Internet and on-line service providers support x2.  To date, more than 30 service providers worldwide have agreed to participate in field trials with broad roll-out plans to follow.

"As the worldwide leader in providing consumer Internet on-line services, America Online is excited about the x2 technology that will provide our more than 6.2 million members the ability to access AOL at even faster speeds," said Matt Korn, vice president, operations, America Online.  "We will continue to work with innovative technology, like x2, which will expand our members' experience and enable them to use a variety of multimedia services on AOL." "We plan to aggressively deploy this new high-speed modem technology across the IBM Global Network's more than 500 local calling points in the U.S.," said Gary Weis, general manager, worldwide operations, IBM Global Network.  "As soon as this new feature becomes available, the IBM Global Network will implement x2 via our automated software download process that enables customers to obtain network enhancements like this easily and quickly," he said.  In the near term, IBM Global Network will use x2 technology in the U.S., Canada and 14 other countries.

[read the rest]

It was official. We were on our way.

Next up: Delivering the Dream

02 July 2012

Interlude: What I'm Reading

Real life and a minor medical issue have disrupted my daily writing habit.  (If you are reading any one thing that I write, such as this blog, my website blog, or even my Facebook or Twitter accounts, you won't believe I write every day, but I do write something somewhere every day, I promise.  Except the last few days.)

As best I've been able, between brain-fogging medications and lots of extra sleep, I have still been doing a lot of reading.  In exploring all the new-to-me magazines I bought, I've come to the following conclusions:

I like the Economist a lot, but there's no way I'd be able to keep up with it every week.  I'm considering picking up a copy once a month or so.  I love the way it not only covers current events in a thoughtful way, but also ties them together and offers a comprehensive global perspective.  I also like that their conclusions tend to follow from facts, rather than from any conspicuous ideology.  I think people who accuse the Economist of leaning right are probably coming to it from something like Time, which very definitely leans left.  That's not a bad thing, but it's important to know if you're going to get your news primarily, or exclusively, from one source.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Atlantic, and I may well end up subscribing to that one.  Nice balance of thought-provoking articles on current events with well-written fiction pieces.  I liked the depth of it, as a nice complement to Time's breadth.

Time is much as I remember it from years ago when I used to subscribe.  A slight left bias, visible but not egregious, and a good, easily digestible overview of what's going on in the world.  I have seen it criticized for being too shallow (mostly by readers of the Economist), but again, if it's not my only source for information, it's great to have something that gives me some top-line context for the deeper content I encounter elsewhere.  I'm thinking about giving The Week a shot as well, to see how it compares.

I decided that the New Yorker would be great if I were, in fact, a New Yorker.  Yes, there's some good stuff in there, but it was literally page 49 where it stopped being a listing of what's on in New York and started being a general interest magazine.  Better than TimeOut, but not suited for those of us who do not live in NY and have no desire to live there, literally or vicariously.

Canada's Motivated magazine is fun -- a business magazine with a distinctly positive and upbeat tone.  It's essentially a day-long conference of motivational speakers in magazine form.  I probably won't subscribe, but I'll look for it on newsstands and pick it up when the cover catches my fancy.

I have a couple more to get through, and will report on those as I finish them.