A letter to my beautiful captain

Hey babe, it’s me. Every day I rise from bed I think about you and how much I miss you. Today is a special day. Our Son Jeremy is graduating from High School and I wanted to write you this letter to let you know how much I deeply appreciate everything you did to get us here. I want you to know this day belongs not just to Jeremy, but also to you. While I am still wrapping my brain around how this came to be, I know one thing for sure, this day would never have happened without you.

On November 1, 1999 we boarded a vessel called Uncertainty. This was the day we were told we would give birth to a child with Down syndrome. We had no clear destination, knew the seas would be choppy, and the weather completely unpredictable. Nevertheless, you immediately took the wheel and steered our ship forward. You were the Captain and I was your Mate.

As our journey unfolded, we encountered the rough seas and unpredictable weather we expected. We waged a long and exhausting battle against our school district to defend our son’s educational rights. We endured long and stressful IEP meetings involving lawyers on both sides. Through all of this, you took the loins share of the emotional toll. Despite the outcomes, however, you never left the wheel. You continued to steer the ship steady through the storms.

Fortunately, our journey got better. The seas began to calm and the storms abated. We had finally earned the respect we both deserved because we refused to give up or give in.

When you left this earth on October 4, 2017, it was my turn to take over the wheel and continue the steady course for the coast. You left the vessel in perfect shape. The storms are weaker and the seas are smoother. The worst is behind us.

I will never forget what you did for our son. Tears fill my eyes at every IEP meeting when I remember everything you did and believed in. You were such an extraordinary Mother, Advocate, Warrior, and Wife. I am so grateful for you. Our Jeremy is such an amazing young man.

So today, we arrive at the port. As we throw the lines to the shore, there are hundreds of people cheering. We did it babe. We completed the journey. There is tremendous jubilation but the celebration is bittersweet because you are not with us. I remember us discussing taking a cruise to celebrate. We had so many plans. I know this would have been one of the most important moments of your life. I know you wanted to live long enough to see this day. Unfortunately, the cancer had other plans. We can all clearly hear your shouts of joy from the heavens.

This day belongs to you too my beautiful captain. Every moment of it.

I love you and miss you,

Your Mate

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Busting through the velvet rope

On April 26, 1977, a high end discotheque and nightclub opened in Midtown Manhattan called Studio 54. The facility was state of the art and featured the best lighting and sound equipment imaginable. It was the hottest ticket in town but was almost impossible to get into. Unless you were a celebrity, wore the right clothes, were physically attractive, or in remarkable shape, you would never enter through its doors.

The entrance of the club featured bouncers behind a velvet rope who would vet each potential customer to determine if they were worthy of joining the party inside. If you passed the test, you were escorted past the velvet robe and into the venue.

If you were lucky enough to be selected, you would have the time of your life. You would be rubbing shoulders with hundreds of A-listers and celebrities like Mick Jagger, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, and John Travolta. It would be a once in a lifetime experience like no other.

At some point during the evening while drinking and dancing the night away, someone taps you on the shoulder and asks you to leave the club. You are politely escorted to the back door and told to drive safely. The experience you thought would last forever is abruptly over.

As you begin the long walk to your car you are consumed with bitterness and anger but then surprisingly become overwhelmed with gratitude. As you stop and take it in, you realize that you got selected to participate in something extraordinary and generated a memory that you will probably never forget.

On March 3, 2014, I got selected for a contract job at Google. For me, this was my Studio 54 experience. While I was not a full-time employee of the company, I was able to partake in many perks and attend some company events. I worked with amazing people, got to do amazing stuff, and made some friends along the way. In short, it was kind of like working at Disneyland.

On November 9, 2018, I was escorted to the back door. The party ended. I was angry and bitter but over time, have become grateful for the experience. I got selected to participate in something special. I busted through the velvet rope and did something I may never get to experience again in my lifetime.

As I get older, I have learned that life and success boils down to choices. You can choose to be consumed with bitterness or you can choose to be grateful. The choice is yours. Today, I choose to be grateful.

I look forward to what’s ahead for me and my career. Thank you Google for the experience of a lifetime.

Onward.

06 Mar 1978 — Manhattan’s reknowned disco and nightclub Studio 54 is located at 254 West 54th Street. — Image by © Michael Norcia/Sygma/Corbis

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The magnificent setting Sun

I was deeply saddened upon reading about the recent layoffs at Oracle Corporation prior to the Labor Day weekend. Some of the casualties were former teammates of mine when I worked for Sun Microsystems in the early 2000s. The 2,500 jobs eliminated came from Oracle’s chip and hardware business that Oracle acquired when they purchased Sun for $7.4 billion back in 2009.

Since its birth on February 24, 1982, Sun Microsystems was a success. The company was started by four ambitious and brilliant engineering and business graduate students from Stanford University (Scott McNealy, Vinod Khosla, and Andy Bechtolsheim) and UC Berkeley (Bill Joy). The first product developed (the Sun-1) was based off an antiquated networking system called the Stanford University Network (or SUN which later became the idea for the company’s name: Sun Microsystems).

By the mid-90s, Sun’s growth had exploded in both revenue and head count. By 1998, Sun’s revenue had increased to $10 billion thus making Sun one of the most influential and successful companies on the planet. However, after several missteps, poor leadership, and the dot-com bust, Sun began to decline and had to lay off thousands of employees from 2001 to 2009.

My career at Sun started in 1994 after Sun acquired the microprocessor division of the company I was working for. While many were nervous and unhappy about switching to Sun, I was jumping for joy. I knew an amazing opportunity lie ahead of me and knew I would have a blast working there.

I was right. Sun did not disappoint.

Perhaps the sweetest memories I have of Sun were the Hawaii trips and company parties. I remember my first big project back in 1995. The team was hastily assembled into a conference room and was issued a daunting challenge: complete the project by the end of the year and we’ll all be heading to the island of Kauai. The project manager scribbled the challenge on some notebook paper and the director of the division immediately signed it to approve the trip. December of that year, we were all back in the same room popping champagne corks and passing out leis.

The trip to Princeville, Kauai was amazing. We stayed at a four-star Sheraton resort. The bathroom sink had marble surfaces and brass fixtures and the pillows had fresh leis and mints placed nightly. We partied every night and got to do free stuff during the day. I remember opening the door to my room and facing three of my coworkers. We were all dressed in fancy terry cloth bathrobes holding cocktails. We then headed to the hot tub where we smoked cigars and drank into the night.  At the final banquet, I received a marble clock with my name and the project embossed in gold. One of the highlights of the trip was receiving a video call from our CEO Scott McNealy who personally thanked all of us for a job well done. While he watched, we all raised our Blue Hawaiians and toasted our leader.

The next project I was involved in was a short one. I was deployed at the last minute to assist with the final push. The incentive trip for this project was the island of Maui. Again, we crushed it and the trip was on. Because I was not on the project that long, I asked if I would qualify for the trip. The Engineer I was working with was a super cool dude and liked me. He said “Don’t worry; I think you’ll make it. Let me ask”. Moments later he poked his head through the door of my office and with a big smile on his face said “Pack your bags man, you’re going to Maui”. This trip was even better that the Kauai trip.

The company parties were epic with live entertainment, exotic food stations, and ice sculptures. We had parties in aquariums, science museums, and fancy hotels.

The party came to an end for me on June 14, 2005 when my positon at Sun was eliminated. It was one of the saddest days of my life. There were tears and hugs among my coworkers. After 12 amazing years, my time with Sun had come to an abrupt end. I felt like I had just broken up with a girlfriend I was madly in love with. Fortunately, my severance was generous which gave me time to process and grieve.

Today that sense of loss returns as I remember a once glorious company that was reduced to ruin and extinction. The sad reality is that Oracle’s recent actions have gutted Sun. There’s nothing left. It’s gone forever.

In short, I am so grateful for the 12 years I worked at Sun Microsystems. I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked alongside some the best and brightest and to have worked on some of the most amazing chip projects. Most importantly, I am grateful for my colleagues who later became my friends.

I still tell people today, Sun was the best job I ever had. We worked our asses off, we had fun doing it, and we were handsomely rewarded for it. Or as our former CEO Scott McNealy used to say: “Kick butt and have fun”.

As I say goodbye, I want to thank you Sun for the greatest ride of my life and for the most spectacular sunset I will ever see.

A former colleague and friend next to an old Sun Microsystems sign at Oracle’s Santa Clara campus on August 31, 2017

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Sinking the Pink

My wife and I recently lost a dear friend named Vickie Wen after she endured a long and courageous battle with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer. Our hearts ache with grief as we remember this amazing human being. Those that knew Vickie were never the same after meeting her. She was inspiring, gracious, humble, determined, focused, outspoken, and faithful to God until the very end.

In addition to being a committed wife to her husband Art and mother to two beautiful children, Vickie was an inspiring and profound writer. Through her blog iwantmorethanapinkribbon, Vickie took all of us through her journey with cancer while providing fresh perspectives on coping with this insidious disease. Prevalent in her writings were her strong criticisms of the Pink Ribbon campaign and its misguided mission of promoting and selling pink merchandise while claiming such activity produces meaningful funding for cancer research.

I have nothing but the deepest respect for those who are battling cancer (including my wife) or for those who are survivors. In my opinion, the Pink Ribbon campaign was created with good intentions. I believe those who participate in its activities or purchase its products believe they are doing so to honor friends and loved ones.  At the end of the day, however, consider asking yourself this question: How much money is really being used for cancer research and how much is being funneled back into marketing pink products?

In my opinion, cancer is a holistic disease. It can spread very rapidly and consume the entire body. Statements such as “Saving the Ta-Tas” and other ridiculous slogans are completely missing the point. It’s about the entire body not just the parts glamorized across the covers of slick magazines. Kicking the living shit out of this god-awful and wretched disease will take an unwavering, single-focused, well-funded effort. Make no mistake, battling cancer is not about gimmicks and slogans, it’s about warfare.

To honor our friend Vickie, my wife and I have chosen to abstain from Pink Ribbon activities and the consumption of pink merchandise. We believe it’s time to get focused and serious about this disease just as our friend Vickie did.

We love you dear Vickie and know you are resting in paradise free from the ravages of cancer. We will miss you greatly.

ellen-and-vickie

Vickie (L) and my wife Ellen (R) at one of my wife’s chemo treatments.

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The Final Countdown

My wife and I love the latest Geico Insurance television ads that have been running.  Our favorite one features the Swedish heavy metal band Europe rocking out to their 1986 hit “The Final Countdown” inside a small corporate break room. The song begins as the cooking time expires on an employee’s burrito slowly rotating inside a microwave oven. As the song continues, a handful of lethargic employees on a lunch break are stunned by the sudden loud music and massive spark showers flying across the room. The ad closes with one of the employees gently shaking her hips to the thunderous music. In my opinion, this ad is absolutely hilarious (I have included the YouTube video below for your viewing enjoyment).

This song also declares the final chapter of a long chemotherapy journey for my wife and has become our anthem. After 17 weeks of treatments, we have one more to go. We are counting the days.

The outpouring of support during our time of need has been unprecedented. Words cannot begin to express the gratitude and love we feel at this time. We are both humbled and grateful. To all of you who have supported us, we thank you and love you. You have been a blessing beyond words.

When we cross this finish line, we are going to celebrate first with friends and family then privately. In February, we are taking a road trip down to Santa Barbara to reflect, celebrate, and acknowledge our blessings.

The road ahead of us awaits. It’s time to commence the final countdown.

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Kicking a wretched bastard to the curb

I vividly remember it as if it had happened yesterday. On July 22nd, I was frantically driving from work through rush hour traffic to meet my wife for dinner at Black Angus. Unfortunately, I arrived late but eventually found my wife sitting at our table soberly staring at a glass of red wine. I sat down beside her, apologized for being late, then inquired about her day. She began by telling me that she had received the test results from the doctors then turned to me and said through tears three horrifying words I hoped I would never have to hear: “I have cancer”.

Months before, my wife had been experiencing unusual levels of discomfort in her abdomen. Symptoms included bloating, nausea, vaginal discharge, cramping, and fatigue. After consulting with her doctor, a CT scan was immediately performed. When the scan results arrived, the images revealed a mass above the uterus along with a sizeable buildup of abdominal fluid. A biopsy of the abdominal fluid later confirmed the presence of cancerous cells.

On July 27th, my wife underwent an operation known in the medical community as a debulking procedure. This three hour procedure removed all of her reproductive organs including the uterus, both fallopian tubes, and both ovaries. The surgery also drained several liters of abdominal fluid and removed all detected cancerous tissues. Fortunately, no life sustaining organs were disturbed during the surgery and the colon remained intact. The surgery confirmed a cancer staging of IIIC.

After several weeks of physical healing from surgery, my wife will undergo a grueling 18 weeks of chemotherapy.

The subject of cancer has always terrified and angered me. Cancer is a disgusting, vile, and merciless disease that slowly claims thousands of innocent lives every year. My wife and I have several dear friends and acquaintances who are either battling cancer or are survivors. I honestly never in a million years imagined we would ever have to host this unscrupulous killer. Now it has come to us.

When I envision cancer, I picture an unwelcome visitor who barges into your home without being invited in. It lies on your sofa and kicks off its shoes. It smells and looks awful. It disrespects your possessions, eats your food, and vomits all over your carpets and floors. After a few days, it begins to destroy your home and threatens the life of you and your family. Eventually, you are left with no available options but to call in the local SWAT team. When the officers arrive armed with automatic weapons, you shove the unwelcome visitor against the wall and command the SWAT team to open fire on the visitor until it wheezes its last breath. After the smoke clears, you toss the lifeless blood soaked body into a trash dumpster and begin the process of rebuilding your life and home. That’s cancer in my nutshell.

We are committed to fighting this because it simply has to end. For us, cancer is just one more spoonful of mashed potatoes dumped upon a full and creaking plate about to collapse. My wife and I have miles of road in front of us to explore and years of living to finish together. We just ain’t got time to deal with this shit. Attention cancer, this is your final warning. We are coming after you and you are going down.

It’s time to call in the SWAT team and kick this wretched bastard to the curb.

If you are interested in following our journey, please visit my wife’s CaringBridge site here.

Ellen Surgery

My wife coming out of surgery to install a port for chemotherapy on September 4, 2015

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The fire down below

On September 9th 2010 at 6:11pm, a 30-inch (76 cm) diameter natural gas pipeline exploded within the city of San Bruno California killing eight people and injuring 58. The enormous fires produced from the rapidly escaping gas completely incinerated 35 homes, dozens of parked vehicles, and scorched over 10 acres of private and public property. 70 additional homes were also damaged with three becoming uninhabitable.

The raging eight alarm inferno required a crew of approximately 200 firefighters battling high winds and other obstacles to bring the flames under control. Eye witnesses to the disaster claimed the initial explosion produced a wall of flame almost 1,000 feet high. Within hours after the explosion, overwhelmed fire crews desperately reached out to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to request an additional 25 engines to pump water along with four air tankers, two air attack planes, and one helicopter to dump fire retardant from the air.

By 10pm local time, the fires were only 50 percent contained and continued to burn until approximately 11:40am the next day. After the last ember was finally extinguished, the once charming middle class neighborhood was now reduced to a war zone.

After a thorough investigation by the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB), it was discovered that the welds on the 28 foot (8.5 m) section of ruptured pipe were both antiquated and defective and eventually failed from years of gas pressure variances and stress. The NTSB investigation also revealed that the pipe was installed in the ground in 1956 and contained no documentation or maintenance records. The pipe section was part of a gas pipeline network known as Line 132 and was installed, maintained, and owned by the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E). Additional findings included PG&E’s lack of response after San Bruno residents reported smelling natural gas hours before the explosion and the time it took PG&E to shut off the gas supply to San Bruno after the explosion (95 minutes).

When the pipe blew open, it ruptured along a top lateral weld sending gas straight up. As gas was released, it instantly ignited and produced a wall of flame hundreds of feet into the air. In addition to the main line explosion, flaming gases traveled through a network of service lines feeding off the main line setting individual houses ablaze. The crater left from the explosion measured 167 feet (51 m) long by 26 feet (7.9 m) wide.

In August of 2013, I left a full-time technical writing position at a semiconductor company to join a small consulting firm (who shall remain nameless) working for PG&E on improving employee training programs for its Gas Operations division. The relationship between my firm and PG&E was primarily born out of the San Bruno disaster and PG&E’s overall training and documentation shortcomings.

One of the main reasons I joined this firm was a desire to make a difference in how PG&E trained their Gas Ops technicians. As I dove into my assignments, I found the work to be meaningful and necessary and firmly believed the programs our team were working on would hopefully prevent another San Bruno from ever happening again.

In November of 2013, our team was informed that PG&E’s training budget would be significantly reduced thus making headcount reductions necessary. On January 3rd 2014, my firm fired approximately 50 percent of its staff including me. The months that followed brought additional cuts to staff leaving just a handful of people to work on dwindling PG&E training programs.

On April 9th 2015, the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) overwhelmingly voted to slap PG&E with a 1.6 billion dollar penalty for its negligence, incompetence, and culpability in the San Bruno disaster. In addition to the PUC ruling, PG&E still faces an enormous litany of litigation and criminal charges from the destruction of personal property and loss of life.

To this day, the PUC fine marks the largest financial penalty ever brought against a public utility in the United States.

In my opinion, PG&E should pay every dime of this fine as punishment for its misguided priorities and negligence. Public utilities hold some of the highest risk of any company on the planet due to their responsibility to public safety and as such should be held to the highest levels of public and government accountability imaginable. In short, there can be no financial compromises on safety or training programs. I cannot imagine the jobs at my previous consulting firm that could now be restored or additional hiring that could result from 1.6 billion dollars.

Make no mistake, a majority of the infrastructure beneath us is several decades old and is in dire need of inspection, replacement, and repair. Until PG&E seriously begins refocusing on its training and documentation priorities, the haunting possibility of another San Bruno or worst will always be lurking below us.

Fire crews working on the San Bruno Fire September 9th 2010

Fire crews working on the San Bruno Fire September 9th 2010

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