Turbotodd

Ruminations on tech, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Archive for the ‘obituaries’ Category

Nora Ephron: I’ll Have What She’s Having

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We lost a great writer with the passing of Nora Ephron.

Judging from all the accounts of those who knew her, we also lost a great human being.

I did not know her, but I knew her work.  Anyone who followed American cinema over the past three decades, how could they not?

Starting with the anti-love love story (about love, and Ephron’s love for New York City), “When Harry Met Sally,” when both Harry and Sally decided they couldn’t just be friends after all…“You’ve Got Mail,” the first movie that presciently understood love in the late 20th cyber century…“Julie and Julia,” which brilliantly bridged time and space, juxtaposing a young female blogger in Queens in the early oughts struggling to follow her life’s passion with Julia Childs bushwhacking her way through male-dominated culinarydom in Paris in the 1950s.

What I liked most about Ephron’s writing was her humor.  But I also liked that she challenged accepted and conventional wisdom about women and humanity in general…and threw most of that conventional wisdom right out the window.

She understood their were universalities that underscored us all — men, women, children, — and made us all seem more like one, despite all our supposed differences.  She could also brilliantly underscore those universals with her fantastic humor, humor that highlighted our common humanity and sometimes made seem so frail, but stubbornly persistent, our human condition.

But she wasn’t always about funny.  1983’s “Silkwood,” much of which was shot at the then new Las Colinas film studios near Dallas, demonstrated Ephron’s knack for serious storytelling, revealing the story of Karen Silkwood, an Oklahoma nuclear plant employee whistleblower (played brilliantly by Meryl Streep) who disappeared under suspicious circumstances before she could arrive for a New York Times interview.  It was a serious movie about some very serious and relevant issues, and paved the way for later whistleblowing films like “The Insider.”

Or “Heartburn,” which laid bare the thorny thistles underlying marriage, again with Meryl Streep playing her alter ego to Ephron’s former husband Carl Bernstein (played devilishly by Jack Nicholson), with Ephron falling in love with the insider Washington columnist despite her (valid) fears about marriage, only to find him living a double life with another woman (John Edwards, anyone?).

No, I didn’t know Nora Ephron.  But for the last thirty years, I did know her work, much of which still makes me chuckle years later.  That’s a rare talent, especially these days.

I don’t know what it exactly what it was that Ephron had…but I’d like to have just a little bit of it nonetheless.

Written by turbotodd

June 27, 2012 at 3:10 pm

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down…

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What a week.  I spent most of it either in meetings or on airplanes (save for that happy detour to Fenway Park, which still has a smile on my face).

Speaking of which, it’s April 20, 2012 — the official anniversary of the 100th year of Fenway’s existence.  Happy birthday to all my friends in Boston, and to people everywhere who adore Fenway Park — of which I now count myself a happy one.

FYI, for the hardcore Fenway fanatics, Sports Illustrated is offering up a very nice tome about the history of Fenway for $21.00 US.  You can find it here.

But boy, what a week otherwise.  The jokes about today being 4/20 aside (a point which many marketers are taking advantage of…for example, the Magnolia bio-documentary about Bob Marley, entitled simply “Marley,” is out today…And Austin is unveiling the new Willie Nelson statue today at 4:20 PM this afternoon.  Coincidence?)

You can read all about the marketing advantage being taken of on this date from none other than the Wall Street Journal.

No, I was more referring to the bummer news about Dick Clark and Levon Helm.  Helm, of course, was the drummer in Bob Dylan’s original backing band, “Levon and the Hawks,” before going on to co-found the band named, appropriately enough, “The Band.”

Helm died of throat cancer earlier this week, and in recent years had been most known for his “Midnight Rambles” at his studio in Woodstock, NY, which earned him three Grammys in recent years.  But of course, “The Band” fans remember classics like “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and “Up On Cripple Creek.”

Bob Dylan had this to say about his old friend and former band-mate on his own website: “He was my bosom buddy friend to the end, one of the last true great spirits of my or any other generation. This is just so sad to talk about. I still can remember the first day I met him and the last day I saw him. We go back pretty far and had been through some trials together. I’m going to miss him, as I’m sure a whole lot of others will too.”

Surely we will.

But we’ll also miss Dick Clark, a radio and TV personality who’s “American Bandstand” helped grow generations of music fans, and helped launch or boost the careers of an endless stream of renowned musicians, ranging from first guest Elvis Presley (who used to sign my mom’s arm during his Louisiana Hayride performances!) to Smokey Robinson to the Talking Heads…the list of musical acts featured on “Bandstand” goes on and on and on.

And never mind us welcoming Dick Clark into our homes, and the subsequent New Year, every New Year’s Rockin’ Eve starting in 1972.

We’ll miss you both terribly, Dick and Levon.  May you both continue to find the musical beat in the Great Beyond.

How fitting, then, that the very same week, the friends who brought you some of the great hack attacks of the late 2000s, Anonymous, announce they’re putting together a social music platform, one that pulls up songs streaming from all around the Internet (including from the likes of YouTube), and lets anonymous users put them into playlists and share them — all while intending to shield the service from being shut down by lawsuits.

Ladies and germs, welcome to “Anontune.”  This short video (featured on Wired’s Web site) indicates it will focus on “information about the music.”

We’ll wait and see if Anontune makes it past the first “bridge,” but my read on the situation is that this move could revitalize Hilary Rosen’s career (CEO of the RIAA from 1998-2003, Rosen led the organization in its successful efforts to bring down Napster).

Former IBM CEO John Opel Passes Away

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John R. Opel, IBM’s fifth CEO, died on November 2, 2011. He was 86 years old.

John R. Opel was IBM's chief executive officer from January 1981 through January 1985 and chairman of the board from February 1983 through May 1986. He joined IBM as a sales representative in 1949, working in the Jefferson City, Missouri, branch office. He became a vice president in 1966, the head of IBM's Data Processing Product Group in 1972, and president of the company in 1974.

After he graduated from the University of Chicago with an MBA in 1949, Opel had two job offers. One was to rewrite economics textbooks and the other was to take over his father’s Jefferson City, Missouri, hardware store. Neither seemed especially appealing. He went fishing with his dad and a family friend to mull things over.

While they were out in the boat, the friend, Harry Strait, an IBM sales manager, hooked Opel rather than a fish — offering him a job selling business equipment in central Missouri.

That chance encounter launched a career for Opel at IBM that spanned 36 years and culminated with him presiding over one of the most successful companies in the world.

Opel’s years at IBM coincided with the company’s rise from a modest-sized maker of accounting devices to become the leader of a burgeoning computer industry and a trend-setter for the Information Age. He was president from 1974 to 1983 and CEO from 1981 to 1985, navigating the company safely through a number of minefields, including the advent of the personal computer and a long US antitrust investigation.

“He was a great leader,” recalls Patrick Toole, a long-time IBM executive who joined the company in 1960. “He was good with customers and his colleagues. Everybody trusted him.”

Asked in a 2010 interview what had sustained IBM for nearly 100 years, Opel said it was the values engendered by Thomas J. Watson Sr., who ran the company from 1914 until he retired in 1952. Watson preached that the company should be run based on its beliefs, which included respect for the individual, dedication to customer satisfaction, and a pledge to perform every task in a superior way.

For Opel, the way the company treated people was its most important attribute. “Mutual respect and openness and honesty among people is what makes a company work well over time,” he said.

In an era when many chief executives were driven by ego and some belittled those around them, Opel was self-effacing and sensitive to other people’s points of view and feelings. An English major at Westminster College in Missouri, he read voraciously throughout his life, including poetry. He was a bird-watcher as well as a fisherman.

Yet he was no pushover. “He challenged people’s assumptions. He was always pushing the edge,” recalls Nicholas Donofrio, a longtime IBM executive who joined the company in 1964. Donofrio recalls a meeting of the corporate management board in the early 1980s when Opel addressed the issue of cigarette smoking. Most of the men in the room were smokers, yet Opel looked around at them and predicted that within a decade IBM would be a smoke-free environment. And he had the nerve to ask his smoker colleagues to help him lead the transition.

Opel learned how to manage people at the side of Thomas J. Watson Jr., who ran the company from 1952 to 1970. Watson summoned Opel from the hinterlands and made him his executive assistant in 1959 after watching him teach a couple of sales classes in Endicott, New York. Working with Watson at IBM headquarters in Armonk, New York, Opel was impressed with the way Watson dealt with his executives. He’d insist on a full debate on any fundamental disagreement, and he didn’t let his personal feelings about any executive prevent him from giving the individual a fair hearing.

Opel hadn’t an inkling that he was headed for the top of the corporate ladder when he joined the company and began selling electronic accounting machines and time clocks in poor, dusty towns in Missouri’s Ozarks region.

Back in those days, an IBM salesman installed the equipment he sold, so Opel became adept with pliers and screwdrivers even while he learned how to make an effective sales pitch. He told a story to IBM’s Think magazine in 1974 that captures the flavor of being an IBM salesman in a rural area during that era. He had a clock system in Centralia, Missouri, that was connected to a fire alarm.

During a maintenance call, he made a mistake when he adjusted the timer. The next morning, a Sunday, when the entire volunteer fire department was in church, the alarm went off improperly and the church practically emptied out. “We had programming difficulties in those days, too,” he told the Think interviewer.

During his long career, Opel wore many hats. After selling for a decade and then working as Watson’s assistant, he made his mark by managing the launch of IBM’s System 360 mainframe family in 1964. He later headed up communications, ran product divisions, and served as the chief financial officer.

When he was president, Opel and his mentor, CEO Frank Cary, set up a skunk-works project that resulted in the introduction of the IBM Personal Computer in the summer of 1981, just a few months after Opel took the reigns of the company. That marked the beginning of the rapid adoption of PCs by businesses.

In those days, he said, it was in IBM’s nature to adapt quickly when new technologies came along. “We constantly were willing to change and were accelerating our ability to change,” he said.

Opel rejected the idea that good leadership could be codified in a set of detailed rules. “You can’t write rules about things like that,” he said. “You just have to be alert, and be thoughtful. And you have to rely a lot on the wisdom that exists in your employees.

He will be missed by his IBM family.

Written by turbotodd

November 4, 2011 at 5:32 pm

Dear Steve

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Dear Steve,

I just heard the very sad news of your passing, and although it wasn’t entirely unexpected, it still came with the kind of shock that seems surreal for someone whom I never knew personally, but who had such a profound impact on me and so many millions of others around the world — and on the world itself.

Steve Jobs, chairman and co-founder of Apple, tragically dies at age 56, but leaves behind decades of innovation, design elegance, and technological breakthroughs.

I first saw one of your Apple computers when I was a wee lad. My elementary school class made a field trip to the local university, and I remember walking into a computer lab and seeing an Apple II sitting off in the corner. I was too young to really appreciate what it was, but that first experience proved prescient, as computing technology would become a dominant theme in my life.

In college, I became familiar with both Intel 286 and 386 PC machines while working at my university’s English department computer lab, and also with early word processing programs like WordPerfect 5.1 (for DOS, no less). They worked well enough, but when I also got to work on your Macintosh SE, it opened my eyes to how graphically oriented computers could change the way we interacted with machines. Yeah, I know you didn’t invent the GUI, but you were the one who brought it to market and in the process changed the paradigm of desktop computing.

So it was also not without some irony that the desktop publishing skills I learned while using your Mac was the very thing that led to my becoming employed with IBM in the summer of 1991.  Of course, most folks have long since forgotten the series of IBM and Apple partnerships, some successful, most not: The Taligent OS, the Kaleida multimedia system, the IBM/Apple jointly-designed PowerPC chip, which several generations of Macs later used.

But I never forgot, and I also never saw IBM and Apple as being that competitive with one another.  In fact, I rooted Apple on while, as before Linux really took root, the Apple platform offered the only real and viable alternative to the desktop OS beast that was Windows. And I always took great comfort in the Apple V. Microsoft jabs that you and Bill Gates would take at one another.  It was healthy competition for the industry, as you all at Apple always seemed to keep Gates and company looking over their shoulders. And I never saw that $150M infusion Microsoft provided Apple in the late 1990s as a loss.  In fact, that was one of the classier moves Microsoft ever made — they knew having a competitor was good for the marketplace.

After the dot com bust of 2000, who’d have known you were really just getting the Apple innovation engine revved up, however.  In September 2000, you released the first beta of Mac OS X, “Kodiak.”

In October 2001, when the world (and America) could really use some kind of a lift, you gave us the iPod. In 2006, you delivered the first MacBook Pro. And then, having decided it wasn’t enough to revolutionize the computing and entertainment industries, you introduced the iPhone in June of 2007, after which the mobile phone landscape was dramatically altered.  And I haven’t even yet gotten to the iPad.

I fear to add up all the money I’ve spent on your products this past decade, but I probably could have put a pretty hefty down payment on a new car with all I’ve contributed to Apple’s share price.

But it’s okay.  Because you gave us technology that we mere mortals could use to be productive, to stay in touch with friends and family, to entertain ourselves, to have fun, to work hard.  Yes, they were beautiful, but they also just worked, and they didn’t crash every other time we turned them on.

Overnight, Twitter reached a new record of usage as people shared their sentiments and memories.  The cable TV network anchors were bowing down this morning.  CNN even ran a collage of your brilliant onstage product introductions from over the last decade, which for many of we marketers were “must sees.”

But today…today, I’m just sad.

I, like so many, knew this day was going to come, but I don’t think any of us wanted it to.  Kind of in the same way we couldn’t wait for your next marketing launch.

I hope the universe has carried you to a peaceful and harmonious place, Steve.

Because the places you carried all of us while you were here on earth helped make us better people, and the world a better place.

And even as you did all this, you reminded us all at your Stanford commencement speech that we all could do the same, but that we’d better get on it, the clock was ticking:

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.

And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.

Everything else is secondary.

Written by turbotodd

October 6, 2011 at 1:53 pm

Happy And Sad

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This past weekend was something of a mixed blessing.

Friday was my birthday…I’m not going to say which one…I joked that it was the 29th…my second 29th!

I spent all day Friday working, but it was a good, full and productive day, and Friday evening some great friends took me out for dinner to celebrate, where we all had a great time.

But social media news travels faster than greased lightning, and I had, of course, also heard about the tragedy in Norway earlier in the day via Twitter, and watched in horror as the reports and details rolled in — first about the bomb in Oslo, and later the shootings on the small island of Utoya.

My heart goes out to the people of Norway and in particular to the friends and families of those who were impacted. It was encouraging to hear that over 150,000 Norwegians came into the streets earlier today to express their solidarity.

More stunning with the horrible tragedy, of course, was discovering the originator of the attack was one of Norway’s own, Anders Behring Breivik, a 32 year-old right wing extremist who inspires thoughts more of the Ku Klux Klan than Al-Qaeda.

Breivik’s 1,500 page hate manifesto published online quoted extensively from that most technophobic of terrorists, the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski.  Ironic, considering that Breivik also spent hours playing World of Warcraft online, even using the game to help cover his tracks when he left town to work on his bomb.

If proven guilty, it sure sounds like another tragedy if Norway’s legal system can only put Breivik away for 22 years for such an imaginable atrocity.

We heard some other tragic news over the weekend — not nearly as horrific, as some in the social media compared the two, but tragic nonetheless: R&B singer Amy Winehouse’s untimely passing in London.

Though I wasn’t a rabid fan, I thoroughly enjoyed Winehouse’s music and first saw her perform on the Grammys in 2008.

Winehouse had a kind of  “—- you” sensibility that I found refreshing, much like her music, a sound that always suggested to me sounds of a kind of evolved Motown. Winehouse’s music was new and old all at the same time.

Yet I think many fans sensed from Winehouse’s persona and media presence an unwillingness or stubbornness to reach out and touch someone, when she probably could have used all the help she could get.

She even sang about her reticence to do so on one of her most famous songs, “Rehab”:

“They tried to make go to rehab, I said “No, no, no.”

I think I speak for a whole bunch of her fans when I suggest we all wish she’d have said “Yes, yes, yes!”

This was entirely too short a life cut short by an entirely too tragic, and yet common and uncharitably characteristic, fame-laden music career.

One that, with the proper help and focus, maybe could have kept Winehouse from joining the so-called “27 Club,” a moniker I personally detest (and which makes reference to other great rock n roll greats like Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin, all of whom also perished from addiction- and/or depression-related deaths).

Comic actor and Winehouse friend Russell Brand blogged about Winehouse’s passing yesterday.

Excerpts from Brand’s post provide some thoughtful suggestions on how society moving from judgment to understanding could improve the opportunity for earlier intervention for addicts like Winehouse and which could also save both lives and money:

…Now Amy Winehouse is dead, like many others whose unnecessary deaths have been retrospectively romanticised, at 27 years old. Whether this tragedy was preventable or not is now irrelevant. It is not preventable today. We have lost a beautiful and talented woman to this disease.

Not all addicts have Amy’s incredible talent. Or Kurt’s or Jimi’s or Janis’s, some people just get the affliction. All we can do is adapt the way we view this condition, not as a crime or a romantic affectation but as a disease that will kill.

We need to review the way society treats addicts, not as criminals but as sick people in need of care. We need to look at the way our government funds rehabilitation. It is cheaper to rehabilitate an addict than to send them to prison, so criminalisation doesn’t even make economic sense.

Not all of us know someone with the incredible talent that Amy had but we all know drunks and junkies and they all need help and the help is out there. All they have to do is pick up the phone and make the call. Or not.

Either way, there will be a phone call.

The phone call to Winehouses’ parents this weekend is one that no family should ever have to receive…but which is way more common than any of us care to admit.

Written by turbotodd

July 25, 2011 at 8:26 pm

Hasta Siempre, Seve

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Most saddening news in the golf world overnight.

Seve Ballesteros, the celebrated and widely admired Spanish golfer, finally succumbed to the brain cancer that first felled him at the Madrid airport in 2008.

I was a wee lad when Ballesteros came on to the scene, just learning the game of golf myself, but over the last 30 years, few professional golfers came to be so widely admired and loved as he.

Known as a shotmaker’s shotmaker, Jack Nicklaus mentions in this New York Times’ coverage of Ballesteros’ death “he could get up and down out of a garbage can. He could do anything with a golf club and a golf ball.”

And often did.  In 1979, he won his first Royal Lytham by purposely playing a shot into, and then out of, a parking lot because that’s where the prevailing winds were.

As a golfer, I can only say to laypeople who don’t play the game that, in most cases, parking lots are where you want to pick up or drop off your clubs, not fire off a shot in the British Open.

The prevailing golf winds over this particular weekend, which with some karma somehow features the Spanish Open in Barcelona, are going to be saddened by Ballesteros’ passing with golf fans around the globe.

A minute’s moment of silence was held at the start of the day’s round in Barcelona, where celebrated Spanish golfers José María Olazábal and Miguel Ángel Jiménez were said to share tears and hugs before and during today’s round.

I will share in that sadness, but also try to remember that fantastic, brilliant gleaming smile that Seve would flash to the world when he made a great shot, or sometimes, a not-so-great shot.

He was a true gentleman who helped bring Europe greater recognition and participation into what’s known to be a gentleman’s game — his presence will be missed.

Hasta siempre, Seve.

Written by turbotodd

May 7, 2011 at 6:43 pm

Turn Out The Lights

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Been a busy no-blogging Monday, but it’s towards the end of the day and I wanted to stop by and check in so I don’t get “blogstipated” at the start of the week.

First, another sad goodbye, this time to “Dandy” Don Meredith, former Dallas Cowboys quarterback and “Monday Night Football” announcer.

Meredith passed away at the age of 72 this past weekend in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and for those of us who remember his Southern wit from “Monday Night Football,” it’s sad to think that the lights this time were turned out on Meredith.

He was not only the groundbreaking quarter for Dallas, but also a groundbreaker in bringing sports coverage to primetime when MNF debuted in 1970.

Referring to turning out the lights, Meredith used to start singing Willie Nelson’s “Turn Out the Lights…the Party’s Over” when he saw no hope for a fledgling Monday night team.

He also paved the way for no end of celebrity sports endorsements, when he early on pitched for Lipton Tea in a series of TV spots.

Meredith was from Mount Vernon, Texas, the same vicinity of East Texas where much of my family hails from.  Our thoughts certainly go out to his.

Otherwise on the sports front, it was exciting to see Tiger Woods almost win his first tournament of 2010.

Ironically, it was his last chance, but Irishman Graham MacDowell took the Chevron trophy away from Tiger in a nail-biting playoff after an even more nerve-wracking several holes of the final round.

This weekend witnesses “The Shark Shootout” in Tiburon, and then the end-of-year lull before the 2011 golf season commences in Kapalua.

Completely changing subjects, anybody see the interview with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg last night on “60 Minutes?”

Leslie Stahl gave him a pretty good grilling, but compared to his abysmal first interview there three years ago, Zuckerberg passed this Q&A with flying colors and introduced a new Facebook release that began rolling out today.

Inside Facebook tells us it’s all a “natural way to get users to share more.”  What, you mean they didn’t already know everything about me?

You can see what a new and revised profile looks like here.

Brilliant a ploy though it is to elicit more information from us all, I like the design and (mostly) had no trouble making the updates.

Feel free to comment and tell us about your own experiences making the update (should you decide to accept that particular mission).

Written by turbotodd

December 6, 2010 at 11:10 pm

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