1.296 writing, model, COVID

Tuesday 9/22/2020

Let’s not bury the lede: this afternoon the announcement went out that four additional Lee Center residents have tested positive, for a total of seven. According to the email, all seven have symptoms and “some are hospitalized”. Some meaning… more than one, I suppose.

One of our meal delivery volunteers, Carol, immediately emailed to ask to be taken off the schedule. “As I have diabetes I am at extra risk,” she said, and although delivering meals to her neighbors was “the high point of the day” she wanted to minimize contact. Very sensible. But that brought to mind the fact that all the volunteer jobs we have set up, and meal delivery especially, represent points of face to face contact. Masked and distanced, yes, but still. So I would expect that if even a single case appears in the Tower, the IL spaces, we will get shut down quick, and all those jobs will go back to staff.

I read my “turning point” thing at the writers’ group and got very nice comments. I’ll append it.

I spent some time sanding and filing on the plastic of the major two pieces of the MG body in order to make them fit just right. I also completed priming the smaller pieces and the first coat of primer on the body.

Another half hour of air time in X-Plane. I finally reached Seattle and I have to say, I’m not too impressed with the scenery. Highly accurate world scenery is one of the selling points of the new Microsoft Flight Simulator. X-Plane has highly accurate aircraft physics, but the scenery? Not so much.

Over West Seattle, approaching downtown. Definitely no Safeco field or Smith Tower.
Apparently Seattle Center has been converted to a park. Along with several blocks of downtown, the Viaduct, a lot of Queen Anne hill and the Ferry terminals. Can forgive no Great Wheel, it’s only been there 11 years.

Turning point at the Pruneyard, 1974

To understand this turning point the reader must know more about the organization and internal politics of a multi-national corporation than may be healthy.

In the 1960s, decades before anyone conceived of computers small enough to be owned by individuals, IBM enjoyed a modest income from selling interactive access, via typewriter-based terminals, to mainframe computers in what it called Service Bureaus.

Other companies, notably one founded by now-famous entrepreneur H. Ross Perot, wanted some of that action, and pointed out that IBM had an unbeatable edge in that it didn’t have to buy the mainframes to which it was selling access. The United States Justice Department agreed. To avert what might have been a disastrously broad monopoly ruling, IBM basically gave away its entire United States Service Bureau business to Ross Perot’s EDS corporation, and went out of the remote terminal access business.

However, IBM’s European division, headquartered in London, was under no such constraints, and wanted to continue offering computer services out of their offices. They particularly liked the idea of selling time on remote terminals, and in fact wanted upgrades and added features to that time-sharing software for which IBM U.S. no longer had any use.

That software had been developed and maintained in an IBM office in Palo Alto, where I and my wife both worked. (Here enters the personal connection.) IBM Europe offered to fund a major rewrite of the remote access software, and our management agreed. Our 30-person department moved to bigger quarters at the Pruneyard tower in San Jose, and set busily to work creating what was grandly named VSPC:  Virtual Systems Personal Computing — the first use of “PC” for “personal computing”, long before what we now call “PCs” existed.

Our staff was reinforced by the addition of Martin and Geoffrey, two blokes from the London office, who would be managing the software when it was finished and deployed at IBM offices across Europe and the Middle East. One day in 1974, when the project was nearing completion, I joined Martin and Geoff for lunch at a restaurant in the Pruneyard. We talked about the project and how it could be handled by them in London. In the middle of the conversation an idea popped into my mind.

“I don’t suppose you’d want to take along some people from here to help with maintenance, would you?” I asked.

Martin and Geoff exchanged a glance, and Martin said, “We might do.  Are you interested?”

I said I was, and that I was pretty sure that Marian would be also. I may have pointed out that it would be cheaper to relocate a couple than two separate assignees. Martin said he’d make some phone calls.

At home that night I told Marian, who was immediately on board with the idea. We’d both enjoyed a two-week vacation in England a couple of years earlier, and were sure that a longer stay would be fun.

It took weeks for everything to be arranged, but management on both sides of the Atlantic were clear on the advantages of getting two, top-notch programmers (I flatter myself) who both knew the software system in detail, to help deploy it and train the local programmers.

The result was our spending just short of three years living in Twickenham. We had satisfying, productive work alongside IBMers from England and across Europe, while on weekends and holidays we’d drive all around England. It was wonderful at the time, but also had the unforeseen outcome of establishing our fortune.

While we were in England, IBM’s generous relocation supplements to our salaries, along with the income from renting our Palo Alto home, collected in the bank. When we returned we had enough surplus to buy a rental property which, when sold decades later, established the bulk of our retirement nest egg — the nest egg I drew on to move to Channing House.

All that resulted from a casual question at lunch time in the Pruneyard.

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