Saturday, March 30, 2013

Opportunities!



From the very first time my Australian former colleague, Terry Bishop, turned up the volume to “Opportunities”, a song by UK group, Pet Shop Boys, the lyrics are never far from my mind. Terry and I were working in Raleigh, North Carolina, and it was 1986 and we were both coming to terms with working in America. The company was a start-up, and so expectations were high that something promising would happen.

The chorus to this song featured the lines:

I've got the brains, you've got the looks
Let's make lots of money
You've got the brawn, I've got the brains
Let's make lots of money

Anyone who gave either Terry or me a quick look would quickly conclude that there was a possibility that we both had brains; looks? Not so much! And I will leave further comments to others more qualified. Fast-forward, many decades, and this tune made it into the playlists of both Margo and myself and now is determining which one of us has the looks and which the brains is a moot point – Margo has them both! Yes, it’s truly springtime in Northern California and a time for opportunities.

Those familiar with the song may recall the words of the opening verse of this song:

I've had enough of scheming and messing around with jerks
My car is parked outside, I'm afraid it doesn't work
I'm looking for a partner, someone who gets things fixed

Oh, there's a lot of opportunities!




It has been necessary for Margo and me to spend as much as time as we have spent this past quarter, as we see the business of Pyalla Technologies continuing to evolve. Opportunities only present themselves when you make yourselves available and over several high-energy lunches and dinners, the prospects or additional projects became clear. In part, we drew a lot of energy from spring, as it finally made an appearance in Northern California, as we had seen very little apart from snow for all of the quarter. But just as significantly, within the market segment where Margo and I focus - transaction processing on NonStop systems – enthusiasm for the platform continues to prevail and this is good for us both.

However, we had been pleasantly surprised by where we spent our evenings. Our niece and her husband have just bought a home in Half Moon Bay, in the estate anchored by the nearby Ritz Carlton, and located adjacent to championship golf courses, their home, it’s location and the hospitality they provided for the time we spent with them, was exceptional and I think Margo is already thinking about a return visit. On the way back to Boulder we took the opportunity to spend the night with good friends Larry and Kathleen Lynch – something we should have done many times before, as Kathleen reminded us, but again, with all that we are packing into our routines, we have become poor judges as to when to take the time to smell the roses.

Unfortunately, the trip home proved to be a wake-up call that winter was still very much a force to reckon with. Waking up in Salt Lake City on Friday morning, the snow was once again making its presence felt and in the morning rush hour we abandoned our plans to leave the interstate highway in favor or a country highway that would take us through Price and Green River, Utah. The Escalade SUV is now ten years old, with 170,000 miles ticking over, and we aren’t too sure how much longer we will keep the truck, but with each eventful crossing of the Rockies it’s hard to build a case to replace it. Larry and Kathleen did take us for a ride in their new Escalade and it certainly pampers its occupants, but the asking prices for a new one calls for a very stout heart (with no fear of fainting, as Motor Trend acknowledged).




Our only time on track this year has been the couple of parade laps I did at High Plains Raceway when my high school friend, Dave Roberts, dropped by for a visit. Otherwise, the cars have ben tucked away in the garage, on battery tenders, although our track car, the Generation 5 Corvette Z06 did receive modifications to its seats to better accommodate the six-point safety harness that had been installed, and hopefully, that should appease the inspectors next time we are on track. All the same, maintenance in winter is no substitute for being out in the heat of summer checking fluid levels and tire conditions – this track car needs to be driven.

In southern California it’s quite a different proposition, and with much warmer weather the season has already started. Readers may recall that in my post of November 30, 2012, It was an ill wind ... I introduced our friends, Brian and Jan Kenny’s, grandson, Colton Herta. The son of current IZOD IndyCar series team owner, Bryan Herta, Colton at age 12 is now driving open wheel race cars – a Skip Barber formula series as well as more finely tuned and set up Formula 1600. As noted earlier, it took Colton just half a day of driving with Skip Barber to be given a racing license, something I found quite unbelievable at the time.

"We have followed Colton since he first strapped on a helmet and we knew, right from that first outing, Colton was special,” Jan told us. “And that can be expected from any grandparent after all. What we didn't anticipate was just how special he would turn out to be ... we are holding our breath of course, but we cannot see any limits as to what he might achieve!" Jan then related how “traveling to Italy to watch Colton race against Europe's best was a true eye opener. For sure, he didn't have the engine he wanted and yes, the playing field wasn't what we expected, but against the odds, he did very well. Now that he has moved to open wheelers with formula cars, watching him win his first race in just the second weekend of outings (yes, he scored a P2 on his very first outing) still leaves me breathless and I can only wish him even greater achievements in the months and years to come .... and oh yes, I will be there cheering him on for all the events where he participates for many years to come!"



That’s right, Colton won an event held on Laguna Seca in the Skip Barber cars – it’s him in the car pictured above and this is the checkered flag given to him following the win. If you are curious as to how the event went, Brian has put together a very entertaining highlight reel that you can watch at: tp://vimeo.com/62882880 . It took a little more correspondence to get this link than I had anticipated, as Brian was absorbing yet another shock. But first, to put racing into perspective, Brian tracks a generation 6 Corvette that continues to be modified for optimum performance at the track and it’s a powerful contender in his hands. Each time Brian turns onto any track he becomes a very dedicated racer and with each year, I have watched as his lap times improves.

However, nothing quite prepared Brian for what followed this week. As part of his preparation for competition in the Formula 1600, Colton was at the Thunderhill circuit in northern California. It’s a fun track that most racers enjoy, but it’s also a track that takes a while to learn as there’s few buildings or other structures to use as reference points (even unusual blades of grass for that matter) – knowing exactly where you are at any point of time is a challenge for first time visitors. But, not so for Colton, apparently.

While these practice sessions aren’t officially timed you can imagine the surprise and delight from the team (and the sponsors) for young 12 year old Colton to break the track record in this class of car. Held by Charlie Kimball, currently an IZOD IndyCar Series drive for the Chip Gnassi Racing organization, Colton apparently beat Charlie’s time even as he adjusted to the nuances of a true open wheel racer. There may be many more Colton supporters than just the immediate family at future outings and Jan may not be alone when it comes to “cheering him on for all the events where he participates for many years to come!"



This last weekend of March is also the Easter weekend, and on Sunday the family will be stopping by for Easter lunch. This can mean only one thing – there will be a baked lamb dinner. As one of the few butcher shops up to preparing lamb the way we like, Whole Foods is where we head and our butcher, Dan, did a particularly fine jog. We enjoy a slightly bigger leg of lamb; one where the upper muscle remains as part of the leg and after the bone has been removed, sprigs of rosemary added, with a little mint sauce on the side, nothing tastes better!

Whether it’s opportunities in business or in the pastimes we pursue, they don’t happen if you don’t turn up. I was once accused of being the lucky software developer and product manager, always getting the good projects, with little comprehension as to just how much behind the scenes work goes in to getting those good projects – in many cases, they had to be created from almost nothing at all. As I look ahead to track outings that Margo and I now have on our calendar, each one of them is an opportunity for us to improve and entering our sixth year pursuing this pastime, we both realize just how far we have come. Yet, with each new email from Brian and Jan, we know all too well just how novice an amateur we both remain.

It’s just two weekends time and we will be pulling the RV out of storage, de-winterizing it, and hitching up the car trailer. Watching the skies to make sure the snow has finally retreated, even as we begin to shop for drinks and lighter salad fair. It’s all an opportunity we just can’t pass up, and who knows, with the chance to be on track with Brian and Jan, just a smidgen of talent may rub off after all, there’s all those apples surely falling close by!