Tuesday, January 28, 2020

A decade that was special …

Just to kick things off, I am firmly in the camp that we still have one more year to go before the 20s decade really begins. There was never a year zero, right? But given how I am in the minority here, I suspect it’s only reasonable to expect a review of all that occurred in the 2010s that got us to where we are today. On paper ten years looks a long time but in reality, it went very quickly for Margo and me and looking back now at all that occurred, it was perhaps the most hectic period of our adult lives.

The decade though does belong to Pyalla. It has had its ups and downs the same as any business endeavor experience. Of late though, we have settled into a rhythm and are enjoying working for a number of clients and we really are having fun doing so. And yes, we have reached a point where we are becoming a little more selective as it’s proved to be a whole lot more fun when you work with folks who openly see you as being part of their team.

I guess that is the secret really for our longevity – yes, being in business for ten years does qualify as being a long time – has been our focus and it’s never wavered from being centered on HPE, Mission Critical Systems (MCS) and the NonStop platform. The NonStop community continues to go from strength to strength and with all that HPE does in the marketplace these days, the NonStop vendor community has become the biggest partnership with HPE of any system or platform! More recently, our working relationship with MCS has risen to new heights. Stay tuned as there is more to follow. 

There has been a lot more than business to occupy the time spent in this latest decade. We have been extremely fortunate to be able to couple our love for vendor meetings and events with our love of travel, the arts and yes, music. At a time when everyone just “googles that” unknown or unclear event or action there is still no substitute for meeting face-to-face. An emoji really doesn’t convey true body language. Nor does an email express sentiment in a manner that you can parlor into actions! So yes, for Margo and me, when we look back at what has been special this past decade, there are five distinct areas or categories that provided extra material for our highlight reel. 
First up, the house: As you already know we downsized our home even as we decided to stay in Colorado and to remain close to the front ranges. It’s cold in winter, but then again, we do get to witness four distinct seasons.  The downsize was massive and we are still wearing the repercussions from some of the decisions we made during the downsizing. Moving from 13,000 square feet (10,000 finished) anchoring a 1.2 acre lot is a far cry from 5,000 square feet (4,000 finished) on a tiny lot. We are contemplating getting a much smaller cat! Way less than a quarter acre of property I would guess, as I truly don’t know how small the lot is – then again, yard maintenance is now a blessing compared with what we once enjoyed in Niwot. Yes, we moved from Boulder county and the village of Niwot to Laramie county and to the township of Windsor.

So how do we feel? Well, when it comes to wearing the repercussions it’s taking some getting used to when our master suite is about a quarter the size of our former master while our kitchen is about one tenth the size. But then again, our bills for house expenses are way, way down from what we had grown used to paying. And talk about the bills? Taxes, insurance, gardening, trash collection and yes, housecleaning are a fraction of what we paid for almost two decades and as they say in business, it’s all about free cash flow and that has had a marked impact on our lifestyle. Moving house is usually traumatic but we made the best of it and it did go smoothly and for that, Margo takes all the credit as it was Margo that managed to a spreadsheet and everything happened when it was needed.

Secondly, the music: We went to Los Angeles’ “The Greek Theater” to hear a performance by the 2Cellos. Rated second only to the Hollywood Bowl, it proved to be quite an experience as we hadn’t even heard of it before we attended the open air performance. Have you ever watched the videos of the 2Cellos on YouTube and seen the manner by which they go about blending old with the new – music, that is? When you think about it, who else could have come up with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony morphing into Led Zeppelin’s Whole lotta love?  And who else can open with Vivaldi’s Spring from Four Seasons and morph to AC/DC’s Thunderstruck – perhaps their best known performance of all.

Of course, their performance at The Greek came towards the end of the decade but it blew away the other performances we had attended during the decade. Well, almost all, as we have to acknowledge that attending the hundredth anniversary of Nat King Cole performance at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC certainly was an experience. But then again, so were a couple of performances of Mamma Mia in various towns, New York at the top of the list, and then we’ve seen the Cirque Du Soleil in Las Vegas. Part of our travels meant we wound up in Las Vegas more than once and we really like their O and Elvis performances even as we hope to catch a couple more in the coming decade.

Music and art have always played an important role in our lives together. We continue to collect paintings and one reason we chose the house we did as our new home were the many walls that enclosed the major rooms. Plenty of room to hang the pictures we have acquired over the years. Another important consideration was the opportunity to create a more open plan combination theater room, bar and wine cellar along with high top tables just for conversation. And it has worked out well for us so that now, we have an area where you can listen to the music, look at the art and enjoy a glass of wine!

Thirdly, the cars: They dominated many of the decisions we made in the past decade. Of course, we spent a goodly part of the decade on track, driving cars ourselves at track events around the western states of America. However, two events truly stood out for Margo and me included our track day driving a race-day prepped Lotus Exige S260 on the Nürburgring Nordschleife – the north loop, or as Jackie Stewart renamed it, “The Green Hell.” But there was also couple of laps that I took sitting behind Mario Andretti as he took me for a spin around the track at Sonoma (formerly, Infineon and before that, Sear’s Point) in a two-seat Honda Indy Car. 

However, no discussion of cars could possibly stop with just a reference to a track and a personality. We started out the decade buying Godzilla – a Nissan GT-R – that after a couple of years we updated to a newer model. Nothing, simply nothing, prepares you for driving Godzilla and it never ceased to put a smile on our face. And yes, it was Margo who had the opportunity to drive the east coast’s famous Tail of the Dragon, US 129, a highway that lies between North Carolina and Tennessee and is only 11 miles long. Whereas the Nürburgring has 150 turns over 12 plus miles, the Tail of the Dragon has 318.

The GT-R may have been the highlight but we do need to give a special call out to the Maserati GT-S we had for half the decade as well as the much newer BMW i8s we have enjoyed. It was almost as if we were watching massive changes taking place in the automobile industry as we went from V8s to Turbo V6s and ultimately hybrid mixes of very small displacement combustion engines and powerful electric motors. This decade has passed and we have no V10s or V8s in the garage any longer and that is saying something for a couple like Margo and me.

You may also recall having read that at the end of the decade we dumped the RV, dumped too our beloved red Corvette that we used for track driving, sold off the trailer and ended up with the BMW i8 roadster as we traded the lot on just one car. It is not easy to sell an RV, so we feel pretty relieved we were able to complete what turned out to be pretty complex transaction! While it’s not really a highlight that we want to advertise all the same for us, being let off the hook is good news!

Fourth highlight of the year: Travel dominated much of our activities away from the house and it wasn’t just about crisscrossing the countryside in one car or the other. Then again, our travels did take us to numerous historic sites and there was rarely a time when we didn't pull over to take a look at something or other. Of course, visiting places popularized by Mark Twain was a must!

We traveled to Europe a few times; sometimes on business and at other times, very personal. We managed to squeeze into our busy business schedule a river cruise, our first Mediterranean Cruise to the Balkans visiting Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. We even sailed out of New York on a cruise that took us to nowhere (but with one short stop in Bermuda) and we enjoyed our time on a dinner cruise on Sydney Harbor as the fireworks celebrated New Year’s eve, 2019. Having Internet access on a cruise ship, no matter the size or the cruise line, pulling out our laptops meant we could continue business without any noticeable interruptions to our daily routines back on land. 

If we were to rank the cruise lines then yes, Seabourn ocean cruises top the list even as we did enjoy Viking river cruises. On the other hand, we remain a fan of the Windstar line. Of interest, the Seabourn vessel we sailed on has become part of the Windstar line. When it comes to our go-to cruise line for big ships it continues to be Princess. There is something iconic about seeing a modern cruise ship moored close by to Sydney's famous Harbor Bridge. ON this occasion, it was the Majestic Princess and the largest vessel in the Princess fleet. 

Call it a long history with the company – family ties as early in my IT career I worked for P&O line subsidiary, Overseas Containers Line (OCL) – but then again, we can see ourselves enjoying our tenth cruise on Princess shortly. We have done a cruise on Royal Caribbean as well as on Norwegian but they kind of fall short in some respects, but then again, there is still time to enjoy an Atlantic crossing on a Cunard vessel.

Fifth highlight is something very special: No story on this past decade’s highlights would be complete without a reference to Margo’s Mother passing away and Margo’ daughter getting married a short time later – Anna and Erich combining their honeymoon with a trip to Poland to lay Grandma’s ashes in the family’s grave. Then Margo became a grandparent for the first time. Daughter Anna first provided a daughter, Ella, before adding twin boys, Aiden and Even just a couple of years later. Certainly, Christmas Eve has become a family time and being around small children again brings back memories from way, way back in our lives. Having such a fresh family connection isn’t without its challenges but then again, long after memories from all of the above have faded, there will always be family.

My mother too passed away and that too was a milestone we knew would occur but all the same, it really is now just Margo and me. My daughter Lisa took a step toward independence late in the decade – as she studies for her Master’s degree; she now lives by herself. Almost, there are two cats that share her new place with her. 

My brother Greg and his wife Robyn became grandparents as well with the arrival of Chase. With three girls in his family, I have to believe Chase will not be the last grandchild and having spent the summer of 2018 – 2019 with him and the family, Margo and I are left to believe that this is only just the beginning. The second daughter, Stephanie, married at the end of the decade – who knows what the next few years will bring? We will always treasure the hospitality Greg and Robyn extended to us during our time in Sydney but I suspect it will be a long time before next we plan an extended stay in Australia. 

The past decade was indeed special for Margo and me. There was the business to be nurtured as there were sights to be seen, music to be heard and cars to be driven. There were many new dining experiences with untried foods to be tasted. Thoughts as to the best restaurant ever? There were plenty to choose from, but it really is a tie between a restaurant we like atop Eze, France and the Cottage Point Inn, Sydney, that accepts arrivals by seaplane. Although too, the reworked Bennelong restaurant at the Sydney Opera House now under the management of executive chef Peter Gilmore was a real surprise and worthy of a special mention.
Well, let us not forget friendships! We were blessed to enjoy friendship and company of quite a few great folks – we were quite blessed over the years with truly good friends! I will leave the friendship tales for later as we will be adding a couple of friendship-related adventures in 2020. To the Kennys of Simi Valley, the Millers of Windsor, the Monchs of Sydney, the Rosens of DC and the Jones of Atlanta – a big thank you for letting us be part of your lives as well.

And through it all we both added years to our lives – all of them remarkably good for us both. Now we have a new decade to look forward and even as it has been the subject of many discussions we know the business will continue, families will continue to grow, cars will come and go. Perhaps there will be one more move as our downsizing continues or perhaps, we change continents once more. Whatever transpires it really has been all about the journey and if the past decade is any guide, then look forward to even more perfect days ahead!

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Going coastal – I hear the call of the sea, yet again!

The sea has held a special hold on me since childhood. As children, my sister Judy and I would spend long summer days on the beach at the southern end of Avoca, just north of Sydney, on the other side of the Hawkesbury. Days spent doing little other than splashing around in the surf, walking the rock-shelf that went for a mile alongside the ocean and just building sand castles was an idyllic time in my life. It was way back in November, 2013, when I last visited Avoca and I made reference to that trip in the November 12, 2013, post to this blog, Two golds and a red! But America is now my home and trips to Australia only happen occasionally and with my new home residing far from the Pacific Ocean, it takes very little to get me heading that way, no matter the occasion.

Walking down to the beach at Carmel is always a time for reflection. I first started to take time to visit Carmel when I joined Tandem Computers in the late ‘80s. No matter the time of year, there is always something taking place and during those early days I did stumble onto the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. No such luck this time, although we did stop by the Lodge at Pebble Beach’s famous golf course. On the other hand, the wonderful Cypress Pines that make Carmel as famous as it has become are everywhere and the presence makes for good photo opportunities. 

Before we made our trip down to Monterey and Carmel we first had to drive to San Francisco. Crossing the Bay Bridge just as the sun was setting was just another reminder of how much we miss the place. On the other hand, this San Francisco is far removed from our beloved city of just a decade or so ago. For our overnight stay we elected to bed down at the Griffin Hotel right alongside the Bay Bridge which placed us just a few steps away from the Boulevard Restaurant – the site of our “Welcome to GoldenGate Software” all those years ago.

It isn’t that we want to dissuade any of our readers from visiting this most magical of cities but should your plans include a visit, be careful. There are a number of sights that you just don’t want to take in. Nevertheless, our arrival meant that we had made it once more, safely, and that our few days away from the office would be time spent with business colleagues, acquaintances and friends and for that, we will always put in the effort and simply enjoy the ride! 

As with all visits to the coast this trip involved a little business. Margo and I find very little time for vacation these days as we have a digital magazine to publish and numerous wonderful clients looking to us for content for their own publications and social media sites so it’s always a case of taking a working holiday at best. These we have been calling BizCations and looking at our calendar 2020 is going to be a very busy year for us both. Adding a little spice into the mix we have now taken on a major Silicon Valley vendor as a client so this trip was as much about looking at sites and campuses (for an update on what’s really going on in Silicon Valley) as it was thinking up new storylines.

To that end, this BizCation met its goals. And no trip to Silicon Valley should start anywhere else than with a stop by the offices of Kleiner Perkins on Sand Hill Road. That is, after stopping by Buck’s Restaurant for breakfast back up on Highway 84, Woodside. Like to look at an Apple 1 motherboard – well it’s framed and hanging from the wall. It’s rumored that more tech deals were concluded in this café than anywhere else in Silicon Valley. Then again, we arrived in Silicon Valley to unbelievably perfect weather and for the rest of the week, barely a cloud scampered across the sky. Perfect; want three perfect days on the coast well, you missed them!

If Kleiner Perkins was the catalyst for Silicon Valley’s explosive growth than what can we say about the Hearst dynasty? When it comes to publishing Randolph Hearst was among the very first American media moguls and his ranch atop the hills at San Simeon became a beacon that attracted everyone in the media, including the film industry – Hearst owning two of the movie companies of the time. However it is this architectural marvel that continues to pull in the crowds and it was something we just had to do! We had guests with us from Australia and it’s always fun to include a trip to the Hearst Castle whenever called upon to hit the high spots on a trip along the coast.

For Margo and me, being joined on this trip by Dieter and Chris Monch, with Dieter being my former boss during my time with Nixdorf Computers, was a delight. But no, it wasn’t a case of there being a strong wind blowing in from the west but rather, someone shouted that we needed to lean in! Time together gave us many opportunities to discuss the past, even as the tour of Silicon Valley was a revelation for them both – who knew that the vendor campuses would be as large as they were? Dieter is now an investor with interests in almost everything technical and so the conversations covered a lot of territory. In so doing, Margo and I came away with an abundance of potential story lines and for that we are very thankful for the chance to continue conversations that began decades ago.

We had driven down California Highway 1 from Monterey to Cambria before turning inland to visit the wineries of Paso Robles. We drove the 17 Mile Road past the many mansions before we made it to Carmel. But then it was on to Big Sur with a very short detour into the Nepenthe restaurant before arriving at Lucia. Yes, that was my drink – the Diet Coke to the right of the frame! It was hard not to be impressed with the view down the coast just as it was hard not to be impressed with the road itself. To say that it was hard to tear ourselves away from this place would be an understatement, but we still had miles to go.

It was a simple case of heading down to Cambria where we would be spending the night and where we would have the opportunity to dine at Madeline’s where the steaks proved to be an excellent choice. It would be the following morning when we circled back to San Simeon and the Hearst Castle but we didn’t leave Cambria before taking coffee and cake at Linn’s Restaurant where once again, the single portion meringue pies proved irresistible.    

We stopped by a couple of wineries in Paso Robles but none better than Justin Winery where the Justification and Isosceles wines were available for tasting. However, it was their Reserve Cabinet Sauvignon that scored with our small group. Throw in a small plate of cheese and deli cuts and you had all the ingredients necessary for a quiet afternoon of relaxation by the vines. Margo and I have been taking the roads north of Ventura that led to the wineries every opportunity we had when we lived in Simi Valley. It was perhaps the bright spot on an otherwise dreary calendar from those days – dreary, that is, except for the opportunities to spend time racing cars on road courses. On the other hand, driving through the vineyards of Paso Robles meant we had the opportunity to catch up with Cowtrina!

Yet, whether it was the vineyards of Paso Robles or more often than not, the vineyards of Santa Ynez – the location featured in the movie, Sideways – back then, there was nothing better to do than to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon tasting wine. This trip with Dieter and Chris and with meeting up with Brian and Jan brought back so many memories that it wasn’t all that hard to think up new story lines for future articles and posts. It’s almost as if with the beginning of 2020, there was a sense of expectation that our time together would only get better even as we took every opportunity afforded us to pursue working holidays whenever the opportunity presented itself.

There is nothing quite like Santa Barbara on an early January morning. Once again, not a cloud in the sky! We planned a two day break on its wonderful shoreline and that meant breakfast first at the Boathouse seaside at Hendry’s Beach followed by breakfast at Summerland Bach Café. In the meantime being in Santa Barbara meant we had an opportunity to catch up with the Kenny’s and to introduce them to Dieter and Chris and so it just had to be at Brophy’s Seafood Restaurant in Ventura for dinner. Starting late afternoon had initially surprised our guests but then, it was the only opportunity to look east as the sun set over the Pacific and see the colors of the surrounding hills change from gold through reds to deep purples. We would be ending our trip along the coastline by driving inland to Desert Springs which would be our last stop where we would end our time together over steaks at LG Prime Steakhouse.

Almost the complete opposite to what we experienced on the coast, the mountains we traversed on the way back threw everything at us. It was winter after all so what should we have expected that would have been anything different? On the way to the coast we had driven through light snow, yet again, as we drove across Wyoming and then, descending the Sierras just east of Truckee we encountered snow but the Rockies can always turn on a show. Or snow, to express it more simply. Severe weather always sounds ominous and while it slowed us down, the contrast in conditions couldn’t have been more extreme. Clouds? Well, they were everywhere and nasty looking! Golden hills? The scene was monochromatic with nothing by white atop black visible everywhere you looked!

Once again we had chosen the Range Rover and even as our model was the baby in the range – an Evoque two-door ragtop – it handled the conditions admirably. Never stepping out of line and not once communicating to us a loss of traction. We encountered a couple of icy patches and it just sailed on through. There is much to be said about the Range Rover and while it has its critics and it’s styling leaves some to shake their heads, I cannot imagine driving in winter as confidently as we have done so far this winter in anything else. And remember, previously we have owned Jeep Grand Cherokees and Cadillac Escalades, but the Range Rover’s capabilities exceeds both of them.

We may look back at this BizCation a little later in the year and think again of Silicon Valley, the wine districts and even the Hearst Castle, but it will be the coast that will feature more often than not in our conversations. To put it bluntly, I just love the coast and any chance of “going coastal” is an opportunity not to be missed by my books. So, who knows? The year and indeed the decade are quite young and there is much more Margo and I would like to accomplish. Already we know we will be in Warsaw, Poland this spring and then a few weeks later, in Berlin for our annual European HPE NonStop event, so we will not be missing out on too much.

And yet, both of us can’t stop talking about where to next – living here in Windsor, just outside Ft Collins, Colorado, is only a temporary situation we are coming to appreciate. Or is it? No matter where our travels take us I continue to hear the call of the sea. Vacillation has never been either of our strong points, so who can tell where Margo and I will end up next? Again, if we cannot return to Avoca Beach and America is now our home, going coastal opens up many opportunities so stay tuned. The story has only just begun …