Petra: A Portal in Time

Gulf of Suez,
In queue to enter the Canal
En route to Israel
60 years – 1 day

Our stops throughout this journey have been at points of intersection, where waves of successive cultures left their marks on local histories, sometimes in still distinct layers, others as ingredients in various exotic mixtures.

All have been remarkable, but none more so than our most recent waypoint — Petra, in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan… which we experienced as an opening of time itself, into an exotic past. Continue reading

Reflections on Oman, and Leadership

At Sea
1 Day out of Salālah
En Route to Aqaba, Jordan*

With no waking witness, the first milky light of day notched into the cabin around the time our ship slipped into port. A short time later, when the door chime announced breakfast’s arrival, the living room was fully lit in a diffuse glow.

Salalah Oman lay just outside, and a half day’s exploring it just ahead.

As Ellie poured strong coffee, I pulled the curtains fully aside, uncovering a view of docks, and container vessels, and cranes in methodical operation, and limestone quarries crossed by trails of dust, and busses all in a row, and workers busy sweeping in a choreographed procession to clear the after effects of a day-earlier sandstorm we found to be the reason the day’s light had its particular character upon our arrival.

Cleaning up after the sand storm

Cleaning up after the sand storm

Throughout the day, the cloudless sky never turned blue, and the air carried a dust so fine as to escape any direct observation. All we saw was its veil-like effect on the light, and its remains on flat surfaces. It added nicely to the sense of the exotic, in this, our first visit to the Sultanate of Oman. Continue reading

Postcard from Mangalore

Arabian Sea
2nd day at Sea, En Route to Salilah, Oman

Our second of three stops as we traveled north on the Malabar Coast was at Mangalore, a medium sized trade and commercial hub, in the state of Karnataka… and a place of no particular distinction. (When I asked our guide to describe what made this place special, he hesitated at great length, and then answered something involving hotel chains founded here and ‘warm people.’)

Therein lies its value to the traveler. It provides, it seemed to me, a lens into ‘average India,’ if there is such a thing. Continue reading

Postcard from Kochi

After only the briefest of stays, in three port regions scattered across the western shores of this vast land, it’s impossible of course to give a fair accounting of a sprawling country of 1.3 billion, with a rich history that spans millennia — from before recorded time to today’s headlines.

What is possible however, and what I’ll attempt in this and two following “postcards”, is to share a tiny sample of impressions and refractions from images captured and notes taken during my time in Cochin, Mangalore, and Mumbai India.

India’s is a history comprising both the actions of a highly varied indigenous set of peoples, and the numerous layered footprints of cultures from afar, with the passing centuries bringing influence from Arabs and Persians, then Europeans… and now from the inexorable forces of globalization.

What Ellie, our fellow travelers, and I experienced during our several landings was thus an assembly across time, blending cultures as they were across various ‘thens,’ crafted by many hands.

These visits, our first to the sub-continent, accomplished for me what one hopes for through such an undertaking: the immediate visceral experience of wonder, leading to passing phases of disorientation and confusion, on the way to humility, respect, just a bit of understanding, and an opening up of personal perspectives.

Perhaps what I share here will offer some pleasing echoes of that journey toward appreciation, and the encouragement you need to set out on your own comparable adventure. Come along, and let me tell you a few stories…

Continue reading

A Strategic Decision

Port Klang
Straits of Malacca
Seabourn Sojourn

This is a place with a great deal of turbulent history. It sits at a strategic crossroads of the overlapping and competing trade routes of many empires, as they’ve surged and receded over the millennia.

After a founding period where indigenous peoples, comprising hunter gatherers from the north, who arrived forty some odd thousand years ago, and agrarian cultures from Indonesia, or perhaps Taiwan (by the latest theory), coalesced into the Malay people here… the game was afoot.

Arabs, then Indians, first pushed into the area, attracted by the prospect of a seabourn alternative to the land-based Spice Road (and its Mongol overlords). They were followed by the Portuguese, around the peak of their maritime empire, then by the Dutch, and finally the English — the latter two each with their own East Indian Trading Companies.

Straits of Malacca

Straits of Malacca

All of that economic value passed through these waters, a natural chokepoint in the configuration of land around the confluence of the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. Those who controlled them had the opportunity to establish a lucrative maritime toll booth… and that’s just what they did… typically in some form of power and revenue-sharing partnership with the local Malay sultanates.

Kuala Lampur (“KL”) was born of the wealth thrown off by this process.

Today’s shore excursion involved a 90 minute bus ride, each way, to visit this most modern make-over of the city with that history behind it. Until recently, it was the home to the world’s tallest buildings, the “other” twin towers.

I decided instead, quite strategically I thought, to defend the port, the ship, and its liquid possesions (in particular), from any possible attack.

I took a high ground position (Deck 9), and prepared to mount a stout defense against all comers. Alas, as of this writing my good friends, they have not arrived. Must have gotten word of my superior position and resolve.


Mission accomplished.

I can now retire to the evening’s festivities, proud in the knowledge that I kept the Straits of Malacca safe, at least for now, for thirsty travelers from all corners of the globe.


Triptych: Rooms with a View, Part I

View from 7 WTC, 35th floor

I don't really have an office, per se, in our downtown NY executive headquarters location.
Rather, I've been using Conference Room B, or C on occasion, whenever I work here — here being the 35th floor of 7 World Trade Center (mailing address 250 Greenwich Street).

Adjacent rooms, each about fifteen feet on a side, they both face due south, with floor-to-ceiling windows affording unobstructed views of what many of us still think of as Ground Zero and, for a time at least, off to the right, a generous expanse of NY's Harbor beyond.

Nine years on, the haunting memories of what happened just above (and below) my vantage point have softened, as if time has twisted the focus ring just a bit.

The adjoining space still presents itself as a hole in the sky however, and echoes persist. Of dinners above, accompanied by overpriced wines… and of the distant but horrible black and orange plumes visible on that day, from my seat on another plane, still awaiting takeoff, safe from any immediate danger, but not from the changes we were all to face in the time since.

The memorial waterfalls were turned on for the first time a month or so ago, to some media fanfare. They're off again now (dry run?).

The western extent of the views from here have recently been occluded by the rising tower of 1 WTC (formerly a.k.a. "The Freedom Tower"), visible at right. Several months on, it's now at forty five stories, perhaps more, and climbing at a rate of a floor every couple of days.

Catty corner (NY expression for diaganolly?) across the site, you can see the shell of the DeutcheBank building, which has been systematically deconstructed, floor by floor, so as to remove the last of the terminally 9/11-damaged structures, without the dangers of the more dramatic implosive techniques we've all witnessed applied to other large buildings whose useful life has past.

Remember, please.

What does WiFi have in common with Whale Sharks?

I was asked to say a few words at Fred’s retirement party. Without more than a moment’s thought, I knew just how to approach the task.

So, when I got up in front of a packed room a few weeks later, I began with the quote that had immediately sprung to mind earlier…

NewFred1 “All progress depends on unreasonable men,” I said, paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw. “Fred Heiman is one of those men. When I plan a vacation, thoughts run immediately to poolside Margarita’s in Maui. That’s reasonable. Fred? He heads straight to the western shores of Australia to scuba dive with giant whale sharks. Not so reasonable.” That reference was apt both with respect to Fred’s then growing (now full fledged) passion for underwater exploration and videography (see his web site), and the evening’s venue: the Monterey Aquarium.

But it was also an apt quote to describe Fred’s accomplishments and nature.

Fred could drive you crazy. Opinions? Fred’s got em. Compromise? Not in his vocabulary. Gray area, perhaps? Nope, that’s 100% white. I mean to tell you, the man is totally unreasonable.

But he’s also the reason Symbol Technologies entered and emerged as a leader in wireless networking142550-Motorola-8500XL_thumb and related enterprise mobility products. Fred saw that the world was going wireless earlier than just about anyone else I know. I can still picture the slide he presented to that effect at a product strategy meeting sometime around 1988. (Remember, this is what a cell phone looked like that year, and that it cost $4382 in inflation-adjusted dollars.) His was not an obvious or reasonable position to assert.

Also not reasonable: to base our design on an RF technology previously only used by the military (spread spectrum), and to propose that the project be tackled by an engineering team that largely didn’t yet exist, and had no prior experience in wireless product development. But that’s just what Fred insisted we do.

Well, the wireless and mobility technology we developed became the basis for what is now a billion dollar plus business within Motorola (who acquired Symbol), and our ideas are woven deeply into what we all now know as WiFi (we were one of six companies who drove the first round standardization efforts behind the now ubiquitous wireless LAN technology).

Fred has a habit of doing things like that. Earlier in his career, he was one of the principal inventors of the MOSFET IC, one of the key founding innovations that has led to our digital world.

I tell this story not just to tip my hat (again) to Fred, but to remind us all that we had better do our best to attract and keep around “unreasonable” men and women. They’re the ones that don’t recognize and accept present conventions and realities, they invent new ones. Yes, they can drive you crazy, but they are your future. Look around your team. See any? If not, better find a couple.