The miracle on I-580

C.C. MyersIn a world where the-sky-is-falling sensationalist media is the norm, the conclusion to the saga of the collapsed freeway here in the Bay Area is downright inspiring: the contractor (C.C. Myers) finished the job early! When is the last time things came together so nicely on a highway project? Wow! The lede (as they say in the biz) in the SF Gate story is absolutely gripping:

For a man whose confidence in his construction company borders on braggadocio, C.C. Myers was noticeably nervous on the ninth night after he promised to rebuild the fire-damaged MacArthur Maze in just 25 days.

Read on for the most engaging story you’ve ever read about highway construction. On the day of the collapse, all I heard was how horrible traffic was going to be (it never was that bad) and how it was going to takes months and years to correct (obviously not). C.C. Myers showed how it’s done. No matter what field you’re in, you just have to admire the planning and execution.

If C.C. Myers doesn’t throw out the first pitch at the next A’s or Giants game, get a statue at City Hall, and a key to every city in the Bay Area, I will be disappointed. Amazing job! The Bay Area appreciates it.

Welcoming Jon Williams to the blogosphere

I just go an email from Jon Williams, a friend and CTO of Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, and he let me know that he is now blogging (feed here). Excellent! Jon is one of my favorite CTOs and an all-around good Jon Williamsguy, as evidenced by the fact that Jon was on the very short list of only two CTOs I interviewed for my short-running CTO Connection podcast at InfoWorld (check it out).

Though the podcast didn’t get off the ground before Yahoo! came calling, I wrote well over 200 weekly columns at InfoWorld, and Jon figured prominently in two of them, one about the very successful New York CTO Club that he co-founded seven years ago (still going strong), and another about having the management sense to know when to step back from a situation and let things happen without interfering.

Jon and I still keep in touch, but now we talk mostly about our guitar-playing (a subject we discussed in the podcast) and music. Tonight, Jon told me to check out Andrew Bird (his latest album got a solid review from Pitchfork). I’ll put that on my list. . . .

I’m really glad to see Jon in the blogosphere, and I’m looking forward to reading more of what my favorite Aussie guitar-playing CTO has to say!

Born on a train: Twitter and musical serendipity

I had plans this weekend and Twitter led me astray from them briefly, but I discovered a new cover of an old favorite in the process.

It all started when I woke up on Saturday morning, checked in with Twitter, and noticed that Cody had twittered: “Departing to Kansas for the weekend. If Magnetic Fields changed song lyrics to ‘Baby I was born on a PLANE’ it would apply to my recent life.” I absolutely love Magnetic Fields, and “Born on a Train” (available on iTunes) is one of my favorites, so Cody’s twitter had me puttering around the house on Saturday morning singing this amazing song:

Some roads are only seen at night
Ghost roads — nothing but neon signs.
But some nights the neon gas gets free
and turns into walking dead like me

And I’ve been making promises I know I’ll never keep
One of these days I’m gonna leave you in your sleep
I’ll have to go when the whistle blows, the whistle knows my name
Baby, I was born on a train.

Feeling inspired, I sat down to play the song (I learned to play it on guitar long ago — it’s easy, like most Magnetic Fields songs), but I couldn’t remember past the first verse, so I did a search and near the top of the results was a link to the Arcade Fire lyrics. Arcade Fire?! I had no idea.

Now, I’m not totally sold on this whole Arcade Fire thing (that’s another post entirely), but when a band covers one of my favorite Magnetic Fields songs, it goes a long way towards earning my musical respect. I had to find their cover, and it only took a search or two to locate it. It was a live version done on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Electic on January 17, 2005. You can watch the whole performance (“Born on a Train” begins at the 29:40 mark — open this URL directly in RealPlayer instead of the built-in player if you want to see the time) or you can go straight to it on YouTube.

In the process of finding the Arcade Fire cover, I discovered a video of the Magnetic Fields’ original version, and a fan write-up that compares the original and the cover head-to-head. I’ll still go with the original, but I’ll give a nod to the Arcade Fire for good taste, and a nod to the Internet for giving me the chance to make the comparison.

The PC World controversy resolved: the invisible hand of Pat McGovern

[Update: Wired posted something after I had started writing this that suggested that Pat McGovern’s hand wasn’t quite so invisible after all. Harry McCracken “returned to [PC World] only because IDG founder and chairman Pat McGovern and IDG President Bob Carrigan both assured him that he would have editorial autonomy over the content.”]

As a former employee of IDG, I have been closely (but quietly) following the PC World controversy in which editor-in-chief Harry McCracken reportedly quit when CEO Colin Crawford tried to kill a story that was critical of Apple (see Wired’s Epicenter blog):

The piece, a whimsical article titled “Ten Things We Hate About Apple,” was still in draft form when Crawford killed it. McCracken said no way and walked after Crawford refused to compromise. Apparently Crawford also told editors that product reviews in the magazine were too critical of vendors, especially ones who advertise in the magazine, and that they had to start being nicer to advertisers.

Fast forward to today, and I was pleasantly surprised to see the story “Editor in Chief Harry McCracken Returns to PCW“:

In a surprise announcement, Robert Carrigan, president of IDG Communications, told PC World’s staff today that “Harry McCracken has decided to remain with PC World as vice-president, editor in chief.”

“[CEO] Colin Crawford will be rejoining the IDG management team as executive vice president, online. In this role, he will be responsible for driving IDG’s online strategy and initiatives in support of our Web-centric business focus,” Carrigan said. “We will conduct a search for a new CEO to lead PC World and Macworld.”

This is welcome news for Journalism (yes, with a capital ‘J’), and I’m not that surprised based on my experience at IDG. Bob Carrigan was quoted, but in this outcome, I see the quietly steady yet invisible hand of Pat McGovern, the visionary behind IDG. When I worked for IDG as CTO of InfoWorld from 2001-2005, I spent enough time around Pat in regular board meetings, dinners, and company functions to get a real sense of how Pat operates. Pat is an amazing man (he is, incidentally, quite wealthy — #85 on the Forbes wealthiest people in America list in 2006, according to Wikipedia, he donated $350 million to MIT to start the McGovern Institute for Brain Research, and he understands the China market as well as any American businessman, having been one of the early businessmen there in 1980). In his official bio, one segment sticks out and rings completely true for me in my dealings with Pat :

“Acting locally” describes McGovern’s commitment to his people and to a decentralized management structure focused on respect for IDG employees and customers. In April 2004, Inc. magazine named McGovern one of its “25 Entrepreneurs We Love” for “knowing the power of respect.”

“His commitment to decentralization has created a constellation of motivated business units that make their own decisions about everything from how to reward staff to what new businesses to launch. He also treats his end customers — the readers of such publications as Computerworld, PC World and Macworld — with consummate respect. At IDG the quality of content is sacrosanct…”

When I was at InfoWorld, we went through a vicious downturn in which advertising revenues dropped by almost 50% year-over-year, and as a member of the executive team, I went to the 3-times-a-year board meetings where Pat was always present. I can’t recall specific dates, but I do remember Pat suggesting on a number of occasions that our coverage needed to be more critical of vendors. As a shrewd businessman, Pat was always focused on sales numbers, but he also seemed genuinely interested in what we were doing editorially and wanted us to tell it like it is. He knew that the success of his business depended on editorial credibility. In these meetings, out of all the people in the room, Pat was always most engaged (not like some Blackberry-obsessive execs these days) and even in tough times, Pat was constructive and respectful. I’m not the suit-and-tie type, but when Pat came to town, I happily wore a suit and tie out of respect, and I didn’t mind at all.

Although I moved on from IDG two years ago, I consider Pat McGovern a personal and business role model. In a world where some people equate business success with slash-and-burn management, I’ve grown to admire Pat’s ways even more. Business cycles come and go, but empowerment, respect, and setting a strong example go a long way in building a long-term legacy. I don’t know the inside scoop of what happened at PC World, but you can bet that Pat McGovern was in the mix, empowering people like Bob Carrigan to make the right decision in the end. In the news cycle, this might seem like a flash-in-the-pan story about journalism, but for me, it’s a story about respect and good business in the long term. Hats off to IDG and Pat McGovern.

More from around the web:

My giant MS Windows bluescreen photo in Times Square lives on

Back in November of 2004, I was walking down the streets of Manhattan when I saw the biggest blue screen I had ever seen in Times Square, so I recorded the moment with a blog post and a photo on my old InfoWorld blog. Back when I was at InfoWorld, this blog post would show up pretty high in the page view reports on a regular basis — it had serious staying power.

Now it has re-appeared in this “Top 12 blue screens” post, in Portuguese no less. I’m in 3rd place all-time, with this comment:

Um belo Bluescreen em 3 planos diferentes!!

Babel Fish tells me that this means something along the lines of “a Bluescreen beauty in 3 different plans!!”

This is the kind of recognition I crave.

Update: My friend Jon Williams sets the translation straight in the comments: My Brazilian Ops Director translated, its “A nice Bluescreen with 3 different angles”

NAS for the home: how's the Infrant ReadyNAS NV+?

After one of the busiest six-month periods of my life, I’m back to a little bit of home geeking. I’m on the verge of getting serious about massive storage for home and my research suggests that the Infrant ReadyNAS NV+ is the NAS (network-attached storage) device of choice among geeks. You can buy the box pre-configured, or you can buy your own drives and do it yourself (amazing that you can get 750GB drives now!) I was a little concerned that a company that I’ve never heard of wouldn’t be around if things go bad, but then I read that Netgear is buying Infrant, so that worry goes away.

Here are a couple of reviews I’ve already found:

Barry’s Rigs and Reviews — exhaustive (perhaps even exhausting) but near-insane number of photos of everything about the device, including the ethernet cable that comes in the box! Every admin/setup screen for the software, too.

Club Overclocker (good photos of the device and screenshots of the admin and setup screens)

Anyone out there got any opinions?

(For those with some time on their hands, there’s the open source route with FreeNAS, but for me, it’s all about plug-and-play these days.)