Look at Eric’s Shoes!

Sunday, March 28th, 2004
Last week's blog entry: Is the Chicken Cooked? now has wings of its own. Within days, bloggers all over the world were linking to it and several people even wrote me e-mail to share how the story resonated with them.  (Michael Sampson, Dennis Kennedy, Libby Ingrassia Schwarz, Skingery, to name a few)  As a result of your encouragement, I will share another important lesson that I learned early in my career; but first, I would like to share some good news....  

After posting my blog entry about cooking chickens, I looked up Jim Hill and gave him a call; I wanted to personally thank him for the lessons he had taught me so many years ago. To my delight, Jim was home and when his wife told him I was calling to thank him for something, he said "you must be referring to cooked chickens...." We had a great conversation and agreed to get together in person soon.

Now the lesson:  In the early 1980's, at the ripe old age of 20, I began one of my first consulting assignments for The Air Force Flight Test Center, at Edwards Air Force Base, California.  My assignment was to help the communications squadron deploy some of the first microcomputers in the U.S. Military. (see below) Part of this deployment involved an initial presentation in the base theater with 750 people in attendance, along with a live video link to Hill AFB.  General Pete Odgers, who was the commander of the Flight Test Center at the time, talked about how microcomputers would revolutionize work at the Test Center, and then for the next hour and a half, I gave a presentation (using Harvard Graphics - sorry, no PowerPoint in those days) about how the technology worked and how we would be equipping the people to use this new technology

I worked for six months to develop a series of technology seminars for the 2-letter chiefs and their civilian counterparts as well as the base personnel to bring them up to speed on the capabilities of the new microcomputer technology.  One of the seminars that I developed, was a 3-day computer management course for senior managers.  Keep in mind that while I certainly knew my stuff, I was still the "young" computer wiz -- probably about 1/2 the average age of my audience.  I wanted to make a good impression and I worked hard in preparation.

The seminar began at 8:00 AM each day, and I drove up each day from Los Angeles, which was a few hours away. On day two of one of my seminars, the managers began passing around a note while I was speaking; this went on for much of the morning while I presented.  Finally, curiosity got the best of me and I stopped my presentation to ask what was so important.  

A person with a sheepish grin held up the paper for me to see:
Image:Look at Eric’s Shoes!
I looked down at my shoes and this is what I saw...
Image:Look at Eric’s Shoes!
Apparently, before I left Los Angeles at 5:00 AM on that dark morning, I grabbed two similar but different color shoes from the closet and headed off for my presentation a hundred miles away.  It was too late for me to do anything about it so I smiled, quietly took off my shoes, placed them on the floor next to the podium, and gave the rest of my presentation in my socks which were fortunately the same color.  

At the end of my lecture, I was presented with the note that you see above. I have kept it as a reminder for these past 20 years, and as a result, I have never repeated the experience.

Needless to say, it was a very valuable lesson.  Fortunately, it did not hurt my presentation, and I continued to successfully deliver services to the base for another 10 years after that event.

Lesson learned: Whenever I pack for a seminar, I always check the color of my shoes. Twice.


For those of you who are still reading, this is the actual computer I used for my work at Edwards.  I keep it on a shelf in my office.  It's a Zenith Z-100: a "powerful" Pre-IBM PC dual-processor 8085 and 8080 2 megahertz design with a whopping 64K RAM!  Sorry, no hard drives in those days.  There wasn't much to fill them up with anyway.  A typical word-processor, WordStar, only needed 32K (that's kilobytes) of RAM, and could be run from a floppy. The was also before the days of the 300+ megabyte MS Office installations. No color either.  A green screen CRT was state of the art at the time.  When Zenith called it a desktop computer, they were not kidding. You needed a desktop to use one. Still, it was better than using punched cards, but that is another story for another day.
Image:Look at Eric’s Shoes!

Not easy being green

Wednesday, March 17th, 2004
Many years ago, Kathy (the former Miss. Mullen) wanted me to wear something green to a St. Patrick's Day party, hosted by our choir.  The local haberdasher did not have any green tuxedoes, so my wife set out in pursuit someone to sew a fine green tuxedo for me, along with a matching dress for her.  I told her if she could find someone to sew it, I would wear it and ...
Image:Not easy being green
I wonder if it still fits...  Now, I feel like watching Darby O'Gill

Plane crashes nearby

Saturday, March 6th, 2004
A small plane crashed into the mountainside across from my home in Pine Mountain Club, CA.
Image:Plane crashes nearby
Early last Saturday morning, February 28, I awoke to the sound of helicopter activity on the mountain directly across from my home.  This continued for several hours. Usually, the only time we ever hear a helicopter up here is when the Med-evac ambulance comes in or when there is a forest fire - either way,  it is usually not good news.  Since it was still snowing and quite foggy, I knew that it was not likely to be a fire.  At the same time, the helipad is to the left of my house down in the valley -- not across from my house where the sound was originating.  I knew something serious was going on.  The fog was so thick that the helicopter was barely visible as it ascended the mountain; yet I could hear it and I could occaisionally see the marker lights as it went up and down the hillside.    

Apparently, the night before, during a snow storm, the pilot of a Cessna 172 single engine aircraft reported troubles with his aircraft to the control tower in Bakersfield.  Shortly after, his plane crashed into the mountainside and exploded into flames.  At the time, it was snowing, and the temperature was about 26 degrees.  Due to the rugged terrain, the heavy snowfall, and the freezing weather, the search and rescue teams were unable to reach the crash site until 12 hours after the impact.  They drove up the mountain on SnowCats and then had to descend on foot to the crash site.  Unfortunately, the pilot died at the scene.

The snow on the mountainside melted this past week, and this morning while sitting on my back deck, I noticed something bright on the mountain. Using a pair of binoculars, I could tell that it was a small aircraft, or at least parts of the frame and wings -- the main fuselage was burned out.   My sympathies go out to the family of the pilot.  I doubt that there are any plans to remove the plane, so this will probably become a permanent marker to this tragic event.