Father’s Day 2019 — via 1940

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The Watsons at the World Fair in ~1940. Left to right: my grandpa Ernest, my uncle Ernie, my dad Richard.

This is the first father’s day I’ve ever known without my father. I don’t much like it, but although Dad has been gone for months, I still feel his presence and find reminders of him at all kinds of the right moments.

Recently, I was talking with Mom about what to do with a box of Dad’s old 78 records. I love music; I love records, and these old 78s are from a special era in the 1940s when music was not as easy to come by as it is today. Songs were pressed one to a side on weighty shellac record discs which played through to a deep groovy sound we don’t hear in digital renderings today. Clearly my dad prized and loved this collection, caring for and moving the box of volumes of 78s as my family moved several times over seven decades, keeping the discs in good shape even when the instruments for playback were no longer available at home. Knowing how special these were to him (and some of these discs were also hers), Mom was having a hard time letting go of or knowing what otherwise to do with these.

I took the box with me and mulled over it for awhile. Among the professional volumes, two particular discs were out of place, set apart in a tattered old paper cover with a pencil scrawl. (“Look,” Mom said, “This one says ‘Richard’ on it.”) We had no idea what they were. The labels on these discs were plain (branded “Recordio” and “Capitol”), and a scribble on each of them in an area where contents should have been listed gave no indication what they could possibly be — except, apparently, self-recorded.

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The Wilcox-Gay Recordio: 1940 Home Recording – via http://onetuberadio.com/2015/01/28/the-wilcox-gay-recordio-1940-home-recording/

I didn’t know home-recorded records were ever a thing, but I did some research and I found out that was indeed a possibility in the 1940s. Given that my grandfather was an audio technology wizard of sorts for his time, he no doubt would have had a home recorder like the Wilcox-Gay Recordio in their home in San Mateo. Especially if these could have voices from our family’s past on them, I realized I had to find a way to listen to them.

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Unlike most of the other quality shellac 78s in the box – songs from the likes of Al Jolson, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Count Basie and others – these two discs were pretty banged up. I wasn’t sure they’d be playable at all, and even so, with over 70 years of grime and scratches on them, I was not optimistic anything would be audible if they were playable. One of them, the disc with the Capitol label on it, looked like it was even fading away to some kind of strange metal underneath. And never mind that I long ago got rid of my own last phonograph. But I found a potential solution to this puzzle with Nick at a friendly and professional service across the Bay, Analog-to-Digital.net, who would give digitizing these things a try for a reasonable cost.

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The digitizations came out better than I expected. Noise, unavoidable, is reduced, and skips are all over, but the recordings are audible. I’m not sure what’s going on for a great deal of these recordings, but it is clear somewhere in all the noises, skips, pops, and hiss that here are voices from the past of my dad, his brother, maybe some friends, and even my grandparents, having a blast using a home recorder.

Nick sent me two mp3 files, one per disc. There isn’t much more than 5 minutes of recording per disc. I separated the audio files into ‘tracks’ of sorts and gave them titles reflecting my best guesses as to what’s going on in each segment. I tossed some completely unintelligible parts but liberally kept most of the action, in the order it was pressed onto each disc, and uploaded it all to two separate playlists on SoundCloud. Voila: Today’s Recordio: Voices from the Watson home in the 1940s.

I can’t help but wonder if this iteration will stand the test of time as well as heavy old 78 records to last another 70 years, until the next time this format becomes antiquated and needs to be transferred to something playable.

For now on the first Father’s Day without you Dad, I’m happy we get to join you long ago at home.

The Recordio

Capitol

Last Night on Ocean Beach

Back in ye olden days, one million years ago when the Internet was young and full of whimsey, we could do a thing called “hand-coding” HTML with any text editor, and if we had a Web server in our kitchen or knew a friend with one, or if we bought an ebusiness plan from one of the upstarts up and down Mission Street, we could upload it either via FTP or with a click of the “publish” button and voila! All the world could see what we did. Although it didn’t quite yet fuel IPOs or influence bias or elections, it was literally magic, to me.

My heroes at Monkeybrains hosted my first Web site back in those days, and in a moment of nostalgia I just went to visit it. I can’t quite convince the guys to update the certificate so that a 20-ish year-old Web site can load without complaints, so I decided to render the main poetry below via the sorcery of The Screen Grab in case it should one day vanish for good.

Of course there are hidden pages — including a collected interactive self-built resume, a love letter to and pictures of my then girlfriend and now wife, and an alternate site propped up by the thankfully forgotten architecture of frames that enable navigation through my curated list of favorite early jokes that people sent in long “FWD: FWD: FWD: FWD” email chains — but thanks to NOINDEX NOFOLLOW they shall probably remain secret like a hidden track on vinyl or even CD. And for some reason I didn’t want to lose these words below, probably because they are so impermanent, which really, isn’t everything?

Thusly without further ado, to nobody in particular just like in the olden days when it didn’t need a point, here it is: my home page, my first Web site, my …..

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It’s Joy Division to New Order all over again

Although I loved the music of Joy Division and its successor New Order back in the last millennium and knew the basic history of the bands, I never really understood the formative influence bass player Peter Hook had on them both — until Saturday night’s show at the Warfield in San Francisco.

Not only do I now recognize the pioneering upper-registry bass hooks as Peter Hook’s signature, I also thoroughly enjoyed the show by its own right. Ian Curtis, Joy Division, New Order — Peter Hook — are alive and well and currently touring in the form of Peter Hook & The Light — as relevant and sustainingly listenable today as they were forty years ago when Joy Division first formed (holy s$%t!).

So that they wouldn’t disappear into the ether, I collected a bunch of my silly Instagram/Twitter fun-sized clips below. Thanks for the show, Victor and Laura and thanks for visiting, Peter Hook!

Setlist via Peter Hook

Ceremony — New Order

Everything’s Gone Green — New Order

Temptation — New Order

Temptation — New Order

Blue Monday — New Order

Thieves Like Us — New Order

Thieves Like Us — New Order

The Perfect Kiss — New Order

The Perfect Kiss — New Order

Bizarre Love Triangle — New Order

 

These Days — Joy Division

Shadowplay — Joy Division

Digital — Joy Division

Autosuggestion — Joy Division

She’s Lost Control — Joy Division

Love Will Tear Us Apart — Joy Division

A Brief History of the Potato Farl

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Lucy’s Grandma Norma, around the time that she arrived in the US from Ireland

It’s Culture Day at my daughter’s school this week, and incidentally we just celebrated St. Patrick’s day, so as much as my daughter’s culture around food usually includes anchovies, blue cheese, sushi, and Mint Confetti Ice Cream from Three Twins, she is also quite Irish indeed and it would make sense for us to bring something Irish to share at school.

After somewhat of a disagreement over whether she could bring anchovies to share with her classmates, I came across a recipe for potato farls, cooked them up, got our girl to eat one whereupon she pronounced it delicious, and Culture Day was decided.  First, I got into a little bit of historical meaning behind this food, which I bring to you now.

The potato farl is similar to a potato pancake and is made basically of fried mashed potatoes. It is highly associated with Northern Ireland, and in particular with its main city Belfast. Lucy’s grandmother Norma emigrated from Belfast with her parents when she was a teenager, so our family is strongly associated with Northern Irish culture.

The word farl is pronounced farrel and derives from the old Scots word fardel, which essentially means “a quarter.” Many types of typically irish breads and potato pancakes are round doughs cut into quarters and cooked in a skillet, which is how the farl got its name.

The potato farl’s history is tied closely together with Irish soda bread (or soda farls) for a few important reasons. Ireland’s climate lends itself to growing softer wheats, which led to a popularity of baking breads without yeast, and hence frying up soda or potato breads in a pan:

In Ireland, ‘plain’ soda bread is as likely to be eaten as an accompaniment to a main meal (to soak up the gravy) as it’s likely to appear at breakfast. It comes in two main colors, brown and white, and two main types: cake and farl. People in the south of Ireland tend to make cake: people in Northern Ireland seem to like farl better – though both kinds appear in both North and South, sometimes under wildly differing names.

– From Peter’s Mum’s Soda Bread Recipe

But Ireland is known through the ages as a particularly poor country, and potatoes were a very economical food. ”About two-fifths of the population was solely reliant on this cheap crop for a number of historical reasons.” (Great Famine (Ireland) – Wikipedia)

Soda bread cooking in a heavy pot on the fire, from http://kitchenproject.com/history/IrishSodaBreads/

Soda bread cooking in a heavy pot on the fire, from http://kitchenproject.com/history/IrishSodaBreads/. Lucy’s great-great grandmother would have cooked in a similar fashion on a hearth on Clementine Drive in Belfast.

A poor country discovered that potatoes and milk made a nutritious enough meal to exist on and you could grow more potatoes per acre than any other crop. Soda bread was probably not made as much because of this reason.

– From The History of Irish Soda Bread

That began to change from potatoes to soda bread in the year of 1845. That year, a devastating blight wiped out Ireland’s potato crop and led to many years of what was known as the famous Great Famine. “During the famine approximately 1 million people died and a million more emigrated from Ireland, causing the island’s population to fall by between 20% and 25%.” (Great Famine (Ireland) – Wikipedia)

Without potatoes, Ireland turned more strongly back to soda breads baked with more of Ireland’s soft wheats instead of potatoes. Both soda breads and potato farls, however, share their use of baking powder (bicarbonate of soda) as leavening agent instead of yeast.

While Lucy’s grandmother’s family didn’t emigrate until a hundred years after the Great Famine, the seeds of what was a mass emigration from Ireland may have been planted at that time.

Today, potatoes have revived and are back on the table. In the US, we are lucky that we can enjoy an abundance of many different kinds of potatoes year-round, and those of us who are Irish will remember our great love of, dependence on, and recovery from the blight of the great food that is the potato, delicious in many ways.

The recipe we are using to bring to school comes from The Guardian at http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/mar/14/how-to-make-potato-farls-back-to-basics. We’ll bring along a healthy slab of Irish butter just for extra decoration.

Cheers — and enjoy your culture and your food.  It’s why we’re all here!

Elizabeth Black, 1914, Belfast

Lucy’s great-great grandmother Elizabeth Black, in 1914 in Belfast, with great Aunt Nan to her left, and great grandpa Norman on her lap.  Elizabeth would have cooked potato farls on the hearth in there home on Clementine Drive.

12 tips for starting — and growing — an employee network

If you work at a corporation of a certain size, you’ve doubtless heard of “employee networks” — also known as “employee resource groups” or ERGs. These are groups typically started by employees, motivated by the grassroots and sharing a common interest or characteristic, like a culture or race, or playing tennis, or being LGBT.

I’m not sure what percentage of corporations have or support employee networks, and I know that smaller companies and startups don’t usually have such groups (perhaps because they tend to be diverse by default?), but internally at SAP, they’ve grown in prominence over the last few years.

Since part of the reason SAP’s employee networks have been rejuvenated in the past few years parallels and perhaps has been inspired by our LGBT employee network transformation, I wanted to share a group of suggestions I published internally out loud here in the real world, to have a conversation about common experiences and hopefully also learn new tips.

pride@sapThree years ago in 2010, the LGBT presence in our major SAP Bay Area location was lackluster at best. Today, especially since the release of It Gets Better: SAP Employees one year ago, we are a vibrant community – not automatically and not without work, but we are far less disenfranchised.

What did we do to bring this change? As near as I can figure out, these things are what made a difference:

Address an unaddressed need

First make sure you are addressing a real need, and a need that is not addressed elsewhere. Look around and make sure there aren’t other groups that are also trying to attract members — combine and/or build together.

For us, the need was clear: There was practically zero momentum in our local LGBT group – there was much disenfranchisement and no goal or sense of community. We knew there were many of us out there, but we were isolated locally. Meanwhile, national laws still lacked (and are getting better, but in most places continue to lack) protection for LGBT families.

All our goals and activities flowed from knowing these needs.

Start locally

Ask and listen to what your local community needs. The nature of our employee network made it critical that we have a local presence – not only are there differing laws from state to state, but there are differing cultures and levels of acceptance per workplace. For us it was important to create a locally galvanized group — and we also chose a name that expressed our local nature — Pride@SAP Palo Alto. We made it a point to be a sub-group of the larger global group — not a different group, but a part and working together. The larger global group has much established practices and brand value already that has also been essential.

It can start with just one person – but one person alone can’t do it

There needs to be at least one passionate person who can devote some volunteer time to engaging a new initiative. It simply won’t fly without someone organizing things — administering communities, creating mailing lists, and getting monthly lunch rooms and appointments alone can take a lot of time, not to mention actually having activities.

But do not do it alone or expect one unsupported person to make a difference. Tap into resources from Global Diversity and Communications, if available.

It must be grassroots — but ask a local executive to help generate momentum

In my experience it doesn’t work all one way or all the other — it needs to be a grassroots group, but often disenfranchised people will stay this way unless they feel there are executives who care.

In our case, one key moment in kicking off our rejuvenation was a roundtable lunch attended by the Managing Director at Labs. This brought out many many people who were formerly hidden in the woodworks.

Welcome “straight” supporters

For us, it has been absolutely key to welcome straight supporters, who have been key to a successful re-establishment of the group. Staight folks might not always know the discrimination and difficulties you face (all the better to educate), but they often care about LGBT issues, experience homophobia, and have non-straight friends and family just as we do. If you want people across the company and spectrum to care, invite them to share how it is they care too. Be inclusive.

Use your internal platforms to create an internal community

This is essential for easily starting discussions, storing documents, starting activities and collaborating. Decide if you want this group to be open or closed. Inside some companies, LGBT groups are closed and let you enter by approval. In others, they are open. We have a combination of both. This is by design: when people join an open community, everyone in the company can see you joining. However for LGBT folks where not everyone is comfortable being “out” — you may need to welcome people to join at all levels of comfort of being “out.”

Make an email distribution list

And circulate emails with, for example, the notes from the roundtable summary above — linked also in a discussion on Communities. Encourage people to join the discussion online in the group. This is (still) often the most effective way to make sure you reach everyone you want to reach.

Create a core team

Identify 3-4 passionate members to help ramp up the group and to have a diverse start to the goals and activities

Build a list of goals, objectives, and activities

With the core group, build up a list of what you will do and why it matters. Let people know what this is and contextualize why it matters inside your company and in the world.

At a minimum, have regular monthly lunches in a regular room, in which you update on goals and activities, listen to and respond to conversations, and encourage new goals.

Network with similar local groups from other companies; track and talk about relevant external events.

Be specific and precise around “asks”

We developed a list of “asks” of local management as well as Global Diversity that included budget and communications, to help drive visibility. Be clear how these asks contribute to not just helping the employee group, but to the betterment of the company as a whole (according to the goals and objectives, above).

Come together around a cause

Your network can come together as a community around a cause that you collectively feel passionate about. For example, the LGBT community in Labs North America come together as Pride@SAP Palo Alto around the cause of anti-bullying. Our first notable event, a film night screening an anti-bullying film, brought us together around this cause and also set the framework for our It Gets Better film. By doing this it gave more purpose and focus for the group, which lead to an extraordinary outcome—the film and boarder awareness of the issue of teen LGBT suicide, which was cathartic for all of us involved.

Measure growth

Measure growth in the group and achievement of goals and report back to Global Diversity to raise visibility (how the group generates “ROI”).

One interesting way other companies’ LGBT groups measure ROI is by tracking successful hires from diversity recruitment efforts, for example.

Have you created an employee network or been a part of helping one grow? I’d love to hear from you.