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renewing Clever

by | Feb 19, 2022 | Clever, renew, Sly and The Family Stone

Clever is exhausting…

Having poured a good portion of my life into the “Circus” project over the last 6 years, I was not going to simply sit back. It may or may not have been renewing, but I stayed up all night polishing our “appeal” of the Division edict demanding the use of older hardware, and turned it into a Clever and compelling approach. The net was that we had a very cost-competitive bid because of the savings on ground systems, the easy access to commercial off-the-shelf tools, and the general market appeal of the PC. I walked our exec through it, but I couldn’t go with him. Imagine what that must have felt like to him – once again taking a Clever and risky approach into a President’s office…

… our headquarters was in Bethesda Maryland, and he flew out on a flight into Dulles Airport, which, at that point, was very deserted. The meeting was with the staff and the President, and lasted most of the morning of the next day… and, we did it! He was given authorization and an exception to bid our solution, overriding not just one but 2 facility managers who had invested heavily in the edict. And… he didn’t need to be Clever to know we had better win. And just in time, as the RFP hit the street with a 30-day return. Our team immediately flew out to Huntington Beach for long days, nights, and weekends… while I was home … renewing… maybe…

The Family renews Cleverly

The last two important members of the band are Sly’s Brother Freddie and Sister Rose. Both raised in the same musical family, and in a multi-racial area and church, they both eventually came back to music as their calling. Freddie was forced to go to another high school because of a fight, but there he was MVP of the Basketball team, and was elected President of the Student Body. He was also a great guitar player and had led multiple bands throughout the mid-60s. Rose played keyboards like Sly, and was a fantastic singer – both as lead and in harmony. Both were founding members of the Band, staying with it into the 70’s, eventually forming bands of their own before both being called into the Ministry. Freddie is now a full-time pastor of his church near where he grew up in Vallejo, and Rose is a singer in his choir.

Like many bands of the late ’60s, Sly’s was a meteor of success … that started to burn itself out in the early 70’s. As with many others, drugs became a staple of the experience for Sly, and his naturally buoyant personality devolved into a much darker place. The Black Panthers pressured Sly to fire the white members from the band, the record company wanted more and more output, and of course, their success meant they were renewing – not very Cleverly – with cocaine and PCP. Most of 1970 was spent high with only a couple of songs being released, one of which is today’s last big hit before the band would break up. Pieces of the Stone Family still tour to this day under different names. Sly, in fact, was eventually living out of a white camper-van in Los Angeles: “The van is parked on a residential street in Crenshaw, the rough Los Angeles neighborhood where ‘Boyz n the Hood’ was set. A retired couple makes sure he eats once a day, and Stone showers at their house.”

…even if it may not seem so at the time…

Not so Cleverly, the RFP came out just as we were about to bring our 3rd child into the world. So all of the work to get the systems – now granted an exception – built, demonstrated and sold, was all in the hands of others that, frankly, I didn’t think were nearly as Clever. And, being SLIGHTLY more mature than with our previous children’s birth, I knew better than to even think I could slip away for whatever seemed important. It also taught me an important lesson in renewal – ensuring you have a successor for anything you are doing – ready to step in when you can’t be there. In fact, as I progressed even further, it became the first thing I would do, but that is another story.

For now, our executive had picked which of the prime contractors we should partner with – actually 2 years before I even started working for IBM. As far back as 1978, he had a Clever path of nearly 10 years of deliverables, summarized in only 20 pages to describe the next generation of computing in space. And the pièce de résistance – our competitor spent 15 of their 20 pages on the computing system outlining all of the issues and problems and concerns of the… wait for it… MILSTD 1750 that they knew we were bidding because we had to. 😉 I have no idea what piece of Cleverness actually pushed us over the finish line, but we won the bid! IBM would have the next generation of computers for space – using the PC architecture and the Intel 386.

Clever is mostly self-renewing

Clever is rarely satisfied with achieving a result… as there is always a voice of “…and now…”. But honestly, this was one of the few times that I really sat back and took in what we had all accomplished. All of us… together. It was a team that I look back on – often with horror at how rough I was with people, but also with fondness, recalling that the grace most showed me was rewarded. The result, an awe-inspiring, unique working laboratory, where astronauts from earth’s nations live for weeks and months in space, collaborating. There is a site you can go to and see when the Space Station flies over your home (and an app).

The first module went up in 1998… nearly 25 years ago. And, it is still up there – including the Intel 386 processor that long ago became obsolete here on earth. I wondered recently who had taken on the task of renewing that particular processor with a newer version, and finding no one was that Clever left me sadder, and prouder that we had, in fact, done something amazing. And as we leave this week, a reminder from Sly that we all need to take to heart as the station passes over your house: Everybody Is A Star.

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