Tuesday, 20 January 2009


I don’t think I can let today pass without comment. I was one of the countless watching the ceremony in Washington today and I don’t mind admitting being moved by it. I have a love-hate relationship with the US - everything is great or awful. I spent most of the paid part of my career working for the UK arm of one of the best US companies. I had four years with a US manager and a mainly US team. The people I worked with were wonderful: positive, supportive, thoughtful, bright, welcoming, open. But much of America is unbelievably narrow and parochial: everywhere is much the same, not the geography, of course. And although people travel great distances within the country most have no concept of different cultures. No wonder that when they travel to Europe they are amazed that London, Paris, Madrid, Brussels, Berlin, Rome can be so different and only a few hundred miles apart. They have succeeded in generating in their people a pride in their nation without losing touch with their roots: Irish Americans are proud to be American but have not lost touch with their roots. We have a loIBM Sysem 360 20t to learn from this. Yet there have been so many examples of discrimination described in the run-up to today. I still find it difficult to accept that such appalling restrictions applied in my lifetime and many still rumble on.

The other thing that my time with IBM taught me was living with - and bringing about - change. The first computer I worked on was the size of a sideboard and had 16k of memory. Memory was ferrite cores woven on wires: the wives of Core memoryPortuguese fishermen were good at crafting these. The first laser printer was the size of a living room. I can remember when the Office Products division invented the term ‘Word Processing’ to go alongside our Data Processing. Today you can buy a 1gb memory card for a camera for £4.00. This is 62,000 times 16k. The file on which I draft my blog entries is currently 86k. Laser printers start at under £100 and today virtually everyone has a word processor. Not that this change happens without pain and difficulty. In fact most of my IBM career was spent managing the changes that were made possible through this technology. But I still get SD cardimpatient with people who refuse to go along with the changing world. Not change for its own sake but change for the benefit that comes with it. I don’t think Neta will mind my quoting today’s experience: I arrived at her house at 2pm with a webcam for her computer. At 2:50 we had a live two-way video call with her grandchildren in Abu Dhabi. I can remember seeing the first transatlantic television pictures via Telstar.

Ian raised the issue of small change in his comment on Saturday’s blog entry. Barack Obama spoke of this in his inauguration speech today:
... the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labour, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.
So we can all bring about change. And this small change is just as important as the seismic shifts that much of the world is hoping for from Obama.

No comments: