Wednesday, March 05, 2008

I Miss Alex

Archived from the former firedocs blog. 25 August 2005

He says the 500 mile walk across Europe was too easy. Of course, he's only 73, and as he explained, he overtrained a bit with the daily gym and weekend hikes. Yeah . . . that happens to me all the time.

A White Russian; child of the generation of escape. An observer once said that meeting Alexander made him suddenly aware that he was from the lineage of nobility: tall and graceful, with a 'class' and honor that imprints anybody with half a wit. Born in France, schooled around Europe, as a teen he left to Argentina when his mother agreed to marry a man there. While he and his mother were on the ship crossing the sea, the man died, leaving them to land with nothing and nobody in a strange country. He lived there 14 years. Got a college degree in journalism. "Played football (soccer) and chased women," is what he says of his youth. Eventually, he immigrated to the USA, with essentially nothing. His wife once told me that he'd walked miles each way to work hellishly hard for pittance on the longshoreman docks of New York.

It's hard to imagine. When I met him, he was entrepreneur of a tiny company: a perfect idea ahead of its very imperfectly-timed market. Before that he'd been CEO of a successful publishing corp. (college textbooks for math and statistics, Duxbury). A white collar executive in the San Francisco area; a long way from the longshoreman life. He sold his firm to a larger company eventually, which in turn sold to a bigger fish. Not a bureaucrat, being a number didn't appeal to him at all, though.

He believed internet and "interactive" education was the wave of the future, and hiring his favorite statistics author to help develop "online education" he left to try it out. It was early 1990's when his idea began; the mid-90's before it began in the physical. It was late 1999 when Dr. Jessica Utts, the Managing Editor, sent me an email. Many years prior, I'd laboriously HTML'd some papers for her, which in 1996 had to use teeeny little graphics for every special character and they were statistics research papers no less. I did it for free when I was temporarily very poor, in exchange for getting the article, one of the most worthwhile scientific reviews of remote viewing in print. She asked me if I'd help, I was in a good space to do so, and so by Christmas, I was buried in thousands of FrontPage coded frameset files, every page and nav with its own unique javascript. (There is a special hell awaiting their former webmaster for my suffering, if life is fair at all.)

Alex handed me autonomy and left me to finish and open his company alone -- on Y2K. He was going to be in Cambodia. He'd waited all his life to take some vacations, wasn't getting any younger, had planned it long in advance, and wasn't going to put it off merely because after years of work, he was opening his computer-based company on the most frightening computer day of all time.

I suppose at a certain age, hindsight gives you foresight, too. I worked through Christmas, the world didn't melt down, and Alex came home and sent me a huge pot of flowers and some postcards from the far side of the world.

I've grown up a lot the last 5 years. Much of it is thanks to him, who helped reparent me in the ways of patience, a quality I'd not been much exposed to. He put up with the worst of me and encouraged the best. He tried without success to tame my emails into mere novelettes. Like my previous most-favorite boss, the incorrigible Dan McGee (last I heard he'd founded a firm called Oregon Rain), he knows creativity and brains when he sees them, knows competence when he finds it, and never had even a shred of the "you don't have a formal degree" attitude. They both totally overworked me, yet gave me sincere respect and positive encouragement, and treated me far better than they treated themselves. I'd probably have happily worked to the grave for either of them.

Last year Alex sold the online statistics course (the CMS tech of which I built in SQL/CFML) to the company he'd founded and led all those years before. He worked hard to do it in a way that would keep me employed. That nearly fell through, but I managed to slide into a job which has turned out to be an incredibly good thing.

But damn. I sure do miss Alex.


Unknown said...

a belated comment,
Damn that was awesome!!! I wish to write like that some day ^_^

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