The Life and Times of A Torpedoman: A Tribute to The Man We Called Dad

Sitting here watching my father in a hospital bed. His breathing is rapid and he will never wake up again. I think he can still hear me. It’s the last inning of his 91 years. He is dying and the eye of the worst hurricane ever recorded is headed our way.

I’m looking at his face. His skin is full of life. I am wondering. About the man he was before my time. The things he’s seen. The things he wanted to see. The things we said. All I would want to say. And what the hell I would do if I was caught in the storm.

I’m in this hospital room with a view of the Gulf of Mexico out above the palm trees and sea grapes and when i look at him i see the man who was my father, Dad, as a living testament to human possibility.

FullSizeRender

(Before Irma: our view from Naples Community Hospital room 566 out to the Gulf of Mexico)

The weather is pleasant. It’s the reason Dad made Naples, Florida his home for the last 15 years. No hint of the storm, yet.

Some 1400 miles away Hurricane Irma has destroyed Barbuda before leveling Antigua and wrecking Tortola, Virgin Gorda, and the US Virgin Islands.

“The Native Americans preferred Naples because Hurricanes never landed here” he used to say.

Well Dad, your timing was always impeccable.

IMG_2572

(Dad, right, with his younger sister Ramona ca. 1928)

Born an Irish kid, with Irish luck, on the North side of Chicago when horses were still used in commerce and not all homes had electricity, Joseph Conway Faul was the grandson of immigrants. His father John Joseph Faul was a plumber who ran busy “soda shops” (speakeasies) on the side. John was murdered July 13, 1928, leaving his wife and 3 kids, one not yet born, to their own.

Dad would grow up without a father.

He lived through the stock market crash of 1929, prohibition, the advent of the commercial airplane and mass production of automobiles. He served in the Navy in WWII on Cebu, an Island in the South Pacific (Philippines) and saw the horrors of the atomic bomb.

He lived through Marilyn Monroe, Kennedy and King, the Korean war and Vietnam, Panama, Gorbachev, Nixon and Reagan. 16 presidents in all.

When Dad was born the tallest building in the world was the 57 story Woolworth building in New York at 792ft. When he died the tallest was the 163 story Burj Khalifa in Dubai at 2,717ft. He watched the Sears (now Willis) tower rise, and the shift from Post-War American manufacturing to off shore sourcing dominate the economy.

He was alive through eradication of polio, the onslaught of HIV and lost many friends and family along the way. Cancer and cholesterol, heart attacks, hemorrhaging, yet Dad’s years kept ticking away.

“We lost another one today Kevvy. In the pool” I remember him telling me not long after he first moved to Florida. “God’s waiting room” he’d say and laugh.

Dad never had any serious health issues.

He smoked a pipe then cigarettes for over 50 years, quitting cold turkey when, a few years after our parents’ divorce, he asked a young (68 year old) lady out for a second date.

“Joe I can love you but I watched my husband die of lung cancer and I’m not going through that again. If you want to go out with me you have to quit smoking”

So he did. The next day.

Her name is Ruth and he called her Ruthie, so she’s Ruthie to us, too.

Ruthie is from Boston and has the “Bawwstin Accent” where every R is an AWE.

By the time I started writing this Dad was no longer conscious. We could no longer talk about old times, and anyone who called or stopped by could only hope his ears could hear their goodbyes. I believe he could. Ruthie still came to visit him and held his hand.

Hurricane Irma Landfall Prediction

(Irma’s first landfall prediction was incorrect. It would turn westward and hit Naples, FL head-on)

The hurricane turned westward and was en route to the Florida Keys. It’s path was predicted to hit Naples head on. Winds had peaked at 219mph.

What do you do when your father is dying and the eye wall of history’s most powerful hurricane is headed straight at you? You make a plan.

The only thing Dad did that was almost unforgivable is cheer for the Red Sox while being a Cubs fan. We let it slide though because it was chivalrous, and manners he did teach us, like respect for our better halves. Ruthie loves the Red Sox.

Every Saturday he went to the Farmers Market and bought Ruthie fresh flowers. Their house was filled every week with daffodils and daisies, wildflowers, tulips, and hydrangeas.

Everyone everywhere they frequented around Naples knew and loved them. From Longhorn Steakhouse to Freddo Gelato, St Finbarr church, and their local sandwich place where, after the farmers market they would get corned beef on rye. “Irish Turkey” as it’s called. A first name basis to all.

Dad never disliked being old, but he hated having an old body. He couldn’t move as easily, couldn’t hear as well. He couldn’t hold his bladder and would sometimes drool. Easy chores got difficult. We no longer allowed him to climb onto the roof. My sister finally took away his keys.

“The only thing I really want, Kevvy, is my youth back, and I can’t have that so I’m not going to fight it when it’s my time”

Abulance-Interior

(we tried to fly him out on this plane but missed our window of opportunity)

The hurricane plan was to try to get him out of Naples. Instead of abandoning ship, we’ll take the ship with us. I chartered a med-evac plane, but as I sit here we’re not sure he’ll live long enough to take it. If we wait too long, the airports will be closed.

He was never someone who fell. The first time he did he broke his arm and bashed his eye. This happened around the end of July. We didn’t know it then, but that was the beginning of the end.

When it happened, my sister flew down and checked him into the hospital. My siblings Erin, Brian, Sean and I would trade off time by his side.

We didn’t know well wasn’t possible. We didn’t know in 8 weeks he’d be gone.

“What did I do to deserve all this attention” he’d say smiling up at the nurses. He never complained. He appreciated everything. His appetite was gone. His digestive system was failing. He was telling jokes.

He lived through the jazz era, and listened to the first radios, he saw the first televisions, satellite dishes, vhs, compact discs, the invention of digital technology; the internet, Hip hop (sorry about that one Dad), rock and roll – The Beatles.

He always woke between 2:45 and 3:30 am every night. As a kid I’d find him eating Saltines and milk staring out into the yard where deer and foxes, groundhogs and coyotes would cross. This night routine would cause us the most trouble in the end.

Once he checked into the hospital he never went home. We made arrangements with an assisted living community. A place where he and Ruthie could live easy. We transferred him when he was well enough. 

But the falling didn’t stop.

He went from De Sotos to Station Wagons and Minivans, always got the model with woodgrain panels. He always tried to buy from Uncle Larry Faul’s “if it didn’t come from Faul it’s no deal at all” chain of car dealers in the Chicago suburbs.

He saw the decline of Communism, and the rise of telecommunications.

He couldn’t make it out of the local Ace Hardware without buying something on sale.

He wore suits every day until he was nearly retired and saw the abominable rise of business casual. I blame him for my late 80’s tendency to combine turtle necks with cardigan sweaters. Dad, you led me astray on that one, but the funny pictures were worth it.

He lived through the rise and fall and rise again of Detroit. He test drove a Tucker hitting nearly 100 miles per hour on back roads in Michigan with Uncle Warren Rice in the 1940s.

After a week in the first hospital he moved to rehab, then a care facility where he fell a second time, breaking his nose and bashing his other eye. He awoke during his nighttime routine and forgot he was frail. He got up, and fell down.

Our hope was that his illness – whatever was causing the falls and the brain fog – was treatable. We came to learn that the stages of inevitable death were fairly obvious, we just didn’t know enough to see it.

He was born before plastic was common at a time when coal was shoveled into furnaces to heat buildings. He saw the advent of renewable energy like wind and solar.

He was there during the time of Woodstock and saw men make it to space, even land on the moon.

He flew a million miles in the 1950s. 

He sailed the South Pacific in the Navy and taught us to sail on the Great Lakes. Though he stopped sailing around the turn of the millennia, he loved boats and decorated anywhere he lived in a nautical theme.

In the Navy in WWII he helped secure and disable a warehouse full of torpedoes while being shelled by Japanese forces, then ran shore patrol in a PT boat.  He was a Torpedoman Third Class, trained in torpedo assemblies.

IMG_2568

(Dad, right, the Torpedoman Third Class)

He was an engineer, graduating from the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.

He helped invent magnesium oxide insulated wire for temperature sensing – technology used in everything from airplane pitot tubes to car engines. The first space missions used them.

He founded a company called Pyro Electric in Barrigton, IL that specialized in temperature resistant wire.

He started Equipment Sales Company as a side gig until it grew big enough to commit to full time. He retired in 1998 selling the company to the brother of my best friend. The company is still alive and well today. Celebrating its 59th year in business.

He is a dual citizen to the US & Ireland. He is an older brother to two younger sisters Ramona (deceased), and Joanne. He was married twice and for the final 17 years he and his girlfriend lived together in Naples. He liked to say “it took me three times but i finally got it right”. They never married but they could have. “I like to keep him guessin’ Kev” Ruthie would say.

He was a lover, and his heart was as big as his chest. He was a fighter, and put everything he had into the things he loved.

He has 7 children and 3 grandchildren, and would have loved to have more (maybe one day, Dad).

As i watched him lying there I was thinking of these things. Of the privilege and honor it was to accompany him to the end.

He was a devout Catholic and active member of his church, attending mass every Saturday afternoon. He humbly served as a punctual and friendly usher. The father and the congregation all liked him. 

“I’m Joseph Leo and he’s Leo Joseph” he’d say about his priest at St Finbar referring to his own Catholic confirmation name.

He loved people and parties. He enjoyed being active locally. He served on boards of county governance and was a Village Trustee in Wauconda Township, Illinois where we grew up at the end of a dead end road in a log cabin among the deciduous forest. He gave often to many charities and believed in respecting everyone. 

IMG_2570

(a brief biography for Dad’s inclusion in who’s who of engineering in the 1970s)

He made friends everywhere he went and had the gift of making everyone feel special – from the UPS delivery man to his doctors and nurses in his final days. When he died, several of them cried.

The night before he died we started to think he wouldn’t. My sister had a ticket on the last flight out of Fort Myers before the airport closed for the hurricane. I made her leave because she had a husband and 2 kids at home. We’d never abandon Dad but if Irma got ornery only minimal crew would go down with the ship.

We had missed the window of opportunity to get him on the chartered flight. I tried in vain to reserve a med-transport van. Then desperately tried to arrange an SUV – if Irma was going to hit us head on we’d strike her out with our absence. Medical teams in 2 states were cheering for us, fearing for us what we feared for ourselves.

But it didn’t work. We were foiled by my inability to get his doctor to give us a prescription for morphine. Ahead of Irma everything was closed. The nearest open pharmacy to Naples would be nearly 200 miles away. Too far to transport Dad on the way out without his morphine wearing off. I cringed at the idea of him living his last days in pain, uncomfortably stashed in the back of a Yukon Denali for a 20 hour drive. The doctor said no, three times. She was right in doing so.

This was it. We were stuck in Naples. 

It was the last fall that ended it all. Five days ago, around 2:45 AM, he got up from bed (ignoring the rule to click for his assistant at the community home) and fell to the right. His hip broke between the ball and the femur. His doctors, first hopeful, deemed him inoperable. He was moved to hospice where we started this game of wait, a double-header with the hurricane.

I battened down the hatches and stocked the hospital room with snacks and water.

It’s just us now, Dad. Take your time, I’ll be ready when you decide it’s your time to go. 

Irma was inevitable. Naples was told to evacuate. 

The eyewall was predicted to eviscerate the state, starting with this little town 5 feet above sea level.

IMG_2456

(Irma was the strongest storm in recorded history, and it was coming straight to Naples)

I moved their car to the 3rd floor of the parking garage behind a giant concrete pillar. The storm surge was predicted at 12-15ft.

When the Cubs won the World Series I called and he picked up on the first ring – after in Florida. I cried and he laughed. “Next year is finally here, Kevvy.” His faith in the Cubs second only to his faith in God.

We lived to see it.

Dad and I were always similar which is why for a long time we didn’t get along. We were family but we weren’t friends.

It wasn’t until I was 28 when, at the urging of my girlfriend, Dad and I resolved our differences by taking a long drive into the Everglades. I asked what I had to ask and we said what we had to say. From that day on we were friends forever. It was the hardest conversation I’ve ever had. I’d highly recommend it.

As I look at Dad’s face during his last hours I am overwhelmed with the enormity of these memories. There is so much I’ll never know, and so much i’ll always remember. I don’t want him to go so soon.

The clouds are gathering outside our windows, rotating counter clockwise. Irma was upgraded again to Category 5. She’s getting close now.

Dad, I’m scared of what will happen next. I’m scared of not having you anymore. I’m afraid we haven’t recorded enough of your jokes and of losing the memories.

He made perfect bacon and his eggs were pretty good too. Spaghetti, not so much, but his Corned Beef was rapture.

He liked buttermilk and blue cheese and preferred his martinis stirred as to not “bruise the gin”. He was a traditionalist.

He laughed at babies crying, bad jokes, pouting dogs, and the weather. Dad always had a joke, limerick, or saying for anything. He laughed to make you feel good and he laughed because it felt good to him. He saw life as a divine comedy and enjoyed it.

He laughed when he was happy and when he was sad. Even when he was being poked and prodded during his last days in the hospital, his body was going but his mind was still quick. If you said anything funny he’d give you a smile as wide as would fit on his face. He was the happiest person I’ve ever known. If you knew him, you know what I mean.

I wish I was more like him.

He liked my girlfriends. They loved him. 

Everyone was welcome in his home.

He didn’t need much and never wanted for more. He made the best of wherever he was as long as the thermostat was set to 85°.

Saturday morning I told him everything was ok. I whispered that Irma looked bad and if there was anything he could do, we could use his help.

Within an hour his breathing had slowed.

I stopped in the cafeteria for a quick bite. I hurried back to his room when I had that feeling. 

FCCFAEEE-E621-4181-9993-14BA036F6089.JPG

(Dad’s room at Naples Community Hospital)

Passing the nurse’s station we caught eyes.

“Have you checked on him?” 

“No but i’m right behind you” she said.

I upped my pace and arrived by his side as he let out his last breath. I don’t know how but I knew before it was done.

He didn’t breathe in. 

He was gone.

I cried.

I wailed.

He let go to go forth. I’m sure he did so to see if he could help. Dad was always good with the ladies. If anyone could charm Irma it was him.

After doing what I had to do, I said goodbye to Dad for the last time. I left him there in the hospital room and a nurse walked me out.

I had faith Dad would watch over us but I also needed a shower. Living in a hospital room for 5 days under threat of imminent death and an aggressive storm, i yearned for peace and life.

A crowd 2 blocks long was gathered to get into the hospital, a shelter from the impending storm. I walked past them with a cart full of belongings and the remains of the day. I wore his ring – silver with a cross and an emerald.

I drove 16 hours to my sister’s house in Baltimore. Away from the hurricane.

IMG_2398

(there was no gas left in South Florida. It took me 200 miles before I found an open station that had very little left)

Luckily it seems Dad had his way: Naples was mostly spared compared to what could have been. Ruthie and their friends were safe, I was safely out.

He never stopped changing. As he got older he got better. Maybe it was his religion. Maybe it was his relationship. Maybe his family. Maybe his waning memory.

I drove all night. I spent 2 days with my niece and nephew. New lives excited about everything. Mom made pumpkin pies (my favorite). Friends brought food and Midleton Irish Whiskey. We toasted to his life.

We ate, we drank, my sister sang an Irish song. We looked through old photos.

I am left with more questions than answers. And a story Dad would be proud to tell of harrowing death flirting with disaster. Like that time on the lake when we were the last boat standing. 

Only this time, we lost a man. One of the best.

May the wind always be at your back.

Dad, we love you. Goodbye.

IMG_2571

(Faith – the sailboat we grew up sailing on Lake Michigan shot by Dad’s oldest son Brian ca 1970s, the wind at Dad’s back)

Advertisements

I Sure Don’t Mind A Change

(Copper Mountain, Colorado)

It was the first time I’d ever heard anyone having sex. 

It was Summer 1994. I had my first “real” job working in the Osco side of a Jewel-Osco (purchased by Albertsons) the previous winter. I stocked the manilla shelves for 5 months. It was enough to save $900 before quitting. I was 16 and I wanted to get away from the flats of Illinois. $900 bought me a round trip ticket to Colorado for the summer.

I volunteered to build part of the Colorado Trail with a crew on a ridge as high as 13,800′ between Breckenridge & Copper Mountain. People came from around the country. We lived in tents next to a stream and hiked miles up the Wheeler Gulch access every morning in the bitter cold. Once on top we’d Pulaski, adze, and rock bar our way across the mountain carving out part of what became a 380+ mile state gem and one of the most beautiful trails anywhere in the world.

I wore jeans that were so torn they were held together with safety pins. Under my shell I’d wear a t shirt with a flannel over it. As we’d walk up i’d sing lyrics to Alice In Chains, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden softly to kill time and distract me from the high altitude of the Rockies. 

Before and after the trip I had a room at a Copper Mountain hotel so I could shower and clean up for a couple days with a comfortable bed before boarding my flight back. Since we didn’t have cable at home I watched Mtv as if it were the only channel ever broadcast. The smell of blue spruce and lodgepole pines wafting in the window from the heat of July, the songs on repeat: No Excuses, Heart Shaped Box, Even Flow, and Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun. 

I remember it like yesterday. I can see the wallpaper in the room and the typical light yellow polyurethaned pine furnishings. Around midnight there were sounds coming from the room behind the wall. When I figured out what it was I couldn’t believe it. I turned the volume down to listen for a minute, then turned it back up to drown out their creaking bed. I was too naive to respond outside of shock and disbelief.

“Black hole sun

Won’t you come

And wash away the rain

Black hole sun

Won’t you come

Won’t you come (won’t you come)”

I didn’t realize the irony of the chorus at the time but that night capped the end of life-changing weeks in Colorado. My destination became the mountains. My soundtrack was from Seattle.

I dropped out of high school and went to college that fall. I spent winter break in Seattle, Washington. My brother was filming the tv show Northern Exposure. I drove his Pathfinder around the city when I got tired of the 18 hour days on set. I wore flannel and band t shirts. I had my first espresso from a coffee cart at Snoqualmie Falls. I climbed in a gym for the first time. I blared grunge all day and wished I was savvy enough to go meet the people from Sub Pop. I made friends that would last to this day.

(Sub Pop single handedly changed the world)

It’s funny the memories that happen when you hear music. 1994 was the year my life turned in a direction that took me places i’d never imagined going. If there were ever a genre that became an anthem for a generation, Grunge was it for GenX.

“How would I know

That this could be my fate?

How would I know

That this could be my fate? Yeah”

Soon after, I got caught up in the Phish era. Flannel shirts became patchwork pants. I rolled my hair into dreadlocks, and climbed nonstop out of my Volkswagen Westfalia across the West Coast. Jam bands became my soundtrack. Climbing became my purpose. 

20 years later, in 2014,  I’d be staying up all night in the Detroit MGM sweating a deal that was falling through in the early stages of a company I had just started. I’d get Starbucks at 12:30 am with a friend, and the billionaire who could change my company’s fate with the stroke of a pen. If I knew what would happen there this week I’d have burned it down. (We got the deal.)

Every time I hear a bar from a song released in 1994 it takes me to those trails and that hotel room at Copper Mountain. The summer when my eyes started to open and my life became my own. Passion following purpose.

I wouldn’t have chosen my life’s direction any other way. You were part of my youth and I’ll miss the chance to seeing you play, every day.

(Chris Cornell in Seattle)

These Aren’t The Cameras You’re Looking For: How Apple Just Killed Smartphones With A Single New Feature

 

“There are 5 catastrophic failures in 3D production”

I was advising the renowned director Ang Lee from across a small conference table in a Beverly Hills office of the 3D technology startup RealD around 2010/2011 as he was going into production on Life of Pi 3D. It was an honor to be there with he and his team.

We discussed technical elements of 3D production throughout the day, specifically focusing on framing and depth.

Life of Pi 3D went on to win multiple Academy Awards. Mr. Lee won the Oscar for Best Director.

I was at RealD for 6 years, first raising capital ($36 of $90M total), then building RealD PRO – the professional division of RealD that serviced customers from Disney to Lockheed Martin, BMW and the NSA with a suite of visual technology.

Most people know RealD for their 3D technology and -like it or not – 3D movies.

RealD grew from $0 in 2007 to $280M and an IPO on the NYSE in 2010 by taking industrial technology developed at two little companies – Stereographics (San Mateo, CA / Lenny Lipton), and ColorLink (Boulder, CO / Gary Sharp) – and applying the technology to entertainment applications.

What most people don’t know is RealD is not a 3D company.

RealD is a light technology company. Their scientists and technologies manage, manipulate and filter light in a variety of ways. The company’s products are used in everything from F/A-18 Fighter Jet HUDs to virtual reality CAVEs. Customers include Ford, Boeing, Pfizer, the US Navy, Lockheed Martin, BMW, Exxon, BP, and many others. The technology has been deployed into many classified applications (if you think drones are cool, you wouldn’t believe what is actually in use by some of these companies/organizations), and used extensively in highly elaborate software from companies like BAE Systems.

I was involved in all of these industries at RealD, working on confidential projects involving photogrammetry, virtual reality, augmented reality, and other visual imaging solutions. During this time I became intimately familiar with the operations of multi-aperture cameras.

I deployed RealD technology for stereoscopic neurosurgery imaging where doctors use VR/AR and 3D in real time performing laparoscopic neurosurgery. I’ve walked through US Navy aircraft carrier cabins – virtually building the most advanced aircraft carrier in VR prior to welding a single sheet of steel. I’ve seen Ford redesigning vehicle interiors using haptic technology, Pfizer building molecular models of the next great pharmaceutical in stereo 3D, theme parks around the world deploying RealD technology for virtual/interactive rides, among others (some confidential, related to classified operations).

Across swaths of industries, 3D/VR/AR has been in use for over 30 years and I was in the center of it, working with many of these companies directly, advising, selling and deploying some of the most advanced imaging technology the world has ever seen (and has never seen publicly).

This is why I am shocked that the new iPhone 7+, with the most groundbreaking visual technology feature I’ve ever seen – dual camera lenses, has not erupted in the press.

iphone-7-plus-design.jpg

(the iPhone 7+ dual camera lens feature is hugely significant)

Deploying dual camera lenses in a consumer product is significant because the cameras can act as a visual sensor beyond what a single imaging chip can do.

With two camera sensors, an iPhone will be able to:

-measure distance
-map objects
-capture 3D images
-create parallax
-depth of field
-stream VR

This puts millions of dollars of technology in the hands of developers and consumers everywhere, for practically pennies.

This technology enables almost infinite possibilities.

How?

With dual imaging chips (lenses), each chip can capture a separate view of the same data set – more pixels, but different pixels (different angles). Using this data, developers can begin comparing the data to output information stated above.

For example, knowing the distance between the lenses (interaxial), a developer could write a comparative program where pixel distance in each frame is compared, and the distance from the object could then be determined very accurately (in Boy Scouts we learned this on maps using compasses – calling it triangulation).

Now, imagine that you can activate both camera lenses simultaneously, program imaging software to account for the various catastrophic issues problematic with stereo capture, and boom – you have a VR streaming device.

As Apple has touted, the additional lens also enhance images by creating user-chosen variable depth (depth of field). Well, if you can create a depth field, you can also use that depth for judgment – your phone becomes a third eye sensor with capabilities similar to LIDAR. In other words, Apple just MVP’d imaging to leap frog LIDAR and make mapping with sensors a standard feature in a phone. Think about that for a second. The iPhone could literally be used to calculate and advise you on movement-oriented decisions using these dual imaging chips.

Clip an iPhone to some wheels and it becomes a robot with depth vision. Clip the iPhone to a household vacuum cleaner and it could clean your home. It could cut your lawn as it drives an automated lawn mower. It could look at and more accurately diagnose a medical condition, identify objects, build virtual models of objects that could be 3D printed accurately…the sky is the limit.

This is not a simple feature addition, this is the most revolutionary imaging technology ever to be added to an an Apple product. Perhaps the most advanced imaging technology to be added to any consumer product ever.

Deploying technology, like Oculus is doing with VR, into the hands of millions of people reduces costs drastically, enabling access to otherwise cost-prohibitive technologies for infinite applications. Apple has just done this with their dual-camera feature.

The possibilities are endless when consumer products can mimic capabilities of expensive industrial systems.

Industries currently using VR, AR & 3D include:

– Education
– Medicine
– Geosciences
– Government & Defense
– Entertainment
– Design/Development

Right now, people are coming to work every day, donning VR headsets and 3D goggles and stepping into CAVES where they use heavy technology to execute industrial applications.

This has been the case since the early 1980s when Lenny Lipton, who cowrote “Puff The Magic Dragon” used his royalties to invent the first digital 3D technology using a CRT monitor frame-sync’d to LCD shutter glasses via an infrared emitter. The gov’t and military quickly picked up the technology from his company Stereographics, and a totally new business was born. This is the next generation of that first flame.

As people realize the potential for VR/AR and 3D we will see unexpected applications change the way we live, which is why the September 7th, 2016 announcement of the Apple iPhone7+ is so significant.

The next 2 years we’re going to see an explosion of these sensing capabilities brought about by the addition of the second imaging chip. I believe this is as important, if not more important, than the launch of the first iPhone. After all, if a picture is worth one thousand words, a 3D virtual augmented sensor image must be worth at least 10X more.

 

How Harrison Fast Saved My Life

 

My friend Harrison Fast died while speed flying off of Jungfrau peak near Lauterbrunnen in March, 2016. This is my story of how and why we became friends.

How Harrison Fast Saved My Life. A Tribute To Harrison Fast

Boulder, Colorado – I ran down the mountain trying to launch into flight. A huge paragliding wing attached to my harness. The air grabbed my wing and pulled me off the ground straight out. It swung me like a pendulum before slamming me backwards. I hit the ground with a thud. It was my second crash in a row.

More about that in a moment.

I was an employee of RealD for 6 years. From 2007-2013 where I started in Finance helping raise equity to fund the company, then moved into business development where I traveled around the world doing business deals to help grow into new areas.

In 2012 I accepted a new role in RealD’s Boulder office to help bring new technology into the world. There was one concept I was passionate about and pitched my boss who said “you’re approved to move ahead but you can’t have any internal resources for the project.”

I wasn’t very good at listening to my bosses.

I immediately set up lunches with many of the engineers in the Boulder office asking them if they were interested in helping where they could. Everyone was busy working on immensely challenging projects with little time to spare, including Harrison.

But Harrison wasn’t someone to let their work load get in the way of passion, and he was passionate about my project so he said “I’m in. This is a great idea and I want to see it happen.”

Harrison’s commitment caused a few other engineers to commit, too, but they asked not to mention it to anyone since their hours were watched closely. We launched the project incognito and were on our way.

By 2012 Harrison had already been an engineer at RealD for a little while. We became friends at work through our mutual passion for outdoor sports. I was a former sponsored climber, ultra-runner, mountain bike racer, and Western Montana Mountain Rescue Team member -one of few teams specializing in high-angle rescue. Many of the things Harrison loved, too.

We could talk about business yet we related to each other in life. He understood the job wasn’t the end game, it was a tool that could be used for freedom. Where some of our friends were living in vans climbing, flying, and dirt-bagging their way around the West, he chose a high-demand career that paid well and gave him what he needed to do anything he wanted in the off hours. We would be talking about our project, but the conversations always turned to new ideas, how technical gear could be designed better, or cool trips we had in mind.

When I moved to Boulder from Santa Monica, California for the new role at RealD I lived in an apartment on North Broadway that looked out at the beginning of the Front Range. When weather was good I watched paragliders take off and fly miles into the sky. I was mesmerized by the beauty, color and skill in flying. I loved the idea of bagging a peak and flying down – something Harrison said was his speed flying goal.

Until then my love of outdoor sports immersed me in water, rock and soil, but I hadn’t yet engaged with the air. So I signed up for paragliding lessons and started flying on weekends.

Harrison found out and I’d never seen him so excited. He was just starting to speed fly and every Monday would show me a video from the weekend.

And then he saved my life.

“How are your lessons going?” he asked. “It felt easy the first few times I flew and then Saturday I took off and pendulumed backwards into the mountain. Twice. I was so upset I quit the rest of the day’s lesson. It seemed like my instructor was totally not helpful at the time so I agreed to meet him again tomorrow and see if we can fly again.”

“Who is your instructor?” he asked.

[Tells name of instructor]

“What?!!! That’ guy’s an ASSHAT! Dude, you need to quit going to that guy immediately. I’ve heard so many horror stories about that guy. Forget that guy. I’ll hook you up with the best guy I know.”

My lessons were prepaid. Hundreds of dollars, but I didn’t care. I quit going. The instructor called and called but I ignored him and set up lessons through Harrison’s friend.

Shortly afterwards I left RealD. Harrison and I stayed friends and hung out a few times in the Summer of 2013. I put paragliding lessons on hold to work on starting a company and Harrison was super supportive. We’d talk about ideas and he started projects of his own (better slack lining gear was one of his killer inventions. Talk about an activity that could use some dedicated gear!).

I moved to Seattle to build my business and though we didn’t see each other in person again, we stayed friends through social media. I watched him go bigger, higher and faster, thinking at times how I was the same way when I was 10 years younger but how Harrison was 10X. One of the most passionate, smart, fun people I knew – I wish I was more like him, even today.

But the story doesn’t end there.

5 months after leaving RealD my new company was an infant – just an idea really – and I knew all my time would be consumed by it. So I took a 9-day solo trail running trip to Maui with the goal of running as many trails on the island as I could while living in a van (to simultaneously write a camping/trail running guide for Maui). A last hurrah, before I thought I’d be working too much.

It was one of the best trips of my life, and one day on the way to running trails in the Kula Preserve up Waipoli road, I came across a paragliding launch site. I pulled over and watched as several really good pilots took off. Striking up a conversation with a former Boulderite and entrepreneur from Switzerland – we got to talking about the early days of flying. I mentioned Harrison to him (didn’t seem to know each other) and then told him my bad experience a few months earlier with Instructor ASSHAT.

“No Way! That guy almost killed me! He was my first instructor. My second flight I got stuck in a thermal and couldn’t get down. That guy was screaming at me on my radio and eventually had to fly up to me and show me how to get out of the thermal. I promised myself if I made it down I would never fly again. I quit paragliding for 5 years until I met some guys on Maui who taught me properly. Good thing your friend warned you off that guy!”

Harrison got a kick out of that story. I believe Harrison saved my life.

I’m sorry I can’t make your memorial, Harrison. I’m still working on building my dream and I know you understand that more than most. I watched your trip to Chamonix and Lauterbrunnen with envy. I watched your flying improve through your videos, and cheered as you launched your ideas. Thank you for saying yes to the project, even when it meant working extra hours. I am lucky to have worked with you, but more importantly lucky it made us friends. Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for inspiring me and many others to live better lives. Thank you for always having fun. Thank you for saving my life.

Solo: How To Find What You’re Looking For

photo_peak

(Photographer’s Peak, Custer State Park, South Dakota – Route Visible in the split of the tallest section)

I was 18 and 180 feet up wedged in a narrow crevasse of rock with nothing below me.

I reached one hand back to the camera hanging off of my harness, smiled and took a selfie, my eyes closed.

“If I fall they will find this and know I was happy” I thought.

At 220 feet I climbed over the edge of the route, rappelled down the backside using the extra coil of rope I had on my back, and walked around to the front.

My climbing partner, Tom, stared.

“Dude, I thought you were dead”

I climbed as high as the lead rope could go, untied and let the rope drop, then kept going up.

He was left on the ground to watch until I couldn’t be seen.

It sounds insane. I guess it could be, but when your life is focused around a single activity so much that you are trained to precision, the insanity becomes manageable, even fun.

That’s when the limits go up and life gets weird.

free_solo

(this is me 250ft above ground, free-soloing in Boulder, CO)

From 60 vertical feet in Devil’s Lake, Wisconsin to 1000 in Boulder, Colorado the climbs were different but the quest was the same.

I didn’t particularly like to solo, I needed to.

Because out there, I thought, would lie the answers to what I was looking for.

They would appear, I thought, just beyond the bounds of what I was capable of.

Yet when I got there, the line moved back. When I got “there”, “there” wasn’t a big deal anymore and a new “there” appeared on the horizon.

It is a sick cycle I obsessed over across everything I did: climbing, cycling, swimming, running, working.

Because the missing piece had to be there where I wasn’t yet, I just had to try harder.

And isn’t it true.

I could climb 1,000 feet without ropes. I could ride more than 100 miles in a few hours. I could run more than 50 miles across mountains in a workday.

But what I wanted was missing.

leonarunning

(a picture of a picture of me in my first ultra, in the mountainsof CA, , hanging on Mom’s wall. thanks Mom)

Because, I learned, out there is out of my control. We’re like a butterfly trying to control the weather with its wings. Possible, but improbable.

The only thing we have is not outside, but inside.

So after thousands of vertical feet, thousands of miles, hundreds of running shoes, I found the answer somewhere in between.

The one seat with eyes closed and focus inward.

Behind the voice, the ideas, the judgment is something else and it’s what was missing all along.

It was here until I found it.

I was just looking in the wrong place.

When The Founder Of Your Company Dies

(your path is beautiful and difficult)

“I have some bad news. Paul died last night” he said.

Paul was the founder of an early stage entertainment technology company. The call just started. I was supposed to share the final business plan: 5-year financial forecasts, profitability, cash flows, organizational structure and technical strategy I’d been working on.

The business was growing organically. We wanted to put on the afterburners. Investors were interested and this call was to approve the plan so we could build a deck* for them and raise $XMillion.**

But now the founder was dead.

We had been working closely for 3 months. It was Tuesday morning, September 24th 2013 and time stood still.

“What happened?”

I was in Baltimore, Maryland wearing a blue v-neck cotton t-shirt. I was sitting outside in the sun and remember sweat trickling down my back. I noticed the tree leaves holding onto their late summer green, lingering before changing into fall colors. I heard birds chirping and felt a slight warm breeze.

He began telling me what happened.

You know how it feels when the world stops?

 

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. -Victor Frankl”



We see the fleeting nature of things. Life in Technicolor. Heightened for a second as we ponder the meaning and grasp the transient nature of life.

Like the last day of your vacation – soaking it in before departing to home.

Like the end of Christmas day when you’re a kid – the presents are open, everyone is sitting around feeling the chemical buildup dissipate as you realize it’s over.

I snapped back to his words on the other end of the line.

“…and then the housekeeper found him.”

Memories of Paul flashed through my head. His wide eyes excited about the possibilities and his passion for his mission in life. A friend gone at 66.

You knew Paul Darbee. At least, you knew his work:

Paul invented the Universal Remote Control in the 1980s, among other things. He cashed out of his company early. UEIC went through tough times and is today a $500M annual business traded as a public company.

His new company, DarbeeVision was his biggest dream. A company dedicated to making the picture on your tv or projector better using image processing via an HDMI-input device sitting between your incoming signal and your tv. It works really well. I thought I could help them put together strategy and get big fast.

But now he was gone leaving his business partner and I alone on the telephone talking about what to do next.

“Can you get to Denver by tomorrow?”

I flew to Denver. CEDIA is the show where all the home AV professionals demo their gadgets and distributors do deals for the next year. All the new hot stuff for your home.

I pressed flesh with the contacts I’d gained over 6 years at RealD and presented the plan to the majority shareholders and their advisors. Everyone was on board with the strategy and I think they were looking for a sense of hope. And a sense of security that the legacy would not die.

It felt like a memorial service: Paul’s last name in graphic design across the banners in the booth.  His widow and son bravely repeating the story of the company, the technology and Paul’s last days. Industry veterans stopping by to express condolences.

DarbeeVision is alive today and will likely keep going.

It can be sad to say goodbye.

It was a little over a year ago (1 year 5 days) that I said goodbye to RealD, went to Beirut for a celebration, moved out of my apartment in Boulder, proposed to someone I loved and had it fail, dated someone but it didn’t work out, drove 700 miles across the midwest to a magical weekend celebration, sold my first home in Portland, Oregon, put my stuff in storage, mourned Paul’s death, took a 9 day trail running trip to Maui, celebrated another birthday, and another Thanksgiving and another Christmas, welcomed a new niece into the world, got UL approval on a product, sold all my old stock options, and last week closed the first big deal of my new company then got hit with new hurdles. Among many other things.

Thankfully every day dies. Some days die quickly. Other days die a slow painful death, impossibly hard to let go of.

But then a new day is born.

People say let go of the past, but the truth is you must let go of the future, because the past happened and is gone. The only thing left of the past is evidence we interpret and emotions we carry. This impacts our thoughts, beliefs and shapes our future by influencing our reality.

When I let go of the future my life becomes magic and time stands still.

Things I never thought would happen become reality.

I was always scared to let go, because what then would I have left? And I only have one conclusion: faith. Faith that if I am healthy and I let go something new will show up to replace the space that’s made from what is gone. And it always happens.

Otherwise we keep missing the moment when all possibilities are endless. And when we miss that moment, we miss all possibilities.

Paul was someone who chose to make his own possibilities and inspired others.

But are you dead or are you alive? Are you missing each moment holding onto the past or are you healthy in your body, heart, mind and soul, with room for your dreams to become real?

I don’t know what works for you, but this is what works for me.  I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve learned from friends both living and passed who continue to be proof that we are what we believe.

And faith that something is on its way is the only way I know of.

I hope you have faith, too.


*a deck is the presentation you give to potential investors
**I’m still under nondisclosure

How I Helped Create Hollywood Blockbusters While Making $Millions Selling a $300 iPhone App

($300 for this?!)

($300 for this?!)

Warren Buffett says “price is what you pay, value is what you get”

But would you pay $300 for an iPhone app?

Jessica Livingston and Paul Graham are famous in the tech world. They were the first people  to start a tech “incubator” where investors put money into a lot of different startups at once and advise them through the early years. Today their incubator is worth an estimated $500MM and has produced companies like Reddit, Airbnb, Survey Monkey, Heroku and Dropbox.

Paul also writes about startups and has a famous drawing he loves to shares with founders:

(small group of very urgent users)

(small group of very urgent users)

Finding small groups of users who urgently want or need a product to solve their problem is more important than making something that seems useful to a lot of people, but isn’t.

Microsoft started with a small group of customers urgently demanding their product (an Altair BASIC interpreter), Facebook started the same way, &c. Because once you have traction with those users, you may be able to scale, as Google did. His drawing points out that although it is tempting to think a site like a social network for pets sounds like a good idea, it is better to solve problems for a small group that throw “things” at large groups of people that won’t use them (Pet social networking).

(this sign is in 3D in the hills above LA)

(a 3D sign in the hills above LA)

2010 was the age of 3D, remember? No one could get enough. It was everywhere and our company went public that summer, at the height of the fervor.

I flew to New York for some business meetings and to attend an outdoor screening of “Monsters vs Aliens 3D” in the new Brooklyn Bridge Park. I did a deal so our technology would be used in the first outdoor 3D movie screening of its type. 1,000 people were expected, 5,000 showed up including the mayor who gave a little “I like 3D, this is awesome” speech.

(unfortunately he wasn't there)

(unfortunately he wasn’t there)

Then I went to Tribeca Film Center and did a deal with Robert De Niro’s team. Everyone at TFC became my friends, as did 1/2 the studio and post production world in New York. And the New York Technical Institute, Brooklyn Academy of Music and all the screening rooms, even the private ones of famous directors and producers.  And I got to know everyone at SoHo House and did a deal for their screening room, too, so I’d be at SoHo every time I went to NY seeing all the famous people do the things they do.

I was hustling deals with every studio or production company I could find, and got the same feedback: 3D is hard to make. We need it to be easier. Our screening rooms need to show good content.

But did you ever stop to ask why 3D came back so strongly? It’s a very hard medium to work in, to film in, and to produce/post produce.

Shooting live 3D (like “Gravity” or “Avatar” or “Hugo”) is more expensive and time consuming. Using two cameras simultaneously is aggravating.

(it was powerful and saved $$$)

(powerful, interactive & solved a huge problem)

Companies were raising huge amounts of money to provide a 3D production service where they’d send vans full of engineers to sets and “assist” shooting. But they’d wing it. Most of the work still happened in post production and these vanloads of engineers would charge $hundredKs.

The public didn’t know and didn’t care about the difficulties. All everyone knew was 3D is huge and “the future.” We checked our stock price in the cab to the airport – $18 – $20 – $21 – it went up and we counted our money (even though we were locked up for 6 months).

The windows were down and the sticky New York air hugged us.

It was summer.

It all felt right. If I closed my eyes I heard “Empire State of Mind” in the background, distracting me from the smokey piss smell in the cab. There were challenges but we were riding the high tide and I kept my eyes open for more opportunities.

And in the middle of it I got a call from a friend who said “hey so I’m building this app and I wanted to see what you thought of it.” Of course I said “I’d love to see it.” It was early but he modeled the complex calculations and instructions of filming movies in 3D on an iOS platform – as an app. It was amazing.

(simplified complex calculations

(simplified complexity)

It wasn’t super pretty and clean yet but it was beta and its potential was clear:

An iPhone app that makes filming in 3D easier by giving Directors of Photography and Cinematographers the calculations they needed to properly shoot. It reduced setup time and improved shot quality, saving huge $.

I’ve been on tv and movie sets since I was a teenager. My oldest brother has made films and tv shows in Hollywood for almost 30 years and I’ve hung out with him at 3 of his 10+ shows, getting to know the organizational structure and watching filming take place. I found out what each person did.

Cinematographers and Directors of Photography make the important technical decisions for directors and producers.

(interactive virtual set)

(interactive virtual set)

So when my friend Ken Shafer of Innoventive Software showed me his idea we immediately partnered and a few months later launched “The RealD PRO Stereo 3D Calculator for iPhone”…then the iPad version.

We had what Jessica and Paul would call a “small, urgent group of users.” Because we were solving enormous problems for them. This app literally helped make some of the modern 3D blockbusters, which is partially why 3D took off so heavily, and made Cinematographers’ jobs easier. They could shoot and adjust real time.

We priced the app at $300. One of the top 10 most expensive iPhone apps ever. At that price, we didn’t need 10 million downloads to make som money. But the price was significantly below the value it brought to the users.

We sold thousands of them within months.

All the filmmakers and cinematographers bought it. 3D enthusiasts bought it. Braggarts bought it to show off.

Most of the 3D movies you saw in 2010-2012 used the app on-set. It saved them tens-of-thousands of dollars, sometimes that much daily, so $300 was a bargain. We probably could have charged more.

After a year or so we dropped the price to $69. Today you can get it in the app store for $54.99. We launched a lower featured consumer version for $29 which now sells for $9.99.

The app made over $1MM in revenue within the first 18 months, and is still selling.

We created a tool that virtually eliminated vanloads of engineers and ushered in the production of 3D content everywhere.

We could have leveraged the app and created other similar filmmaking or entertainment products to grow our user base but didn’t. That’s another story I probably won’t ever write about (and since I did this on behalf of a company I was not receiving the windfall from the sales of the app).

It proves you can throw out what anyone tells you about how to do something and focus on the value, not the price.

Find a product-market fit with a solution to a problem, serve those customers well, then scale.

Even starting with a $300 3D app for your iPhone.

Download it in the iTunes store here.