440 Davis Court #1602
San Francisco, CA 94111-2496
415 781 5700

November 7, 1999

03 00050 61 99110701

Mr. Ross H. Armstrong
U.S. Sales Development
IBM Global Financing
NNNN Executive Parkway
Somewhere, NY 94583

Subject:   Family and Fun

Dear Ross,

Thanks for the update. Millie and I enjoyed your letter very much. Glad things are humming for you and the family. The opportunity for Claudia to use her bi-lingual skills and to travel sounds fun. Good to hear Richard got settled, and that Nyna is making plans for marriage.

Mostly, though I was struck by the apple pie story. First, it sounds delicious. Second, for a lot of reasons it sums up the core of civilization. I am pleased that you and Claudia continue to be strong contributors. Her folks must be very proud of your family, as is Diane.

Nice to hear that Diane got to visit. What is the parole issue?

We are having a strong storm right now. It rained all day and into the night. If they showed the 49er game on the East Coast, you might have noticed. Uploading to the web has slowed down the last hour or so, when normally it should be faster, so possibly a line is down. It is a real mess here weather wise, which is good because we need the rain. There has also been some "rain" in the family. My younger sister died in January. Now Kathleen, my older sister, her husband, Bob, has been given 2 months due to pancreatic cancer. We're working through things, making adjustments. You may remember Kathleen's daughter, Patty. She was maybe 10 the last time you saw her. Patty is now a beautiful, strong young woman, who has been terrific helping her mom and dad.

Also terrific is your news about Hutch, and now Stu, doing well in sports. It's hard to believe that Stu might turn out to be bigger than Hutch. Is Stu following big brother's lead hitting the books? Just thinking, back I gained some recognition in high school athletics, and enjoyed the experience, but the most fun was math, plus giving the history teachers ulcers with questions, as related to a coach from the early years, at a more recent event a few years ago.

Speaking of math, here is a cultural exploration into the nuances of new math.

One thing I could not do in HS was write a coherent story, report, probably even a sentence. I got by with Bs and maybe an A here and there but not because I could write. In fact figuring out what to write about was a mystery, until I got into business, and was able to write about what is in the contract, the policy, the magazine article, what Fred said yesterday, and in the meeting two days ago. It eventually led to a sense about religion that was entirely missing from childhood, and probably passes most people by even as adults who go to church regularly. A lot of insights come from the writing process. It is truly a window on the mind, and as Andy Grove says, resolves ambiguity of mental maps, that otherwise lead to mistakes.

One year at Lewis and Clark College, about 1965, a professor helped me write a simple two paragraph letter to apply for a job. Something clicked in the way he phrased the thing. From then on it became increasingly easier to write, just from that one example.

Ever since, I have wondered why a teacher, or parent, in grade school or high school was unable to do that. To say...

Look Rod, why don't we try writing this thing like this. Switch things around a bit so the language flows and sounds more natural. State the objective, the facts, background, and reasoning, then conclude by saying the objective is accomplished, or something close to it. See what I mean? Here you try it.

Just sending a paper back with a C or D, or even an A for content, which occasionally happened, doesn't really teach anything. Like teaching to throw a football, block or tackle, drive a car, you have to show how to do it.

Typically we get a report back from school saying "Para needs work." "Sentence incorrect!" Okay, fine. Rework it. Fix the sentence and explain why the fix is an improvement. Actually, my mother helped with writing once, when I had to write a speech to run for something in school; but, never my Dad. He only helped with the math, as if there is a gender issue, a la right brain, left brain. Personally, I agree with the notion of gender specific skills, even in relation to mental acuity. None-the-less, my experience has been that even math experts wind up spending more time writing in life than working figures. Spreadsheets can do the formal manipulations, but nothing can automatically manipulate words into coherent text. We have to be shown how to do it, and we have to practice, like playing the piano. Additionally, nobody ever gets instruction on how to connect text from disparate sources at different times to create chains of chronology showing cause and effect, i.e., intelligence.

Sooooooooo, I don't know if it is necessary or even workable, but the comment that Hutch is good in math and science sounds a bit nostalgic. Ultimately math and science require effective writing. This is an argument with Morris, now at Intel, who tells me his engineers don't wannnna write, they just wannnna do technology, as in the song, Girls just wannna have fun! Then you read technology standards and they are full of the need for good records, but also dispair that nobody prepares them, which is the same circumstance in medicine, insurance, car repairs, banking, education, construction, everywhere. Nobody has time to discover the value of investing intellectual capital.

Unfortunately it is hard to explain why lack of writing skill causes the space probe to bump into Mars instead of orbit around it. I am pretty sure that is the case, and so offer an early caution.

The point is that you write very well. Don't forget to try to find occasions to review in a constructive way Hutch's writing, and in a few years Stu's writing. Again, this may be a lost cause. It could be just a maturity thing. You need some life experience to finally put writing together. But, keep it in mind as an area of help you can provide to the boys, that is probably not available from anywhere else.

One way to get at it is to just send the boys email -- something that requires a response... "What's the status on getting the garage cleaned up, is that this week or next? Do you need any help? I'm available this weekend to join the detail, if that fits with your schedule?" Although email is the worst form of communication ever conceived, just below smoke signals, it provides a chance to work on writing. If they don't respond, that is an indication they are unsure about what to write. Offer to craft a response, so they can see the range of ways it can be handled. I know this rattles on. I am sorry. I see engineers, doctors, lawyers, mechanics, everyone has difficulty with this.

Final clarification, just some fun. You made it to the top of Half Dome on two different occasions, with two different guys who could not keep up. I nearly made it in 1994. The next year Tavo had a similar experience. When time permits, you might take a look at the record. It is something to share with the boys when their turn comes.



Rod Welch