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Another year has sped by and I’m a little bit older, although I won’t tell you when exactly my birthday is or how old I will be. It does seem like it was only yesterday that I turned … well, like I said, I won’t tell you … but it’s enough to send me scurrying to consult oracle bones and actuary tables to try and puzzle out how many years I may have left to enjoy in this crazy wonderful life.

After all, as the great comedian and philosopher of life Groucho Marx once observed: “if you live long enough, you die.”

No, my demise is not imminent (knock on wood) but it’s true that birthdays aren’t nearly as much fun as they used to be, although they sure beat hell out of the alternative.

That’s as good an excuse as any to do a little musing about stuff in general. And since my birthday is coming up, I can write about anything I want to.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about transformation, and not necessarily concerning data and middleware. Transformation has been one of the key themes of my life.

I never planned to become a programmer, never considered it as a career. At some point in my thirties, after studying archeology and anthropology in university and kicking around for several years as a half-hearted wannabe journalist, I was astonished to discover that I had an aptitude for logic.

So I slowly transformed myself from a hard-partying pointy-headed intellectual into a geeky computer dude, which is a pretty interesting story in itself.

This facility for logic was even more surprising to my father, a practical, blunt-spoken businessman who often opined that for me thinking was wholly centered in a part of my anatomy that was far removed from my brain.

In his own way, my dad was an intelligent and colorful man, like a character in a Damon Runyon story. About politicians — all politicians — he used to say: “If you got your hands on the honey pot, you’re gonna dip your fingers in.”

Perplexing Choice

He was not what you would call an intellectual and he had difficulty understanding why I chose to study archeology and anthropology.

“Why don’t you study law?” he would ask with some bewilderment. “Become a politician. Get your hands on that honey pot.”

It all made sense to me, of course. I was fascinated by the borders between things, the areas of overlap where transformations occurred, particularly the evolution of the state with its complex social hierarchies and economic specialization: the slow transformation of small neolithic subsistence farming villages into complex bronze age urban civilizations.

Is that cool or what? I couldn’t get enough of it. And I couldn’t explain it to my father, who was only interested in one kind of transformation: costs to profits resulting in transforming the labor and investment he put into his business to wealth.

“I wanna be the richest Greek in the cemetery,” he would explain during his fruitless but heroic attempts to instruct me in the realities of life as he saw it.

But his focus on the practical realities of his business and the environment he created at home allowed me to explore my interests in all directions. This was mostly unintentional but he did have the simple faith in the importance of education that’s often found in immigrant families. He was a high school drop-out and his father, my grandfather, couldn’t read or write and had to sign his name with an “X”. Both saw education as the key to a better, more richly experienced life.

So my dad made sure we had complete sets of Brittanica, Brittanica Junior, World Book, and any other encyclopedia he ran into from a salesmen or even a supermarket’s shelves, and then promptly forgot about them. He never opened one in his life, at least as far as I could see.

But they got a lot of use from all four of his children. I still remember looking at old pictures of New York City and reading articles about Africa and dinosaurs and World War II, all of which are now hopelessly out of date. Browsing through the encyclopedia led to a fascination with a wide variety of topics from Norse mythology to skyscraper construction, astronomy, battleships, and the lives of baseball players, to touch on only a few.

These fascinations in turn led to visits to the library, then books bought for the pure pleasure of reading, and then … our souls were lost. We became unrepentant free thinkers ready to never take an assumption at face value.

So Maybe Not the Richest …

My dad never achieved his ambition. Many Greeks in the cemetery are much richer than he, at least financially. But what good does it do them? The gifts of the gods are rarely bestowed without something else being taken away and in the end, somebody else fights over their wealth.

So in a real sense, my dad achieved his ambition, even beyond the success of many of the wealthiest inhabitants of his necropolis. In spite of his natural instincts, he successfully raised four children, all of whom graduated from university in disciplines that had little or no practical use in the real world as he saw it. Not one of us became a doctor or a lawyer or a politician or spent our lives chasing after the almighty dollar.

And while he may have held a lot of conventional and predictable opinions, that were always expressed in the most colorful, concrete, and humorous language, he loved us for our free thinking and for our questioning of basic assumptions. It made him proud to know that we were nobody’s patsies.

His other source of wealth was the many friendships that he had in widely scattered places around the world. At the last great party that he hosted on this earth, hundreds of people came to celebrate his life, his laughter, and his family.

It’s been more years than I care to remember since my dad set off on that final journey. But it still seems like it was only yesterday that I last saw him in that cramped office behind the store, hunched over his calculator, counting piles of cash separated into different denominations, stock piled up in cardboard boxes on the shelves around him, receipts spilling out all over his desk.

No matter what I studied, there was always a job waiting for me in his store. I was a lucky young man. The hard work and effort that he put into his business and his life allowed me to grow, to study, to experiment and to learn; to take opportunity as it came and run with it; to transform myself through my own hard work and effort; and to follow numerous careers: from student to journalist and writer, electronic publisher, database developer, SAP consultant, and B2B integration specialist.

Wherever he is now, probably nursing a glass of scotch while engaged in a gabfest with his buddies or even with a beautiful woman — he had an eye for the ladies — I know he’s at peace and enjoying the fascinating spectacle of the lives being lived by those he created, nurtured, and loved.

And so with this birthday, another turning point comes for me. I need to break from posting to this blog to take care of some family business. But I’ll be back … Soon … And we’ll continue our conversation. This is a good opportunity to thank all my readers for your patience and especially for taking the time to read what I’ve been writing.

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10 Comments

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  1. Gregory Misiorek
    Pisces?

    since mine is around the corner i can wish u all the best all that easier…just kidding. i also started with liberal arts, and i’m still using those liberal arts skills. i also had to refresh my other skills on the way like math and logic, but i know that i’m not a good programmer and not because i didn’t try, but who knows what future will bring.
    i’m glad though that SAP is a lot more than just code, it’s software that transforms businesses and processes, but hey, through social media we are a little back into good old liberal arts and somehow it becomes a bit more relevant what we learned by reading some books in our (more and more distant) youths: Lord Jim, The Call of the Wild, Sound and Fury, The Idiot, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, The Trial, The Magic Mountain, Homo Faber, etc.

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  2. Marilyn Pratt
    Refreshing to get a glimpse of a more personal side of one of our top EDI/Idoc experts and authors.  Interesting to see how knowledge sharing passions can be nurtured by giving access to repositories of content (your many volumes of encyclopedias that your folks made available to you).  My parents did the same for us as children.  My mom even had to sell encyclopedias for a while in order to afford to purchase ours.  And we, like you, soaked them up and what they  taught us was to spend hours, exploring, searching, sometimes “surfing” but always curious and learning and often about very unusual topics.
    I am quite sure that today’s kids who do what we did but now do it digitally are incrementally more informed than us and have even more powerful repositories to access and learn from.  So I’m sure you are grateful to your parents, as I am to mine for giving me a thirst to search and learn and explore pre-web and I bet your father, wherever he may be, is very proud of his birthday boy. We, your community, for our part are grateful for your ability to share your expertise with us..and so a happy birthday.
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  3. Edward Pelyavskyy
    As a first generation immigrant I can relate to your father story. For some reason I too tell my children to become lawyers or doctors but it’s up to them of course…

    On my part, despite the constant threat of being outsourced, I’m working hard to learn SAP so that one day my child may write a grateful blog about his father.

    Happy Birthday!

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  4. Yes, Pisces, but the precise date remains a closely guarded secret.

    Greg … happy birthday, man, and I hope you enjoy many, many more in good health and surrounded by those who love you. By the way, I loved the Magic Mountain … what a book! And don’t stop reading and thinking.

    Marilyn … how can I disagree with what you said? You really summed it up beautifully. Knowledge and content are valuable resources that nurture people and lead to creativity and discovery. Please continue your own explorations and keep up the great work in building this community.

    Edward … You want the best for your children and law and medicine are honorable professions, so don’t get me wrong on that point. They’ll find their own path but you’ve built the road for them so they’ll always know the way home. And don’t be afraid of out sourcing. SAP is a great career choice that’s far more than just engineering. It’s a life enriching experience that offers the opportunity to learn something new and exciting everyday. So keep at it and don’t worry about the noise.

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  5. Tuncay Karaca
    @Emmanuel

    Happy Birthday! I understand right now that’s why I always enjoy your writing you are not an ABAP developer, you are an archeologist, anthropologist, journalist, and writer.

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    1. Thank you, Tuncay. I appreciate your kind words. Programming is also an art form and many of my happiest moments at work are spent solving logical puzzles through code.

      A good programmer is also a bit of a detective and uses the same analytical and problem-solving skills employed by the archeologist to extract human history from a pile of broken pottery.

      Have a wonderful weekend!

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    1. Thank you Natascha. Diversion is an extremely diverting activity … and it promotes good health and a positive outlook. Have a great day.
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