copyright 1997, Rex BallardNext: The Phantom of the Internet
One day, one of my sponsees, friend named Debbie K showed up at a meeting practically beaming with happiness. I asked her what was up. I figured she'd had a spiritual awakening of some sort. Had she 5th stepped with someone else? Had she been saved? Had she fallen in love? It took a month for her to finally let me in on it. She invited me to find out about Landmark Education. All she would tell me is that it was where really great and successful people get trained.
I had taken Dale Carnagie and had been listening to tapes from Nightengale-Connant on Neurolinguistic Programming and Leadership. I figured this might be just the thing to get me out of the rut I had fallen into after 12 years of 12 steps. I met Debbie for dinner and we proceeded to her seminar. It was a Money seminar, and people were sharing about how their relationship to money had been transformed. One guy started talking about a business he had started out of the course. He took people up in a balloon and let them bungee jump out of the balloon. He called the business Adrenaline Adventures. The point was he was doing what he loved and making a whole bunch of money at it. Others shared about breakthroughs they had had. Then I went to the introduction room.
The person leading the introduction was almost irritating. He sat their in the captain's chair wearing suspenders and a wall-street tie, slouching a bit, and told me that he had a great life and then he did the forum and he had a great life. I figured he must be getting something out of it, because he was volunteering his time. I was also impressed by the other volunteers. The women were wearing professional dresses, looking beautiful, and were very polite. When I came in, they took my coat and hung it up for me. When I was there, I felt important.
I understood the concept of transformation and I wanted to see if this was just another variation of the 12 steps or something different. One of the guests shared what about one of the distinctions of the Forum as it was described to her by the person who had invited her. It seemed almost like the 4th and 5th step boiled down to a 90 second explanation. I aske the group leader if everyone in the seminar had completed the Forum. When he said yes, I just though about the idea of being in a room full of 100+ people who had already done the steps and said "Sign Me Up". Before the night was over, I had already discovered several things about myself.
Before I actually got to the Forum, I went to a special evening of the Forum. One of the people who actually leads the Forum was supposed to be there. The leader was funny. I thought he was gay until he started talking about his wife and children. He shared a whole bunch of different principles from the Forum. I couldn't wait for my class to start. I had almost dropped out because I "didn't have the money". Then I realized that I had given 5 women over $10,000 in cash, goods, and services, and realized that it was absurd that I wouldn't spend a few dollars on myself.
When I got to the Forum, I started right out in upset. The leader was a former Navy Seal, who had done four tours of Vietnam, and went to Cambodia, just for fun. I thought to myself, "This ought to be great, G.I. Joe meets Fluffy the Wonderpooch (an endearing title Michelle had given me). I had many issues with men, all the G.I. Joes who knocked up women they never intended to marry, and all the beatings and the guys who tried to prove their "macho" by hitting on any girl who even so much as flirted with me, and all the "macho" guys who had told women that I was "qeer as a 3 dollar bill". I could bearly hear this Navy Seal trying to tell me about integrity, keeping promises, and honoring your word. I figured I had come this far and I was going to get my money's worth come hell or high water.
By the end of the Forum, I was seeing many things differently. I saw how much I avoided risks, I saw how much I had let my past stop me from being who and what I really wanted to be. Most of all, I realized that I was still playing a very small game in a very small sandbox.
A few weeks before doing the Forum, I had been getting a whole series of calls from headhunters. I normally laughed them off. I had a great job that I really loved. I was even OK with the money I was making. I even loved my office and the view. By the time I did the Forum, I had 3 offers on the table. One offer was for IBM. I knew that they were in trouble and frantic to migrate to open systems. I also knew that they wanted to "open up" OS/2. I felt this might be my chance to set the standards for IBM, and possibly the entire industry. I turned in my resignation Monday afternoon. By Monday night, there were two other firms frantic to get me to change my mind. I called Ron Brennan and told him I would give him a final answer Wednesday morning. Ron told me he really wanted me, but he also wanted me to be sure.
By Tuesday night, I had narrowed it down to one firm offer from Ron, and another from a company that did a distributed processing system. Tuesday night, the Forum Evening was held. Michelle, Martin, Mary, Brandy, and another friend were there. I had promised 5 guests and I had delivered. I remember how good it felt to make an outrageous promise and keep it. We shared for a while about the breakthroughs we had had over the last 2 days. People stepped out and caused miracles. I had had a few myself and I understood exactly why.
By the end of the night, I had decided to take the job with Ron, because he was a man who had several times given his word and kept it, because he was direct about wanting me to work for him, and because I felt this was a place where I could make a difference.
I ended up going to IBM Boulder to work on a Hierarchal Storage Management project which integrated storage for OS/2, Unix, and MVS. My job was to write a fault tolerant remote procedure call that could cope with the extended delays of accessing tape drives. I was also responsible for "collecting time sheets". In a matter of days, I was the Site Manager for the IBM facility.
I took to management quite well. I realized that my training as a sponsor and step coach was going to help me help the new contractors, most of whom had come from small 10 programmer shops, adjust to the culture shock of IBM. As time went on, I learned more about the project and realized that IBM had much of what it needed in the libraries of other products it had already built. What it didn't have could be ported from publicly available source code available from MIT. The project manager gave me 2 people for a week.
In a week, we not only found libraries, but most of the product required to implement the project. We had just saved IBM aproxamately 90 million dollars. The bad news of course was that IBM's stock had dropped 20% in the month of December due to slower than expected sales of MVS. IBM realised that this project did not need 120 people for 4 years, but instead, thanks to the work of my team, could be done by 6 people in 3 months. I was called in, along with the other site managers on the project and told that everyone would be given 30 days notice, effective January 1, 1992. We were not allowed to speak to anyone about this until after Christmas (lest the news upset Wall Street).
Now faced with 10 people who needed new jobs, I got on the Internet and some bulletin boards, networked the team together, and worked with my firm to get them placed. By January 17th all of them had been placed in better positions than what they had had.
I took a job with Softronics. It had several things that made it appealing. First, it was in Colorado Springs so I would be able to see my kids more often. Second, they were willing to put together a package that combined a salary slightly less than I had been making, with a percentage of the profit margin on the projects I produced.
My first two products were already challenging. They wanted to do IBM 3270 terminal emulation, and they wanted to add TCP/IP to their connectivity options. In addition, they wanted me to put up an internet site. At this time, there was almost nothing but schools on the Internet. In fact, the federal funding was cut, and it was uncertain whether the net would even exist in another year. Our main interest at the time was that it would give us the ability to get to TN3270 accessible mainframes.
I took the Landmark Advanced Course in early February. In this course, you design your life, from the future, with no limitations from the past, including trying to fix or change anything. Inpirational examples from the course include Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Kennedy's commitment to put a man on the moon, and Ghandi's willingness to die for peace between the Muslims and the Hindus. I declared myself to be "Outrageous Combinations Fulfilling Outrageous Possibilities", it was a declaration that encompassed both Debbie and Rex.
In the Landmark Self Expression and Leadership Program, we were supposed to take on a project based on the possibility we had created for ourselves from the Advanced Course. I decided that I wanted to create an outrageous combination that would create economic abundance for everyone on the planet. I started working with Softronics, site managers on the internet, businesses, and people at Landmark. During the course, I even enrolled the District Manager of MCI frame relay sales into the possibility of making the Internet available to Businesses, Schools, and nontechnical users including the Disabled, and even single Mothers on welfare.
The district manager met with me afterword for about 4 hours and we discussed what it would take for MCI to become a backbone for both corporate internet and the National Science Foundation archives. We even discussed the possibility of a business model where small businesses put up servers that could be dialed by local callers with modems. In a period of less than four hours a market that could reach over 2 billion people became a possibility real enough that MCI won the bid for the NSF traffic, contingent on that it be allowed to carry commercial business traffic on the same links.
I worked with people at Softronics to create a user-friendly interface to the internet. The management got very excited. Soon, we were running a fully operational internet site on an SCO Unix system. In addition, I was discussing new possibilities such as a hypertext viewer that could be used for read-only access to documents created by the Andrew office automation package. Since Andrew was freely available to the general public on a Unix box, it was a natural. In less than a month, someone sent me an e-mail saying that they had cooked up a viewer called Lynx. A few weeks later, someone had a version that could view text and gif files at the same time. He called it Viola. About a month after that, someone at Cornell had ported Viola to Microsoft Windows. They called it Cello.
Out of my conversations, someone suggested that I look at Linux. I had complained that Windows was too unreliable to function as a multiprocess server (even the Softronics product depended on multithreading and DLLs). I wanted a Unix implementation that would run on a 386, but wouldn't cost more than $100. I figured this would give me the same capabilities I had on the SparcStations I had used in previous jobs. In March of 1992, I downloaded a copy of Linux, installed it in a PC, and was pleasantly surprised. It was still a bit primative (X11 hadn't been ported yet), but it did a pretty good job with basic server functions.Next: The Phantom of the Internet