Category Archives: Life

The Ballad of Yellowbeard

MikeA good friend of mine, Mike Clements, died suddenly last Wednesday. I was granted the privilege of saying some words in his honor at his memorial service on Sunday. As many of Mike’s friends did not know much about his Yellowbeard alter-ego, I thought I would publish my tribute here.

It’s tough to know where to start when talking about Mike, so I might as well start at the beginning. About nine years ago or so, my company, Corsair, had a problem on our hands. Lots of our customers spent a lot of time online talking about our products and our company, and it was clear that many of them needed help. And, occasionally, discussions would erupt into flame wars, where everything would get completely crazy and out of control.

I talked with my tech support manager about this, and asked him if he knew of anyone on the forums who might be able to help us. He gave me a few names, but told me that his recommendation would be one of our frequent forum visitors, some ex-cop from Georgia known as “specmike”.

At first, I’ll have to say that I was skeptical. But, I spent some time on our forum, checking this guy out to see what kind of stuff he was posting. And, I was really encouraged by what I saw. Really intelligent, informed responses, with a very calm communication style. I decided it was worth giving the guy a call and interviewing him.

Now, I don’t know if all y’all southerners know this, but us Yankees have some pretty well established stereotypes of southern law enforcement personnel. So, when I placed my call to specmike, I was fully expecting to hear Buford T Justice himself on the other end of the line. Instead, what I heard was this incredibly soft-spoken, ultra-polite, gentle-sounding character. I tried to picture him making an arrest, and all I could hear was, “Hey, y’all wouldn’t mind putting those hands up in the air, would y’all?”

Anyhow, the call went really well, and we both decided it was a match. He told me his “real” name was Mike Clements, and I told him he was hired. Back in those pre-facebook days, no one used their real name online, so I suggested to Mike that he pick his favorite pirate to use as a handle. Mike picked Yellowbeard, a Monty Python creation. And I think this perhaps gave me my first inkling about what sort of character we were bringing on board.

Yellowbeard had two jobs to do. The first was pretty simple – hang out on the forums, look for people who need help, and assist them. The second was to look for any discussions about Corsair that were turning into conflicts, and defuse the situation. My guess is, no one in this room would be surprised to hear that Mike was a natural in this new job. I think for him it was basically like police work for geeks. Mike clearly loved it, was a complete pro at it, and over time Yellowbeard became legendary. People would ask for him by name, and would beg him to get involved in any touchy issue.

I know you guys probably would take my word for this, but I want you to hear from just a small sample of some of the people Mike helped over the years, who are mourning his loss on the forums and on Facebook. So here we go…

“Corsair Mike has been a fixture in several places for a long time , one of the most helpful guys I’ve ever dealt with , the pc world will be a lesser place without him.
“Count me as another who has been personally helped by Mike. He is a big part of why I go to corsair for my memory.
“Mike was everywhere. He was at most of the computer shows, was at many gaming lan parties, on many forums. Not many people like him. He was one in a million.
“The community, the industry and technology-friend is missing someone that moved mountains and achieved more than most will ever be able to do.”
    and finally…
“Very sad to hear this news…Mikey… hope you’re going off HUGE dirt kickers in BMX heaven brother. One of the nicest, coolest guys I’ve EVER met period.”

Dozens and dozens of tributes like this have come in, not only from America but from all five continents.

Mike joined Corsair following a very difficult and lengthy recovery from a neck injury that he incurred in his police work. It was a time of great uncertainty for him, and several times he told me very frankly and directly how grateful he was to Corsair for the element of stability and security that the company provided. I was always very moved by his honesty and humility, and even more moved by how he translated this sentiment into actions. There was no problem that I could throw his way that he wouldn’t beat his head against until everything was under control. And everyone at Corsair knew Mike as someone who would go the extra mile to help out in almost every situation. This, combined with his demeanor, his sense of humor, his expertise, and yes, his general goofiness, made him a very popular guy at Corsair. I know that all of us here would agree that Mike was a true character, a real one-of-a-kind guy. And, to Californians who don’t get much exposure to his brand of Georgia craziness, he was truly larger than life.

I worked directly with Mike for over eight years. During that time we spoke several times per week, and during this or that crisis it was many times per day. We didn’t just talk about work, as you might imagine. Very quickly, it became work, cars, bikes and biking, music, politics, insomnia, fatherhood, working out, or his latest insane injury. I felt a strong bond with Mike, and I am afraid that his loss leaves a wound that will take a long time to heal.

Like most of us, Mike grew up from childhood to become a responsible adult. But unlike most of us, Mike seems not to have grown out of his childhood. He never lost that joy and enthusiasm that you have when you are a kid. I mean, what sane 46-year-old adult rides a BMX bike? Especially mere weeks after blowing up his knee on that same BMX bike? Or puts on a wig and face paint to go to a party? Or finds himself a job that requires him to be an expert on computer games? Mike, that’s who. And we were all infused by this spirit of his, and are much the better for it.

Mike was a good teammate, a good friend, and a good man. It is really, really difficult for my brain to process the fact that he is gone. It just doesn’t seem possible. I loved Mike, and am proud that he was my friend. I know that his memory will always be with me, and I am looking forward to the day when the smiles that his memory invariably brings to my face will displace the ache in my heart that his loss has caused.

Mike leaves a strong legacy of the hundreds of others he helped both as a police officer and as Yellowbeard, as well as of the smiles he brought to the faces of the many people who loved him.

A Moveable Feast

I think that Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. This holiday combines two things I treasure the most – family, and lots of good food – so, what’s not to like? Some people are way into Christmas, but I will take Thanksgiving any day, thankyouverymuch…

The most important thing about Thanksgiving is not where you are, but who you are with. The saddest Thanksgiving I spent recently was a few years ago in Nashville, where we were in the midst of a college-visit trip. Nashville is a cool place, but it just wasn’t Thanksgiving to me, sitting in a restaurant with Karen and Brian, trying to enjoy a hip bistro’s poor excuse of a nouveau-turkey dinner. We won’t be doing THAT again any time soon!

We are empty-nesters now, and both our boys are in school back on the East Coast, one in North Carolina and one in Connecticut. So, to make things easier for everyone, we decided to find some geographically suitable place to host Thanksgiving. After a little research and lots of time browsing, we settled on a lovely house named “Weaverton” in the countryside outside of Staunton, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley.

We must have been on to something, because lots of people decided to join us! Karen’s mom flew out with us from California, and Karen’s sister decided to drive up from Asheville, North Carolina. My own sister came down from Baltimore with her husband. And, of course, Tyler drove up from Winston-Salem, Brian journeyed down from New Haven, and his girlfriend Kelsey came down from Washington DC. A total of nine of us at the Thanksgiving table; not bad for an impromptu gathering in the wilds of Virginia!

Karen, Judy, and I flew from San Francisco to Dulles on Monday, and picked up Brian and Kelsey from the Metro late Tuesday morning after a short visit to Manassas battlefield. The day started out cloudy, but became progressively clearer as we approached Staunton. By the time we reached the house, we had a gorgeous day on our hands.

Both Tyler and Stacy had planned to drive up from North Carolina on Wednesday, but changed their plans due to the reports of a storm moving in. So by Tuesday night, there were seven of us huddled around the fire, listening to the rain beginning to fall. I woke up a few times in the night to the sound of the house being absolutely pelted by rain, but by the time I woke up in the morning, it was silent, and Weaverton had undergone a marvelous transformation!

Watching the snow come down from the safety of the porch

Watching the snow come down from the safety of the porch

Wednesday morning, with five inches of new snow

Wednesday morning, with five inches of new snow

I will have to say, there are few things cooler than being snowed in, with plenty of supplies, and with a huge fireplace with a roaring fire. Nothing much to do, except play epic games of Uno and Jenga, tromp around in the snow, watch the occasional basketball game, and start preparing for the next day’s feast.

Thanksgiving had it’s challenges. Everyone had a dish to prepare, and all in one oven. I did the turkey and stuffing, Karen did cranberry sauce, Brian and Kelsey did mashed potatoes and pecan pie, Stacy cooked sweet potatoes, Tyler prepared a green bean casserole, Lisa and Tim (who arrived Thursday morning), brought pumpkin and apple pies, and corn risotto. Judy’s job was to set and decorate the table. A few “firsts” were experienced, like opening a can of tomatoes with tin snips, and carving a sixteen pound turkey with a paring knife and a kitchen fork. In spite of the unlimited food and limited kitchen, however, everything came out perfectly, and on time. Chef Ramsey would have been proud!

Enjoying the feast. We have a lot to be thankful for!

Enjoying the feast. We have a lot to be thankful for!

The rest of the weekend was filled with various adventures and misadventures, wine tasting, exploring, and of course plenty of football! All in all, a memorable Thanksgiving, and a beautiful place. I suspect we will be back!

Dinner with Jacques

Cooking together has always been a big part of our family life. I won my wife’s interest (and hand, eventually!) by preparing an elaborate dinner for her early in our relationship. Since that magic dinner way back in 1988 (!), many of our most memorable evenings are those where we are cooking and eating a delicious meal with family and friends.

Early on in my cooking “career”, I stumbled on Jacques Pépin cooking shows on PBS. Jacques quickly became a staple for us, as we learned countless cooking techniques and recipes, and were captivated by his warm personality and genuine love of sharing good food. My sons would watch with me just to hear Jacques say “Happy Cooking” at the end of the show (and now they both speak French!). When I started off on some questionable shortcut in the kitchen, Karen or the kids would always admonish me with “What would Jacques do?”, which would invariably set me back on track.

Our Jacques Pepin library

Our Jacques Pepin library

Karen and I both loved Jacques’ philosophy about cooking – that is, that cooking is not about showing off, or competing, but rather it is about preparing and sharing something lovely with your family, friends, and guests. Over the years, we have watched a countless number of his shows, bought most of his cookbooks, and cooked dozens of his recipes. More than any other public figure, it somehow felt like Jacques was part of the family, my long-lost French TV uncle, I guess.

So, many months ago at a Make A Wish auction, when we saw an item which included a dinner for six with Jacques Pépin, hosted by Roland Passot at La Folie, we saw a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity which we could not pass up. We swallowed hard, and kept bidding until the dinner was ours.

Once the date and everything was confirmed, we had to assemble our party of six. As both Tyler and Brian were busy in school on the East Coast, they could not attend. In addition to Karen and myself, our party included the following: Phil, from Boston, my college lab partner, roommate in Colorado, and best man at my wedding. Mitch, from Colorado, a close friend for thirty years who dropped everything to come stay with Karen and the boys while I underwent neurosurgery. Andy, my business partner, boss, and friend for over twenty-five years. And, Patricia, head of the local Make A Wish chapter, who is one of the most passionate, dynamic, and caring people I have ever spent time with.

The package included transportation via limo, which arrived at about 3:00. The first stop of the evening was at KQED in San Francisco, where we got to hang out in the studio and watch a taping session for Jacques’ upcoming series. It was very cool; I have never been in a studio before, and it was amazing to see all the technology and technicians, and just how smoothly they work. In this particular session, Jacques was cooking first with his daughter Claudine, then with his fifth-grader granddaughter Shorey – and most cooking was done in a single take. Very impressive!

After the taping, we fought our way through beastly San Francisco traffic to La Folie. We finally arrived, and were shown to our table. Eleven place settings with menus, and only six of us. Hmmm…

Jacques arrived about ten minutes later – he had an even worse time with traffic than we did. And, accompanying Jacques was Claudine, her husband Rollie, Shorey, and Jean-Claude Szurdak, his friend for nearly sixty years, who has often cooked with him on the show. What an unexpected treat… and what an awesome crew to share a dinner with!

Karen, Patricia, myself, Phil, Roland, Jean Claude, Mitch, Jacques, Andy

Karen, Patricia, myself, Phil, Roland, Jean Claude, Mitch, Jacques, Andy

And what a dinner it was. Roland and Jacques have been friends for many years, although Roland is many years younger. So, essentially we had one of the top French chefs in the country, cooking for essentially the dean of French chefs in America, and aiming to impress. And the dinner was impressive indeed, course after course of creatively conceived, impeccably prepared, stunningly presented, and unbelievably delicious dishes. Definitely the most incredible meal I have ever enjoyed.

Here is the menu for our dinner

Here is the menu for our dinner

In person, Jacques was very much the same as he appears on his shows: warm, gracious, humble, and witty. Although he is internationally both revered and famous (perhaps the Paul McCartney of chefs?), he was approachable and patient as we peppered him with questions. Claudine and her family, who had no idea they were having dinner with a bunch of strangers, were delightful as well. Finally, Jean Claude was an absolute kick, energetic and funny; click here for some background on Jean Claude and his friendship with Jacques.

All the French chefs, waiters, and sommeliers outside la Folie

All the French chefs, waiters, and sommeliers outside la Folie

Andy, Patricia, Phil, Roland, myself, and Mitch in the back, with Jean Claude, Karen, and Jacques in the front

Andy, Patricia, Phil, Roland, myself, and Mitch in the back, with Jean Claude, Karen, and Jacques in the front

We left La Folie around midnight, after lots of picture-taking and camaraderie, visits to the kitchen, etc. Certainly one of the most memorable meals I have had anytime, or anywhere. We gave Jacques and Jean Claude a ride back to their hotel in our limo, and shared a couple very amusing stories on selecting a duck, and on the proper use of transparent wrap when smoking a fish. On the ride home after such a magic evening, we were pinching ourselves to make sure it really happened!

Phil, Mitch, Andy, Jean Claude, and Jacques in the limo

Phil, Mitch, Andy, Jean Claude, and Jacques in the limo

Of course, the evening would not have happened without the huge generosity of Jacques and Roland. Jacques, who has to be the world’s busiest 79-year-old, spent over four hours with perfect strangers, gladly answering our innumerable questions and just, well, being Jacques. Roland donated his time, his kitchen, his restaurant, and his amazing food and wine. So, I encourage you to watch Jacques Pépin, Heart and Soul when it comes out next fall, and to eat at La Folie in San Francisco every chance you get!


A Wish Comes True

I have been a big supporter of Make A Wish for a number of years – first as a donor and as an attendee at their events, and now as a member of the board of directors for the local chapter. It is a great cause in more ways than I can describe here – who knows, maybe I’ll save that for another post.

Anyhow, my company, Corsair, makes components for enthusiasts who like to build incredible, souped-up computers, like the ones linked below.

A large part of our customer base is pretty young – teenagers who like to build their own computers, tweak them to get the ultimate performance, then play games on them or show them off to their friends. So for all the years I have worked at Corsair and supported Make A Wish, I have truly dreamed that the day would come when a wish child would request a computer-oriented wish that I could help out with. And it seemed like that day would never come!

Until this summer, that is…

Early in MAidenay, the Wish finally surfaced. A young man named Aiden had submitted a wish to build his own computer. And, to my great amazement and pride, he specifically indicated that Corsair was his favorite brand! So, it was with a great sense of pride, honor, and excitement that we set about making this wish happen for Aiden.

At Corsair we make nearly everything that you need to build an awesome PC – except for a few critical components, like the CPU (usually made by Intel) and the graphics card (usually made by Nvidia). Fortunately, we have friends at both those companies and a few calls and emails made it clear that both of them, cut-throat competitors in normal circumstances, were very eager to get involved.

The wish day was incredible. Aiden traveled with most of his family; his parents and three brothers. We started the day at Intel, to pick up the CPU. While we were there, the folks at Intel took us into one of their advanced labs and showed us some extremely cool demos and technology.

After collecting our CPU at Intel, we went to Nvidia to collect a couple graphics cards. Nvidia pulled out all the stops; as a graphics company, they have some incredibly cool stuff to show, and they did not hold back.

Once we had the CPU and graphics card, it was time to head to Corsair to help Aiden build the PC. The team there had some surprises up their sleeves, like totally custom internal cabling and a specially customized side panel for Aiden’s PC.

What a day! The build was finally done around 5PM, with everyone completely exhausted. The next morning, one of the Corsair engineers went to Aiden’s house, made sure the rig was completely installed with all three monitors optimally configured, and left it to Aiden to optimize and tune his new PC.

There were lots of great things about the whole experience, but I will just share a couple of them, the ones that really stay with me.

First of all, I was profoundly impressed by Aiden himself. Fourteen years old, with muscular dystrophy, my toughest day pales in comparison with his easiest day. In spite of that, he is serious and focused. I asked him what he wants to do when he grows up, he said he wanted to start and run his own company. He knows his computer gear. And he has a smile that lights up the room.

Second – granting the wish brought out the best in EVERYONE. All participants took substantial time out of their very busy day – from engineers in the lab to CEOs of billion dollar companies. The air was thick with the spirit of enthusiasm, of generosity, and yes, with the joy of being a computer geek. Everyone pulled together to help make the day special for Aiden, and I believe in turn made the day special for themselves as well. It was one of those days when you just can’t help but be blown away by the goodness that truly is inherent in ordinary people.

The video below gives a pretty good summary of the day, I encourage you to have a look! And, to think about how you can help make someone’s wish come true…

Things are a little quiet around here…

Finally… getting back to writing something! Trust me, it is not that nothing has been going on… it is just that for some reason, I have simply not felt inspired. Might also be because, embarrassingly, I have not touched the boatbuilding project since May! Maybe I’ll do some catching up later. But for now, I’ll stick with more recent events…

The big news is, we just got back from taking Brian to college at Yale. He seems to be jumping right in, as I expected he would. He’s taking a pretty demanding workload, including the next level of calculus and a pretty advanced chemistry class. Living on the fifth floor of a dorm built in the 1920’s with no elevator and no air conditioning, so he is still adjusting to East Coast heat and humidity.

After dropping Brian off, we decided to console ourselves by spending several days at Lake George, up in the Adirondacks. It’s hard to imagine anything that could be a better consolation! We spent a few days with my Aunt Julie and a few days with my cousin Ginger, and took a one-day side trip to Vermont. A little kayaking, a little boating, a little driving around, some lovely meals, great weather… all this took our minds off the fact that we would be returning to an empty house.

We concluded our trip by heading down to Rhode Island for a couple days to visit with my dad, John Sr., and his wife Ann. Got to celebrate an 83rd birthday while we were there, and saw the sights of Bristol and Newport.

We are back home now, and getting used to the quiet house. Not so much of an adjustment, really, since once the boys got drivers licenses they were often out doing stuff. But, still, it can be a little eerie at times. But, to be honest, we are adjusting and enjoying it. After all, having the kids eventually grow up and move out is the idea, isn’t it?