Canonical Voices

Posts tagged with 'random'

Jussi Pakkanen

Steve Denning has held a wonderful presentation on how management should be be done in the 21st century. His main point is that instead of making money, the main goal of a company should be to delight its customers. He reasons that if the main goal is making money, it leads into a corporate structure that abhors innovation which makes the corporation vulnerable to agile startups.

The video is extremely recommended for everyone who deals with management in any way (including those who are being managed). The material in the presentation may seem very familiar to you either because it mirrors your own working experience or because you recognize the patterns it presents in other areas as well.

One well known piece of popular culture resonates very strongly with the presentation: the original Star Wars trilogy. The Galactic Empire is a good analogy of a large, established corporation that is being challenged by a small but nimble Rebel Alliance.

No need to plan, just do what you are told

Let us start our analysis by contrasting the meeting and decision making processes of the Empire and the Alliance. Probably the most famous meeting scene in the entire trilogy happens in Star Wars when Empire officials are discussing the rebellion and the lost Death Star plans. A simple overview of the meeting tells us that it will not be a successful one.

The meeting happens around one huge table. It is very probable that people can’t hear what participants on the other side of the table are saying. This is even more probable when you notice that most people are old generals who probably have poor hearing. They also look like they would rather be anywhere else than at the meeting. However the issues they are discussing are vital and the outcomes will shape the entire future of the Empire. More specifically the end of it.

As far as we can tell, the point of the meeting is to determine what to do should the Alliance really have a copy of the Death Star plans. All that everyone remembers of the meeting is Force choking. This is quite sad, because the issues raised are important ones. Lord Vader has not been able to find the lost tapes. Neither has he been able to find the rebel base. We also know that he has no real, workable plan to achieve these goals. Rather than work on the problem with a group of military experts Vader instead chooses to save his face by shooting the messenger.

The end result is that no actual work gets done. There are no contingency plans, no alternative approaches, nothing. The entire strategy of the Empire, the largest, most powerful organization in the galaxy, is It Will Work Because I Say It Will Work, now STFU and GBTW. It is also made painfully clear that questioning the choices of the Dear Leader is hazardous.

Compare this with the Rebel Alliance. All pieces of information and opinions are dealt with in a positive manner. When someone suspects that the targeting computer would not be able to hit the Death Star’s exhaust port, Luke does not attack him but rather gives a personal example showing how it is possible. When Han reports that a probable imperial probe droid has found them, the people in charge trust him and start working on evaluation. He could have gotten a response along the lines of do you have any idea how much resources we have spent to build this base, do you expect us to abandon all that based on a hunch. Even C-3PO, the lowest rung of the rebel ladder, can give his signal analysis results directly to the main command and his expertise is valued.

The Rebel Alliance is about solving problems, trust and agility. The Empire is about top-down leadership and management by mandates and shouting. We all know which one of them won in the end.

Failing with people: Management by Vader

If we view the Empire as a corporation then we can say that the Emperor is roughly the chairman of the board whereas Darth Vader is the CEO. He is in charge of the operational branches of the Empire. His decisions define the corporate culture. Let us examine his leadership using the battle of Hoth as a case study.

From a management point of view the largest conflict is between Darth Vader and Admiral Ozzel. Details on Ozzel’s military career are spotty but we can assume that he has gone through the Imperial Military/Space Navy/whatever Academy, gotten good grades, worked hard on his career and eventually has reached the rank of Admiral. Darth Vader, by comparison, is a whiny kid from a backwards desert planet with no formal military training and who has gotten his current rank through nepotism [1].

The conflict between these two comes to its peak when Vader feels that Ozzel has flown the fleet too close to the suspected rebel base. Let’s think about that for a second. The mission they are engaged in is basically a surprise attack. The goal is to catch the enemy unaware, crush them fast and prevent any escape attempts. This being the case flying in hyperspace as close as possible to the target planet and attacking immediately is the right thing to do. The alternative approach, and the one apparently preferred by Vader, would be to come out of hyperspace far from the planet and then fly slowly closer and attack. This strategy would have given the rebels ample time to jump every ship to hyperspace long before the Star Destroyers could have fired a single shot.

From a management point of view this single episode has many failures. First of all Vader did not trust his employees but rather started telling them what to do through micromanagement. Secondly even though he had a very clear vision on how the assault should be handled, he did not explain it to his underlings beforehand. He just magically assumed that they would do the right thing. Maybe he had forgotten that only Sith Lords have the ability to read people’s minds. Thirdly, when the fleet had left lightspeed, punishing Ozzel was the stupidest thing he could possibly do. The attack plan was in motion, nothing could change that. Any punishment should have happened only after the campaign. Summary executions in the middle of troop deployment only serves to weaken morale.

Kinda makes you wonder if the only reason Vader choked Ozzel was that he could be used as a scapegoat in case of failure.

This kind of behavior happens again and again through the trilogy. During the assault on Death Star, Vader explicitly tells professional TIE fighter pilots not to shoot at their targets, either because he wants all the glory to himself or because he thinks they are too stupid to hit anything. He orders the entire fleet inside an asteroid field causing billions of credits worth of damages and several thousand deaths. They could just have waited outside the asteroid field because it is well established that one can’t jump to hyperspace from inside the field. He also micromanages the search by demanding constant progress updates.

Come to think of it, almost every single management and executive decision Vader makes is wrong. He would have run the entire Empire down to the ground even if he hadn’t killed the Emperor. In corporations this kind of manager is unfortunately all too common. The higher up the chain he is, the more damage he can do. If he holds major amounts of stock, things are even worse because then he becomes really hard to get rid of.

Motivating the masses: the case of Stormtrooper apathy

One of the most ridiculed aspects of the Star Wars trilogy are the stormtroopers and especially their shooting accuracy. In corporations stormtroopers correspond to regular low level workers. The ones that actually get all the grunt work done. If you compare stormtroopers to rebel fighters, you find that rebel forces are consistently better. They shoot more accurately, have more imagination and just generally get things done better.

One might speculate that this is because all the top talent goes to the Rebel Alliance because it is the hot new cool stuff. In reality they are both recruiting from the same talent pool. Moreover it can be speculated that the best of the best of the best would go to the most glamorous and prestigious schools i.e. The Imperial Academy. Why would they instead join, effectively, a terrorist cell with a very low life expectancy unless they have a personal bone to pick with the Empire. [2]

The basic skill level of a stormtrooper is pretty much the same as the average Joe in the rebel alliance. And yet they perform terribly. As an example, let’s examine the scene in Star Wars just after our heroes have escaped from the trash compactor. They run into a group of seven stormtroopers. A few shots are fired and the entire group starts running away. If one examines the footage closely, at the time they start their retreat they can only see Han and bits of princess Leia. Luke and Chewie are behind a wall.

Think about that for a while. These are professional soldiers that come across some hippie and a girl. They are armed with deadly force, are specifically trained and have massive strength in numbers. Yet their instinctive decision is to run away. It’s kind of like having police officers who hide in their parent’s basements whenever they hear that a crime has been committed.

What could be the reason for this? The answer is simple: motivation. The common man inside the stormtrooper uniform probably does not care about the goals of the Empire. He just wants to get his paycheck and go home. What he really does not want is to get killed in any way. If you look at the behavior and motivation of stormtroopers throughout the series, doing everything possible not to get killed is pretty high on the list. Underachieving in their every day tasks is part of this because success means promotion, which means bigger probability of dealing with Vader, which in turn means higher probability of death by random Force choking than death in battle.

If this is the structure of your organization, the question is not why aren’t the workers performing well. The question is why would any sane person want to perform well.

There is one reason. We can deduce that by examining the cases where stormtroopers behave like an actual, efficient, deadly fighting force. There aren’t many of these, but let’s start with the beginning of Star Wars, the assault on princess Leia’s Corellian cruiser. The assault force knows what they are doing, shoot accurately, and take over the ship very efficiently.

There are a few other cases where this happens as well, but they are quite rare. There is one thing they have in common, though. The troops perform well only when Vader is personally overseeing them. This is classic management by fear. Every single troop knows that if they fail, they will get force choked to death. They might get choked even if they do just ok, just to set an example. So they really do their best.

The biggest problem with this approach is that it does not scale. Vader can’t be everywhere. Things work fine when he’s there. When he leaves, an entire legion of his best soldiers gets defeated by a dozen teddy bears with stone age technology.

Actually, let me take that back. The biggest problem is not the lack of scalability. The biggest problem is that Vader probably thinks that his troops are truly the best of the best. Why wouldn’t he? Whenever he is around, things work smoothly and efficiently. Who’s going to tell him that his so called elite troops are in fact complete garbage? Captain Needa?

This is the reason companies like Toyota and Google thrive. They care about their employees. They want them to participate in the decision making process. They want them to be part of the family, so to say, rather than being resources to be shifted around, shouted at and and summarily executed (though I don’t think any Fortune 500 company does executions at the present time).

The meaning of (a company’s) life

The main thesis of Steve Denning’s presentation is that the common view that a company’s purpose is to make money is flawed. Instead they should be delighting their customers. Making money is a result, not the goal. With that in mind, let’s ask a simple question.

What is the ultimate purpose of the Empire?

We hear very little about their goals on health care or education. As far as we can tell, the Empire is only the manifestation of the Emperor’s lust for power. He doesn’t care about the people. His only interest is in the power trip he gets from bossing them around. Just like certain corporations see their customers only as sponges to squeeze as much money out of as possible.

There are consequences.

When Luke talks to Obi-Wan for the first time he says “It’s not that I like the Empire, I hate it. But there’s nothing I can do about it now.” His delivery seems to indicate that this is a common attitude towards the Empire.

Remind of any corporations you know?

If we accept the special editions as canon, once the Emperor died, people started spontaneously partying in the streets, knocking down statues and shooting fireworks. After the tipping point everyone dropped the Empire like it was going out of fashion. One imagines that even people high up on the Empire’s chain of command would go around stating how they have always secretly supported the goals of the Rebellion.

The world is full of companies that have used their dominant position to extract money with inferior products. They have focused on cost cutting and profit maximisation rather than improving their customers’ lives. And they have been successful for a while. Once there has been a competitor that do cares about these things, the dominant player has usually collapsed. For an example see what has happened to Nokia after the release of the iPhone.

The only protection against collapse is to make your customers consistently happy. Should someone come out tomorrow with a new magical superphone that is up to 90% better than iPhone. Would current iPhone users switch out in masses? No they would not, because they have bought their current phone because it was the best for them, the one they really wanted. Not because it was the “crappy-but-only-possible” choice.

If your company is producing products of the latter type, your days are already numbered, but you just don’t know it yet. Just when you think you are at the height of your power, someone will grab you without warning and throw you over a railing. Most likely you will blame your failure on them. But you are wrong. You have brought your downfall on yourself.

Also, you are dead.


[1] Assuming that the Force Darth Sidious uses to inseminate Shmi Skywalker comes from himself. Somehow. In a way I don’t really want to know.

[2] The prequels seem to indicate that stormtroopers are clones. However that is probably not the case anymore in the time frame of the original trilogy. The original clones all spoke with the same voice. Stormtroopers speak with different voices. There are also variations in size and behavior. If they were clones, i.e. dispensable cannon fodder, it would make even less sense for them to be concerned about self-preservation.

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Jussi Pakkanen

The main point of open source is that anyone can send patches to improve projects. This, of course, is very damaging to the Super Ego of the head Cowboy Coder in charge. Usually this means that he has to read patch, analyze it, understand it, and then write a meaningful rejection email.

Or you could just use one of the strategies below. They give you tools to reject any patch with ease.

The Critical Resource

Find any increase in resources (no matter how tiny or contrived) and claim that to be a the most scarce thing in the universe. Then reject due to increased usage.

A sample discussion might go something like this:

- Here’s a patch that adds a cache for recent results making the expensive operation 300% faster.

- This causes an increase in memory usage which is unacceptable.

- The current footprint is 50 MB, this cache only adds less than 10k and the common target machine running this app has 2GB of memory.

- You are too stupid to understand memory optimisation. Go away.

 The suffering minority

When faced with a patch that makes things better for 99.9% of the cases and slightly worse for the rest, focus only on the 0.01%. Never comment on the majority. Your replies must only ever discuss the one group you (pretend to) care about.

- I have invented this thing called the auto-mobile. This makes it easier for factory workers to come to work every morning.

- But what about those that live right next to the factory? Requiring them to purchase and maintain auto-mobiles is a totally unacceptable burden.

- No-one is forcing anyone. Every employer is free to obtain their own auto-mobiles if they so choose.

- SILENCE! I will not have you repress my workers!

 The Not Good  Enough

Think up a performance requirement that the new code does not fulfill. Reject. If the submitter makes a new patch which does meet the requirement, just make it stricter until they give up.

- This patch drops the average time from 100 ms to 30 ms.

- We have a hard requirement that the operation must take only 10 ms. This patch is too slow, so rejecting.

- But the current code does not reach that either, and this patch gets us closer to the requirement.

- No! Not fast enough! Not going in.

 The Prevents Portability

Find any advanced feature. Reject based this feature not being widely available and thus increases the maintenance burden.

- Here is a patch to fix issue foo.

- This patch uses compiler feature bar, which is not always available.

- It has been available in every single compiler in the world since 1987.

- And what if we need to compile with a compiler from 1986? What then, mr smartypants? Hmmm?

The Does not Cure World Hunger

This approach judges the patch not on what actually is, but rather what it is not. Think of a requirement, no matter how crazy or irrelevant, and reject.

- This patch will speed up email processing by 4%.

- Does it prevent every spammer in the world from sending spam, even from machines not running our software?

- No.

- How dare you waste my time with this kind of useless-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things patch!

The absolute silence

This is arguably the easiest. Never, ever reply to any patches you don’t care about. Eventually the submitter gives up and goes away all by himself.

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I don’t write a lot on my blog about issues with companies, service providers, and otherwise, but yesterday my wife and I discovered something which I wanted to make people aware of as I don’t want you good people to fall into the same trap.

We have cable TV provided by DirecTV. We saw what seemed like a pretty decent deal in CostCo one day and decided to sign up. While the quality of the service is generally pretty good, there were a few surprises in there when we started using it.

A few of the services we were expecting that were sold to use by the rep at CostCo were not as he described, but after some frustration we figured, hey, we will keep going with them as they seem to provide a generally decent cable.

Yesterday the sound stopped working on our TV. Being of the geeky persuasion, it didn’t take long for me to have narrowed the issue down to the DirecTV box. I tested the TV, surround sound, cabling, networking to the box, and identified that there was no sound on either the live feed or DVRed programmes. We also had an issue with the DirectTV box in the bedroom which could no longer play DVR content from downstairs. I had reset the box multiple times, power cycled it, re-authorized it via the site and was confident we would need a service engineer to come our and resolve the issue.

I called DirecTV and they did some checks on the box. They triggered a remote diagnostic check and an error came up indicating that there was an issue with satellite dish alignment.

After these checks, it was clearly an issue with the DirecTV service/hardware.

I was then informed me that we would need to pay $49 to have an engineer come out to resolve the service issue.

Let me just take a second to re-iterate this…we were paying a monthly fee for DirecTV service using the rented equipment that they provide, their service was no longer working as expected, we had clearly defined it as a DirecTV service/hardware problem, yet we had to pay $49 for the issue to be resolved.

Naturally I was pretty unhappy about this. The manager who I escalated this to informed me that this was in the contract. She went on to say that DirecTV like to be upfront about their service provision and what is involved in the contract. Well, we were never informed about this, in the same way the other parts of the service I mentioned earlier were not communicated clearly to us either.

Now, I am not saying that Erica and I are geniuses, but I do think we are smart enough to understand the nature of a service offering, what is provided, how much it costs, ask about hidden fees, and be able to choose a service wisely. DirecTV were not clear about this.

It turns out that when you get your new DirecTV service installed they provide a 90-day warranty and then you are on your own. What happens after 90 days? Well, it turns out you need to have a “protection plan“.

Call me a cynic, but when a subscribe to a service, be it cable, electric, gas, water, or anything else, I don’t expect to have to take out a protection plan when the provider fails to provide that service to me. What is to stop DirecTV compromising our service to trigger future service calls at $49 a shot? I am not saying this is what happened here, but if they took responsibility for resolving their own service issues, I would know they would not do things such as that as the costs would be incurred to them, not their customers.

Now, if I screw something up and waste their time, such as if they come out to fix an issue that was unrelated to DirectTV, that is a different matter, but when the issue is clearly as part of their service provision, I think it is unacceptable to charge customers for you to resolve your own service issues.

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Jussi Pakkanen

The Ubuntu Advantage™

As a touch developer people often ask me what makes our touch stack better than the rest. As exhibit A I present this image of one of our competitor’s products.

This was found in Orlando’s Hard Rock Cafe.

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My brother, Martin, is working hard right now to prepare to set a new Guinness world record for the fastest land speed record for a car powered by coffee. Crazy, yes, awesome, definitely. I am so proud of him, my nephews, and the rest of the team. What’s better is that the car looks like something from Back To The Future.

They are going to have a first test attempt on the 10th August 2011 at Elvington Race Track near York, and the main record attempt will be on the 14th September 2011.

Be sure to check their website at and follow them on Twitter; they are posting videos about the technology and prep going into smashing this record. You can also donate to help them nail the record.

Here is a video introducing the car, starring the considerably-less-handsome-considerably-more-bearded brother in question.

Can’t see it? Click here

I am so proud of all of them, so be sure to follow them and track this awesome record attempt!

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On Zareason

These views are my own, and not necessarily those of Canonical.

Some time back the always awesome Earl and Cathy from Zareason loaned me one of their Strata laptops to play with. I met them at an event some time before, and while I had heard of Zareason, I really knew nothing about them. Since then I have learned about their work and played with the Strata. I just wanted to share some thoughts.

Zareason are a company that I think really gets Open Source. They are a small organization and incredibly supportive of Open Source in the local area and wider USA. They pre-install Ubuntu on their machines, focus on open hardware, and one really nice touch is that they include a small screwdriver with each machine because they believe that everyone has the right to be able to open up their machines and peek inside. In this age of screwless, inaccessible boxes and restrictive end-user license agreements, this is a refreshing change. Like most, I would never actually use said little screwdriver…but it is a strong statement of Zareason and their culture. Kudos!

So, as for the machine, it is a zippy little monster and works great. The pre-installed Ubuntu worked great out of the box, with pretty much everything running as expected. One thing that really struck me, is regarding build quality. I consider build quality an essential ingredient in a laptop. Laptops move around a lot, they get thrown into bags, and they get picked up, dragged around and balanced in precarious ways. The Zareason Strata I tried felt incredibly durable…as in…Thinkpad durable. I absolutely adore Thinkpads for this very reason, so again, Kudos Zareason.

Finally, a big decider for me in a laptop is the keyboard. There are many great laptops with horrible plasticky keyboards. The Zareason Strata has a really comfortable, useful, and durable keyboard. It feels strong but not difficult to use. Again, kudos Zareason.

So, Zareason produce great, solid, hardware pre-installed with Ubuntu, they are actively supportive of the Open Source community, and they affirm openness in both the software and hardware. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me. :-)

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I don’t tend to blog about appeals, but I came across this terribly sad story and I really want to encourage you all too also pledge and support him. Here is what happened, written by a friend of Colin:

Colin & I have been close friends for 13 years when we started our MBA program together. We then both lived in London and our children played together. Colin moved back to his home town of Boston before I returned to the US and unfortunately he got divorced from his wife, an Egyptian national, in 2008. He was granted full legal custody by the US courts of his two young boys (US citizens). His wife created forged passports in a fake name and kidnapped his two children by illegally flying back to Cairo on Egypt Air. He hasn’t seen them in more than a year and she is in hiding.

Mirvat el Nady now has an arrest warrant in the US and is wanted by Interpol (see here). Colin is being supported by his Senator John Kerry and has received help from Vice President Biden and Attorney General, Eric Holder. The problem is that Egypt doesn’t support the Hague Convention and doesn’t have an extradition policy with the United States so they don’t recognize any of the international legal rulings in Colin’s favor. Colin has now won visitation rights in an Egyptian court, but Mirvat didn’t show up at the legally required meeting day / time in Egypt.

You can see an interview with Colin here about his ordeal.

I am not a father yet, but it doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to understand how painful and heartbreaking it must be to have your kids taken away from you and to have no idea where they are…and no way of getting in touch with them.

I wanted to encourage you all to show your support for Colin, and contribute to his legal defense fund. You can also show your support by joining this Facebook page; I am sure kind words of support on that page will be welcomed.

We pledged today, and with him aiming to raise $25,000 for the legal defence fund, if we all contribute a little this could really help this family. Thanks, folks.

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Proud To Be a Son

Today my dad was informed that he will be awarded a masters degree at Cambridge University where he has been studying recently. While I am overflowing with pride over his achievement, what really makes me smile is the incredible journey that led him there.

Born and raised in the Dales in North Yorkshire, he came from a frugal rural upbringing in a large working-class family. They didn’t have much, but he always made the most out of what he did have, never complaining, always dreaming, leading him on step by step through a range of adventures, each underlined with his phenomenal sense of values, and an unwavering commitment to family and hard work.

His life so far has been a rich tapestry of diversity, with just a few of his experiences including being a welder, running multiple car dealerships, managing a multimedia software project, being a hypnotherapist, a magistrate, a nightclub owner, a mayor, a pub landlord, and currently running an antiques business in conjunction with my mum who has embarked on her own incredible journey to become one of the top master restorers in England.

While his daily routine has differed over the years, his values have not. He is the purest definition of good person that I have ever met. He has spent his life committed to doing the right thing, often challenged by adversity. He has always defended those without a voice, often putting his own personal circumstances and comfort levels into a state of flux. He fought for voting rights for women in working mens clubs in the UK, campaigned for the safety of residents near rail crossings in the town I was born in, stood up against inferior safety provisions in his workplace to protect his workmates, he took his old friend Ray to the 50th anniversary D-Day memorial in Normandy and went to great lengths to obtain replica medals as Ray had lost his many years previous. These are just a few examples from a patchwork of experiences stitched together with kindness.

He has not only been the perfect father, but a true inspiration for a son. He taught me a strong set of values, each illustrated by his experiences; experiences shared but never lectured, and from my earliest childhood memory I can remember him and my mum both encouraging and defending my right to an opinion, under the premise it was shared fairly and with empathy for other people’s views.

So, while I sit here beaming from cheek to cheek with pride over my dad who started with nothing and made something while never compromising who he is and where he came from, it makes me realize just how incredibly fortunate I am to have been blessed by such an incredible mentor. I love you dad, and I have never been so proud of you as I am today.

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I Support Same Sex Marriage

I love being married, it has opened up an incredible sense of commitment and security in my life and my wife’s life. Love is love, and I would never want to prevent anyone from enjoying what I am afforded the privilage of enjoying. This includes gay people. As such, I have joined this Facebook group to get 1,000,000 who support same sex marriage. I usually hate these kinds of groups, but I think it could be interesting to visualize the support behind this issue. Worthy, methinks. :-)

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Yesterday a package arrived on my doorstep. Not just a package, but a big one, and I had not ordered anything that big to be delivered. Lo and behold, said package had my name on it and the sticker said it was from Pete Graner, who is my colleague at Canonical leading the kernel team. As many of you will know, he is one half of the Open Source Posh and Becks that is him and his awesome wife, Amber Graner.

So, I opened the box and to my utter astonishment I found an array of items all packed inside a patriotic hamper basket:

The box contains a quilt that Amber made with three books chronicling parts of the history of the United States. Laid on the top of the box was an awesome envelope with stars and stripes (even the envelope kept in with the theme) with my name written on it. Inside was a beautifully written letter saying some rather nice things about how I should apply for US Citizenship when I can, and how the things inside the box should help with this.

I was incredibly touched by this gesture from Amber and Pete. It is quite possibly the most thoughtful thing anyone has ever done for me, and I want to offer my heartfelt thanks to both of them. I first met Pete at a managers sprint in London and from the minute we got to know each other, I knew I had just made a lifelong friend. Little did I realize that when I met his wife, that I would get another. Thanks folks, you are both incredible. :-)

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One Year Anniversary

One year ago today, I married the love of my life, Erica. From the minute we went on our first date, I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. We instantly developed a close connection; a bond that spans beliefs, interests, ambitions and tastes. Since that day we have not only carved out a life with each other, but grown a partnership that is strong and connected, underlined with a lust for life, experienced and shared together.

When it comes to relationships, I have always been inspired by my parents. They have been together for thirty years and they still hold hands, tell each other every day that they love each other, and put each other at the center of their lives. Erica and I found that connection in each other, and I look forward to spending the rest of my life with her. Bacon is happy. :-)

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