Friday, May 6, 2011

My Breakfast with Al

Several years ago I had just wrapped up some interesting CAAC meetings and I was standing around the COMMON conference registration area trying to decide on breakfast. In walked Al Barsa who was looking to get into the same kind of trouble. Having never met the man, he looked me in the eye and asked me if I wanted to go get something to eat. I said sure, why not!

Certainly I had heard and seen of Al before that event. His many session presentations at COMMON and around the country at local user groups, his tireless efforts advocating and consulting on IBM i, and his passionate questions at the “sound off” session at each COMMON conference were well known. But I never thought I was worthy of breaking bread with the legend. What I learned at that meal was very helpful to me and I try to put some of what Al said into my daily living.

Al was very focused on two things: The IBM i community and his family. His passion for both was about equal and he loved to tell stories about his kids or his systems. It was difficult sometimes listening as I think even he struggled to separate them. But it was clear where his passions lie. I was inspired. It was after that breakfast that I decided to start submitting material for sessions at COMMON. Later at the conference, I considered myself fortunate to now be on a first name basis with the man.

A few years later, the community was shocked by the terrible tragedy that Al had passed away on the last night of the COMMON conference in Nashville. When I heard the news I was stunned. Thanks to such tools as email and web forums, details started to spill and so did the many gestures of respect and reflections of the man. We all discussed things like life and death and wondered what we could do. Many said they wanted to contribute this and that. With fielding most of the posts, David Gibbs decided that he wanted to contribute too. It was clear that Al had quite a long reach.

Not too long after, the COMMON Education Foundation decided to arrange a memorial scholarship in Al’s name. This scholarship is awarded once a year and is meant for only the people who best represented the commitment and caring qualities that Al had for the community. The award has been given two times before this conference: The first to Paul Rogers and the second to my good friend Larry “Dr. Franken” Bolhuis. As the third recipient of this prestigious award, I am lucky to share in some pretty awesome company.

Al had quite a reputation as a hell raiser with IBM and I am proud to be honored with a reward that sees a similar trait in me. While I am thrilled to win this award, I reflect upon my own life and how I have been running pretty hard myself these days. As i look at the clock on the wall I see it is 1:45 am and maybe it’s time to slow down a bit. Not too much, but just a little. Enough to stop and smell the roses, admire my five children at athletics & academia and spend a little more time with the woman who makes me whole. I challenge all of you to look into your own lifestyle and seek the balance that Al seemed to struggle with. But even if Al’s life was not completely balanced, it sure was full of passion and love. Godspeed, Al!
As i reflect upon Al I am reminded of an old Japanese proverb: Vision without action is a daydream-Action without vision is a nightmare. Al had a good dose of both and I am proud to be considered worthy of his memorial.

Well, the COMMON Annual Conference is over and I know a lot of people who are heavily educated and a lot of other people who are completely exhausted. But both are happy for the experience. Working with any volunteer group can be a rewarding experience. I have found that my local user group Omni and the national user group COMMON can be very rewarding. If you ever thought of helping out a local user group please consider stepping forward. Consider folks like Al and the commitment and passion they brought to the platform. You too can make a huge difference with surprisingly little effort.