SPUR Reunion January 8-9, 1999

The First Night
Saturday Morning
Photos During the Morning Break
Post-Break Session
Saturday Lunch
After Lunch Talks

To celebrate the decade that had passed since the end of SPUR project, we held a reunion on Friday-Saturday January 8-9, 1999 in Soda Hall at U.C. Berkeley. The suggestion for the reunion came from Dave Hodges and David Lee, who noticed the 10-year anniversary from the date on the SPUR momento.

The first sign that the reunion might work was that everyone we contacted tried to come. Only two said in advance they couldn't make it: D.K. Jeong was assigned to give a national exam the same day in Korea, and John Keller of HP who is working in France and couldn't find an excuse to get HP to invite him to the Bay Area the week of the retreat. Put another way, all SPUR alumni from North America could come to the event. Alas, New Jersey weather delayed Fred Douglis, so he showed up just as things were finishing.

In addition to cocktail parties and meals, we hoped to get talks about life experiences since the end of the project, rather than conventional technical talks.

The First Night

After a welcoming cocktail reception, we had a dinner catered by Jimmy Beans in the Wozniak Lounge, followed by port. Below are photos of faculty, SPUR alumni and SPUR spouses at the tables:
  • Dave Hodges, Dave and Joanne Lee, B.K. Bose, Shing Kong, and Terry Lessard-Smith and her husband Brian Smith;
  • Richard Fateman, Luigi and Martha Semanzato, Brent and Jolene Welch;
  • John and Rita Ousterhout, Mendel Rosenblum and his wife Diane Greene, Mike and Katy Nelson, and Ben Zorn; Andy and Suzanna Cherensson are out the picture (another view);
  • Randy Katz, Ken and Shelly Lutz, David Wood and his wife Jane  Doughty, and Corinna Lee;

  • (another view, this time including Dave Ditzel as Susan's guest);
  • Mark Hill, Scott Ritchie, George and Marilee Taylor, and Stephanie Byram (Garth Gibson's fiancee then, his wife now).
  • Even a Hilfinger siting, despite his protests of having too much programming to attend.
  • At each chair the SPUR spouses were given commemorative SPUR polo shirts, and the SPUR alumni were given SPUR jackets, which we wore the next day.

    The evening ended with toasts from  Ousterhout and Patterson. Randy declined, but perhaps the picture reveals why he couldn't stand up?

    Saturday Morning

    The morning started nostalgically: cheese puffs from Fat Apples, scones from the Cheese Board, and almond croissants from Toot Sweets, all lubircated with Pete's coffee.  Nostalgic calories-- which shouldn't count--were followed by three  talks.

    Garth Gibson started with "Fun and Follies", talking about how his research projects used Nerf toys to help bond with students at CMU. It was apparent that he was apparently either well loved by his students, or an exceptionally easy target for Nerf missiles. Not only do they do retreats, but they do newsletters and flyers, and Garth has a much larger research enterprise than any of us at Berkeley.

    Garth also shared that his fiancee Stephanie is a cancer survivor, and showed portionsof a photo essay about Stephanie and her battle with cancer. When Stephanie had a sudden relapse and needed to go to the state of Washington to take radioactive therapy last Fall, we were all proud that Garth dropped everything and went and spent on leave supporting her.

    Dave Lee's talk was titled "Starting a Company". In 1995 Dave founded the company Silicon Image Inc., which was based on large part on the fast and cheap serial link technology developed by D.K. Jeong. This company is one of the SPUR success stories, as its origins began in the D.K.'s phase-locked loop that was developed and used on the SPUR chips. Their first product, PanelLink, has been adopted as a standard for all digital displays.

    In addition to their rapid growth and large number of systems shipped for such a young company, Dave talked about the culture he consciously created. Employees work normal work weeks--50 hours per week vs. 100 hours per week at some startups--and everyone's family is invited to all company events and announcements. As a result of that family-oriented culture, Silicon Image  has almost no employee turnover. Dave's talk impressed people of the rapid change of a startup, becoing a different company to run every six months, and that a president had to become a Renaissance Person, becoming familiar with all aspects of business, economics, law, and finance. Dave is now Chairman of the Board, having brought in a new president to run the company once it became too large (or just not as much fun) for him to manage.

    Given that Dave's entrepreneurial talents were obvious even when he was a grad student, I always wondered why he first went to Xerox PARC and then to Sun Microsystems before starting a company. Dave shared upon graduation their family discovered that their oldest daughter had leukemia. He decided that he needed to be there to support his family, and that was incompatible with the commitments of a startup company. After his daughter was clear from traces of leukemia, he then had the time to start the company. Dave and his wife were delighted to report that their daughter has been cancer-free, and she had just started her high school.

    John Ousterhout talked about "Taking Chances."  In the time since SPUR started, John got married, fathered two beautiful girls, invented Tcl, left Berkeley to join Sun Microsystems Research Labs, developed repetitive stress syndrome, and then left Sun to found the company Scriptics which builds Tcl-oriented products. The company was less than a year old at the time of the reunion, and John was still thoroughly enjoying the wide range of presidential responsibilities that eventually worn down Dave Lee. John's theme was that the best place to be now was either in a university or in a startup, and that these days being a member of a Research Lab was not the best place to be. He encouraged people to take chances, which is both scary and exciting, but certainly invigorating.

    Photos During the Morning Break

    At the break we took pictures of alumni with their research advisors (a few were jointly supervised):
  • Fateman (standing in for Hilfinger) with Jim Larus, Luigi Semanzato, and Ben Zorn;
  • Hodges with B.K. Bose, Dave Lee, and Shing Kong;
  • Katz with Susan Eggers and David Wood;
  • Ousterhout with Andy Cherenson, Mendel Rosenblum, Mike Nelson, and Brent Welch;
  • Patterson with Garth Gibson, Paul Hansen, Shing Kong, George Taylor, Mark Hill, Corinna Lee, and Scott Ritchie. (Its funny, but until the photograph I didn't realize I supervised so many SPUR alumni!)

  • Finally, we posed for a group picture.

    Post-Break Session

    After the break Randy Katz gave the talk "Serving Your Country." Randy served at DARPA during the first two years of the Clinton Administration, and worked part-time in the White House. He said that he went because of a patriotic need to serve, and he hoped that others would follow his lead.  His comments ranged from the power of the US Presidency (reflected in a cartoon) to a graphic example of pork in US Law. (The senior member of the Senate committee was from Hawaii, and hence the Maui Supercomputer Center).

    Kong, Mendel, and Mark then led a panel session on how the SPUR project shaped your career . Kong recalled  the three most important quotes from SPUR  that have guided his career. Mendel commented on the pros and cons of doing university research vs. starting companies. Mark concluded with comments about SPUR shaped the lives of the Wisconsin SPUR alumni, adding that so far their were at least 30 academic grandchildren of SPUR.

    These talks inspired comments from the audience.

  • I commented that upon reading the SPUR paper again the day before, that although we had a few successes in our research agenda, the main contribution of the SPUR project was the SPUR alumni. Its an extraordinarily successful group. (In fact, I later used  the success of the SPUR alumni in my pitch about Berkeley for potential grad students, and we had our most successful recruiting season in many years.)
  • Susan Eggers said the project led to lifelong friends, not just people that you sought out at conferences, but people you got together with on your free time.
  • Corinna Lee volunteered that the Berkeley model of projects with multiple faculty and many grad students is not at all typical in academia, that Berkeley has a radical culture by this measure.
  • Mark Hill volunteered that as an assistant professor he believes the advice he was given suggested that he shouldn't work with others, but he said "screw that" and worked with Jim and David to do (in the editor's opinion) great work. (Another Editor's note: I recall thinking I got the same advice at the same stage of my career, and gave the same reaction.)
  • Dave Lee thought the taste of success from SPUR paidoff in the rest of our careers, in that we learned what it takes to be successful. He mentioned that the president he hired had an MBA and taken many management classes, and that he marveled that when Dave was presented with a management crisis, that Dave always had the right instincts. Dave's answer to the question "How did you know that the right answer, given you've never taken a management class?" is that the SPUR project gave him the successful experience to build on for his company.
  • There were other testimonials about how important SPUR was to peoples lives, but Randy felt uncomfortable with so much praise, so we broke for lunch.

    Saturday Lunch

    The final meal gave a chance for many more informal discussions. Looking at the pictures, I've added my ownmv interpretations:
  • George explaining why ECL should have won/will win to Garth and Mendel, who are obviously in total agreement. (George's wife Marilee had heard this speech once or twice before, so I think she is asking Scott if he heard of new cures for monomania).
  • Kong, Andy, and Mike talking about the virtues of Sprite vs Orangina (My guess isOrgangina is an O.S. from France).
  • A table getting investment advice from Dave Lee;
  • Close-up of Paul Hansen and Terry Lessard-Smith listening intently.

  • (Terry, by the way made the reunion work, including arranging catering and refreshments and procuring of  jackets and shirts.)
  • John and Randy praising Jim's decision to join Microsoft Research.
  • Corinna Lee and Dave Hodges discussing when Canada will become the 51st state.
  • Ken explaining to Randy, David Wood, and Brent that Internet stocks are undervalued.
  • After Lunch Talks

    Scott Ritchie talked about his life in the San Juan Islands, where he spends some of his time as an organic farmer (as I recall) and some of his time as a technologist, giving short courses at different companies off-island.

    Dave Hodges spoke from the viewpoint of towards the end of his official career, as he had just officially retired after being Dean of the College of Engineering. He said that academics had been a great life, that interacting with bright students like those in SPUR and seeing them flourish had been a special reward, and  that unlike his friends who had taken the industrial path, he could not afford to pay more than $25,000 for a car nor could he afford more than one wife.


    At the end of the meeting, and in letters afterwards, I received many thanks for organizing the reunion, both from SPUR alumni and from SPUR spouses.

    Personally speaking, the reunion reminded me about my decision to go into academics. When deciding what to do, I read the book "Working" by Studs Terkel. What I got out of the book was that when people looked back towards the end of their careers, two groups felt very good about their career paths:

  • Architects and construction workers who had worked on projects that looked to last for hundreds of years, such as the Empire State Building or the Golden Gate Bridge;
  • Teachers and others who helped people, as they felt pride in the latter successes of those who they helped, and believed their careers made a difference in other peoples' lives.

  • What was said at the retreat is what I hoped someone would say one day when my wife and I chose an academic career path. My wife and I thought we were picking the poor but proud option (my annual salary was $15,100 in 1977, or $38,000 in 1999 dollars). The poor part didn't work out, but at the proud part sure did:  it was obvious that the SPUR alumni were great human beings as well as great technologists and entrepreneurs, and they said that faculty were important in their lives. What more could you ask?

    With this kind of response, ten-year reunions are now officially installed as an important part of the Berkeley  culture, along with retreats and multi-faculty, many graduate-student, hardware/software projects. Its not clear when the next SPUR reunion will be, but I know it will be memorable. Also, SPUR will again serve as a model for later projects to live up to, to see if their reunions can be as warm and successful as this one.