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Day 16 - Backbone

Level 10

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Jared Dunten is a loving husband and father, an extremely talented artist and copywriter, a fellow Aggie, and the quadriplegic survivor of an unfortunate diving accident.

Jared was paralyzed after diving into the Rio Grande in 2000 following a camping trip with a buddy from work. He began painting in 2002, and now continues to “paint himself out of the wheelchair,” focusing on not only his art, but his research advocacy for a cure for paralysis from spinal cord injury.

While Jared’s skill with a paintbrush is impressive by any standard, the fact that he expresses his vision while holding a brush in his mouth makes me feel both awe and a general sense of disappointment in my own skill level on a wide variety of subjects. His work spans a number of styles – some abstract, some incredibly detailed, landscapes, portraits, still life… I can’t imagine a subject he’s unable to capture beautifully.

He’s also an old college friend of my husband, which is how I came to meet him last weekend at his recent art show at Star Hill Ranch here in Austin. Matt and Jared spent some time catching up and talking about their days in the Corps at A&M, and I got to meet Jared’s wife Kimberly and their adorable twin sons, before our kids and I decided which pieces of his work we needed to add to our home.

We settled on a small print of The Chief and a canvas print of Randal, a bison in profile that we couldn’t get out of our heads. Jared shared that when he originally painted The Chief, the five-foot by five-foot canvas was so large that he continued to bump his feet into it as he leaned in to reach the canvas. He had to use extra-long brushes to avoid smudging his work, since he holds each one in his mouth. The detail of that work is incredible – I couldn’t paint as well if you gave me a decade to try.

As we wandered through the gallery, our son found Mea Culpa on a wall off to the side [as an original piece, it was protected from kids running around and adults with wine]. He retrieved me from the other side of the room, and quietly asked if it was about Jared’s accident. Four feet by two feet, it portrays a skeleton viewed from behind, and the detail and coloring appear purposefully unfinished, perhaps still under consideration.

While he was nervous to ask, my son asked Jared what the story behind the painting was. Jared explained that Mea Culpa means “my fault” in Latin. The work is his way of processing his accident, and his role in his resulting injury. It’s an acknowledgment of his responsibility, an expression of remorse, and an offering of forgiveness to himself for his injuries. He also shared that it’s a work progress – just as his healing process continues.

Despite the day-to-day challenges Jared and his family face, they’re as warm and kind as anyone you could meet. The twinkle in Jared’s eye and his broad smile are infectious, and his determination is obvious. He is confident that medical breakthroughs will one day allow him to walk again. I think he’ll be right.

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I meant to write this post differently. When I originally volunteered to write about the word backbone, I didn’t expect a both a figurative and literal connection – I just wanted to write about determination, scrappiness, staring down a challenge. Grit. But sometimes stories find their own way through.

I planned to write about my own challenges, and how being raised to have backbone in life helped me to overcome them. But suddenly, that seemed diary fodder, not helpful to anyone else, or interesting in any way. In considering his bravery, humor, confidence, courage, kindness, and joy I was struck by an entirely new imagining of the word – one personified by Jared himself. He’s both grit and grins.

Jared’s art show allowed Matt to reconnect with his old friend, and introduced me to someone I didn’t already know from those same A&M days. I knew Jared’s story before, and was as inspired by him then as I was meeting him in person.

Challenges incarnate variously. Some break us. It’s in the getting back up that we find our backbone. That getting back up may feel impossible or improbable. It can be an ongoing practice, day by day. It may take other hands to help lift us. And as we rise again, we may be more flexible, less rigid, but stronger none the less. It’s embracing that new possibility – that what comes after the tragedy may be a dawn different than what we expected – that proves our own backbones.

Because of the common Aggie heritage, and because inevitably, all thoughts of A&M lead me back to Robert Earl Keen, Jr. and my very favorite of his songs – The Front Porch Song – I’ve had this playing in my head while I’ve been writing this post. Now, you too can hum along.

This old porch is just a long time

Of waiting and forgetting

And remembering the coming back

And not crying about the leaving

And remembering the falling down

And the laughter of the curse of luck

From all of those sons-of-bitches

Who said we'd never get back up

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What are the challenges you've faced in life, in your career? What has tested your own backbone?

Image credit: Jared Dunten

Lyrics: Robert Earl Keen, Jr.

40 Comments
Level 11

It is backbone that takes you to the height you are determined to reach regardless of the challenges that come your way but some people just have a wishbone and stay where they have always been waiting for a somehow, somewhere, and someday. To have backbone is to be brave and courageous.

Back when my organization's network was isolated to northeastern Minnesota and northern Wisconsin, we used to talk about the "backbone" of our network.  The core & distribution equipment were thought of as a network brain and spine and spinal cord, with ribs branching out from that backbone running to the access switches.

When we merged with two other regional businesses in central Minnesota and eastern North Dakota, talk of a "network backbone" went away.

Our horizons expanded away from a local fiber plant, local MDF, local DC's and cores,and expanded another 250 miles away via extended MPLS and VPLS clouds and VPN services.  Suddenly it wasn't all about one flagship hospital, some ancillary hospitals, and a number of clinics and business offices.  It was about a hundred hospitals and clinics, providing millions of patient care experiences annually, via 17000 employees over tens of thousands of miles of fiber and copper.

Today, our organization's "backbone" is no longer hardware or software.  It's our people.  They bring it all together, they provide the strength that enables us to get anything done.  And they're infinitely more flexible and powerful than "just" the network.  They're our future and our past, our tribal knowledge and our innovators.  they're the ones standing up to challenges, improving security, advancing services, and making our organization a living, breathing, ever-changing organism dedicated to caring for people everywhere.

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First i wanted to say that was a great article.  Its amazing where inspiration comes from.  

Backbone is something i think of when i look at life and think of where i get strength to keep going, i think of the strength a good spine can give someone to stand.  when damaged well we can see the results easily.  When intact it is the central support to our selves which allows us to move freely, stand strong and climb over our obstacles.   As proven from your story you dont need the backbone to accomplish anything you wish you need the heart to want to do something and the desire to follow through.   In Technology also you can accomplish many thinigs with skills and time, but a good backbone will allow you to more easily maneuver about the systems, monitor for weakness and report on issues with in.  A strong Backbone in the tech world is essential to be a successful business and to have success as a IT pro regardless if that backbone is made of Cisco, HP, or the people around you, or the peer groups you have joined.  

Level 9

MVP
MVP

Thank you for sharing such an inspiring story.

In 2013 I had a prolapsed disc at my L5 vertebrae. To this day I have not encountered anything as painful as that injury. It was excruciating to stand/sit and the only way I could get the pain to stop was to lay flat. Luckily, my employer was understanding and I took some time off to recover (although boredom set in quite quickly and after a week I ended up doing some pieces of work with a laptop on my chest). After a couple of weeks of laying around and with the help of cortisone steroid tablets, the inflammation went down and I was able to move albeit awkwardly but some physio fixed that. i still occasionally have tinges of aching in that area if I push myself too hard.

I'm not sure how I'd handle permanent paralysis. I'd like to say that I could achieve as much as Jared Dunten and make the most of it but I honestly don't know.

Level 12

IT is the backbone of the company, Unseen and unheard most of the time.

Level 11

so true

Level 11

Image result for backbone cabling

Level 14

The backbone is the skeletal foundation of our bodies. It defines our strength and stature. To me having a backbone means being ready to defend what you believe in despite naysayers and undo pressure to conform. It is the skeletal foundation of our integrity as well.

jennebarbour Thank you for sharing this story. I find it interesting that you think your story would have been less inspiring. As I thought about my own stories I too kept wanting to tell another's stories. As the observer of someone else's life we don't see all the internal doubt, fear, and uncertainty. All the internal dialogue is obfuscated. We see the challenge and the result and are rightfully inspired. Yet when we look to ourselves we don't see the same grand results because we took every small step. We mustarded the strength everyday to get up and just do it, because that is just what you do. To others it appears we too have a strong backbone and do not slouch under the weight of a situation. But to us Meh....

So one of the people I think has the strongest backbone is my wife. I won't go into all the stories because they are her's to share. But I light-heartedly tell folks Oprah could have done two weeks of shows, each day a different topic, and discuss how she overcame or dealt with it. Yes most days I think she is pretty amazing.

For my story it was getting fired from a job. I had been working at some kind of job since I was in Junior HS. Always trying to do my best and most times making me employer very happy. This job I really was excited about and left a lot of friends and strong community ties to persue. Moving 4 hours away and taking a cut in pay for the potential I saw. It turned out way different than I was led to believe. Within 90 days I was out. Then on top of that the company I left decided to change the 401k provider and called in the loan we had taken to buy the new house we were in. It was just the deposit but with no job for either of us we could get a loan to pay it back. It was declared an early distribution and we had to pay a penalty. Well we survived and I have been at this job for 10 years now. It took a while to feel comfortable about my performance again. For the most part my bosses have been very pleased with my work. So they tell me. I have never felt as vulnerable as during those months of unemployment. It was a struggle everyday. But thru savings and loans guaranteed by family members we made it and are thriving once again.

Level 15

love this story. it reminds me of some friends i served with who have both spent years in rehab and surgeries from injuries sustained overseas. through it all; and even though they are thousands of miles apart from their core support systems, they’re both he most hopeful and excuse-free individuals i know.

the backbone they exhibit daily causes me to step back before allowing doubt or self-pity to take residence in my world. of course, negative feelings will pop up as they are want to do, but the perspective my friends gives me provides the right frame of mind to keep the negativit-visits brief.

Level 14

To me, when someone mentions backbone, two things come to mind.  The core part of our network and one of the part of me that hurts all the time.  Nothing anywhere comparable to the story above though.

Level 10

Maybe it's the phrase relating to growing a spine that's created this, but my first thought on the word backbone is to stand up for oneself. To borrow from the (second entry of the) dictionary, the backbone is "the chief support of a system or organization." In an odd way, the two are interlinked; in order to adequately support something (you, your department, your team) you have to sometimes have to take a stand, defend, and support them. I'm a long-time reader of Reddit's TalesFromTechSupport (I recommend it heartily) and sadly, an all-too common theme is one of a breakdown in the relationship between management and employee; where there's a lack of mutual support, and so there's a need for a tale to be told.

Level 10

The story above captured it perfectly. Thumbs up for Jaren Dunten. We all need to develop strong backbone to face the challenges of live.

MVP
MVP

The face of adversity is when a persons mettle comes through. Stories such as above, and no doubt we all know people that have life affecting changes occur and witness how they deal with that every minute of every day challenge.

I grew up with my mother suffering from severe Rheumatoid Arthritis which was and sadly still is an incredibly debilitating illness. Seeing the bravery, determination and ultimately positive outlook she had on life and making sure we as children did not get exposed to the true impact of that illness on her, I truly believe has shaped both mine and my brother's outlook on our own lives.

Another word of the day that has personal meaning - thanks

IT takes backbone to do what's right when everyone else settles for wrong.

IT takes backbone to suggest new ideas when everyone else answers "we ain't never done it that way before"

IT takes backbone to accept you are the responsible party when everyone else looks to shift blame.

IT takes backbone.

Level 9

Backbone gives use strength.  It is the what we build upon.  It also is our firm grounding and ethics.  Someone without backbone is no one.

Level 9

What happens when the backbone breaks? For most it’s the end of the story but that clearly wasn’t the case for Jared Dunten. There are two hopeful paths being researched, from the tech side there is robotics which is becoming
more integrated with eye movement and other forms of control. Then there is the medical front. I really hope there is a treatment for him that allows him to use his limbs again. It would be interesting to see what direction his life
takes then.

Level 12

Your backbone is someone who is there for you through thick n thin.

Level 12

It takes backbone to be a light in this world.

Level 9

Wow, that was an inspirational story and totally not what I expected for backbone.  I also frequently feel "a general sense of disappointment in my own skill level on a wide variety of subjects".  In those times of insecurity I need to remind myself that I am not perfect and other people don't expect me to be perfect.  I'm where I'm meant to be right now.  .

Level 9

I see backbone as the thing that makes you stand your ground when others get in your face. Sometimes (most of the times) you just have to say no.

Level 10

Backbone: Standing up for what's right no matter who objects.

Still needs to be tempered with maturity and intelligence, so that you make your stand on things that are actually important.

Level 12

In life, backbone is a lot of things. (which I agree with other comments above)

In our field, there is a lot of gray area in sticking up for what you think is right or being open to possibly being wrong.

So, when I think of backbone at work - I think of owning your mistakes and failures, not making excuses or passing blame.

Level 10

When I think of Backbone, I think in the context of speaking up. In business it is usually speaking up when a person knows something is wrong, or should be changed, when speaking with superiors. We usually say a person has no backbone if they do not speak up. I feel a lot of issues could be mitigated if the person who holds the truth and in a tactful manner takes it to the appropriate person.

Level 9

That is a an amazing story and makes my challenges feel small. Needless to say I found my backbone when I was passed over for a promotion that i was qualified for. After 17 years the writing was on the wall and I decided to take a plunge and find a new job. I am happy and relatively stress free getting out of that environment.

Level 9

What can I say that hasn't been said already? Throughout life your experiences will test you and you need to have backbone to conquer those tests.

Level 12

Backbone can mean a lot of different things. In the end it all comes down to the same basic core meaning though. A structural support that everything else depends on to stand up. This can be anything from a human being with their spine, to the network of your building with its fiber connects to all closets.

Backbone is one of those over-used terms that exist. "She is the backbone of this organization." "He is the backbone of this team." No. No they're not.

Backbone, in a metaphorical sense, is the upright that gives formation to the structure. Supporting framework branches off the backbone to shape out the structure. Without the backbone the structure will eventually collapse. Survival is a separate conversation.

In a business sense companies plan to continue to operate if their backbone fails as part of their business continuity planning. Many companies are now successful in their contingency planning in case their backbone (backbone = one, or many, technologies, resources or business processes) fails. It can be done. Life can go on and be productive with a failed backbone.

Level 10

The toe bone's connected to the foot bone,

The foot bone's connected to the ankle bone,

The ankle bone's connected to the leg bone,

The leg bone's connected to the knee bone,

The knee bone's connected to the thigh bone,

The thigh bone's connected to the hip bone,

The hip bone's connected to the backbone

The backbone's connected to the neck bone,

The neck bone's connected to the head bone,

Now shake dem skeleton bones!

I see backbone as being the kind of person that doesn't give up on challenges, the kind that doesn't give in to blank adversity. I've been raised with both my entire life and have (figuratively) broad shoulders to carry the burdens that both imply. I'm immensely grateful for my first IT job for challenging the hell out of me - mentally and physically, as lfransen​ can certainly attest. At the same time, I grew up with people who were very firm in their beliefs and only respected when I was equally firm with my own. Sometimes you just have that intuition that regardless of the current situation that you either just need to hold strong and that things will get better. They do. Life really is a blessing, even if it changes all the time in some ways that may not be considered positive.

Level 10

I told patrick.hubbard​ over the weekend that the word "Backbone" was in my brain, and that I had somehow also forgotten it sits on my desk... everyday. One of my favorite Elizabeth Gilbert quotes - Richard from Texas in Eat, Pray, Love to his young padawan, Groceries, captured by Kruse Folk Art:

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Level 21

Wow, thanks for sharing that amazing story, in comparison it makes so many other things seem trivial and provides perspective on the things we should be thankful for during the holidays.

When I saw the word Backbone (like others) I immediately thought of the backbone of the company.  I think it's important that companies understand what makes up their backbone when it comes to people.  At the end of the day people are the backbone of just about every company and it's important to keep that backbone healthy as it's what supports your entire organization, without it the company will collapse.

Level 17

As parents of young kids, my wife and I found it difficult to justify the expense of a night out. But of course, every couple needs some time, right? We found a work-around by attending parenting classes. Lots of them - sometimes one a week. They became a kind of hobby for us. We'd go, listen to the lecture, and then pick up a coffee and talk over what we'd heard before heading home to relieve the babysitter.

One of the things that stuck with me from that time was a quote from Barbara Coloroso (author of "Winning at parenting without beating your kids"). She described three types of parenting styles:

  • "Brick wall" is your typical authoritarian, "my way or the highway" type of parenting.
  • "Jellyfish" parenting is the opposite extreme - laissez-faire, collapsing under the slightest pressure.
  • "Backbone" parenting - a set of guidelines that provide support and structure to the entire system (ie: the family) while being flexible enough to bend and adapt.

But there's more to the idea of a backbone that I think we can take with us - both in our IT and personal lives (besides, you know, HAVING one).

In both IT and biological terms, a backbone is the message transmission system, but it goes beyond that in several significant ways:

  • Autonomic responses all originate in the backbone (ie: the spine). This is not a flaw, it's a feature built into the system.
    • In biology, we're talking about breathing, reflex actions, and the like. These allow us to react without the need for cognitive thought to avoid imminent danger.
    • In IT, this is monitoring and automation. You don't want to wake staff at 2am when the disk fills, you want an autonomic nervous system to just clear the TEMP drive and move on. Infrastructure-as-code, PaaS, containers, and DevOps have taken our concept of servers to a point where they can be instantiated, torn down, and re-built without the need for "cognition" (that is, staff participation).
  • The backbone allows the "self" to understand what is happening "outside".
    • In biology, if we view the brain as the core of the person, then from the standpoint of pure mechanics the idea that the brain could know what is happening at the fingertip (let alone the pinky toe) is an engineering nightmare. A backbone makes all of that possible.
    • In tech, as so many others have already commented, the idea of a network backbone is just as important. WIthout it, getting data to multiple remote points becomes an architectural nightmare that far too many of us have experienced.
  • Moreover, the backbone allows one to transform thought into action
    • Biologically speaking, this is the converse of my previous point. If getting messages about heat, pressure, and the like FROM the extremities TO the brain is hard, then getting impulse messages from the brain back out to drive muscles in complex patterns is equally difficult if not moreso.
    • In terms of IT, I believe this would be the use case for SDN. The control plane is constantly receiving input about the shape of traffic, and autonomously adjusting rules to optimize flow.

Finally, there's a lesson from biology that we can carry with us in our personal as well as technical lives. In terms of development, an embryo will develop the core cells in the 2nd week after conception. In the 3rd week the foundational cell systems form. In the 4th week, the nervous system and circulatory system are present. My point is that immediately after an we concieve of an idea - whether that's an idea for a product, a building, a team, or even an idea of who we should become - the very next thing that needs to happen is to ensure this new creation has:

  1. a heart - an emotional core that delivers nutrients to every other part. This heart must be strong enough to continue to do this job throughout the lifespan of this new thing.
  2. a spine - an ethical core that can both react without the need for deliberation when basic values are at risk; and also receive data about what is happening at the extremities and transmit signals on how to move after that data has been carefully considered.
Level 20

What comes to mind for me is NIPR, SIPR, DREN, and SDREN.  Those are some pretty big backbones.

Level 10

First thing that comes to my mind:

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MVP
MVP

In the medical world the backbone carries the nerves from the entire body back to the brain. In the network world the backbone was considered the connection back to the central processing be that a main frame or a data center. With the increase in power of machines and the increase of the cloud and Internet we see more and more the reduction of a backbone and more and more of an interconnected community of computing devices. To some this is a welcome change as we are better able to share resources and compute. To some this could be scary and seen as the beginning of the Borg. There is a trend afoot to incorporate technology into the human body. From the Google glasses "extension" to high tech monitoring of the heart, to chips for identification.

Level 9

Experience is the backbone to wisdom

Level 12

How many ISPs have a good backbone. The backbone is the spine.

So how many ISPs have a good spine.

Level 10

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