Sunday, July 08, 2007

Sexual Harassment

I write this with trepidation, with due apologies to my wife, and fully aware of the vast difference between what I'm going to write about and true sexual harassment. But I write it anyway.

I am an honorable man. Happily married to a wonderful woman, who, like many people, has a jealous streak. I'm a photographer, and thus very visually attuned. More importantly, though, I'm a man, and thus very visually attuned. So I admire women, but not in a gross leering sort of way. I love the company of women, I enjoy their beauty, their grace, their voices, and of course, their bits and pieces. Being, however, an honorable man who does right by his sometimes-jealous wife, I try not to enjoy the bits and pieces too much.

Last Friday was not easy.

As I'm sitting in the cafeteria, I notice a pretty woman on her way to the dessert table. She's wearing a black-and-white horizontal-striped top and a pretty pink just-above-the-knee cotton skirt that's got some nice lines to it -- flared just enough to draw attention. As she walks past, I notice that it looks like the top is not actually a top, but perhaps a leotard, because I can see black and white stripes through the fabric of the skirt. But wait, the stripes are different. It's at this point that I realize that she's wearing zebra-striped panties that are showing through the skirt. Being, as I said, a man, and thus very visually attuned, well... you get the picture. Let's just say the lunch conversation was harder to follow until she was back at her table.

Now, here's the thing: I understand the concept of a hostile work environment, and I understand wanting to look nice (I've considered dressing nicer myself), but it seems like there's a line one shouldn't cross in a workplace, and zebra-striped panties under a translucent pink skirt is a serious Lorelei moment for those of us who are honorable men. Don't you think? Sexual harassment? Ya gotta wonder.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Impeach Them Now

It's funny how it's the small things that really get to you. How the camel's back really can be broken by something as insignificant as a straw. For nearly 6 1/2 years we've watched, and occasionally protested, as Bush and Cheney have degraded their offices and this country. For nearly 6 1/2 years these people who pledged to bring honor and integrity "back" to the White House have stained that building with rapacious self-interest. With the commuting of Scooter Libby's sentence, the camel lies immobile on the ground. The trail of high crimes and misdemeanors are clear for all to see. Congress should impeach them both. Do it now.

For an inspired rant on the topic, watch Keith Olbermann on MS-NBC.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Smokers are Idiots

These days I walk a lot. Up the hill from the ferry to the bus. From the bus to the office. Back again. I wait for the bus a lot too. Everywhere I go, I'm walking into clouds of smoke, because everywhere I go, there are people smoking. In cars with their windows rolled down. At bus stops with no-smoking signs. Huddled outside buildings getting rained on and shivering. What is wrong with these people? They pay $5 - $10 per day for the privilege. Interestingly, when you hear these personal finance gurus on Oprah, they'll talk about not buying a daily latte but I have yet to hear them tell someone they should stop smoking. $3,600/year is a heck of a lot of dough.

I've got no problems with people harming themselves, so long as I don't end up paying for it somehow. People should be able to smoke in their own homes (though if they have kids, it smacks of child abuse). Whatever. But not near me.

Look, if someone enjoyed sniffing nitrous oxide and walked around with a canister of it whiffing from a tube so that a bunch of it went into other people's lungs and left them woozy and disoriented, we wouldn't allow that. If someone wore a hat that spun a monofilament line around them to enforce a 3-foot personal space, we wouldn't allow that. So what gives with smokers?

Don't they feel stupid and manipulated and pathetic? That's certainly how I see them. If you're a smoker, you start out at a serious respect deficit with me. I've got friends who smoke, but it's definitely in spite of their idiocy; they're pretty special people, or it wouldn't be worth it.

People can do whatever they want so long as the only person they harm is themselves, but this smoking in public crap has to stop. It has to.

Monday, June 04, 2007

In Memoriam

We lost our eldest cat Max yesterday. Came home from running some errands to find him seizing on the kitchen floor, with foamy spit coming out of his mouth, eyes and head twitching, lying in a puddle of pee. Grabbed him up, wrapped him in a towel and sped off to the emergency room, but the reality of rural life is, emergencies don't get fixed when the ER is half an hour away, no matter how much you speed. Not that I think there was anything really to do for him.

Max came to us in 1997. Appeared on our porch one night. I said hi and gave him a good scritching, but didn't let him in. Two nights later he was back, meowing like a cat in heat, with a row of tomcats lurking in the street. Mari said we couldn't let the cat get pregnant and let Angela (yes, we named her) in the house, then we called our cat sitter who also ran a rescue group (we already had four cats at the time). As we were leaving a message though, Max walked across the desk and we noticed (finally) his cojones. We told the rescue lady's answering machine it didn't need to pass on the message. We tried changing his name to Angelo, but that didn't work; a couple days later, while we were waiting for the vet, he became Max, and Max he remained. Maximillian sometimes. Maxwell others. Maximus, too. But usually just Max.

He was a tuxedo cat -- by which I mean he was black with a white chest -- with some white on his paws and whiskers that would have made Salvador Dali proud: white, and long, and curved just so. Around that time I bought a silly screen saver that had a cat come on your screen and you could give it balls of yarn to play with, and it would jump on top of your windows, and meow. The tuxedo cat acted so much like Max, we accused him of modelling and not handing over his pay.

He was silly, with lots of toes to spare. His extra thumb, and toes, on his front right paw almost allowed him to grab things, like the refried beans from my take-out container. He loved going into pizza boxes, and once when I was carving a pumpkin for Halloween, he kept putting his head and paws into the pumpkin to get at the stringy stuff. (When I scan in the picture, I'll put it here.) When I'd come home from work, he'd come walking down the street to meet me. He liked to sit on the ottoman, half on my legs, and purr. Loved kids, just loved them. The only cat I know who actually approaches toddlers.

About 5 years ago, responding to a non-specific fever, the vet gave him 10mg pills of Baytril, an antibiotic. I noticed that his eyes seemed to be overly dilated and he wasn't tracking the peacock feather as well as before. I called the vet to tell him that, and he assured me it couldn't be the antibiotic doing it. Yet another lesson in trusting my instincts. I stopped the antibiotics the next day, but it was too late: Max was one of the one in 124,210 cats who was sensitive to Baytril at the recommended dose, and the side effect was retinal damage. The opthamologist that Bayer paid for said, "wow. I haven't seen that layer of the retina since vet school." A couple months later, when Mari saw him walking down the street completely oblivious to the car bearing down on him, Max became an indoor cat.

He did have his downsides, as we all do. He used his bladder as a weapon. If we weren't giving him what he wanted, he would look at us, turn his butt toward something, and let loose. The bookcase. The curtains (multiple times). The chair in which I was sitting. We tried various things, but in the end it was Paxil that mellowed him out. 2.5mg 2x/day. We called it Maxil.

He also used to masturbate on a cashmere throw we had on the bed. I don't know if that's really what he was doing, but it's the only word that fits the scene. When you were making his breakfast, he liked to rear up and bop behind your knee with his front paws. Only mildly annoying unless his claws were sharp, then I would push him away with my other foot.

He was goofy, as tuxedo cats tend to be. Climbing under papers. Hiding in boxes. Looking at me from the top of the (empty) china cabinet, or from inside the TV cabinet. He didn't move quickly, except when food was involved. He bulked up to 15 or 16 pounds (once, because his abdomen was so firm and swollen, at our vet's recommendation -- yes the same one who said the antibiotics couldn't be affecting Max's eyes -- we spent $500 taking him to a specialist, whose conclusion was that Max was fat; we made up a certificate to that effect and had both vets sign it). He had lost weight over the last year, down to 11ish. He loved to go outside when we would let him. Putting a harness on him was pretty funny, as he'd roll on his back and not move. So no walkies for Max.

What else can I say about Max, other than that I miss him terribly. We gave him a very good life, but I wish there would have been more of it.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

E = mc**2

A reformulation for the technology industry: energy = mission times the square of the available cash. True in general? Maybe, though in the case of webvan and other .com singularities, the energy didn't actually go anywhere. But it is the case at Google. It's really quite astonishing the amount of energy at the place, especially in Mountain View, where there are so many people and so many of them moving places. From desk to meeting to tech talk to volleyball to food to foosball to the gym to the future. And people move quickly. And talk quickly. They make quick decisions and go on to the next thing.

The last time I felt so energized at work was when I was just out of college and building a graphical operating system that was going to bring the brilliance of the Mac to people with low-end IBM PCs. We were going to revolutionize the world of computing by writing a system in the oldest high-level language (assembly language), for old computers, that would let them do the most modern of computer-enabled tasks. If only we hadn't fired all the marketing people, they could have told us that people with old computers tend not to like buying new things. Ah well. Last I heard, the system was still being put on refurbished PCs and made available to people in developing countries. So maybe it is changing the world, in some way.

My point, though, is that it's wonderful to be at a place filled with people with ideas, energy, and the resources to make them a reality. Such a contrast from Openwave. Relativity, indeed.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Noogie the Noogler

Well, it's 10pm and my first day at the Google is complete. Not a bad day. Learned a bunch of things (yo, openwavers: I can't forward your resumes until 30 march next year because Google doesn't want even the appearance of violating my non-solicitation agreement with openwave; I'm sad to miss out on the referral bonuses). So much more to learn. On the plus side, I'm now clear who my manager is.

The food really is as good as they say. It was a very interesting sight: 7:30 at night, and a few hundred people are still at the office eating dinner; not sure how many of them went home after that, but the energy was really nice.

I think I made the right choice. We'll see what I think after a couple weeks of commuting.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Support the Troops

I was watching The Daily Show the other day, where Jon was interviewing Jeremy Scahill about his new book, and it came out that a "private security" person in Iraq earns in a month what a soldier earns in a year. That is just so wrong on so many levels. Then it occurred to me: this society runs on money, so a really effective way to get the troops out of Iraq while smelling like a rose would be to dramatically increase their combat pay and make staying in Iraq prohibitively expensive.
  • You're taking care of the troops
  • You're paying something closer to what the market has set as the value of the service
  • Can you really see Shrub vetoing this?

Seems like a winner to me.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Story of My Life

Books and movies are dangerous. I spent much of my childhood immersed in books. Nine Princes in Amber. Dragonriders of Pern. Tolkein. Heinlein. Dune. Mary Renault. World upon world where stories unfolded with heroic protagonists. Plot was inevitable and characters had purpose. Their fate mattered, yet didn't matter. I cared for them and their situations -- I cried and raged and came up for air expecting to be, and sometimes acting like I was, in that world -- but they weren't real.

The experience left me feeling like my own life was a story. I would walk to school with a sense that I was 6 feet up and behind myself, watching myself walk to school, watching my life unfold. Nothing bad really happened in my life (though my parents' divorce threw me for a loop, and I cried when my first hamster died). I feel that anything bad that does happen to me is subject to revision; if not that, it's happening in a story and doesn't really matter.

Yet it is my life.

The whole thing has left me somewhat ill-equipped to deal with life. Eternally optimistic and trusting. Uncommitted to much. Lacking the passion and drive that come from a feeling of limits and the approach of death. Working on software as if I've got all the time in the world (have I mentioned that, until quite recently, I've been working on my 5th platform for mobile applications?). Some recent health issues left me panic-stricken at night, sure that my pounding heart was going to lead to, what is it they say on "Grey's Anatomy"? "v-tach"? At other times I go for weeks without taking my blood pressure, sure that things will be fine, because so far they always have been, and if they're not, I'll just edit the story. I'm afraid I'm going to wake up when I'm 80 and say to myself, wait! you mean that was all real? I don't get to try it another way?

But life is not fiction. Life has limits. Time goes forward. There is no second edition.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

All in the Family

I'm halfway through my 8th year of not speaking to my mother. The proximate cause was a flame letter she wrote me one month after my wedding, where she said I was arrogant (even my camp counsellors said so) and a coward and that I'd raised victimization to a high art. She concluded that (my paraphrase) unless I was able to keep my feelings to myself and keep that bitch of a wife in line, she could no longer be in my life. The break had been building for 33 years. Since then, she's sent me occasional birthday cards (including one 2 weeks after she sent me that letter, including a small packet of some fruity tea), and a hear-you're-having-a-hard-time-if-you-want-to-talk-about-it-give-me-a-call card, after I was laid off just before I could quit my job in 2001. Oh, and an email asking if she could print out one of my photographs from my website, rather than purchase one; had to save her money for her trips to Russia and Spain, I guess. Not that I'm bitter.

I've known people who've been really badly mistreated by their parents or siblings who continue to remain engaged with them, because they're "family". I've also seen so many people who treat their friends far better, with far more care and consideration, than they do their family. I've been guilty of this myself (though in my defense -- and there's always a defense -- I tend to be a spotty communicator with everyone, but if a member of my family shows up, I do drop / rearrange everything to spend whatever time they're willing to spare). There's this attitude that, to paraphrase Robert Frost, "[family] is...where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." But family should be so much more than this.

Family should be your bedrock. Family should be the people with whom you'd most like to be spending time. There should be no question or worry that you might be intruding on them if you want to visit, no fear that they might not want to spend time with you; visiting family shouldn't require an invitation, engraved or otherwise. Of course, lives are what they are, and some times are better than others, but if someone's too busy to see you, they should be able to say so, without fear you'll read something into it. Family should be trust, and care, and value, and interdependence, and honesty, and heritage, and loyalty, and support. It is not shared genes, or obligation (though as in marriage, that's sometimes all you have to get you through the inevitable rough spots; it's all the rest of it that keeps those rough spots short).

My first falling-out with my twin came when we were 17. We'd been growing apart through middle school and high school, and I couldn't understand why; I even wrote a poem about it. When we finally talked about it, in the bedroom we shared in Switzerland, with the lights out, I said I felt like I didn't know him well but I wanted to know him better -- I think I said our older brother had said that my twin had changed and I should see who he was now -- and he said he didn't want to know me better. (To give his side of it, as I understand it, he felt that I hadn't given a damn about him and to hell with me if I was just now, a couple months before we went to opposite coasts to go to college, interested in knowing him.) He could give me no reason as to why and didn't understand why he needed one: he didn't need one to disregard anyone he met through other means than sharing a uterus. I said then what I still believe: family is special, and you'd better have a damn good reason for disassociating from someone in your family. But when most of what you get from someone in your family is pain and sadness, withdrawal is important / good / appropriate; family doesn't trump self-protection.

Family is as family does. The best of friendships evolve to be family. In my life, I distinguish between "relatives" and "family". Relatives have something of a claim on me, more than a random person on the street, and they remain in that camp until they demonstrate they should be in "family" or "disowned". For family, I will sacrifice / put up with a lot.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Why Hate the Jews?

Random thought resurrected by listening to a piece on NPR about the gospel according to Judas: how is it that Christians have through history villified the Jews for having turned Jesus over to the Romans for crucifiction, when the death of Jesus (in my mind the willingness of Jesus to die relying on his faith that he was in fact the son of god and would be resurrected) is the central act that redeemed their sorry asses? Did the Jews not do them a favor?