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.