Paul Allen – The Idea Man At Microsoft

Vanity Fair had published an early excerpt of the forthcoming new book, “Idea Man: A Memoir of The Cofounder of Microsoft” by Paul Allen, who cofounded Microsoft with Bill Gates before they both dropped out of college to build the world’s fifth largest corporation. This should be a fascinating reading for anyone who is interested in Silicon Valley history. The excerpt focused on creating the BASIC programming language for the Altair microcomputer in 1975, and how Gates repeatedly tried to increase his ownership of Microsoft at Allen’s expense in 1983. Already there reports that Allen’s recollections of key events at Microsoft are being questioned by others who there at the time.

Although I had read nearly every book on Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak at Apple, I haven’t read that many books on the cofounders at Microsoft. The few that I had read were focused on the federal antitrust case against Microsoft, which, from my perspective, was nothing more than a government shakedown to increase the amount of money that Microsoft spent on Washington lobbyists to spread the wealth around. (Apple, which is also facing a possible antitrust investigation, is now hiring more Washington lobbyists.) If I’m not mistaken, this is the first insider account about the early days of Microsoft.

If you read “Hackers: Heroes of The Revolution Computer Revolution” by Stephen Levy, the story about the Altair BASIC that Allen and Gates put together, and the controversy a year later when hobbyists were stealing their software, is well known.

What Allen brings to the story is the behind scenes account of how the program was put together. They didn’t have actual hardware to test the code on since the company producing the Altair microcomputer was no better than a fly-by-night operation, putting electronic parts into a plastic bag for hobbyists to put together. The Apple II several years later would become the first assembled computer for the home market that didn’t require users to own a soldering iron.

Using the Intel 8080 microprocessor guide as a reference, they rented time on an underused PDP-10 minicomputer at Harvard (which school officials later frowned upon), and created a software program of the hardware to develop their software on. They worked non-stop in the familiar Silicon Valley grind to make the deadline in two months, often missing classes and regular jobs until they had more or less dropped out altogether.

The BASIC program worked fine on the simulated hardware, but what about the real thing? Allen took the paper tape—the common storage method back then—to New Mexico, wrote a quick-and-dirty bootstrap loader program on the plane to have the Altair load the BASIC program into memory, and it worked flawlessly. Microsoft had it first sale and the rest was history.

Much hay is being made out of the fact that Gates tried to squeeze Allen out of the business. This isn’t surprising in Silicon Valley. When a startup stops being a small business and starts attracting serious outside money, there can only be one dominant founder to claim all the credit and glory for the company’s success. Everyone else is either shoved overboard or long forgotten. Besides, Gates wanted to run a Fortune 500 company since he was 13-years-old. Even Allen was wise to step aside in the face of such ambitions when the time came for him to leave the company.

Scaring Young People To Save More With The Proteus Effect

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article about scaring young people into saving more money for their retirement by showing them a digital image of themselves when they are in their 70s. Researchers at Stanford Labs have determined that if young people see who they will become in 50 years, they will feel more sorry of about themselves and take the most appropriate action. This is known as the Proteus effect, according to the article, where changes made in the virtual world often reflect changes made in the physical world.

How does the Proteus effect make people more willing to save? “Imagine that you just got a horrible haircut or bought a great new suit,” says Jeremy Bailenson, a virtual-reality researcher who runs the Stanford lab. “You already know that your physical appearance affects your attitudes, your emotions and your behavior even if you’re not consciously thinking about it. The same thing happens in virtual reality, when you become this person with a different body or face. Those features of your avatar affect your mind.”

After reading the article a half-dozen times, I think the writer took the latest scientific research in virtual worlds to re-slant a generic article about saving more money for retirement. I seriously doubt that young people would go to a financial adviser to see a virtual image of themselves in their 70s to scare themselves into saving more money. If young people want to see what they look like in the future, one look at their grandparents should be enough to scare them. Most older people haven’t saved enough, were wiped out when the real estate market crashed, or haven’t considered that being retired means spending way less money to live within their means.

If they are going to a financial advisor in the first place, saving more money will already be on their list of priorities. Most credible financial advisers would recommend saving six months of living expenses for a rainy day fund, max out all available retirement funding options, and use any left over money for investments. Of course, there are plenty of financial advisors who would churn the account to generate fees for themselves and use gimmicks like virtual images to beguile gullible suckers.

The Delaware Chancy Court ruled against the private equity buyout of Del Monte Foods because the bank was managing all sides of the transactions to generate excessive fees. Once upon a time in America, the financial industry used to grow wealth by investing in new companies with innovative products. Not anymore. Now the financial industry is all about slicing-and-dicing the same ever smaller pie of wealth at the expense of everyone else.

According to the Wikipedia article, the Proteus effect describes the changes people make when playing an online avatar that doesn’t reflect any changes made in real life. Another article describes how people who played tall avatars were more willing to make outrageous demands and people who played shorter avatars were more unwilling to accept an unfair offer when trading. All this research is quite fascinating.

My second novel project is about two hacker groups to going to war inside a virtual world that uncovers in an international conspiracy. I’m hoping this will be a modern successor to “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson, which introduced avatar and virtual worlds before the technology became even practical. The Proteus effect, and the differences between the real and virtual worlds, will be a central theme.

When I was testing Unreal II and Unreal Tournament 2004 at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owners, multiple identity crises), I selected a female avatar for multiplayer games for a very simple reason: everyone else—including the female testers—were using male avatars. By being the only female avatar with a wicked sniper rifle in the game, everyone in the department knew who was scoring multiple head shots. I grinned every time my name was cursed out loud over the cubicle walls. Management asked me to stop using the sniper rifle. I switched to the rocket launcher, the cursing still didn’t stop.

Using a female avatar wasn’t because I wanted a smaller waist, woman-boobs and more options to fondle myself, or have a latent desire for a sex change operation, in real life. Using a female avatar was about being standing out in the crowd. As the old Japanese saying goes, “The nail that sticks out the most gets hammered the most.” Naturally, my female avatar was an Asian woman of modest portions. It’s all about having fun. Nothing more, nothing less.

Now I don’t play MMORPGs where playing an avatar of the opposite sex requires a distinctive mindset (i.e., you can’t play a female avatar like you would a male avatar). Those players often invest significantly more time and money into maintaining their avatars that the differences between the virtual and the real can blur significantly. (A great book about that would be “Play Money: Or, How I Quit My Day Job and Made Millions Trading Virtual Loot” by Julian Dibbell.) But it can also lead to some awkward conversations: “You do know you’re trying to pick on up on a fat white guy in his underwear?”

Tuesday, 29 March 2011 @ 3:00PMThe Wall Street Journal writer posted a followup article defending his logic for scaring young people into saving. Didn’t make sense last week, still doesn’t make sense this week.

Rolling 125,000 Miles On The Old Speedometer

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Today I rolled 125,000 miles on the speedometer for my 1994 Pontiac Grand Prix. Not that I had driven all those miles. My Dad bought this car from a little old lady 12 years ago when the speedometer had 50,000 miles. (Why a little old lady would drive the descendant of a classic American muscle car  still baffles me after all these years.) When he abandoned the car in my carport three years ago as a birthday present (he told my brother that the car was worth $1,000, but not the way he meant: the Blue Book value was $400 and it cost me $600 in insurance, registration and smog), the speedometer had 13,000 miles. I drove 7,000 miles since then, half in the last year from driving to and from Sacramento where Dad lives. Since he got out of the hospital and stayed with me for two months before going back home, the social worker required that someone from the family pays him regular visits to help him stay out of the hospital. I was in Sacramento when the speedometer turned over.

Since I started working as a disconnect/reconnect PC technician for a moving company on the weekends, I been driving all over San Mateo county (north-west of Silicon Valley). I started my day at 7:30AM in Palo Alto for six hours of work at Facebook. (Several weeks ago I actually walked past Mark Zuckerberg as I arrived for and he was leaving work; seldom do I walk pass Silicon Valley royalty, much less a bona fide billionaire.) When I drive to Sacramento from my apartment, I take the 680 up the east bay, the 580 into Stockton and the I-5 to Sacramento to avoid paying the $5 bridge toll at Benicia. On the way back I take the 80 to the 680 since there is no bridge toll going south. Going from the west bay to the east bay over the bay was something I never done as a driver, although I did drive over the Golden Gate bridge for a Cheech & Chong show in Roseville.

I took Page Mill Road out to the 101. There are no tolls for going east on the bridges. I could have taken the Dumbarton bridge but that wasn’t the most direct route to where I was going, and the rain storm passing through the region flooded out the connecting road. I drove over the San Mateo bridge into Hayward. The bridge itself goes up and over  from this side to allow small ships to enter the south bay. At one point in the 1920s, San Jose was supposed to be a seaport that would rival San Francisco, Oakland and Stockton. Never did happen because dredging the deeper channels for larger ships became too expensive. Once you’re over the bridge, a man-made road cuts across the bay. Being surrounded by water on both sides and pouring rain coming straight down made me wonder when a tsunami wave or sea creature would come over the road to wash everyone way.

Dad told me that I could take the 92 out to Jackson to drive through Oakland into the 580, but he haven’t driven in the area for over 20 years. The 92/880 interchange is currently being rebuilt and the Jackson exit no longer exist. I ended up on the 880. Fortunately, the 238 to the 580 was the very next exit and my stay on the 880 was brief. Traffic was horrible since a soccer game was scheduled to play at the Oakland Coliseum. The 880 is probably the most miserable stretch of freeway in the San Francisco Bay Area. When I used to take Amtrak to visit my parents in Sacramento, I always dreaded taking the train that ended in Oakland and continued on bus to San Jose. Those buses had unpadded seats and I had felt every vibration driving through pothole paradise.

Wasn’t long before I drove through Castro Valley for the first time, a place that I had heard frequently about from the radio traffic reports but never quite knew where it was, crossing over the 680 to take my regular route to Sacramento. There was no fog going through Altamont Pass, which can be eerily experience seeing a solid wall of fog and knowing that there was a cliff face on the other side of the guardrail. I would have preferred the fog over driving through every variation of rain. It got worst on the I-5. One moment it would be a light sprinkle, the next moment a near zero visibility downpour. When I got to Dad’s place in Sacramento, he told me it has been raining like that for the last two weeks.

Dad is doing quite well. He finds new ways to keep himself busy while helping out the neighbors. One neighbor works for a vending machine company, where he has to take old vending machines to the county dump that cost $30 each. Dad strips down the vending machine to salvage all the wood and metals, keeping the $10 he gets from taking everything down to the recyclable center. He takes the unused wooden pallets from another neighbor, pulls out the old nails for the recycling center, and gives the lumber to a recently retired neighbor who started building birdhouses and chicken coops as a part time job to keep himself busy as his wife continues to work. Everyone in the neighborhood is happy.

When he was still doing construction work, Dad was the ultimate road warrior. He had a one-ton flatbed truck that he drove for ten years before he and the truck both retired, criss-crossing the San Francisco Bay Area to turn the speedometer over after one million miles. Every year Dad and I would crawl underneath the truck to replace the throwout bearing in the transmission. One year, after the engine blew up from going over the Santa Cruz mountains on the 17 and was rebuilt at the repair shop, he was in a screaming fit because the mechanics had replaced all the American-sized nuts and bots with metric-sized nuts and bolts. We spent one miserable weekend replacing every single one of them since he didn’t want metric nuts and bolts in his American made truck. He eventually sold the truck to another construction company that had salvage the engine from a similar truck  that was totaled in a rollover.

My 17-year-old car is still running fine after fixing nearly every major problem that Dad had trouble with but forgot to tell me about. An oil change is three months overdue, the shocks needs to be replace, and a tune up is badly needed since the last one was ten years ago. Expensive repairs that need to be done as I soon as a get a regular full time job. The 1984 model year was a very good year for the Pontiac Grand Prix (although my car is half 1993 and half 1994 when it comes to finding parts). If properly maintained, my car could last another 125,000 miles. At $320 per year for car insurance, I just might drive it into the ground.

Duke Nukem Forever’s New Fanny Smacking Feature

The Penny Arcade web comic had a strip about Duke Nukem Forever’s new game feature. Alas, the punchline within the strip falls flat and the commentary that goes with it was incoherent (as often is the case). But, this is the reason why I read this particular web comic, it points out that Duke Nukem Forever—the AAA-title first person shooter that’s been in development since 1996—has a new feature. What kind of new feature? The ability for Duke “Come Get Some” Nukem—think John Wayne on steroids—to physically throw a woman over his shoulder and smack her fanny in a Capture The Babe multiplayer mode.

The Duke Nukem video game franchise always did treat women as a sex objects. The first level of the original game featured a strip club and porno theater where the women strippers danced on the tables and showed their pixelated boobs for money. (Not surprisingly, there was a hack to remove the pixelation.) Now DNF will have a Capture The Babe multiplayer game mode, which should be outrageously over the top without being too sexist and too politically incorrect. Then again, maybe not.

When I worked at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owners, multiple identity crises), I tested “Duke Nukem: Land of The Babes” for the Playstation in 2000. The Duke was brought into the future to rescue Earth from the evil aliens after all the male humans were killed off, leaving behind an all female resistance force. Yes, there was a strip club and porno theater in the space station. I don’t recall seeing any pixelated boobs. I did find a blurry black-and-white picture of someone’s cock on the porno screen inside the game. The CEO was visiting from France to check out the new games when the lead tester called him over. He didn’t like seeing someone’s cock in the game, which may or may not have belonged to the head programmer, and a few angry phone calls had the picture pulled from the game. The publishing rights for future Duke Nukem games were sold to another company since Accolade/Infogrames/Atari was becoming a more family friendly video game company (although that wasn’t the last time I bugged cocks in a game). I loved the Bill Clinton ending where the Duke opens up the Lincoln Bedroom at the White House to long lines of women waiting their turn to be impregnated by him as he single-handledly repopulates the planet.

Duke Nukem Forever is finally coming out after all these years years. I’ll believe when it I see it.

A Taco Rage Shooting At Taco Bell

Last week there was a shooting at the McDonald’s down the street from my apartment complex that was probably gang related. The suspect was last seen running up the street towards Taco Bell. The victim had died yesterday and the police made no arrests yet. Also in the news yesterday was a shooting at a Taco Bell in San Antonio, TX, where the suspect ordered seven Beef Crunchy Burritos, got upset when they were no longer on sale for $0.99 each (regular price is $1.49 each), and shot at the manager with a BB gun. The SWAT team had to use tear gas to flush him out of a barricaded motel room.

This begs the obvious question: What has Taco Bell been putting into their meat filling lately?

Okay, that’s an unfair question. It’s only coincidental that the suspect in one shooting was seen heading towards a Taco Bell in San Jose and a suspect in another shooting shot up a Taco Bell in San Antonio. A cause-and-effect between eating food at Taco Bell and experiencing a “taco rage” to start shooting haven’t been firmly established.

Not yet, anyway.

What has been established is that eating at fast food restaurants is unhealthy. Even McDonald can take the most healthiest ingredient, oatmeal, and turn it into a loaded sugar bomb that cost times more. If you want to live a healthier lifestyle, you need to stop eating at fast food restaurants. I still run into friends who thinks it’s amazing that I stopped eating out and how they would just die if they didn’t. (If they don’t change their habits, they will die from either clogged arteries or a stray bullet.) It wasn’t an easy transition.

I ended up working for tech companies in Mountain View that made driving out to get fast food something I couldn’t do since I was still taking public transportation. I did eat at the cafeterias that had healthier food options and my weekly lunch budget limited the amount of food I could get. Google was the worst place to eat at since the cafeteria food and mini-kitchen snacks were always free, where the typical worker gains an average 25 pounds. (The mac-and-cheese on Fridays was still heavenly delicious.) I eventually gave up eating lunch to use my one hour break to write two-thirds of a 700-page first novel behind the steering wheel of my car.

After two years of being unemployed and three months of being underemployed, all I can afford is to eat at home is a regular diet of beans, eggs, rice and tuna. On the few occasions that I do eat out, I often find myself trying to order the smallest possible meal and still end up feeling sick. Once you give up eating processed foods, it’s really hard to go back to being sick all the time.

Why Is Pandorum Popular On My Website?

Several weeks ago I finished moving my personal blog over to WordPress and signed up for a Google Analytics account to figureout my audience. (There seem to be about 20 of you, all living in your mother’s basement and still looking for a job after being unemployed for two years.) Surprisingly, Figuring Out Pandorum got 60 hits during that time. I’m not really sure why. The movie came out several years ago and the DVD been out for a while. Maybe the Syfy Channel was including it in recent movie marathons. The ending to that movie is somewhat ambiguous. My blog post gave one tantalizing hint without explaining the significance that most people probably didn’t notice .

With this blog post, I’m going to explain the ending to Pandorum as I understood it when I first saw it in the movie theater. (The Wikipedia article goes into greater detail.)  Stop reading if you haven’t seen the movie.

Earth is dying. Humanity sends 60,000 people in stasis pods to colonize a distant world. A small crew operates the ship at all times during the 123 year voyage, taking turns coming in and out of stasis. A message arrives that Earth is dead. One of the crew goes mad, declares himself God, and exile the still awake crew members into the unsafe areas of the ship. (There may be more to this but I haven’t seen the movie since it came out.) The crew member that went mad eventually puts himself back into stasis and is one of two crew members reawaken at the beginning of the movie without their memory.

Where did the small, gray-skinned cannibals on the ship come from? Various hints are dropped along the way but the most important hint can easily be overlooked near the end of the movie. The mission clock says 923 years. The ship does reach the new planet after 123 years but crash lands offshore in deep water where surface light doesn’t penetrate. For the next 800 years, the crew exiled to the unsafe areas of the ship evolved—or more acurately, devolved—from the intense cold and radiation into these creatures that haunt the ship, looking to eat survivors who have awaken from their stasis pods. They are not aliens from outside the spaceship who hitchhiked a ride as the beginning of the movie suggests.

During the final confrontation on the bridge, the shield over the windows are withdrawn to reveal a black void with strange creatures on the outside. The ship is submerged in deep water and not lost in some uncharted void of deep space. When a window is cracked and water starts rushing in, the ship automatically jettisons the stasis pods away from the ship to pop up to the surface. These 1,213 normal human survivors forms the new colony for humanity.

There you have it. The writers of Pandorum did a great job of twisting the generic abandon spaceship horror story by adding cannibals mutated from the crew members and putting the spaceship under water. Since I write speculative short stories, I was actively dissecting the movie while seeing it for the first time. (Which sometimes makes it difficult for me to relax and enjoy a movie.) You really need to pay close attention to get all the details in a movie like this. That may be hard to do when someone is being eaten alive in their stasis pod by a half-dozen cannibals.

Since this is a current blog post for the next 30 days, please leave a comment. I’m curious to know why you came looking for Pandorum on my website.

Battle: Los Angeles Is A War Movie

When Battle: Los Angeles came out last week, it was several days after the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. Which was extremely ironic considering that the first place the mysterious meteorites fell from the sky was off the coast of Japan. I went into the movie theater knowing only one thing about this movie: Michelle Rodriguez. Beyond that, not much. The main complaint I heard over the radio was that this was yet another alien invasion movie and how many version of Independence Day do we need? I ended up enjoying this movie precisely because it wasn’t an alien invasion movie but a war movie with a strong main character facing a moral dilemma that he has no choice but to resolve before the end credits roll.

Marine Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) has a reputation of getting his men killed in a recent tour in Afghanistan and wants to leave the service. Sergeants are the backbone of the military, knowing the people below them better than the officers above them do, often serving at the same rank until retiring. Not surprisingly, his commanding officer tries to talk him out of leaving. Then the alien invasion begins. Nantz is assigned as a replacement sergeant to a platoon where the men have reasons to hate him—”my brother came home in a box”—and a newly minted second lieutenant fresh out of officer school. If you have seen enough war movies, this is a recipe for a disaster.

They are flown into the war zone and make their way on foot to a police substation where a civilian distress call was sent after the area was evacuated. Moving through the fog of war (smoke, shadows and a stray dog), the men starts to doubt Nantz’s ability to lead them after the second lieutenant freaks out in the middle of a running battle with the aliens. They find the civilians inside the substation, dissect a live alien to figure out how to kill them (a war crime under the Geneva Conventions), and use a bus to get everyone out of the way. When it became obvious that the aliens can track down radio signals, he uses his radio to lure an alien to a gas station and toss a grenade to blast the alien sky high. Attitudes start changing towards  him as he leads the survivors through various fights and struggle to overcome obstacles. He ends up leading them against an alien command-and-control center that changes the direction of the battle.

Michelle Rodriguez plays a surprisingly minor and quite feminine role in this movie.

Air Force Technical Sergeant Elena Santos was on a intelligence reconnaissance mission when her airplane is shot down, and she hooks up with a different group of Marines heading towards the police station. She comes across as being very low key soldier unfamiliar with being in an actual war zone and working with a different branch of the military. The kick-ass tough girl from Avatar and other movies doesn’t really come out to play, although she does pound away on an alien that tried to sneak up behind her. She, like the staff sergeant before her, had to prove her worth before being taken seriously by the other guys. When two men take up position to fire upon the aliens, she grabs a machine gun and wiggles her way between them, saying that they needed an extra gun in this fight. Eventually, through her own small heroic actions, she gains their trust to be treated like one of the guys.

I think the real reason why she is in this movie is probably to be the butt of a sex joke. After she blows out the brains of an alien that landed on the hood of the truck, she complains about the nasty stuff getting splattered into her mouth. The Marine next to her starts cracking up and tells her, “Isn’t that what you do on your first date?” I can’t see either Sigourney Weaver or Angelina Jolie playing a similar scene with her spunk (yes, British pun intended).

Why does the aliens invade Earth? Apparently, they need salt water to survive.

Not the most original premise for a science fiction plot, but the internal logic about the aliens and their technology being based on salt water is fairly consistent. The aliens look and behave like the Predator alien shoved into a metallic crab shell, hunting along the rooftops and going to ground only when they have to. Their ships can be reconfigured to join other machines to form a larger vessel. They blend in well with the chaotic Los Angeles (filmed mostly in Louisiana against generic locations) that is burning down to the ground as a part of a larger worldwide alien invasion. And, more importantly, there is no Mac laptop with an upside down Apple logo uploading data to the mothership. What brings down the alien command-and-control ship are laser-guided cruise missiles.

Overall, a very intense war movie with a nice solid science fiction background and a fine supporting case.

A Shooting Underneath The Golden Arches

I was driving out of my apartment complex when I turned right on to Fruitdale Avenue this afternoon when the radio announced that there was a shooting at McDonald’s on the corner of Fruitdale Avenue and Bascom Avenue. Not surprisingly, I was driving towards it as I was heading over to the freeway to go to HP campus in Cupertino for a job interview. Passing by a dozen police cars and forced to drive through hospital (which isn’t as bad being forced to drive through the airport), I started stressing out. Not because the shooting would break out again. The shooting that took place underneath the Golden Arches was several hours old by then, and the police were still documenting the crime scene. I was more concern about being late for the job interview. By the time I got to the HP campus, I was no longer nervous about the interview.

That is the second murder in the general area, and there were two rapes at San Jose City College, in the last six months. I have lived in this area for nearly six years. The worst reported crimes before these recent events was probably gang graffiti, teenagers pulling the fire alarms at my apartment complex, and several Christmas time house fires. Of course, most crimes in the neighborhood probably go unreported by victims for fear of retaliation or underreported by the news media looking for the big story to drive the headlines.

What prompted all these recent murders and rapes?

The two murders are probably gang-related. Someone walking up to someone else to shoot them dead on the street is a somewhat common gang initiation on the east side of San Jose. Anti-gang prevention efforts are probably pushing gang bangers out from that side of town. Every time I see gang bangers hanging out in the back parking lot and gang graffiti on the walls of my apartment complex, I’m quick to report these incidents to the leasing office. The leasing manager will yell at the gang bangers to leave and the graffiti is painted over by the maintenance staff.

The rapes were done by several men under the care of nearby medical clinics for mental illness and drug abuse who wandered on to campus. I don’t think rape will become a reoccurring event like it was at San Jose State University in the 1980s, where school officials later installed the emergency phones with blue lights. I still find the live blogging of the De Anza rape case to be disturbing, especially now that the plaintiff is on the stand.

A more ominous trend in the general neighborhood is people panhandling for change on the street corners and intersections. There used to be only one or two people who were doing it any given time. Lately, as the cratered economy muddles through for ordinary working-class Americans, I’m seeing more and more people panhandling for change. A husband-and-wife tag team at one intersection. A string of military veterans at every freeway entrance. A postal clerk chased away a pregnant woman who stood outside the post office with a sign pleading for help. What do these people do when they’re not panhandling? Are the looking for jobs or committing crimes?

I had the interview at the HP campus and came home the other way to avoid the crime scene at McDonald’s. I’m hoping to get the job there or at another HP location to do desktop support. After two years of unemployment, I’m  working part time as a PC disconnect/reconnect technician for a moving company. That won’t last for long. The interviews are coming at a steadier pace than it has in the last two years. That gives me hope that I won’t need to start my career as a professional bank robber. Although there is good money to be made in panhandling (about $45 to $90 per hour at the right intersection), I don’t like standing around and doing nothing.

Silence Is Golden At The Urinal

A recent Penny Arcade webcomic strip featured a fan complimenting Tycho on his work while they’re both using the urinal inside the men restroom, which Tycho assumes the fan meant the fine work that was happening in the urinal bowl, and Gabe, when later told about the incident that there should be no talking at the urinal, replies that why he uses the women restroom. This has always been one of my pet peeves. When I’m using the urinal, I’m usually thinking about something very profound—the nature of God, what’s for lunch, five minutes and still counting—during that brief moment I’m relieving myself. I don’t expect people to strike up a conversation with me.

When I was doing a one-month contract at Sony in 2005 to test the English-language software on the Japanese hardware that would eventually become the Sony Reader in the United States, I was still talking to recruiters about my next contract job. One day I answered my cellphone while still standing in front of the urinal and stepped away when the woman recruiter was introducing herself. Naturally, the urinal automatically flush. The recruiter asked if this was a good time to talk and I told it her was as my voice echoed off the restroom walls. I ended up talking to three different recruiters about five open positions at the Microsoft campus in Mountain View.

For the remainder of that contract at Sony, I ducked into the men restroom to return phone calls to recruiters and have interviews with hiring managements, ignoring all the strange looks from the Indian engineers who shuffle in and out, the continuing auto-flush the toilets and urinals, and the water faucets turning on and off automatically. I didn’t get hired. Not because all our conversations took place inside a restroom. Microsoft requires five candidates to be interviewed for every position. If a hiring manager decides to hire his beer-drinking buddy, he still needs to do four interviews before he can make his final selection for the position. Each time the beer-drinking buddy got hired. Since then I loathed talking to Microsoft recruiters. I don’t like wasting my time on a position that is already filled.

When I was at the old San Jose building for Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owners, multiple identity crises), the men outnumbered the women by four to one. From time to time, the men restroom would run out of supplies faster than expected. Management decreed that the downstairs women restroom would be a unisex restroom. No prudent man would step into the women restroom unannounced, management decree or not. But, this being a video game company, there were no shortage of little boys who haven’t grown up yet. Several guys would deliberately walk into the women restroom when they knew when one of the marketing girls was in there, hoping to catch a glimpse or maybe get a date. Management rescinded their decree after three girls with baseball bats sent the guys fleeing back to the urinals in the men restrooms.

For a more humous story about talking at the urinal, read “Startup: A Silicon Valley Adventure” by Jerry Kaplan, where the management team for Go Corporation that created the first handheld computer had an impromptu team huddle before their company imploded. There’s a reason why one urinal is always set lower than the other urinals.