Lightning Reflexes

That sure didn’t take very long.  Less than two hours after I posted my very first blog entry, the trusty POTS land line rang the unlisted number at my modest thirty-room home in Great Falls, Virginia.  It was Morton, a fellow who, when I first met him some years ago, earned an honest living as a computer scientist at the Johns Hopkins Space Telescope Laboratory.  Then he joined Microsoft.


Morton: Tom!  How could you do this?
Tom Collins: Do what?
Morton: The blog, Tom, the blog!  You told me time and again that you would never, ever, in your entire life even consider starting a Web log!
Tom Collins: Yeah, I know.  It does betray a certain weakness in my character, I guess, but Bernie over at…
Morton: That snake!  That scheming S.O.B.!
Tom Collins: Hey, calm down, Morton, old boy.  Aren’t you taking this a bit too dramatically?
Morton: No, I’m not!  Do you have any idea how pissed off Steve Ballmer is that you let them set up your blog?
Tom Collins: How pissed off, exactly?
Morton: So pissed off, he threw a chair across the room!
Tom Collins: We both know Steve does that occasionally…
Morton: But this time, Bill Gates was still sitting in it!
Tom Collins: What the hell, Bill can afford health insurance.
Morton: You know, of course, about how that company that did you this big favor got started, don’t you?  As a porn BBS!
Tom Collins: And they annoyed everybody for years sending out those CD ROMs in the mail, and they do everything they can to keep their customers inside a company-controlled environment and off the real Internet, and their proprietary user interface sucks, and it’s tougher to cancel your membership than it is to get out of Scientology, but hey, nobody’s perfect.  Besides, what gives Microsoft the moral high ground here, anyway?  Didn’t you guys get convicted of violating federal trade laws?  Isn’t your company the biggest, nastiest, greediest, most dishonest thieving monopoly since Teddy Roosevelt broke up Standard Oil?
Morton: Every story has two sides.  And what you just said is somebody else’s side, not ours.  We just happen to be able to hire enough lawyers to argue our side in enough courts to keep on doing what we do, and therefore what we do must be good.  Now Tom, please just tell me, if you did want to start a blog, why didn’t you come to Microsoft?
Tom Collins: Like I’ve been trying to tell you, Morton, Bernie called me.  He went through that whole litany, just like you did at the White House dinner last Fourth of July – “Tom, those bloggers out there are all full of crap and the people who read them don’t know squat and you, Tom, you alone can do something about it, if only you would start a blog with the real scoop on the situation…” – that stuff.  Then he offered me a turn-key blog setup.
Morton: How come his argument convinced you and mine didn’t?  Why didn’t you start blogging the day after I exhorted you to do so?
Tom Collins: You didn’t offer me a turn-key blog setup.
Morton: But you could have started a blog anytime you wanted, at Windows Live Spaces!
Tom Collins: Oh, yeah, sure, if I signed up for Hotmail, MSN Messenger, or Microsoft Passport to get my “Windows Live ID” first.  That’s like saying that if you join the Moonies you get a “free” subscription to the Washington Times.  I’d be hosted, read, scrutinized, second-guessed and ultimately censored by a bunch of Micro-jerks in Redmond, Washington.  I’d write the unvarnished truth for a few days, weeks or months, then, poof, with a single stroke of the Enter key by some Microsoftie webmaster drone, my blog would be no more.  On the other hand, what Bernie gave me is a turn-key blog with its own, independent domain, completely under my editorial control.
Morton: Microsoft can’t just go around giving people independent-domain, turn-key blog setups.
Tom Collins: Why not?  You go around giving your crappy operating system and tools that are bad imitation ripoffs of the real thing to elementary school children.
Morton: That’s part of our indoctrination, ah, I mean, marketing strategy.  And our crappy operating system is no worse than Apple’s crappy operating system…
Tom Collins: What?  How can you possibly say that?  I know literally dozens of people who gave up using Windows and switched to Macs, and they all swear that the Mac operating system is way more stable and much easier to use…
Morton: Lah-lah-lah-lah-lah, I can’t hear you, lah-lah-lah…
Tom Collins: Morton!
Morton: Lah-lah-lah…  And our ripoff imitations of quality software have the advantage of working flawlessly on our crappy operating system…
Tom Collins: Except when they don’t.  I think Microsoft’s motto should be “What do we want you to do today?”
Morton: Well… that is the motto, isn’t it?
Tom Collins: Not exactly, Morton.
Morton: Sure sounds like it.  Look, Tom, if you switch to Microsoft Windows Live blog software, we’ll host for you…
Tom Collins:  Really?  Where?
Morton: “The boys” have a shell corporation in Durban owned by a holding company in Bahrain that’s a subsidiary of a trust bank in Zurich controlled by a secret partnership in the Cayman Islands.  They use it for “excess” cash and stuff like that.  Hell, if the setup is good enough to keep the IRS out of our hair, it should be plenty good enough for your blog.  We’ll use it to set up a ghost ISP and Web hosting enterprise in Macao to run  But that’s just the beginning, Tom – we’ll rig MSN Search to put you first in the SERPs, arrange for advertisement partnerships, force thousands of Web sites to post your RSS feed, have our vast, amoral army of paid shills link to your blog from their blogs…
Tom Collins: Just as long as I never say anything the least bit negative about Microsoft, right?
Morton: Uh… that goes without saying.  At least I hoped it would.
Tom Collins: I’m sure you did.
Morton: To be completely frank, I would appreciate you saying some positive things about the Zune.  I’m an adjunct under-assistant Zune product manager – platoon leader second class, U.S. Sales.
Tom Collins: That’s my point, Morton.  I’m think that even if Microsoft had offered me a turn-key blog like that, the way you guys do business would have made me say no.
Morton: As opposed to how they do business?
Tom Collins: Bernie never said I have to refrain from writing anything about anybody in my blog, Morton.
Morton: That’s just like them – make a high-profile exception for somebody like the legendary Tom Collins to obscure how they usually operate.  Did you know that everybody else who does business with them has to turn over their first-born child to live as a hostage in a secret boarding school in upstate Vermont?
Tom Collins: It’s in upstate Maine, Morton.
Morton: OK, whatever.  Upstate Maine.  There you have it, then!  See?  You’ve made a deal with Satan Himself.
Tom Collins: Last time I checked, Satan Himself was on the Microsoft board of directors.
Morton: Oh, yeah.  You’re right – He is.  Please don’t mention that I took His name in vain.
Tom Collins: I can’t guarantee that, Morton.  After all, I’m a blogger now.
Morton: Tom!

Just then, Call Waiting came through.  It was Peekaboo, a singer-songwriter with guitar whom I knew in LA back in the day.  She works for Google now.

Peekaboo: Tom!  I can’t believe you started a blog!  You said you would never do that, and now you have, and you let those bastards in Reston set it up for you!   How could you behave like this after all we meant to each other?  Google top management says they will cut your blog off completely – you’ll be isolated, do you hear me, completely isolated!  No advertising, no links, anybody who mentions your blog gets blackballed and your Google Page Rank is gonna be a big fat zero, Tom, and stay a big fat, ugly zero –  forever!  We won’t even let our bots look at your site!  And we’ll…
Tom Collins: Can you hold for a minute?  I have Microsoft on the other line.

I switched back to Morton.

Tom Collins: Morton, I have Google on the other line.  If it’s any consolation, they are madder, more vindictive, more childish and more unreasonable about this than Microsoft.
Morton: Nobody is madder, more vindictive, more childish or more unreasonable than Microsoft!
Tom Collins: Please tell Microsoft to get over it and move on, OK?
Morton: Microsoft does not get over anything!  Microsoft does not move on!  Those words are not in our vocabulary!
Tom Collins: Something in your tone of voice completely convinces me.
Morton: Listen – we’ll make you a Vista beta tester!  Give you a complete suite of Microsoft’s latest office automation, video production, Web publishing, .NET development products, you name it!
Tom Collins: You know I only run open source software, Morton – at my home and at the office.
Morton: Then we’ll give you a machine!  A brand new Dell with Intel hardware!  Ultra high gigahertz quad processor, the fastest front-side bus available, huge caches and 64 gigs of sizzling top speed RAM!  Hard disks the size of Alaska!  A giant LCD monitor with 65 trillion colors and a custom matched video card!  And all liquid cooled, Tom!  Liquid cooled!
Tom Collins:  Morton, if I had a use for a Windows machine like that, I’d buy one.  But, in my opinion, it would be like owning an overpowered Jaguar with an automatic transmission.  I’d be embarrassed to be seen operating it.

Morton started to cry.

Morton: You don’t understand, Tom.  These guys at Microsoft, they don’t take “no” for an answer.  And my wife’s constantly buying things she sees Martha Stewart using and hectoring me for expansions on the house – now she wants another pool in the backyard, Tom – another pool!  Like a swimming pool and a reflecting pool with paper-bark birches and outdoor multi-color spotlights aren’t enough – a koi pool, Tom, she wants a koi pool – and she wants to fill it full of overgrown goldfish that cost two thousand dollars a piece!  Look, Tom, my oldest kid’s picked an ivy-league college and we promised her a new BMW roadster as a high school graduation present, the middle one has private riding lessons, tennis lessons, acting lessons, ballet lessons, figure skating lessons and two years of orthodontia left.  We just put my baby boy in the most exclusive pre-school in Redmond…
Tom Collins: I’m touched, Morton, truly touched.  But surely, with all those years at Microsoft on your resume, you can find another position…
Morton: Are you kidding?  With all those years at Microsoft on my resume, it goes straight in the trash!  And I know that, Tom – but why?  Why does everybody else in the information technology industry, everywhere in the world, hate people who worked for Microsoft?
Tom Collins: I would guess that they don’t actually hate you for having worked there, Morton; I would speculate that they despise you instead.  But if Microsoft fires you…
Morton: When they fire me, Tom!
Tom Collins: Right.  When they fire you, let me know.  There are some defense contractors out there in Washington State who owe me a few favors.  You don’t have any objection to writing space guidance system software for heinous, highly radioactive, artificially-intelligent weapons of mass destruction, do you?
Morton: Working for Microsoft has prepared me to whore myself out completely to anyone, anywhere, and in the most debasing ways imaginable.
Tom Collins: Great.  You’re exactly the kind of material defense contractors want.
Morton: I don’t know, Tom… it’s weird.  For reasons I can’t understand, I feel irrationally compelled to maintain an obscene lifestyle of pointless, conspicuous consumption, ostentatious expenditure and meaningless displays of egotistical vulgarity.
Tom Collins: That’s just contemporary American patriotism, Morton.  Lots of people feel it.  They get it from constant, long-term exposure to advertising.  Don’t let it bother you.

Morton kept on sobbing.  People crying on the telephone always makes my skin crawl.

Morton: Thank you, Tom, you’ll never know how much this means to me.
Tom Collins:  Sure.  No problem.

Sheesh!  I switched back over to the other line, but Peekaboo had hung up.  Forty minutes later she called back on what sounded like a cell phone.

Peekaboo: Google top management have changed their minds.
Tom Collins: Well, they have been known to do that.  Which one is it that flies into infantile rages and makes those stupid decisions that Google inevitably has to reverse – Brin or Page?
Peekaboo: That’s confidential company information, Tom.  The main thing is that it’s over – like it never happened.  So just forget what I said the last time I called, OK?
Tom Collins: I can’t forget the content, but I will disregard it.
There was a long pause while Peekaboo considered the implications of my carefully worded reply.
Peekaboo: Tom, you’re not going to put what I said in your blog are you?
Tom Collins: It seems to me that my entry about the unexpected reactions to my first blog posting won’t be entirely honest or complete unless I do.  And I have a responsibility to my readers to provide both honesty and completeness in my Web content.
Peekaboo:  Honesty?  Completeness?  Responsibility?  Tom, honey, this is a blog we’re talking about!  What on God’s green earth does blogging have to do with concepts like that?  What will you be dithering about next, for Pete’s sake – integrity?
Tom Collins: Uh, yeah, as a matter of fact, I was considering mentioning that, too.
Peekaboo: Look, Tom, do you know what will happen to me if you post what I said on your blog?
Tom Collins: Let me guess – you will be deprived of hot tub privileges, banned from the health club, taken off the daily massage list, have your scooter pass revoked, be locked out of the sauna, receive no more sphagnum moss herbal mud baths, lose your seat in the gourmet dining room; and, as a final, nearly unbearable indignity, be shunned by the exotic coffee clique, which you, yourself, founded when you brought in that first eighty dollar quarter pound bag of beans pooped out by a species of rare, endangered tree-dwelling, coffee-eating Indonesian deep-rainforest palm civet cat.
Peekaboo: And no more pedicures at my desk!  For at least two weeks!
Tom Collins: Look at it this way, dear – at least you don’t work for Microsoft.

The call ended right there.  I assume her cell phone dropped it, but maybe she just hung up on me in a snit.  Oh well.

That coffee, by the way – I’ve tried it myself.   Peekaboo sent me an ounce for my birthday last year, accompanied by a large card with a detailed story about her founding the exotic coffee clique at the Googleplex.  It tastes like ordinary high-altitude Indonesian arabica, but with hints of banana, citrus, sweet fruits and berry – which is hardly surprising, because bananas, citrus, sweet fruits and berries are the other things, besides coffee cherries, that the animal eats.  So the coffee beans inside the cherries, which pass undigested through the cute, furry critters, to be gathered from scat piles on the deep rainforest floor by colorful Indonesian hill tribes for sale to exotic coffee buyers from California, taste like that because they are flavored with palm civet cat poop.  Well, duh, they were pooped out of a palm civet cat, weren’t they?  But hey, if some strange coffee costs three hundred dollars a pound, you’d expect it to be D@ K1n3 Pr1m0 5h1t.  And it is.