The Not-a-schmuck report, #2

I read this article with interest just now.  It seems that Google, Inc. is hiring on Dr. Larry Brilliant, a fellow who made a name for himself by helping WHO eradicate smallpox and by establishing the Seva Foundation to help blind people in developing nations regain their sight.  Their reason for doing this?  They want to form a philanthropic arm of Google, called, which will be charged with spending $1.1 billion dollars on philanthropic and charitable causes throughout the world.  Sergay and Brin, the founders of Google, say they want to “make s social impact that will eventually ‘eclipse Google itself’ by tackling the world’s problems.”  Brilliant is a physician and epidemiologist who is also known as a tech visionary.

I’ve always been a fan of Google, not just for the quality of their search engine but also because of the way they do business.  I’m a bit wary of their choice to censor search results in China, but I can see how it makes good business sense for them.   I hope that they succeed in the goal that they’ve stated above.

So, for that reason, I’ve concluded that Google is not run by schmucks.

Weekend Updates

Over the weekend, Checkers spent most of her time lurking in one spot or another in the library; for a couple of full days, her favorite spot was behind the books on the bottom shelf of one of the bookcases. I took to calling her the Lurker in the Library, which appealed to the Lovecraft fan in me. However, she started doing much better yesterday, to the point where she was relaxed enough to come out for Jennifer when she came into the room, and to sit and actually play with us for a bit when we dangled string in front of her and gave her skritches on her head. She also purrs loudly and is interacting with us more. She prefers Jennifer’s company to mine, but I think she’ll loosen up more over the next few days.

Most of the other cats still don’t care. Tangerine’s more interested in Checkers’s food. Azzie likes to hang out in the kitty carrier that we brought Checkers home in. Rosemary coudn’t care less about the presence of another tortoiseshell in the house. We don’t know how Zucchini feels, and probably never will. Sebastian, however, finally got around to expressing his outrage with hissing and yowling, and Checkers hissed back at him. We’re still keeping her isolated, so we won’t have to police that situation for awhile.

This past weekend was DunDraCon. I meant to go on Saturday and Sunday, but Saturday I ended up sleeping until 2:00 in the afternoon, at which point I just kind of figured there wasn’t any point, so I spent the rest of the day at home. Sunday, after Sunday School (third session of the Da Vinci Code class), I drove down so I could spend a few hours there. I hung out with K. until he needed to get set up for his game, then went to the open game room and played a few games with C. and some other random person he had met. After that, went to K.’s Galactic Champions game. It was already full up with players, so I didn’t get to play, but I did get to assume the role of the over-the-top supervillain for a bit, and that was quite fun. K. is an outstanding GM; if gaming were a profession like law or medicine, he would be among the most respected practitioners. Alas, it is not.Oh, I also made a few purchases; the 6th Edition of Call of Cthulhu (and I’m still planning on running a game someday); the new color edition of Give Me the Brain (I’m kind of disappointed that it’s a full-color glossy card game now, instead of the cheesy card-stock black-and-white Cheap Ass format that it has been in the past); and Cheap Ass Games’s Kill Doctor Lucky. I also got a T-shirt which reads, “Innsmouth Emergency Medical Services”, which is funny to me at least (see the image below).

So, all in all, a pretty decent time at the con. I wish I’d gotten to spend some more time there, since I have a pile of games that I enjoy but that I never get to play (the other two games in the McFries trilogy, for example, as well as ChronoNauts, Burn Rate, Cthulhu 500, and others). Perhaps next year.

The Not-a-schmuck report, #1

On the other hand, not everyone in the world is a schmuck.

Dean Kamen is not a schmuck. If the man who gave us the insulin pump and the Segway (commercially a flop but technologically brilliant) wants to turn his brilliant mind to the problem of delivering power and clean water to the underdeveloped populations of the world — well, then, I just gotta take off my hat to him.

And Mark Shuttleworth is also not a schmuck either, primarily because of his work with Ubuntu and Canonical. Another millionaire who wants to bring cheap, available technology to the underdeveloped nations of the world (this time by spreading the Linux operating system everywhere — free is a hell of a lot cheaper than anything Microsoft would be willing to spread to the poor of the world).

Oh, and then there’s Nicholas Negroponte of the One Laptop Per Child program. Not a millionaire, but still a guy who wants to bring cheap, accessible technology to parts of the world which don’t have access now. I like the way he once essentially said “F— you” to both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs because both of them wanted prohibitively expensive licensing costs for the MS Windows and Apple operating systems to be part of the program. And hats off to Red Hat Linux for participating in this program for dirt cheap, if not for free.

These are the kinds of projects I’ve always wanted to get involved in (as well as something like Satellife). It may be a little late for me to get involved, but I’m glad they’re out there.

The reason I hate the news media is that they tend to overlook stories like these, and instead focus on the fray and fracas initiated by the maniacs and robber barons who generally run the country. What these guys are doing is a hell of a lot more important, in my opinion, than who Dick Cheney shot or the latest hare-brained scheme from George W. Bush.

Hm. Maybe I ought to start a regular “Not-A-Schmuck Report”. There are plenty of guys out there doing things like this. Sadly, we hardly ever get to hear about them.

On a related note, I’ve found that the WorldChanging website is worth bookmarking (or adding to your BlogLines feed, if you have one of those).


Way back when, I used to work for the Labor Relations unit of a large public University, dealing with unions and management. It’s always fun to tell people that I kept a leash on the unions and got to see the dark underbelly of the University at work, but in truth I was just basically a secretary who kept the grievance process rolling along (well, I did get to see the University’s dark underbelly). I’m not the most detail-oriented person in the world, and this was a job that required a lot of attention to detail. I spent three years at that job, getting more and more frustrated. I liked my bosses and my co-workers, but I wasn’t a good fit for the job and I was stymied in my attempts to get my web development career moving.

At one point toward the end of my tenure there, the unit head noticed that I was — well, dissatisfied, shall we say. He suggested that for my sanity, and for the sanity of everyone else in the department, I might want to take a week’s vacation or face some disciplinary action. I’m pretty grateful that he offered the choice, because he didn’t have to, and it did give me some very badly needed cooling off time. And during that week, I interviewed for and got a job as a paid web developer with another department at the University. I got back to Labor Relations after the week was up, and promptly told the unit head that I was taking a job offer elsewhere. He congratulated me, but I also know that he was disappointed that I was leaving, even though we all knew it was the best thing. As I said, I liked the people I worked for and with, but not the job itself.

Anyway, long story short: since then I’ve worked doing paid web development for Communications Resources, went on to the private sector for awhile before being laid off, went back to the University as a temporary employee doing clerical work, went back to the private sector traveling the state teaching welfare workers and recipients how to use the new benefits distribution system, and then came back to the University doing full time web development in Linux, PHP, and a bunch of other open source tools.

Er. Okay, on to the main point.

The building where I work now, in downtown Sacramento, is a four-story building. Our office is on the second floor. The ground floor has a few small businesses, but the building is mostly empty classrooms that the University uses for various teaching programs or meetings. And this week, there are labor negotiations going on just a couple of classrooms away from our office.  And representing the University are my old bosses from Labor Relations.  It was kind of interesting to see them wandering around the building, and I went up to them and had a pretty good conversation.  We chatted a little about old times, and about where we’re all at now.  I told the unit head what I’m doing now, and he approved, saying he was glad I was doing what I enjoy.  We didn’t get to chat long because they had to get to the negotiations and I had to get to my desk, but those few minutes were enjoyable.

It’s been almost six years since I worked in Labor Relations doing grievance administration, and I honestly don’t miss it at all.  I know that I’m very lucky to be where I am now; I enjoy my job, I’m good at it, and I have fun at it (PHP and open source development are hobbies of mine; secondary to the writing, of course).  The guys in that department were good folk, and I’m glad I got to work with them.

There’s no way in hell, though, that I would ever even think about going back.