Today’s our 15th wedding anniversary. We’re celebrating it, more or less quietly, by going to dinner at one of the terrific restaurants here in town. I’m not exactly ready for a big blowout, considering I’m using a walker to get around at the moment (see the previous blog post to know more about my medical condition).

But that last post really brings forward parts of the wedding vows we took all those years ago. Dori has stood by me “…in sickness and in health.” Way more sickness than we had ever imagined at the time, I regret to say. It’s a debt of faithfulness I could never hope to repay.

Though this anniversary, perhaps being our last, is bittersweet, everyone should know what a great woman Dori is, and how much I love her. I hope to be back with another post like this next year.

Wedding Rings


In July 1994, Tom and I started dating.

In July 1995, he woke up one morning with severe chest pains. I called 911, an ambulance took him to the hospital, and it turned out that he was having a heart attack.

The following day, I showed up at his hospital room carrying two balloons: one that said “Get Well Soon!” and one that said “Happy Anniversary!”.

Or as I’ve told people: when I married him six years later, he’d already made it clear what I was getting health-wise. Sure, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing—some would say that neither of us is an especially easy person to live with. But whilst I’ve often wished Tom’s health was better, I’ve never for a moment thought his health was a reason for us to be apart.

I’m happy for the 22 years we’ve had together (7 years living in sin + 15 years of wedded bliss), and hope for as much time together as possible in the future.

Love ya, babe.

This post will upset many of you. I am sorry about that. I’ve been ill for quite some time, but I haven’t talked about it. Brace yourself for the really bad news.

I’ve got cancer. It’s bad, and I’m not going to survive it.

Back in late January 2014 I was diagnosed with stage 4 metastasized renal cell carcinoma. It’s a return of my 2010 kidney cancer (which we thought was cured), but spread, and it is inoperable and terminal. It’s now spread to many areas of my body. I’m all too familiar with this, because my father died from same kind of cancer in 2013. Soon, I will follow him. How soon? It’s hard to say. Back when I was diagnosed, my doctor told me that I was likely to still be here in two years, but perhaps not in three.

In general, I haven’t gone public with this, though I told family, some friends, and colleagues when I had a chance to sit down with them at Macworld Expo 2014. I’ve kept things mostly under wraps because I didn’t want to publicly become Cancer Guy, because I’ve seen that happen to other people I know. Cancer is something I have; it does not define who I am.

Over the past 28 months, we’ve tried a variety of treatments, including radiation therapy and two very different kinds of drugs. I was never under the belief that these treatments would save my life. I was bargaining that they would extend my survival, and overall, they did. But in May 2015, I had to stop the first drug because of a complication. I wasn’t able to restart that drug until September, and three days after that, I had an unexpected allergic reaction to it which gave me a stroke.

That took a few months of recovery, and in February 2016, I tried a brand-new drug that actually offered some hope for a possible cure. Two weeks later, we learned that instead of eating the cancer, the drug turned on me and made my body begin to eat itself. Not a recommended response, so that avenue was done.

At that point, my oncologist said “It’s time to start talking about hospice care.” We met with the hospice nurse in March, and we came to the conclusion that although I’m an appropriate candidate for hospice, I’m not yet ready for it. But it’s definitely in my future, and it will provide me with some good services towards the end of my life.

Let’s Talk About Talking About Cancer

It’s difficult to discover that someone you’ve know for a long time is going to die, and relatively soon. I’ve had a lot more time to think about it than you have, so here’s some ideas.

Things To Say To Me When You Find Out That I’m Dying

This is almost certainly not an exhaustive list, but it seems to be the useful things that I’ve learned people can say. The most common feelings most people have expressed to me is that they feel overwhelmed and helpless. That’s totally normal. If you’re the kind of person who likes to control things or make them happen, add on “frustration” to that list. After more than two years, here’s what I’ve learned are good things to say:

  • Express your sorrow and surprise that this is happening to me and Dori.
  • Express your empathy. The situation really sucks.
  • If you feel moved to, offer help. Most people say something like “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.” You’re not obligated to say it. I won’t be offended if you don’t. But don’t be surprised if I accept your offer and ask you to do something. For example, a friend whom I know to be a brilliant social planner recently offered her beautiful home and planning services for a memorial celebration. I would have been a fool to say no, so I didn’t.
  • After I die, do anything you can to help Dori. She’s going to miss me a lot, and she’s going to need support.

Things Not to Say to Me When You Find out That I’m Dying

  • Please don’t ask me not to die. There really isn’t anything I can do about it. Believe me if there was, I would’ve been doing it for the past 28 months. In fact, I have been doing that for the past 28 months. I know that you don’t want me to die. I don’t want to die either. However asking me not to die is a frustrating request that I can’t fulfill, so it just makes us both sad.
  • Similarly, insisting that I can beat this cancer if I just have hope, or if I fight real hard is a crock of crap. I know you mean well, but this is really an expression of your own denial rather than a comment about me.
  • Since my diagnosis, I’ve been intermittently sending out an email newsletter. I’ve been publishing it approximately every three months, mainly so I didn’t have to make a zillion phone calls to family and close friends every time there was a medical development, and there have been a lot of them. If you are interested in reading these newsletters from the start, they are all available at this link on Dropbox. Feel free to subscribe if you’re interested in future details. If you have any problems using the links in the PDFs, let me know in the comments here and I’ll add a signup form to this blog.
  • If you suggest to me that everything will be better if I become a vegan/vegetarian/ignore Western medicine, or take some bullshit treatment that you read about on Facebook or the University of Google or Joe’s Magical Cancer Cure Site, Dori has volunteered to delete your comment with extreme prejudice and unfriend you for me on Facebook and/or Twitter. The same goes for other superstitions like astrology, homeopathy, drum circles, and rubbing blue mud in my navel. That’s because at this point my most precious commodity is time, and I simply don’t have the time to waste on stuff that isn’t proven to work. “Anecdotal evidence” is a term like “jumbo shrimp” or “military intelligence.” I have already tried all of the things that have been proven to work. I won’t waste my time grasping at straws based on Internet anecdotes. I realize this is going to hurt some people’s feelings. So it goes.
  • Along the same lines, I appreciate that your cousin/great aunt/friend of a friend had an amazing experience with cancer after they did blah blah blah, but please keep those experiences to yourself. I do not want to read about other people’s cancer stories. I have all the cancer stories I need. I made my own.

I Think Religion Deserves Its Own Category

I am an atheist. I do not believe in a loving God. I was born with spina bifida, which has made my life difficult and painful in ways that, were I to describe them all to you, you might think that I was exaggerating for effect. Yet this is my real life, and I have lived with it for longer than I have known you. If I were to believe in God, I would tend to think of Him as a malign, sadistic thug, because my childhood was a terrible torment of multiple surgeries and social alienation. Approximately every 10 years since, just when I think that I have a handle on everything spina bifida has done to me, something new and awful happens. Dying of cancer has nothing to do with being born with spina bifida, as far as we know. But it does kind of put the cherry on top of the cupcake.

Back to religion. I don’t have it, but you may. I ask this in the strongest possible terms: do not urge me to get right with God before I die. No matter what, you will only succeed in pissing me off. On the other hand, if you tell me that I am in your prayers, I’m totally cool with that. I’m not a believer in the power of prayer to beseech a God that I don’t believe exists. But oddly, I feel fine and comforted with the idea that other people care about me and are hoping for the best. If that’s as formalized as a prayer, that’s fine with me. If it’s a fleeting thought that you hope I’m having a good day, that’s also okay. But no matter what, I’m not going to get religion at this late date. Don’t try to sneak it in on me that way.

My Current Status

Most days, I’m mentally alert, and despite the stroke, I talk just fine. The stroke did slow down my reading speed, which I find really annoying. Also because of the stroke, I can’t drive the Mercedes I bought right after my diagnosis, which is frustrating to no end. I’m tired a lot of the time, and for now, I use a walker to get around, though I’m about to start some physical therapy in the hopes of getting back on my feet. I’ve also become very familiar with different kinds of powerful pain medication (it’s less fun than it sounds). For now, I’m still having more good days than bad.

I’m going to continue to talk about my cancer. If I have a lot to say, I’ll do it here on the blog and in my email newsletter (described above). Briefer comments will end up on Twitter and/or Facebook. If you have questions about my medical status, feel free to ask, though I reserve the right not to answer.

So that’s the news I’ve been holding on to for more than two years. I’m still Tom; I haven’t become just Cancer Guy. But now you all know I’m a guy who is going to die of cancer, and though we hope it won’t happen this year, it very well might. Wish me (and Dori) well in the comments.







Always in My Pocket

I’ve carried a pocketknife since the 1980’s. I wasn’t like most people, who pick up the habit from their dad or grandfather. I think (based on no real data) that carrying a knife is more prevalent if you grew up in a mechanically-oriented family, especially from the US South or Midwest. So for a boy from California, from a white-collar family, it didn’t come “naturally.”

I carry a knife because of my friend Jim Ayres. He grew up in farm country in the Midwest, and has been, at different times in his life, a businessman, soldier (US Army, 82nd Airborne and Green Berets), importer, world traveler, fashion designer, and writer. Jim has always carried a knife, and when we met, he seemed vaguely puzzled that I didn’t, in the “doesn’t everyone?” fashion. We became friends when he came into the computer store I worked at in LA, when he bought his first Mac. Shortly after that, we started a business together, that made management software for garment manufacturers, who at the time still used the most unbelievably clunky paper spreadsheet system to order clothes from factories. It was a problem begging for a database solution, and with an additional partner, we created software we called MacRag. That business eventually went belly-up, but Jim and I remain friends, and one of the many things I’ve learned from him is the value of a pocketknife. Jim really knows knives well. He’s written books about them, such as the excellent The Tactical Knife.

A knife is an incredibly useful tool to have with you all the time. I use mine constantly. Opening envelopes and packages. Cutting food (sometimes in restaurants, where sharp knives are as common as the Holy Grail). An emergency screwdriver and tool to pry things open (but do try not to break off the knife’s point, he says from practical experience!).

Something about pocketknives: a stunning amount of people, despite using knives every day of their lives at the dining table, see a knife come out of a pocket and instantly think “Weapon! Aieee!” rather than “tool.” I don’t get it. When I used to work at the community TV station I helped build here in town, I’d use my knife and would sometimes be told that just having the knife on me was a problem, because the station was on the grounds of the local high school. As if the knife would fly out of my pocket and start indiscriminately slashing people. Of course, I could have used a box cutter or scissors from the front desk with no problem. When I see those stories about children being arrested at school because they brought a butter knife from home, it pisses me off to no end. Common sense, people. Tool. Weapon. Not the same thing.

And so it begins

My first pocketknife was this lovely Al Mar Eagle Talon, which was quite expensive for a first knife. That’s what happens when you’re getting your recommendations from an expert. Versions of it are still being sold; you can get one for around $200. It’s brilliantly sharp, opens easily with one hand thanks to its thumb stud, and feels great in your hand. I keep mine in my office, always near to hand, kind of like a keepsake or memento. Or maybe even as a talisman, which is an odd thought for an essentially non-spiritual guy.
Al Mar Eagle Talon Classic
I carried the Al Mar for a few years, but eventually stopped, mainly because of its 4 inch blade length. Basically, I’d take it out of my pocket in a public place, open it, and people would freak the fuck out. When we were in business together, some weenie once asked Jim in a fearful hushed voice, “Did you know Tom carries a huge switchblade?”* It got so I’d open it under the table just so folks wouldn’t flinch when I used it to open a box, or cut some string in the office, or something. At an overall length of 9 inches and a weight of 5 ounces, it was a little too big as an everyday knife for me.

* It’s not a switchblade, of course; this guy had never seen anything other than a Boy Scout knife, so using a thumb stud to open a knife one-handed made him think it was a switchblade. And also: Me? Tom Negrino? An object of fear because I carry a weapon? Snicker.

Dori’s got the bug

Turns out Dori has always carried a knife (see? soulmates). She beats me, in that she regularly carries two in her purse: a small Swiss Army knife for general utility and this pretty Spyderco Cricket, in stainless steel, both of which are on her separate Keychain of Useful Stuff that’s easily left behind if we’re traveling and likely to encounter TSA.

Spyderco Cricket in Stainless Steel

This knife isn’t big (blade length is less than 2 inches), but especially in stainless steel, it’s sweet-looking and is wicked sharp. Dori got it as a gift.

Spyderco Delica

I’ve had many knives over the years that I’ve rotated in and out for (as the Kool Kidz say) my EDC (Every Day Carry). For years I carried a Spyderco Delica. Between the “right” blade length (I decided that around 3 inches was my EDC sweet spot), it’s available in either straight, serrated, or combo edges.

Spyderco Delica - different edges

I’ve moved away from serrated edges over the years; I find straight edges are way easier to keep sharp, and I hardly ever need that hacking motion that goes well with a serrated edge. Straight edges are also way easier to keep clean, in case you ever want to use your pocketknife for food, as mentioned above.

The latest crop

A few years ago, Amazon offered me a good deal on this Kershaw Drone, which seemed to be discontinued shortly thereafter. It’s a great knife. Fabulously sharp, of course, has a little more heft in the hand than you would expect, which makes it easier to use.

Kershaw Drone

Kershaw Drone - Straight Edge
That point is excellent for slicing things open (like, say, Amazon packages), and besides the thumb stud near the base of the blade next to the logo for one-handed opening, see that bump on the bottom of the blade, right under the fulcrum? That’s part of Kershaw’s SpeedSafe “assisted opening” system. Press the bump (with your forefinger or thumb) to push the blade out about 30 degrees, and it overcomes the resistance of a torsion bar, making the knife snap open the rest of the way by itself. It’s super-convenient, yet virtually impossible to open accidentally (at least, I’ve never had it happen to me). I love it; certainly the best $21 knife I’ve ever bought. Utility and cheap, that’s me!

Kershaw Hawk

Last year, I bought two tiny Kershaw Hawk folding knives on sale, and gave one to a good friend. It’s in the category of “gentleman’s knife,” which makes me grin. The blade is 3 1/8″, and the overall knife is only 3 7/8″, so it slips terrifically in your pocket, especially if you take off the pocket clip.

Kershaw Scallion

Currently, I’ve fallen for this ridiculously pretty Kershaw Scallion Rainbow knife. It gets the color from a titanium oxide coating they apply.
Kershaw Scallion - Rainbow finish
The Scallion isn’t a big knife. The blade is only 2 1/4″ long, with the overall length being 3 1/2″. It has the SpeedSafe opening system, as well as the thumb stud. But because of the coating, it never fails to elicit a comment when it come out of my pocket. After a little shopping, I found it for under $70. Maybe it’s a little too garish for some, but for now, it’s the right pocketknife for me, and fun to carry.


Back in 1999, when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, Dori decidedly to create this newfangled thing called a “blog.” Frankly, I was skeptical.

“So you write stuff you want, on any subject at all, and random people come and read it?”

“Yeah, that’s the way it works,” she replied.

That didn’t sound quite right, but I decided “What the hell,” and joined Dori in building Backup Brain. I’m glad I did. Even now, in the age of social media that has taken the things I may have once written about in blog posts and distilled it into 140-character sound bites, I’m still happy to have a place where I can expound at length, especially for personal subjects.

Around the start of September, I had a series of seizures that left me with a stroke. You might not be able to tell by talking to me, but it’s impaired my reading and writing. I think this is the longest thing I’ve written since the stroke. It’s good to know I can still write; the thought that that ability could have been taken from me was terrifying. Because, if I am not a writer, then who am I? I’m happy to say I’m still here, 16 years and many setbacks later. Thanks to all of you who have read and enjoyed my stuff, and my love and gratitude to Dori for getting me into this.


The initial plan when I launched this blog was that it would primarily be for links, which I could then easily find and refer to later — hence its name.

Over time, the purpose and goals of blogging and blogs in general have evolved dramatically, and this one has not been immune to those changes. OTOH, that’s true of all teenagers, right?

But throughout all those changes, there’s been one — completely unexpected — result I truly appreciate, and that’s the people I’ve met as a result of blogging. I’m not going to call out names; there’s far too many, and I’m sure I’d forget several (if you’re reading this, you’re likely one of them).

That community of fellow bloggers, and later, commenters, are what I cherish most about this blog. That includes those of you I’ve only met virtually; back in ’99, it was considered bizarre to have friends you’d never met in person, and now, it’s common. But electronic or face to face, I deeply appreciate the friendship you’ve all shared with us over the years.

Mac 1984 T-shirtI bought this T-shirt recently from Thinkgeek. It’s an homage to the original Macintosh television ad, aired during the 1984 SuperBowl, which I of course was watching live (I didn’t yet have a DVR, due to their not-yet-invention). The ad was directed by Ridley Scott, who had previously directed tiny art films like Alien and Blade Runner. I distinctly remember sitting in the room with my jaw hanging open, and said to nobody in particular, “What the hell was that?” Those 60 seconds literally changed my life. I can’t say that about any other TV commercial.

That ad led me, in October 1984, to buy my second personal computer (my first was a Commodore 64, which, because of my lack of serious interest in programming, never made a significant impact). That original 128K Mac helped me start a business as a freelance video editor; I used Microsoft Multiplan (the forerunner to Excel) to prepare bids for jobs. In 1985, the film business went into one of its perennial slumps, and the few regular clients I had all dried up. After about six months of unemployment, I thought, “Crap, I gotta get a job.”

I’d spent lots of those six months learning to use my new Mac and had attended the very first Macworld Expo in San Francisco in January 1985. I’d become a chapter leader for the MacHollywood branch of the Los Angeles Macintosh Group, which met at SOS Computer, on La Brea in LA. As a result, I got hired as the store’s in-house Mac support guy (yes, that used to be a thing, back before Apple Stores and Genius Bars).

Sometime in 1985, a friend asked if I would be interested in writing some product reviews for a startup magazine, MacGuide. I said sure (“Free software? Getting paid for my opinions? Sign me up!”). I went on to write several feature and cover stories for MacGuide. In 1986, I wrote my first product review for Macworld, and was a Contributing Editor there from 1990 to 2004. I wrote my first solo book, Upgrading Your Mac Illustrated, for Que, in 1994. It tanked. But since then, I’ve completed a total of 48 books (I count the books where my name appears on the cover as author or co-author).

I left SOS Computer and went freelance again, this time as a Mac consultant in the LA area and secondarily as a writer. When JavaScript: Visual QuickStart Guide (written with my then-girlfriend, now wife, Dori Smith) became a hit, I announced to Dori I wanted to quit consulting and move the hell out of Los Angeles, a place where the “Hate” side of my “Love/Hate” relationship had become ascendant. She very reluctantly agreed to move, and we moved to Healdsburg, in the middle of the Sonoma wine country, in late 1999.

So, looking back 31 years later: yes, those 60 seconds completely changed my life. The actress who tossed that fateful sledgehammer through the video screen shattered my life, too—in a way for which I will always be forever grateful.

Chinese Rug Story

We have two new additions to our home: two Oriental rugs that were originally owned by my grandparents. When my dad died in 2013, it took my siblings about a year to clear out and divide all the contents of two houses. One was the house in which we grew up, in Southern California. The other was a townhouse in Las Vegas. It was bought by my grandparents in 1980, when they decided to leave New York City and retire to Vegas. Las Vegas was closer to the rest of the family in California, yet had its own attractions (Grandma loved the one-armed bandits).

When my grandmother died in late 2000, my dad inherited the Vegas townhouse, with all of its contents. And there were a lot of contents. My grandmother, while they were still in New York, used to buy and sell all kinds of goods to make extra money. For example, when we went through the townhouse, we found a tremendous variety of stuff, and good quality stuff, too. Mink coats. Designer dresses. Steiff teddy bears. Unopened bottles of Chanel perfume, bought in 1950. Plus a ridiculous amount of housewares, like sheet sets, dishtowels, and the like. Not to mention lots of furniture, and the two Oriental rugs.

My dad inherited it all, and he kept the Vegas townhouse, using it as a place to stay when he took trips to Vegas (his main recreational activity, plus he had a girlfriend there). But in terms of the stuff in the house, rather than deal with it, he chose to leave it all intact for us to handle. He did exactly the same thing with the California house after our mom died in 1989; some of the closets in the house literally had not been opened since then. And the garage was a black hole of More Stuff. In the exact mischievous words of one of his notes to us: “Good luck going through all this stuff in both houses!”

Thanks, dad.

As an aside: when my sister, brother-in-law, and brother dug into the California garage, way at the back they found a vintage refrigerator, still plugged in and running, containing cans of dog food meant for a pet that died when I was in college. Like I said, a black hole of stuff.

We picked up one of the rugs when we visited my sister and brother-in-law in Las Vegas right after Thanksgiving, and drove it back home. We found a local guy who specializes in cleaning and repair of fine rugs, and he did a great (not cheap, but it needs an expert) job cleaning that rug, which ended up in our dining room. Given that the rug had almost certainly never been cleaned, it needed decades of dirt and the Grandma’s House smell removed. Here’s what it looks like in our dining room. It’s 9 by 12 feet, and nice and thick.

Dining room rug

Looking under the (rug’s) skirt

The rug still had a stock tag pinned to it, and I wanted to know more about its provenance. I Googled the seller, Pande-Cameron, wondering if they were still in business. Turns out that they are; I called them and spoke to the owner in Seattle. He’s the third-generation owner of the business. He told me that the branch of their company in New York that sold the rugs to Grandma closed in the 1990’s, but after I sent him some pictures of the dining room rug, he was able to tell me that it was made in China in the 1920’s or 1930’s, by a man named Walter Nichols. Further searching found this history of Nichols. Our rugs have the stencilled HAND MADE IN CHINA BY NICHOLS legend on the back of their skirts, which is the key imprimatur.

Based on that article, which talks about how designs on the Nichols deco rugs became simplified over time (losing borders and such), I’m guessing that the rugs we have were made prior to that simplification reaching its apex. Our rugs have fringes and intricate borders. So they were made in maybe the late 20’s or early 30’s. I’m guessing my grandparents probably bought them shortly after the rugs were imported to New York from China.

The second rug has recently arrived, and it’s still being cleaned. It’ll go in our living room in the next week or so.

It’s nice to be able to give a home to some of these things that have been in my family for more than 80 years. We’ll be their steward for a while, then they’ll go on, I hope, to people who will love and enjoy them as much as we do.

One year ago today, I was sitting in the back bedroom of my sister and brother-in-law’s home in Las Vegas. I was holding my father’s hand. And I saw his breathing stop.

I ran out into the hall and called Marie and Phil to join us as my dad finished the journey he had been making for months. We gathered around his bed as he peacefully slipped away, his pain ending, his body shutting down after its long battle with kidney cancer. Of course I was sad he died, but I’d spoken with him when I got to Las Vegas the night before, and I could tell he was ready for it all to be over. I was happy to have been there for him at the end, and I know he took comfort by being surrounded by family. I held one hand, my sister the other, as Phil stood at the foot of the bed. I remember thinking that Phil was standing like an honor guard, which was so appropriate, as I know that he loved our dad as much as any of the rest of us.

In the year since my dad’s death, we’ve had other challenges to face, and there are more serious ones to come. But today is a day when all I and my family need to do is to remember and honor our father. I wrote and gave the eulogy at his funeral, which tells a little about the man who affected my life so profoundly. It did not honor him nearly enough, but it was the best I could do.

I have two photos I’d like to share of my dad. This is the earliest picture I could find of me and my dad together; I was around a year old.

Me and Dad, 1957

This next picture is my dad witnessing the wedding licence at my wedding to Dori:


That was a happy day. I’m glad he was there to share it with us.

I miss you, Dad.

August 10 is the anniversary of my mother’s death. I’ve written about her twice before, once on the 20th anniversary, and again just last year. I don’t have much to add to those posts, except that because of my father’s death last year due to cancer, and other challenges in my own life since then, I’m thinking that it really is a good idea for the rest of us to live as much for today as you can, because you never know when you’re going to get bad news that knocks you for a loop. I’ll have more to say about that at a later date. But for now, let me just say again how much I miss my mom, and how sad it makes me that she never got to see the man I became, and the family I built.

The 20th anniversary post: I miss you, mom.

Last year’s remembrance: Remembering my mom

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