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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:

dad-at-our-wedding

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

Part 2

Date: Thursday, July 21 1994
Place: Burbank Hilton
Event: LAMG’s monthly meeting, featuring Adobe FrameMaker

After the events in Part 2, Tom and I exchanged a few emails.

For reasons relating to the messy disintegration of my marriage, I had ended up with duplicates of almost everything a household could need: two beds, two couches, two kitchen tables, two sets of kitchen equipment, etc.

I realized that my superfluity could solve Tom’s problem of having none of these things, so I sent him an email offering him his choice of whatever he needed. He wrote back, gratefully accepting the kitchen equipment, and ended the email saying he owed me a hug.

As LAMG’s VP in charge of meetings, Tom was the organizer and stage manager of the monthly events, and July 1994’s Adobe FrameMaker meeting started off as no exception. Early on, though, he left the backstage area, found me in the audience, and said we should talk outside. We wandered around the Hilton and ended up by the pool, where we continued our talk from Sunday. We talked more about our lives, and he thanked me profusely for the offer of stuff.

After we’d chatted for a little while, he said he needed to get back, and as we stood I reminded him he owed me a hug. He was happy to deliver.

There are awkward hugs and one-sided hugs and hugs where you just don’t mesh together. This one wasn’t any of those things; it turned out that we were a perfect fit.

Given that the hug felt so good, I tilted my head back to look at Tom and found him looking down at me.

Cue the first kiss music

I thought we’d felt good hugging; kissing each other turned out to be a discovery of an entirely new level of right.

I never did end up learning anything about FrameMaker, and we missed the entire presentation.

That night wasn’t our first date (that was a week later), but we still count that night twenty years ago as the start of our relationship. Tonight, we’re going to a fabulous restaurant, where we’ll toast the past and look forward to the future.

Part 1

In 1994, July 17 was a Sunday. And on that Sunday, the Los Angeles Macintosh Group held its annual off-site Board meeting at the Burbank Hilton. As usual, not much was getting accomplished, but that wasn’t out of the ordinary given that several board members had run for their positions on a platform of, “I’ll keep a close eye on those darn board members who want to change things” (or modernize in any way).

During a break, Tom and I commiserated, both about the leadership inertia and our messy personal lives. He knew I’d just gotten out of a disastrous marriage, and he shared with me that he and his then-wife had recently split.

My recollection is that we sympathized with each other, and offered the other a friendly ear and a warm shoulder. I told him about my experiences as a single mom, and he told me how his ex had emptied their condo of pretty much everything but his computer and his clothes, including all the furniture and kitchen stuff (basically, she got the assets and he got the debts, including the lease).

Tom recalls two things from that chat: that he enjoyed talking to me—in no small part because I was wearing a low-cut tanktop—and that, as he says, “The minute I told her I was getting a divorce, I could see the shark fin go up, and it seemed as though I could hear the theme from Jaws begin to play.”

I was thinking about how much I’d enjoyed talking to Tom later that evening. I called up a mutual acquaintance and asked for her opinion on whether I should make a play for him. “I think he’s cute, smart, and funny. We’re both recently out of failed relationships, and we’re both too screwed up to even be thinking about starting new ones. I figure that we can be friends-with-benefits, and after we both heal and get our heads straight, we can go back to just being friends.” She thought that was a pretty good idea and told me to go for it.

Twenty years later, it’s possible that we’re still too screwed up to be in “real” relationships, or maybe we just healed at the same rate and simultaneously decided to stick with a good thing when we had it. Time will tell.

Right now, I’m writing this on a flight from San Francisco to New York City, where we’ll spend 12 days playing tourist, seeing shows, and celebrating twenty years together.

Part 3

On the occasion of Apple PR VP of Communication, Katie Cotton, announcing her retirement from Apple, many commentators are recounting some of their experiences with Apple PR, which could often have the opposite effect of what a journalist expects. When I speak to a PR rep from most other tech companies, I usually end up knowing more about the company’s products. On the very few occasions I’ve had to talk with Apple PR, that usually didn’t happen.

As an example, let’s say that I set up a conversation to talk with Adobe about one of their products, or Microsoft about one of theirs. I’ll usually end up on the phone with someone from their respective PR firms, and a knowledgeable member of the product team from the company itself. Since we write a bestselling book about the product (and I also review it for magazines), I’ve spoken more than once to Adobe about Dreamweaver, and its usually one or two PR folks and the Dreamweaver product manager, who knows practically everything about how the product works. I can ask questions about parts of the product that I don’t understand well, ask about bugs I’ve found, and in general end up with a bunch of information that will help my book. It’s usually a pretty collegial atmosphere; any product has bugs, and product managers are usually frank about their existence, if understandably slippery about when they are likely to be fixed. But they almost always have suggestions about workarounds for bugs. And sometimes you can even get hints of what will be happening with future versions of the product.

I’ve also written several books about Keynote, Apple’s presentation program, so when it came time to revise the main book, I was pretty happy to be able to set up a conversation with them about the product. Of course, I’d done my homework, so when I ended up on the phone with a PR person and Keynote’s product marketing manager (PMM), I had a bunch of questions to ask. The conversation took place shortly after a new version of Keynote had been released (since Apple doesn’t brief writers at my lowly level about pre-released products).

Things seemed to start well. I threw out a softball remark about one of the new features, and how much I liked it. Then I moved on to some of the questions I had about other new features. What I got back was…odd. It seemed as though they were talking from a very narrow script, not really how people talk. When I’d ask how a particular feature could be used, I’d get back something that sounded strangely familiar. It was as though I knew more about using Keynote than the PMM.

Eventually I realized that the PMM was quoting almost exactly from the Keynote public web site. I got no information from him about the product that wasn’t already on the site.

When I switched to asking about bugs, things got even weirder. They never admitted to the existence of any bugs that I (and the extensive Keynote community) had found and replicated. When I asked about a bug, the response was “Thank you for that feedback.” When I asked if there was a workaround for a particular bug (and I knew there was a workaround), I was told “We don’t have a comment about that at this time.” This went around for a while; they were always polite and apparently willing to be helpful. But no actual help was ever forthcoming.

By the time I got off the phone, I was, frankly, a little freaked out. I’d been doing this sort of thing for more than 20 years at that time, and I’d never had such an unproductive product briefing. I was wondering, “Is it me? Did I ask the wrong questions or something?” I looked at my iChat list and IM’d a journalist friend who works for a city newspaper, and who has done many columns on Apple products.

In our voice chat, I poured out what had just happened. He chuckled.
“Congratulations, you’ve just had a typical Apple PR experience.” I spoke to a few other friends, and they all told me the same thing; that was the way Apple briefings tended to go. This was the era of Think Different, and Apple PR certainly was thinking differently than other companies. But that incredibly tight control over message worked against them, I think. Over the years, my many conversations with Adobe and Microsoft ended up making my books about their products better, with deeper information, allowing me to better teach their products. But my talk with Apple, since I got no useful information, didn’t help me, the company, the product, or my readers at all. In the larger scheme of things, my wasted opportunity didn’t turn out to be a big deal. But multiply that by all the other journalists that Apple’s managed to annoy over the years with these tactics, and it’s no wonder they get so much bitter press. Was it really necessary? I don’t think so.

Then…

then

And now…

now

13 years later, I’d do it all over again.

In the Spring of 1993, I moved from the San Diego area to Southern LA County to take a new job.

I didn’t know many people in LA, so I followed one of my life-long rules:

  1. Figure out what type of person you want as a friend
  2. Figure out where people like that are likely to hang out
  3. Go there

Unsurprisingly for that era, where #3 put me was at Los Angeles Macintosh Group (LAMG) meetings.

Over the next few months, I tried to volunteer a few times for LAMG events, but no one ever took me up on it. I finally complained to LAMG’s Executive Director, Suzy, that someone should be in charge of organizing people who wanted to volunteer and putting them to work. She agreed—and then named me Volunteer Coordinator.

I took on the role, and a few months went by where (IMO) I did a pretty good job of it. In the Spring of 1994, I was asked if I was interested in being on the LAMG Board—there was an opening, and enough of the Board liked the work I was doing that they’d appoint me to fill the position. I said, “Sure!”

So, on the evening of April 14, I went to my first LAMG Board meeting.

The Board sat in a circle at tables in front of the room, and guests sat in the folding chairs at the back. I came in, and given that I wasn’t on the Board (yet) I sat in a guest chair.

LAMG’s VP was sitting at the table in front of me; he turned around and said that I should sit up with the Board. I said that as I wasn’t actually on the Board yet, I’d wait till I was promoted.

He said, “Fair enough. By the way, I don’t think we’ve officially met. My name’s Tom.”

“Hi, Tom, nice to meet you. My name’s Dori.”

Part 2

Yesterday around dinnertime, there was a knock at my door. It was one of the neighbor ladies, and she was holding a clipboard.

“Hi,” she said. “I’m circulating a petition for a ballot proposition for the City of Healdsburg.”

“OK,” says I. “What’s it about?”

“It would put water fluoridation in the City up for a vote.”

“But isn’t the water here already fluoridated?”

“Yes, it has been since the Sixties.”

[Update, June 17, 2014: according to this article in the Press Democrat, Healdsburg has actually been fluoridating its water since 1952 without incident.]

“So what’s the problem? Fifty years is long enough for bad effects to show up.”

Here’s where she palms her card. “I’m not for fluoridation, or against fluoridation. I just want people to have a choice. I’m sure you do, too. Will you sign the petition?”

“No, I think water fluoridation is a good thing.”

“So you’re against choice?”

“In this case, I guess I am. Bye.” I could tell she was flummoxed, as her line had obviously been working just fine up to then.

Here in Sonoma County, one of the liberal bastions of the US, being “pro-choice” is almost a given. And really, who doesn’t want choices? But at the intersection of science and public policy, I’d say that choice often works against the rational voters. There always seem to be more ignorant, fear-driven voters, especially in off-year elections.

The people who push these public policy propositions are usually working from an unscientific, fear-based position. A ballot campaign about fluoridation is waged by the anti-fluoridation crowd using scare tactics, selective reading of scientific studies, and emotional calls for “clean water,” and “saving the children.” This was borne out by the anti-fluoridation campaign in Portland, OR last year, which succeeded in drowning out the science-based message. “They’re going to put chemicals in our water!” howled the anti-fluoridation scaremongers. Ooooo, “chemicals.” Apparently, they’ve never looked into what occurs in a water treatment plant. And in the meantime, people who aren’t driven by fear, who know that fluoridation poses no significant risk, aren’t motivated to get out and vote; voilá, another victory for ignorance over science, all in the name of “choice.”

[Update, June 17, 2014: According to the same PD article cited above, the moronic scaremongers are already ramping up their hysteria campaign; they succeeded in scamming 867 local voters and thereby getting their anti-fluoridation measure on the November ballot, and are now demanding that the City Council add health warnings to the water bills. A local dentist described these folks as “public health terrorists” (for which he has since apologized), but the thing about it is that he was right. These people use the average citizen’s lack of knowledge about science to spread terror.]

Locally, wackos who imagine they can feel and are injured by WiFi signals managed a few years ago to prevent the Sebastopol City Council from accepting an offer from an ISP of free WiFi coverage in their downtown. The same clowns think they can feel the radio signals given off by their gas meters. They moan that radio waves are “radiation,” though they wouldn’t know a beam of ionizing radiation if it bit them on the ass. And because they are loud and insistent, they get attention from officials and waste endless amounts of time and energy, even though they are wrong, wrong, wrong. Just south of here, the anti-science, ignorant, hysterical, (and in my view, criminal) anti-vaxxers have made Marin County a hotbed of whooping cough, a disease that had been largely eradicated for half a century.

So no, when “choice” means “turning science-based public policy over to a mob,” you can count me out. The best way to win a vote against a group of anti-science fools is to avoid the vote in the first place.

 

 

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