Isn't It Pretty To Think So?

Dispatches on life, love and the human condition by a wanderer and hopeful romantic

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And one more time for the cheap seats…


I went to what could have been my last Microsoft press event ever today in San Francisco. It was a customer meet-up at which Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer made the case for why business customers should buy Windows 7 even though their IT budgets are down or frozen (ie, they barely have enough money to pay their IT staff let alone give Microsoft even more of their money).

Steve was his entertaining self and really put those sales chops to work today, although I almost detected a chink in his usual armor of confidence as he pitched Windows 7 to folks in such a dismal economic climate.

But mostly it was the same old story from Microsoft — ie, this new software release is THE BEST EVER and you should totally go out and give us your last pennies to buy it AS SOON AS YOU CAN. To be fair, loads of people are already using Windows 7 and they all say they’re happy with it, but I personally don’t feel the world’s most lucrative software company should be patted on the back because they actually put out a piece of software that works well on first release.

It certainly made my heart light to think that it might be the last time I’d have to sit through one of these speeches. I know executives at large companies have to do what they have to do to keep investors happy and all of that, but I just find it a bit sad for the human beings that have to put on these dog and pony shows. It just seems so…soul-sucking.

Of course, you can probably buy a soul with the money these guys have. And since I’m about to be quite poor, I should probably not waste my time feeling very sorry for any of them!

On that note…good luck, Steve and Co.! Pretty soon I won’t have you to kick around anymore…


The next adventure

DSC_0026This week I did something that could profoundly change the rest of my life: I quit my job.

OK, I didn’t quit outright, didn’t throw my computer out the window and stalk out of the office, leaving a trail of destruction behind me. There have occasionally been days I wanted to do that, but causing such a ruckus would be a moot point, given I either work from home or in a shared office space where no one else from my company works.

To put it properly…I gave notice. My last day at work is October 16. On October 23 I will return to Portugal for two months to hang out, surf, travel, “find myself,” as it were (since obviously I didn’t discover where I was after one month there in April). After that time is up, I’ll either return to the U.S. and figure out my next move, or just keep going.

I have never quit a job without knowing what I was going to do next before. It feels strange, and I’m quite nervous about it. But I’m not happy doing what I’m doing anymore, though I work for a great company, and I really love the people I work with (virtually, mostly, as we are all in different time zones and cities around the world).

I have been a technology-industry journalist for more than nine years, however, and have worked as a full-time journalist for 11. Technology was never even something I was particularly interested in when I took my first job in the industry in 2000; it was just something that paid well at the time. So I felt that a change was necessary, and a drastic one at that.

I thought long and hard about this before coming to this decision, so it is not an entirely rash one. Without going too much into it, I have a little bit of a financial cushion, so I’m not going to be totally destitute. And I really think there has to be more than life than this, and as I approach the last couple of years of my 30s and have no attachments, I figured it was a good time to do something risky.

So it’s come to this: I’m going to try to combine the three things from which I get the most joy in the world — travel, new experiences and writing — and do them full time as long as I possibly can.

And let’s not forget the surfing — that’s up there as number four, I would say, and there will definitely be plenty of that on this journey.

What makes you happy? Do you ever think about it? Can you honestly say you’re a happy person? Really? Truly? When you go to sleep at night do you feel happy about your life? Do you do things that make you happy every day? Do most people, do you reckon?

I would answer that last question with a resounding “no.” I think most people tolerate life, or do what they’re supposed to do, or think that true happiness is really not meant for this world (perhaps based on some false religious belief) so they don’t even strive for it here.

Most people live their lives based on whatever set of rules they were taught growing up. Drink your milk. Go to school. Find a good job and a decent person with whom to spend your life. Buy a house. Have children. Go on vacation once a year to relax and try to learn a little something about the world around you.

But what if those things don’t really work out for you? What if you’re lactose intolerant? What if you go to school and then more school and then still more school, but the job you find after that doesn’t really suit you, it just pays the bills? What if you don’t find a decent person to marry (or even if you do, that marriage ends)? What if you don’t want kids or a house and think having a week of vacation a year just isn’t enough?

I know I’m a lucky person who has had more opportunity than most people to enjoy life and follow my bliss, as the famed mythologist Joseph Campbell advised so eloquently. I have never worried much about money because my family has been supportive in that regard, and I have stacked up a long list of experiences and good times that make for great stories at the bar on a Thursday night.

For the most part, I can say I’ve done the things I’ve wanted to do when I want to do them. I’ve partied and rocked out and loved and lost and battled and wandered and laughed and cried with the best of them. It’s been a great life so far.

But I also was raised very practically by Italian-Catholic parents, who drilled into me the work ethic their immigrant parents taught them. These were simple people who grew up poor and were happy just to have a roof over their heads, someone to love and food to feed their families. These are not people who are not necessarily searchers — who would think it was OK to quit a job and go off wandering the world and follow an instinct to experience and write and soul-search.

That’s why this decision was hard for me. I am a child of my parents after all, and while I have traveled and wandered and gone off the beaten path at times, for the most part I have followed a predictable blueprint.

But as soon as I made the decision to change my life and put the plan into action, I felt lighthearted and calm. I felt relief. True, I was nervous and slightly terrified (especially to tell my pragmatic and often gruff Sicilian father; mom is no longer with us) but it felt like the right thing to do. Whether it is remains to be seen — but I feel if I head into this new chapter in my life positively and with a real sense of high-spirited adventure, everything will fall into place.

I believe, as the Zen Buddhists do, that we are always in transition. Whether we know it or not, we are constantly on the verge of the next thing. Whether we choose that next thing or it chooses us is the only question at hand — although I guess sometimes, it’s a little bit of both.

I’m choosing to do something I’ve never done before and to see what happens as a result of that choice. I’m choosing to free myself from a job that my heart was no longer in to travel and find new work, new ways to earn my living, new things to write about, new experiences to feed my soul and new people to walk with for awhile. No matter what happens, I will not regret these choices, even if things turn out to be challenging and I end up broke and broken and heavy-hearted and without a clue in the world what to do next.

I have always said that I don’t believe in going back to repeat the past — back to an old boyfriend, back to live in a town in which I’ve once lived, back to a job that I once had. No — though I may have considered these options in the past, I have never chosen them, as much as I have wanted to.

But I’ve come to realize that despite my fears and worries, my life philosophy supports only going forward. So it’s in that direction I will march into the unknown with my eyes and heart open, my head high and my spirits light. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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Why is the Linux community so afraid of Microsoft?

Today I wrote a story about how a group of open-source proponents called the Open Invention Network bought a bunch of patents related to Linux that Microsoft — and Silicon Graphics before them — used to own. OIN bought them from another group called Allied Security Trust, which acquired them through an auction Microsoft had, because OIN itself was not invited to take part in that auction.

In an interview I had with him today, OIN’s CEO Keith Bergelt claimed that OIN bought the patents to stave off patent litigation from patent trolls — companies that buy up patents solely for the sake of suing companies that may or may not infringe on them. He said this kind of litigation sends the wrong message and gives people the wrong idea about Linux and open source.

“It represents a potential source of antagonism and source of FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) for the community,” he told me.

Bergelt also acknowledged that Microsoft’s own actions to discredit Linux by claiming it owns more than 235 patents included in the open-source OS — as well as its ongoing strategy to get small open-source companies to sign deals to protect themselves from patent litigation — also spreads FUD about Linux and open source.

Still, Bergelt would not say the patents were purchased to discourage or prevent Microsoft from waging this insidious patent war, which disappointed me.

Why is everyone afraid to call Microsoft out on this? Even when Microsoft sued GPS device maker TomTom over patents included in the Linux implementation TomTom uses in its devices (a deal that TomTom settled by — you guessed it — paying Microsoft to license the patents), the Linux and open-source community seemed to swallow Microsoft’s explanation it was a cut-and-dried patent-infringement case, not one against Linux itself.

The open-source community can’t have it both ways — if it wants to defend itself against patent-infringement threats to Linux by collecting any patents that could be grounds for a legal dispute, it can’t shiver in its boots every time Microsoft does something that is a blatant attack on its business model.

While I appreciate that groups like OIN want to protect the interests of the community by keeping Linux patents in the hands of that community rather than in the hands of patent trolls, it does no one any good to ignore the biggest troll in the room. It’s time for the open-source community to trade its kid gloves for boxing gloves when it comes to handling Microsoft’s patent-infringement threats against it.