Monday, April 27, 2009

The Year of the Swine

1976. The generation of public health professionals who eradicated Smallpox were still around. They hadn't eradicated anything lately. AIDs hadn't hit yet. It was a slow year.

Somebody noted that flu epidemics come in 11-year cycles, but that pandemics, like 1918, come in 60-year cycles. Somebody else did the math and said, "We're due now for a big one."

A search showed that two individuals in the United States had been infected in the previous couple of years with Swine Flu, the same flu that was thought to have caused the pandemic. Both of these individuals, however, had been in close contact with pigs and that cast the matter in doubt. It was generally agreed that we were OK as long as the victims had been with pigs.

Then, at Fort Dix, New Jersey, healthy recruits started coming down with the flu. Swine Flu. A quick surveillance revealed that no Fort Dix recruit had been with a pig. People in Atlanta started getting excited.

I found myself in the State of Delaware, running a state-wide Swine Flu Immunization Program. It was part of a national campaign to vaccinate everybody.

I marshaled resources and gathered troops and organized meetings. Everybody was in favor of the program, except this one guy who came to all the meetings and kept asking questions about how I was doing everything. And why.

After one of these meetings, I asked him if he worked for the Health Department. He said, no, he was unemployed. I asked him if he wanted a job. He said, sure. So I put him in charge of running the program. For $12,000.

His name was Allen Kagel and he did a top-notch job. When the program began, people started lining up all over the State. All I had to do was appear on the local news.

On December 16, Kagel invited me up to an elementary school in Wilmington to observe the operation he had set up there. When I arrived, the parking lot was full. Lines of people snaked around and through the halls back to the school clinic where the vaccination stations were. I saw one man, inching his way up on a pair of wooden crutches. He grinned at me when he passed by.

A little while later, I got a call from Dover. My office had reached the Principal's office at the school, where Kagel had his command post. He took the call, but then handed it over to me. I listened to the message as it had been transmitted from Atlanta. And then I said, "OK."

I looked at Kagel and said, "The National Program has been terminated."

As I considered my next move, Kagel seized the microphone of the school intercom and bellowed, "THE NATIONAL SWINE FLU PROGRAM HAS BEEN CANCELED."

What happened next was a rush for the exits.

I said, "What are we going to do with all these people?"

Kagel said, "What people?"

The hall, which had late been full of eager vaccinees, was empty. I went to the window. The parking lot was empty.

And, a block away, I saw the figure of a man, with crutches akimbo, making it around the corner.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sufficient to the Day

I'm tired of the stock market. I'm tired of the stock market channel. I'm tired of being told I could be rich if I only had VectorVest.

I'm tired of Google. How long does it take to conquer the world, anyway? I'm tired of Apple. I'm tired of Apple doing better than Google. I'm tired of thinking about how I almost pulled the trigger on Apple when it was 85, but didn't, because of Steve Jobs. I'm tired of Steve Jobs.

I'm tired of hearing about the first 100 days. A hundred days ago, Google was 282. Now, it's 389. Great. Let me know when it gets to 460. I'll throw a party.

I'm tired of swine flu and it's not even here yet.

I'm just tired.

I don't even know what day it is.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Hey, Now

I've reported on Facebook before in these pages.

When I first joined, I had no friends. My home page was peaceful. I sent a message to James Altucher. To me, he was a famous person. He sent me a message back. I thought that was nice. But we didn't become friends, or anything like that.

I tried to get my high school class to join, but they didn't want any part of it. They sent me nervous clippings from newspaper stories.

Then, people at work started talking about Facebook. They said it's a tool. We need to make use of it. I got a couple of friend invitations from people I knew in the office.

I also got a friend invitation from a beautiful, 21-year-old Peruvian girl because we have the same last name. I thought, does this happen to people named Jones?

I started sending out a few invitations of my own.

More people from the office popped up. Then, a few people from my high school class joined. Because their friends invited them. Of course. That's the way Facebook works.

The family - daughter, son-in-law, grandchildren, wife - joined a few weeks ago.

And now it's a crowded house. I see all these people on my friend list and they don't seem to go together.

I'm not sure I want to see pictures of people at work and my high school class and my grandchildren all in the same list with a beautiful, 21-year-old Peruvian girl.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Stand and Shout Hero

We've had a run of heroes, lately.

We've had Chesley in the Hudson. And we've had the boat captain in the small boat.

Now, the world is going nuts about this woman in Britain. She stood on stage just like Andy Kaufman doing Mighty Mouse. Everybody had the picture. They knew what they were gonna get. Then, just like Andy, she extended her arm out, and opened her mouth up, and sang.

The audience stood up and cried. The judges all cried. Now, the whole world is crying.

Something had happened.

Yahweh was in the building.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Google Eve

The villagers in Brigadoon come to life one day, every hundred years, and start looking for Van Johnson.

And so it is with Google. One day every quarter, it comes alive and speaks its earnings. For an hour or so, the world is confounded. And then it all disappears in a fine mist.

Last time, you may recall, was Google's last good quarter. This time will be Google's last bad quarter. Or maybe its first bad quarter. Or just its next good quarter.

I don't care. If they do anything at all, it will be a moral victory. I think I speak for all shareholders when I say that, if they do well, for recompense we will commend them and wish them well in all their future endeavors on our behalf.

My mood is calm. My blood pressure, low. Dover Beach, itself, is receding. For the while, I have my livelihood, fetching clams from the sea and marching them up to my counting house. And, for the while, the world, as we know it, suffices.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Rock Star

Hardware can kill you, if it falls on your head. Software is the stuff that dreams are made of.

Back when IBM was big, hardware was the thing. If you bought Big Iron, it was up to you to make it do something. Later, IBM developed operating systems and gave them away free with the machinery. Software was nothing to them.

So little was software on IBM's mind and culture that, when they invented the personal computer, they sold a license to Bill Gates to put the software in. They probably laughed at him.

The truth is, hardware is nothing. Software is everything. Eventually, software breaks loose from hardware and floats free.

At Google, hardware gets no respect. Thousands of cheap PC's crammed together in overheated box cars like loads of bricks, while software breaks across the world like a rock star.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Hard Part

The difference between Google and Microsoft is the difference between Larry and Sergey, on the one hand, and Bill Gates, on the other.

Gates was a college dropout. Larry and Sergey were graduate school dropouts.

Gates and Jobs and Wozniak all came out of West Coast garages. Larry and Sergey came out of the academic world of Palo Alto.

Gates was a smart programmer, but he never imagined anything bigger than a PC. McNealy said, "The network is the computer," but he didn't know what that meant. Larry and Sergey took the idea seriously and solved the problem of scale with creative architecture and parallel programming.

The programming was easy. The hard part was taking the idea seriously enough to do it.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

I guess it must be up to me

Somebody ought to slap Macke.

Not Finerman, she wouldn't do it. Maybe Janarian, you can tell he gets nettled by the never ending innuendo that comes out of Macke's maw. But Pete's such a decent joe that he usually blows it off with a little frown for the camera.

Today, Jon Najarian, so unflappable he would never slap anybody, because he knows his big little brother will take care of him, that same Jon Najarian said something good about Google today. A guest had said that Google has rallied well, but every move is faded, and that's held it back. Jon said that kind of set-up looked good to him.

Macke threw a fit. He let loose his classic Google rant, in the space of five seconds, mentioning outer space, PhD.'s doing whatever they want, free everything, and migawd it's just an advertising company.

He needs a good slap. Ratigan would have done it. If everybody else did.

I guess I'm going to have to do it myself.

Next time I'm up there.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

hill of beans

I can't get excited about GOOG these days. They're still going to rule the world. I'm sure of that. But the problem is, in these crazy times, ruling the world doesn't command much of a multiple.

How many times now have we skirmished on this same ground? Too many.

I remember the first crossing.

I had bought GOOG just under 200, and it seemed like a great struggle to achieve that level and hold it. Getting to 300 took more of an effort the closer it got. The law of round numbers was in effect.

On October 20, 2005, GOOG closed at 303.20. It had been a sleepy Thursday all day. After the bell, Google's earnings for the third quarter were released. The results, by universal regard, were stupefyingly incredible. In the after hours, the stock shot up 50 points to the mid-350's. The air was thin at that altitude, but the next day, GOOG held, handily. It didn't stop until it hit 475, by the end of the year.

Then, the foot of pride came down and it was the better part of another year before it would see that level again. But then, after basing for a while, GOOG made its final assault on the mountaintop.

All who owned GOOG at that time were beatified. It seemed our natural birthright.


We're just waiting for Muley.

Monday, April 6, 2009

In nothing flat

My wife is the last person I would imagine watching "Dancing with the Stars", but she's downstairs, watching it now.

I'm upstairs, trying to get it together. GOOG's up two bits in the after hours. What can I make out of that? Nothing.

Desperate for material, I go to the Google Message Board. Everything is in upper case. All posted by the same guy. I go to Advanced Search. I search for "Moron". My name comes up.

I need a title. I can't even think of a stupid title. How about, "Ennui Having Fun?" That's truly disgraceful. Maybe I can use it as a comment. Better google it first.

Two million hits.


Sunday, April 5, 2009


The Liberty Man is gone from his post on Highway 61, which is what I call the road between me and work.

The guy isn't there anymore. He's off to some uncertain future. Like me and all the blessed rest of us. He and I connected for an instant there, but epiphany has no cash value.

Just think. If I had millions of readers with a tremendous buzz, that guy would be famous right now, and his people would be trying to contact my people.

I may not post this.

I don't care if it is Sunday.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Diplomacy: A Country for Young Men

Obama's abroad, showing his teeth to everybody. Michele is looking good. How do they do it?

I remember what the pundits said about Kennedy when he came out of his first face-down with Khruschev. They said he looked shaken.

But I'm not comparing Obama to Kennedy. I'm comparing Obama to myself.

Years ago, this young doctor and I were sent by our superiors to Guatemala City for a week, because they thought we could speak Spanish. There was some occasion going on down there and we were trusted to represent the Government. We had diplomatic passports. We took ourselves very seriously.

We arrived on Sunday afternoon. Monday morning, we met with a man named Hector who was the Director of the Communicable Disease Bureau. He introduced us to the Minister of Health and we all rode in a taxi to another big building where we met with the Prime Minister, himself.

Only it wasn't just himself. All his Department Heads from across the whole country were on hand to greet us. We met with them in a very large ceremonial room where a vast number of tables had been arranged in a rectangle. We were seated near the Prime Minister.

There were introductions and welcomes all around. We got through that pretty well. Then the Prime Minister asked each of his Department Heads for a report, describing his region and his Department's operations.

I think it was somewhere around the third guy starting his spiel that I realized I wasn't understanding anything that was being said. I looked at my compadre. He wasn't getting it either.

All I got was a general impression that these Heads of Office, though they stood at the pinnacle of their country's government, seemed like a pretty raucous bunch of fun-seekers. I didn't understand much of what they were saying, but I recognized all the words I remembered from my "Spanish Slang and Dirty Words" book.

Somehow, we got through it. But when we came out, Hector said we looked shaken. He took us to a bar nearby.

After a couple of rounds, we got up the nerve to ask Hector how we did.

Hector leaned forward and, in a low voice, said: "There was a serious breach of protocol."

The doc and I both said, "Really?"

Hector grinned and said, "No! It wasn't you. It was the Prime Minister. He farted!"

We said, "Really?"

Hector banged the table, "No! Have another cerveza!"

We laid back. This was a country in which we could not fail.