Worried about Penny

I’m not focused on writing here. At least, not for the last few days. Instead, I’m distracted with the sudden illness of Penny, our 15-year-old Labrador Retriever. When she stopped eating last week, my wife and I feared she might suddenly spiral down like our other dog Casey did back in November.

Normally, Penny bounces in anticipation of mealtime. And that’s with two gimpy hind legs. There’s very little she won’t attempt to eat between meals either — even rocks. If dogs had religions, she’d be a devout Foodist.

So when she turned down her favorite treats, we rushed her to the hospital for as many tests as she could tolerate. Not just diagnostics that wouldn’t annoy her, but those that didn’t require anesthesia — we almost lost her the last time she went under a few years ago.

After X-rays and an ultrasound, her doctor still couldn’t find any explanation for the sudden loss of appetite. And her blood test results were remarkably good for a dog her age — no liver or kidney concerns.

Stumped, we decided to start a simple medication regimen which assumed a non-specific stomach and bowel irritation. It’s not like we could get an answer if we asked Penny what was wrong. She’s not a talker.

And then we waited. Sitting with her, petting her, making sure she knew we loved her. You can’t do a lot of typing when you’re constantly in a pen with your dog offering her food.

Much to our relief, Penny is eating again. With a case of the munchies so bad right now you might think it was from smoking reefer. That not being one of her meds, we believe it’s due to the Mirtazapine she was prescribed — a wonder drug. I still need to hand feed her kibble at times, but she’s enthusiastic about it.

So we’re hopeful. Our concern now is whether she can sustain this appetite once she’s off the meds.

After her fifteenth birthday, every day with Penny has been a gift. But it’s not selfish to want her with us still longer.

Some thoughts on organizational complexity

Dalton Caldwell on digesting complexity:

Whenever I deal with what feels like an overwhelming problem, or get spun out trying to make sense of the myriad potential things I could be doing better, or hear about a company having a tough time because of things like a founder falling out, lack of focus, employee infighting, bad hires, can’t hire fast enough, hired too fast, etc, I can’t help but think of this quote:

More companies die of indigestion than from starvation

David Packard

Years ago, when I first heard this quote, I dismissed it a useless platitude. However, the older I get, the more I have come to appreciate the wisdom contained within that short and simple statement.

It’s worth your time to read the whole essay.

Earlier in the piece, Dalton discusses large companies and uses Apple as an example. Clearly, he understands some of the tradeoffs we had there.

I would also mention that at Apple, we defied business orthodoxy by being a functional rather than divisional organization. Meaning we were organized by product focus like a much smaller company, rather than in discrete business units like some the size of IBM or General Motors. It certainly staved off the complexity of duplication that continues to plague other companies.

Remembering Casey

Penny and Casey

This photo is from Penny’s fifteenth birthday lunch with her sister Casey, during Summer of this year. Penny is our black Labrador Retriever in back. Casey, our German Shepherd, is in front.

That’s my wife at the right feeding them an entire In-N-Out hamburger. We wanted to make sure Penny got to eat one of those before becoming too old and feeble. The focused anticipation in both of their eyes meant we chose the perfect gift.

Casey would have been 10 years old today. She was a Christmas puppy, even though she didn’t become ours until over a month later.

And she was the perfect gift too. She kept on giving and giving. So much energy. So much hair. So much love of life — hers and ours.

I used to say that she had a 110-volt brain in a 220-volt body. Overloaded, she leapt first and sniffed second. Racing everywhere. She could easily knock me over with her enthusiasm. There are still divots in the walls from our play time.

My wife called her our “fluffy bunny.” She was the furriest German Shepherd I’ve ever known. And she would shed a lesser dog every week to fill our central vacuum cleaner. But burying your hand in the mane on her back was truly a simple and visceral pleasure.

Outside on a walk, she was certain my wife needed protection from all other people, animals, plants — anything that moved or stirred in the breeze. Noises could change her into an aggressive lioness protecting her pack.

Inside, she was a lamb. She was gentle and loved it when people visited — once she got used to them coming through the door. She took particular delight in children. And she would lay at your feet or lick your hand even if she just met you.

She was a precious nuisance. But she was ours. She was family.

A few months ago, something went wrong inside that big, crazy body of hers. We still don’t understand it all. She lost her desire and her will to eat. She got thinner and weaker, eventually unable to stand on her own. Less than a week after Thanksgiving Day, it was becoming too much for her and us. We had a decision to make.

With all of us gathered around her, and her head resting on my knee, she passed away from this world and through our tears and sorrow. It still hurts so much to miss her. But that’s how we know she mattered.

Now her ashes rest in a little box on the mantle above our hearth. But she’s always near us anyway. In our thoughts. In our hearts.

We love you, Casey. And we’ll never forget you. Be at peace, baby girl. Be at peace.

Dangling by a trivial feature

James Hague lamenting his dismissal of a whole piece of software, and the labor-intensive work that goes into producing it, for lack of a single, minor feature:

Yet here I am dismissing it in a casual, offhand way because of how the coordinates of the selection rectangle are displayed. … but it makes no difference, because I’ve moved on.

Hague is more thoughtful and considerate than most users. I’ll give him that.

When you make software for a living, you get used to this. No, it’s not pleasant. Eventually you realize that you can’t always anticipate what people want. That’s why you listen to feedback, iterate and give them another release.

But you never try to make your software be all things to all people.

I saw this on Hague’s blog before I noticed it made the front page of Hacker News. 1 Looking at the comment thread there, it’s clear some folks don’t get this aspect of it — you can’t solve the problem of which behaviors to include in your software just by making that software more configurable.

We used to tell this painfully self-deprecating joke while I was at Netscape:

Question: How many preferences does Navigator have?

Answer: All of them.

If you ever used Netscape Navigator, you know what I mean. Even its preferences had preferences. And we still couldn’t make enough people happy.

Software design is about making choices on behalf of your users. Constraints on how your software behaves will focus people on understanding how to use it.

If you make the right choices you’ll wind up pleasing enough people anyway. How do you know which are the right choices?

When you can’t decide which behavior a feature should include, consider if the possible behaviors were available as an option. Decide which behavior would be the default for that option. Implement that default behavior. Now you’re done.


  1. And the front page of Hacker News is where most of Hague’s posts wind up. If you’re a programmer, you really should be subscribing to his RSS feed. I’d recommend it even if you don’t write code. Whether you agree with him or not, his site is always an interesting read.

Writing a correction is not what I want to be doing now

I made the mistake today of actually reading some of the press about that little Safari naming story I posted here. And now I can’t believe how many sites out there got the point of it wrong and wrote lazy-ass, link-bait headlines.


Steve Jobs did not “want” to name the browser “Freedom.” It was just one of the many names he suggested at the beginning to get us focused on the process of naming it. He wanted us thinking about what the browser would mean to our users and what it already meant to us. That’s what good executives do. And — you might not have heard — he was a damn good executive.

Discusion about “Freedom” lasted less than five minutes. That’s it. And then we were on to the next name. I picked that particular name from the host of candidates because:

  • It was one of the first I heard.
  • I remembered it.
  • I thought it was both poignant and funny.

Also, just like Apple didn’t name iChat “Fez” or OS X on Intel “Marklar,” there was no chance in Hell that Safari’s final name would be “iBrowse” or “Alexander.” The first name was a gag and the second was an internal placeholder. I mentioned both of these facts in the story.

The whole point of that story was my personal reaction to hearing the name, “Safari,” for the very first time — it’s the title of the damn post.


I know that I can’t control what other people write. And I don’t want that to inhibit what I do here. But it does give me pause.

Worst. Apocalypse. Ever.

We’re still here. What a disappointment. No fire raining down from the skies. No aliens invading from space. No tone deaf assholes from the NRA… Oh wait, that did happen. But it didn’t cause the world to end. Yet.

Still, we shouldn’t fret, House Republicans engineered a whole other apocalypse here in the U.S. for January first. Where the entire nation will slide off the fiscal cliff, lubricated by the myopia and intransigence of those same politicians. What a country.

In other news, my day was très boring until I found out that 62,418 people visited this website on Thursday. That included 79,892 unique page views. And, no surprise, 82.01% 1 of those views were for the Safari name story. Not very big compared to some, but it got a rise out of me.

Fitzgerald wrote that there are no second acts in American lives. But I’m already on my third or fourth, depending on how you count. We’ll see how many I can get out of this website before it all explodes.

So, join me here for the next armageddon.


  1. Precision matters — just a nod to all you other anal retentives.

Sometimes too much is just too much

Jim Dalrymple on his love/hate relationship with WordPress:

I run The Loop on WordPress. It’s a great platform with a ton of features. But that’s part of the problem — there’s so much that I don’t need and never use that it just feels like a waste.


Much like software that becomes bloated over time, blogging platforms are becoming very bloated with new fancy features. In my opinion, that’s driving many of the power bloggers away.

Jim really nails it.

I think WordPress is powerful. It’s very well supported and maintained too. As I mention here, I prototyped this entire site with it, investing a significant amount of time writing a theme and plugins.

But I didn’t deploy WordPress here because I realized all the hacks in my theme and most of those plugins I wrote were to work around features in the platform I would never use.

That’s why I wrote Magneto. I just wanted something simple that wouldn’t get in my way. Now I’m within the comfort zone of my favorite editor and within reach of my powerful command line. And all the features available are what I’ve created. It’s sparse and limited, but it’s also distraction free.

Here it is: think very carefully about your tools before you apply them to your passion.

Via The Loop.

Jumping the bigger shark

Here in the United States, there’s no need to make jokes about Mayans when you have John Boehner and the NRA to provide so much better material. Unfortunately, what they’re doing is not a joke. We really are doomed.

Mike Shaver says it best in his reply:

Instagram does an about-face

The New York Times on Instagram’s what-was-old-is-now-new terms of service released this evening:

Following a reaction that included customers defecting to other services, Mr. Systrom told Instagram users on Tuesday that the new policy had been misinterpreted. “It is our mistake that this language is confusing,” he wrote, and he promised an updated agreement.

That statement apparently was not enough. With more people leaving the service, the company, which Facebook bought for $735 million this year, reacted again by returning to the old rules.

Well, that didn’t take long. As I wrote earlier, it’s not a good public relations move to get feedback by pissing everyone off.

Forecasting the apocalypse

You should expect the Internet to be insufferable on Friday with a barrage of juvenile Mayan apocalypse humor. Take cover. I won’t stoop to making jokes like that here. Except for that one. And before I post another inside baseball story from my tenure at the Fruit Company, you should expect posts about other things too. Now, let’s all get back to our bomb shelters.