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April 2011

Volume 26 Number 04

Don't Get Me Started - The Cat Butt Factor

By Simba | April 2011

You probably don’t think about my butt when you design software. But you should.

Hi, I’m Simba, Dave’s long-suffering cat. Dave’s really busy this month, so he asked me to help out. He said I could either write this column or he’d get me a job in the exciting field of medical research. Anyone who knows Dave will understand what a tough call that was, either living with him or being dissected alive. But I’ve always wanted to see my name in print, so I decided to tolerate him a little longer.

Dave's cat, Simba, and its favorite perch

You might think that my not having opposable thumbs would make this column difficult to write. You would be wrong.

My picture doesn’t show it, but I’m almost 20 years old. I remember when Dave got his first 386 PC from Gateway, with cow spots on the box. It ran this funny “Windows” thing when it started up. I thought the mouse was really cool. But when I bit its tail, I found a really shocking experience. Dave tried to uninstall Windows, but stopped when I showed him Solitaire.

That was back when Windows only ran on PCs. Cell phones were these big clunky things with horrible voice quality that dropped calls all the time. Now Windows runs on sleek, light phones that play music and games, give driving directions and even show movies. And they still have horrible voice quality and drop calls all the time; but now, at least, we have apps that use GPS to locate the nearest working pay phone when we really have to make a call. That’s progress, no?

What does this have to do with my butt, I hear you wondering. The answer is that, like many users of Windows, Dave leaves his laptop on overnight because it takes so long to boot up. Naturally, the keyboard is where I like to sleep. It’s warm from the heat sink, and the keys make a soft bed for my old joints. But I do it mostly because I know he doesn’t want me there.

Simultaneously holding down multiple keys doesn’t just trash whatever document Dave foolishly left open; it often scrambles the connection between the hardware and the OS in ways that are very hard to diagnose and fix after he chases me off it (which serves him right, don’t you think?). One time the keyboard emitted weird clicks but wouldn’t echo any characters. Another time the screen image turned upside down and stayed that way. Still another time, nothing initially seemed wrong, but the keyboard layout changed to what Dave eventually identified as Indonesian. He was tearing out his face fur. I haven’t seen him so angry since he called tech support for my self-scooping USB-controlled litter box and they put him on hold. I thought I’d have to take him to the people-vet.

He’s supposed to know this stuff. He’s written more than a dozen books on programming Windows, he teaches it at a major university and Microsoft designated him a Software Legend back in 2002. And a cat’s butt has made him repave his hard drive, more than once. He thinks it’s wrong. I think it shows how we cats really run the world.

Think Dave’s just being extra dumb, even for him? Nope. Approximately 38 million U.S. households—about a third of the total—own at least one cat. The average number owned per household is about 2.5, for a total of 94 million owned cats in the United States. And of those 108 feline beasts, exactly zero owners have any control whatsoever over where the cat goes or what the cat does in the house. This isn’t an obscure edge case.

Legend says that the Internet was designed to survive a nuclear war. Your programs ought to survive the attack of a cat’s butt. Maybe Dave will rent me to you as a tester. I could use the money for pâté and caviar instead of the cheap kibble he feeds me.

It’s amazing to realize that a simple beast like me has witnessed the entire rise of Windows over the last 20 years. I wish I could stay around to see the next 20. Thanks for listening to me. Bye.

Simba adopted David Platt in 1991. She has obstructed the writing of 11 programming books by jumping on the keyboard. Watch for her forthcoming tell-all book, “Why Being Dave’s Cat Sucks,” and her subsequent appearance on Oprah. A New England snowshoe cat with polydactyl thumbs, she can almost count in octal.