I hadn't seen Milly in months. A tall, forthright black girl with straightened hair, we'd been chums by virtue of sharing the Visitor's Study Carrel in Sterling Library at Yale, where I wrote and researched. I never knew what Milly was doing: it seemed to involve reading a lot of newspapers and writing a lot of email. I assumed she was in some political action program, or perhaps she just had a lot of relatives -- it didn't seem to make much difference to me and I never asked. It's a quiet, gentle place, where natural light filters through lead-glass windows, the chairs are ancient but comfortable, and the general feeling was (mostly) mellow.
But today I was in a much different venue: the Visitor's Carrel had recently been subjected to a draconian 20-minute limit on computer use, and I was working in the comparatively airless space of Gateway College, where the lighting is fluorescent, the chairs painful, and the company less than congenial. "And you haven't done anything about it?" Milly asked. "I went straight to the administration about it, and pointed out that...20 minutes...you can't hardly get anything done in 20 minutes. So I got a pass."
"I'll make a note to do so, m'self." I went back to reading. "Hwa! Microsoft is going down...down...down...Muhahahahahaha......" I gloated.
"You think that's good?"
"Of course that's good. Microsoft is the Evil Empire."
"How so? Bill Gates is a saint."
"I don't see any of the other computer guys sending vaccines to Africa."
"Publicity! Spin doctoring! If you'd heard the guy about ten years ago, you'd have heard he never wanted to give to charity. His business practises are crooked, he's a downright terror to his subordinates, and he's screwed over most of his so-called friends..."
"All businessmen do that."
"I'm afraid that the computing business, at least for a time, had higher standards. Microsoft's money is tainted, and I refuse to use a single product of theirs at home."
"All Wall Street is tainted. All computer people are tainted. But they don't care about Darfur. Bill Gates is a saint, because he don't see black and white, he see just people in trouble he can help. I pray in thanksgiving for him every night."
"Yeah, right. What about Steve Jobs, who was a monk in India for a time? Steve Wozniak, who's in teaching now, and has given away computers to schoolchildren every year now, RMS,Bruce Perens...Linus Torvalds, who are better programmers than Bill ever was and work for free?"
"Never heard of them. I don't like your attitude towards prayer."
"I'll be praying for you not to get so angry." I printed out a couple of biographies from Wikipedia. "Read for yourself. No one likes Gates."
"They're jealous of an innovator."
Has it really come to this? I thought. OK, it's great that the kids are vaccinated, but to consider him the great humanitarian is a bit much. And...a saint?? Thousands of us all giving our all for better software, and a guy who never wrote a line of what he's supposed to be known for gets the credit for ... what exactly?
And then I remembered.