Flashback, part 102 of n

Ironically enough for someone who has plied his trade in the tech industry for twenty-one years, two-thirds of that in Silly Con Valley, I was almost certainly part of the last cohort of American college students who could go through four years of undergrad without ever having seen or touched an Internet-enabled computer. My first email address was @eworld.com, in the summer of 1994 before grad school when I purchased the Power Macintosh 6100 that would be my primary instrument for almost five years.

But here’s the other kicker:  I was also almost certainly one of the last people for whom introduction to the Internet wasn’t mediated through the World Wide Web. eWorld, nice though it was, at its root was a thin-gruel AOL clone and an online service with no Internet access but a mail gateway. As I cabled up in the autumn of ’94 at Vandy, you still had to find and install all the bits and bobs yourself – either some way to dial into a terminal session on the VAX, or else figure out how to install MacTCP and then come up with a SLIP or PPP connection and then start piecing together a telnet tool, a USENET reader, a Gopher client, and of course the indispensable Eudora.

There wouldn’t be Ethernet in the campus apartments for at least a year or more. Fortunately there weren’t a lot of people using the handful of Apple Remote Access modems, so my pokey pathetic Geocom Teleport Adapter could always dial in (even if it dragged my computer to a halt in doing so). There was definitely a feeling that you had to go up into cyberspace, jacking in via the phone line in a sort of techno-astral-projection. The idea that it was a perpetual ethereal presence that you could never escape from was a good ten or more years in the future, and in an age when almost every ISP still metered by the hour or fraction thereof, the urgency of “every second counts” was real.

Of course, as I may have mentioned earlier, the big driver was email. The notion that instead of writing a letter and throwing it in the postal sea to wait days or weeks or longer for a reply, or calling and running up $10 an hour or more in long distance, you could type something out on a computer and get something back instantaneously? Mind-bending, especially for someone nursing a long-distance crush and enthralled with the notion of epistolary novels. There were two computers in the office at Calhoun Hall, and ten or so terminals in a round computing building off Library Lawn, and a whole lab of Macs in Payne Hall not far from my own apartment where the 6100 waited to tie up a phone line that never rang with anyone I wanted to speak to. I was checking my mail just before class, right after class, halfway home, and everywhere in between. Over that first Christmas break in 1994, I would actually drive two and a half hours back from home just to collect my email (and my physical mail, to be fair).

Thing is, for years, it took work to be on the Internet. It was a journey to an alternate dimension, another place with its own customs and culture. And it was a different and problematic place, but it was worth the visit and it was an interesting place to co-reside. And then we ruined it by making it easy enough for any redneck fossil with a cell phone to use it. Now that slab in your hand is more like the sunglasses in They Live – showing you the horror all around, some of which was brought to you by that slab.

Of which.

The Flickr-ing light

How old is my Flickr account? Older than this blog, which is saying something. It’s so old, the first picture on it is of me with a full head of hair in our first California apartment. I don’t think my account predates the Yahoo acquisition, but like Yahoo, Flickr is one of those things that everyone had once and in many cases probably forgot about – because it predated Superphone Time.

Much like Dodgeball ran on the rocks because it arrived before apps on GPS-enabled phones, Flickr needed you to upload your digital photos, presumably being taken on a nice camera and piped through your computer. Once you started to have a 5-megapixel point-and-shoot-grade camera in your hand all the time, though, the first mover was Hipstamatic, with its filters to make the best of shitty phone cameras, quickly passed by Instagram and its built-in social networking mechanism. Instagram was impossible before Superphone Time, but it dominated after, and even though Flickr got a lot of run from people who were committed to it, it sort of fell off the radar with the rest of Yahoo.

And then, SmugMug snapped it up, a site and service dedicated to more professional photography. Which means Flickr is that rarest of birds: a legacy service not in thrall to the Big Evils of Silly Con Valley. You can dump Facebook and all its pomps and all its works and all its empty promises, dump Google, divest yourself of Twitter, but how are you going to share your pictures with friends? And there, largely unchanged since 2005, sits Flickr, with the ability to offer an RSS feed and easy IFTTT integration so that everything you’ve been taking on Instagram goes there too. And when the time comes to cut off the last piece of the Facebook evil empire, you’ll still have a spot for pics.

Flickr predated the social media era and lingered half out of sight for years, but in doing so might have been saved alive from the worst of How We Internet Now. The retreat into siloed services, and Facebook as the 21st-century AOL, gave a handful of companies a ridiculous amount of control over our data and what we share. And yet, Flickr makes it possible for me to theoretically dump the last app that either Google or Facebook have on my personal device. That, plus the slow rumble around micro.blog and Mastadon, and the continuing enthusiasm for plain old RSS readers among the digerati, makes me think that it will still be possible for some time to get away with rolling your own blog, hosting your own email, and having a nice quiet life without the hassle and inconvenience of being bled dry by the Beasts of Mountain View and Menlo Park.

Only thing is, you have to hope Signal keeps getting money from somewhere. 

Dawn patrol

First things first: Nancy Pelosi deserves to roll up to that podium like Hela returning to Asgard, swinging a ball bat wrapped in barbed wire while Elton John blasts “The Bitch Is Back.” When the rest of the Democratic Party was feckless, hapless, scared of its own shadow and in thrall to the Golden Mean fallacy, Pelosi kept her caucus together and never bent and never buckled. There’s no Obamacare without Nancy Pelosi holding the line. She earned this, she deserves this, and I will probably spend the morning singing California Drinking Song on a loop.

OK. To business.

First, read this, and know that I endorse every word, letter, punctuation and diacritical of it. Every one. Key excerpt:

…The high-visibility Senate races Democrats lost (Missouri, Tennessee) were pipe dreams anyway. You already knew that Florida sucks, hard. So you’re not sad because “The Democrats did badly.”

You’re also not sad because Beto lost, or Andrew Gillum lost, or any other single candidate who got people excited this year fell short. They’re gonna be fine. They will be back. You haven’t seen the last of any of them. Winning a Senate race in Texas was never more than a long shot. Gillum had a realistic chance, but once again: It’s Florida.

No, you’re sad for the same reason you were so sad Wednesday morning after the 2016 Election. You’re sad because the results confirm that half of the electorate – a group that includes family, neighbors, friends, random fellow citizens – looked at the last two years and declared this is pretty much what they want. You’re sad because any Republican getting more than 1 vote in this election, let alone a majority of votes, forces us to recognize that a lot of this country is A-OK with undisguised white supremacy. You’re sad because once again you have been slapped across the face with the reality that a lot of Americans are, at their core, a lost cause. Willfully ignorant. Unpersuadable. Terrible people. Assholes, even…So I get it. It’s depressing. There’s no amount of positives that can take away the nagging feeling that lots and lots of people in this country are just…garbage. They’re garbage human beings just like the president they adore. These people are not one conversation, one fact-check, and one charismatic young Democratic candidate away from seeing the light. They’re reactionary, mean, ignorant, uninteresting in becoming less ignorant, and vindictive. They hate you and they will vote for monsters to prove it.

Remember this feeling. Remember it every time someone tells you that the key to moving forward is to reach across the aisle, show the fine art of decorum in practice, and chat with right-wingers to find out what makes them tick. Remember the nagging sadness you feel looking at these almost entirely positive results; it will be your reminder that the only way to beat this thing is to outwork, outfight, and out-organize these people. They are not going to be won over and they will continue to prove that to you every chance they get.

What are the really disappointing races? Governor of Georgia? Governor of Florida? Texas Senate? Those aren’t low-hanging fruit. Those are statewide races in Confederate states. Those are the last things that will flip. The fact that the Democrats covered the spread in every race is the win, especially if that enthusiasm and organization is harnessed to go again in two years, which is what it’s going to take. This level of participation and enthusiasm, every election, forever.

This was never going to be fixed in two years, because that’s not what our system allows. It wasn’t broken in two years. Donald Trump wasn’t the cause, he was the opportunistic infection that ultimately kills you once your immune system has been reduced to rubble. Our system broke when the GOP was allowed to run a five year fishing expedition until they could create an impeachable offense. It broke when Al Gore got the most votes and wasn’t allowed to win. It broke when the GOP went 100% scorched earth against Obama for eight years and leaned into racism and white supremacy and conspiracy theory. It broke when there was no accountability for anything that happened under Bush. It broke when a Supreme Court seat was held open for a year. Trump isn’t HIV, he’s Kaposi’s sarcoma.

Or to borrow from someone on Twitter: yesterday was America’s biopsy. What we have isn’t untreatable, but it’s definitely malignant. We have to fight it. Aggressively. And it’s going to hurt, and it’s going to take a lot out of us, and we’re not all going to make it, and we won’t be the same at the end, but the alternative is to lie there and wait to die.

What are we prepared to do? Because we’ve broken through. Now we can fight. Yesterday was the end of the beginning. We have to go like hell if we want it to be the beginning of the end.

One year on

So it’s now officially been a full year on the iPhone X. A year in which I’ve been trying to come to grips with the “this is your One Device” thing, where my Kindle and my iPad and my spare shutdown phone and hell, maybe even my laptop are all superfluous to requirement and all I need to get by is this one phone (and, let’s face it, an extra battery to top it up and the BeatsX headphones along with it). So…how’s that shaping up?

Better than I would have expected, to be honest. I still wish I had something a bit smaller, but I’ve learned to live with the bulk of the thing. At least it’s practically all screen, and I can hold it firmly in one hand even if I can’t safely use it one-handed (selfies off the side of the California Street cable car are scary). And the Downtime app really is working out to let me use it as its own shutdown-night replacement device; no need for a second phone to be the “let me unplug from everything” gadget while remaining just connected enough to hear from loved ones and catch a Lyft home. The problem I keep coming back to, though, is work. This is work’s phone, on work’s plan. I do have a connection for my own private VPN, but I don’t entirely trust that AirWatch isn’t snooping in the background. I also made sure that I’m backing up routinely in iCloud, and at home from time to time. And I took the plunge and signed up for LastPass, which is at least company-approved, and embarked on a complex program of changing passwords and making sure I don’t recycle the same strong password over and over.

Because here’s the thing: what am I doing that I’m not doing on either this phone, my work laptop or on the home iMac? Increasingly a password manager and a bunch of strong passwords are better than the old days when I might have to check in from some user’s browser, or be on a lab machine somewhere, or in a cyber cafe in London. If you kidnap me tomorrow and drop me in the middle of Tokyo with just my keys and a credit card, I can walk into the Apple Store, buy an iPhone 8, log in with my iCloud credentials and then use my Yubico key to open up LastPass, and as soon as the backup is restored I’m 100% back in business and ready to go. (Granted, I might have to place a call to find out what my 2FA code is for the iCloud account, but we’ll burn that bridge when we get to it.) The number of places I need to randomly log in is not what it used to be.

I mean, let’s face it, the days of logging in pretty much went by the boards when smartphone time arrived. Instagram and Uber  and Foursquare made no sense before the smartphone, but pine and Hotmail and web portals made no sense once your credentials are stored in the hand-sized device that needs both a passcode to unlock and your thumbprint or retina scan or something to report out its stored login information. If you have strong passwords managed by a piece of software that can be conveniently unlocked on the fly, the thing in your hand is itself the key to the internet.  And this is where iTunes.app bites the dust. You can’t plug a device into your computer to manage it as a matter of routine anymore, not if that device is your primary tool, and now you don’t have to. Trying to sync with iTunes has become such a big bag of hurt in recent years that it’s easier just to set the device up and rely on the cloud for everything – and given how much streaming music is displacing the old model, that may be for the best, because you’re going to pay through the nose for a phone with enough capacity to hold your entire iTunes Media folder and it’s going to dump the contents every time you run an OS upgrade anyway.

The flip side, of course, is that if you’re going to consume all your media on the phone, you need a big screen. Which you’re kind of getting anyway, because a bigger screen comes with the bigger device that has to hold the entire new chipset and battery enough to run it for more than thirty minutes. It’s entirely possible that we won’t ever see an iPhone SE2, because the combination of AMOLED and 3dTouch and the graphics hardware and the battery pack needed to make all that last all day means you have to go large. Made worse by the revelation that each new iPhone for the last two years has gotten slightly worse at battery life, other than the iPhone XR…which gets its power from dumping the fancy tech and cramming a huge battery behind its cheap LCD. Some years ago I bemoaned the notion that we were inevitably headed toward the 6-inch phablet as the finish line for the phone. And sure enough, here we are: 5.8” small, 6.5” large and 6.1” economy size. Apple has given in and said that the future of the most personal computer is that very 6-inch phablet. I just had a year jumpstart on their vision, for better or worse.

I don’t necessarily like it, but I’ve learned to live with it, and if that isn’t the perfect metaphor for life in these United States in 2018 I’ll kiss your ass.

Election Day

Let’s not get it twisted. There are various names and party labels on the ballot, and there are all sorts of random things at the city and county level, and California’s proposition system is a KICK ME sign on the butt of democracy, but skip all that. Every state and Congressional election this year boils down to one simple question:

Are you okay with this?

Miss me with talk about tax policy, or education funding, or the Supreme Court, or whatever the foibles and predilections of the individual candidates. Because they are all buried under one question: is this okay? Are you good with America in 2018? With the foreign meddling, with the baldfaced corruption, with nurturing of white supremacists, with the complete disinterest in reason and logic, with the utter indifference to truth and reality? Is a nation on fire an acceptable price for a 21% corporate tax rate or a Supreme Court majority for whatever it is you wanted?

Because if it’s not, you have one and only one course of action open to you: you have to vote for every Democrat in every race.

You don’t have to like it. No one is asking you to approve of everything they stand for, everything they might want to do, and that’s fine – nothing serious could move for two years anyway. You don’t have to worry that Congress is suddenly going to nationalize Comcast and outlaw Baptists. It’s fine. This isn’t about granular issue positions any more. Those have to wait for later. This is about only one side being willing and able to stop the bleeding.

Because the GOP had plenty of chances to head this thing off, and couldn’t. Wouldn’t. Didn’t. For better or worse, this is what it means to be a Republican in 2018: I believe all of this is OK. Because nothing has happened to stop it. If the GOP was going to stand up to Trump, they’ve had two years to do so. And it didn’t happen, except for a gesture toward healthcare by a dying man who isn’t there anymore. Flake, Collins, all the sorrowful “moderates” – they’re there for him when it counts. Every single time.

The fact of the matter is, we functionally have a two-party system. You can vote for a third party if you want, but don’t kid yourself that you’re not actually throwing away your vote. The Green party isn’t going to save you, and there is no magical third way moderate who is going to lead us out of this. Your choices are yes, this is OK, or no it isn’t. And right now, today, in 2018, “no it isn’t” is labeled Democrat. Full stop.

Maybe if the sixty-something percent who say “no it isn’t” in polls could all get behind one party, we could do a deal. We’ll hash it out in the party, and when the rubber hits the road we’ll hold our noses and support what we decided to do rather than going all different directions and tolerating crazy – or worse, endorsing it – for the sake of getting our own way. And we’ll leave the nuts and the crazies and the assholes on the outside and wait for them to die, and contain in the meantime, because holding together a society is more important than burning it down for a bare advantage.

That used to be called democracy. If you still want it to be, you know what lever you have to pull. And keep pulling it, every race and every ballot, every election until the infection burns out.

flashback, part 101 of n

It was December 1988 when I received it. I don’t know why you got high school rings halfway through your junior year, but I considered very carefully and then chose 10K white gold, the only one in my class not to choose yellow as far as I know, and an aquamarine stone. It arrived just in time for the holiday season, and the combination was perfect for clear cold December nights. It looked like a piece of starlight on my hand.

More than that, it was a promise. It was a sign of greater things to come, the idea that I would graduate with honors and go away to college and finally get to have everything I was told would be possible once I got that scholarship and got out of high school. It had 1990 on the side – a date to conjure with, a new decade, a future worth waiting for. It felt like the thing that had been missing from my hand from the time I was old enough to think of college. It was my very own Infinity Stone.

And then.

It went missing in my dorm room in September 1990. I couldn’t find it for a couple of weeks, and it felt like God telling me that the old days didn’t matter, that my high school couldn’t help me now. And when I did find it, I still felt like that was true. And the magic was gone for a while. Only at Vanderbilt, when I could wear a class ring on each hand, did I start to feel like there was something there.

Time passed. I ended up with a Vanderbilt ring on one hand, and kept that as validation of some kind of smart, trying to pretend like I’d accomplished something there. But that silvery blue was always in the back of my mind. And when the time came to start dating the woman I’d marry, I put it on a chain around her neck. And when I gave her an actual ring, I got mine back – and that was the ring on my other hand the day we married.

Because it’s the only real class ring I have. The undergrad ring is obviously never going to be a thing again. The Vanderbilt ring is good for when you have something to prove, but it feels more like a species of cosplay than anything else, given the circumstances of my departure. The high school ring is the signet of the best public high school in America, and of the Redneck Hogwarts it was before that, and of two state championships in Scholars Bowl and hallway swivel chair jousting and two waterguns on your person and disco breaks in class and feeling less like a freak than I ever had to that point – or ever would again before Vandy. I earned every bit of that. I wanted every bit of that. I am every bit of that.

I’m not the lean whippy 160 lb troublemaker of days gone by, and I struggled with getting it on my finger last holiday season, and so last week I went to a jeweler and paid $225 to have it resized to fit. And so it does. I frequently find myself wearing it at Christmas time, partly because it looks seasonally appropriate under the velvet night sky full of stars the way it did in 1988. But also because it reminds me of who I was, and how far I’ve come in 30 years. Nashville, DC, Silicon Valley, London, Tokyo, Ireland, National Geographic, Apple, iPhones and hybrid cars and major league sports and AirWair boots and vintage flannel caps and friends and comrades and love.

Resized and cleaned, it still looks like a piece of starlight on one finger. It looks like the best of the past and something approximating hope for the future. It looks like the thing that, for decades, has been missing from my hand. And hopefully it can again be a talisman of better days to come.

palms up

Comes now the news that the Palm brand, last seen being ignominiously sold off to Chinese white-label conglomerate TCL along with Blackberry, RCA and who knows how many others, has today resurfaced with a new company whose leadership and creative design team includes…Steph Curry. Yeah, that one. Their product, which was leaked some months ago but dismissed as so out-there as to make no sense, is…a cellphone. The “Palm”, so-called, is more or less credit-card sized with a 3.3” screen, an 800 mAh battery, an electronic SIM that mirrors your existing phone (of which more in a moment), and a bespoke UI on top of last year’s Android that tries to make it easy to work with what is, by 2018 standards, an infinitesimal display. In a world where a 5-inch phone can be called “small” this new thing is absurdly so (not to deny that the iPhone had a 3.5” screen from inception until summer 2012).

So what is this thing for? Apparently it is explicitly meant to be a second phone, of a type I am well familiar with: the shutdown phone, the device you want to have when you want to unplug without being disconnected. The e-SIM lets you ring it with the same phone number as your primary phone – which in a way gets around the issue I’ve always had with a separate device. It’s the same process used by the LTE-equipped Apple Watch…which in a lot of ways seems like a much better way of doing this, since it’s possible to be contacted by Apple Watch but damn near impossible to do the toxic shit like social media or read the news or what have you. But then, if you have an Android phone you probably haven’t got an Apple Watch.

Because for now, this is definitely meant for a very specific group of people: those who are on Verizon and can use an Android device as their failover. Which can be done, if you don’t care about iMessage for whatever reason, and maybe you don’t. I don’t know if WhatsApp or Signal or the like would be cool with two instances on two devices with the same number, although it seems to me like that would play hell with the security model. I’ll probably never know, as I would rather get my cell service from ISIS than Verizon, but that Apple Watch concept is intriguing. Or would be if it didn’t have to be charged every damn night.

I’ve gone two ways with the whole shutdown-device thing. The use of the Downtime function in iOS 12 is actually working really well, if only because it puts a barrier between me and the stuff I ought not be doing (and the use of clumsy two-factor authentication for Twitter makes it even more so, helpfully). I can take the same iPhone X that I use for the workday and go down to the pub on Sunday night, listen to music, read a book, still be reachable on Signal and never have to bother with digging out a second device and making sure it’s topped up, or bringing the Kindle along with that second device, or working up some combination of Kindle and iPod shuffle and…

It’s true that the phone has really become our personal computer. We may still manage our pictures or our music on the PC, and it’s certainly a hell of a lot easier to blog, but I truly wonder for how many people (especially outside Silly Con Valley) the phone has completely displaced the traditional computer as the user interface of their online existence. That’s why, to me, things like Downtime are a huge and necessary thing: if the phone should be capable of being your Walkman and your pager and your Kindle and your camera and your GPS and your record store, it stands to reason that it ought to be capable of being your shutdown phone as well and thus not being all those other things from time to time. And there should be some way of gleaning the benefits of a connected world without having to take the firehose of shit with it.

I mean, think about it. If you want to know what the weather is going to be like tomorrow, it’s not going to drag you down a wormhole or ruin your night to look at Weatherunderground, right? You should be able to see what time is the light rail departing without being sucked into Facebook, right? And I’m sure the people who say “just don’t open those apps” are the same people who say “well just don’t get pulled over” or asinine stuff like that. You do things in this life to make it easier not to do things you don’t want to do, especially if there’s a time and a place when you do want to. But in the grand scheme of things, isn’t it better to have a way of constraining yourself that doesn’t cost $350?

Oh right, I forgot. This little slice of Golden State Warriors techno heaven will cost you $350, plus an extra $10 a month to add it to your Verizon plan. It’s one thing when you can repurpose a phone you already had (and to be fair, the Moto X so long ago was about the same, although it was bought with the hope of using it as a primary phone between jobs) but paying extra money up front to detach sounds…well, quite frankly it sounds like a dream business for extracting money from white people in Silly Con Valley. But the thing I always come back to – even in my own situation – is that nobody wants to manage two phones. It’s just not worth the hassle to have a second device, even when it becomes a Tamagotchi that you’re only tending once or twice a week to make sure you don’t find yourself 29 updates in arrears and two beta versions behind.

So yeah, one device that can be made to do (and NOT to do) whatever you want. Of which more in a bit.

Flashback, part 100 of n

I would go back to my bench, which was at the other side of a huge pile of…everything. Returned equipment, new equipment, etc etc. I re-arranged that stuff for a while until I had a clear space around the bench, barricaded in by walls of cases and boxes and etcetera, easily six and a half feet high all the way around…the only way in or out was a passage just wide enough to slide a roller case through – less than 3 feet wide at best – and was blocked by a pallet jack loaded down with 600 lb of desktop machines, so I could easily pull up the drawbridge…I sat there, no sound other than the tinny streaming radio from the UK and the occasional chime of a rebooting system, and churned out laptops for eight hours straight. Sometimes nine or ten. It was mind-numbingly dull…but it wasn’t customer-facing, it wasn’t physically strenuous, I could sip on a Dr Pepper and hear some music in the background…basically, all the alone-time I needed.

Man alive, what I wouldn’t give now…not to be customer-facing, and to be able to just build up the wall and get to work…

– 21 May 2008

 

The first entry in this series was looking back less than four years. That was over a decade ago. The days are long but the years are quick.

During the process of recovering from the Thanos-strike on mine host’s servers, I stumbled across other things I’d written down and stashed during that same era. December 2007, January 2008, when I was first coming to grips with bottoming out on depression and the realization that I’d made a huge mistake leaving Apple (arguably the second-biggest mistake of my life, in retrospect). And I was thinking about what I’d like my life to be like if things ever got better, and why it wasn’t doing so…

 

I’m depressed by the prospects of staying at this job, with its poor prospects for growth and its crap leave policies, because I am afraid that it will keep me from being able to do what I want. The problem is, i don’t know what it is that i want…. I want a job with people I can be friendly with, with the ability to work from home occasionally, with actual leave and maybe free coffee in the mornings and not lifting hundreds of pounds a day. I know damn well these jobs exist – because almost everyone else I know HAS ONE.

-7 Jan 2008

 

I made a list of the things I wanted to talk to the shrink about: the drama and trauma of my family back in the old country, my dismal view of a political culture that just kept getting more stupid and backward, my constant abiding fear of making the wrong choice, how much I miss having somewhere to belong, and my inability to stop wishing for a better past. And ten years on…there we are, just like always, except I may have finally stopped that last thing. 

In fact, some of the other concerns have gone by the boards. I’m now in a job where I can listen to audio all day (even if it’s podcasts and not streaming now) and do have free coffee and don’t have to pick up anything heavier than money, and I can go out of the country for three weeks at a time and work from home when I get back. That’s not nothing, and even though it took a long time and a lot of misery to get here, I’m here. I dealt with the problem of supporting a bunch of crap football teams by…getting out of college football for good, more or less. We eventually made a decision on having kids, and although I’m sure I’ll have regrets someday, in retrospect it was absolutely the right call to make. And my need for a pub or coffeehouse was pretty much sorted out by the use of the big recliner downstairs, a 20 oz Yeti tumbler, a stream from RTE and a set of headphones.

I adapted and performed, in other words. There were a lot of things I couldn’t and can’t change, but I’ve managed to (slowly, eventually) wrench my own life into something I can live with. And when I look back at Black October fourteen years ago, I think of all the things the guy skulking behind the Pelican cases had yet to see: London. Ireland. Japan. A surrogate big sister. A goddaughter. A long-lost cousin who more than anyone knows What It’s Like. An iPhone or nine. A new-age Rabbit and a hybrid Malibu. Vanderbilt bowl games and San Francisco World Series trophies. Giants in San Jose and Warriors in Santa Cruz. Steel toed Blundstones and Alden boots and plastic Birkenstocks. Twitter and Instagram and SBNation. And a world gone horribly, horribly wrong in ways that were inconceivable even from the political depths of 2004.

Life happened while I was busy making other plans. 

Sic Transit Plus

So it turns out that Google+ is going to live on a nice farm in Petaluma where it can run and jump and play with Google Reader, Google Buzz, Google Wave, Orkut, iGoogle, Google Fiber, Google Wi-fi…only thing is, the reason it’s getting murked is because it was leaking data for years, and Google covered it up rather than fix it.

This is surprising not at all. Shall we go back in time nine years?

Microsoft had your desktop. Google has your data. And the only thing standing between your data and a reign of terror that would make Bill Gates look like Winnie the Pooh is the vague promise “Don’t be evil.” Is Google evil? No more than any other company. Certainly not more evil than Apple, for instance. Far less evil than your typical cable company or baby Bell. But knowing what the world is like, and knowing where virtue ranks among American business metrics, are you prepared to hang your online livelihood on “don’t be evil”?

-30 July 2009

Well, if you had any hopes that the Beast of Mountain View was a safer or more responsible custodian of your personal information than Facebook, abandon them. At either end of 101 between Routes 84 and 85 lies a company that makes its wealth through the harvesting and resale of your personal data, which they will gladly whore around to all and sundry with no concern for the impact this has on your personal safety or risk of identity theft or misuse of personal information. 

And the most telling thing is that rather than fix the problem, rather than take responsibility for what they did wrong and try to remediate it, Google’s response is to shut the product down outright. As with all things, once it doesn’t work or has flaws or just can’t be turned into another money-spinning data crop, Google lives by the ethos “if at first you don’t succeed, quit.” And so far, they’ve gotten away with it, not least because people have painted Facebook as the devil of Silly Con Valley without seeming to notice that Google does the exact same thing.

Buy an iPhone. Dump WhatsApp for Signal. Share your pics in the group chat instead of Insta. Use ProtonMail instead of Gmail, use Vimeo to post what you would have put on YouTube, delete Chrome from EVERY DEVICE YOU OWN, do your web searches in DuckDuckGo and keep all the tracker blockers enabled in iOS 12.

Only a moron trusts Google any more.

This Was Inevitable (reprise)

Maybe the committee vote is today, and the Senate vote is over the weekend, but make no mistake: this was decided on November 8, 2016. Everything else is just chicanery. The GOP majority in the Senate can put whomever they want on the Supreme Court, because in the final analysis, the Snowes and Collinses and Flakes will always fold. Let me repeat: they will always fold. No Republican is willing to be the one whose vote causes the party to lose.

This election was always going to be felt hardest and longest in the Supreme Court. This is what the GOP has campaigned on and fought for since the time of Earl Warren: the prospect of getting a permanent unelected majority who can deliver both political decisions like Bush v Gore and economic ones for the business donors. Who knows, they might even apply death by a thousand cuts to Roe or Obergefell – not so much that Trump’s mistress can’t get an abortion or Cheney’s daughter can’t get married, but enough so that if you live below the Whiffle Line, you’ll be bound by their will. If anything happens to Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the next two years, or if Trump gets reelected in 2020, you can expect a redneck-conservative majority for the rest of our lives.

Something’s got to give, when voting doesn’t matter. Nixon got elected with a minority in 1968, but he had the most votes – more than Humphrey, more than Wallace. Bill Clinton never had a majority, but he had the most votes – more than Bush or Dole or Perot. They both got to be President. Gore had more votes than Bush, but it availed him nothing, and Hillary had a bigger margin of the popular vote than that – and it availed her even less. Setting aside all the other nonsense around how we got here with Trump, the simple fact is that the second-place finisher now has gotten to put as many people on the Supreme Court in two years as Obama did in eight. A democratic political system cannot survive minoritatian rule. It just can’t. It will break, and then either be repaired or you’ll get something else. Which you may wish you hadn’t.

I swear I thought we were past this in 2012. Every election since 2004 has been increasingly stressful because it’s felt like we were fighting off an enemy that somehow got more powerful every time they lost the White House, and every mid-term has been increasingly stressful since 2010 because they always gained more power in the meantime. I mean, Bush never broke 50% approval from the moment he was re-elected, so how did he get re-elected? Trump was a figure of fun right up to election day, he shouldn’t have been able to catch Hillary with a motorcycle, and yet? Now…I don’t know. If the Democrats can’t capture at least one house of Congress in November, it’ll be time to start looking really hard at what you can buy your way into through the Malta Sovereign Wealth Fund, or see what the residency requirements are like in Ireland, or hope there’s someplace in Australia that isn’t hot as balls.

Because right now, Trump is as popular as the clap, and the GOP is doing everything he wanted (which is basically everything Fox News ever wanted, because Trump is just as smart as whatever the TV tells him), and a majority of the country is against that. If that majority can’t find expression at the ballot box, the alternatives are not pleasant. I would just as soon not be around for them.