an experiment

Five or so years ago, we got hold of one of the first 12” MacBooks through work. I referred to it as “the Scottish laptop” in keeping with theater tradition, and sure enough, it was poorly suited for a work computer not least because it had one (1) USB-C port and nothing else. Power, video, accessories, everything through that one lousy port which wasn’t even Thunderbolt-capable.

But.

The 12” laptop has been a particular desiderata of my computing experience for longer than I can recall. On my first day at Apple, when offered the entire 2004 spectrum of Apple technology to choose from, I asked for and received the 12” PowerBook G4 as my chosen workstation. I later got a 12’ iBook, which I tricked out with the larger hard drive from a 14” iBook and the Superdrive of a 15” PowerBook. That thing ran hotter than a two dollar pistol but it ran. And this 12” MacBook, for all its limitations, struck me as the closest thing to an iPad Pro. And there was a time, when the iPad first emerged a decade ago, that I famously thought a similar-size laptop would be a better option (although as it turns out, the Atom line of processors didn’t have shit on what we now know as Apple Silicon).

As it happens, in 2021, we do have an iPad Pro. But this laptop still strikes me as a more desirable package. Two pounds, with a full keyboard built in, and if re-envisioned in Apple Silicon, probably similar battery life and performance. And what do I need a laptop for that I can’t do on my phone? Blogging, lean-back video chats and watching movies or TV or YouTube, typing notes, learning Swift, indulging in Kentucky Route Zero, maybe even reading books…

And in almost every respect, an Apple Silicon MacBook would run rings around an iPad for the utility of any of those things. So we’re going to put it to the test. This five year old laptop with an Intel Core M processor is going to be my personal computer, the scaled-up adjunct to my iPhone 12 mini, for all things other than work hours, and we’re going to see what’s what and if this size and form factor is really best suited to my needs in the modern world. After all, depending on our personal circumstances in the future, a 12” laptop might be all the computer I have room for, and it’s still small enough not to pull out of the carry-on bag at the airport.

It’s a computer for the kind of life I wish I led. If Apple will be so good as to make a laptop that fits in these dimensions with an M2 chip or similar, I will buy it right off the assembly line.

down the stretch

(NB: most of this post was already in the can on March 27. I just tacked today’s thoughts on the end. As always, life is what happens while you had other plans.)

Giving up alcohol for Lent was pretty straightforward, thanks to Athletic Brewing’s selection of non-alcoholic stouts, browns and porters. That’s always the trick anywhere: finding craft beer that isn’t IPA, hoppy lager or 15% imperial death stout. Besides, it’s not like I really have any occasion to have a drink other than on Sunday pub nights any more.

And that’s another thing: how long until pubs are a thing again? Or bars? We’re just now getting to the point where bars can open for outdoor service again, but when was the last time I was in a bar? Quick drink from the hotel lobby last March? Or in a hotel near Epcot in January 2020? I think there’s a non-zero chance that I haven’t had a quiet pint in a non-hotel establishment outside the house since December 2019. In that time I’ve gotten so acclimated to going up to the office, plugging in the string lights, and putting some pub ambiance video full-screen on the iMac that an imperfect interpretation of the real thing down on Murphy or Castro – with the added inconvenience of other people – might not appeal that much.

This spring feels like a nodal point, when things are going to change in a lot of ways, and that’s not always a good thing. Once you’re pushing 50, change generally means that your options narrow and that things are more likely to be taken from you than given to you. You lower your sights to a small and realistic aspiration and then even those things go missing. I sure as Hell don’t want to go back into the office at this job, but even that might go away despite the fact that we’ve been every bit as productive as we could have been if forced to sit in a windowless basement forty hours a week.

Maybe things will pick up. Maybe we’ll have minor league baseball this year, despite MLB’s determination to kill it. Maybe we’ll get to visit Disneyland before it’s overrun with everyone again. Maybe the vaccines will actually get into enough arms that we can get back to something resembling ordinary life. Maybe we can go to London other than through YouTube.

I did like Sheryl Crow said. I tried to stop getting what I wanted and start wanting what I got. And then they started taking that away a piece at a time. There’s got to be more to come than reconciling yourself to circling the drain gracefully. My father-in-law was still ordering components and looking up Arduino specs on his iPad until the last two weeks of his life. My mother-in-law went to the Rose Parade and the Metropolitan Opera, and enjoyed lunch overlooking the beach two weeks ago, and watched Rachel Maddow assiduously even as she planned for a kidney operation she knew might turn out badly.

The Grim Reaper is undefeated. But instead of climbing on the cart and going quietly, you can make the son of a bitch come and get you. If there’s one lesson for me to take away from this fourteenth month of the pandemic, it’s that.

the end of march

But you speak of Master Gandalf, as if he was in a story that had come to an end.’ ‘Yes, we do,’ said Pippin sadly. ‘The story seems to be going on, but I am afraid Gandalf has fallen out of it.

-JRR Tolkien, The Two Towers

There are electronic components that will never be fitted together. There are video clips that will never be combined into a funny movie. There are phones and iPads patiently sat on chargers, waiting to be picked up. There are email accounts diligently receiving messages from one list or another, some vendor or campaign or notification that has no one to read it now.

Death, even prepared for, leaves a shadow. The clock ticks on, the rest of the world proceeds, but there is a hole shaped like your loved one that you know will be there forever. How big a hole, and how you maneuver around it, and how far you fall into it, is largely a matter of chance and timing. By the time you’re 83, there are (or ought to be) wills and durable powers of attorney and advance healthcare directives and DNR orders and the like, and if you are recently pre-deceased there may even be a spreadsheet and a Google Doc that can be duplicated to start the checklist anew.

Sometimes you have a couple of years to work up to it, and the pre-grieving renders the moment itself almost a relief, that your loved one is at peace. Sometimes you know it can’t be far, that it’s a known risk, and that the loved one is prepared for the moment and not unwilling to go, but it turns out you were unwilling to let them in ways you didn’t realize. And you didn’t leave anything unsaid that needed saying, but you wish you’d maybe had a couple more years of saying it. And you tell yourself it isn’t fair and they deserved better, and both are true, but fair is where you go to see the pigs. The days are slow, the years are swift, and life has a way of chivvying you along when you try to linger too long at any given moment.

We lost Tom on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. We lost Marge today. We miss them terribly.

hanging out tuesday’s wash

 

* Silly Con Valley has become a vast engine for the laundering of unearned wealth. If you don’t believe it, look at the meteoric rise of the Non-Fungible Token. You don’t actually own anything, don’t actually have the exclusivity of anything, but you can say you do, for a fee – and in the meantime you have all the same eco-nightmare of Bitcoin mining. Meanwhile, the entire world of cryptocurrency remains in the field of “speculative investment bordering on gambling” rather than “stable medium of exchange” – and it’s hard not to get the sense that we’re in last call for the get rich quick schemes before the Biden administration brings in a tax regime that basically says that if you have enough money to spend on NFTs, you have enough to pay Uncle Sam the cost of covering the COVID-19 recovery plan.

* It turns out that for all the talk by Phony Stark and his amen corner of anime-wanking Snyder Cut supplicants, the mass exodus from San Francisco is actually to…the rest of the Bay Area. And the exodus from the Bay Area is to…the rest of California. Which makes sense, if you think about it, because places like Austin and Miami and Nashville are located in red states with climate-change issues and anything-goes governments. A lot of techies might not want to pay taxes, but they might also have qualms about bringing their kids to places with open carry of unlicensed firearms and textbooks vetted by Baptist Tabernacle. I’m pretty sure that the only way you’ll see me establishing residence outside the West Coast for the rest of my life would be if I were tragically widowed and had to have a permanent address somewhere else for tax purposes while aimlessly wandering the country in my A-Team van and slowly bleeding my retirement savings dry. Other than that? California, California, the hills send back the cry, we’re out to do or die…

* Places aren’t real anymore. After a year on lockdown, mostly, things like Disneyland or London seem to be figments of imagination, something I see on the Watched Walker feed on YouTube. Then again, when you’ve spent most of your life as a person without a place, it’s kind of a wash. I am happier than I ever thought I could be living in a small bubble where I can walk out to the deli, the taqueria, the 7-Eleven, the coffee shop, and color-code permitting, the barber. There are trips to dinner at my mother-in-law’s, occasional runs out to collect medicine or get a shot or go through a drive-thru – but after a full year, I am genuinely starting to wonder if I’ll ever feel the need to fight a crowd again when I can go up to the office, plug in the string lights, put some background media on the iMac and read while sipping my pint.

* Speaking of which, this is the Lent in which I finally gave up alcohol. I have been subsisting on the products of Athletic Brewing, a maker of non-alcoholic craft beer whose products have turned out to be mostly acceptable substitutes on pub night. I bought their extra-dark stout, which despite a slightly-too-strong licorice note is very passable, and then ramped up to a case of their dark sampler, which includes a cherry-chocolate stout (good), a maple brown (also good) and a coffee porter (absolutely delightful). And then added a six-pack of their Irish red ale so I would be okay for St Patrick’s Day. It turns out you can get through a lot of this stuff if you don’t have to pace yourself.

* WandaVision was very good, I thought, even if the ending was a little weak. I do hope they run with the “buy the ticket take the ride” approach and let the consequences of actions spin out to their conclusion, especially given the post-Blip world and what a mess things would obviously be at this point. The avalanche of new Marvel content this year should go a long way to answering what happens after you mostly roll back the end of the world, although I doubt they’ll go as far in depth as they should. After all, given how crazy things got with a pandemic, you can’t realistically think that disappearing half the world – and then bringing it back five years on – wouldn’t make a Hell of a dent in what we think of as civilization.

* They’ll be catching back up to real time pretty soon, though, given that most of Endgame and WandaVision and Far From Home all seem to take place in 2023. Which makes me think that we’ll need some hard and fast answers about how Shang-Chi or the Eternals fit into the timeline.

* And speaking of timeline, I know the posting here has decelerated substantially. I don’t know when or whether it will ramp up again. The pleasantly boring nature of having Biden in the White House and quiet competence from most of the government means there’s a lot less to worry about, and I’m trying to luxuriate in that rather than fretting about how it’ll all be shot to Hell in the 2022 elections (and that date still sounds like the far future rather than next year, just because every month has had 300 days for a while now). 

* Spring weather makes me think of when we had meat and peppers on the grill, longneck beers on the table, and My Buddy Vince working his magic with the Weber outside a building at work. It pains me to think those days were now officially a third of my life ago. I don’t know where the time has gone, but all I can say is that in retrospect, my 40s were not well spent.

a journal of the plague year, part the second

“…as long as I’m willing to live my own values, focus on the moment and shut the world out, it’s a life I can live with. The question, obviously, is how long that life is sustainable under the circumstances.”

-25 feb 2020

 

My pandemic began in earnest on March 5, 2020, when the doctor advised me that if I had any kind of infection, I would have to cancel the epidural spinal injection for my shoulder pain scheduled for the 13th. Without any hesitation, I collected my laptop and told my boss I would be working from home for the duration.

I’m still here.

Good thing I stuck with the plan, too, because elective procedures were cancelled on the following Monday the 16th when the Bay Area went full shelter-in-place. I haven’t had a pint in a pub, or an indoor restaurant meal, or a ride on public transit since. We did have a cheeky getaway to Santa Barbara to sit on a hotel room balcony for a couple days and dine alfresco during the September lull, in a drive fraught with care for bathroom stops and drink replenishment, but that’s been the extent of our travel. No Disneyland. No Nashville. No international trip on the books for the foreseeable future. Tahoe, cancelled. Two sets of Yosemite reservations, cancelled. March Madness and the Olympics and the entire minor league and college baseball seasons, cancelled.

My life has become a weird sort of cosplay of the kind of retirement I envisioned being able to have: a remote job, done from home at maybe 60% effort, rising later than I used to and wearing the same comfy AG flannel or work shirt over a slubby T every day and never wearing socks except to leave the house. My 48th year has been measured out in peanut butter & honey sandwiches, pitchers of iced tea and an ever changing assortment of background YouTube video, from mallwave collages to old U-Verse Showcase clips to walking through London to lo-fi big band music under rain effects. I went through a phase of buying every hat I’d ever wanted. I purchased three phones – two of them iPhones – in ten months. I eventually gave in and bought a Woodrow dulcimer and have played it more than I have all other instruments combined for a quarter-century.

It hasn’t been all bad. In fact, in most ways it hasn’t been bad at all. I’ve been spared the hassle of commuting, the indignity of having to schlep into a job that doesn’t seem to know it employs me, doing work that garners precious little attention and zero respect – but when you can walk out at will for a haircut or a Double Gulp or a bagel sandwich and not miss anything, who cares? I have used maybe three days of actual non-holiday PTO since this whole thing began, and as a result I have accumulated enough leave to actually go on vacation when the After is finally here, whatever that looks like.

And to be honest, it looks like Disneyland and London. Places we’ve been plenty, but places we love, and places with something new to explore – whether it’s Avengers Campus California at DCA or Ted Lasso territory in Richmond and the walk from Borough to Shoreditch. As much as it would be exciting to explore something new, there is a certain appeal to reconnecting with the missed known, to the things we’ve most mourned being parted from. I want to walk with my sweetie hand in hand up Main Street USA. I want to sit around a firepit with friends with a bucket of longnecks on ice and a bottle of bourbon. I want to sit upstairs on a train and watch the world passing by out the window. I want to step out of Paddington Station at the end of the Heathrow Express and into a black cab, with the breeze blowing through my linen blazer and my Rancourts comfy on the cobblestones. 

I get why people want this to be over. I want it to be over. But it’s not over, and until people are willing to do what is necessary, it won’t be over. And that’s what America feels like in 2021: a huge group project where only a handful of people are actually doing their part of the assignment. And as long as that’s the case, it feels safer and saner to hang string lights on the office shelves, put Watched Walker or Nemo’s Dreamscapes full-screen on the iMac, pour a pint of local stout or even just plain warm decaf black coffee with a little stevia in it, and focus on the moment and shut out the world.

I guess it turns out that life is sustainable for at least a year, maybe longer, if that’s what it takes.

first impressions

…the truly ironic thing is that the only thing it really needs that it doesn’t have, at this point, is WhatsApp. Just because managing a group chat is so much easier without SMS, and for better or worse, WhatsApp – not Signal, not iMessage, not Facebook Messenger, certainly not any Google product – has become the de factouniversal mobile messaging solution. Cross-platform, international, and it would be nice – but not utterly essential, thanks to the cunning use of Google Voice in a pinch. And then there’s Instagram…but then that’s opening the door to everything else too. The ironic thing is that Facebook owns both WhatsApp and Instagram, has largely left them alone, has managed not to screw them up – but it’s Facebook that has a built-in icon on the 3310, not its superior subsidiaries.

Honestly, this is all driven by the Irish experience. What apps did I legit needin Ireland? Maps, certainly, but that’s fair enough when you’re in a new town every night. WhatsApp to communicate with the traveling party. Instagram for people back in America to see how things were going. And really, that was about it. Almost no place took Apple Pay. There was precious little to be gained by checking email or RSS, it was just as easy to walk out and stick up your arm for a cab as to use any sort of ride-hailing app, and while using Swarm to check in was handy to create a record of where I’d been, it was a little superfluous with the pictures being tagged.

The moral of this story is simple: if you’re not really going anywhere and not socializing, then what is the point in having a device on you that’s just going to steamroll you with all the stuff you’re trying to get away from? 

-oct 25, 2017

Well, they only went and did it. The Nokia 6300 4G patches most of the holes in the 3310 3G. LTE, for more future-proofing three years on. An actual app framework that includes Google Maps and WhatsApp clients. The ability to tether a device or use the phone as a WiFi hotspot. The principal drawbacks are a camera reduced to VGA, not even 2MP, barely suitable for snapping a QR code – and of course the fact that the Highway 101 Axis of Evil is one of the things you’re trying to get away from.

But it’s not utterly without use. There’s a very good Wikipedia app, for one thing, and a more serviceable media player. You might even use it for lo-fi relaxation videos on YouTube, and since it’s based on KaiOS with its roots in Firefox, it kicks the shit out of the proxy browser solution that was largely unchanged in the past dozen years when the 3310 landed. If you were dropped in Ireland with this one – assuming the LTE bands cover Europe, which is doubtful – you might not post on Insta, but you could navigate the streets and the group chat equally well.

But this isn’t a phone for going abroad. This is a phone for use as a wireless hotspot on the train to Santa Barbara – assuming I can make it work reliably. Between the eccentricities of an MVNO and the virtually nonexistent documentation on the device itself, it’s been hard to sustain a connection more than a couple of minutes. There might be some experimentation with that throughout the week, but on the face of it, you might as well order temp service on the eSIM in the iPhone and call it square – or better yet, in my case, maybe just try to work on the iPhone full stop.

Because the iPhone really is my whole life right now, the only device with all the email accounts, all the calendars, all the Slack instances and chat apps and the like. Not a single byte of code on it from Google, Facebook, or Amazon, either, and it’s my device free and clear. And I’m even blogging on it right now. There’s no doubt this would be the travel phone abroad, when abroad is real again.

I guess the Nokia is an artifact of another life, same as ever: the dream phone from the autumn of 2006. Something to call Zachary’s from to order the pizza as Marshawn Lynch gives way to Justin Forsett running over PAC-10 foes, something to carry up to O’Neill’s or down to O’Flaherty’s as the quest for a new pub begins, something to check LiveJournal on in a pinch, something for the era when there were things to do in the wider world besides get groceries and collect takeout.

Maybe I’m just trying to will that world back out of the black hole.

defeat

“There is another point when things slipped in a starker way: November 8, 2016, when everyone in America realized they were living in the South. The perversity of realizing that the worst parts of where you’re from — the racism, the galling inequality, the fictionalized victimhood, an illusion of power, the reliance on a bankrupt concept of loyalty disguised as faith, the disgust for learning and fatal aversion to uncomfortable truths, the willingness to protect a deranged sense of identity at the cost of what might literally be the entire world — were all there, everywhere, all along.

-Spencer Hall, 1 Sept 2017

 

We lost, 57-43. We had the 57, and we lost. Because the Enemy – that amorphous blob of racism and Objectivism and silver-drinking conspiracy thinking that wandered from the Democrats to the Republicans throughout the 50s and 60s and then metastasized to take over the party for the last 25 years – the Enemy has figured out how to win without the most votes. Whether it’s employing the arcane system of the Electoral College or optimizing itself to prevail with acreage rather than voters in the Senate or taking advantage of a media in thrall to the idea that there are two equal sides of identical veracity, volume and significance for every issue – the country is now rigged for a sane and sensible majority to always be at the mercy of lunatics.

Not even winning the White House and control of the Congress is enough to overcome it. All we have now is containment and hoping it might turn on itself and burn out. But make no mistake: this is what the Republican Party is now. This is the Trump QOP. If you stay, you are complicit. There’s no going back from this. To remain now is to say that all of this – the insanity, the denial of majority rule, the use of violence to derail the electoral process – all of this is all right.

It isn’t. And we have to devote every day to making those who believe it pay for the error of their ways.

final impressions

At long last, it’s the one device. I don’t use the laptop for anything personal but blogging. I don’t use the desktop for anything but Zoom and YouTube. This is my preferred device for anything personal, to the point that it is the exclusive home of social media and RSS; personal content doesn’t happen on the work laptop at all any more.

Next step is for my personal line with USMobile to be convertible to an eSIM. Once that happens, this phone can literally go anywhere I go with service. No more buying random SIMs or negotiating APN settings or anything like that. I have a one-handed device with a 5-inch display that can do my music, my podcasts, my streaming, my reading, phone calls, the works. The only reason I don’t call on it for video chat is because usually there are two of us in the frame and it’s hard to lean back on a phone screen.

Which brings up the question: what would I need a personal laptop or iPad for at all at this point? Now that work requires a privileged access device, a personal iPad Air isn’t going to get me anywhere. As long as the old iMac is my permanent telepresence solution, and the AppleTV works (and doesn’t have a higher-res TV to drive), this phone can do everything I need a personal computer for. (And may have to for years, given the rumors. If there’s no new iPhone mini coming, or it goes completely portless, I will ride this little blue thing until it drops out of OS support. New battery in two years and another one in four if that’s what it takes. AppleCare until they stop allowing it. You name it.)

It’s a marker of hope, in a way. Hope for a life where an iPhone 12 mini can be taken around the world as all the computer-camera-soundtrack-wallet you need. Hope that by this time next year, the soles of my Rancourts will be thumping on London cobbles or at least the alleys of Black Spire Outpost. Hope that maybe the world will get a little better somehow. It’s an artifact of the life I wish I could live – the sort of thing that goes with my brown M-65, my flannel and Rancourts, my wool caps and short 10 oz Yeti tumbler as the pieces of my attempt to cosplay as my best self.

the Billy Martin

“What I want; what’s most important to me is that Reuben gets his share of the hotel restored. Now I’m here to give you that chance.”

“Oh, you’re gonna give me a chance? OK. Let me guess. It’s a Billy Martin? I pass.”

Joe Biden stood on the West Front of the Capitol today and offered 74 million Americans a Billy Martin…with a catch. Yes, unity. Yes, coming together. Yes, negotiation and reason. But you’re coming back to us. You’re going back to how things used to be. You have to partake in the rejection of Donald Trump, and all his works and pomps. You have to abjure the Republican mode and manner of the last quarter century. You can be Republican, you can be conservative, but you have to agree not to be dragged around by the dick by Fox News and AM radio and conspiracy theorists.

This is a bet. Joe Biden is wagering that there are enough Republicans willing to deny Trump three times to let him push forward with the appearance of bipartisanship and push the QAnons and the OANNists and the Proud Boys into a corner – and let the resulting civil war rip the Republicans apart from the inside. The bet is that ultimately, enough of the 74 million people who were willing to re-elect Trump will be shorn off to prevent Trumpism from getting the critical mass to regain power.

We’re back to containment. This is the last chance for the GOP to climb off the train before becoming the QOP. It may yet be necessary to blow up the filibuster and resort to adding states and going full scorched earth to prevent the scum who tried to overrun the capital taking a place in American politics. But for the moment, the “not all Republicans” are being offered one chance at a Billy Martin.

flashback, part 112 of n

The recent discovery of “Nemo’s Dreamscapes” on YouTube has been a boon for multiple reasons, not least because it provides an alternative to the same old rain machine for evening wind-down and slumber.  But the scratchy 30s music is evocative on multiple levels. One is 1991, that autumn when I discovered the past – not just as history, but as old yearbooks and student handbooks, as football teams from 1940 and recordings of Glenn Miller. The other is 1995 – when my imagination became an anachronistic mashup of wax-cylinder recordings in Bristol and flying car terminals in Nashville.

I was on the Internet in my apartment and listening to scratchy AM radio driving around, clear channel stations from Cleveland or St Louis or Chicago, hearing traffic conditions on the Dan Ryan or Blues hockey or just the outrage of Browns fans seeing their team shipping off to Baltimore. A history professor asserted that with modern technology and media culture in the 1920s, Elvis Presley would have passed his days as a third-rate Jimmie Rodgers impersonator. And on those rare occasions when I was back in Birmingham and not in the dorms, I was occasionally found in a basement coffeehouse called Celestial Realm, where the music was almost invariably some scratchy gramophone-type big band recording of just the sort that has surfaced 25 years later with rain and fireplace sounds superimposed on it.

It’s a reminder that I was sort of there in the beginning. When 105.9 “The Bear” was attempting to bring modern music to a stagnant radio scene. When a coffeehouse, not a Starbucks, was a thing, and in the last days before Lion & Unicorn went all in on sports cards and collectibles instead of comics and rare Dr Who toys. During the era when Birmingham seemed on the verge of becoming a soccer town, and longneck Red Mountain Red Ale at the Garages after Bulls games was the height of my social aspirations.

Had I stayed in Birmingham, unburdened by the worst relationships of my life, it’s entirely possible I could have stayed and built, and felt like I was part of what I see down there now and honor in the breach with Legion t-shirts and Barons hats and the like. But my Birmingham was circumscribed by the limits imposed on me from the Hilltop, and to get out, I had to leave the whole thing behind. I don’t regret it. I had to escape what I had, because it took more off the table than it ever put on it. But it did rip out some roots that I probably could have used at diverse times in the last decade.

Instead, I’ll settle for falling asleep with vaguely pleasant memories of lemon poppyseed muffins, black bean soup in a bread bowl, raspberry Italian soda and very black coffee.