plinka plinka plinkin’ out loud, round 2

I used to have a pile of phones. And then the iPhone landed in my hands 12 years ago and that was the end of Phone Glee…for a while. But then things changed around 2013 when the Moto X dropped, and ever since, I’ve been prone to fits of dissatisfaction. To wit:

* I went for the iPhone 5 on Verizon, because they had the most viable LTE network in 2012. But their non-LTE network was slow and unsatisfying, and the battery issues with the Verizon version of the 5 once iOS 7 landed were legendary. I don’t doubt that was a big factor in casting my eye toward…

* The original Moto X, whose feature set in late 2013 included things like 2 GB of RAM, an AMOLED display or always-listening voice command that Apple wouldn’t fully get around to for years. And at 65mm wide, it fit a 4.7″ display into a smaller handset than Apple ever has, and the 2200 mAh battery is bigger than Apple ever managed to fit in a sub-5.5″ phone. But it was Android, and even if I’d been able to coax everyone to Signal (or even WhatsApp back then), the pace of updates was gruesome. It took over a year for Android 5 to be available and that was the last version upgrade it ever got.

* The iPhone 6 from work was a hair bigger than the Moto X, and thus just a hair too big. I kept being tempted back toward the Moto X, and as soon as the iPhone SE shipped, I threw the 6 in a drawer at work and never pulled it out again.

* The iPhone SE was perfect, and mostly snuffed the glee for a long time (not that I wasn’t tempted by the Moto X until it became completely untenable as even a shutdown-night device). I put in for work to buy me the iPhone X as a goof – and then they did. And now here we are.

So as it sits right now: the iPhone X is locked, and too large for me. A hair too big to be a hair too big, and yet because of the modern nature of phones, it’s the primary device and difficult to move away from. The iPhone SE is the perfect size and is perfect for travel (as proven in London, Ireland and Patagonia) but the 6S chipset and camera are starting to show their age, and there’s a real prospect that iOS 13 may be its last hurrah.

The next time I’m eligible for a replacement phone through work is 2020, assuming they still provide phones by then at all. But it would be locked again, which means international travel is a non-starter. If I lose my work phone for any reason, the iPhone SE (and self-paid service through T-Mobile) is the move until September 2020, when we presumably get a new wave of phones and iOS 14.

And that is when things get interesting. Because the Great Mentioner has a 5.4″ iPhone on the cards for 2020. If you follow the proportions of the iPhone X, that would be a phone roughly the same size as the current iPhone 8, but full-screen. And I wouldn’t even be that bothered about the AMOLED if it packed the same cameras (and computational effects) as the XR, along with replacing 3DTouch with a 2000mAh battery.

At that point, a 5.4″ iPhone, unlocked, would be enough. International ready (camera and all), plausibly one-handable, still more than big enough for video watching or Kindle reading or even writing a blog post (as I am on the iPhone X right now). And more to the point, it would have me down to one device. One thing that’s 100% of what I need instead of two things that are 80%. Which is really my whole approach to acquiring stuff in the last ten years or so.

No Future 2019

We’ve been here before.

Remember how the popular vote was lost by an amiable yet quietly vicious dry-drunk from Texas, who slept on the threat of international terror before invading the wrong country in retaliation? How a major American city was swamped by a hurricane with no federal response worth mentioning, and how the economy was blown to pieces? And then, when the other party was voted into power by a commanding margin, it was proclaimed from the rooftops that any effort at accountability would be “criminalizing politics” and that we should move forward as if nothing existed before Obama was inaugurated, and that all problems were therefore his responsibility and he should be resisted at all costs?

Watch. It doesn’t matter if Warren or Harris or Booker or whoever wins 60% of the popular vote and control of the House and Senate. Any attempt to hold individuals responsible for the last four years, however feeble or symbolic, will be “criminalizing politics” and any attempt to restore the old norms in law will be tarred as “not moving forward” and “trying to relitigate old fights”. All of the principal figures of the present kakistocracy will go on to well-paid sinecures at Fox or CNBC or the WSJ or some other wingnut welfare outlet where they can exhort the masses to massively resist the tyranny of someone who actually got the most votes. And the usual gang of po-faced catamites at the New York Times and CNN will bemoan the coarsening of politics and the extremism of both sides and demand to know why the Democrats won’t just yield and surrender to the prejudiced imaginings of old white yokels as the Only True American Voice.

It happened already. It happened ten years ago. Never mind living memory, I’ve got booze in my liquor cabinet older than that. And there is absolutely nothing at all that will prevent it happening again, other than a commitment to fight. And keep fighting. Even after it seems we might have won. Until the last boomer is strangled with the entrails of the last Confederate, we are in danger.

The old rules got torn up, long ago, and by the other side. Only a fool would continue to follow those rules on the advice of those who supervised the shredding.

as the years go by

I.

Donny Everett’s last pitch was 101 miles an hour.

A few days after he threw that pitch, he was gone – drowned in a pond in a swimming accident between the SEC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament. His teammates, grief-stricken, went out of the regional with as much fight as you could hope for from a bunch of teens going through the unimaginable. And Tim Corbin, the iconic coach of Vanderbilt baseball, wondered if that class, that team, this program could ever recover from a blow like that.

Donny would have been a senior this year. All of his teammates came back for one more bite at the apple. His heirs were the top rated freshman class in the country, lead by a fireballing pitcher from Georgia who might himself touch 101 before it’s all over and done with in Nashville. And they played like brothers on a mission. Wednesday night, in Omaha, the circle was finally closed, and Donny’s parents were on stage with the players and coaches of the 2019 College World Series national champion Vanderbilt Commodores.

The numbers alone are staggering: most strikeouts thrown in a season, breaking a record set in 1972. 59 wins, most in a season for a champion since 1989. First SEC team to ever defeat all 13 other SEC teams at least once in a season. First SEC team since 2009 to win the conference AND the conference tournament AND a national championship. Lost one game in regionals and super-regionals combined. Lost one game total in the College World Series. Went 3-0 on the year against the #3 team in the country. Won 35 games against the top quartile of college baseball teams. Thirteen players taken in the MLB draft. And Kumar Rocker, the freshman with the exploding slider who threw a complete game no-hitter with 19 strikeouts in the Duke super-regional, threw another gem with 12 more K’s facing elimination in game 2 of the championship and wound up only the sixth freshman in history to be named Most Outstanding Player of the College World Series.

59-12. Triple champions. The most dominant Vanderbilt baseball team of all time going back to 1886, barring neither the 2014 champions or the 2013 team that won 25 games in the SEC or the 2007 team that went wire-to-wire as regular season #1 in the polls. This instance of the VandyBoys was ranked the consensus preseason #1, and finished as national champions.

More than ever, this year felt like what it must feel to be a decades-long Warriors fan in the Kerr era, or a Bama fan under Saban, or a Bulls fan in the 90s. It’s a juggernaut. It’s the Death Star. The only drama is the form of the domination, or the comeback, or who the night’s designated hero will be. This team felt inexorable, inevitable, unstoppable. If Thanos had tried to snap his fingers he would have been frozen looking at a fiery strike 3 from Tyler Brown, assuming that JJ Bleday’s bat didn’t decapitate him and send his domepiece 440 feet into the stands.

You have to deal with a lot to support the black and gold. The difficulty of finding players who can win games and make the grades and stay out of court. The challenge of a conference with thirteen other “schools” [sic] who aren’t worried at all about the diploma or police blotter. The drumbeat of a media, local and national, in thrall to the Narrative. The weight of history and the expectation of disaster. And then, after years of falling through what feels like hundreds of miles of horse shit, one night out of nowhere you ride out on a stallion. And ride like the wind, way past the border of Mexico.

After all, if there’s any program that combines smooth with money like a yacht rock concert, it’s the Commodores, right?

 

II.

I didn’t see a single postseason game.

Five years ago, I worked from home on the day of Game 3. I walked out on the porch about an hour before first pitch and let the door hang open behind me. No humidity, cool summer breeze, golden sunlight through green leaves. And I told myself that it’s a good life, down deep where it counts, and win or lose I needed to remember that. And then I listened to Joe Fisher – I tried to sync the audio and the TV, but the two digital delays were impossible to reconcile so I wound up with the audio about an out ahead of the screen. And when the final out was recorded, I shouted out, overjoyed, and then we headed to the pub to celebrate with our weeknight trivia group – and won. There’s a picture of me with the trivia belt thrown over my seersucker blazer, Vandy hat on over the shades, throwing up that VU.

This year, I literally didn’t watch or listen to a single second of postseason ball before there were two outs in the ninth of the final game. I followed the games through Twitter, piping the Vandy baseball account through a little-used Twitter timeline separate from the one most Vandy fans know me by. And as the tournament went deeper and deeper, I stopped even that, preferring to look in only after a couple of hours had gone by. I didn’t see a single pitch of Kumar Rocker’s epic no-hitter, or his clutch performance in Game 2 of the CWS. I haven’t seen a single homer from Bleday or Scott or Clark or Infante. No epic Brown multi-inning saves, no Harry Ray web gems, no Austin Martin running like the wind and hitting .400.

Fear? Anxiety? Maybe? To be blunt, 2019 isn’t 2014. Deep down where it counts, it’s not that good a life right now. Every condition that pertained five years ago in my life is arguably either just as bad or worse, whether it’s an utterly unstable situation at work or a troubled and traumatic relationship with Alabama people or a world on fire with little hope of pulling back from the abyss. Next to that, you need escape, and escape through sports means the Giants – San Jose or San Francisco alike – or the A’s, or maybe some sort of soccer. Something without an emotional investment attached. Because right now, my emotional investments need to be the equivalent of a Treasury bond – safe, solid, and backed by the full faith and credit of something that isn’t ever going anywhere. And if there’s one thing an emotional investment in Vanderbilt athletics isn’t, ever, it’s safe.

I dug Vanderbilt out of the hole in 2006, at a time when I was finally and fully alienated from my undergraduate school, when Alabama football was at its lowest ebb in my lifetime, when I was having that dull-moment year and casting about trying to decide “who am I now” at a fairly liminal point in my life. And honestly, Vanderbilt felt as strange and exotic as if I had decided to support Aston Villa or Newcastle United, despite the fact that I was actually an alumnus with a degree and a ring and plenty of ticket stubs from football and basketball alike. Probably because the person who actually went there for three years is a different person than the one who went into the dark in 1998 and was rebuilt in DC.

And then, a handful of years later, Vanderbilt became my shield and sigil at a time when my entire world seemed to be defined by the University of California on one side and Stanford University on the other. Vanderbilt was mine, however tenuously, and it was something I could hold up and call my own and then punch at roughly equal weight with the forces around me. And then, of course, Stanford became China’s Oxford, the Hellmouth first of the tech sector and then of the Wall Streeting of Silly Con Valley. And as much as I despised Stanford – as much as I despise Stanford – the unpleasant thought began to dig at me that if I were in Nashville, and not an alum, I would probably have similar feelings about Vanderbilt. I don’t think we are as transparently the baddies as the Beast of Palo Alto, but it would be the height of folly to think we’re the good guys.

And my relationship with Vanderbilt is much closer to a sidewalk alum than someone who actually went there. I’ve done alumni events, they’re fine, everyone is very pleasant, but I am so not the correct demographic for the sort of people who turn up to the San Francisco Vanderbilt Club meetings. I’m as old as the new arrivals’ parents, I don’t live in the city, they don’t live down the South Bay, and my Vanderbilt experience is patently not their Vanderbilt experience and vice versa. And proper sidewalk alum-ness kind of requires you to be on the sidewalk. I’ve been to two football games in Nashville since 1996, and the last one was in 2013 (plus extra credit for the bowl game in Birmingham the same season). 

I’ve had some good times. People have been very nice to me. Vanderbilt as a whole has probably treated me better since 1994 than I earned from it in my three years there. But to be perfectly honest, I would gladly accept the wave of a magic wand tomorrow that replaced the entire seven years after graduating high school with some other higher-ed experience. As long as I had the kind of undergrad career I wanted and the fates deposited me at National Geographic at the end of the summer of 1997, you could take Vanderbilt from me and I would be all right.

 

III.

So now what?

It’s entirely possible that thirty years on from only applying to three schools, I may have put the college thing to rest. Not because I’m all right with it or found some way to make it all worthwhile in the end, but because I accept that what happened, happened. There’s no do-over, there’s no making it right, there’s no way I will ever have not attended that stupid undergrad school. I don’t need Vanderbilt to be a stand-in any longer, my first job out of college dressed up in a varsity sweater and raccoon coat masquerading as my alma mater. I suspect that if I were to change my current employment, I’d feel the need even less than I do now, and the college thing wouldn’t even be a thing.

Except.

That Vanderbilt-related Twitter account I mentioned? Has over 1400 followers. My congratulatory tweet after the game got over 400 likes.  I know real live people because of Vanderbilt sports, and have introduced them to other real live people that have knit them into a greater whole. Hell, I’m the person who named David Williams “the Goldfather” in an Insta post from Rogue Tavern the night before the bowl game. Irrespective of how I got to this point, Vanderbilt sports have allowed me to build a persona, a small following, and a simulacrum of an actual affinity group.

Those are thin on the ground. I don’t think it’s a secret that I have struggled to build any kind of personal connections since leaving Apple. I haven’t done it through work, at first deliberately and then because even if I’d wanted to, the sort of people I vibe with are thin on the ground at the office. I tried things like RCIA or a cappella chorus singing or even looking at churches (of which more later), but nothing really offered me a hook. I don’t have the kind of local “where everybody knows your name,” and even if I did, I don’t frequent the pubs enough to make myself a regular anywhere anymore. Most of the trivia competitors from five years ago have moved away, or aren’t around routinely anymore, and that pub doesn’t even do trivia now as far as I know. My celebration of a national title, in 2019, was to pull a pint of Phish Food out of the freezer an hour and a half later and eat maybe half a dozen spoonfuls before putting it back. 

I did it through social media for a while. But it was obvious by 2011 that Facebook was a cesspool of scum and villainy and not worthy of trust, so I blew that up with a quickness. I was relying heavily on Twitter for a while, which sort of worked, until the election – and then I blew up my personal account and then went through a series of reductions and mutings and reconfigurations to try to keep out the noise, and then as it turns out so did most everyone else I know. I have Instagram, but the day is coming when Facebook will turn that into a shit fountain too. There’s Slack, with the same Internet friends I’ve known for close to a quarter-century, but not all the ones I wish would be on there. As really close friends go, there’s one up the Peninsula a ways, and then there are people on the other side of the country or the other side of the world. And then there’s my wife, who as a result has to shoulder a disproportionate load – one I’ve been on the other side of in a past life and one I’m consequently uncomfortable dumping on any individual person.

So…now what happens? The 2019 College World Series was a triumph for the ages, the final blast of a dreadnaught the likes of which college baseball – hell, college sports – has rarely seen, and never from Vanderbilt. But in three months, Vanderbilt sports means football, and a team that has played since 1890 without ever once winning ten games in a season, with the biggest delta in America versus its archival institution and permanently handicapped by membership of its conference. And then, even assuming an unimaginable fourth straight win over UT in football, comes basketball, with a new coach taking over a team that has so far lost 20 consecutive games in 2019, which went completely winless in conference play for the first time in history and which finished with single-digit total wins for the first time since they first hired a full time basketball coach. And maybe women’s tennis or women’s bowling will shoot for the stars successfully again, or maybe another little-followed sport will suddenly ascend to prominence, or maybe miracles will happen.

But maybe not. More likely that after Labor Day, Vanderbilt sports will be back to “why do you do this to yourself?” and I will be forced to contemplate again whether what it brings to the table for me emotionally is worth what it takes off the table emotionally. If there’s one thing in my life that I don’t need in 2019, it’s elective sources of anxiety or misery. The world is enough for that right now without me throwing gas on the fire. 

Apprehend the moment. Consider it. Appreciate it. Then release it. Time to move along. Better to seek out something that sparks joy instead of trying to force something that doesn’t.

sic transit Ive

Apple’s chief design officer is hanging up his skinny britches. If we’re keeping it a buck, this is probably about five years too late – the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh was a primordial warning of what Jony Ive was capable of left to his own devices, and without Steve Jobs to keep him on the straight and narrow, it’s hard not to look at Apple’s track record and think that someone in Cupertino fundamentally lost sight of what good design means.

I mean, look at the problems with the laptop keyboards. Look at the massive swing-and-miss of the Mac Pro and the inability to replace it for six years. Look at the translucent mess of iOS 7, the compromises made to the iPhone 6S and 7 for the sake of a 3DTouch feature that never rose above gimmick, the entire experience of macOS High Sierra, the decision that the entire iPhone line was best served by making it too big to use in one hand. Steve died, and Tim was not a strong enough babysitter to keep little Jony from smearing paint on the walls.

When it comes to Apple products, design is necessary but insufficient on its own. Jony Ive’s shortcoming was to think that design superseded all other requirements. It would be nice to see the next regime place some priority on usability, pricing or just an ability to ship without backbreaking bugs (looking at you again, macOS 10.13). Who knows, we might have an outside shot at a one-handed iPhone again by 2020.

flashback, part 106 of n

The festival begins at lunchtime Friday.

They’ve closed the park behind City Hall and the Courthouse on Wednesday. You can’t really shut down the streets of Birmingham until the last minute, but by Thursday the police have placed the sawhorses and the trucks have disgorged their stages and lighting rigs and miles and miles of cable. The first acts will go on at noon Friday, in the run-up to the opening headliner. There’s always some triple-threat of headliners: an “oldies” act, a country act, and a classic R&B act, in some combination over the course of the three days. Because Saturday will start off early and go late, and the place will be packed with people and vendors. Kids splashing in the fountain, absurd lines at the beer tents, and a little bit of everything musically.

I missed the first one, thirty years ago, missed out on Chuck Berry and Travis Tritt and the Temptations. But my friends were adamant: this is the thing. This is our new future. And I didn’t miss one from 1990 to 1998, because it was the signature event of the summer. In 1990, my dad and I stood twenty feet from Charles Barkley watching Bo Diddley perform an hour and a half set that consisted of maybe four songs, with wild feats of improvisation and musicianship.  Then Saturday, everyone from Los Lobos and Dr John to local stalwarts like Slick Lily or Topper Price and the Upsetters. Then Sunday, Ricky Skaggs and the Commodores and Inner Circle, years before they recorded the theme to COPS, and Take 6 (where the crowd was packed in tight and funky and a woman behind me yelled “SOMEBODY ain’t Sure!”).

There was a message board with binder clips under letters A-Z for you to pin messages up for people, in a world without cellphones or text messaging. There was freshly squeezed-and-shaken lemonade, which was a revelation all by itself. There was funnel cake. There was half a plastic cup of Blue Nun, handed over by a friend of a friend who peered at me through a squint and said “Woody, you remind me of Robert Downey Jr.” (At no point in my life have I ever been known as Woody.) There was refuge in the Cathedral Church of the Advent, a soaring space kept miraculously cool and filled with jazz. There was immense gratitude that I’d obtained a pair of prescription sunglasses the year before.

But most of all, there was a sense that this was something cool, something awesome, something people might even come from Atlanta or Nashville or New Orleans to check out. This was something in Birmingham worth showing up for, worth staying all day and all night, and for less than $20 for the weekend. And every Father’s Day weekend was the same for the next several years running. Johnny Cash. James Brown. The Village People. Jerry Lee Lewis. George Jones. The Neville Brothers, BB King, Sun Ra, Eddie from Ohio. In 1998, the last year I attended, they drew 270,000 people. And then, my father was dead and my life was in DC and Birmingham just wasn’t a place I wanted to be any more.

Because City Stages was an anomaly. It was Brigadoon, it was this little weekend flicker of a better life. Open, walkable, easygoing, everyone getting along, a panoply of things to do and things to see and things to eat or drink (but not beer, I almost never had alcohol at City Stages because the temperatures were obscene and the lines were worse). A place you could take pride in, a place that made people’s eyes light up when you mentioned it, a place where you could just be you and hang out and have a good time just being.

City Stages went under in 2009, after years of financial turmoil and an explosion in festivals elsewhere. But before there was the Crawfish Boil in Birmingham, before there was Bonaroo up in Tennessee, before every radio station had their big summer block party festival blowout, we had City Stages. And it was enough to whet my appetite for more, and so I went, probably for good. But if I could throw on a polo shirt and some khakis and stand off at a comfortable distance to see Earth Wind and Fire, or Marty Stuart, or the Doobie Brothers, or Snoop Dogg and Taylor Hicks…it might be worth going back.

So the best possible Brexit analogy…

…Yes, it’s going to be a bit anachronistic and sexist, but that’s right on the nose for Brexit, isn’t it? (Also let me say here that I like my mother-in-law a LOT more than I like my wife’s mother-in-law, so this is not directed at anyone in particular.)

The Brexit referendum, “would you like to be rid of the EU,” is a bit like a referendum on “would you like to be rid of your mother-in-law.” And by a vote of 52-48, you decide yes you would quite like to be rid of your mother-in-law. Well, now, how to go about it? Guess you’ll just wait for her to die of natural causes. Oh no, she’s in rude health, going to live to a hundred she is. That won’t do at all.

Welp, suppose you’ll have to kill her. “But I’m not a murderer! I couldn’t possibly kill her in cold blood!” Could always hire someone. “No! That won’t do at all!” Well all right then. If you’re not going to kill her, how else will you be rid of her?

Well, you know, you could always leave your wife, then you wouldn’t have a mother-in-law at all, you’d be rid of her that way. “But I love my wife! I love my children, I won’t do that! I wouldn’t break up my family just to be rid of my mother-in-law!”** Well it’s that or murder her. I mean, you voted.

“Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all. It’s not worth it just to be rid of my mother-in-law.” Ah, but that’s what you chose. You can’t reconsider it now, to go back on that decision would be to blaspheme the sanctity of the decision-making process and destroy the fabric of society. You have to do away with your mother-in-law or democracy itself is meaningless.

You see where this is headed?

It’s like Star Trek, and the referendum is the illogical question that Captain Cameron put to the democracy super-computer, and now it’s smoking and sparking and barking out “ERROR, ERROR, CANNOT COMPUTE.” You can chuck Theresa May out the window (and good riddance), you can have a new prime minister, you can call a general election and set the world on tilt (and probably wind up with some sort of coalition government that has the Brexit party as either a constituent or the leading force of the opposition), but it comes down to the same three options: leave with a deal and live with the consequences, leave with no deal and face chaos (and possibly the end of the United Kingdom), or pull the plug on a bad idea and face the consequences of “subverting the will of the people” (as expressed in a nebulous referendum rife with dodgy external influences). There is no door number four unless you’re willing to wait for the mother-in-law to die and hope nobody forces the issue, and there’s a large (but still not a majority) proportion of the British electorate clamoring for someone to pull the trigger right now.

Rock, paper, scissors. The only way to solve it is by making it a decision between two options rather than three, but since nobody knows how to make “a deal” into “the deal”, nobody knows how to sanely reduce it to only two.

**(And in this analogy, the wife is actually the EU and the kids are Scotland and Northern Ireland, and guess who’s getting the kids in the divorce.)

plinka plinka plinkin’ out loud

There are rumblings that the new iOS 13, so-called but probably as safe an assumption as death and taxes, may cut off support for the iPhone SE. When this was first mooted, speculation centered around the screen size, but with the unexpected refresh of the iPod Touch it seems that 4” will be enough for the brave new world of Apple’s game service. But since the refreshed phone has the same processor as the iPhone 7, the Great Mentioner now turns to the A10 as the baseline of support for the future iOS.

This is kind of tough to swallow, given that the SE could be bought new as late as February and was only discontinued formally in September. Even tougher to swallow is the notion than an OS that still supported the late-2013 chipset of the iPhone 5s and iPad mini 2 would suddenly cut off everything prior to the iPhone 7 in a single upgrade, knocking three years’ worth of shipping hardware off in one go and shortening the presumptive lifespan of an iOS device from 5 years to 3. Which is still more than you can expect from any Android phone, but still.

There are also ruminations about a notional iPhone SE2, although nobody seems to know for sure what it would look like or how it would be equipped. One can assume it would have no less than the A10 processor, and an assumption that there will be at least a couple of updates available. But the original iPhone SE jumped straight to the processor of the currently-shipping top of the line iPhone, the 6S, and while you could make an SE2 by just thickening up the new iPod Touch and adding the improved camera and a cellular chipset, I don’t see Apple making a new phone that comes pre-aged three generations.

So what’s possibly out there? Remember that the SE was basically new wine in old skins, the chipset and camera of the 6S in the body and TouchID and front camera of the 5S. It stands to reason that Apple might want to maintain their investment in existing parts and models and such. The new presumptive chipset is the A13, so-called BPASAAADAT, and one has to think it could be paired with similar or older parts. Flipside: all the X-series phones have at least a 2600mAh battery, and no previous iPhone that wasn’t a Plus had one over 2000 mAh. It may not be possible to put the A13 (or even A12) in a 4-inch-display body and have a phone that lasts til lunchtime.

The iPhone 8 would be the low-end (previously free-with-contract) iPhone this fall after the next round of revisions. A notional iPhone 11/11Max/11 Whatever line at the top, then the XS/Max/R, then the 8/Plus. By that logic, you’re more likely to see an iPhone SE2 with the body of the iPhone 8 – or maybe even the 7, to save space and cost on the wireless charging and two layers of Gorilla Glass. If the 3D Touch is also going away, as has been rumored, an SE2 based on the iPhone 7 would have the room freed up by no headphone jack, no 3D Touch and no wireless charging to fit the A13 (or A12) and close to a 2000 mAH battery to run it all. Existing parts, cost savings, possibly use the body of the 7. Where it gets interesting is this: the A12 phones (XR/XS/Max) all have Face ID. The A11 phones are either/or. In theory, you could have an A13 phone with TouchID. You might get the XR camera, with its single lens and processor-assisted photography (the apparent trend) but it stands to reason you probably can’t expect to get FaceID or Animoji. Might still get the 7MP front camera though.

Basically you’re looking at the prospect of something like an iPhone 7, upgraded to the iPhone 11 processor and iPhone XR camera, probably for around $500 or so. The obvious comparative target is the Google Pixel 3A, which takes most of the guts of the Pixel 3 and stuffs them in a polycarbonate body without waterproofing or wireless charging, and makes up for a slower processor with a full-power camera, and goes for $400. The iPhone 7 currently goes for $450 at 32 GB, and the iPhone XR (the current entry-level device) will set you back $750 for a 64 GB model. By contrast, when it was the top of the line, the iPhone 6s at full price cost $650 at retail for a 16 GB model, and the SE started at $399 six months later for the same 16 GB capacity. If $450 is the current “cheapest iPhone,” it stands to reason that is a viable price point around which to build some new replacement-class entry level device, and a notional iPhone SE2 would be around $450-500.

Which then leads to the inevitable question: would that be enough?

I’m happy with my SE. I don’t need anything else in the way of feature additions, and things like 3D Touch, FaceID or wireless charging are superfluous to my requirements especially if it means more room for battery. If that means having to go to the size of an iPhone 7 – well, it’s a hair too big, but the iPhone X I carry for work is a hair too big to be a hair too big, and I did live with an iPhone 6 for a year and a half, and a 4.7” display would probably split the difference for “big enough to read Kindle but small enough to use without putting my drink down.” And it would be worth $500 to have an unlocked new phone of my own, current chipset, current camera and the prospect of four years of updates to the OS.

Probably won’t know before next summer, but it will become more acute in a hurry if my iPhone SE is suddenly obsoleted on Monday.

the bloodbath continues

There is no precedent for a governing party in Britain taking the kind of bollocking the Tories just took in European Parliament elections. It’s a bit of an irony, of course, because by rights these elections should not be happening – but the omnishambles brought about by Theresa May’s waiting until the eleventh hour and the fifty-ninth minute to consider looking outside her own party for a deal has borne fruit. The “Brexit Party,” a sort of sentient yawp established six weeks ago to elect people to a body they don’t want to be part of, finished first past the post albeit not with a majority. The Tories came fourth, and the Liberal Democrats have seemingly sprung back to life as the most visible coherent anti-Brexit party.

Problem is, if you do the math, actual anti-Brexit parties finished with a greater share of the vote than the Brexit Party. And the parties of the center-right and center-left, both internally divided over Brexit, have very little ground over which to build a bridge, especially as the sort of Norway-or-Switzerland notions that UKIP supposedly pointed to three years ago are now anathema to a gang of Brexiteers that wants out tomorrow with no deal, mostly because bugger everyone who says that would be a catastrophe, what do they know, elitist arrogant scum.

In a way, we’re getting a glimpse into an alternate universe where the GOP stripped Donald Trump of his delegates in June of 2016 and refused to let his candidacy go forward under the Republican banner. What we’re seeing in the UK is sort of a three-legged contest between Trump, Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton (because Labour are under a similar cloud of being saddled with a leader that a lot of their rank and file don’t want). 

And yet, Brexit has to continue, because…oh right, to pull the plug would be to undermine democracy and frustrate the will of the people – never mind that the margin was 52-48 and that there was never a coherent version of what “Leave” actually entailed. At least the Electoral College is part of the American system, if merely an appendix distended and near to bursting in a fit of civic sepsis. The notion of a national referendum to take the UK out of the EU, which must be followed despite having no status in law, is just proof positive (if any were necessary) that when they write how the United Kingdom was destroyed, it was David Cameron what pushed the plunger down on the dynamite. (Scotland and Northern Ireland voted Remain by bigger percentage margins than England or Wales either one voted Leave, so do the math and see where public opinion is likely to go in the next decade especially when the Good Friday peace process is in the balance and Scotland’s already narrowly missed breaking away once.)

And ultimately, that’s the bitch of the thing. Non-Parliamentary elections in the UK are usually there to take the piss out of the ruling party, as when Labour polled 16% in the European Parliament elections a decade ago. There is a large school of thought that suggests the Brexit referendum was the same: people voting to punish the Tories after six years of government. In a way, maybe they did, because now the suggestion will emerge that the Conservative Party can only survive by going full on Brexiteer – in which case you can logically expect substantial Tory Remainer defection to the LibDems or elsewhere. And then you wind up in a position where the May deal, or some other Norway-plus arrangement, is enough to get the votes of Remainers who conclude that Brexit can’t be revoked outright and the only hope is to get the least Brexit possible. Which will almost certainly necessitate a general election, somehow, because a no-deal Brexit can still happen merely by running out the clock with no further affirmative legislation.

David Cameron blow Britain’s balls off in 2016. It may take three and a half years, but bleeding out is now legitimately on the cards.

faire play

We went to Maker Faire last weekend for the first time in years. Our motivation was the warning from some quarters that it might be the last year for a Bay Area edition of the iconic show, and it gave me a frisson of rage to think that the contemporary “techie,” so-called, probably had the weekend circles for Bay to Breakers rather than Maker.

But the show, while considerably scaled down, seemed much closer to the spirit of the event. Gone were the aisles and aisles of vendors selling flashlights or Arduino kits or electric scooters. Also gone were most of the Burning Man elements and the big show pieces – no life size Mouse Trap, no Bellagio-style Coke Zero/Mentos fountains, no fire breathing mechanical octopus or rolling house (and there were effectively no steampunk elements at all).

Instead, it was heavy on the actual makers making – people doing felt needlework, high school kids who built an AR topographic sand table from an XBox Kinect, handbuilt tiny trailers towed out from Salt Lake City. People who are making stuff not to sell, or selling stuff for you to make, but making and crafting and building for its own sake for themselves. Craft that rises almost to the level of art while still being eminently practical on its own merits.

It used to be fun to be in tech. It used to be aspirational. That was before the age of “get bought by Google or Facebook” and “drop out of Stanford and get Y Combinator to put you on the VC sugar tit forever so you don’t have to face the market.” There were always rich assholes here (cheers, Larry) but the tech sector never used to be the chosen destination for assholes wanting to get rich quick. Not on this scale.

That’s why Maker Faire is important. It calls back to the days of the Homebrew Computer Club, the days when technology was very much a hands-on proposition and you couldn’t just farm out your servers to AWS and your manufacturing to Shenzhen. And it celebrates technology that isn’t just internet-of-Shit gimcracks or gig-economy services to provide assisted living for rich millennials in the city. It’s participatory. It’s motivating. It’s inspirational. And if it goes, it will take a good chunk of the soul out of what it used to mean to be Silicon Valley.