7 out

Years ending in 7 have not been my friend, traditionally. 1977 saw me start five-day-a-week education for the first time. Playschool until noon on Mondays and Tuesdays was fine because it didn’t cut into my diet of gameshows, Sesame Street and Gilligan’s Island, but going every day kind of took the fun out of it. 1987 saw me with my first girlfriend…and saw me get dumped five months later, in the midst of an ongoing struggle of a type I would become well familiar with. 1997? Flunk out of grad school, break up with the most toxic girlfriend of all, find myself four months later living in DC as an IT professional with no clue how I got to that point. 2007? Leave Apple – second-biggest bad call of my life – in the midst of health issues which it turned out included chronic depression bad enough to rate taking meds for the first time.

So. 2017.

It’s not going well, for obvious reasons. Looking at the world around me, realizing that our fates are in the grasp of the willfully stupid. Seeing damage being done that maybe can be repaired and maybe can’t, and certainly can’t for years to come and possibly not ever if the willfully stupid are still let to participate. Realizing that all I want to do is escape, which isn’t going to happen – not without a lot of money and effort and luck of a type that seems to have run out long ago. At this point, the prospect of retirement looks shaky in a world where you’re going to need to maintain employer-provided care through age 69 even assuming Medicare doesn’t get nuked for Gen-X and later in favor of “premium support” or some other horseshit.

It’s easy as hell to put this down to the mental defective in the White House and his amen corner in the idiot press. I don’t know what’s worse: stupid, bigoted people or the ones who thought they could keep steering those stupid bigots to their own benefit and won’t let go no matter how bad it gets. Because they’ve already rejected logic, reason, cause and effect, and increasingly the world in front of their fucking faces. It’s a cult belief system now, and you can’t repair that sort of thing. But then, it isn’t just Trumpshakers that are part of a cult belief system, as anyone who lives in area code 650 can tell you.

I think part of today’s rage comes from the latest crop of Y Combinator bullshit announcements this week, most of which (to paraphrase Twitter) seem to have changed from “Uber for X” to “X but for Africa”. One pair of chuckleheads, in fact, have solved housing! With shipping containers! Setting aside the notion that I was contemplating where to site a one-TEU container as a retirement cabin back in the dark days of 2014, this is the DNA of this valley in a nutshell: rich kids who think no one could ever have conceived of their BRILLIANT IDEA before. And I spend far too many days a week being constantly exposed to “LOOK HOW SMART WE ARE, WE ARE BRILLIANT, WE ARE THE FUTURE” as if they’re being paid to deliberately take the piss out of everything I was told to strive for growing up. If the opposite end of the process was “Stanford asshole,” it’s just as well I wasted four years in a nothing school in Alabama.

Because there’s two ways we go with things here. One is to say that if you’re somehow smart about one thing, you are smart about EVERYTHING. It’s why people used to say with a straight face that Lee Iacocca or Bill Gates should be President. It’s why an emeritus professor of obstetrics and gynecology feels somehow empowered to lecture you on what constitutes adequate computer security in a world of HIPPA law and network hacking (spoiler alert: using BitTorrent to steal a copy of “50 Shades of Gray” on an encrypted system with patient data does not constitute adequate security). The other way to go is to say that everything has to be dumbed down to the level of a sports talk radio caller, and that such people are the salt of the earth and it is somehow bigoted to demand a higher level of intellect in public life than can be found in the comment section of AL.com.

And the thing is, we’ve spent years and years and years shitting on expertise. On knowledge. On taking the time to think things through, on anything that goes against gut instinct and salt-of-the-earth “common sense.” We’ve reclassified being able to function in the modern world as “adulting” and made it optional for anyone with enough of their folks’ money to get by. Some people piss and moan endlessly about “personal responsibility” and then want to know why the Oompa-Loompa they elected President is taking a cut at their health insurance. Then again, some people mock the notion of paying fast food workers $15 an hour, and then piss and moan about what a shitshow Burger King is…all the while ignoring that In N Out across the road is already paying $15 to people who smile, ask how you are, get the order right the first time, and oh by the way make the best damn fast food burger on the planet.

Don’t shit on expertise. Don’t shit on experience. Don’t shit on knowledge and research and knowing what you’re talking about. And don’t assume you know what that knowledge and expertise looks like. Don’t even let me get started about how this fucking Valley is the Big Rock Candy Mountain if you’re male, under 35, have the correct school hoodie and are either white or the select sort of Asian. Because there are a hell of a lot of other people here with a hell of a lot more experience than you probably have who know your “distruptive” solution to “solve housing” or “solve payroll” or “solve health” is a crock of feces.

It all boils down to people in this country that don’t know – and don’t want to know – that there are other people. That their experience is not universal. Here I am, miserable old white dude from Alabama. I know damn well that my experience is not universal, because I was a freak when I was born and a freak when I left, and I’m a different caliber but no less freakish in this place and time now. So forget what I have to say, and do this instead: try listening to some women. Try listening to some black people. Try listening to some twenty-somethings who went to an actual college instead of Uncle Leland’s Buck-E-Cheese and have to pay off a hundred thousand dollars on your $7.75 minimum wage because a diploma is the new golden ticket. Try listening to someone looking for a new job at age 53 who isn’t going to be grandfathered into BoomerCare and is staring at the prospect of their savings and retirement being vacated so Racist Uncle Earl can say we beat Obummercare.

Meanwhile, I’ll be over here counting the days to 2018.

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ICEBERG RIGHT AHEAD

Let’s not beat around the bush: this is a disastrous result for the Republican Party. Paul Ryan and the kind of people who think he is some sort of genius (spoiler alert: these are without exception very stupid people) thought that Donald Trump was going to be a matador for the GOP in Congress a la George W. Bush. They figured they could whip through whatever legislation they wanted and count on having it signed by a compliant chief executive without the interest (or intellect) to tamper with it. And that’s exactly what they got. The only problem came when it was time to craft the legislation – and then, a party that churned out five dozen different “repeal Obamacare” bills when out of power came face to face with reality. Something the modern GOP has never been able to survive.

See, the dirty secret of Obamacare has always been that it IS the Republican alternative. Literally. It is grounded in the Heritage Foundation’s alternative plan which was the Republican response to the Clinton healthcare package in the early 1990s. The telling thing is that in an attempt to round up support on the right, Ryan put on the table the “essential medical benefits” rules – which in turn led a lot of Republicans from districts that voted for Hillary to see visions of ads in 2018 saying “Trump and $NAME voted that your insurance doesn’t have to pay for your emergency room visits.” Which is great if you love insurance companies, but those particular members of Congress are well aware that insurance companies don’t vote, and people who find themselves screwed out of health insurance do. Semantic games about “health care access” don’t wash with Ed Earl Brown when he’s on the verge of declaring bankruptcy because of health expenses (like 60% of personal bankruptcies in the last year before the passage of the ACA).

The other problem is that these members – and more, probably – look at Donald Trump and see someone whose approval ratings right now are worse than Obama’s ever were in eight years in office. Trump can threaten all he wants, but when the President is clocking 38% approve against 57% disapprove, being on the outs with Trump – especially in a Hillary-voting district – will make any Congresscritter say “pleeeeease don’t throw me in that briar patch.” Which is why Paul Ryan had to pull the vote rather than risk going down to defeat, which would almost certainly have been worse. At least at this point, nobody is on the record with a bad vote they have to defend next year.

But it’s as bad a blow for Ryan as for Trump, if not worse.  Trump, after all, thinks he’s CEO of America. He cuts ribbons, cashes checks, issues orders and waits for people to scramble. He’s not interested in governance or policy, at all. He genuinely thinks America is a bigger version of The Apprentice. Paul Ryan, by contrast, sits where Newt Gingrich once sat twenty years ago, in an office and role that was crafted expressly to make the GOP Speaker of a GOP-majority Congress the de facto Prime Minister of the United States. There’s no filibuster in the House. The rules are entirely at the Speaker’s will. And the Republicans have a majority of over 40 seats. In theory and on paper, until the 2018 elections, the House Republicans should be the windshield and the House Democrats should be the bug.

Trump (and to a lesser extent Ryan) are already trying to find a way to pin this on the Democrats. That might wash with the sort of people dumb enough to have voted for Trump, but anyone with an IQ above room temperature who passed 12th-grade government class can tell you that won’t wash. Ryan should be able to say frog and watch his party jump. Today he proved that he can’t do it any more than John Boehner could. And if the House GOP can’t all hold hands and jump off the cliff, there is no planet on which the Senate GOP will do so – especially if it comes down to breaking a filibuster for legislation (the Supreme Court is another matter). 

No, the plan at this point will be to sabotage Obamacare to death by a thousand cuts and blame its failure on Democrats – who are already tooling up to say that Obamacare was doing great until the GOP started mucking with it and creating uncertainty and trying to pillage YOUR health care to line the pockets of Blue Shield. Trump voters aren’t too too bright, but they probably aren’t going to go to the rack to make sure that Blue Shield can duck out of paying for their prescriptions. And Trump is already making “on to the next” motions to shrug it off, as if this wasn’t a priority anyway.

The GOP is learning the hard way that eight years of blind obstruction plus a 70-year-old kindergartener in the White House is some mighty thin ice on which to build actual governance. The Democrats are warming up a flamethrower. It’s not going to be pretty.

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The presumption of charging

Here’s the thing: screens are getting bigger. Apple alone is holding the line for 4.7” (4-inch phones are right out; I don’t expect to ever see the iPhone SE2) and the “cheap phone” size is 5 inches (the new Moto G5 is 5.0” and the G5 Plus, the only model for the US market, is 5.2″). So that ship has sailed; unfortunately, most mainstream manufacturers are trying to compensate for acreage with thin (especially the clowns in IL2 over in Cupertino). So you can’t count on batteries getting that much bigger.

Now add to that the presumption of streaming. Spotify. Netflix. Apple Music. The zero-rating of their own TV products by AT&T and Verizon, and T-Mobile’s “Music Choice” program. It doesn’t matter if they aren’t going to charge you for that data, using it is still going to eat battery life. Now add to that a presumption of wireless headphones – or worse, wireless earbuds, where two separate things have to have battery AND wireless built in AND enough logic to play the same thing simultaneously without lag or latency. No wonder the $160 Apple EarPods come with a charging case. Now add to THAT the prospect of a continual wireless connection to your watch. Or your Fitbit. Or your jacket. Or your random Internet of Shit devices.

Fast charging seems to have officially displaced battery life. A handful of people tried for a while to mock one competitor or another for having to stay close to a wall outlet, but now everyone is all about “turbo charging” and how five minutes on the charger will give your headset two hours of playback, or fifteen minutes will get you close to 50% on your phone or something like that. And that’s as may be, but now something has changed. You now have to add a charger to your loadout. It’s not enough to have the phone any longer; you must have a charging cable and a power source at the other end, whether it’s an outlet plug or an actual battery. 

Time was, this was only a problem if you were an obsessive power user. And I had a charge cable at my desk all the time, still do, and have two in the car so we can both top up as needed. But it’s getting tougher to go very long away from the power, for all the reasons enumerated above – and when I of all people can get by with an iPhone SE but not a larger, hungrier device, something’s clearly gone wrong. And to make matters worse, when you put all your chips on expediting charging, that’s when you’re most likely to get things bursting into flames. Which is a problem.

In the days of horses for courses, this was less of a problem. The pager would go weeks on a single AA battery, the iPod would certainly last all day on a full charge, the phone – hell, my trusty little change-pocket SonyEricsson Z520 would go four days between charging. But when you get down to having only one device for everything, that device has only one battery which is being drained for everything. I was rather hoping that the Apple Watch would mean less time checking the phone itself, but given that it took until watchOS 3 for the thing to be faster than just pulling out the phone and having done with it? That’s not happening.

Again: the Moto X. Put that screen and that battery with the iPhone SE internals, if such a thing can be done, and I think it reasonably could. That was a 2200 mAh battery, which means you basically just gave the iPhone a 50% larger battery gratis. I don’t know if the 4.7” AMOLED would draw appreciably more than the 4” LCD, but I’d be willing to leave my wallpaper black to find out. Although the closest I’ve come to running my iPhone dead in recent months was going out on St Patrick’s Day and staying constantly engaged in Slack and Instagram and taking pics and video and making sure I’d checked in everywhere, in a space where there was barely signal (none at all in the second pub), not to mention constantly trying to stay on top of the NCAA tournament and this Twitter or that Twitter and – it’s not surprising that 7 hours of hitting it hard almost finished off the SE.

But that SE holds up. Because I don’t stream my music, and I went back to a nice pair of Harman-Kardon wired headphones, and to be honest I’d just as soon not be subject to the tyranny of the watch telling me to stand up and breathe and go for a walk, but the watch doesn’t appear to hit the phone hard enough to hurt. And if I put the phone in low-power mode, I usually get through the day at 50%. Which is why Apple’s really going to have to show me something in September to pull me off the SE before 2018…and I might just be willing to ride this phone into the ground first, including an internal battery replacement, before I give in to the inevitable 5-inch display future.

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flashback, part 83 of n

Beamish stout makes me think of Turlough O’Connor.

Back in the day, Turly was the developer of FInderPop, an absolutely essential piece of shareware for Mac OS 8 or so. It provided an easy contextual-menu environment to a GUI defined by a one-button mouse. And it was “pintware” – you paid for it by sending him whatever it would cost for him to have a pint of Beamish. It was the first I ever heard of Beamish.

FinderPop wasn’t the only essential software in the old days, of course. There was Kaleidoscope, the last word in Mac customization. Greg Landweber had started with “Greg’s Buttons,” to let you do some simple tweaking of the default Macintosh GUI, and then created Aaron to mimic the look of the late, not particularly lamented Copland OS. And once he combined the two, we had Kaleidoscope, which meant all kind of easy theming for the Mac OS. It obviously broke into a million pieces with the release of OS X, but for a little while, we had Unsanity’s ShapeShifter (which lasted approximately until the Intel transition and the ground-up rewrite of the window manager in OS X).

I don’t know why theming ceased to be a thing. It’s obvious Apple didn’t want too much tampering with the look and feel of OS X, and definitely didn’t want anything introducing instability into the graphic subsystem for any reason. Hell, you couldn’t pick a wallpaper for your iPhone before iOS 4. But then, I’ve never had anything but a black backdrop on my Moto X for longer than five minutes, largely because in AMOLED, any black pixel is your friend. Theming just distracts from what you came here for – anything that takes away one pixel of resolution, one milliamp-hour of battery life or one processor cycle away from why you pulled the phone out is your enemy.

So many things we used to depend on – RAMDoubler was a drop-in replacement for Apple’s own VM service, and it worked a treat for the most part – but it caused the Geoport Telecom Adapter’s modem connection to drop and that bug was never even addressed, as far as I know. (I’d love another crack at RADAR to see.) There was a whole suite of Internet essentials: Eudora for mail, NewsWatcher for USENET, MacGopher for, well, Gopher servers. MacPPP for dialup connections. MacTCP back when the OS didn’t come with the ability to handle TCP/IP connections built-in. Hell, the Extensions Manager started life as a third-party solution that would let you load things individually to try to pare down the background processes crashing your Mac, and was itself the tool that let me spot the Autostart 9805 infection at NGS, the only time in my life I’ve ever dealt with a meaningful Mac malware outbreak. Stuffit Expander was perhaps the most crucial of all utilities, because everything was a .sit file when you downloaded it.

None of those things are around anymore. You don’t load extensions at all now. Things like VM and TCP and archive management (based on .zip files) are all part of the OS.  And if you spent the majority of your computing time on a phone, you probably don’t even have a file system to speak of, just various degrees of data sharing between apps depending on how your vendor architects your OS.  It’s smoother and simpler and easier than before. The learning curve is a lot more shallow. The barrier to entry is infinitely lower.

Have we suffered by letting the drawbridge down? Maybe. Think of the “eternal September” that basically did for USENET when AOL got access to newsgroups, or the explosion of spam from newsgroups to email to basically any sort of text exchange, or the erosion of .net culture and its norms and standards. But this was the price of bringing fire down from Everest. Besides, where to draw the line? Facebook? Twitter? Snapchat? At what point was the Internet this unspoilt Eden, this green and pleasant land? Generally it was about 30 days after your first access, at which point the newcomers ruined everything.

Actually that goes for a lot more than the Internet, when you get right down to it. Of which…

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Social Networks I Have Loved

* Vox. It was Improved LiveJournal, from the Trotts (who founded SixApart and created LJ to begin with) and it featured a more granular way of handling private or restricted content. Not to mention much nicer page templates. The reason this site is plain black and white is because I haven’t found anything to match the city landscapes they had. 

* Early Twitter. Before embedded media, before all the cheats on the 140-character limit, back when it was the sort of thing you could usefully text 40404 to post to. Before it became a firehose fed by a cesspool.

* Instagram. Somehow it just works – best for keeping in touch with friends, actual friends, without the hassle and inconvenience of wading through a ton of garbage the way you can’t avoid with Facebook or Twitter.

 

What do all these have in common? They’re all limited to a confined group of people to actually socialize with. They aren’t a magnet for the “add this person, add that person” which leads to the sudden realization that you’re following 300 people and don’t actually know half of them. They aren’t overrun with advertising, reblogs, paid content, games, memes, fake news and general shitposting.

I think this is part of why things like Path or Peach had a certain appeal – a social network of your actual friends, not just the randoms in your phone – but you can’t have wildly unlimited growth if you stick to friends. So everything either spirals out of control (Facebook, Twitter, probably Snapchat before long) or fails to ignite (Path, Peach, app.net, Google+). I think the most surprising thing to me is how the personal Slack instance has become a sort of social network (I’m on a couple myself; I’ve lost track of how many the wife belongs to) which is a perfect example of Gibson’s Law (“the street finds its own uses for technology”).

But those shutdown nights on Tuesdays have as often as not turned into a soft shutdown where I pull on the Moto X instead of any of the usual Apple devices – because it limits me to Kindle, Instagram and the family Slack channel, plus Wikipedia lookups if I need them. Which is about right for what I really need for social networking in 2017. Twitter, in particular, needs to die for its sins…but more about that some other time.

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flashback, part 82 of n

That first couple of years of the iPhone was a weird time for technology. The original iPhone was unlike anything else out there, and it was a year before an Android device shipped (and arguably another couple after that before an Android device worth comparing shipped, in the Nexus One). But until 2009, there were some pretty hard-and-fast limits with the iPhone – no video capture. No cut and paste. No MMS support. And while the 2-megapixel camera wasn’t appreciably worse than other flagship cameraphones at the time, it’s still ghastly in retrospect to compare the pictures it took to ones that even the iPhone 4 captured.

That was an era when we were still trying to figure out what “mobile phone computing” would look like. It was obvious pretty quickly, for instance, that Twitter was made for the smartphone. Having a full screen Twitter display, even on a 3.5” 480×320 screen, changed the entire functionality of Twitter. When I created my first Twitter account in February 2007, it was worthless because it was basically only suitable for blast-texting and I didn’t know anyone else on it. I expected it to be a more trimmed-down version of Dodgeball. Instead, two years later, Foursquare launched as a goosed-up version of Dodgeball – and Foursquare is inconceivable without a smartphone with GPS location capability. Dodgeball was of limited utility on the feature phones of 2004, and that’s an app that needs a phone – nobody would use Foursquare from a computer.

But the thing is, at the time it wasn’t even a sure thing that the iPhone would come to rule the roost in the world of mobile phone computing. The Blackberry was the entrenched device, to the point that my first work phone at my new job in January 2009 was a Blackberry Bold – at the time considered the pinnacle of the type and the best display you could get on a mobile device. Windows Mobile, even in its early craptastic days, was still a thing. Symbian Series 60 still ruled the roost at Nokia, which was putting out devices with a feature set that frankly kicked the shit out of the first-gen iPhone (a 5 MP camera with Zeiss optics in a  2007 device?) and there was still a school of thought that you could get meaningful use out of J2ME versions of Google Maps and Opera Mini proxy browser and an RSS reader on some of the Sony Ericsson high-end handsets.

I left Apple only a couple of months after getting my iPhone, and then did a year and change as a NASA subcontractor before winding up where I am now. I knew going in that I didn’t want to make a career of the NASA gig, but it would be a few years before I realized how big a mistake leaving Apple was. So I was sort of adrift for a while – I went through three different mental health professionals, finally broke down and tried antidepressants, and went to great lengths to find something that would fill the rapidly expanding gaps in my life, whether international soccer or RCIA classes or men’s a cappella chorus or bar trivia or…

These things go together because one of the recurring things in my memory are those liminal periods – like late 1984 and early 1985, for instance, or the autumn of 1997 – when I’m not who I was but haven’t figured out who I am now yet. Things are still malleable, we’re still in between times, the needle hasn’t settled into a groove. There’s still some flexibility before you sink into the New Normal. I think maybe that’s what I’m processing now – trying to engineer myself a reasonably soft landing into whatever comes next. Because right now, it would be nice to put paid to the creeping existential dread for a little while, if I could only figure out how to do it reliably – and reproducibly. 

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The Happy Place

What is your happy place? Is it something in memory? Something in imagination? Someplace you can escape without feeling like it’s just a temporary escape, some place where you can hide out? Is there an actual physical spot you can go to and feel at peace, all’s right with the world, or at least the madness of the wider world can’t get inside you for a while?

This is something I’ve had a long time to mull over in the last few weeks and months, largely because I’m looking for commonalities – is there one thread (or several) that run through all of these places in my memory? Something that’s easily reproducible in a pinch? Something that informs why it works and how I can obtain that peace of mind elsewhere? Why not take a look and see what comes up?

One of the first things was isolation. Whether it was stashing myself under the gym bleachers at day care, locking myself in my room as an adolescent, or just squirreling away in music-building practice rooms or walking around abandoned academic buildings at midnight as an undergrad, getting away was frequently a big part of it. Not even necessarily isolation – retreating to a Tahoe cabin with the wife or going down the basement cigar shop with a bunch of guys whose names I never knew. A cozy space away from most of the world – that might be as clear a definition of the happy place as I can think of, with one exception: if I have a crew around me, we can do anything. The 4P’s on Saturday night. Winery tours. The Santa Cruz Warriors game. (It’s a particular paradox of the bus leagues that the San Jose Giants at home can be either a group outing or cozy isolation in the exact same seats.)

There’s also dark. Obviously a public house is not often well-lit, which is the desired effect. Neither is a cabin in a snow-strewn landscape with a fire in the potbelly stove. In recent months, I’ve come to appreciate the appeal of copper string lights as the only illumination, especially against a plain brick wall. It’s the same principle by which I feel better in the fog: sometimes, you’re just better off without too much light. It’s why I couldn’t go to my favorite San Jose pub in the summertime: because I hate walking out of the pub when it’s still light. (It doesn’t help that they lack air conditioning.) The practice of staying home in the front room to try to pub it works less well when sunlight is still streaming through the windows. (By contrast, having the Christmas string lights as the only illumination works surprisingly well.)

On the other hand, something I never would have considered before moving here – there’s the coast. Highway 1 from Ocean Beach in the city all the way south of Davenport – the Pacific off to your right as you drive down, past small towns and random homes and the occasional pie ranch or strawberry farm. The sort of place where if you did have a tiny house, you’d be happy to plunk it down within sight of the ocean and set up one of those zero-g reclining chairs outside (maybe bike-chained to the corner of the house) to read and watch the waves in the distance on a foggy day.

A few years ago, I described the seaside town where the “coffee shop” is the old diner, the bar has a fireplace and doesn’t carry anything fancier than Guinness, the cops all still carry revolvers and the baseball comes over the radio, and how I’d take turning 60 now if I could just be retired there. I kind of stand by that, but more than ever the thought drifts through – Greenock, in Scotland? Somewhere like Kinvara on the west coast of Ireland? Someplace where I don’t have a rooting interest in the sport and don’t even understand the politics and could just relax for the rest of my days?

Which really gets to the point of the whole thing: the only real happy place is one you don’t have to return from.

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Not only is that mother big but he packs a .45

Here we sit, 365 days on, and everything is just as it was the year before, and the year before that, and the year before that.  The goal is the same, but I seem to be falling shorter of it with every passing orbit round the sun.  Ever more cognizant that the world, or God, or Loki, or whoever – nobody owes you a happily ever after.  Stephen Schwarz’s Godspell notwithstanding, it’s not always all for the best. And the days may be long and drag on, but the years go flying by, each one faster than the last.

I felt it more this year than ever before.  Friends and family leave town – over the hill or up the coast or across the country.  Others fight through health issues, of increasing seriousness. Work becomes ever more intolerable, to the point where I not only despair of it ever getting better, but despair of it being any better anywhere else.  I feel like I’ve been spinning my wheels for too long, marking time, treading water, abiding by what’s safe and secure even as the safe ground slowly crumbles beneath us.

Right now, if the Old Scratch himself appeared before me, offering to jump me ahead to age 60, but I’d be retired, with my wife and a healthy pension, and a cottage in a cold seaside town where the cops still carry revolvers and the coffee shop is still where you go for bacon and eggs and gossip, and where the one dive bar in town has a fireplace and doesn’t sell anything more exotic or complicated than Guinness, and where the sputtering air-cooled VW can get us around without the hassle and strain of walking on a bad back…I’d have to think long and hard before turning it down.  Assuming I would.

Feb 27, 2014

 

Not a lot has changed in the last three years, it seems. Work isn’t as bad as it was – the day-to-day doesn’t involve user-facing support any longer, and the turnover in org structure has left me with less annoyance and more peace and quiet (for now). But the one big project that I’m consumed with is something I genuinely don’t find that interesting, and other people are carrying it further and faster, and it’s still at the same terrible employer in the same terrible town. And when my boss and I discuss my future job prospects looking five years down the road, the options seem to be JAMF administrator here, or JAMF administrator in the larger organization, or JAMF administrator in another private-sector larger organization…and maybe if I was moving into a place where I didn’t have to build the underlying server from scratch (with no help from what is ostensibly a data center group that hosts and administers Linux systems), and be somewhere it would be possible to use the bulk of what JAMF can do without political obstacles or the interference created by a cockamamie networking infrastructure, it might be more desirable. But right now, barely hanging on to keep up with an unnecessarily complicated system that will eventually let us do 25% of what it’s capable of…it isn’t what I’d planned on.

It isn’t what I’d planned on. Carve that on my tombstone. Not that I ever had a plan. Just a sense of where my life ought to have been by now, and you can argue that the two biggest mistakes of my life were just that because they each cost me three to four years. Better college choice means I don’t waste three years in grad school trying to make up the difference. If I stay at Apple and let myself move away from being technical all the time, I don’t lose four years between a government subcontract with no benefits and then trying to work my way up to the salary I walked away from in October 2007. And to be honest, looking at my present life circumstances would be a lot sunnier from age 37, say, than it is from 45.

Because the future doesn’t look bright. We’re going to be stuck with a weak, stupid, selfish, obnoxious prick with a 70-year-old Fox viewer’s worldview in the Oval Office for years. Not only does that mean hell to pay on immigration and foreign relations and health care, it means that by the time the smoke clears, Comcast and AT&T and Verizon might be the only three providers of Internet access in America. And Caltrain might never have any increase in capacity while the roads get even worse. And we could wind up with a screaming cable pundit on the Supreme Court. God only knows what my retirement or health care might look like – and how grateful am I that I had the nose surgery last March and find myself much more able to breathe than ever I was before? – and it’s to the point now that I don’t feel confident that I could go visit Ireland and come back without some meathead wanting to dig through my phone. The whole entire world is on the edge of a knife, and will be for a long, long time. And that makes it impossible to exhale, to relax, to say “it is what it is” – and I’m white and male and well-off. If everyone else reacted like white men, we’d already be in a shooting war in the United States, because if Hillary Clinton had been made President with three million fewer votes than Trump and the Congress was under Democratic control, I guarantee you the redneck white trash would be spraying bullets in every direction.

My instinct is to escape. Find things to take refuge in – the books, the pub, the dozens of California’s Gold episodes on the DVR, the return of baseball. The only problem is that every time I escape into something, the real world is right here waiting, and it won’t be fixed in a day, or a week, or a month, or a year, or possibly several years. If ever. Given that this is twenty years since I embarked on this career – and ten years after that second big mistake that set me back – it’s hard not to look behind and be angry at what the view forward looks like. Because you can’t say “it’s all going to be OK in the end.” There’s every possibility it isn’t. And right now, all I want is to make sure that in my despair and rage and depression, I don’t make another five-year mistake. It’s bad enough being at the midpoint of my working life without the prospect of not having age 65 as the get out of jail free date.

So…what now? Try to reach out to old friends. Try to find some way to make new ones. Try to find something to be interested in, something that will be a distraction without making things worse the way my brief Vanderbilt sports blogger career did. Turn off the news, cancel the Twitter account, keep the world at arm’s length and just try not to think about it. Whatever it may be.

Because if there’s one thing that’s never helped me in my entire life, it’s having too much to think.

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tfw there can be only one

App.net is going to bite the dust in a couple of weeks. Started five years ago, it was that most novel of Silly Con Valley propositions: the provision of an online service in exchange for cash on the !-ing barrelhead. Like Twitter, but ad-free, 256 characters per message, and with an API framework to allow it to be used for other things going forward. All in all, a delightful notion…that went absolutely nowhere. Because Twitter had a four year head start and is “free.”  Just as Facebook is “free.”

Social media networks have to be free. They simply have to. Because their entire value proposition is based on having everyone on them. And their entire business model relies on endless ever-spiraling growth. And you can’t grow at unnatural speeds if people have to pay for the service. Never mind the hassle of digging out a credit card and evaluating whether it’s worth paying money for your whatever-it-is, you then have to have a secure payment mechanism and protect the data and keep track of…it’s hardly worth the effort, is it?

More to the point, unlimited growth because “free” makes it a lot easier to pitch to advertisers and data miners (but I repeat myself). I am prepared to bet that Twitter could not actually make money charging for their service (I am prepared to bet that Twitter cannot make money full stop, and I doubt whether Snapchat will either) and that at a minimum, the amount they would have to charge to make up for no ad revenue and the shrink from loss of unwilling-to-pay users would combine to put them in a SoMa alleyway with a quickness.

And still we struggle, because Twitter and Facebook are largely garbage. The only way you can make them useful is to set them as private, lock them down to a fare-thee-well, pare your list of friends and followers aggressively, and make absolutely sure that none of them is going to go feral on you. And things being how they are, if you just want to get away from the madness of the world, you can’t do it on Twitter or Facebook.

Which is where Instagram comes in.

Yes, it’s owned by Facebook, but perhaps realizing how shit they are at mobile has led Facebook to leave their acquisition alone. And it’s completely dissociated from my existing Facebook account (which goes largely unused these days). And it has become the only “social media” that I keep on the phone and check routinely, because for the most part they’re either people I know or people whose posts I find interesting. And in a pinch, there’s even a chat client.  It’s simple, it feeds the escape urge, and at least it doesn’t make me feel like the world is collapsing around me.

Sic transit App.net and Peach and Path and Ello and Diaspora and all the other attempts to get around the Tweetbook duopoly of social media. It’s the Gram or nothing at this point.

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“I’m still trying to figure out what happened to the first mouse.”

The Pebble and the Moto F3 are both on borrowed time. The Pebble is no longer getting updates and the servers on which it depends are on borrowed time in the wake of the acquisition by FitBit. Meanwhile, 2G cellular networks are getting re-farmed and GSM phones which have been viable for years are finally being pulled off the grid. In fact, another treasured piece of tech – the iPhone I was issued gratis as an Apple employee in 2007 – will no longer work on AT&T’s network as of January 1, because they’ve already pulled the plug on the 2G network.

I brought this up some time ago. On the one hand, I got the MOTOFONE F3 as a Christmas present in 2007, and even then, it was already a sort of coelacanth – a phone in 2007 with a 7-segment display that could send and receive calls (with speakerphone even!), send and receive text messages (without even upper case or a full set of punctuation marks), store 10 speed-dial numbers on the SIM, set an alarm (to ring at the same time every 24 hours or not at all) and show the time of day on the front. It was already 10 years behind state of the art. And yet, those 10 year old phones – in theory – would still have worked just as well. Had I bought a Powertel or Sprint Spectrum GSM phone in 1997 as I’d desired, then in 2007, assuming they were not SIM-locked and I could find the appropriate SIM form-factor, I could continue to use them to place calls and maybe even set an alarm. It’s not much, but there you go.

But that required a compatible network. And just like AMPS and TDMA before it, the original flavor 2G GSM network – which started as Pac Bell or PowerTel or Sprint Spectrum or Voicestream and eventually ultimately all became either AT&T or T-Mobile – is now being refarmed in the desperate search for enough bandwidth to accommodate the Snapchat generation. Which means that any phone from before the initial re-push of 3G in 2007 is about to be a paperweight. 

(Sidenote: I remember the old uppercase AT&T’s abortive effort at pushing out UTMS in 2004. Then they got eaten by Cingular and 3G disappeared for a couple of years, only to emerge just as the initial iPhone didn’t offer it. Which in turn led T-Mobile to brand their faster non-LTE 3G as “4G” and add to the confusion that drives us all insane today. God help us once 5G starts rolling out.)

But that’s obsoleting a bunch of phones from the pre-Obama era. For the Pebble to have the rug yanked from beneath it is a little more alarming.  The first Pebble watch, fresh from the greatest crowdfunding success ever, arrived in January 2013 and was pronounced dead just under four years later. I bought one in 2015, and had replaced it with an Apple Watch within four months because if I needed a smartwatch, I needed a smarter one – but the Pebble was still useful in its way, and would have made a nice companion to the Moto X, similarly on its last legs (without a security update since last April and without an OS update since Lollipop 5.1).

As Aldrich Killian said in Iron Man 3, “the early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.” Pebble turned out to be the first mouse. And as networks evolve, it’s anyone’s guess how long something like my Moto X will continue to be viable – but I’m prepared to bet I won’t be noting that it’s just now being cut out of usability in 2024. Software makes our smart devices less like phones and more like laptops. With predictable results.

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