foursquare

Ten years ago, the talk of South by Southwest Interactive was an app called Foursquare. Its creators had started with an app called Dodgeball, which used SMS to check people into venues and was sold to Google and left to die. When its creators left the confines of Mountain View, they started another company to do the same thing, only with the advantage of Smartphone Time. Turns out that built-in maps and GPS and enhanced data service make that a much simpler prospect than it was in the days of the RAZR.

Ten years on, Foursquare has built its own sort of map and social grid. And they’ve remained independent, selling aggregate map information to other companies rather than selling out to Google or Facebook or the like. And they did kind of screw up by  splitting into two separate applications and messing with the whole check-in mechanism, ruining one of the most successful attempts at gamification in the smartphone era. And yes, I get nervous that there’s all that location data for me in there.

But it was extraordinary at the time, even if it was plainly meant for people ten years younger than me. It gave me a record of places I’d been, things I’d done, and the people I’d been out with. It was data that proved the existence of a social life, kind of sort of. Granted, most of the people I have friended through it no longer live near enough to me that we check into a place together, but that’s a broader issue. Instead, I can look back and see a stream of check-ins across Europe in 2010. Or Japan in 2015. Or Disneyland. Or see when I last visited some place that I hadn’t seen since 2011, in the case of one of the downtown wine bars. Scroll back far enough and you can see peregrinations around San Francisco back when that was a desirable thing to do. Or things that used to be, like Z Pizza or Dan Brown’s Lounge or Soarin’ Over California. Or things I forgot I did, like Vanderbilt happy hours or my 2015 ER visit for my back or the Sunset Festival.

I have more past than I remember. That’s what makes Foursquare – and this blog – important.

flashback, part 104 of n

I was attractive in 1989. I don’t know how, I don’t know why, and the photographic evidence of the era provides no clues – only more bewilderment. Terrible center-parted hair, badly tinted coke-bottle glasses, braces that I couldn’t seem to get shut of, and a wardrobe consisting entirely of either white concert-style t-shirts or pastel plaid short-sleeve button-ups, topped with a Members Only jacket five years too late and a gray fedora. In theory and on paper, I should have been a circus clown, and instead, four different girls found me attractive at some point in that year.

The last of those was an anomaly about which I hadn’t thought in years, maybe decades, aside from the snark at one of her pageant titles. Because she was a pageant girl, a cheerleader for a decade before we got together, the sort of high-achieving queen-bee sort that, in an exurban Southern high school setting, might have been the Platonic ideal of “who should I not be with, ever.” And yet, we dated from early October of 1989 through January of 1990, as I was filling out my college applications and getting ready for the inevitable future for which I’d waited my entire life.

Looking back, I think it was an experiment for both of us. I was probably the very last thing she would have thought of going out with, especially since she’d just had a long-term alpha-dog sort of boyfriend who had gone off to Auburn a year ahead of her. I never dated from my own high school, and was still reeling from my exposure to the wider world in June coupled with the reversal of personality and fortune around my common-law girlfriend at the time, and after being in limbo for a month, I called up this girl who had expressed a mild interest at one of the academic events of the summer and gave it a shot. 

We went to movies, I think, but by virtue of where she was located it was tough to see anything that started after 7 and still get her home on time. It was a prolonged drive deeper into the sticks from home, on two-lane roads that gloried in the name “state route”. I barely met any of her friends, and…well, I didn’t have that many for her to meet. My friends had all graduated the year before and I was at hammer and tongs with most of my senior class, and I was keeping score at scholar’s bowl practice as ‘me versus the world’, so there really wasn’t anyone to whom I could introduce her. Or wanted to. We sniped obliquely at each other about our odd-couple matchup, as I sat on her bedroom floor desperately trying to figure out how to solve the even-numbered problems in my AP Calculus textbook.

I guess with thirty years of hindsight, I was just marking time until I got out and got on with my life. This was an attempt to see what would happen if I’d had a more normal high school experience. Small pond, low ceiling, call it whatever you like. Ultimately she didn’t care about Doctor Who or Casablanca, and she was an Auburn fan, so we didn’t really have much to talk about besides school. And we never once had a word of conversation about “what happens next.” By the time we split up – well in advance of Valentine’s Day, and in a way that ensured I wouldn’t be seeing any more of her, which you can get easily down south when Dad taps on the window with a flashlight – I still didn’t know for sure that Vanderbilt wasn’t going to be happening. But once that was revealed, it was a sort of echo: the dream of escape had run on the rocks, so I was going to have to settle for something nearby and make the best of it.

Would that I’d had the sense to break up with undergrad after four months.

postscript

The Mueller report is what it is because of impeachment. There is no legal doctrine around what allows a president to be charged with a crime. There is plenty of legal doctrine around impeachment. Impeachment is, legally speaking, the proper remedy for the conduct alleged (if not outright documented) by the report we saw yesterday.

But it won’t happen for two reasons. For one, the non-Beltway public largely seems to be tuned out. I don’t know if it’s ignorance, approval or disinterest but you can hardly distinguish between the three under the circumstances. And for another, the GOP’s entire doctrine consists of a lack of shame and a willingness to brazen it out for as long as it takes, confident that there will be no circumstances.

There will be no impeachment, because the Senate will never convict, at which point you’re wasting your time. If the public doesn’t care enough to be interested, then there’s nothing to be gained by whipping them up. Best bet at this point is victory at the polls in 2020 and somehow tip the Senate, and then embark on a good solid two years of putting into law all the unwritten rules that made this possible. Shackle Silly Con Valley within an inch of its life. Soak the 0.001% for 90% of their income. Codify the release of income tax returns for every Presidential aspirant. Demolish the Electoral College by hook or by crook.

The system is broken. We probably only have one shot at repairing it. If we don’t, it’ll be time to look at real estate in Galway.

freedom from consequences

Once upon a time, we had the tools to deal with assholes. Society mattered. One’s name mattered. The good opinion of your peers mattered. The unwritten rules mattered. But assholes used those tools on people for being different. For being black, for being female, for being gay, for coloring outside the lines – and so we lost those tools. Think about how impeachment is tarred as being an inherently political and unsuitable tool, and think how it got that way. When the unwritten rules don’t matter that much, it’s not a big leap to decide that the written rules don’t matter that much either, and then all you have to do is look pious and say “we should focus on moving forward” and then “why you bringing up old shit” and that’s how you skate on any consequences for the Iraq War, or tanking the US economy, or undermining the country in the face of hostile foreign action. 

The moral rot of the 21st century really began in 1988, when George HW Bush decreed that anything was permissible in the service of winning elections. Then the talk radio hosts and Newt Gingrich decreed that anything was permissible in the service of winning, period. Norms and guardrails began to deteriorate, culminating in a perjury-trap impeachment. And then in 2000, the reasonably-clear intent of the voters was decreed obsolete. After that, especially in wartime, it was a short hop to decide that facts and reality were whatever you wanted them to be, and the bottom fell out extra-quickly after that.

Because once you’ve punted on reality, punted on the rules, and decided that anything goes no matter what, and that anything is acceptable if it helps you win, you get what the GOP did in America and what the Tories did in Britain: an open embrace of ignorance and thinly-veiled racism in the service of staving off defeat. “Economic anxiety” became the fig leaf for an appeal to “we can make things like it used to be” that for some reason never summoned up the spectacle of unions or high marginal tax rates. The problem is, once you hitch your cart to ignorance, those who prey on stupid have a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun…and that’s where Facebook came in.

Facebook’s principal achievement has been to leverage ignorance for profit. Twenty-five years ago, openly racist screeds full of lies and calumny could only be obtained furtively. Now they can be routinely piped straight to your browser window, thanks to a deliberate decision to optimize for the most provocative and outrageous content possible. Dumb people, people too dumb to know how dumb they are, get a steady diet of lies and reinforcement. Lack of awareness? Lack of empathy? The misbelief that you’re fully and reliably informed? Silly Con Valley normalized it, propagated it, got rich off it, and then sure enough, when it lit the world on fire, all the paste-eaters in hoodies in Menlo Park and Mountain View and Palo Alto began their hooting chorus of “who could have known, we are working hard to solve the problem, no one could have foreseen” – and will probably skate.

And all the proof you need is Elon Musk – smoking weed on camera, clapping back at regulatory agencies on TV, spewing the precise and exact sort of Twitter bullshit that he placed his company in jeopardy by spewing in the first place. No sane CEO would ever have done this in days gone by; this is the behavior of someone who has come up with the those that consequences are for other people. Failure is fine; there will always be other investors, there will always be more money, and a Lucas Duplan or Elizabeth Holmes can and will ride that freedom from consequence for as long as no one knocks them off their asses. 

And there’s an opportunity cost to all this. Unicorn valuations and hockey-stick growth mean that there are good ideas out there that won’t see the market or come to fruition because the ROI isn’t fast and sexy enough. Half-wit frat bros will sit on the judicial bench for decades to come, ensuring that one Bush v Gore will inevitably lead to hundreds more and make the cleanup generational in scope. Cultivate enough stupid, and you guarantee that the future won’t be driven by American innovation, and you only have to look at WeChat and “social credit” to realize where things go if you let the wrong people drive.

Trump isn’t an accident or an anomaly. We were a good thirty years getting here. We’re going to be longer getting back.

higher, further, faster

SPOILERS AHEAD FOR CAPTAIN MARVEL, YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.

 

 

All right. This was a significant picture for me, because in the entire MCU thus far, this is the character I was least familiar with. I knew Ms. Marvel, how she lost her powers to Rogue in the pages of X-Men and then became Binary, and I was vaguely aware that Kelly Sue DeConnick had transformed her into Marvel’s leading heroine in the last 10 years, but I assumed that the origin story would need to be cleaned up and simplified a LOT for the MCU, which meant that I was experiencing a truly new lead character for the first time since, well, Phil Coulson.

I was also lined up for a 1995 period piece. And that stuck kind of close to home. I also made a decision in 1989 that wound up putting me on the shelf for longer than I wanted, and the spring of 1995 was the first time I thought to myself that “someone who doesn’t have to prove anything” would be my life’s aspiration. You can imagine what line really stung, I suppose, if you’ve seen the movie. That era was a real nodal point, too: the 1.0 version of Netscape Navigator released, the opening of the Internet to anyone who could get access to a computer and a phone (and a credit card, I suppose), a real sense that the world was opening up into something new and exciting and unexpected.

I remember what that was like. I also remember getting the first letter about my academic status at Vanderbilt that summer and being bewildered at how I suddenly found myself on the precipice, something completely unprecedented in my entire academic career. Of which, as I say. But for now, it was the inverse of Capt. Danvers’ experience: I was being confronted with the fact that I was not as powerful as I had been led to believe. And I had to reckon with who I am and what I was, after a lifetime of being steered toward the small pond and told not to think too highly of myself. 

Also, it turns out that she has the exact power set I would have imagined for myself back then. Flying. Indestructable. Strong enough to throw a ballistic missile aside, and spewing pure rage out of the hands sufficient to punch a hole in a planet. Yeah. Me at 23 would have clicked with that in a heartbeat. These days, it’s more about teleportation and just being able to wish yourself somewhere better.

But I do love the distinction drawn between the MCU’s two O-3s: Captain America always gets up, because that’s what a hero does and that’s what he has to do to ensure that things turn out OK. Captain Marvel always gets up, because fuck you that’s why.

I was programmed to be Steve. I’d a hell of a lot rather have been Carol.

the problem of stuff

So Apple has announced the PowerBeats Pro. They’re basically AirPods on steroids; at $249 the cost is a solid $90 more than the AirPod equivalents with no wireless charging (of which more in a minute) but the battery life, sound quality, noise isolation and customizable fit are all supposed to be far superior. Which makes sense, on paper. The charging case might be too big for a pocket, but at 9 hours that might not be a problem (especially if you can go one ear at a time or something, or charge all day at work, or…

Actually, let’s think about this. I bought the BeatsX for $100 about a year and a half ago, and for the most part I’ve been reasonably happy with them. The little wing things and ear tips mean they fit reasonably well and keep other sounds out, the fact they hang around my neck makes me less wary of losing one accidentally, and the fact they charge with a Lightning cable makes it easy to use them with my phone because I can top up from the same cable. But the BeatsX don’t quite make it through a full day, and you definitely want to make sure they are fully charged by 4 PM if you’re heading up to the city.

And the annoying thing is – that’s $100 for, right now, a little over 18 months of use. How long can I expect these to last? Given that the battery life is already not what it was, how long can you expect any regularly-used built-in battery device to last anymore? We got acclimated to buying a new phone every two years, and then when we started keeping phones longer than two years, we had to pony up for battery replacements to keep them viable. How about AirPods? Will you get two years for $160? Three years? Can you reasonably expect the Powerbeats Pro to last almost twice as long as the AirPods? And for goodness sakes, will any of these things ever have battery replacement as an option so we don’t keep throwing away more electronics?

Ultimately, there’s a good case here that you just need to pay the price for something that has a replaceable battery and can be used with a cord in a pinch. I don’t know offhand where that might be found, and there’s the age old problem of not wanting to carry big over-the-ear cans everywhere, but it drives home a point I’ve thought about for a while: it’s getting harder and harder to put money on things you know aren’t going to last. This isn’t $19 for a replacement level pair of corded earbuds, this is the same money I paid to replace my iPhone SE. $249 is more than I’ve spent on most phones in my life. 

Still, I suppose I should be grateful they came out at all. The AirPower fiasco – Apple cancelling a product without ever shipping it, over a year after announcing it and less than a week after having it featured in the instructions for the new AirPods – is one of those things where you can say without fear of contradiction “this never happened when Steve was around.” Folks will point to the white iPhone, and that was indeed slow off the mark, but 1) it was a colorway rather than a whole new product and 2) eventually it shipped. We’re still waiting on the alleged new Mac Pro. The HomePod took forever to show up. The original AirPods were delayed past the holiday season, and the new ones were allegedly held for the AirPower mat which never showed up. Apple announces things now with nothing but a season, if that, as an anticipated ship date. A far cry from the days of “this is available for purchase today,” even if FCC filings and Chinese supply chain leaks make that sort of thing impossible now.

I was just about able to commit to $99 for a pair of wired Bluetooth earbuds. I don’t know if I can go over double that, especially when nothing seems to last more than a couple of years anymore. That’s bad arithmetic.

drip drip drip

After months and years of being absolutely airtight, the Mueller team is slowly starting to leak in response to the media’s credulity in accepting the Barr whitewash. They’re making it known that the report is not an exoneration, that it looks bad for Trump, and that – critically – they explicitly prepared executive summaries and abstracts that could be quickly or immediately made public and were not.

It’s not surprising. We all knew that Barr was there for one reason: stonewall the report. And while it might seem surprising that a credulous media bought the spin without question, why wouldn’t they? After all, “there was nothing to see here” is not only an exoneration of Trump, but of their own indolence in failing to pursue or report on this. If there was no collusion and no obstruction, then they can’t have been asleep at the switch, right? 

Which is why the clapback is coming now. And loudly. The press in this country has either been complicit or afraid of its own shadow, and at some point any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice. The first duty of journalism was to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. That includes comfortable journalists.

state of play: oh who knows anymore

So Theresa May has apparently finally caved and agreed to start meeting with Jeremy Corbyn to cobble together some kind of compromise that can reach 325 votes. This was inevitable, because there was never any hope of doing this deal purely within the Tory party, and the fact that it took her until four days past the original deadline to accept this is the final indictment of what a horrible job she did. But this is also a bigger deal inasmuch as it concedes the Tories are broken beyond repair. They rode the tiger for years and it finally ate them.

I still think we end up with no deal, just because it’s the same problem as when the GOP couldn’t pick an alternative to Trump: there were so many options and everybody thought their alternative could be the last one standing, so nobody would prune down the decision tree enough to get behind one alternative to the worst case. And then the worst case won by default. I see no reason that May, the Tories or the Brits are any brighter than Americans.

Oh yeah…the EU also has to go along with all of this nonsense, including a second extension. That ought to go over well.

state of play: 14 days to doomsday

So the third meaningful vote has failed. A bunch of Brexiteers caved and supported the deal for fear of the alternative, and a bunch more didn’t, and even though they only lost by 58, the government has now seen its Brexit plan go down to defeat for the third time in 2019 – and hopefully the last.

So now what? As our friend Rob Watson said, the branches of the decision tree are slowly being pruned away. None of the alternatives in the so-called “indicative votes” commanded a majority. The negotiated May agreement is in one MP’s words “deader than Monty Python’s parrot.” As it stands right now, we are on a glide path to a no-deal Brexit two weeks from today unless something can be formulated to give the Brits more time.

Here’s the problem now: someone is going to have to work across party lines to do a deal. I say this because Labour will never be able to claim a majority as long as Jeremy Corbyn is in charge, but the Tories will fall apart as soon as they split between hard Brexiteers and the rest of the party. The Conservatives, as in the US, have been riding the tiger so long that as soon as they try to climb off they will be eaten, and right now, they’re desperately trying to avoid that.

Which Theresa May could have avoided. She could have held off on Article 50, she could have reached out to Labour from the beginning, but she thought she could do it all in-house, and then called an election and got her ass kicked to the point where she could no longer do it in house. Once the DUP was the key to her majority, the choice became either a softer Brexit or the return of the Troubles. 

So what happens now? I still think it’s going to be a hard crash in two weeks with unforeseeable results. The alternative now is that the UK kicks the can way way way down the road, or else negotiates a cottony-soft Brexit with a custom union and soft border in Ireland. Which the UKIP types will howl “is no Brexit at all”, and then you probably wind up with Brexiteers deserting the Conservatives en masse for UKIP again, and then you have three parties (Labour, Tory, UKIP) and a couple of meaningful smaller ones (SNP and LibDem) and, very possibly, the beginnings of multiparty government on the order of Italy or Israel with similar consequences for stability and the future of British politics.

And more than ever, I suspect we wind up with Scotland going its own way and back into the EU, and with Ireland unified again in my lifetime – especially if remaining in the EU proves more lucrative than remaining tethered to a disintegrating UK in the wake of a hard Brexit. 

Meanwhile, this pretty much nails everything I’ve been saying all along.

Apple errrrrthang

Remarkably, for all the talk about Apple’s TV service announcement, we ended up with absolutely no material details. We don’t have a date, we don’t have a list of channels or services, we don’t have a price. All we have is the use of a + sign, which since Google gave it up has become the new hotness (ESPN+, Disney+, now Apple News+ and Apple TV+). In fact, we don’t really have a firm date or price on the Apple Arcade app (not that some of those games don’t look intriguing to me) nor on the forthcoming Apple Card (which if you’re willing to be tied to the Apple ecosystem looks like—)

Time out.

We really are getting into these silos where you have to pick your ecosystem for everything. Apple, Google, to a slightly lesser extent Amazon, to a considerably lesser extent Facebook and Microsoft: time was you would have an ISP and they get you online and provide your email and maybe even some webspace to go with your USENET feed, LOL. Nowadays you buy a phone, and with that phone comes the ecosystem of mail, calendaring, App Store, virtual digital assistant, GPS and mapping application, digital wallet, online document tools and photo storage, instant messaging/text application, streaming music service, digital bookstore, and now – television service AND revolving credit AND AND AND. Although to be fair, once you’re tied to all that other stuff, throwing in HBO and a no-annual-fee Mastercard is basically lagniappe. 

Anyway.

The Apple Card is a mildly attractive proposition, and would probably be even more so if I wasn’t already on three credit cards – one of which I would long since have cancelled except I’ve been a customer for 20 years and can’t do that to my credit rating. But for a college kid who wants no fees, no hidden traps, something smoothly integrated with the phone with easy-to-read billing and actionable information, this is probably a godsend. I know I would have been a lot better off with this at Vandy than with a handful of $500-limit cards that quickly got out of hand.

But it’s that weirdest of Apple events: something that leaves you walking away with nothing in hand but the promise of a bunch of amazing stuff coming Real Soon Now. And in some cases, not even that. Apple is obviously paying over the odds to try to jumpstart a Prestige TV experience and make up for lost time against the Hulus and Amazons and Netflixs of the world (and doing so just as Google appears to be giving up), and appears to be rebuilding the old Newsstand app as some sort of streaming all-you-can-eat solution for curated published print news (which we used to just call “news”), and even seems to be on the same subscription gaming service tip as Google, with their just-announced Stadia platform.

And this is bad. See, we seem to have decided that instead of actually owning anything, you will pay a monthly nut for everything in perpetuity. Cable bill? We’ve whopper-choppered that into separate fees for Amazon and Hulu and Netflix and HBO Now. Music? Apple Music or Spotify, and no more of the Jobsian “you bought it you own it, it’s yours” approach to music. Now we’re gonna pay every month for video games? I know I was an early advocate of the concept of “cash on the freakin’ barrelhead” as a business model for Silly Con Valley, but nobody wants to sell you anything any more. They want to rent it to you, forever.

Which makes sense. After all, as I decried long ago in this space, Silly Con Valley isn’t in the business of selling things that last. Your grandad’s old WWI revolver can still shoot someone dead. Your ’66 Mustang can run just fine. Your peacoat will last you the rest of your life. Close your eyes and think: what is the oldest electronic device you currently use? Phone? Fitness band? DVR? How long did you get out of your last digital watch? The shift to “services” is part and parcel of an ephemeral world, where you will pay and pay and pay for things you didn’t think you could get a monthly bill for.

Gary Shteyngart said it, and William Gibson co-signed it, and I concur: “If only my books came with ejection seats.”