Air time

Well now the MacBook Air, 2018 edition, has landed in my lap. Not a minute too soon, either, as I have been using the MacBook Pro Escape, so called, for the last year or more. And the remarkable thing is? The Air is basically the same machine, but lighter and with the addition of TouchID.

This works on many levels:

* First rule of laptops: when all else is equal, lighter is better. I think the new-look MacBook Pro was closer to the old Air than the old Pro in weight, but if you can shave off a few ounces free of charge, that’s that much kinder to your back or shoulder.

* The Air has only two Thunderbolt ports…but so did the Escape. That was the price of not having to work around that ghastly TouchBar. And now you can have real function keys…and a TouchID piece that interoperates with Apple Pay and with LastPass for password management integration.

* There have been keyboard improvements. We all know the butterfly keys aren’t going anywhere, no matter how much you wish Apple could somehow get the PowerBook 1400 keyboard into modern hardware, but at least now you’re less likely to be laid low by a single crumb? Maybe?

* This is a deliberate move. This machine only has the i5 processor, not the i7, and I’m hoping it is more conservative of battery life because I’ve reached a point where everything I do now is either through a browser or in a text window. When Apple Remote Desktop is no longer critical to your job, wild horsepower is largely beside the point (and since I eschew the use of any Google product, let alone the black hole of resources known as Chrome, I ought to be fine there too).

In another recurring theme, there was no migration. I just set up an account and went. No documents moving over (though that may come tomorrow), just download the right half-dozen or so applications and log into Slack and Evernote and Feedbin and LastPass and away we go.

At a minimum, it’ll keep me from being tempted into thinking I need to buy one of my own. Which is the major reason to get equipment through my employer these days, because the last laptop I paid for out of pocket was…the iBook Special Edition in Graphite in 2000. But on early evidence, if I had to do it now, this is the one to pick up.

High on your own supply

The ongoing orgy of tears for GHWB is starting to really grate on my nerves. It’s part and parcel of an issue that seems to afflict the news media almost as much as it does the GOP: an overwhelming belief in what you want to be true, at the expense of the reality in front of your face. It comes up most when you have the Never-Trump Republicans bemoaning the fact that there is no place for them, that they are pious principled individuals with no party and only some third middle way will ever bring back the rightful true America.

Horse. Shit.

First of all, there was never a rightful true America. The great age of compromise and parties that were less ideologically sorted happened at a time when African-Americans were largely cut out of the political process in the South. Rednecks were all for the government when it was delivering Social Security and TVA electricity and paved roads, but as soon as the government said “we have to give all this stuff to the people who aren’t white as well” the necks lost their minds. The great re-sorting of the South to the GOP happened after the civil rights movement, and the partisan sorting of the South into the GOP happened once all the Democratic incumbents of the era were dead or retired. So begin with that: the past is a lie.

Secondly, consider the Democrats now. Are the Democrats going to go in on white people? Unlikely, because white voters are still a plurality of the Democratic base. Are the Democrats against the working class? Not at all, once you consider that the working class isn’t just white people. A lot of the policies that are out there helping poor folks of color are – surprise surprise right in your eyes – helpful to white folks too, and would probably be even more so if the people who claim to represent the white working class weren’t actively sabotaging those efforts. The GOP has made bank for 25 years running against a caricature of Democrats, usually wrapped up in Hillary Clinton-hatred if not outright racism, and you can track that all the way back to George Herbert Walker Precious Moments Bush and his manager, Lee Atwater.

Because look at the Obama years. There were agonies taken to try to get the GOP to buy into a plan that was literally the Heritage Foundation’s Republican alternative to Hillarycare twenty-five years earlier, and they failed. There was a Supreme Court vacancy that was to be filled by yet another white male who was specifically taken from a list of acceptable candidates provided by the GOP committee chair, and he got stonewalled for a year and left by the roadside. There was vigorous prosecution of illegal immigration and the war on terror, probably more than the Democrats would have tolerated from a GOP president, and for it we heard that the Democrats were flinging open the borders and welcoming in ISIS (and given the declining rates of both illegal immigration and foreign terror attacks on US soil all the way to 2016, one can only assume that the “WE’RE OPEN” sign was greeted with “Nah we’re good”).

The Never-Trump press and its amen corner in the Perpetually Sorrowful commentariat have invented this wonderful middle road, and put a left-wing seize-the-means-of-production Weather Underground caricature on one side and Trump on the other. And only one of those three things is real. And right now, the closest thing to said wonderful middle road is the Democratic Party, which right now is probably only just reaching the level of liberalism it held in the 1980s during those mythical days when Saint Ronnie and Tip O’Neill would sort it all out over bourbon after hours.

Because your beautiful beloved George Herbert Walker Bush cast his last Presidential vote for Hillary Clinton. There’s your fucking reality check. Now go cash it.

Patient Zero

Well, propriety and house rules dictate that everyone gets free passage across the Styx. Now that we’ve sorted that, it’s time to tell the truth about George Herbert Walker Bush. There will be encomiums aplenty from all the usual suspects, and it’s true that Bush the Elder’s reputation has grown immensely in the last two decades, first by comparison to his wastrel son and then by the heir of his party. But how did we get to that point? Bush the Younger would be a happy dry-drunk baseball owner and Trump a faded reality star if not for George H.W. Bush, and the two pivotal figures in his campaign in 1988: Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes.

Yep, that Roger Ailes, the one who went on to found Fox News, and that Lee Atwater, who crafted the core message of Fox News when he ran the 1988 campaign for Bush. He built a world full of scary colored criminals and evil cities and the horror of people who were Not Like You, and flogged it for all he was worth, and Roger Ailes picked up the torch and built a 24-hour news network around it. And from there, you draw a straight line to where we are today.

All because Bush the Elder drew a sharp distinction between governing and campaigning. Governing was important, full of the sort of patrician noblesse-oblige you’d expect from a New England Republican of a certain age. Campaigning was a nasty, brutal, necessary evil, to be gotten over with quickly in as ruthless and definitive a fashion as possible, and therefore anything goes and there is no need to pause or hesitate over the morality of the two. Bush thought he could turn it on and off at election time, and in doing so came across as a phony and a fraud. Lacking the communication skills of his successor or his predecessor, either of whom could sell water to a fish, he recited the words that were put in his mouth and went along with his party’s embrace of Neo-Confederacy, and he paid. It didn’t even avail him that much in the South, where Clinton and Gore won states that haven’t gone blue in the 21st century.

The 41st President, at heart, seemed a decent enough fellow. Most of the time. But like the man said, sooner or later you can’t hide from the things you’ve done anymore. And no appraisal of 41 is complete if it doesn’t acknowledge how he put the GOP squarely on the road to Trump when he decided “anything goes” and pretended that actions don’t have consequences.

There is too much.

Let me explain. No, let me sum up.

The last time Vanderbilt football took three in a row from Tennessee, the Grand Ole Opry wasn’t even called the Grand Ole Opry yet. The coach was Dan McGugin, and we’d just recently moved into the first purpose-built football stadium in the South. And the Vols had just gone out and hired a coach whose mission was to get over on Vanderbilt. Oh, and? There was no SEC.

That last bit was the subject of about 4000 words over at the Vandy blog this week, as I looked at our alternatives. I think depending on how you define success in football, membership of the SEC may be an insurmountable obstacle to success. I think there’s a very real chance that the 8-4 Brigadoon seasons were as good as we’re capable of; we’ve never won all our one-score games and those are usually the difference in bowling or not. (There were two years under Bobby Johnson where the Dores finished with 5 wins and lost three or more games by a single score. It’s the edge of a knife, being a Vanderbilt supporter.) But the plain brutal fact of the matter is that with Bama and Georgia and Florida and LSU and all the other schools with a more flexible approach to classes and law enforcement, we’re never getting a division title or a trip to Atlanta. We’re just not. 

Which means you have to look at the question: what would be considered “success” for Vanderbilt? I know I said before that if 3-9 is the price of keeping guys in class and off the police blotter and graduating, then 3-9 forever. But there’s nothing that says we have to stay in the SEC to get our asses pummeled while we do that. You look at plenty of other schools – in the Ivy League, in the MEAC and SWAC, schools that have opted out of the regular championship process altogether and are happy to play in a smaller space – and wonder what’s the percentage in being part of the playoff chase when we have no shot at winning.

I think there’s a really good case to be made that if we can win 6 or 7 a year, every year, that might be enough. The whole world knows we’re playing on the highest difficulty level possible. If we could at least be a .500 team and force opponents not to write down an automatic W in pen, that might be sufficient. Otherwise, it sort of stands in for a whole lot of psychological baggage, a lot of confronting the fact that what people down South say is important flies in the face of what really matters, and that getting a good education and following the rules is no substitute for winning.

The real kicker in all of this, of course, is that SEC money makes up over half of the athletics budget at Vanderbilt. Football is the sacrifice we make so that baseball and bowling and women’t tennis can win national championships and so golf and cross-country and women’s soccer can win titles and basketball can knock off anyone at any time and get into the tournament semi-frequently. And until the Playoff League goes off on its own – and under no circumstances should Vanderbilt follow – that’s probably just the way things are going to be. Maybe when the mighty power teams with “schools” attached finally go into business for themselves in football, we can settle into something between 1-A and 1-AA and finally have what Chancellor Alexander Heard wanted for us when he conceived of the Magnolia League: “big-time football without the excess.”

Wouldn’t that be something.

Flashback, part 102 of n

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

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

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

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

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

Of which.

The Flickr-ing light

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

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

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

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

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

Dawn patrol

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

OK. To business.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One year on

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

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

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

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

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

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

Election Day

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

Are you okay with this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

flashback, part 101 of n

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

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

And then.

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

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

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

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

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