flashback, part 107 of n

The first bourbon I bought was Early Times. 

Obviously, growing up in a teetotal household in Alabama, I had very little knowledge of whiskey in general or bourbon in particular, aside from the occasional reference in a country song. I honestly thought the good ol’ mountain dew that Willie Nelson was singing about was the vaguely urinary soda until probably grad school era. So I don’t think I actually imbibed any whiskey until undergrad, and when I did, it was as likely as not some rail-brand Scotch at a sorority function. But there we were, a week after the biggest blizzard in the history of Birmingham, about to get on a bus for a 16 hour drive to Kansas City, and I was recently of age, and so with twenty minutes to go before the bus left, I dashed to Mr. Bottle Stoppe and bought a 2-liter of Coke and probably a plastic split bottle of Early Times for $10 alltogether. By the second hour of the trip, it had permanently been re-christened Easy Times, and by the time we got to Kansas City, I was over Easy Times forever. 

I went into a martini phase almost directly my senior year began, mixing gin and vermouth in the afternoon to watch Moonlighting reruns at the honors house, and pretty much stayed there for hard liquor until spring of ’95, when we went to my eponymous bar in the Village and I ordered a Manhattan on the spur of the moment, which a colleague (female, of course) said made me look like someone with nothing to prove. And thus began a twenty-year relationship with the good old brown liquor. Naturally, being grad students, we were getting through a lot more Red Dog than hard stuff, but if there was occasion to order a cocktail, it was a Manhattan. 

Flash forward to the spring of ’98, when my then-girlfriend was in a wedding in Louisville. I sat at the back of the church at the rehearsal for about five minutes until a little old lady seized my arm and said “you look lost, come with me” and led me across the street. Turns out the bride’s Aunt Pat had taken it upon herself to collect all the significant others and look after them, and that’s how I was introduced to Maker’s Mark. I vaguely remember Maker’s being the well whiskey at the reception, but given that my only other memories of the reception are a rendition of “Sweetheart of Sigma Chi” and the DJ finishing the night with the theme from the Love Boat, my recollection may be hazy. But I now had a brand of whiskey I called my own, and that was significant.

Because this was the era of Paul Harrington, the Alchemist, cocktail columnist for Wired magazine, the 90s era revival of swing music and cigars and proper cocktails. Maker’s Mark was a sort of shibboleth – a bourbon that was quality without being outrageously expensive or unobtainably rare, something any decent bar would have behind the counter but also the sort of thing that could be served on the rocks in any establishment where you didn’t want any guesswork from whatever swizzle-jockey was on duty. It was simple, it was reliable, it seemed like the ultimate in nothing-to-prove, and it stayed with me. I might sample Irish whiskey when pressed, I might taste Scotch on the honeymoon, I might down Jack Daniel shots at a wedding, but when in doubt, it was always Maker’s, rocks.  I was gifted a huge bottle of Maker’s from the staff of National Geographic Television months after moving west. I finished the last bottle of Maker’s at the Park Lane Hotel in London on the second night of our honeymoon. I was granted a Makers Mark Ambassadorship which I probably still hold and got one random yet welcome Christmas gimmick from them every year for a decade or so.

I think the simple devotion first began to slip, ironically enough, at a place called Bourbon and Branch, a San Francisco speakeasy on the cutting edge of modern mixology in the latter half of the first decade of the twenty-first century. I can’t remember when I first darkened their door – probably a Vanderbilt event, possibly in 2008 – but rows and rows of exotic bourbons under dim light against brick wall backdrops left a remarkable impression on me. There were names from antiquity – Four Roses, I.W. Harper – and names I’d never heard of, with labels that evoked something that might have sat in the attic for sixty years. And that’s when cocktails suddenly took priority. And I was in an ideal place for it. Well, close to one, anyway – San Francisco had, apart from Bourbon & Branch, such dispensers of adult libations as Swig and Rickhouse and Local Edition and the Comstock Saloon and the Burritt Room and the Clock Bar in the St Francis Hotel. And then closer to home there were places in San Jose like Paper Planes or Singlebarrel. Or Martins West in Redwood City. Or the British Bankers Club in Menlo Park. What need whiskey on the rocks when there was a cornucopia of flavor and sensation to be had almost anywhere you turned?

Then, in 2016, it abruptly came to a halt. I may have just caned it too hard the entire month of January and needed to dry out a little, but it was as if a switch had been thrown. I was 44, and it was time to sit in the pub and nurse an Imperial pint or three and call it an evening. And that’s how it went. And stayed that way. I began filling growlers even when it wasn’t Christmas. I found more than one place to fill up from. I found myself ending up in bars that had thirty or more drafts on tap, always gravitating toward Smithwicks or Boddingtons or something that approximated the British pub ale experience. And I stayed there, comfortably, and didn’t think any more of it. And that’s how I came to the realization that I haven’t bought a bottle of bourbon in two years, and the one I bought then – a 375ml split of Clyde May, the official spirit of Alabama – has maybe an inch missing off the top in those two years.

I suspect society has a lot to do with that. You can have yourself a nice leisurely pint at home without comment, but if you’re drinking bourbon at home by yourself, you’re either a retired Confederate colonel or something is amiss. Bourbon seems to call out for someone to drink with, a condition that prevailed at home a lot more a decade ago when we had steady boarders (all of whom have moved away). The days of an Old Fashioned as the just reward for having emptied the sink of dirty dishes are long past. Things being how they are, more than ever, “the pub” is not a place but a state of mind evoked with the cunning use of a recliner, a 32 oz growler, a Yeti tumbler, an iPhone with AirPods and a stream from RTE Raidio na Gaeltachta. 

Bourbon, aside from a cheeky julep in the spring when mint is readily available and someone else makes syrup, has become a very specific thing. It implies patio furniture, maybe a fire pit, and the presence of friends you haven’t seen in a while or have just met, from Half Moon Bay to Asheville and anywhere in between or beyond. At my age, it probably implies the use of a Pepcid beforehand. If I’m in Nashville, it might mean Gentleman Jack, in deference to middle Tennessee’s own original spirit. But friends, ice, and a bottle of Maker’s Mark as the sun sets…feel free to go ahead and put that on my wish list for The After.

neither here nor there

So I was listening to a podcast in which the hosts were discussing movies based in Los Angeles, and that LA is something of a muse to the Coen brothers (this was in the context of Hail, Caesar) – they then brought up The Big Lebowski (which I have never seen) and said that it was a love letter to a specific stratum of Los Angeles which is outside the entertainment industry realmAnd this resonated with me, not least because I have found myself drawn to LA in recent years (maybe as part of the whole solidarity-of-California-exceptionalism of the Tr*mp era) and look at that the same way as I look at my whole issue of loving NorCal and despising Silly Con Valley. And then I looked back…

It occurs to me that you can go all the way back to grad school and find the same pattern: I live and work and exist in places where I am outside the sphere of what defines the place. Three years at Apple notwithstanding, I have spend a third of my life living in this godforsaken Valley and working with tech but not in tech. Before that, I was seven years in the DMV and not at all associated with the work of government, nor anything that exists in the orbit of government (unless you want to argue that the confluence of the National Geographic Society and PBS helped summon Discovery Communications into existence and make DC a lodestar for documentary programming, which is probably a reach). My DC wasn’t the cut and thrust of Hill legislation and agency lobbying (apart from all the softball teams we played), my DC was Metro commutes and the Sports Junkies and the 4Ps and Hail To The Redskins.

And before that, Nashville, where I managed to go to the Ryman for a musical once, to the Bluebird for open mic night once, and never set foot at the Opry, or the Exit/In, or Rotiers (until 2013) – where I lived two blocks from Sixteenth Avenue and never once took a turn down Music Row or headed to Gilley’s. I still haven’t been to the Country Music Hall of Fame, never went to CMA FanFest, never darkened the door of Robert’s or Tootsie’s or even the Wild Horse Saloon. In short, I managed to live in Nashville for three years almost completely unengaged with the music industry at all. (If you want to be snarky about it, you could also say that I lived four years at undergrad without engaging with the Greek system, its principal industry, but it’s whatever.)

The point of all this is that by some instrumentality, I have managed to spend more than half my life in places where what I do is not within the parameters of what drives that place. That seems to me to be an exceptionally complex piece of information that probably deserves further excavation. But it also goes back to my thoughts about what it would be like to leave here and try again somewhere I used to live. Everywhere I lived was of a certain time and place. Nashville isn’t remotely the same place I left twenty-plus years ago, and even if it were, I wouldn’t just be going back as an outsider to the music business, I’d be largely an outsider to Vanderbilt and an outsider to the kind of Baptist Instagram Vegas it is now. My identity in the DMV was bound up with National Geographic in ways that would make it tricky to return, even if sixteen years hadn’t gone by and the old gang wasn’t scattered to the four winds. And Alabama…

Hold up.

First off, this isn’t happening for a long time, if ever. I have over 650,000 reasons not to go back to a state that could almost elect Roy Moore to the US Senate. And humidity alone means I’m 89% positive I couldn’t live there again. But there’s something going on in Birmingham – a city that is reaching for the modern urban life while remaining unapologetically black, unapologetically African-American Southern. A city with craft beer and professional soccer and downtown baseball and bike share, on a small and human scale. And if I were dropped down there…do I have any cultural affinity at all? I left twenty-six years ago with no thought of ever coming back unless there was a holiday, a wedding or a funeral concerned in it. But if I didn’t have certain relatives to contend with any longer, and the only option for moving somewhere that would make it possible to live off the retirement savings was to buy a loft in Southside…I’ll be honest, if you frame it as retirement in Birmingham at age 60 versus trying to find a new job in Silly Con Valley at age 60, it gets a lot clearer real quick.

And really, that’s been a big part of the takeaway from the last couple of months. If I’m only ever going to see friends over Zoom, if I’m going to stay in the house where it’s air conditioned, if clothing and electronics are something you have shipped to you and work is something that happens on a laptop over the wifi from your guest bedroom…if you’re not going to have the opportunity to avail yourself of the transit and the fog and the proximity of San Francisco or Santa Cruz or Disneyland, what does it really matter where your bunker is…especially if you don’t have to work from it at all any longer?

And I guess the biggest question of all: am I Alabama enough to have a place there when I almost never did in my first twenty-two years?

As I said, it’s an exceptionally complex piece of information that probably deserves further excavation.

this !-ing world, part 2

So Alex Stamos is apparently kind of a big deal. He’s been with info security at Yahoo, at Facebook, at Stanford (is this supposed to be a list in his favor?) and is the guy chosen by Zoom to try to help them launder their way out of having the street find its own use for their technology and along the way exposing it as one step above malware. In any event, he was on Kara Swisher’s podcast talking about Zoom and Facebook and misinformation in the context of life in the hell mouth of 2020, and he made the case that you don’t want Facebook to be in a position to decide about speech.

The point he utterly missed (and god bless Kara, she is the last Spartan in the pass at Thermopylae, but she missed it too) is that ship has sailed. Facebook’s already deciding. Has been, for years. So has Twitter. So has Instagram. So has YouTube. Every time the algorithm surfaces one post and not another based on who knows what. Every time you see content from someone you don’t follow only because it was liked by someone you do. Every time you see social media content other than a chronological list of every post from everyone you follow, something was decided. And once you decide, you are responsible for that decision. Facebook and Twitter can blather all they want about free speech, and certainly people can type whatever they want into those geysers of awful, but when that content gets surfaced to you without you choosing to seek it out, that’s 1000% on them. Because their systems made a decision. The fact that they want to deny responsibility for that decision says more about the kind of person in positions of power in Silly Con Valley in 2020.

(God, let me not get started on Elon Musk, who somehow managed to grow up fabulously wealthy in South Africa yet leave in 1992 and never go back, bought himself a foundership at Tesla as a condition of funding, and apparently spends all his time getting higher than giraffe testicles while blathering galaxy-brain contrarian horseshit on Twitter and periodically tanking his stock, while coming up with one grandiose solution to urgent problems after another – none of which is ever actually a solution, as it happens. Phony Stark is mostly useful as an existence proof that taxes aren’t high enough in America.)

Elon and Facebook and Twitter and the whole ecosystem is complicit in a kind of normalization of a maelstrom of bullshit – fake news, deliberate misinformation, ideological rantings and astroturfed protest – that has defined the 21st century. When I was in college, the militia movement was small, atomized, organized mostly through the mail and mimeographed flyers and late-night talk radio and the occasional USENET spam. Now, the same sorts of people who were tiny clusters in the era of the OKC bombing can be rallied up in a couple of days to storm the Michigan statehouse complete with loaded weapons (which begs the question, why aren’t most of them in body bags on the sidewalk? Who the hell is handling security in Lansing?) because social media will gladly maximize and amplify the kind of stuff that was difficult to run across in Birmingham, Alabama in the 1980s, of all places. And the thing is…I don’t remember hearing about this kind of thing being chockablock on MySpace, or Friendster, or LiveJournal, or Vox (the REAL Vox, back in ’06). Poor social media decisions are making it worse, but I don’t remember it being as big a thing in the first few years of the 21st century, oddly enough…strange that it jumped off once we had a black President.

Postwar America had a sense of solidarity, that we’re all in this thing together, right up until the early 1960s when “all” began to include black people. Then it started to break down, especially (but not exclusively!) down South. And then it flipped on its head throughout the 1970s. Before long, by the Reagan era, the “anything goes, i am an individual” had suddenly gone from being a politics of the left to one of the right, and has stayed there ever since. And the notion that you know there’s other people became a political quality of the left. Smarter people than me have classified this as “white socialism” – the GI Bill and Social Security and a 91% top marginal tax rate were fine as long as the principal beneficiaries of that were white people. But there was a clear divide between people who were willing to countenance “y’all means all” and people who would rather be starving on a slab of cardboard under an overpass so long as the colored people next door didn’t even have cardboard. This pandemic, like September 11, delivered a short sharp shock that caused us to instinctively pull together for a moment in the confusion…and then, as soon as the shock was over, it became yet another source of fear and resentment for those who thrive on exploiting such things. And the same sides wound up in the same places: one saying “come let us reason together and brave this out as one” and one saying “the blacks and the poors have to be willing to die because I want my business open and my wife wants to get her hair done.”

And now we pay the price. Without a vaccine, we need solidarity. Because the people who go around braying about “herd immunity” haven’t done the math – 60% baseline for herd immunity, with a mortality rate of even just 1%, means almost two million dead. More than the city of Phoenix, more than the city of Philadelphia, more than every American military casualty death in the history of the United States combined, just for the sake of not having to take any precautions or change your lifestyle in any way. Assuming, of course, that you survive, which everyone always takes for granted they will. And so we’re about to have the usual suspects – the ammosexuals and the anti-vaxxers and the truthers and the birthers and the entire Axis Of Stupid-Worship – all denying that they have to account for the existence of others, with tens of thousands of lives hanging in the balance.

Rest in peace, Lars-Erik Nelson: there is an enemy, and it is bullshit. Bullshit is the common threat that links Elon Musk and Alex Jones and Glenn Greenwald and Wikileaks and the anti-anti-pandemic marchers and Fox News and Peter Thiel and the dirtbag left. The common ideology, if you can call is that, is a resolute belief that nothing matters and the truth is whatever you demand it to be, irrespective of whether other people accept your version of the truth. Karl Rove’s dismissal of the “reality-based community” in 2004 should have been a fucking tornado siren, because creating your own reality and denying anything you don’t want to admit the existence of? That’s it. That’s the endgame. That’s Gaventa, level 3, for the whole world, in a way that our traditional frameworks simply can’t cope with.

Maybe it’s better I washed out of political science. Either an install package deploys, or it doesn’t. The device connects to the network or it doesn’t. There’s no room for opinion, and no matter how hard you believe you’re on the WiFi, if you aren’t, you aren’t.  I worry if I’ll ever again live in a society with that much of a grip on objective reality. I don’t know how a society survives without one.

this !-ing world, part 1

I do not care for how 2020 has chosen to present itself. I suppose in the grand scheme of things I should be happy we’re a third of the way through it, given how much I dreaded this year showing up – and if nothing else, the c19 pandemic did a really good job shortening the horizon for about three or four weeks. When the imperative is “win the day” you don’t worry too much about, say, November. In the last couple of weeks, though, the long-term has started to open back up, because there are things that are coming whether we’re prepared for them or not.

Like, obviously, an election. In light of the fact that the federal government is in the hands of people whose life’s work consists of (in David Frum’s deathless formulation) stealing, loafing and whining, it’s reassuring that a presidential election is actually an aggregation of fifty state elections. The trick now is going to be what sorts of Southern ratfucking might be exported afield to try to bend the curve in favor of the incumbent, given that you can expect no federal oversight at all except to lend aid and comfort to efforts to suppress the vote in whatever form they take. And this is the 21st century rat-fuck in its purest form: what matters is less that one side’s version of truth prevails but that the very notion of truth is devalued and diminished. That’s been the story of American political media for thirty years now: the notion that there is no longer objective truth, to the point that there is no longer objective fact. So you just cover the horse race.

And if there was one lesson learned from 2016, it’s twofold: 1) if one side stonewalls and the other does not, the side that doesn’t stonewall will have anything and everything about it worried like a pit bull with a soup bone, and 2) if things are going badly for Republicans, the media will fall about itself to find something about Democrats that it can use to generate false equivalence.  This is why I have no problem whatsoever with the way Joe Biden has essentially been sat on the sidelines since virtually clinching the Democratic nomination: he holds no elective office, has no formal responsibility, and cannot really do anything to improve the world right now – anything he might say or do can be seized upon by a Washington press corps desperate to have something to cover other than the daily senility hoedown at the White House. Ultimately, that’s what has given the Tara Reade story a foothold with the press: not because there’s any there there (which does not appear to be the case) or because it deserves an airing (which it does), but because it’s something else to talk about other than how more Americans have died of c19 than died in Vietnam and how April basically consisted of multiple preventable September 11s.

Other, smarter, and more suitable people have reviewed the bill of charges against Joe Biden on this front. What stands out to me most is not the changing story or the way it’s being driven largely by parties of suspect motivation, but the argument that “if there were anything there, Team Obama would never have green-lit this guy as a VP pick.” I suspect that in all likelihood, we have some untoward conduct that while odious did not rise to an actionable level, especially in the early 1990s, and that the Axis of Dirtbag has chosen as their final Hail Mary attempt to elevate St Bernie/rat-fuck the 2020 election, depending on where you are on the axis. Which then leaves you on the “well, there is still odious and untoward conduct.” And yes, there is. But here we are. The choice is no longer between odious conduct and Barack Obama, the choice is between odious conduct and the Antichrist.

And this is a problem we have to grapple with, and will have to continue to grapple with for as long as the Baby Boomers are with us: this was the last generation in which the whole panoply of casual racism, casual sexism and the misconduct stemming from same was not considered socially objectionable by America as a whole. There was no de-Nazification after the Civil Rights Act, after women’s lib, after the Anita Hill-Bob Packwood era of the early 90s. The Kennedy misconduct was swept under the rug, while whatever Bill Clinton did was weaponized in such bad faith that it made it difficult to separate out an appropriate response from the political hit-job it was intended as. Hell, when you have Boomer-age women decrying snowflake millennials for getting bent out of shape about workplace sexual harassment, it’s easy to see how we got to this point. 

Until we’re willing to finally take a ball bat and smash the fingers of the pre-1970 cohort clinging to the levers of power like the aforementioned pit bull to a soup bone (and I don’t repeat that accidentally), it’s possible that the best we can expect of those politicians is what we expect of our rappers who used to sell drugs and pack guns and maybe bust a few shots off from time to time: “yeah, it happened, I’m sorry, I don’t do that shit no more”. Snoop Dogg went from being on the hook for a first degree murder rap to hosting The Joker’s Wild a quarter-century later. If you can make a case that yes, someone was that way, and yes, they repented of their sins and they don’t do that shit no more…well, America loves redemption, especially when it’s not wholly merited. But in the larger scheme of things, there are no good choices. Call it dystopia, call it late stage capitalism, but there comes a point where there are only bad choices and it’s about making the best one. Hell, what is cyberpunk but the last gasp of capitalism in its purest form? No wonder William Gibson looks like a prophet.

Ultimately, that’s when it all comes down to intensity. When there are no good choices left, you have to decide what is the least bad. That’s where purity politics runs on the rocks, and I’m sure people looked at Al Franken and thought they’d get an easy one-shot kill on a Democrat because they misunderstood what #MeToo was about. But if you want to talk about inappropriate conduct with women, and compare Joe Biden with his opponent in November, there’s no comparison there. None. And consider the ideology each side would empower with their win – one side gets you the Squad and Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren in positions of power, and the other gets you red pills and incels and people pining for the days of Mad Men without the 70% top marginal tax rates. 

Nothing should take anyone’s eye off the ball in November: the fact that this election is a referendum on whether we’re all right with America as the Florida of the world, with going into the future as the United States of Alabama. Maybe it’s not a 180 turnaround (spoiler: it’s not, this is a generational fight if not longer). Maybe all we can do is stop the bleeding and then spend the next decade learning to walk again. But it’s a choice: we can keep doing what we’re doing, or we can try to pull on the reins. Which option offers the most hope of getting where you want to go?

Second impressions

I wiped the iPhone X this afternoon to be repurposed as a tackling dummy for iOS 14 when the time comes. This post comes to you from the iPhone 9, which has worked a treat for a week now. Having TouchID back in a time of masked excursions is as handy as I wished during the fires in 2018. Battery life has gotten me through the day every day without recharging, even when I forgot to put it into low power mode, including at least half an hour of podcast over speakers and a couple hours of music over Bluetooth daily.

So now the question is: what happens when I don’t have steady WiFi all day? What happens when I have to rely on AT&T for hours at a time? I guess the next trick will be to disable the wireless and see how I get on. Got to do something to pass the days without expanding Day Drink Fridays any further into the week. No matter how tempting the prospect. (Going the ten miles or so to the pub for a jug of coffee porter feels like a task on par with Almanzo Wilder and Cap Garland riding out to find wheat during the Long Winter.)

I did put a $10 tempered glass screen protector on one side and a more expensive ultra-thin case on the other. Don’t want to scar the thing up the first week like the iPhone 4.

First impressions

I kind of understand the appeal of streaming now. Within an hour of opening the box, everything was downloaded on the iPhone SE (2020), hereafter referred to as the iPhone 9 for clarity. I still had to configure 2FA at work and install my personal VPN (shout out to Duo Mobile, whose restore feature for personal 2FA worked PERFECTLY on the first try) but most everything was just a question of logging on…except for my photos, music and podcasts. We might be here all night.

Just as I suspected, the hand feel is slightly smaller and more comfortable. And I suspect the old gestures and TouchID response will be quick and easy to go back to (I have never had the haptic TouchID button though. That will take some getting used to). If you just do the iCloud restore like a civilian and don’t try to get cute, it’s a piece of cake.

Now we see it I go grabbing for the other phones, or if this really is Goldilocks.


I got the iPhone X in November 2017. Before that, my main phone was the original iPhone SE. All my phones between 2012 and 2017 had a screen size between 4 and 4.7 inches, and I was content with the screen size of the 5 and SE over the iPhone 6. But there was a wild card – I already had the iPad mini from December 2013, and that was the big screen for four years.  5.8″ on the X and 8″ on the iPad…that’s roughly the same delta as 3.5″ on the original iPhone through the 4S in summer 2012 and 5.8″ on the X. The iPhone X essentially became the One Device for most of the time since I’ve had it, except when traveling abroad. Not that a big phone with a big battery wouldn’t be a great One True Travel Device, but if it’s locked to AT&T and too big to use one-handed, it’s not going to be great for those times when you’re trying to safely frame a shot of a glacier while hanging off the boat railing. And while the iPhone 6 with the battery case on it wasn’t the best thing in Japan, an unlocked phone with an eSIM and a similar battery case might just be. 

The trick is, I spent 2018-19 dithering between a 4” and a 5.8” screen. So maybe 4.7” splits the difference in a way that hasn’t been on the cards previously. I know I thought it was just fine on the Moto X in a way that it wasn’t on the iPhone 6, mostly revolving around an OLED display and the Kindle app. But the Kindle Paperwhite has long since displaced everything else for reading books anyway. And we’ll see if a smaller phone leads me back toward using that aging iPad at all, or if that’s just a Friv-O-List item that I keep lying to myself and think I’ll learn Swift on. 

A 4.7” phone might be enough. A 5.4” phone the same size is probably better…if it exists, if it ships, and if it works. I’d just as soon let somebody else go first, more than ever – now that the iPhone 12 is off to the end of the year, I’d really rather wait until fall 2021 to roll the dice if it comes to that. I think an A13 phone with AirPods Pro and the newest Apple Watch will do for everything – because I really want Siri and Shortcuts to be more and let me do more without pulling the phone out. And really, the Apple Watch 6 is the big goal now. Heart rate and sleep and blood oxygen levels, and notifications of all kinds and spontaneous Mac unlocking, and hopefully fast enough with a fast enough device behind it to make up for the shortcomings of Series 0 back in the day. After five years, maybe the Apple Watch has evolved to be good enough for my purposes. Certainly hope so, anyway. 

Well, first impressions coming tomorrow night, probably. Possibly. Who knows.


A couple of months ago, the week before my birthday, I was writing down a list of things that had made me upset that day, trying to parse out why I was in such a mood. In between the work bullshit and the regular horror show that is American political life in the 21st century, I wrote “knowing the new phone isn’t going to help”. So at least I’m realistic about this.

Nothing about the iPhone SE 2020 is materially *worse* than the iPhone 8 it replaces, and in a lot of ways, nothing is materially worse than the iPhone X it’s going to replace for me. Smaller battery? Sure, but also a more modern and efficient processor. Smaller display? Sure, but also a wash – the bigger AMOLED display is a greater drain whenever it’s lit up. No TrueDepth sensors for Animoji and FaceID? OK, but also, there’s TouchID – which actually works with a mask on, which matters a lot in California these days. Only one camera? Sure, but the computational power behind it more than makes up for a second telephoto lens.

Ultimately, I think it comes down to: it’s smaller and it’s mine. When I bought the Moto X, it felt a little too big. Then I got the iPhone 6 and the Moto went from being a little big to a little smaller. Similarly, the SE 2020 is going to be a little smaller than the iPhone X, and as soon as I’ve migrated everything, the iPhone X is getting wiped and going in a drawer for safekeeping until time to give it back. I also need to find a good home for the original SE, depending – if iOS 14 doesn’t support its chipset (increasingly likely given that the newest iPod touch and cheap iPad have an A10) then it’ll be time to put it out to pasture and finally, truly, have just one phone.

And it’ll be my phone. Even if it has work apps and a work SIM in it, it has become deeply personally important to me to have a phone that belongs to me as my one device again. I really don’t know how or when I’ll be able to find another job, but I want this one to be as un-present in my life as I can make it. The money’s better, but in all other respects I’m right back where I was – or worse – five years ago. And when you don’t know what the future holds, better to lock in now on a device with the current processor and a solid update future, but has the cheap AppleCare, the cheap battery replacement, the cheap screen replacement, et cetera.

It’s 2020 in America. Optimism is a luxury.

this is now an iPhone SE (2020) blog until further notice

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

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

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


May 31, 2019


Nailed it. I had an alarm set for 4:48 AM last Friday morning and the configuration favorited in the Apple Store phone app to increase the odds of getting it, and I did. Good thing too. My delivery date is April 24. Five hours later, the delivery date was in the second week of May. $450 plus tax tag and title for a 128 GB phone (while that option still exists; the current 64 or 256 GB in the mainline iPhones skips my sweet spot) that has the current A13 processor which might be faster than some of my desktop and laptop computers? It’s a no-brainer, really. What will be interesting now is whether that iPhone 12, so-called, with the 5.4” display is actually a thing AND tempting enough to make it worth giving up TouchID and laying down $800 less whatever I can get for the SE (2020) and SE (2016) in recycling credit.

I’m not sure it will. I’d just as soon wait for the iPhone 12S.


It’s finally real, and it is more or less as expected. iPhone 8 body, A13 chipset. The back camera seems to be from the iPhone XR, which means substantial improvements but no Night Mode, and surprisingly it does feature a dual-with-eSIM capability which would be a lot more enticing if it felt like I was ever going to go abroad again at this rate. $449 for a 128 GB model, order Friday and available next Friday (presumably for home delivery or curbside at Best Buy only).

So there’s a couple of question marks here.

One, what does it offer me that my work-provided phone does not? Well, it’s a more powerful processor and a smaller body, and a slightly more capable main camera. No night mode hurts, though. But it is a hair smaller, and given that the X and the heirs of its body have always been a hair too big to be a hair too big, it’s a consideration. So is 1:1 compatibility with all the other things in the house, up to and including all accessories for my wife’s iPhone 8. Chargers, cases, everything. It also means TouchID, which isn’t inconsiderable in a world where you never take your mask off outside the house any more. It’s easier to hold, it’s more pocketable, it’s probably going to be just about right. 

Two, am I going to want the notional iPhone 12? Well, first of all, jet back to my caveats about the first gen of a Jony Ive design and whether they’re still going to privilege thin over battery. Secondly, the Great Mentioner seems to think that the iPhone 12 lineup will be four phones: an iPhone 12 Pro in 6.7 and 6.1 inch sizes, and an iPhone 12 (not pro) in 6.1 and 5.4 inch sizes. All of a sudden, the iPhone 12 might not be as much of a hop up as we thought, might not have three lenses or a Time of Flight sensor or all the fancy AR stuff. And if it doesn’t…how great is the value proposition over the iPhone SE 2020? Will a smaller AMOLED screen draw less enough power to make up for a presumably smaller battery? Will I still be as fixated on AMOLED as I was in 2013, now that the power savings are not what we were promised?

And the kicker in all of this is: I’m at home. I spend more time on the laptop at home than I have in years now. The phone is mostly for looking at Instagram and playing back podcasts. The only reason the personally-owned iPhone SE wasn’t enough is because it’s mostly slow, and the body of the 8 isn’t that much smaller than the X I’ve been carrying for two and a half years now. Still, it would be nice, especially at this particular moment in history, to have an iPhone that’s current-capable and belongs to me. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the events of the last year have left me less than sanguine about the stability of my employment, and if the bastards come for me again, it would be nice to be able to pluck out the SIM, flick it at them, switch to eSIM and walk away with my own phone in hand. 

There’s a certain bird-in-hand quality to it. A smaller iPhone 12, so-called, would still probably run somewhere around $700 for the 128 GB model, if any (which would get it back in the range where iPhones used to be priced before the X came to stand in for “that’s how many hundreds you’ll have to lay out for this phone”). But lately, your choices are 64 or 256, and if that continues, you’re probably looking at $800 for the 256 GB model. And at that point, you have to ask yourself if it’s worth $350 for night mode, a slightly larger display, more storage you don’t need and an extra year of updates. And the answer is…maybe? With the caveat that you’re going to be taking the first ride on a completely new design, which has been…problematic  in the past? The iPhone 3G felt like a step back, the iPhone 4 had the famous antenna issues (even if they were never as bad as intimated), the iPhone 5 famously went to shit on Verizon as soon as the OS was updated and never recovered…

Do I *need* it? Probably not. Do I want it? I kinda do, yeah. Will I feel like I have a little more agency in a world where agency is tough to come by these days? Probably.

I guess we’re doing this.