Four of a kind

First time ever…four #1 seeds in the Final Four.

Shame about Davidson. Stephen Curry has got to be the MVP of this tournament.

If CBS had any sense, they would put Billy Packer in a home, sentence Nantz to pitiful voiceovers of that overrated debacle in Augusta, and make Gus Johnson the play-by-play man for every major game, because he is THE most electrifying man in basketball-entertainment.

Somebody want to come drink the rest of this case of Newcastle? I can only handle so much Brown Drank before I have to revert to Guinness.

Just so you don’t think I’m utterly consumed with venom

I am eating Guinness ice cream, washing it down with Guinness beer, watching tournament basketball out of one eye and Mary-Lynn’s Friday night collection of college-era hip hop You Tube videos out of the other. Let me tell you, Young MC had this whole relationship thing sorted DECADES ago. Also, I still enjoy everything Digital Underground ever did.

One of these days, when my mother and my *peh* stepfather visit and leave town, I am going to have a massive blowout bash at my house as if they were leaving for the weekend, and we can all get sloppy drunk on bad combinations (vodka and Coke, anyone?) and play all this stuff way too loud. I think we could get eighty people in this house, no sweat.


Davidson College. The Wildcats just knocked off Wisconsin in the Sweet 16. They are now one win away from the Final Four.

Davisdon is a liberal arts college outside Charlotte, North Carolina. Enrollment: 1700. Endowment: a shade under $500M. Rated as one of the “New Ivies” by Newsweek. Ranked top 20 in four different categories by the Princeton Review. Has a Phi Beta Kappa chapter. And oh look, there they are in the Big Dance. Sunday night, they will be playing in front of a national television audience all by themselves for a shot at the third weekend of the tournament.

It doesn’t look like academic success has imperiled their athletics. And it sure doesn’t look like their athletics (10 trips to the tournament since 1966, including the last three seasons in a row) have done any harm to their academics. And now, they have the kind of publicity money can’t buy as everyone in the country with a bracket asks “Who the hell is Davidson!?”

You can do both. No matter how small, no matter how selective, there is no reason you can’t compete at the highest levels both academically and athletically. A lot of schools could, but they won’t. Some just don’t care enough about sports. Some just don’t care enough about academics. Some just don’t have the will to make an effort. And some of them, like a flea-speck garbage heap in the west end of Birmingham, Alabama, would rather try to persuade you that taking a great big shit on their athletes will make them a superior academic institution.

You say you haven’t heard of Birmingham-Southern College? How would you have heard of them? WHY would you have heard of them? WHY SHOULD you hear of them?

No reason. Plain and simple. There is no reason to hear of them. Because they’d rather be safe and happy in their own little bubble, slapping each other on the back and telling themselves how great they are. And if you’re willing to spend the rest of your life in their bubble, you might even come to believe they’re right.

How to botch

Motorola is splitting in two, shedding the largely unprofitable mobile phone division.

Think about this.

In the spring of 2005, the RAZR cost $599 with a contract. Think about this. When the iPhone dropped, it played music, movies, YouTube clips, synced with your computer, it did email and surfed the web, it had an amazing touch-screen interface and 8 GB of storage – and people ranted about how bloody expensive it was. The RAZR did…F-all. It had speakerphone, a color screen, Bluetooth, a trifling VGA camera, and people could NOT get enough of it. On the floor at PRINT ’05 in Chicago five months on, every single sales meatball was yakking away into a RAZR.

So how could Motorola botch this? Well, for one thing, they learned the wrong lesson from Apple. Pretty sells. This is a true fact. Three years later, I still occasionally find myself coveting the RAZR solely for the form factor, which is perfect for sticking in your back pocket before going out for the evening. However, the actual innards of the RAZR – its feature set, its interface, its underlying operating system – was basically the same “Triplets” set that first shipped on the T720…two years earlier. In fact, at the same time that Cingular was offering exclusive sales of the RAZR, you could buy a Moto V635 from abroad with the exact same features PLUS a megapixel camera, a memory card slot, EDGE higher-speed data, video capture, changeable metal covers AND completely unlocked and unbranded…for half the money.

The RAZR was sold on pure fashion. It eventually got the EDGE, the better camera, the video capture, it even added iTunes playback for a while. But for the most part, the biggest changes in the RAZR were…new colors. Black, red, three shades of pink, gold, purple, on and on and on.

All you really need to know, though, is this. Motorola phones based on Triplets use the volume buttons on the side to change the ringtone settings when the flip is shut. Press the volume either way and it goes into ring profile mode. Press the other side button and it steps through the various profiles: Silent, Loud, Vibe and Ring, etc etc. The only problem is that these buttons are raised for ease of use…which means if there’s anything else in your pocket, your backpack, your purse, whatever – if it bumps the left side of your phone, your ringer can get changed. Which means your phone might sit on silent for hours or days while you miss calls because it never rings or vibrates. Or it rings – loudly – right in the middle of the movie. Or the Bris. You really don’t want to startle the mohel when he’s got a sharp object down there.

And from the T720 release in 2002, it took FOUR YEARS for Motorola to ship a phone that let you lock out those buttons from accidental presses.

Some of the newer Moto phones – the W510 for instance – have recessed buttons that don’t bump as badly. Others have a software lockout (the 3G version of the RAZR does this). But it should never have taken four years for something so simple.

And that, boys and girls, is why Motorola is spinning off their most highly-visible division.

The Fellowship of the Ring

So my class ring – the one from grad school, the one I claim, the one that let me down in the first round dammit – is kind of dinged up. I can live with the scratches and dulling, but a good bit of the black enamel on the signet has worn away. And it’s apparently under a lifetime warranty, so I will be able to get it refreshed to good as new with no more than the cost of shipping (and insurance obvs). Only problem is…this leaves me with no way to open beer bottles. (I don’t have the strength in the off hand to use my wedding band. Nor am I willing to switch to twist-offs.) Since there’s exactly zero chance of putting on my undergrad ring (I’m amazed I haven’t thrown it into Mount Doom), that means that I have reverted to….my high school ring.

When I went to pull it out of the humidor last week – where it sits along with my old badge from my first job, my dad’s hunting club patch, the original key to my old Saturn, and some of the other stuff that I’d have to grab first if fleeing a house fire – I was oddly reminded of a commercial that ended, “What did you want to be?”

A good question. When I received the ring, I had a notion of what my career path would be like. It deviated within two years, obviously – and for the last decade, it hasn’t been within screaming distance of what I originally expected. But that goes back to the notion that you can’t define yourself by your job – so I looked at what the rest of my life looks like since then. Let’s see: I drive a car that has a sunroof, a good stereo, and well under a hundred thousand miles. And my Walkman has been replaced with something even smaller that holds more songs than I owned on every tape and CD put together at the end of the 80s – and plays movies, makes phone calls, and gets on the Internet almost anywhere. (The what? Trust me, kid, you’ll love it.) I actually have a computer at home. More than one. Macs, at that. If I want to keep the fridge full of Dr Pepper, I can. I own all three Indiana Jones movies and all six (SIX!? Well, yeah…you’ll find out. Just deal) Star Wars movies. There’s ice and water in the fridge door and a disposal in the sink, and the hot water lasts longer than fifteen minutes, and there’s not a parent of mine for 2000 miles in any direction.

And I have friends and comrades and contacts all over America, and I’ve been there. Irish bar in DC, bagel place in Manhattan, fajitas in Nashville, drinks on the parade route in New Orleans, steakhouse overlooking Highway 1 by the Pacific Ocean, a go-to winery in the Napa Valley. I’ve been to the World Series, Mardi Gras, and the Stanley Cup playoffs. I’ve seen major league baseball in 8 different stadiums and owned season tickets for a top-10 college football team. I’ve had three jobs with three different household names. I’ve been a godfather, a University Graduate Fellow, and I’ve been in three weddings – including my own. Yes, I have a girlfriend, who is pretty much everything I would have asked for back then, and who happens to be married to me. And our honeymoon was on another continent.

Half a life ago, the Devil himself could have shown all this to the younger me, and said “for the low low price of one soul, all this can be yours.” And I would have said “Okay.” Without hesitation.

In every way that actually matters, I am who I wanted to be. And it’s a good thing I pulled this ring out, because I need to remember that.

i’m gonna live forever

So last week I was knocking down sangria at a ridiculous pace in the company of another blogger, with whom I was discussing the problems of modern online life. I think the chain of events started with the matter of Eliot Spitzer and his young lady, followed by the fact that she apparently got herself all over the Internet and already has footage of her cookie on Girls Gone Wild, followed by amazement that kids these days go to eighth base on the first date whereas in our day, you had to invest a year and a half just to get a long lead off second, culminating in amazement that the current generation of teens has no problem with every aspect of their lives being online, which can’t be good for future job prospects…

And she made an excellent point: these kids have grown up with reality TV and tabloid TV, from OJ and Tonya Harding to Monica Lewinsky to Survivor to American Idol to Paris Hilton. Based on that, it is not unreasonable for them to think that anybody can be famous, and it really doesn’t matter what for. Consequently, having your entire life out there on the My Space or the Face Book (SEE HOW I LOOK CURMUDGEONLY) is just one more avenue to accumulating friends and followers and fame. Of a sort.

Which dovetails nicely with another thought I have long had: that technologically, genuine privacy is almost impossible to achieve. You’d have to deal entirely in cash, stay completely off the Internet, go to great lengths to make sure nobody uses your SSN as a unique identifier for your driver’s license or student ID or anything like that. But if you’re a normal person in 2008, you’re leaving a trail of breadcrumbs all through cyberspace, from the DMV to your credit report to your Friendster to that weird website account you opened two years ago, used once and forgot about. And that’s before you add in the influence of government snooping and the fact that most of your communications will pass through a small handful of pipes – AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Charter, the like.

Basically, as Neal Stephenson demonstrated in The Diamond Age, the only fix for the privacy dilemma is not technical, but cultural. Messing about in other peoples’ business has to be not only a crime in law, but a crime in polite society. A snoop and a busybody have to be held in the same regard as somebody who farts loudly in public, or worse. But if people insist on hanging it all out there, it doesn’t work. It’s difficult to respect the privacy of an exhibitionist.

Scott McNeely of Sun famously said “Privacy is dead. Get over it.” Tough to argue that the youth of today haven’t done just that. Which may be a good thing – they may well be equipped to deal with the reality of the future than us. Does that make me some kind of cranky old man?

everybody’s got to jone…

INT, Easter Sunday Mass…

PRIEST: Any other birthdays?


PRIEST: How old?

WOAA: Twenty-nine!

PRIEST: Happy birthday. Confessional’s open right after Mass.

Gustavo Dudamel

Remember the name. 27 years old, Venezuelan, hair like an exploded Brillo pad. Handed the controls of the San Francisco Symphony tonight, he conducted Stravinsky’s Firebird like a kid handed a chemistry set, a bottle of Jack Daniels, two old issues of Playboy and a box of Mexican M-80s. Spectacular.

By the way…

…as if you couldn’t guess, my brackets are officially made of grade-AA, imported 800 thread-count SUCK.