So I have this

So I have this cousin. Specifically, he is my double second cousin – our grandfathers were brothers who married two sisters. He disputes the notion that he is smarter than me, and I dispute his disputation, largely because:

* He was smart enough to leave our home state for college,

* He was smart enough to go to a Division I institution of fine academic repute, and

* He was clever enough to find and marry HIS lovely blond Catholic girl from far away before the age of 30.

However, he moved back to our home state, while I moved to the Bay Area, so maybe he is onto something.

In any event, he asked for my perspective on going through the “gifted experience,” so if you will indulge me, I’m going to speak about myself in a rather un-humble manner. Again. Sigh. Apologies in advance; content beyond the jump:

Continue reading “So I have this”

Here we go again…

I know I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: the Super Bowl does for football what St Patricks Day does for Irish pub patrons: drags in a whole bunch of riffraff who only give a crap once a year. And this is speaking as somebody who detests the NFL apart from the Redskins in almost every particular…but then, this is precisely why: they take something that should be a signature contest (like, say, a really big bowl game in the pre-BCS era), something that should rightfully sell itself, and then tart it up with all kinds of fluff and bread and circuses. Not to take a cheap shot, but if you have Meredith Viera and Al Roker broadcasting from your game, the football has ceased to be the point. If you’re watching a sporting event for the advertising? Something has gone very, very wrong.
Here’s a hint: if you drink green beer and think “26,” “6” and “32” are something off Lost, stay home on the 17th. And if somebody has to explain to you what “1st and 10” means, you really shouldn’t be watching the Super Bowl.

Again with the throwbacks

So let’s see:

1) The first major economic package of a Democratic administration passes…with exactly zero Republican votes in the House.

2) Rush Limbaugh is out making typically erudite and reasoned observations.

3) Republican Congressmen fall about themselves to avoid offending El Rushbo.

4) The entire GOP gameplan – the whole thing – consists solely of voting no across the board and hoping for a monumental collapse in the midterm elections.

What the hell is this, 1993? Who’s got my Blind Melon CDs?

Now, from a tactical standpoint, this isn’t the worst idea. The GOP went full-obstruct in 1993-94 and wound up in charge of the House and Senate. The Dems went full-capitulate after September 11 and got their asses handed to them in ’02. Message: cooperation doesn’t pay. Like APSA recommended in 1950, like Gingrich tried to implement in the 104th, we are now living in the age of American Westminster. One party gets control of all the federal governmental engine, runs their program, and if the public doesn’t like it, turns them out at the first opportunity.

However, there’s no splitting hairs, no wiggle room, and most important, no incentive to compromise. Obama talked quite a game about bipartisanship, but if this is the way it’s going to go – with a handful of concessions that ultimately shift no votes – then the proper thing to do is to wad it up, throw it out, go balls-to-the-wall with your program and let the voters decide whose vision they like better.

This is a dangerous time, though. Sixteen years ago, the House of Representatives had been forty years in Democratic control, talk radio was a new and invigorating force, and Newt – for all his freshman-with-ADD-in-his-first-PSCI-101-class ramblings – was actually trying something radically different in Congressional politics. And to cap it all off, the new President – who did have more votes than anyone else got in 1992, in fairness – could hardly count on mustering a popular majority in the electorate after polling 43% in the general election. And the economy, while bad enough that impressionable undergrads got a queasy feeling reading The Grapes Of Wrath, wasn’t nearly as banged up as today, when somebody’s perfectly good AAPL holdings have donked off half their value since the summer, not that I’m pissed or anything.

Plug in the constant stream of Reagan nostalgia, and we come to an uncomfortable realization: the GOP in 2009 = the Washington Redskins in 2004 when Joe Gibbs came back. The faithful are fired up, they want to believe, they want to see the counter-trey and 50 Gap and watch a big back plow the field behind a new generation of Hogs and finish up on the Mall clutching a Lombardi Trophy while the President slaps Mr Cooke on the back and then we all head to Duke Zeibert’s to celebrate.

If memory serves me right, though, Joe went 5-11 that first year back. Duke’s is still closed, the Skins finished last in the division, and Joe Gibbs is back in retirement. If I were a Republican, I would feel very very uneasy about building the offense for 2010 on radio-driven pitchfork populism and a string of no votes. Somebody is going to have to step up and offer some sort of shadow-government program, because the alternative is just hollering and waiting for Obama and his crew to drive off the road. Ask Hillary how well that worked out.

(I don’t use the phrase “shadow government” by accident. Go read as it contains some smart shit written by smart people.)

The Year of the Rat

I seem to distinctly remember thinking, at the beginning of last year’s Lunar New Year celebrations, “This is it! MY year! Let’s go, baby!” If memory serves me right, not only is it my birth year, but “Rat” was the first nickname I was ever bestowed that wasn’t a derivation of my name. (It goes back to the way my first girlfriend and her cronies used animals as codenames when passing notes…who knew I’d be mixed up in issues of message transmission security over twenty years on?) In any event, I think I can really look back now that I’ve been on the job for three weeks.

I’m still lost. I think somebody said that the first ninety days of a new job are basically just an extension of your interview, and God knows I’m following the age-old rule of new jobs: never turn down a lunch invite, a drink invite, or the opportunity to follow somebody around. Sponge up everything, and accept that it may take two or three tries before you get it from memory, and ask questions for Godsakes, something I took way too long to do in my other California jobs. And above all, don’t assume that the day-to-day behavior of those around you is a reaction to or reflection on you – you don’t even know these people yet, not really, so wait a while before you pass judgement.

But the stuff around the job itself – the ability to get around solely by train or shuttle, the opportunity to play my podcasts out on the way there and back rather than all day while I wait for something to do, the FREE COFFEE, the water that doesn’t come with Superfund runoff, the array of dining opportunities (especially if I’m elsewhere on the job other than home base), the comfort of knowing that if I’m wiped out by a semi hauling hogs that my wife will bank more than $10,000 as compensation…but you know what really hits home? No overtime. No hourly timesheet. I have a job to do, no matter how long (or not!) it takes, and while that may bite me in the ass sooner rather than later, it’s nice to feel like a bloody grown-up instead of back in the produce cooler clocking in and out.

So yeah, the big day-to-day thing that eats up almost half my waking life? No longer a source of misery. When I don’t want to get out of bed in the morning now, it’s not because I’m dreading what lies ahead. It’s only me being exhausted and butt-lazy, which is fine. Come on, I’m from the South. You ever seen Hee Haw? When’s the last time you saw anyone in Kornfield Kounty bustin’ ass?

Add that to everything else that happened in 2008 – and let’s be honest, anything that turned the page on 2007 would have been great – and yeah, the year of Rat. Glad it worked out. Now the trick is…keep going.

Easily fixed, because I am a problem SOLVER

So a whole bunch of people got irritable* about the new guy’s middle name. All right, I can see that. Furthermore, to be honest, I think that in the interest of national unity and pacifying the sort of people who wouldn’t vote for him in a million years anyway, Barack Hussein Obama should legally change his middle name.
To “F***-ing.”
It sounds like something out of a Chris Rock movie – or a Wil Wheaton blog post – but you know damn well you’d laugh. Besides, as future Alabama governor Charles “I’ll tattoo my name on your ass if you get me out of this” Barkley demonstrates, the most critical measure of a politician is how much they peg the Fun Meter.
* Originally this read “got sand in their twats,” but it has been pointed out to me that to make such an association with these kinds of people would be to sully the good name of twat. Modified accordingly.

Two sidearms

So for my new job, I have to carry a Blackberry Bold. It was that or a second iPhone, and not even I am enough of a buffoon to pack two iPhones everywhere I go. Plus, having the Bold will be helpful when it comes time to support Blackberry users, and it’s always good to have a diversity of experience when one is a Computing Support Analyst. I’ve been packing the Bold for a couple of weeks now, and I have come to the conclusion that it resembles nothing so much as a SIGARMS P250, the state-of-the-art pistol that can be switched to any of four calibers with no tools but the replacement barrel and slide, can be made sub-compact or full size just by swapping frame components, has a reduced number of parts for increased reliability, and will put five shots through the same quarter-sized hole from twenty-five yards.

The problem is, if the Bold is the world’s finest pistol, the iPhone is a lightsaber.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: yes, the Bold has MMS and speaker-independent voice dialing, and I presume cut-and-paste is in there somewhere, but I haven’t found it yet and I’ll tell you why: the interface is utterly non-intuitive. They include some setup assistants for things like Wi-Fi, which is good, because the settings are damn difficult to find otherwise. There are all sorts of ring profiles you can modify, with about 50 settings for all the possible things that can ring or vibrate, and set them depending on whether it’s in the holster or not*, the camera takes video and has digital zoom and an LED that does for a sort-of flash, and the battery is removable, covered by a back panel in a naff sort of faux-leather which is reasonably grippy or at least non-slippery. And honestly, the screen is gorgeous.

Of course, it’s a screen half the size of the iPhone’s, because you also have a physical keyboard, with keys the size of a mustard seed** that will almost certainly send my thumbs into premature arthritis even worse than the iPhone. Say what you like about tactile feedback, but I don’t find myself any more accurate with the Bold’s physical keyboard than the iPhone’s virtual one, and in many ways I’m worse on the Bold because I haven’t figured out how to turn on text-complete or spell-check or whatever they offer to make up for the many, many times I fat-finger my typing.

Plus, while the “pearl”-type trackball is a genuine innovation, it basically demands that you use the thumb. And I’m not kidding – I am starting to have problems with the knuckles of my thumbs, from crooking them too much to use smartphones. The difference is, with a touch-driven UI like the iPhone’s, I can hold the device in one hand and navigate around (if not type particularly well) with one finger on the other hand. The Bold, by contrast, has a physical design and control mechanism that basically demands the use of thumbs in all circumstances.

There’s no nice way to say it, so I won’t try to sugar it up: the Bold’s default browser is shit. For some reason, it seems extraordinarily sluggish, even when in 3G coverage (and that’s another thing: 3G is a massive battery suck, and largely superfluous for email, but there’s no way to turn off 3G and just use EDGE. For a business device that’s email-centric, this is a major shortcoming). And what’s worse, the browsing experience – and this extends beyond the browser to things like the Facebook app as well – seems much more like a glossy, tarted-up version of the cellphone browsing experience of 2005-06, rather than the smartphone browsing experience of the iPhone or the G1 or (presumably) the forthcoming Palm Pre. The fact that everyone recommends I install Opera Mini – the same proxy browser I ran four years ago on a Motorola flip phone – is not encouraging.

Finally, and non-trivially, the battery only gets me through the day. So does the iPhone battery only get me through the day, but I can turn off the 3G and then use it for following all my RSS feeds, playing my podcasts, getting texts, and exactly as much mail and phone and Twitter-app use as the Bold. And the iPhone will charge off the USB line out of the PC, whereas if the Bold is getting power off its USB, it’s sure not doing it fast enough to top up during the day.

Long story short: I think that if you’re somebody who needs to carry a Blackberry for work, the Bold is legitimately a world-beater and the best of breed for RIM’s signature product. And I’m not alone – Stephen Fry, who owns and travels with seven iPhones, thinks the Bold is RIM’s best device ever (handily pwning the disastrous Blackbery Storm). But the fact is, our team gets a choice between the Bold and the iPhone, and nobody who didn’t already have an iPhone took the Bold.

Of course, I’ll be carrying both for the foreseeable future. Or at least until the Pro Bowl when my turn as the hotline emergency response tech ends. Hazing is fun, isn’t it?

* I don’t care how cool you think he is, Barack Obama – and there’s a zinger coming on his middle name, wait for it – still looks like a tool with that thing clipped to his belt. There is no way anyone can clip on a cellphone and not look like a paste-eater, and I say this as a man who once priced a shoulder holster for a Palm III.

** Our Lord gets a nickel.

If the thundercloud passes rain…

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

And so I’m happy, tonight.

I’m not worried about anything.

I’m not fearing any man!

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!”

Policy Dispute

I know the about-to-be-President is on the other side of this from me, and he’s WRONG, and I will tell you why: you could put off the digital TV switchover for FIFTY YEARS and at the end of it you would still have people complaining that they’re not ready to make the move yet. I have heard something about this literally at every commercial break on channel 11 here in the Bay Area for well over a year now. A media that drops the ball on nearly every news item of significance has covered the upcoming digital transition as if it were man landing on the planet Mars in a spaceship made out of diamonds and breasts.

Yes, there are end users consumers out there who somehow, some way, have not yet figured out that the magic talky box will stop working in the middle of February. The correct answer is screw ’em. The dogs bark, but the caravan proceeds. If you allow your technology to be dictated by the least among your user base, you will get HOSED.

So yeah, I officially have a difference with the administration. Looky there!

You Have Got To Be !-ing Kidding Me.

If this had happened with a Democratic President and Secretary of State, the gasbags would be losing their S all over talk radio and Fox News. The Prime Minister of a country that wouldn’t exist without the blind support of the United States is going to get up there and start crowing about how he’s got George’s pecker in his pocket? All the shit we take, all the trouble we get all over the world – and they’re going to punk out the President like that?

Obama better take some time on day one to get on the phone and warn some folks that South Side rules are now in effect for this kind of thing. The next words I hear from Ehud Olmert better be whatever is the Hebrew for “Not in the face!”