Google – the Phantom Menace

No, seriously.

Let’s start with a fact that is indisputable: AT&T sucks. This is not up for debate. The sky is blue, the grass is green, Tennessee football players have carnal knowledge of cattle, and AT&T sucks.

Stipulate further that Apple really didn’t have a choice. There are four national mobile phone carriers. T-Mobile only has 1900 Mhz coverage without roaming. Verizon uses CDMA technology and wanted to second-guess Steve Jobs and Jonny Ive on interface design. Sprint? Don’t make me laugh. If you want to build a phone for the whole world, and start in the US, your only call is AT&T Wireless (or Cingular, as it was at the time). In retrospect, the fact that Apple got as many concessions as they did is proof of the Reality Distortion Field.

Now, however, AT&T has a problem – the iPhone is so successful that its user base is growing faster than AT&T can build out infrastructure to support it. iPhone users consume orders of magnitude more data that other smartphone users, which means that 3G capacity will get maxed out. In places like San Francisco or New York, it will get pummeled. There are countless stories of people who had iPhones and gave up, simply because it was impossible to get any kind of reliable service from AT&T. It has reached the point where I am, for the first time, actively considering whether to a) jailbreak my iPhone or b) consider a different smartphone altogether.

See, I wasn’t kidding when I said Google’s G1 was the first iPhone challenger worth taking seriously. I look at the things I use the iPhone for – podcast download and playback, social network stuff (FB, Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare, etc), RSS feed reading, tracking public transit in the Bay Area, making dinner reservations on OpenTable, Wikipedia lookups, programming the DirecTV DVR, directions on Google Maps…let’s face it, 90% of this stuff can be done on the G1 right now, and unlimited messaging and data on the G1 is a third the price of the iPhone. And while 3G is limited to T-Mobile’s exclusive 1700Mhz band, and it’s not built all the way out, it could hardly be more overtaxed than AT&T’s ever-tardy 3G.

Sure, I’d be giving up MobileMe, but there’s Google Mail, Google Calendar, a contact system that links with Google Voice, it all links with iCal and Mail on the Mac through the same iSync, I could replicate my own setup without a hitch and save several bucks a month…

…hold up.

Mobile Me = Google Mail + Google Calendar + Google Photos

iWork or Office = Google Docs.

Loopt/Foursquare/Dodgeball = Latitude.

All your calling, SMS, visual voicemail, Skype and IM = Google Voice and Gtalk

WordPress and half a dozen others = Blogger

RSS = Google Reader

Navigation = Google Maps

And that’s without taking into account 1-800-GOOG-411, Google SMS, the iGoogle portal, or – be honest – probably 99.999% of all your web searches since about 2001. And if you live in Mountain View, California, Google may even be your ISP.

Microsoft was the great devil of Web 1.0, but let’s face it – all they had was an OS, a browser and an office suite. The hottest things going now are smartphones (Microsoft’s smartphone OS has never stopped sucking), social networking (Microsoft hasn’t got one), location-based services…the thing is, Microsoft’s entire world has always been about owning the OS space with Windows and making sure everything needed Windows to work. And right now, of all the new hotness, none of it – not one single solitary bit – depends on Windows.

But Google…

When’s the last time you used Bing, or Cuil, Teoma, or WolframAlpha, or anything else for more than a couple of test searches the day of launch? Who are you using for webmail? How about IM? When you need directions, where do you go? Mapquest? LiveEarth? Just today, NewsGator – maker of the most popular RSS reader for iPhone or Macintosh, NewNewsWire – announced that Google Reader is replacing their own web service on the back end of those apps. Think about this: if you had to give up every single Google service, how well would you day-to-day computing life go?

Microsoft had your desktop. Google has your data. And the only thing standing between your data and a reign of terror that would make Bill Gates look like Winnie the Pooh is the vague promise “Don’t be evil.” Is Google evil? No more than any other company. Certainly not more evil than Apple, for instance. Far less evil than your typical cable company or baby Bell. But knowing what the world is like, and knowing where virtue ranks among American business metrics, are you prepared to hang your online livelihood on “don’t be evil”?

Once again, as ever, we return to President Reagan’s old Russian maxim: “trust, but verify.”

Flashback, part 10 of n


On July 14, I arrived in Silicon Valley. On August 5, I accepted a job offer. In between was a strange, strange time.

It was kind of disorienting, to go from another sweltering DC summer to a place where you had no air conditioning and had to heap blankets on the bed at night against the icy cool of the attic fan. It was more disorienting to suddenly have no pager, no ticket queue, and no idea where to find anything. I mean, I had spent plenty of time in the Valley over the previous three years, make no mistake, but I had never had to drive anywhere and I was literally lost anytime I ventured onto the roads.

Ideally, arriving would have meant being ushered into a big room where Ah-nuld, Gavin, Himself, and a couple other political and industry big wheels would have been filling me in on points of geography, culture, and general California aptitude, in one of those big empty rooms where the entire floor is the viewscreen and you get Star Wars-style holography. Didn’t happen.* Instead, I took it upon myself and my Saturn, with its 195K miles on the odometer and bad radiator fan and thermostat, to drive around and try to get some sense of up and down.

I don’t remember much from those first few days. I remember it was always cold at night, though not always foggy, and it seems like we were always in the other car and the moonroof was always open. I also remember that the total uptime on my laptop was 56 days before I rebooted it. I got sick, with no insurance to speak of, and shelled out a bunch of cash to the family doctor who gave me a HUGE sack of sample-size drugs in return. I had godawful reception on my T-Mobile phone(s), although that could have been a neighborhood thing – but within three months, I had crawled back to AT&T, which was a mistake in retrospect. I ended up selling the SonyEricsson for a fraction of what I’d paid for it. I also wound up in a marching band for a couple of months – how I happened to have my trombone here and not in a closet back in the Old Country, I’ll never know. I also picked up a ham radio license, which I wouldn’t actually make use of for almost five years.

All this is by way of saying that it’s been a while. What reminded me of all this? Probably the time spent in the city lately, which has been protracted and in the company of out-of-towners. Especially the other half of Team Black Swan – having them here was not only like vacation for us, it also gave me a chance to see everything anew five years on. Plus it has been COLD at night lately.

I guess all this is by way of saying that this regeneration may have finally been into an honest-to-God Californian. Although we’ll have to wait for the DNA tests to come back and see if they’re positive for tobacco aversion.

* Although I hear Google has this.

Why The South Still Has Yet To Rise Again

from the Compost:

In other pockets of the state, the reaction to Democratic proposals has been strong, too. At a recent town-hall meeting in suburban Simpsonville, a man stood up and told Rep. Robert Inglis (R-S.C.) to “keep your government hands off my Medicare.”

“I had to politely explain that, ‘Actually, sir, your health care is being provided by the government,’ ” Inglis recalled. “But he wasn’t having any of it.”

Okay, New Rule

People who don’t think the President of the United States is an American citizen don’t get to say shit about grown-up politics. So from now on, anybody who wants to participate in the process has to answer “Do you think the President is a citizen of the United States?” Any answer other than an immediate “Duh, of course, what the fuck else would he be?” means you go sit in the corner and shut the fuck up until the paint thinner and meth wear off, you fucking hillbilly retard.

I’m sick of this shit. Birthers, truthers, people who think Hillary shot Vince Foster and the Jews caused 9/11 and the Bush family is buying up South American water rights – you don’t get to play. Times are tough and this shit is hard, and it’s tough enough to sort it out without having to indulge a bunch of mental defectives.

(What really blows my mind is the percentage of a percentage who think Barack Obama is a secret Muslim AND approve of the job he’s doing. Ummm…o-kayyyyyy, but can you actually die of cognitive dissonance?)


Any member of the United States Senate who voted to continue the F-22 fighter jet – a program the SecDef doesn’t want to continue, a program the Air Force doesn’t want to continue – should be barred from ever complaining about the deficit again, on pain of being clubbed to death with a crowbar on the National Mall.
Money spent on shiny explodey things counts just the same as any other money. Anybody who thinks different is too fucking stupid for anything more intellectually challenging than sports talk radio.


…is the name for the Harry Potter Educational Foundation’s 2009 conference in San Francisco. Thirteen years ago, I made the online acquaintance of somebody who turned out to be sort of a big deal in the world of Potter fandom – and tonight, the wife and I met her in person for the first time. And when she got pulled away from dinner by another crisis – apparently, running a convention like this is rather like herding cats made out of gasoline and flint – she said “you have to come to the ball.” So we did, for a bit anyway, and were treated to quite the spectacle, mostly of a lot of costumed people going nuts for music that I am pretty sure wasn’t even out when they were born. (I’m thinking specifically of Journey here…but it is San Francisco, you’ve got to play it).

And it occurred to me: this is all down to the Internet. Sure, there would be fans of stuff, and some of them might get in touch, but in my youth, the most you could probably hope for would be a book club down at the public library. (I’m thinking specifically here of the Doctor Who fan club that occasionally showed episodes brought over from the UK in a room at the East Lake public library, which I popped in on maybe three times in high school.) But plug in a router, fire up a laptop, and holy shit, you can bring in people from all over.

I also want to know what it is about me that makes me conversational catnip for lesbians named Michelle. It’s starting to get ridiculous.

Most of all, though, it’s gratifying to have finally made it to the Tonga Room, even if I had to walk up Nob Hill in a pair of Docs to get there. I will be going back, you can bet on that – but you can bet even more that it won’t be on foot. It’s also true what they say about Zombies – take two at most. Take three and you’re under the weather, take four and you’re under the host.*

* Redd Foxx gets a nickel. Which he probably had to turn around and hand to Dorothy Parker.

Flashback, part 9 of n

July 14, 2004:

Arrived safe in Los Altos a couple hours ago. Already have been plied with Coldstone cake, guacamole and chips, and Imperial Cane Sugar Dr Pepper. And company coming over to welcome the Prodigal Daughter home and also that hick she had in the trunk.

I REALLY don’t want to unpack the car, but I guess I better.

Five years. I can’t believe it’s been five years. I’ve been here longer than i was in Nashville, longer than I was an undergrad, as long as I’d been in greater DC when I made the visit to Silly Con Valley and realized I really wanted to try to make it here.

I guess I was right to get a 415 number for Google Voice. However, those of you who can figure out what 3329 spells will remember that the password is still victory or die.

Google Voice and identity

Let’s face it – if you’re not on a cellphone I don’t want to talk to you. It’s 2009 for crying out loud. But from Y2K on, it seems like every phone is no roaming, no long distance. So area codes are suddenly less important from a practical standpoint – you can have your number completely dissociated from geography with no significant inconvenience incurred. Which makes things more difficult when it’s time to pick out a new number,

The thing with Google Voice is that you can set your number anywhere in the US. No geographical obligations. Your phone number can now be purely a matter of identity, vanity, whatever. Which puts me in a bit of a spot – after all, the aim of GV is to be your one number for everything, rings as many physical phones as you like, follows you anywhere and everywhere. So that number becomes a significant personal identifier.

Which means you have to think long and hard. Your home area code – hell, your old hometown? The area code where you lived for years back East? Or the more famous major-city code adjacent to it? If in the Valley, do you want a San Francisco 415 or something else around the bay? And do you want a vanity number that reflects your high school, or your old workgroup, or your callsign and nickname from the old days, or makes references to the radio culture of the greater Washington DC area, or…

You can see where one can get hung up on this and spin wheels quite a bit. Which I am.

Yes, yes, everyone is entitled to their opinion…

…but nowhere does it say that it has to be taken seriously. If X is claiming that the earth is flat, the headline is not “Opinions On Shape Of Earth Differ,” the headline should rightly be “X Is Fucking Retarded”.

Consequently, if a Senator claims that his conversation with another Senator is privileged under “doctor/patient confidentiality,” both Senators are male, and the doctor Senator in question is an OB/GYN, the correct headline is not “Coburn Claims Constitutional Shield on Advice to Ensign,” but rather “Coburn Is Stupid As A Bag Of Snot.”

At what point can we just start saying that if you’re an utter fucking moron, you’re not allowed to play anymore? I realize this would basically shut down NBC completely, but you can’t make an omelette…