Well, here we go again: Google is launching a Facebook killer. (If you need proof, just look at the fact that the launch of a limited public beta of Google Plus was all over the nightly news on Tuesday.) And this time, it won’t be a big bucket of used WTF, like Google Wave, or a sudden revelation that Google owns your privacy like Google Buzz. This one will be different, honest.

Actually, it may be.

It looks like Google is going to school on what Diaspora does (and what Facebook seems intent on preventing) – providing a means to granulate your social interactions. Not all-or-nothing, but discreet slices of your contacts, so you can parse out what your relatives see versus what your co-workers see versus what your actual friends at work see versus what your cool cousins see versus what your gang of reprobates back East can see…and just to minimize the suck, they have none other than Andy Hertzfeld on the interface design. If you’ve ever used a Macintosh, you’re using a Hertzfeld creation, so this should give you some idea how much better the UI will be compared to, say, Google Wave.*

The other competition, of course, is Twitter. Sure, Twitter doesn’t offer a lot of granularity, but it offers something better: completely pseudonymous accounts, free of charge, allowing you to have one or two or five (in my case) or as many as it takes for you to keep the aspects of your lives separate. Sure, a bit of a PITA, but all the official Twitter clients support multiple accounts. Easy peasy. To me, that’s why Twitter has basically displaced Facebook: it’s simple, it’s easy to use from PC or phone app or text message, and most of all, it’s a dumb network. Dumb networks are important, because they let you send anything and put the intelligence at the ends of the communication. Putting the brains in the network second-guesses what the users at the ends actually want.

That pseudonymity is probably why I won’t go very far with Google+ (although that ridiculous name is worse) – it ties into your existing Google account, which just leads to one more node in the data farm. Dave Winer has it right: just like Microsoft had to tie everything back into Windows, Google has to tie everything back into search – and more importantly, into their advertising mechanism. But hey, to all accounts, it looks good and works fast. Which is a step in the right direction.

The real problem is this: how reliable are the privacy controls? How deep is Google getting into your life? Because if there are limits and control over it, that might still make it a better option than Facebook’s oopsy-daisy approach (which reared its head again this week, possibly leading to my permanent departure). The problem of social networking is that you have to give up some of your data to make it work – and the people in the middle get hold of it, too.

Actually, though, almost all my friends have iPhones now. Maybe it’ll just be all iMessage all the time…

* Back in DC, a “wave” is the sudden feeling you get when you urgently need to take a dump. Actually, in retrospect, Wave was the perfect name for that product.

The Final Baseball Poll

#1 – South Carolina

#2 – Florida (which went 1-4 against SC)

#3 – Vanderbilt (which went 1-5 against FLA)

For the NCAA committee that seeded us 6th, and the Baseball America polls that kept voting Oregon State over us all year right up until we clowned them out of the Super-Regional, and everyone else who suggested that we were anything but a top-5 team: DEEEEEEEEEZ NUUUUUUUUUUUUUTS.

more thinking about portability

The Chromebook is out. I’m sorry, but after all the nonsense that’s going on with Google and Facebook and each one’s attempt to become the other, I can’t pledge myself to a computing device that relies on logging into a data miner to make it work. Besides, the only thing the Chromebook brings to the table is Flash and a keyboard.

The iPad is the default winner for vacation time, when a) I don’t need work resources like ARD access and b) I need something I can pull out of the bag and fire right up. That said, I think it might just get passed by the 11″ MacBook Air once they go Thunderbolt. But it’s still not worth paying for myself, especially when reading books and RSS can be done with the Kindle (along with some light Wikipedia work) and the iPhone holds for everything else.

Thing is, the iPad just slaughters everything else for reading, especially reading PDFs. Screen size matters. A lot.

The reason this will become important shortly is twofold:

1) iCloud is coming to replace MobileMe, and with it iDisk – heretofore the most important piece of my ongoing backup solution. Just drag links, pics, documents, etc. to an aliased folder on the desktop and see them magically backed up to iDisk – which will not now be doable. Oh yeah, just use Dropbox, you’ll say – the same Dropbox that removed passwords from access control for a few hours? Thank you NO. Maybe for just random stuff, but it’s not a long-term solution for replacing iDisk if iCloud doesn’t have that same remote storage capacity.

2) I might be inheriting a MacBook Air at work. It would replace my existing laptop. The performance boost and weight loss would be PHENOMENAL, but I would be giving away my 320 GB hard drive, and with it my 200GB home directory (which is 80% iTunes content). This means moving the bulk of my operations to the home Mac mini, which itself has a hard drive that’s straining at the seams…

On the other hand, synchronizing the iPhone at home over the local Wi-Fi is supposed to be automatic and easy with the iOS 5/Lion combination. I’m kind of counting on that. I’m also really counting on being able to use Back To My Mac for a while longer, though I don’t know what the future is there either…

But all this is worth it if it cuts my computer weight in half. Given how bad my shoulder has been lately, it’s totally worth looking at alternative arrangements. And to be honest, it won’t suck to get my personal material off my work computer…

flashback, part 33 of n

On my bachelor party trip to Atlantic City, one of my colleagues fitted me with his Serengeti shades – the classic wire-framed gradient sunglasses that made me look …well, like you’d expect a bachelor party-goer in AC to look. As it turns out, I cleaned up at the craps table, and with my ill-gotten gains I returned to California and bought a pair of Ray-Bans. Unlike any previous sunglasses I’d bought since reverting to contacts in 1992, though, these had brown lenses. Polarized, of course, with the result that I had glasses that altered colors but did an amazing job enhancing contract. Green foliage, for instance, popped like never before. And they were the shades I took to England on the honeymoon, with the result that I started thinking of the amber as my own rose-colored glasses – only when I wore them, things did legitimately seem to go better.

Then in June 2006, I sat on them. I still have them, but they’re not really wearable at this point, so I drove up to Sunglass Hut and bought a pair of New Wayfarers (RB2132) in tortoiseshell brown with the amber polarized lenses. And since it was the middle of a heat wave, I kept driving north until I saw fog, mainly to get proof that God had not abandoned us to heat and death. And amazingly, a day or two later the heat broke and things got back to normal.

June 2006 was when my surrogate big sister moved in with us for a year, and when we moved offices in Cupertino to a new off-campus facility that provided us with tons of space and me with a new office with better air conditioning. Things were much greener there – actual trees, as opposed to a lot of dirt and railroad tracks. When you cross the tracks around here in the summer, and there’s nothing but cloudless blue sky and still air and dead grass and dirt, it just feels hot as hell even if it’s only about 80. But we had lots of willows around and that most precious of commodities…shade. I had friends in town for WWDC, I had a pre-production iPod jammed in one pocket, I had an Intel-based 13-inch laptop at home…it was probably the tail end of the high-water mark of my time at Cupertino Hexachrome Produce, Ltd.

Summer of 2006 meant World Cup soccer, followed by the race to pick out a team for the Premiership. We stumbled into Newcastle United, and gave them as loyal a following as we could manage, and they promptly tanked their way right out of the EPL a couple years later. And then I lost Setanta on the cable, and that’s how I wound up casting back and forth between Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur (with occasional sidelong glances at Everton). It was also the swan song for Danny; over 200,000 miles on the odometer and with strange sounds coming from brakes and axles and engine alike, it was obvious that the time was coming when I’d need a new car (and the research hit fever pitch pretty quickly).

Now the new car has 60,000 miles and we’re preparing for new roommates again. But the most remarkable thing in this whole tale is that five years later, I still have the same pair of Wayfarers. I don’t know anyone else who’s gotten five years out of expensive sunglasses without losing or destroying them, myself included – except for Wayfarers. The moral of the story: if you’re going to spend the dough, buy classic.

As if that weren’t enough…

Yesterday’s ever-charming State Senator Scott Beason (Asshole-G’dale) has really stepped in it now. On top of everything else, he is currently testifying in a corruption trial where gambling interests were attempting to bribe various state officials. He went in there wearing a wire to gather information for the FBI and other law enforcement bodies. And proceeded to make spectacularly racist remarks WHILE WEARING A RECORDING DEVICE.

Actually, let me clarify: while wearing a recording device TO GATHER EVIDENCE THAT WOULD BE ENTERED INTO THE RECORD AT TRIAL.

Actually let me clarify yesterday’s hammer: I was smarter in 1978, as a first grader in Scott Beason’s third grade class, than he is RIGHT NOW.

The Future

If you want to see what the apotheosis of the modern Republican party looks like, you look to the South. And if you want to see its future, you need only look at Alabama State Sen. Scott Beason (R-Jugtown). The Gardendale member of the “upper body” of the state legislature has had quite the busy month.

First, there was the abortion bill, which is not surprising – you expect a GOP-controlled legislature in the South to try to outlaw abortion wherever they can, and the 20-week limit is predictable. Watch for more whittling around the corners.

Then, there was the illegal-immigration bill, which by some measures is even worse than Arizona’s: it’s now against the law for you to knowingly rent an apartment or even give a ride to an undocumented alien, and schools are responsible for documenting the immigration status of their students and their parents. Not that it will stand a chance in federal court, but for now, thousands of Alabamians are doing backflips because they think they finally have a way to legally shit on brown people again.

But the real humdinger, the real ace in the hole, the ne plus ultra of Republican hypocrisy, the one that takes it all is the attempt by Jefferson County to get the authority to set its own taxes. See, in order to maintain a good bidness environment, individual counties can’t set their own taxes or rates; the state legislature has to grant them the authority to do so. One more reason the state Constitution of 1901 could stand to see the wrong end of a paper shredder.

The bill went before the Legislature. Beason used a Senatorial privilege to block the bill, as any Senator can do for a bill affecting his local district. There was begging and wheedling and warnings of doom, but he held firm, and the legislative session expired without granting the tax rights to Jefferson County.

Why is this important? Well, as has been famously documented elsewhere, Jefferson County got utterly bank-raped in the financial crisis of 2008. J.P. Morgan Chase convinced the county that they could finance operations with an increasingly baroque series of financial instruments, and when they imploded, so did the county’s finances. They are now facing bankruptcy. And to make matters worse, a state court invalidated the county’s occupational tax, leaving them $75 million in the hole. The home rule bill was an attempt to come up with a tax structure to try to make up $50 million of the shortfall.

And Scott Beason, friend of small government, promptly used the power of the state to prevent a local government from having control over its own taxes. All in the name of lower taxes. He suggested the country use its cash reserve instead – the same cash reserve that the county is holding as an emergency backstop now that the financial shenanigans of the previous county government (and of Wall Street) have left the county unable to raise money in the bond market or secure loans.

The result? 32-hour workweeks for county employees. Hundreds of layoffs. Traffic accidents now turned over solely to the state troopers – themselves so badly funded that a few years ago, only six units worked the entire state during the night hours. And God alone knows what will happen the next time a major tornado tears through the area.

Meanwhile, the rest of the state’s tax structure remains as lopsidedly regressive as ever. The state can expect to run low on money for some time to come – with property values depressed, the already-weak property tax won’t be bringing in much. Income tax isn’t particularly reliable when people don’t have jobs. Only the sales tax chugs along, and at close to 10% in most areas – including on sales of food and medicine – it tends mainly to make a bad financial situation worse. And the average resident of Jefferson County, making $30,000 a year, has now saved a whopping $34 thanks to Beason’s valiant stand.

So there it is. This is the GOP vision for Alabama. And, by extension, for America. They’re already talking up Scott Beason for a run at governor, or the Senate. He’s got time. He’s only 41 years old.

And that’s the funny part. Because I know him. Not well, and not for years, but when he was in third grade, I was temporarily promoted out of first and into his class for most of the school year.

I was way smarter than him in 1978, too.

The Penney Drops

Apologies for the load-bearing pun before lunch, but there is it: Ron Johnson is leaving Apple to become CEO of JC Penney.

Well, if anybody can make something of them, it’s him. Apple’s retail stores were dismissed as a bad joke and a sure sign of impending doom…until they opened. Now they’re generally the most profitable square footage of any mall in which they open. Ron Johnson deserves as much credit as Himself or Jonny Ive for the stonking great decade turned in by the fruitmonger of Cupertino.

But now…

This is going to be interesting. It’s been hard for me to avoid the impression that the middle sector of American retail has been hollowed out. JCP is an afterthought at best, Sears is going out of business right left and center, all the old mall anchor stores of my youth are disappearing back East. The mid-range retail space is being gutted in favor of big-box and discount retailers at one end and posh expensive stuff at the other. There’s nothing really bridging the gap between Target and Nordstrom – oh, you could make a case for Macy’s, I suppose, but Macy’s West was never positioned like Macy’s nationally, at least based on what I understood from the wife’s description of the old days. I guess Belk is sort of in that space now back in the South.

The point is, it’s not just retail. Look at air travel – your choices are essentially between business/first class and Southwest, in terms of amenities and luxury. Look at mobile phones – you’re either splashing out for a smartphone or buying a $20 burner prepaid talk-and-text at 7-Eleven. It’s difficult to pitch a middle-of-the-road product anymore; you either have to offer amazing or cheap.

I assume that Ron will attempt to take JCP upmarket a little. Some reinvention, some redesign, some more well-known brands – he was, after all, a big part of the reinvention of Target as the “upscale” big-box retailer (relative to Wal-Mart or K-Mart). He takes over in November, so I’ll be curious to see if they come up with anything in time for Black Friday and the Christmas sale season…but for 2012 and beyond, I wouldn’t bet against him.

Graduation Weekend

It’s that time of year. Tents are going up, chairs and tables on heretofore empty patches of grass, and the air is electric with that peculiar blend of triumph tinged with melancholy – the cocktail of equal parts relief at leaving and panic at the future. It can only be graduation weekend.

God knows I remember it well. Not just in high school and college either. I remember it my first year at Vanderbilt, hearing songs that sounded like the end of the movie, wishing I’d had a little more of that vibe the year before, and mainly just being glad to have survived a philosophy seminar by the skin of my teeth with an incomplete. Beginning of the end, if I’d realized it, but I didn’t. And then, there was the graduation feel of leaving DC, with music on the iPod that evoked actual days in a gown and a mortarboard to drive home the point that I was about to leave the East Coast for good.

Graduation really is the regeneration moment. You go away and reappear elsewhere as somebody new, and as exciting a prospect as that is, it’s colored by the sadness that the person you’ve been for the last four (or seven) years isn’t going to be there anymore. And you find yourself wandering around campus, with the fug of honeysuckle or jasmine in the air, and sometimes time rolls back and you see yourself there that first week, looking at it all as if for the first time. And you mourn the things that you never got around to doing, and the people you never got to meet, and the person you’re not going to be anymore.

And then, you dump the mortarboard and unzip the polyester chrysalis, and emerge into the next stage of the real world. Onward and upward.


All year long, Baseball America inexplicably ranked Oregon State higher than anyone else with a poll – and invariably higher than a Vanderbilt team that was cleaning house on a run to the SEC co-championship. So the draw in the NCAA Baseball Tournament Super Regionals was exactly what the ‘Dores wanted.

Game one – OSU 1, Vandy 11.

Game two – Vandy 9, OSU 3.

NCAA Tournament thus far: Vandy (5-0) 46, Everybody Else Combined 7.

I don’t know whether the proper music is “The Dambusters March” for Aaron Westlake’s three home runs tonight, or “All Of The Lights” for the extra lighting ESPN brought in to broadcast in HD, or “Sweet Caroline” and “I’m Shipping Up To Boston” for all our Northeastern guys (we do so much Red Sox shtick that we even have Carl Yastrzemski’s grandson on the roster, and he had a homer in yesterday’s game), or “The Edge Of Glory” for Sonny Gray, first-round pick of the Oakland A’s, who with Grayson Garvin and Corey Williams and Will Clinard delivered masterful pitching for 18 innings…

…but if we have to go with just one song, it’s going to be the Pet Shop Boys.

We’re off to Omaha. ANCHOR DOWN!!