Well thank God for Vanderbilt athletics…

…because the travails of the Commodores have basically carried NaBloPoMo this year.  Apologies to the maybe three people actually reading this blog, who are probably all sick to death of Anchor Down and Who Ya Wit. ;]

Christmas season is upon us.  Lights are around the trees, peppermint mocha is in every coffee purveyor’s establishment, I came downstairs this morning and the tree was decorated, and right on time, the Killers have released this year’s Christmas track. “The Cowboys’ Christmas Ball” is a rootin’-tootin’ Western-influenced two-stepper, as you might expect, and you can really see the influence of Brandon Flowers’ Nevada-centric solo album from last year.  I’m about ready for them to get back in the studio and get to work on a fourth full album already.

Another nice touch is that the whole collection of Christmas tracks, one annually since 2006, is now available as an EP “album” from the iTunes Music Store in aid of World AIDS Day tomorrow.  I’ve written previously about “Joseph, Better You Than Me”, and last year’s single “Boots” was as perfect a melancholy slice of “you can’t go home again” as the season calls for.  Because Christmas, more than any other holiday, always brings with it the memory of days gone by and the bitter truth that things aren’t how they used to be.

This year, though, I’m going to try to focus on having a good holiday season.  These are the things you can normally only tell in retrospect, but I think I knew in 2008 that it was going to be a good one, with a job change coming up and Vanderbilt going to a bowl and not having to get on a plane in December.  2009 was less so, although that’s probably down to spending eight straight days in Alabama, and 2007 or 2010…well, that didn’t go well.

This year I’m reminded of 2006.  We did things, for sure, but in a lot of ways it was the year of the dull moment, of being settled into routine.  Perhaps coincidentally, it’s also the last time we took in a lodger.  Having other people around is good for conversation, good for help with the chores, good for occasionally sitting down to family dinner, and – in my case – good for the indulgence of football and vice.  Even if the vice has transitioned from whiskey and cigars to the casual Old Fashioned after finishing the dishes. (I’m still owed one, just for the record, and I intend to take it this evening if possible.)

My choice this year is to embrace the holiday.  Smother in it.  Go ahead and drink those peppermint mochas and sweat the cholesterol after first of the year.  Go ahead and start playing the Christmas songs the week of Thanksgiving while still at work, even the weird obscure British stuff about holly and the bleak midwinter and all those things that sound more like they ought to be part of a service at some Oxford chapel about six hundred years ago.  Hell, go for that first.  Keep creating confusion around presents to ensure some sense of surprise at what you actually get to open on the 25th.  Go to the parties.  Watch the movies.  Soak up the moment, every moment, and worry about the future when it gets here.

Easier said than done, I know, but I’m going to give it a shot nonetheless.

Words With Morons

I have made no secret over the years of how the words “please advise” as a sentence by themselves make me reach for my revolver.  And I don’t even have a revolver, despite my insistence over the years that tech support staff should be dressed like the Stig and armed to discourage random grabbing in hallways or cafeterias or bathrooms (not kidding).  The warning for IT staff should be like the warning posted behind MUNI drivers in San Francisco: “Information Gladly Given But Safety Requires Avoiding Unnecessary Conversation.”

The use of words and jargon outside their industry goes beyond the annoyance of people who say things like “a software”, though.  Take actual laboratory science, for instance, where the word “theory” has a very specific meaning.  Unfortunately, the rest of the world uses “theory” like scientists use “hypothesis” and that’s how we get the disdain of the holy rollers and their anti-intellectual enablers for things like “evolution is only a theory” or “global warming is only a theory.”

One problem we’ve experienced in every place I’ve ever worked stems from the rise of Mac OS X, a UNIX-alike multiuser system (as opposed to the old-style MacOS/DOS/BeOS single-user turn-it-on-and-go model).  We always run into problems over the fact that users invariably want “administrative rights.”  Now, in UNIX, the word “rights” has a very specific meaning in terms of defining what any given user (itself a word fraught with meaning, as it refers to an account rather than an individual) is capable of doing to a file or directory on a specific UNIX system.  I argued for years at my first job that we should avoid using the word “rights” simply because it was idiotic to provide any sort of nurture to the idea that any randomly selected person behind a desk should have final say over a company-owned resource, including the ability to lock out the IT department tasked with the support of the system.

Now, we find ourselves in a similar spot, a continent away: the combination of company policy and federal privacy and data security requirements will probably require us, at some point in the near future, to start messing around with the constellation of privileges for end-user accounts.  The problem is, this toothpaste is surpassing difficult to get back into the tube.  For one thing, there’s the prospect of laptop users running into problems while out and about that can’t be solved without administrative access (oddball networking issue?  Weird printer driver install?)  For another, there’s the added layer of difficulty with having to invoke support for heretofore routine tasks (are we going to have to walk around and run Software Update every week now?  Or do it through Remote Desktop? Are we going to staff up to meet the demand?)

The real problem, of course, is that there are occasional users who are very capable and self-sufficient and can be trusted not to do anything stupid to burn their computer down.  There are also people who call you up asking for “a software” that somebody told them will solve all their problems – you know, the ones who tend to have four toolbars installed in Internet Explorer.  Crafting a one-size-fits-all policy isn’t particularly good, but even more difficult is creating a mechanism by which the right people can get the right privileges while the people with their hands in the paste pot are prevented from doing anything foolish.  And worst of all are the toy-boys who want to run things like private VPN and remote control software and then put them on other folks’ computers as well.

Like it or not, if you’re going to run an IT environment with a limited support budget and staff, your only resort is to go full-on black shirt.  Lock everything down beyond belief and start unlocking only the things people need as they need them, until you hit some sort of equilibrium.  And ideally put folks on Macs with ARD, to make your life easier in terms of malware and stupid-ware.

Or you could just start handing out revolvers.

Message Discipline And Its Failings

If any proof were needed that the Occupy Wall Street movement has lost the plot, it was on offer Friday afternoon in San Francisco.  Traffic ground to a halt around Union Square as a crowd of protestors – complete with signs and drums, of course – camped out in the intersection of Post and Powell, which naturally provoked a chorus of car horns and not a small bit of opprobrium from shoppers.  Meanwhile, three cops on horseback rolled their eyes, but otherwise stood there doing nothing.  So what was being protested?  There were a few signs about “BUY NOTHING” and general anti-corporatist rage, and Black Friday is certainly the right time for such as that, but is that what the Occupy movement is about now?  Because if it is, Ed Earl Brown has tuned out.

You remember Ed Earl Brown, our notional middle-American.  He’s in dire straits, he’s underemployed, the wife’s barely keeping food on the table, the house is upside down and the mortgage isn’t great.  You know why Ed Earl’s wife was at Wal-Mart at stupid o’clock Friday morning?  Because the only way to make the Christmas dollars go far enough is to head down to the annual cattle run for $200 flat screens and hope not to get trampled, tased or pepper-sprayed.  Yes, kids, it’s bloodsport on Black Friday these days.

Ed Earl has a vague sense that something is very wrong with this country, that things have gone off the rails, that it shouldn’t be this way, that the deck is somehow stacked in favor of everyone who already has money.  Ed Earl would like to see Wells Fargo get theirs, or Bank of America, or one of these other financial entities that went to Vegas for a decade, got Uncle Sam to make them whole, and promptly turned on their own customers to squeeze them until the pips are squeaking, as if Matthew 18:25-35 were never written. (Look it up, you heathens.)

But Ed Earl does not identify with a bunch of bong-watered granola-shavers getting into fights with the cops.  Ed Earl is not down for the destruction of capitalism.  And if you ask Ed Earl what the Occupy movement is about, he’s probably not going to be able to tell you other than it looks like a bunch of hippies.

This is the shortcoming of OWS.  They rejected any idea that they should have a set of demands, which is fine – but they also failed to deliver a clear, sound-bite-friendly summation of their grievances.  And spare me the complaining about sound bites; if Our Lord could deliver a summation of Christianity in twenty-five words in John 3:16, nobody else has any excuse.  Come to think of it, if every OWS-related protest was waving signs that just said “MATTHEW 18:25-35” it would make a universe of difference in terms of perception and messaging.  But how hard is it to say “the banks got bailed out and went right back to doing the same things as always”?  How hard it is to find people who got baited-and-switched on mortgages, or improperly foreclosed on by banks who were crying to Uncle Sam with their hats in their hands three years ago?  How hard is it to keep the spotlight on the shenanigans of the financial sector and how there has been no accounting for their role in tanking the economy?

But no matter, the plot is well and truly lost.  Thanks to the usual suspects and their ill-informed amen corner in the professionally indignant left (looking at you, Naomi Wolf), it’s the age old hippies vs. cops tale, and the hippies are always going to lose that one.  The only thing turning the tide are the optics of UC-Davis campus police hosing down unarmed seated kids (with tuition-paying parents) with military-grade OC spray, and naturally the apologists of Fox are comparing it to a condiment. As opposed to contemplating the idea that local governments have militarized their police departments in the name of a “war on crime/drugs/whatever” that would give any actual anti-government true believer the screaming purple fits.  I mean, if you really do fear your government, wouldn’t you be a little concerned that the old-school revolver and billy club have been replaced with tasers AND pepper spray AND metal batons AND semiauto pistols with multiple magazines and over fifty rounds of ammo AND carbines or even submachine guns in the trunk of the car?  The pant-shitting militia types never seem to be bent out of shape over the fact that the local cop on the beat has a bigger and broader array of firepower than any workaday federal agent.

Long story short: the infinite distractability of the American public continues to act in the service of the 1%.  Anyone can tell you what’s wrong with this country, but nobody can focus long enough to do something about it.

Writer’s block

I have a couple or three topics to write on, but they all deserve more attention than I can give them at 8 PM on a Sunday night.  Maybe tomorrow I can gin something up.  In the meantime, I’m working on my playlists and my wish list.  It’s amazing what an optimistic turn the music takes when Vandy is headed for a bowl (although I don’t think I appreciated the fact in 2008 that we actually went .500 in conference).  It’s also noteworthy that my age-old plan – win all four non-conf games plus Ole Miss and Kentucky and that’s Big Six – worked out exactly like that this year.

As for presents this year, I don’t know – I pretty much have everything I need and there aren’t many things I want.  Maybe a new pair of boots, definitely some Brooks Brothers Vandy gear, that watch I’ve been eyeing (although that might make a more appropriate thing for my 40th birthday, come to think of it) – to be honest, all I want for Christmas in 2011 is as happy a Christmas season as I had in 2008.  I definitely feel more optimistic about the football than I did then – you can read the post and see that I didn’t feel we’d turned the corner – and I’m happier with the iPhone as an all-everything solution than I was then (although long-form text entry is still a bugaboo, and ESPN3 has been added to that).  And I did break down and buy more outerwear – that was the December I acquired “Vandy III”, my old reliable Columbia soft-shell.

One thing’s for sure – the netbook desire of 2008 has been quashed for good and turned into notional-iPad-3 desire…

Victory in Nashville

We didn’t buy in at first.

You can go back through the archives of the Vanderbilt blogosphere in December 2010 and see that we were…less than enthusiastic about the hiring of James Franklin.  Much of the disappointment, obviously, stemmed from the thought that we had (allegedly) thrown $21 million over 7 years at Gus Malzahn and been turned down, and some of it stemmed from the apparent lack of success in recent years for Maryland.  I knew Friedgen was on the way out, thanks to my DC pals, and the fact that they flaked on Franklin’s head-coach-in-waiting deal was discouraging.  There were questions about play-calling, there were questions about recruiting, and there was a general sense of malaise over the fact that once again, we went out and got somebody else’s coordinator instead of a known good proven BCS-conference coach.

What a difference a year makes.

From the first press conference, it looked like we had a winner.  From his first recruiting haul, it was apparent that he knew how to bring guys into the fold.  And tonight, at 6-6 in his first year, the most successful new Vanderbilt football coach in generations, it looks like James Franklin can coach.

Yes, we were 6-6 in 2008.  But this is a very different team.  We won in 2008 by playing teams close, no penalties, no turnovers, and just hanging around for sixty minutes.  When we won, we won close, and when we lost, we lost ugly.  This year, five of our six wins were by three touchdowns or more. Read that sentence again.  In our six losses, four were lost by a margin of six points or less. Read that sentence again.  Now consider this: one catch against Georgia, one fumble not lost against Arkansas, one field goal made and one of theirs missed at Florida, and one field goal made at Tennessee, and this team finishes the regular season 10-2, 6-2 in the conference, and – on the tiebreak – SEC East champion with a game next week against LSU.

This team, in one season, with almost the same players as last year, was five plays away from the SEC Championship Game.

Vice-Chancellor David Williams, it is said, was dialed in on James Franklin from the beginning.  And he was questioned for it.  In the cold light of midnight, it has to be said: his judgement is impeccable.

Fire two

Well, a side trip to Best Buy on Wednesday yielded up a second Kindle Fire on a back display that was NOT in “display only” mode.  More remarkably, the Wi-Fi was on and working and connected.  So I was able to actually take a pass at the web browser and see what’s doing.

It’s tough to make a solid evaluation in five minutes, but the browser seems to be within acceptable parameters.  It didn’t blow me away or anything, but it didn’t drag excessively or struggle with my usual array of websites.  There were a couple of rendering errors, but those were readily attributable to the ad-blocking on the in-store network.

The thing I keep coming back to is the lack of radio options – no Bluetooth (so no cheating with a keyboard for text input), no GPS (so no reliable mapping software), and no 3G (so stuck with whatever Wi-Fi is on offer).  What you have at that point is a slightly larger color display – which might be fine in conjunction with an iPhone as a larger reader, except that I already have the regular Kindle for reading purposes.  And the availability of e-ink for battery life and contrast/readability means that I would be on very thin ice to justify making a run at a Fire when I know that a notional iPad 3 would almost certainly serve me as a personal-laptop replacement.

I think I’ll withhold judgement on the Fire until after the holiday season so we can see what the long-tern performance is like (I especially want to see how buggy the fork of Android 2.3 is or isn’t).  But for now, it’s still not for me – I think the final sweet spot is still going to be 32 GB 3G-capable iPad for $730 rather than 4GB/128GB 11″ MBA for $1150.

What am I thankful for this year?

Well, if I had to pare it down, it boils down to:

1) Cuz and Blue Tarp, the relatives who are actually family, and who have now lived with us for four months.  It’s not going to last, because they’ll need their own place in the city, but for now I’m going to milk it for all it’s worth – family dinner, cocktail hours, and an infusion of youth and enthusiasm that we’re glad to mooch from.

2) Anchor of Gold, the Vanderbilt SBNation blog that gave me a spot on the masthead and made me a sportswriter for the first time in seventeen years.  And while I’m at it, Vanderbilt athletics generally, for making the leap in multiple sports.  College World Series, top-ten basketball, and now a football team on the way up.

3) Apple products, which have given me a living ever since washing out of grad school.

4) ‘Er indoors, who brings home the bacon AND fries it up in the pan.  Love you, sugar.

5) I’m exceptionally thankful for the fact that we’re not going to be getting on a plane this holiday season.  For many reasons.

flashback, part i of N

I say part i because it never really happened.  In fact, I don’t know how it came to be that I was only cognizant of the night before Thanksgiving as “National Throw Back Drinks With Your Old Friends Before Enduring Your Relatives Night.”  Now, something of the sort did transpire (famously) in 1994, but my memory being what it is, I tend to remember it more being Christmas than Thanksgiving.

But my mind being sort of retrojective anyway, I can fill in the gaps myself.  I know there was a hockey game at least once, with drinks in the hotel bar across the street after with players.  I know there probably would have been a movie at some point, preferably something laugh-your-ass-off-ish a la The Naked Gun or similar.  Then something to drink, which in the mid-90s would have probably meant the Garages, a decade before it turned up in the New York Times.

Now?  If the deed were being done, I’d almost surely insist on Dram, the whiskey bar in Mountain View that actually has a huge selection of bourbons broken down by Kentucky county (along with bacon infusions).  I’d also need my designated driver for sure, because it’s not like fifteen years ago where a mid-20s metabolism polished off the alcohol of two bottles of Jack Daniels Amber Lager almost as fast as I could drink it.  Or maybe the XYZ bar in the Aloft hotel in Homewood.  Or hell, maybe the very nice cocktail options at Little Savannah.  That thing with allspice syrup and a stout reduction was amazing.

The evening’s entertainment otherwise?  Almost certainly Bottletree, which appears to be ground zero for the kind of entertainment we would have killed for when I was a permanent resident of the 205.  A couple of beers and the spectacle of Open Mic Night would probably be in order.

And of course, in spirit if nothing else, there ought to be a table at a certain pub in Cleveland Park the night before Thanksgiving, with the Wolfe Tones and McTeggarts and 40 Thieves and (of course) Springsteen and Petty and ABBA on the jukebox, before we get scattered to Pennsylvania and New Jersey and Virginia and New York and Chicago and California and Alabama and God only knows where else.

But right now, I guess I’m just grateful that my foot won’t touch an airplane gangplank again in 2011.


OK, I’m going to take a break from “to hell with the SEC” long enough to discuss something else.  What else?  Mobile technology.

So when Google launched the Nexus One, there was – infamously – nowhere to see it in person.  There was a Flash animation on the website that you could hold your hand up to (I am 100% serious this is not a joke), but if you wanted to see one in person, your choices were down to either ordering one or finding somebody who already had it.  It didn’t last very long, and when the Nexus S replaced the One, Google didn’t make the same mistake again – the Nexus S was available at Best Buy.

Now the second revision of the Chromebook is out – and once again, the same mistake.  If you want to see a Chromebook, your options are apparently fourfold:

1) Buy one

2) Find someone who bought one

3) Check one out on the SFO-JFK route on Virgin America airways

4) Visit the Samsung Experience store in New York City


Google has been taken to task elsewhere for this, and rightly so – the target market for these machines isn’t in New York City flying Virgin or throwing $300 blindly for a new gadget.  The Chromebook needs to be in Target, in Wal-Mart, in Sears, and yes, in Best Buy – which inexplicably sells them through the website but not in store.

Which in turn leads us to the Kindle Fire, which I finally saw in person on Saturday.  Naturally, my first instinct was to test the web browser, so I tapped “Web” which brought up what appeared to be some sort of glasses-shopping website…and a movie clip overlay, extolling the virtues of the browser.  And as soon as the movie finished, the Fire closed everything gracefully and sent me back to the “bookshelf” launcher screen.

I tried everything I could to pause the movie, skip it, interrupt it – but there was no means by which I could get to the web browser to, you know, actually use it.  And my first instinct is the same as a movie reviewer who doesn’t get to preview a film before release: how big a dog is this if you’re not allowed to field-test it?  Make no mistake, the reviewers have not heaped praise on the browser’s speed, despite the back-end proxy that’s supposed to handle everything but display rendering – so couple that with the “demo movie” replacement for actual, you know, browsing, and my first instinct is, red flag.  Rightly so, I think.

(Not that it would necessarily help.  Best Buy tends to set out a lot of tablets and then forget to make sure the wireless is working.)

Here you see the genius of Ron Johnson (and Steve Jobs through him) in the Apple Store – here’s an environment where you can actually see all the products.  Pick them up, poke them, use them.  There are messages in the mail client, songs on the iPods, apps on the iPads, live Wi-Fi so you can actually check out websites.  Hell, you can pick up the iPhones and FaceTime back and forth.

People can go on a website if they want to buy a pig in a poke.  If somebody comes into a store to look at the product, it stands to reason they want to get more of an evaluation than they could get by looking at Flash movies online.

The cold light of morning, part 2

“Never attribute to malice that which can adequately be explained by stupidity.”

-Hanlon’s Razor


“Any sufficiently advanced stupidity is indistinguishable from malice.”

-Gray’s Law


“On the last play of the Vanderbilt-Tennessee game, in overtime, the Tennessee defender intercepted the pass, his knee did not touch the ground and he returned the interception for a touchdown. During the play, the head linesman incorrectly ruled that the Tennessee player’s knee was down when he intercepted the pass by blowing his whistle and giving the dead ball signal. The play was reviewed as if there was no whistle on the field, and as a result, overturned the incorrect ruling. By rule, if there was a whistle blown, the play is not reviewable.”

-Steve Shaw, SEC Coordinator of Officials




If I understand correctly, the sequence of events went like this:

1) Jordan Rodgers threw his third pick (and fourth turnover) of the game.  Make no mistake, we lost this game because of turnovers, not officiating.  Explaining why we lost is not the point of this exercise.

2) The Tennessee defender was hit, but did not go down, and took off running.

3) The head linesman blew the play dead and pointed at the ground, by which point the Tennessee player and his convoy had long since headed for the end zone.

4) Derek Dooley did *not* challenge the ruling on the field, believing that the whistle was not reviewable.  (I am going here by what I remember from his postgame remarks, but I recall him being defensive about this fact and desiring to explain to the fans at the time that the reason he wasn’t challenging was because it wasn’t a reviewable play.)

5) The play was reviewed, it was determined that the knee was in fact not down, and the touchdown stood.

So what we have here is a case where an official screwed up by blowing a whistle when he shouldn’t have.  At that point, the officiating crew made the decision to review a call that, by rule, is not reviewable.

Again, I am not saying the officiating cost us the game.  The outcome was what should have happened to begin with, were the play called with no errors.  So let’s not act like we’re trying to make excuses for the loss with this.  The point is this: if the officials can ignore rules to cover their own mistakes, how much confidence do you have in their officiating the rest of the way?

The one thing that can be said with certainty: if the rumblings are true that the linesman denied blowing the whistle, he should never set foot in an SEC stadium again.