The Last Day

And after all that, here we are.  3,653 days after turning 30 in a cloud of angst and regret, Yer Man will turn 40 tomorrow.

What kind of a decade has it been?  Eventful, to be sure.  Setting aside world affairs – war in the Middle East, economic calamity, BLACK PRESIDENT, the explosion of mobility computing and Apple’s rise to the largest company in the world – it’s been a little crazy for me.  I caught the fever for California, clocked an MVP year in DC, then swapped one household name for another and moved 3000 miles.  I got married.  I got an office.  I got my knee scoped, twenty years too late, and changed jobs two more times as part of what I can only describe as the worst fit of clinical depression I’d had in two decades not tied to the death of a parent.  I got a raise.  I got drugs. I got a Rabbit.  I got an iPhone or…um, six.

Looking back, I’d say that I’ve accomplished exactly one thing on my own in ten years: I luck-boxed into a contract position at Apple which turned into a staff hire.  Other than that, my luck has mostly been other people: the guys I fought shoulder-to-shoulder with from 1997 to 2004, who made it possible for me to make my way in Silicon Valley and survive for seven years and counting.  The boss in California who wheedled an interview with not one but two different post-Apple employers to make sure I wouldn’t starve. The surrogate big sister I never thought I wanted until she moved in with us for a year. The cousins who gave me real honest-to-God blood family again. The merry band of high school mutants that rose from the dead twenty years later to give me back an anchor in the past. The cloud of Cal and Vandy supporters who took my nonsense drivel seriously and made it possible to resume my career as a sportswriter seventeen years later. The coven of geniuses in Cupertino whose vision and drive made possible the gadgets on which I can still make my living fifteen years after Michael Dell argued for shutting down Apple and giving the money back to the shareholders (which might be the best move for Dell in 2012).

And behind it all, every step of the way, from the icy sidewalks of Northern Virginia to the cold foggy deck of the Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay, from the humidity of a Southern highway to the chapel and officer’s club on Treasure Island, from the Caltrain platform to the Jubilee Line on the London Underground – her.  The one who keeps the dream alive, even on the days when I’m not exactly sure what the dream is.

Maybe the things I want for my birthday aren’t things I can have.  But the things I’ve got, I wouldn’t trade for nothin’.

Two years ago, I flew back from a trip to Washington DC to see my old gang.  We met, we hollered, we closed the pub again – but I also got to see their families, play with their kids, and see life beyond the daily battles of seven years ago.  And as the plane was taxiing back into SFO, I heard this song on the in-flight entertainment, and I had one of those moments of epiphany, and I decided – it’s okay to grow up.

And so – forward, as gracefully as I’m capable of, which is honestly not that graceful.  Stick around – if nothing else, the spectacle ought to be entertaining.


(13) FLORIDA   67




We finally get a home upset over a ranked opponent.  On Senior Night.  The guys playing their last home game all stepped up in a big way – Jeffrey Taylor and Brad Tinsley in particular just willed this team back in front of Florida and would not let up.  You could tell the 44 Special wasn’t going home without the win – and the ESPN camera caught him in the last minute of the game blinking back tears and swallowing the odd sob.

These guys were the most heralded recruiting class in Vanderbilt history. And yet, not one of them has ever won a game in the NCAA tournament. You can see it in their eyes – midnight is coming, and they are going to do everything in their power to stop their clock striking twelve.

Since 2008, March has meant disaster for the Commodores – the Stallings era has meant a loss in every season finale bar one, and the team has yet to make it to the SEC title game.  And then there’s the one-and-done streak.  But for the first time all year, I’m starting to believe that if by life or death the Dores can stave off elimination, they will.

It’s going to be a big month.

A Fugitive Looks At Forty

“Don’t cry…it’s only a teenage wasteland.”

That was my senior yearbook quote.  It was truer than I knew – I meant it as a sort of “don’t worry, this will all be over soon enough” but in retrospect, it’s more like “look, this is real life, the whole world is like high school – so you may as well learn not to cry over it.”

My original concept for this post was six-plus months in the making and pushing 8,000 words.  After reviewing it, I decided it was the most pathetic self-serving sorry-for-myself whine-tasting imaginable, so I figured I would hit the high points and try to squeeze something good out of it.  So here goes.

Looking back, the two formative traumas of my life were easy to pick out: the mistake of undergrad and the premature loss of my father.  Given that I spend most of my life wanting to go to college, it’s not surprising that I would feel the void for years when it didn’t work out – and after bombing out of grad school and losing my father almost a year later, it’s not surprising that I sort of went bye-bye for about a year and change.  So – time to start unpacking this. What did I want out of my college experience? The Real Genius scenario. A girlfriend (which didn’t exactly work out. Twice). A sporting affiliation – tailgating, rush the court, wear the colors, paint the face. Hanging out on the dorm quad. Prank hacking a la MIT. The gang, the clique, the crew, whatever.

The person I am today was, for all intents and purposes, born in greater Washington DC.  With no college friends, my family disrupted, an undergrad experience I didn’t want to claim and a grad school stint I didn’t feel I could, I basically started life fresh and rebuilt myself there.  And I put together a team and a gang and an experience there that almost made up for college – I sort of made the EUS into my college pals, with the Redskins as our varsity team and the 4Ps as our dorm quad. Guys graduated (Casman, the Lyon King, etc) and new talent came on (Fred, the Scotsman, the Daves). I had different “roommates”, different girlfriends, and eventually “graduated” myself and left town (right down to all of the graduation imagery in my iTunes playlists at the time and my parting email to my co-workers). So can I somehow persuade myself that was enough? That the seven years in DC can backfill for those seven lost college years?

My problem, ultimately, is that I don’t have the memories I wish I had from the college years.  Or maybe it’s that I did get everything I dreamed of, but in an extremely delayed and deconstructed form – and if you’re wrapping up your college experiences ten years later than normal, it stands to reason that you’d be in denial about how old you really are.  At some level, I think I must still believe I’m in grad school – that I can drink ALL THE DRANKS, stay up late, stand and scream nonstop through three-hour ballgames, go bounding up the stairs two at a time – and because I spent so much time living alone and keeping vampires’ hours, waited so long to get married, have no kids, work in a college environment, have Cal football tickets, blog about Vandy basketball, swap tweets with players half my age…at some level, I almost convince myself I’m still in that space. But I’m really not.  I’m a little wobbly after two quick drinks, I need to be in bed before midnight, I stay seated for everything but third down on defense, and most weekends I just want to be away from folks and in my own home.

I think part of the delusion is fed by that big black hole in my 20s – having failed to use up my full allotment of insouciant youth, I think I should somehow still be entitled to it.  Like it or not, though, that youth shit has an expiration date.  A while back, I told my wife that I’d rather be 60 and trying to act 40 than to be 40 and trying to act 20.  There’s just something about switching from a 3 to a 4 in front that changes things, that makes things more foolish, that makes some things seem more immature than ever.  A 30-something can still brandish a Nerf gun behind the desk to ward off his co-workers.  A 40-something just seems ridiculous. At 40, the songs of your childhood creep into oldies range and you start worrying about the health of your parents and their friends.  40 is where the end of teenager-dom – which I clearly remember being full of regret and nostalgia for me – is officially half my life ago.

Forty is the age that forces you to stop pretending.

Let’s be honest – on paper, I should be great at being 40.  I’ve spent my whole life being too mature and responsible for my age.  I’ve been smoking a pipe off and on for twenty years already and drinking whiskey on the rocks for at least fifteen.  I would stand in the pub as a single young late-twenty-something and have sweet young things telling me how much I reminded them of their grandfather.  But I have to accept that yes, I did let some of the best years of my life run out from under me, and they’re gone for good – and more importantly, I have to figure out how not to resent it or dwell on it.

I’ve spent years and years mulling over how to solve that puzzle – that there must be some solution which would make it all make sense, make it all worthwhile.  Because that’s what I’ve done my whole life.  Pick the correct answer.  Solve the word problem.  Troubleshoot the glitch.  There’s some piece to figure out that makes everything work again, scores the point, provides the solution – and if I find the magic formula, it not only makes everything worthwhile, it fixes everything – and the void’s not there anymore.

The only problem is with trying to find the solution is that this time there isn’t one. At some point, you have to find a way to acknowledge that shit happens, that life is full of randomness and it doesn’t always work out or even mean anything, that we live in a world of chaos and entropy – and you have to find your own light.  And for someone whose worldview has always depended on consistent rules and logical solutions, the real world is ever more difficult to cope with.

And thus we get to where I am now.  I have an amazing wife, and a good solid job, and a nice house and a pretty good car.  I have 12Mbps broadband at home, and HD television, and a lightweight laptop at work and a miracle of a cell phone in my pocket.  I have a little bit of a reputation as a Vandy blogger, and real-life friends and acquaintances that serves me for a social life of sorts.  I have a routine, and a place to lay my head, and I try not to think too far down the road.  The goal is to live in the now, in the moment – free of both the tyranny of memory and the trap of expectations.

That’s not a problem with a solution either.  You just do it, and hope nobody looks too closely at how.

Or to put it another way, there’s another line from the same Who song that should be the yearbook quote as I graduate from my thirties. If I can live by that, I ought to be just fine.

“Don’t need to fight to prove I’m right/I don’t need to be forgiven…”

Built to Last

About a decade ago, I went through a phase of Zippo lighter collection which lasted about a year or so, maybe slightly longer.  It started with an outlier – a brass pipe-lighter Zippo bought in 1997 – and really picked up around late 1999 with the second Zippo, a black-finished Guinness lighter.  I wound up with seven or eight, once buying a really old Vanderbilt-engraved Zippo from eBay, but never bought another one after buying the Zippo with the pewter image of an eagle head (a Harley-Davidson design) in September 2001 – it remained my principal carry lighter until well after moving to California.

Along the way, I had the thought that I was buying these with some notional future progeny in mind – not necessarily my own, mind you, but a nephew perhaps (I had just obtained one).  A couple of the lighters were millennial commemoratives – one in a titanium alloy and one with a nice satin finish – and it made me think that, like my misbegotten varsity jacket from senior year of undergrad, I could pass them along to somebody else who would think it was cool to have Uncle Stagger’s lighter or coat or what have you.

And I could do that, because the basic design of the Zippo hasn’t budged in almost a century.  You could go out and get an old crackle-finish World War II army lighter, pop a flint in it, fill it with anything flammable – gasoline, Ronsonol, fingernail polish remover, you name it – and strike it and light a fire.  It’s as elegant a design as you could ask for: simple, reliable, a minimum of moving parts and an even smaller minimum of consumables.

Naturally the lighters went with the pipes – nineteen of them, in a rack probably as old as me, most of them older than me and bought by my late father in his college years or the decade thereafter.  I have smoked all of them at least once, mostly in that same rough era from 1999 to 2001, but ultimately wound up buying and carrying assorted pipes of my own for fear of damaging any more of his (like the Walt Disney World pipe, which is literally irreplaceable and which I broke already, damn my luck).

And to round out the catalog of vice, there’s the Browning Sweet Sixteen, the last real gun I own, kept safely away in Alabama (because I don’t need it here, because nobody here wants to kill people like me). It was originally my grandfather’s, bought – when? Who knows?  The Browning A-5 semiautomatic shotgun is a design that goes back to 1898 – it’s nineteenth century technology.  But then again, the Marines in Force Recon are still using a firearm whose basic design is a hundred years old.

All this springs to mind because I have about decided that based on current rumblings and speculation, I’m going to go for the notional iPad 3 if and when it comes out – simply because I’ve decided I need a personal portable computer and a second laptop is just idiotic.  Factor in the superior battery life relative to the 11″ MacBook Air, possible higher screen resolution, potential LTE support and Verizon/GSM interoperability (assuming it follows the iPhone 4S), the A-GPS support, the possible integration of Siri, and a presumable bump in speed, memory and overall performance – and then the cost difference destroys the laptop for good.

But how long can you expect it to last and be viable?

As it stands, we are more or less conditioned by our cellular provider to expect to turn over phones every two years.  It’s almost impossible to get a contract shorter than 24 months now; for a while Verizon even had a “New Every Two” promotion which explicitly encouraged you to switch your phone with your contract renewal.  The iPhone has followed the same path; if you have last year’s iPhone you’ll probably not feel a burning need to have the newest model, but if you have the one before that you’re really going to want to make the move.  (Apple’s ability to keep this up for three years now has been effective to the point of sinister.)

The iPad, though, has remarkably similar innards to an iPhone.  Features and processor tend to hop back and forth; a new processor debuts in the iPad and turns up in the iPhone six months later while the iPhone’s front-facing video chat pops up in the new iPad six months after that.  Based on that, you would expect this notional iPad 3 to be interoperable between Verizon and GSM services and offer Siri support, but the rumblings of LTE mean anything’s possible in terms of network support.  You just know Apple would love to ship one unit for everyone, though.

I say all that to say this: it’s possible that we could wind up in a world where we replace iPads every two years instead of laptops every three to four.  It would be about the same cost financially, most likely.  Maybe the original iPad can have a third year coaxed out of it; we’ll have to see what iOS 6 is like when it finally drops.  Maybe the original iPad can keep going just fine with iOS 5 so long as the battery holds out.

But then what?

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: our industry isn’t built to last. The most enduring standard we have is cat-5 cable for networking; that’s been the done thing for a good fifteen years now.  I suppose you can make a case that USB has stood the test of time, having aced out ADB and PS2 connectors to become the universal peripheral standard and even picked up pretty good speed in its USB3 form.  But in my computing lifetime, I’ve seen the rise and fall of the 3.5″ floppy, the Zip disk, the AAUI connector for Ethernet, the CD-ROM, the Apple Display Connector – hell, I bought the first model of PowerPC-based Apple Macintosh and I was there the day they turned the key and went Intel.*  And I’ve learned that if your computer is more than about five years old, you can pour all manner of money into repairs and upgrades, but it’s going to be made obsolete.  You’ll need a newer OS, or a newer version of Office, or a newer browser that requires a newer OS, or something, and then your goose is cooked.

When I was leaving DC for the West, almost eight years ago, the new hotness was the Powerbook G4 12″, also known as “the blogger’s delight.”  It was compact, powerful, everything you needed in one easy package, and they sold like mad.  I coveted it like nothing before, and when I had the opportunity (in August 2004), I asked for it on the first day and clutched it to my bosom as if I would never let go.

Now, seven years later, that laptop cannot run the current version of Mac OS.  Or the one before that, or even the one before that.  It’s stopped dead as of mid-2007 as far as the operating system is concerned, which means you can forget about modern versions of Firefox.  You can forget about Google Chrome, period.  Or Office 2011.  You need an external camera attached for videoconferencing.  Its wireless tops out at 802.11g and its display is rigidly fixed at 1024×768, and God help you if you’ve gotten the LCD to last this long.  Hell, the machine that replaced it as the blogger’s delight – the first black polycarbonate MacBook – has a cracking case and struggles to run Lion itself, and its entire product line no longer exists.

Someone – I wish I could remember who and cite them properly – wrote of the first iPhone, on the day of its release, words to the effect of “It saddens me to hold this magical thing and realize that in five years it’ll be gathering dust in the back of a drawer.”  And sure enough, we’re five years out from that world-changing announcement, and my original iPhone is tucked in a box for safekeeping with my DC work badge and my first brass Zippo and some other priceless personal treasures.  It’s dented, it’s scratched, the battery’s probably done for, and even if you fired it up, you’re stuck with the OS version before last.

Maybe it’s a memento mori from bearing down on forty at breakneck speed (one week to go!), but the older I get, the more inclined I am to want to buy something that I could use for the rest of my life.  Like my peacoat.  Or my Timbuk2 bag (and oh how I wish I still had the original).  Hopefully there is a day coming where you can just keep upgrading one piece at a time – I know there was talk of a recyclable laptop project at Stanford that was completely modular and theoretically upgradable in perpetuity, and it’s thoughts like that which make me want to keep an eye on Linux and the idea that somebody could roll me an operating system to run on standard parts anywhere.

But maybe this is what Moore’s Law drives us to.  We find ways to use the increasing processor power, or ways to squeeze more out of it while saving energy, and we end up with entire categories of product we never knew we needed and now can’t do without.  And the rate of change is so fast – you could still get away with tooling around in a 1956 Chevy Bel-Air Nomad, but heaven help the geek who wants to try to get through the day on a 2004 Nokia 6620.


* No, seriously – I was in the Apple booth at MacWorld San Francisco 2006, when they announced they were shipping Intel-based hardware starting that very day, and I drove a pre-production unit back to Cupertino to put on a plane.  It was a unique experience.

Less of a tablet, more of a pill

I found myself in Best Buy again today, looking at the tablet selection, and debating what the best move would be for me.  Being as I have a phone, the 4- and 5-inch tablets are pointless (and Samsung’s assumption that they’re going to put the smack down on Apple with a 5-inch tablet with a stylus is the funniest fucking thing I ever heard in my life. They should call that doorstop the Galaxy Newton) and if you’re going to 10, you may as well have an iPad and get much better value for money.  So my sweet spot is in the 7-8 inch tablet space, which appears to be the area the Android business is congealing around.  Kindle Fire, Nook Tablet, whatever.

The first thing you get is that it’s basically impossible to test a tablet in Best Buy, because they’re all on these stands – a straight post with a tilted hole for the humongous plastic thing bolted to the tablet, so that you’re presented with the tablet at a nice diagonal in portrait mode.  The flip side of that is that it’s impossible to test things like touch typing, because you can’t lay it flat on the table – nor can you even really rotate it to landscape mode on the post.  Strike one.  Then you’re at the mercy of whether the Wi-Fi is activated and whether it works.  Strike two.  And once you get past all that – what?  How are you supposed to evaluate an email client or a Foursquare app or Netflix if you don’t want to type your own account information into a public Android device that has God only knows what in the way of security or clean refresh?

The other problem with the tablets in this space is that they’re all Android and all running a mishmash of operating systems.  Some are Honeycomb, some are still using Gingerbread, and they all have the manufacturer’s own UI layered over top of Android proper.  Hell, even the 8″ Vizio tablet at Costco for $200 has its own custom Vizio UI.  The only way to get a pure Android UI is to either buy a reference device (i.e. Nexus) or a developer device from Google, or else roll the dice on a company too small and poor to build a custom UI of their own – in which case you’re probably not going to be getting a current version of the OS anyway.

“Open! Open! Open!  Android is open!”  Which is fine if you’re prepared to code and compile yourself an OS version for your device.  For the remaining 99.99% of tablet users, it means looking online to see if there’s a Cyanogen version for your device and what features don’t work yet if you run it, or whether they’ve managed to jailbreak the manufacturer’s protection scheme to even start trying, or which programs are compatible and which markets work for you.  Only Amazon seems to have really figured this out, and they did it by pulling an Apple – forking the code, creating their own branch of Android, putting it on a single device and curating their own dedicated app store.

There’s a forthcoming book all about Apple’s cult of simplicity (and how to apply it to your own work and business) – and it really is true.  Compared to the crowded and cluttered keyboards I dealt with today, the one on the iPhone is clean and clear.  There’s one home button, it’s big and mechanical and hard to miss, and it does the same thing every time on every device – as opposed to completely different arrangements in Android 2, 3 and 4.  When you go to the Apple store, you’re not dealing with a post and a big metal thing, you’re picking up a tablet from the table (with a discreet wire tethering it at one corner) and using it more or less like you would – because it’s populated with software, with mail, with pictures that you can test and manipulate and even delete if you like.

Simple isn’t easy.  Simple is hard.  Simple takes work.  Apple, from the beginning of the Mac era, said “we’re going to do the work to make this simple so you don’t have to.”   So far, the Android cluster is more than willing to leave the work for me.  And as somebody who does tech support all day for a living, the last damn thing I want to do is come home tonight and troubleshoot my own shit for hours on end.

So as much as I would like to experiment with Android – real, true, unadulterated Android – I have to concede that it’s going to be basically impossible, barring a sudden rush of reasonably-priced Ice Cream Sandwich-based tablets worth sinking $200 or $300 just for the sake of playing around.  And the odds are pretty good that before that happens, Apple will drop yet another $500 tablet that makes all the $200 and $300 look like a false economy.  And for a device that may only be viable for two or three years, the last thing you need is to scrimp on cost up front and then go around gimped for a couple of years with no upgrades on the horizon.

Of which more later.

Why The Pac-12 Network Matters

The latest racial flap at ESPN only bears home the point: ESPN is too big.  Too powerful, “too big to fail,” an inappropriately oversized part of the economy of sports.  ESPN has immense power, which generally gets used in the service of (in no particular order) the Yankees, the Red Sox, Duke basketball, Brett Favre, Tim Tebow, USC football, the BCS, Boise State football, UConn women’s basketball, the NFL generally, SEC football teams with 10 or more wins…and now Jeremy Lin, who has the peculiar luck to be a massive novelty – an Ivy League point guard of Asian descent in the NBA – who just happens to be having his hot streak in New York.

You frequently hear it said that ESPN doesn’t care about anything past the East Coast, or south of the Meadowlands, or outside the New York-Boston axis.  And if you’re not on the chosen list, you probably have a case.  But ESPN has the BCS, Monday Night Football, they operate the SEC Network, they have the NBA, they more or less own the entire bowl game system, they have a lot of major league baseball, and they have a disproportionately huge grip on coverage of college sports.  Contractually, there’s no way for Fox Sports, or Comcast Sports Net, or the NBC Sports Network Formerly Known As Versus to keep up.

The Big Ten went first, creating their own channel, but the Pac-12 is out to do them one better.  In six months, they will launch not one, not two, but SEVEN networks – a national Pac-12 channel and one regional channel for each of the traditional pairings (Washington, Oregon, Arizona, NorCal, SoCal, and now Mountain for Colorado/Utah).  They will be available on the four largest cable systems in the country from launch day.  They will be available for streaming to your computer, or iPhone, or iPad.  And they will make it possible for a fan of a Pac-12 school, in theory at least, to literally see every single sporting event in which his school participates.

This is no small undertaking, and the repercussions are huge.  The Pac-12 owns 100% of the network – it’s operated by Fox but the money is going to Walnut Creek.  It will immediately have a hammerlock on coverage of possibly the best Olympic sports league in the world – if Cal alone were its own country it would have easily been a top-10 medal winner in each of the last two summer Olympics – and the right and ability to sell that coverage abroad.  It can generally feature a national contender in almost every collegiate sport – Stanford alone boasts a total of 101 NCAA national championships to date.  Your history, or geography, or comparative strength, nothing matters – if you’re a Pac-12 athlete, you’re going to be playing for a potential national audience every time out.

Five years ago, the Pac-10 was perhaps the most lackadaisically-run conference in college football.  The cable contract was with Fox Sports, and if you weren’t the Pac-10’s number one football game, nobody in the country was likely to see you.  Top-5 teams were relegated to Saturday nights at 10:30 PM Eastern time on a channel in the high 600s.  And bowl games?  Aside from the Rose Bowl, the Pac-10 couldn’t care less.

Now, every Pac-12 football game will be televised.  The conference has the most electrifying broadcaster in college sports, Gus Johnson, as its number-one play-by-play man.  Bowl tie-ins go deeper than fifth place.  And just in time for the 2012 football season, there’ll be a way for anyone with an Internet connection to see the games.  And all of this depends on ESPN not at all.

When someone expressed incredulity that the Pac-12 studios would be in San Francisco, Spencer Hall – the best living college football writer – replied “Of course, that’s where Starfleet headquarters is.”  He knows.  The Pac-12 has run out to the leading edge of the future of college athletics broadcasting, and they’re going to jump.

The Good Old Days

Well, they’ve only gone and done it now.  It looks as if the GOP is actually going to nail its colors to the mast in 2012 on the proposition that employers should have the legal right to refuse to provide health care on grounds of “moral conviction”, and that any company of any kind or any size can get out of paying for contraceptive care as long as the boss is sufficiently Catholic.

I mean, look at what happened here.  The bishops went mental saying that Catholic entities like hospitals shouldn’t have to pay for birth control.  Obama backs down, saying that insurers will have to bear the burden of providing it free of cost so the assorted institutions aren’t on the hook at all.  And the bishops’ response  – aided and abetted by the GOP in the Senate – actually doubles down, saying that NO company should be obligated to pay for birth control.

Meanwhile, the backer of Rick Santorum’s primary SuperPAC* goes on TV and rolls out the terrible prehistoric crack about the aspirin between the knees as birth control, which was probably funny for about ten minutes in 1961 but could not possibly do more to cement the fact that the Republican ethos in 2012 is that most Southern of beliefs: we can make things the way they used to be.

This is it.  When they invoke the past, that’s what they mean.  Not a manufacturing base that was heavily unionized, not a top marginal tax rate of 91%, not nuclear-tipped stalemate against the Soviet Union. What they’re peddling is cultural hegemony.  Homosexuals back in the closet.  Negroes quietly in their place.  Ladies who know their place is in the home.  That’s the pitch.  They can’t run on a rapidly improving economy, with GM posting record profits after the federal restructuring and unemployment slowly waning and Apple passing oil companies in revenue while carrying the S&P 500.  They can’t run on foreign policy, with Bin Laden and Qaddafi’s faces painted on the “kills” fuselage of Obama’s administration.

So this is it.  Pleasantville.  They’re pushing all their chips to the middle of the table and betting that enough people want to live through Mad Men again that they can knock off a President who isn’t even the right color.  As stunning as it is, we’re apparently going to spend the spring 0f 2012 re-litigating Griswold v. Connecticut and exhuming pre-Vatican II debates about the Pill, fifty years after the fact.

That’s your choice this year. That’s the whole campaign, that’s the motto and the mission statement for Team Obama, that’s all you need to run on:

Forward, not backward.



* Santorum is out lashing back and saying that he’s no more on the hook for what Foster Friess says than Obama is for the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.  Maybe, maybe not, but Wright wasn’t the guy bankrolling the Obama campaign, so that dog won’t hunt, son…

The Big V

So people* ask me “Now look here, son, you were the biggest foe of Verizon imaginable six or seven years ago.  How come all of a sudden you’re angling to get on with them and ditch AT&T?”  Well, there’s a very good reason – things have changed.  Three things, actually, and I will enumerate them as follows:

1) HARDWARE LOCK-IN.  At the time that I wanted nothing to do with Verizon, there were THREE (3) GSM carriers in this country, and an unlocked phone gave you the promise of moving between AT&T, Cingular and T-Mobile more or less at will since almost all phones had 850 and 1900 Mhz capability.  Fast-forward to the present day, and there are only two GSM carriers, using different frequency bands for 3G coverage – AT&T in the 850/1900 space and T-Mobile solely in 1700 Mhz.  And there is only one phone in the world that I know for a fact has the ability to do 3G in both bands – the GSM Galaxy Nexus, which is not available in this country.

So at this point, SIM locking is a formality for going abroad – you have absolutely no portability between US carriers anymore unless you’re willing to use your phone at the hottest speeds of 2006 on whatever is the “other” carrier between AT&T and T-Mobile.  And at that point, you may as well pick whoever you can live with for two years.

2) APPLE. The iPhone is unique among American mobile phones in that it shows no marks of the carrier – there is no branding (you will never see an AT&T or Verizon logo etched on an iPhone), there are no carrier apps that can’t be uninstalled, there is no standard carrier UI (like Verizon was forcing onto all their regular phones four years ago), and the carrier has absolutely no sway over what gets installed (there is no locking out Bluetooth, as Verizon famously did with the Moto V710, or anything like Verizon’s neutering of Google Wallet on the Nexus Galaxy). The iPhone device experience is the same on any carrier – which means at that point, you’re down to…

3) THE NETWORK.  Verizon’s network was never optimized for data coverage.  Most of their “largest nationwide network” was still relying on analog footprint for a very long time, and the EV-DO-based 3G famously doesn’t allow for simultaneous voice and data transmission.  And in fact, to all analysis, the top speed on EVDO is slower than the top speed on WCDMA/UMTS-based 3G (a la AT&T).


AT&T has simply failed to keep up with the network buildout required to support the world’s most popular phone.  To this day, there is still a spot on the Mountain View-Palo Alto border that is a completely dead zone for AT&T.  Their network is famously unusable at Cal football games (where AT&T is a corporate sponsor of Golden Bear athletics).  The situation in San Francisco (and to all accounts New York) is tragicomic in the extreme – it is a cliche of modern life in the city that you will not be able to get a signal on your iPhone in any meaningful way.

Meanwhile, Verizon has turned over most of their analog coverage and has maintained a superior network in the Bay Area – and more to the point, is rolling out the same LTE-based 4G as AT&T but faster and farther.  It’s safe to assume that if a 4G iPhone does appear, it will be more viable faster on the Verizon network than on AT&T.  And in the meantime, Verizon still tops customer satisfaction posts for network performance in the Bay Area.


So there you have it.  Things changed – and in many cases not for the better, certainly not for the consumer – and the aggregation of those changes has turned Verizon into the preferred instrument going forward.  If the iPad 3 is indeed interoperable between GSM and CDMA, such that it could be used here on Verizon and abroad on GSM, that’s absolutely going to be the chosen route. (After all, it doesn’t matter if I can’t talk on my iPad, does it?)

Besides, Verizon Wireless is the official wireless provider of the Vanderbilt Commodores…



* Nobody asks me this, except the wife, and I think she’s just going for the zing. ;]

Mountain Lion

I think a lot of sites are burying the lede here – the fact that Mac OS X is going to a new annual refresh cycle is a massive shift in the way things work.  The iPhone-ization of the Mac ecosphere continues apace, not least with the release of a beta of Messages to replace your iChat. (Significantly, the Messages beta did not come through the Mac App Store…which is as effective a way of saying THIS IS NOT YET OFFICIAL as I can think of, bar shouting or flying a banner over the Rose Bowl.)

I don’t know quite what I think of this.  It really does look like the 11″ MacBook Air is going to become the keyboard-equipped non-touch iPad Pro, and more than ever, the iPad 3 (notional as it may be) looks like a viable option if I need a personal portable device with more oomph than an iPhone.  More to the point, the iCloud-centric nature of Mountain Lion (OS X 10.8) means that an iPhone, an iPad and a Mac mini at home will make for a perfectly viable peer computing experience.

Which makes sense.  After all, according to a report today, Apple sold more iOS devices in 2011 than they’ve sold Macs…ever. Combined.  At this point, it’s pretty obvious which way the future lies for Cupertino.


The first signature piece of outerwear I remember having was a jacket covered in patches.  All sorts of patches – shuttle mission patches, military squadron patches, a UPS logo, the patch of my dad’s hunting club, you name it.  That stuck around for most of elementary school, to the point that the whole load of patches got transferred to a new jacket when the old one got to be too small.

After that – inevitably – came the Members Only jackets – first a copper-colored JC Penney knockoff, then an actual dark-teal one, then another in a sort of slate blue, right up through the end of high school.  If you want the iconic look for me in the “great years” phase from 1988-90, it’s that last Members Only jacket with the sleeves jammed up over a short-sleeve highly-purple madras button-up, with jeans and white Reebok Phase 1s topped off with a gray fedora – as often as not with several cards jammed in the band depending on how the team was doing. (By May of 1989, there were four aces.) There are pictures.  But none that are going online, I can assure you.

There was also the first leather jacket – a gray number with a ridiculously huge square collar, my only significant Christmas present from the 1986 worst-Christmas-ever debacle.  It stuck around through the end of college, believe it or not.  Actually I suppose college is when the real madness took over – one attempt after another at finding the one perfect standout piece of outerwear.  There was the plain black jacket that I can only assume was meant to be somewhat nautical, there was a huge lightweight but sweltering-warm Helly Hansen number bought for the trip to Central Europe in January 1992, there was the throwback Redskins jacket that hangs in my closet to this day, there was a Braves windbreaker that was a birthday present, there was the black-and-white varsity letterman jacket bought my senior year with the express purpose of making it some sort of heirloom for my progeny (see how that worked)…just a lot of nonsense all around.

And then Vanderbilt – where I did buy the huge bulky Starter pullover jacket, and the famously monstrous mid-length hooded leather coat known as “the Elk”.  But the main go-to were the sport coats, of which I can remember five without even thinking hard.  I suppose it’s what I expected grad students to dress like, and I did the best I could with them, but ultimately they didn’t really fit what I needed.

The standout item of my DC years was the birthday gift from my last ex-girlfriend on my last birthday with her: a USWings-brand Indiana Jones jacket.  I wore other things – still used the Elk in snowy weather, bought a big black oilcloth duster for the rainy season, took over the oversized Vanderbilt ski jacket I had given my dad – but that Indy jacket is the thing people think of when they remember my appearance in DC.  And given where I was working, I suppose it was an appropriate item.

That jacket’s in the closet now, along with the suede jean-jacket I bought in a fit of madness at Christmastime 2004, because leather jackets are too much bulk for the purpose when the temperature never drops below 40 degrees and winter always comes with rain.  Honestly, the simple black shell does for most everything, and if not, there’s the peacoat.  Or the multi-layered Eddie Bauer rig that carried me through two trips to Britain.

But now I’m on my third sport coat – in addition to the mandatory blue blazer, I have the Saboteur Invincible that I bought a while back with some of my gunrunning proceeds.  Gray, red silk lining, functional buttons, waterproof, invisibly taped seams…yeah, high tech fashion.  But now I have splashed out and bought the much-debated seersucker jacket, after about a decade of beating around it.

Ultimately, I haven’t really found a definitive jacket out here, unless you count that shell – and not least because it’s rare that you need heavier than that. It’s lightweight, it ties around the waist or stuffs in your backpack without a fight – I even took it to Europe last summer where it proved to be all I needed the whole two weeks. Everyone out here has the shell.  Maybe that’s why I resist it – I’m looking for something more…well, me.

And it hasn’t worked.  I have the Vanderbilt softshell, which is nice but not actually rainproof and is impossible to stuff in a bag.  I have a light canvas sort of jacket which is nice and roomy, but is just the wrong shade of off-white and suggests a light poplin coat on a senior citizen in a peaked white gimme cap sitting at Jack’s waiting on a sausage biscuit of a morning.  And I have, on diverse occasions, actively contemplated trying to manufacture the modern version of the patch jacket, being as I have patches from DC Job and Government Contract Job and could probably find a jacket that already has the Apple logo on it somewhere.  Hell, I tried on a tall-size MA-1 bomber jacket to see if it would do, but it doesn’t.  No handwarmer pockets and the elasticated-waist look just doesn’t suit me anymore.

In the end, I think the search for the perfect jacket is, like the quest for the ideal all-purpose footwear or the perfect pen or THE watch, a surrogate for the search for an identity.  The costume, the armor, the signifier that probably imprinted on my brain in the age of the Fonz and stuck around ever since.  I don’t know why I keep casting about for it, but there you go – I’m sure something that would work is out there, assuming it’s not in my closet already…