Friday wrap up

* Where can I cash in all this stock I bought in “Keith Olbermann will part acrimoniously from CurrentTV?” I mean, the guy has amazing talent on camera but is legendary for napalming his bridges behind him at every stop. Besides, he was too big a fish for the pond – Current’s mission for “viewer-generated content” arrives five years too late, given that YouTube launched one year before they did.

* Now what? Tim Goodman seems to think Olbermann could wind up reprising his greatest role – SportsCenter 11 PM anchor – at the notional Fox Sports Channel. Having lost a lot of their regional nets to Comcast, and with NBC determined to turn Versus – sorry, NBC Sports – into a national channel, Fox is apparently going to roll the dice with creating their own ESPN, probably anchored by their copious international soccer rights. Let’s face it, ESPN is a farce, as I have declaimed in detail here, and having KO back doing what he did better than anyone – possibly even alongside Dan Patrick, clutch the pearls! – that would be appointment television, even if it does have a whiff of the Space Cowboys/Joe Gibbs II about it. Hell, I’d watch.

* Today’s iPad experiment: turn on LTE and leave it on and try to use the thing normally. As of 5 PM, and using the iPad for almost everything I’d use the iPhone for other than audio, I’m down to 57% battery and counting, and have burned through a whopping 4 MB of data – which is largely down to the ubiquitous Wi-Fi everywhere except Caltrain and the shuttle bus. And that’s almost an order of magnitude less than the daily limit with a 1 GB/month allocation. And it would mean that Find My iPad would work from about anywhere…but the battery drain associated with constantly pinging for LTE is probably a deal breaker there. Will test a typical day Monday with WiFi only and see how far we get…

* I’m not going to waste a whole post on jacketology again, except to say that I realized last night that the peacoat is basically the only piece of outerwear I’ve purchased in 15 years that wasn’t an outright impulse buy. Even the Saboteur Invincible – stylish and techno-cool but way too much money – was less than a week from find to buy. Maybe that says something about why I like the peacoat so much and why I want to find something else that just works for every situation – dress it up a little, commute in it, deflects mild rain and not be too much for when the sun comes out. Because direct sunlight, not temperature, appears to be the number one determinant of how comfortable I am outside in a jacket.

* The jacket thing has been a bigger deal lately because we haven’t had very much rain this winter. And the delta between low temp and high – hell, the delta between the temperature on the train platform at 7:30 and the high – has been pushing thirty degrees as often as not. Which is doable for a month, in spring, but rapidly becomes a pain in the ass when you have to spend all afternoon carrying the coat you wore against the 45-and-cloudy on the way to work. Of course, it completely explains the REI/North Face style of outer layer that everyone has…but dammit, I don’t want the “I will never ever wear this camping” look. Why does oilcloth have to weigh one Imperial fuck-ton?

* Just pulled this out of my bag on the train platform to finish the post. Which would be undoable in any meaningful way with the laptop or phone. And at a pound and a half, it’s half the weight of my MacBook Air, which combined with the iPad still weighs less than the old MacBook Pro all by itself. Welcome to the future. Again.

The enumeration of poultry

Somebody’s going to win about half a billion dollars tonight on that Mega Millions blicky. If all goes as planned, it’ll be a 50/50 split with us and the cousins, which after tax should put each couple on roughly $100 million. RACKS ON RACKS ON RACKS LAWYA.

The plan, obviously, is that the ticket goes in a safe deposit box while we line up our attorneys, accountants, private bankers and make security arrangements, and set up the health insurance we’ll need when we quit work.  Then, we go public, do the required appearance, and go straight from there to the airport, where we throw cash on first-class tickets and go directly out of the country.  From there, it should be pretty easy to stay out of sight for about six months.  No coming back to this country until the furore has died down (and honestly I might just wait until the elections are over).

So what to spend money on?

I suppose once I’m out of the country, I’ll need to splash out on my own laptop (MacBook Air 11!) and a beefy external hard drive (Thunderbolt!) to handle the media content that currently lives on the home machine.  And let’s be honest – I need to hire some nerd to clean up my massive cluster of an iTunes folder with my music and that of the wife, because it’s a mess and there are dupes and what the shit, I can afford to hook some kid with $300 to make it go away.  And then we go straight iCloud, son.  Other than that, I don’t really have that much to buy.  Probably get an unlocked iPhone 4S immediately in the new place, obviously, and a nice wallet of local SIMs for different countries.  Depending on the weather, I’m sure I’ll buy a new jacket because hell, I’d do that anyway.

But when I’m back in the US…that’s a tough one. I think we should move our legal residence to an apartment in Nashville – partly because Tennessee has no state income tax (not that it’ll make a big difference) and partly because I’ll need some place to crash before/after Vanderbilt games (oh yeah, buying tickets, good ones).  We should probably also buy something in San Francisco because we’re going to want to live there.  Everywhere else, probably just get a room.  Owning a rack of houses is bad arithmetic.

I’ll tell you what I want, though: I’m done with driving. Never mind a limo: I just want a London black cab and somebody to drive me around.  Actually probably better make it two somebodies – preferably big burly ex-SAS types with shaved heads and sunglasses and an unsightly bulge under each arm.  After all, somebody’s got to hustle you into the car while the other person returns fire.  I’ve seen the Secret Service in movies.

Really, though, it points up that I don’t need money for stuff. I need money to do things…

Third impressions

This time, I took the iPad to Washington. On the flights there and back, it gave us a couple of movies and a couple of TV episodes without missing a beat. It had all the reading material I needed. I turned on 4G for the first time and got faster speeds than the Verizon FIOS that our hosts have to the house. Battery life was always plentiful and performance was reliably amazing.

The two-year wait was worth it. This thing really is my new portable computer. I’ve pretty much completed the process of defining what goes on the iPhone and what on the iPad and paring down redundancies in media, and as a result I have a metric crap ton more music on the iPhone than I’ve had in ages. It’s easier to pull out of the bag and just go than any laptop, and the battery life is similarly impressive. The only thing I regret is that there’s not an easy way to just stick the thing in a jacket somehow. And even that might be surmountable with the right new piece of outerwear. Which you knew was inevitable somehow.

It’s the DynaBook. It’s the future. I’m glad I got there by 40.

flashback, part 46 of n

This started out as a post about all the things that are in my life now that weren’t there in 2004 when I left the DMV to move to Silly Con Valley.  Things like iOS devices, or my Levis 501s, or my VW Rabbit, or the number-two crop where hair used to be, or Virgin Radio-turned-Absolute Radio, or actual steel toes in my DMs. Or the fact that I would consider running a 5K…for fun.

But after the past week, and realizing just how long I’ve been gone from DC, I started to think about how long I was in DC.  And there’s actually a fall line there too – you could make it between girlfriends, or you could make it Y2K, or the transition from OS 9 to Mac OS X, or even the rollover from Clinton to Bush II –  but there’s an early age and a later age and almost everything falls fairly simply into one or the other.  Even the 4Ps itself is a later-age phenomenon, for the most part – our first visit was sending off our redundant Y2K contractors.  The old EUS itself, the original band of brothers, were of the early age, along with lunches at Burger King or the Meeting Place, and after-work drinks meant Sign of the Whale or chasing Channels girls. Things like Norv Turner coaching the Redskins.  Or being in the same building with our end-users.  Or staying until 8 to play Quake and Unreal – the old video games went by the boards by the later era, except for the use of Unreal Tournament to demonstrate the power of the G5. In the early era, it was still very important to me to be able to telnet in and get at my personal email via the command line.  The early era was a swirl of different browsers and email clients and attempts to tune just a little more performance out of the computer.

The later years?  Surprisingly, the cigar-shop hangouts were of that age only.  Wi-Fi, too.  Actual MP3 players instead of literally plugging a tape adapter into the laptop for a drive.  Doc Martens with Hawaiian shirts and khakis.  JetBlue. GSM mobile phones.  The MVP year and the accompanying ego rush could only have happened in the later era. The second apartment, with the blue chair and the BBC World Service to fall asleep to – all part of the later era.  The Indiana Jones jacket was absolutely the later era, even if I got it toward the end of the early one. So was my late lamented Timbuk2 bag.  Guinness was a part of the later era – before that, it was all assorted weird cocktails or just Sam Adams and maybe the odd black and tan.

I left DC in 2004 as a very different person than the one who arrived in 1997, and that was a very different person than the one who first walked through the doors of Ireland’s Four Provinces in January 2000.  In a lot of ways, turning 40 means you’re finally old enough to see all these eras stretching out behind, and maybe I needed to have eight years out here to get perspective on how long seven years in the capital really lasted.

The night out itself? Well, I managed to stave off the realization that I might have just buried an old friend – that is, until I was back in bed at 2 AM.  At which point a lot of emotion came pouring out, for a lot of reasons (not limited to but probably including nine drinks).  Not the first time I’d cried over a night at the 4Ps, certainly, because that’s where all the important stuff went down for a very long time – and sure, there were tears because this might be all, but there were plenty of tears of joy because it all happened.  It was all real.  I have pictures, and video, and my ears are still ringing a little and my voice is shot to hell, because we were there. Against all the odds, I got the 40th birthday party I wanted, for one more night in Valhalla, and I will treasure it for always.  So for those of you who were there, in person and in spirit alike – thank you, one and all.

Totally worth it.

Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now: The Future Of Vanderbilt Athletics


Kedren Johnson saved our season with one play.

With that up-and-under layup with under two minutes to go in the SEC title game, the freshman point guard extended the Commodore lead and delivered the final blow of the battle that saw the #1 team in the country humbled – however briefly –  and Vanderbilt at the top of the SEC Tournament for the first time in 61 years.  A championship, a banner, a ring – history.  Proof that this team was there, that it happened, something to take pride in for the rest of their days.

If that game is lost – if the crowning achievement is merely reaching the title game for the first time since the Truman Administration – then the sole lasting accomplishments of this team would be that they finally reached Sunday in the SEC tournament, once, and finally won a game in the NCAA tournament, once.  Media and fans would have almost unanimously judged the season a disappointment.  And they would be absolutely correct.  A team that opened the season with a rank of #7 in the country would have only the equivalent of a participation ribbon to show for – on paper – the most loaded squad in Vanderbilt history.

There are different perspectives.  One camp holds that the amazing talent on hand was squandered by a coach whose in-game talents appear to be limited to drawing up inbound plays under his own basket.  Another holds that for all the talent, they lacked a couple of vital pieces – a premium passer, or any reliable ball-handlers in the clutch, or someone who could reliably break the press. Another holds that the team just had psychological issues that the coach either couldn’t break through or actually brought about himself. Yet another holds that the team was always overrated, that its accomplishments were overachieving, and that Vanderbilt should count itself lucky to have made the tournament three straight years, while a similar camp grumbles that no team can break through when forced to compete against schools with surpassingly congenial admissions standards – or in the case of Kentucky, a glorified NBA scout team.

And some people – by which I mean me – believe we were just plain fucking snakebit. How else to explain the NCAA’s inexplicable ruling that somehow Festus Ezili deserved a six game suspension – and that he injured his foot and served those games on the bench in street clothes anyway?  How else to account for Josh Henderson suffering an injury and leaving only Steve Tcheingang to cover the 5 spot, playing out of his natural power-forward position?  How else to explain losing double-digit second-half leads on multiple occasions and overtime losses to no less than three top-15 opponents?  Or the last three losses of the season all officiated by the very same referee, whose name is synonymous with “Basketball Officiating Random Event Generator”?  How do we get the cutesy draw against a Harvard team under-seeded at 12? How else does the leading scorer in the SEC suddenly lose his shot?  How do you explain a team that seems to have a black cat shoved up its collective ass, right before being thrown under a ladder and into a shattering mirror?

The final numbers: 21-10 in the regular season, 10-6 in the conference, ranked #20 in the country, a 5 seed and then 1-1 in the NCAA tournament.  In the abstract, shorn of all context, it’s not a bad season at all, made great by the addition of 3-0 and a championship in the SEC Tournament.

But the year before, they were 21-9, 9-7 in the conference, a 5 seed and then 0-1 in the NCAA tournament, with an additional 2-1 in the SEC tournament thanks to the divisional system and no bye.  Had that system been in place again, this year’s Vanderbilt would have found themselves playing on Thursday once again.  The bye – coupled with the upset losses of Tennessee and Florida – meant that Vanderbilt only had to play a feeble Georgia and a weakened Ole Miss to get to that one Sunday shot at a Kentucky team playing for a coach who scorns conference tournaments. Put another way, you can make a case that all the luck of the 2011-12 season was used up on one weekend in March.

Last year’s team had a way of blowing leads, famously against South Carolina and Tennessee.  Last year’s team had no answer for the run-and-gun Hogs of Arkansas.  Last year’s team was maddening in its inconsistency and left a cornucopia of “what ifs” in its wake. So you can argue that nothing changed; that this is a team which hit its ceiling last year and barely budged this year.  Or you can argue that this was a team of destiny – you think an uninjured Festus Ezili was worth two extra points against Xavier and Louisville to stave off OT?  And would those two wins have helped the momentum and overcome the sluggish performance against Indiana State?  Would a regular-season record of 24-7, with four wins against top-20 opponents, been enough to maybe scoot into a 4 seed instead and get to take on Montana or New Mexico State in Nashville?  And would a final record of 29-8, a Sweet Sixteen appearance and an SECT title been enough to fulfill the dreams we had for this senior class?

We’ll never know.  And that may be the cruelest fate of all as we stare into next year’s abyss.


There are only seven men left.

John Jenkins has turned down the NBA for us once.  I wouldn’t expect him to do it again.  Nor would I blame him.  He’s given us three great years, he’s made All-American and put his name in our record books.  He doesn’t have to prove anything to us.  If he wants to chase the NBA dream, God bless him and please let him go to the Warriors. Looking down the list, then, here are our players for 2012-13 (the three incoming true freshmen indicated with an F):

Point Guard: Kedren Johnson, Kyle Fuller

Shooting Guard: Dai-Jon Parker, AJ Astroth (F)

Swing Forward: James Siakam, Kevin Bright (F)

Power Forward: Rod Odom, Shelby Moats

Center: Josh Henderson, Arnold Okechukwu(F)

That’s the depth chart.  The front three positions are all staffed by players 6-6 and under.  Kevin Bright is playing in high school in Germany and we have no idea what he’s got to offer.  Okechukwu is a two-star prospect who would be considered a redshirt candidate any other year.  Astroth is 6-6 and 180 pounds, which suggests he needs a few  cheeseburgers at Rotier’s and some quality time in the weight room (and why he goes on as a 2 rather than a 3).

And when I say that’s the depth chart, that’s exactly what I mean – that’s the entire roster. Right now, we have exactly enough players for a full scrimmage and not a single live body to spare, and two scholarships are going begging. Every single player on the roster arrived no earlier than autumn 2010.  There are no seniors.  Odom and Fuller will be juniors.  Three players are true frosh, assuming no redshirts.  The other five all have exactly one year of live basketball under their belts, three of those as true freshmen – only one of our notional front court starters has more than 75 career minutes on the floor. This team is raw. This may be the youngest team in the SEC next year – and unlike Kentucky, it won’t be top-heavy with NBA prospects who expect to go pro after only a year or two.  Put another way: all ten of the players on next year’s team have combined for a total of three career starts.

The only thing we’ll know about Kevin Stallings next year is whether he is the greatest basketball coach in human history, which is what he’ll need to be to eke out so much as a .500 overall record with this lineup. I don’t even want to think about the conference record in a league that’s adding Missouri and will still feature Florida, Kentucky, and up-and-coming teams with talented young coaches in Arkansas, Alabama, Auburn, and – painfully – Tennessee.  As it is, this could be worse than the 2002-03 team that imploded completely – the primary challenge will be to try to keep this team from quitting on the season.  I don’t think they’re the type, but there’s no predicting the effect of getting your brains dashed out night after night after night.

Ultimately, that’s why this season’s expectations were so high.  Including the walk-ons (and walk-ons matter; if you think otherwise look at that depth chart again), we are losing eight live bodies off this year’s roster.  Literally half our team is going away.  The future was now, and in the end, it looked a lot like last year’s version.  Our only solace – the one bone that Dame Fortuna condescended to toss us – was a paved road to a one-game matchup with Kentucky that just happened to have a title attached to it.

So was 2011-12 a successful year?  I suppose so.  Was it a disappointment? Yes.  Did this team underachieve?  Absolutely.  Did they leave a mark on Vanderbilt basketball history?  Absolutely.  It’s all there.  This team is large, and contains multitudes, as Whitman might have said.  And let’s be honest – it’s probably the only team in the league where all the players could tell you who that is.


Look, here are the facts: we are the smallest school in the SEC.  We are the only private school in the SEC.  We are the only USN&WR top-50 school in the SEC.  We are also the only SEC school never to have an athletic program placed on probation.

The hard truth about the SEC is that this is a football league. Not a basketball conference, not a baseball conference, and certainly not an academic conference.  The SEC is about football.  Period. Paragraph. World without end, amen.  And this past season notwithstanding, we are as far from a football school as it’s possible for an SEC team to get.  Even Ole Miss has the Vaught years.  Kentucky went to an Orange Bowl under Bear Bryant.  Vanderbilt hasn’t had 9 wins in a year since 1904 – its last full undefeated season.

But more to the point, we’re not an SEC type of school.  We don’t have the vast army of sidewalk alums who never set foot on campus except for games.  We don’t have the regional merchandising. We don’t have anything remotely approximating the scenes Warren St John captured in Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer. When was the last time Vanderbilt was in a feature game of the week on CBS?As much as it pains me to say it, the move we need isn’t the ACC – it’s the Big Ten.  Consider that every member of the league is an AAU school – so we’re at least associated with academic peer institutions.  Consider that Northwestern has a couple of titles and Rose Bowl berths in recent memory – so it’s not impossible to think a school in our position could compete.  And the Big Ten isn’t sitting on its laurels – it’s got its own network everywhere in the country.

But that’s not going to happen.  The Big Ten seems content to sit on twelve for now – the only way they’d consider going bigger at this point would be for Notre Dame, and I don’t think ND wants to be the fourteenth team in the Big Ten (although I believe they might be the sixteenth…but that’s a wild-ass speculation for another time).  The ACC is already on 14, and while there’s always the possibility of a swap for Clemson or Florida State, I don’t see that as realistic.  And every five to ten years, somebody floats a new Magnolia League, bringing back Chancellor Heard’s 1950 idea of joining Duke, Tulane, Rice and SMU in a sort of pocket-Ivy League that would allow for major college football without the crasser excesses of the contemporary SEC – but that’s probably not going to happen either.

And you want to know why? Because we do very well financially out of the SEC. For years, we have cashed checks for literally millions of dollars from the eight or nine SEC teams in bowl games while we spend December eating turkey and watching ESPN.  Bowls, television, merchandise – we have made the bargain that we will get a certain portion of the loot in exchange for taking the regular beatdown and playing with one hand tied behind our backs at all times.  Which is just what we are doing.  We take our undersized stadiums and our exacting admission requirements and try to go head-to-head with Alabama and LSU and Florida in football, or Florida and Kentucky (and now Missouri) in basketball, or Florida (fucking Gators!) and South Carolina and Kentucky in baseball.  Sometimes it even works out. But most of the time it doesn’t, and we have to go like hell and compete for all we’re worth just to eke out a top-4 finish. Hell, this year we beat Ole Miss and Kentucky in football and swept our non-conference foes; that’s practically an undefeated season by our standards.

So what do we do?  Better to serve in heaven than reign in hell?  Can we be happy with “pretty good” as our ultimate aspiration?  Should we be?  We already get no respect from anyone else associated with the league – obviously you’re never going to get the calls against Bama in football or Kentucky in basketball or Florida in any damned thing, and for all the chants of “S-E-C” from the rubes, none of them really consider us a real SEC program.  We are in a weird space, and how well we can live with that will determine a lot of our athletic future.

Because the window just closed on basketball.  We’re a minimum of three years away from getting back to the kind of squad we’ve had for the last couple of seasons, and even that depends heavily on transfers or recruiting coups that won’t come in time for next year’s team.  The window slammed last year on baseball – eleven players drafted into the major leagues – and this year we’re struggling just to win one in a row, never mind get back to Hoover, and don’t even talk to me about Omaha.  Only football – football! – shows any sign that next year could be better than the last, and there’s no telling what the schedule will be like with the Missouri and Texas A&M add-ons.  Seven wins sounds eminently plausible – nothing suggests Tennessee will be materially better, for one, and you have to think at least one of those single-score losses could be turned around by the returning firepower on offense and a decent kicker.  Our losses were close and our wins convincing, which suggests that at least we’re unlikely to get worse.  Then again, Ole Miss didn’t sit still and Kentucky showed signs of life down the stretch, and Urban Meyer’s Ohio State team is waiting in the wings in 2013.

If you’re graduating from Vanderbilt in five weeks, congratulations.  Three trips to the NCAA tournament and an SEC tournament title in basketball, a College World Series berth in baseball, two bowl games for football, and that’s not even counting the women’s SEC tournament titles in cross-country and basketball. This has been the golden age for Vanderbilt sports.  But the sun is setting, and it’s going to take a whole hell of a lot to hold off the night.

Hanging Out Wednesday’s Wash

* Well, if you didn’t believe it before, doubt me no longer: the number-one crime in the NFL is failure to acknowledge Roger Goodell’s big swinging dick.  That’s why New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton will be sitting out 2012, why defensive coordinator (and bounty-program mastermind) Gregg Williams is indefinitely banned from the game, why other key figures (including the GM!) are suspended for part of the season, why they’re being docked two 2nd round picks and $500,000.  Obviously they had some sort of punishment coming, but this kind of pocket nuke is basically the NFL’s Cartman commish saying “RESPECT MAH AUTHORITAH!!”

* Redskins fans: “I KNOW THAT FEEL BRO.”

* The iPad continues to be a constant companion.  Even thrown in the bag with the work laptop, it only adds a pound and a half – the iPad and MBA together are still lighter than the old 15″ MacBook Pro – and I still haven’t felt the need to turn on the 4G data (though I will probably test it this weekend).

* Shocker: a processor-intensive system runs warm.  Consumer Reports has less than zero credibility on technical issues at this point, and no wonder: bigger battery, larger screen, more powerful graphics processors and CPU running at full throttle?  Warmth, genius.  Make sure you’re qualified before you start second-guessing.

* Haven’t been keeping close tabs on this case in Florida where the kid got shot by some neighborhood watch wannabe, but it seems to me to be concrete proof of what I’ve always said: the problem with guns isn’t the gun, nor it is the person with the gun, nor it is even with the person who needs the gun.  The problem with guns is the person who wants to need the gun, because if you want to need something, you’ll make a reason to need it.  Which is how that poor kid ends up shot.

* Speaking of a different kind of shot, Vanderbilt’s leading returning scorer from this year is Kedren Johnson, the presumptive starting point guard.  He averaged 3.1 points per game this season.  If John Jenkins goes, the Dores will return something like 12% of their scoring from this season.  There’s a MUCH longer post about this in the offing.

* MANIACAL LAUGHTER. That’s the only way to greet the news that Tim Tebow has been traded to the Gomorrah Jets.  The incumbent QB is a herpes-circuit club boy and the head coach has been in amateur foot-fetish porn.  I see no possible way this can end badly.

* Satan Manning to the Broncos is about what you’d expect.  John Elway gets his big white pocket passer, Manning gets to play behind the dirtiest line in football (which should help with protection; they never seem to call the cut block more than 4500 feet above sea level) and the whole shit and caboodle is one hard hit to the neck away from ending in tears.  One wag on Twitter compared it to unloading a Zune for a refurbished iPad, and I find no fault with that analogy.

* Lest we forget, Tim Tebow’s completion percentage last year was 34th among starting NFL quarterbacks.  There are 32 NFL teams.  That’s bad arithmetic.

* Almost time to head East for the biannual meet-and-greet with the boys of the old brigade.  This time fraught with the added emotion of last call for the 4Ps.  It’s going to be very difficult not to have a complete meltdown Saturday night – I will just have to convince myself that something else will happen, that there’ll be some kind of eleventh-hour rescue again, that it’s not the last time for real.  Because if I know for sure that this is the end…it’ll be like going up to see someone on their death bed and knowing it’s the last time.  For once, there had better be pictures.

* Twitter is six years old today.  That would make it…what, 2006?  I don’t think I was on until 2007, which is odd – I seem to remember having it while I was in my first office at Cupertino Hexachrome Fruit, although I suppose I could be thinking of Dodgeball.  It definitely took a while before there was any kind of critical mass to using it, for sure – but I had created a second account within six months of the first.  In the end, Twitter has displaced almost every other form of social networking for me – I never touch Google+ and rarely see Facebook, and I actively avoid both where possible, but Twitter even displaced the social aspect of EDSBS and has become the focal point of the Vanderbilt fandom, and it has taken a huge chunk out of IM and texting even.  And again, I think it’s down to how bloody simple Twitter is – 140 characters of text and that’s it.  You can use it from the web, from your phone, your iPad, by text messaging for crying out loud – and then build atop that with the cunning use of URLs and the API.  Dumb network means smarts at the ends.  That’s why Twitter continues to kick the shit out of all comers.

* Vandy baseball is 7-14.  By comparison, last year they only lost 12 games the entire season and only one non-conference game (the rubber match on Sunday with the Furd).  My fear is that the baseball team this year presages the basketball team next year – lot of youth, lot of talent, lot of raw and a lot of learning to play as a team.  I’m uneasy hanging my hopes for Vanderbilt athletics on the football program, but there you go.

* So Mike Daisey was a fabulist with regard to his tales of Apple.  I guess I’m not surprised, but it’s the same old issue: when you frame a guilty man, you shouldn’t be surprised if people question his guilt (see: OJ Simpson).  More irritating to me is this notion that Apple is unique in having its products screwed together in dungeons by enslaved fairies who have to glue the parts together with unicorn blood, and that somehow all other consumer electronics are licked together by adorable anime kittens.  Grow up.  China has only lately become the world’s manufacturer.  Remember what the mills were like in New England?  Or down South?  Remember Upton Sinclair’s revelations about the food industry in Chicago at the turn of the century? The transition to an early-stage manufacturing economy is not a pleasant sight, and it stays unpleasant for as long as the factory owner can get away with it. I don’t like it any more than you, and I wish it were different, but that’s the price you pay for having your life based on electronic gadgets that have to be brought in at a palatable price point.  Maybe we should have thought about this before we decided that it was okay to have Wal-Mart extort price concessions every year and force manufacturers to look offshore as a method of cost containment.

* I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that I’m happy that my messenger bags were made only forty miles up the road.  This is a good time to go back and read the fashion/manufacturing bits of the Bigend Trilogy, especially Zero History.

* Always, always, always start your out-of-office messages the day before you’re actually gone.




Second impressions, or, casual computing.

Three days in and it’s already becoming apparent: this is, once and for all, my laptop replacement. The battery life is ridiculously long. The display is amazing (desktop pictures 2048 pixels on a side are suddenly not only plausible but necessary). The performance is certainly superior to earlier models, although that may be as much a function of having a full gigabyte of RAM as the updated processor and graphics hardware. Even the Smart Cover is worthwhile and minima. As with almost anything I spend more than a year agonizing over, when I finally get it, I tend to be glad I did.

One of the things in the iBooks collection of PDFs is a copy of the 1972 essay by Alan Kay that described the DynaBook. Amazingly, he pitched a viable price point of $500 and the general dimensions of the device, not to mention the prospects possible if the keyboard itself could be displaced and the screen act as keyboard. It’s eerie. About the only thing Kay pitched that is not present here is the ability to program the device yourself and write your own code for it – and that may fairly be abstracted away as a legacy of a time when doing anything on a computer meant, of necessity, writing the code for it. Programming was all you did, if you wanted programs.

And here we come to an interesting crossroads. Some folks have complained of the iPad and iOS in general (and to a similar extent about the Mac from its earliest days) that you can’t actually do the hard stuff with it. You couldn’t write an iOS app on an iOS, not in any meaningful fashion. Maybe you could on an Android tablet, with a little work…but I’m not likely to. Nor are almost all the folks buying these devices.

Ultimately, that’s why there’s no point in me having a Linux netbook, or a generic Android tablet running a bare install of Ice Cream Sandwich. I don’t have the necessary skill set to make it worthwhile. I’m not going to modify the OS, I’m not going to write my own software, I’m not going to be riding the bare metal with no saddle. I’m going to type blog posts and read magazines and get through my RSS feeds and answer email. And for that, something that just works beats the living shit out of something I can hack myself.

The phrase that springs to mind is “casual computing.” Games like Mass Effect or Call of Duty or World of Warcraft have motion-picture budgets and require players to sink hours and days and weeks into their completion…but Angry Birds has sold seven hundred million copies. I do need an actual laptop for work, because of things like Apple Remote Desktop and file systems and Unix command lines, but for casual computing, I need…well…an iPad. With basketball season over and no need for ESPN3 streaming until Labor Day and the return of college football, the iPad can handle everything I need from a computer from the time I get home until the time I get back to the office. Unless I need to work from home, there’s no reason to take the work laptop out of its bag. I’m banging this very post out on glass, with the iPad propped up in my lap as I recline in bed.

And let’s face it, for most people, casual computing is what they do at home. Do the taxes, maybe balance the checkbook, sure, but other that that? It’s Facebook and funny YouTube clips and email blast forwards and Skyping with the grandkids. I dare say the 75% of the home computing in this country could be taken care of with an iPad – maybe not always well, but it could be done. And as for travel – I had in the back of my head that the netbook would be handy for blogging and video chat home from, say, Paris. I didn’t actually take said netbook to Europe when I had the chance. But I can blog and video chat from this thing VERY easily, and on a Euro cellular network to boot (try making that work on your Linux netbook), and there is no chance I go abroad again without this thing in my carry-on bag.

Twenty years ago, Apple had those ads with “What’s on your PowerBook? What’s on your PowerBook is you” as the tag line. Today, that’s the iPad. What’s on it? PDFs of role playing game manuals from my adolescence. The complete Bigend Trilogy by William Gibson. The last five weeks of the Economist. Four email and six Twitter accounts. All the pictures from my three trips to England. Both Iron Man movies and all six episodes of the new Sherlock series. The tools to update this blog, the list of everything (well almost) that I’ve eaten in the last almost two years, a link to Bruce Springsteen’s SXSW keynote speech, three different maps of the world, a dozen channels of streaming video of one sort or another…

At long last, we have the personal computer. When the Weekly Reader told us our future, it didn’t involve sitting down to program this bloody computer, it talked about instantly retrieving information and video calls to Mars and doing things. And that’s what you use an iPad for. You don’t program it, you do stuff with it.

This is my DynaBook. Next stop: everything.

First Impressions

Turns out iPad day was a red letter day for sports. A pair of two seeds went down. Only four 15s have ever won a first round game, all between 1992 (Santa Clara) and 2001 (Hampton) – but in a three hour span, Norfolk State took down Missouri only to be surpassed by Lehigh definitely outplaying Duke. Against that, Ohio over four seed Michigan was almost an afterthought, never mind 10-7 upsets like Purdue over St Mary’s and Xavier over Notre Dame.

It’s a bloodbath. At least my bracket is still leading the friends group (I’m dead on the blog brackets) by virtue of a couple solid upset picks, but the two game lead isn’t going to get me far. Good job I have the Yahoo Tourney app on this thing.

Because this post is brought to you, of course, by the new iPad. Fingerprints notwithstanding, it’s looking good so far. Performance has definitely improved from the original, though not radically so – I suspect most processing improvements have been in graphics rendering rather than raw CPU speed. I did buy the dark gray SmartCover, which is so far so good I suppose. It’s nice having the auto lock and the easy prop-up. Connection with the AppleTV is working after a couple of false starts – happy anniversary, Harto – but GoodPlayer isn’t putting the shady copies of Sherlock Season 2 up on screen. Nor does AirPlay really work for mirroring video, although this would work a treat for Keynote presentation.

The thing shipped with 80% battery life, and was still in the 60s after all the setup and iCloud restore. Then of course I got it home and had to start from scratch with the iTunes library, but I think we are set now. Books are in the Kindle app, there are PDFs in the iBooks app, the Economist has the last two issues ready to read, and there’s video cued up and ready to watch. The other effect of finally owning this has been to unload most video off the iPhone – horses for courses. Even the lo-def video looks good, although using a nice high-contrast black and white film like Good Night and Good Luck may be cheating.

Most of all, though, it’s the size of a magazine, it weighs a pound and a half, and it adds to the sense that I’m living in the future. I didn’t take the laptop out of the bag tonight. I may not take it out of the bag at home again unless I’m working from home. I’m glad I waited a couple of years for the super-HD display and the HUGE battery to drive it. I’m also glad I got the Verizon 4G – can’t wait to give it a spin on the road to DC next week.

This is the DynaBook. It really is. This is the dream that a nontrivial chunk of Silicon Valley has chased for the last forty years. And programming tools aside, this is it – hell, Jef Raskin’s original vision for the Mac didn’t involve programming, it was damn near a utensil itself. Time to go back and re-read Insanely Great and see what the plan was, because this – which you can climb on for as little as $400 now – may have hit the nail on the head.

All that’s left is to pair the Bluetooth keyboard and get going.

Things have changed.

When I graduated from Vanderbilt, Gil Amelio was still technically the CEO of Apple, the stock was still stooging around 15 or so, and you could be forgiven for thinking the name of the company was “Beleaguered Apple Computer.”  Now, once again, people are lined up around the block.

The funny thing to me is that people only line up around the block for the iPhone and iPad.  There’s not a mad run on the Apple stores for a new MacBook Air or a new iMac. And I don’t remember this kind of madness for the previous generation of Apple goods, or even for the iPod in its heyday – largely because, for the most part, a lot of those things were announced as “and this is on sale TODAY.”  I wonder if the week or two between announce and release was a deliberate move to get the free advertising from the lines at launch – actually I don’t wonder at all.  Steve was no idiot.

But the lines form for the iPhone and iPad, because they are personalized in a way computers never were.  Even the most cozy cuddly 11″ MacBook Air is running UNIX and is a multiuser system.  The iOS devices are a throwback to the original Mac – there’s no login (aside from the security code), there’s no multiple user IDs, there’s no computer-ness between you and the interface.  Just touch, and go – full screen, the way ‘Er Indoors prefers to compute.  The iPad has become the first truly personal computer – something as close to you as your phone.

One of these days, I’m going to sit down and look at my life in the future, twenty-five years on from when I first really started to think about it.  It’s amazing how much of it looks like something I might have imagined, right down to the do-everything handheld and the car with the red light from the dashboard idling while I look at my future-Ironman and wear my future-Barons hat.