Days of Future Past, part 1

Last week was spent in New York City and its environs.  We stayed uptown in Harlem, in the chic-for-cheap Aloft, and spent a good deal of time running up and down the A, or the B, or the D, or the 1, or…well, we got back and forth to Union Square quite a bit.  Illness slowed us up some, as did an unexpected blast from the past when we met up three times with one of my best friends from high school, as did weather and rain.  But we did get a lot of things accomplished, among which:

* Sleep No More.  About this more later, except that it was everything I could have hoped for; I just wish I’d had the sense my wife had to find out WHAT it was based on first.

* The Cathedral of St John the Divine, the incomplete Gothic monster in Morningside Heights that gives us something with the heft and throw-weight to keep up with the great cathedrals of Europe.  Which was oddly more affecting than I expected it to be, which I guess is the definition of art…

* The new park known as the High Line, where nature invaded the old overhead train tracks for thirty years only to be tamed into a unique park running up the lower part of the west side of Manhattan.  Never seen anything like it, and I love it.

* Brooklyn.  From the top of a cold bus on a windy day and only briefly, but nevertheless Brooklyn, and on the eve of the formal announcement of the Brooklyn Nets.

* The view from the top of Rockefeller Center, which is better than from the Empire State Building, not least because you can see the Empire State Building.

* Million Dollar Quartet, which as it turns out we could have waited to see in San Jose – but was totally worth a trip just for the closing shot.  If you know the history of rock ‘n roll, you know the one.

* Grand Central Station, complete with pics of Vanderbilt Avenue, a Magnolia cupcake (which is NYC’s way of saying “look, we all want to eat a huge gob of straight frosting but it’s starting to look bad”) and Mendy’s pastrami (which I had the presence of mind not to try to order with Swiss this time).  And Junior’s cheesecake, because nom.

But the biggest thing was just being in New York again – in my case, almost eight years to the day precisely since the weekend I proposed to my now-wife.  Since then, my world has opened up even more, with moving to Silicon Valley and spending time in San Francisco and going to London three times.  New York City has moved into that space where DC now resides and where I think New Orleans may have always been for me: a semi-mythical place made more so by the sense that it contains years and history going back to well before the Spanish set up that mission in Yerba Buena.  (A sense made stronger by reading a lot of Herbert Asbury and also Gotham again.)  A place where I know I’ve been (and in the case of DC, lived) and spent some quality time, but with a sort of museum-Disneyland quality to it.  I know that everyone who goes to New York starts wondering within 24 hours whether they could live there, but for the first time, I don’t think I got the urge.  And my wife definitely didn’t, gluten-free potstickers and Italian food notwithstanding.

In fact, if there was an overarching theme to the week (and the weekend), it was about tying up loose ends and drawing a line under the past.  Having gotten home, the urge to live in the now is fairly strong. Which I suppose is a good thing in any event.

flashback, part 48 of n

My senior year of high school was, bluntly put, a hot fucking mess.  After a triumphant junior year that ended with a state championship, an MVP at the Auburn Invitational, four aces in my hat, and a monthlong dash through New York and Orlando that included three weeks of actually being attractive to girls, the summer was spent working at an actual law firm for actual cash (what a step up from the produce cooler!) and helling around town with my teammates and my new girlfriend – or rather, my old friend newly turned girlfriend.  Made it, Ma – top of the world.

And then the wheels started to come off.  The second night of senior year, we went to see 10,000 Maniacs, I took her home – and we forgot to call each other for, like, ever. Meanwhile, my guys all went off to college and I was left with a senior class that I didn’t really have the best relationship with. Add senioritis like a mug, as I had one foot out the door the minute I went back to school, and quite possibly an actual depressive episode (so tough to distinguish from, you know, just being a gifted adolescent in Alabama) – and you can see how things might go off the rails a little.

To the point that by October, I found myself actually dating a pageant girl – the head-cheerleader and top of the class at her rural-exurban high school in the next county over. Not one of my prouder moments.  I don’t know why I ran to the exact opposite of what I was notionally after in female companionship. From a safe distance, I might attribute it to showing out at my peers, or a reaction against everything that had happened during the summer and come to naught.  More likely, though, I was just in search of whoever was going to validate me.  It lasted through January, about like you’d expect – actually you could have won bets taking the over – but at least I had the sense to get clear before February 1 and miss the Valentine’s Window.  (It also left me going to prom with no date, which worked out just swell, really. They could have at least offered us refreshments.)

This was also the height of the great college application misadventure, where I only applied to three schools. (The two that sent me applications already filled out and only requiring my signature don’t count.)  I took all my official visits, and I absolutely shoved all in on Vanderbilt.  The local school was still sending me mail twice a week and inviting me to all sorts of events and whatnot, and Alabama did ship me three sets of tickets for non-conference games (and I used them all, don’t think I didn’t) but in my mind I was locked in on the big V and already making plans for my life there….

If I had it to do over again, I would take what Vandy offered – 75% tuition plus $2000 a year – and do whatever I had to in order to make up the difference. Loans, bank robbery, whatever. But I didn’t, because the local school had offered me two separate full-tuition scholarships (including one of their bigger-name prestige ones) and hey, they’d rushed the hell out of me for the better part of two years, and I’d been associated with them from age 4, and, well, there you have it.  They wanted me – or claimed to – and once again, I needed validation. And once again my attention turned, and I started imagining and planning out how things were going to be.  And when it turned out the campus was 85% Greek, I signed up for summer rush and just folded that into the plan.  And then…well, we all know how that turned out.

If I’m honest, half the reason that undergrad turned into such a misery is because it had to live up to my dream of what college was supposed to be.  Maybe nothing could have lived up to the dream, maybe nothing would have prepared me for how bad it was going to be, but either way, it was a bad combination and I was sunk. But that was spring of 1990: haze, allergy, and the impatient desire to just get on with my life. The music all sounds like end-of-the-movie tunes in my memory, and the Nike Air Trainer SC II shoes – in white, dark blue and gray – are still in the back of my head as the Platonic ideal of my new futuristic Nikes; if they ever bring those out in retro form, I’m probably going for it. Man, I haven’t bought a pair of Nikes since…probably since leaving Vanderbilt. That was only a 7 year run, which is amazing compared to my 12 or 13 years in Dr Martens…

So yeah. That was the one time in my life where I was outright eager to let it all go and just move on, and it burned me enough that fourteen years later, I refused to so much as think about what life might be like in California until I was already living there. The moral of the story, I suppose, is be careful you don’t dream yourself into something you can’t wake up to.  But at the same time, make sure you don’t change directions and start dreaming of a better past.  That way lies madness.

Of which more later.

Taking out Wednesday’s trash

* So it looks like they’re going to charge Zimmerman after all.  Which makes sense.  Take all the racial angle out of it and just look at what happened: a guy chased after an alleged – what?  Trespasser?  Just shady dude?  Why exactly? – anyway, the guy chases said whatever AFTER THE POLICE DISPATCHER TELLS HIM NOT TO, then shoots said dude who was unarmed.  That right there is a prima facie case for manslaughter, if not murder-two, and the whole “Stand Your Ground” nonsense doesn’t even enter into it.  And without a single reference to the race of either participant.  There you have it.

* So it looks like Apple and most major book publishers are catching a collusion case for teaming up to try to stop Amazon undercutting their profits on e-book sales.  This is going to be interesting.  I don’t know if Amazon’s share of the e-book market rises to the level of a monopsony (the opposite of monopoly, where there’s only one customer rather than one vendor) but it’s interesting that the publishers felt the urgency to break Amazon and were able to partner with Apple to do it.  When Apple enjoyed a similar position in the world of digital music (and may still), the labels were unable to muster much of anything – but then again, the principal competitor to the iTunes Music Store was piracy.  Maybe it’s just all the labels could do to ensure somebody was paying something for their product.

* Not particularly worried about the case on AAPL’s behalf, anyway.  When you have $100 billion in the bank – that’s a hecto-Instagram, note – you can probably pay to make this go away with a minimum of fuss.  Besides, the iBookstore (is that what we call it now) is not a profit center – just like the iTunes Music Store before it, it’s a way to guarantee that a product type will be available for your iPad in the event Amazon someday decides to pull the plug on the Kindle for iOS app.  Once again, as God is Scarlett O’Jobs’s witness, AAPL will never be hungry again.

* London Landscape TV has disappeared from the iTunes Music Store, which is a shame, as it was a great 720p video podcast of just stuff in London.  Fortunately most of them are downloaded on my hard drive at home, but it’s a shame to lose a fine HD video podcast just as I get a high-definition-friendly iPad.

* I really need to test out the iPad shoulder rig in a live situation.  Maybe Saturday when I’m engaged in round 3 of the great BBQ smoker experiment.  Actively contemplating a cigar for this one, since the pipe smoking went south in a hurry. True story, don’t leave your pipe tobacco in a drawer for two years before you smoke it.  But just in case the shoulder holster is untenable – a very real possibility – I got a Timbuk2 extra-small Quickie sleeve for $19.

* I broke out the suede trucker jacket – I think Levi’s must have invented “trucker jacket” because I don’t remember ever seeing it before, but it certainly covers the whole “jean jacket not actually made of denim” category in a succinct manner.  I want that classic American work jacket look, and this would actually do it until you get right up on it and see that it’s, well, “Seattle Suede,” some specially-tanned Eddie Bauer nonsense that’s supposed to make it rainproof.  And honestly, I think that’s what I struggle to get past with this coat – the look is right, the water resistance is acceptable, there are hand warmer pockets and it’s comfortable with some heft to it (so obviously not for those 48-walking-out-the-door-and-70-at-lunch days), but it’s feckin’ suede. Which just screams “I need to look like a man of the people even though I never lift anything heavier than money.”  And while that may be true, especially now, the Romney look is not what I’m going for.  Hell, I had to quit a job that required steel-toe boots because it wrenched my knee into arthroscopic surgery, and I had a forklift license, so my card’s punched, hotshot.

* Having come back from a Lent with no soda, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to drink the stuff in quantity. I didn’t even get a go cup at lunch today and I struggled through the second glass of Coke Zero washing down my bacon cheddar omelette sandwich.  Possible healthy development?  Not as much as the fact that I’m running my fourth 5K in 13 months on Sunday. When the hell did I become, you know, a runner?

* I’m with Josh Marshall on this one: the fact that Romney’s out there trying to peddle “Obama’s War on Women” is a sure sign they’re playing defense – because the gender gap is real and it’s huge.  It’s not like they’re going to reverse it either – the best they can hope for is to muddy the waters and wait for the ever-reliable press to dutifully regurgitate their Golden Mean “opinions differ” shtick. But with plenty of footage of GOP anti-contraception talk already in the can and things like the Lily Ledbetter Act (signed on day one, natch) to point to, that dog probably won’t hunt no matter how many times the Sabbath Gasbags shake their heads mournfully.

* Um, Allen West, your mouth is moving. You might want to look to that. Besides, it’s no good unless you can say “I hold in my hand a list of 57 known Communists,” etc.  Looks like keeping Good Night and Good Luck on the iPad was the move after all. I know Texas is the biggest internal threat to America, but once we glass the steers, can we start in on sawing off Florida and letting it drift to Cuba?

* Verizon’s LTE holds a steady 20Mb-plus all the way through my Caltrain commute, enough to watch the latest “Adultolescence” video from Hannah Hart.  That tears it.  AT&T is getting the boot as soon as a new iPhone drops.  Meanwhile, with the experiment successful, it’s time to turn off the data service and see how well I get on with just Wi-Fi on the trip to New York.

* Recent reads/re-reads: The Night Circus, American Gods, Neverwhere. Trend developing? Magical realism? Urban fantasy? Maybe I really am gearing up for a career change to “whatever the urban version of a druid is”…

* And speaking of books, I had no idea that Herbert Asbury (Gangs of New York, Gem of the Prairie, The Barbary Coast, etc) had a book about New Orleans, but there it is: The French Quarter, arriving just in time to read by the smoker. Winner winner pork shoulder dinner!

He’s gone

Congrats and best wishes to John Jenkins.  The Flamethrower, who passed up the NBA draft last year to come back for his junior season and try to make history, is going to pass up his senior season and turn professional, where he will hopefully be Stephen Curry 2.0 and make a bazillion dollars lighting up Sportscenter every other night.  For the first time in at least fourteen years (probably more), I’ve made a note on the calendar for Draft Night.

Of course, that bursts the bubble.  Now that JJ23 is going, we have exactly ten players in the mix.  And it turns out one of them, Arnold Okechukwu, isn’t even a lock to show up for some reason (and he is the lowest-rated of the prospects).  So here we are, six months from Midnight Madness, and we have nine players.

We don’t have enough bodies on this team to scrimmage 5-on-5.

Now what?  I’ll tell you now what: this is a 14-team conference with two reasonably sure things and three probably sure things, and a whole lot of maybe.  Florida will probably be fine; Billy Donovan has salted a mine down there and they have become a perennial contender.  Missouri will arrive with guns blazing, and Arkansas will be loading theirs up fast.  Past that, who knows.  Cuonzo Martin may have figured it out at Tennessee, Anthony Grant is turning Bama in to a real threat, Tony Barbee is not sleeping down at Auburn, even South Carolina just hired Frank Martin – think Bobby Knight without the charm – who turned freakin’ Kansas State into a basketball threat.  Even Georgia has some young talent and LSU’s looking for a new coach and might get lucky there.  Only the Mississippi schools are going nowhere (or even backward, given the player hemorrhage at State with Renardo Sidney going pro and other guys transferring or graduating).

And there’s us, nine deep with no seniors and two juniors as the only players with more than a year of college basketball under their belts, and Kedren Johnson’s 3.1 points per game as our top returning scorer.

Am I forgetting anyone?

Oh.  Right.

Well, the one consolation is that Kentucky is also going to lose a bunch of guys – their entire starting five will probably get drafted, with Anthony Davis and his eyebrow going #1 overall, and they will be in the same rebuilding mode as we are. Except they are rebuilding with Alex Poythress and probably Shabazz Muhammed and God only knows who else, but you can assume it’ll be another rack of five-star prospects on the one-and-done plan.

To be completely blunt: how in the fucking hell are we supposed to compete with this? Sure, we win some games, and we graduate our guys with legit degrees that actually mean something. Which gets us exactly no respect from the rest of this league. I don’t exactly remember the hordes of other conference teams’  fans chanting “S-E-C” for us against Oregon State in baseball last June or against Harvard last month. We are out there fighting an uphill battle because we do things the right way and nobody gives a shit – win games and hang banners, that’s what’s important around here. Not that we’re getting a lot of respect for winning the SEC Tournament and being one of only two UK losses all year – everyone rolls their eyes and says Kentucky doesn’t care about conference titles and assumes we luck-boxed into it because the Wildcats decided to phone one in. Personally, I’d say it’s a failure of leadership if you can’t get your team fired up for a trophy game, but whatever.

But the point remains the same: there is absolutely no way we can hope to routinely compete in this kind of environment. We sunk two years into recruiting Poythress, a local product who we were on from the start, and it availed us exactly nothing.  We took the most talented Vanderbilt team in a generation or more – possibly ever – and managed to beat Kentucky one time in three tries; played them close, sure, made them sweat, but the columns are WON and LOST.  Nothing on there about “Made them work for it” or “Tried hard and looked good doing it.”  We took our best shot these last two years, and went 1-2 in the Big Dance and won a single conference tournament.

Now, things could have turned out different.  If Festus Ezili could have not gotten hurt.  Or not gotten jobbed by the NCAA.  If one of those overtime games against a ranked opponent could have gone slightly differently, if one of those second half leads could have stood up, if the referees could have actually stopped calling a charge for bringing the ball up the court and instead whistled Wisconsin for two guys holding down our center under the basket.

If. If. If ifs and buts were bros and sluts we’d all have been laid on prom night.

So we’re back to the eternal question: is it worth staying in college basketball’s penthouse suite, pocketing the money, finishing fair-to-middling year in and year out and hoping for a touch of glory once a decade, and knowing that every year means an ass-kicking contest against a big blue and/or orange monster with twenty legs and no ass? Are we prepared to live with “at least we’re finishing sixth the right way” for the next ten to twenty years again?

Or is it time to start thinking about circumstances where “who we are and want to be” and “whether we can win” isn’t an either-or choice?

Bubble 2.0

One billion dollars.

Instagram has thirteen employees.  At their last round of funding, according to Om Malik, they were valued prospectively at $500 million.  Now it’s double that, and on paper, each employee just hit the lotto for about $77 million.

If you didn’t think we were entering a new tech bubble, abandon your misapprehension. Facebook is apparently going compete with Google to be the Microsoft of the new bubble – and they’re using their pre-IPO magic unicorn rainbow money to acquire their way to the top. Om Malik nailed it – Instagram figured out mobile in a way Facebook never has, and represented a legit threat.  He doesn’t say as much, but the Android client launch last week simultaneously made an acquisition more plausible and more necessary for Facebook.

I don’t have a lot on Instagram.  In fact, I think I took maybe one picture before the Android launch, which was enough to prompt me to go back and look again.  But it’s not connected to anything else – I certainly don’t use my Twitter or Facebook as a login credential – and I fully anticipate that Instagram will suffer a similar fate as Gowalla, or Dodgeball, or any number of other companies that get acquired, sublimated, and ultimately digested by their parent.  Without going into too many details, I’ve witnessed at fairly close range the process by which a startup gets eaten by a big company – and no matter how independently they profess to run it or maintain its existing culture and whatnot, the fact is that eventually that smaller company will get completely subsumed by its parent.  The founders invariably roll out before long – the kind of mentality that drives the person behind a startup is generally HIGHLY incompatible with living as one cell of a larger corporate entity.  So if you’re an Instagram fan who doesn’t care for anything about Facebook, you need to start planning NOW for life after Instagram.

Thing is, I think social networking is starting to peak.  I don’t know how much further Facebook has to grow if my mother is on it.  More to the point, the hip social-networking app in the Valley these days is Path, a sort of one-stop hybrid of Foursquare and Instagram and Twitter that explicitly caps you at 150 friends (go Wiki “Dunbar’s Number” for an explanation of why 150).  I can completely see Twitter becoming the mechanism of following athletes and bloggers and landmarks while Path (or a similarly-curated app) is the VIP room for actual two-way social networking.  Where Facebook failed – and where Google+ has yet to get traction – is in the concept of more granular social circles, which Facebook utterly failed to provide when it threw open the floodgates after tying one’s real name to the network.

More to the point, though, I think Facebook has crossed the line once too often with the bleeding-edge Valley crowd.  The number of people bailing out of FB (or proudly claiming they were never one it) seems to be growing, and Facebook itself is getting more and more of the AOL stench about it.  And lest we forget, AOL is selling off intellectual property to Microsoft to raise operating capital – a move Gizmodo compared to “selling sperm to make the cable bill”.  I’d be interested to know how much of AOL’s revenue comes from old dialup accounts that people forgot to cancel.

But then, maybe I’m not in the demo for social networking.  I was barely on the fringes of Friendster (except for one memorable interview), I never had anything to do with MySpace (hopelessly juvenile by the time it went big), and Facebook – aside from the “rolling high school reunion” effect – has only been of marginal interest in recent years when it’s not trying to whore my personal information out for cash on the sly.  Maybe I just don’t know what’s doing with social networking and I’m not the target.

I can tell you this, though: when a 13-man company with one product and no profit strategy is worth a billion dollars, we’re on full-tilt bubble watch.

The dream of the 90s is alive…

When Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein launched their new sketch show in January of 2011, they teased it with a music video on YouTube with the clever hook of “The dream of the ’90s is alive in Portland.”  Which was an apt tagline for a town that I once described as “what if my (gifted alternative magnet) high school was its own city”.  And when you think about it – grunge and flannel and alternative music back when that label meant anything and the first Dr Martens company store in America – you could almost sort of make a case that it was true.

I’ve actually been vulnerable lately to a certain measure of my own 90s nostalgia, although it’s important to distinguish between the late 1990s go-go technology-boom era and the early half of the decade.  And that early part of the decade really felt different from what had come before.  The Berlin Wall was down, the Cold War was done, the Soviet Union ceased to exist on Christmas Day 1991- the principal motive force in our politics and foreign affairs was not part of the picture anymore.  We won the war, more or less, and there was a very real sense that the “peace dividend” – in budget terms, sure, but also in terms of mindshare and human effort – could be turned toward bigger and better things.  And then, to get a couple of mid-forty-something New South Democrats as a Presidential ticket – it felt like a generational shift, because it was. Things were going to change, we could reinvent government, we could preserve the environment, we could reduce the budget deficit, we could get health care for everyone, we could build the Information Superhighway. Basically, the new Jerusalem.

And of course, all that took exactly two years to fall apart.  Just like the Millenials a couple of decades later, Gen X got its Messiah and watched him run smack into a stone wall of unrelenting opposition.  At least Obama only saw one house of Congress lost – although you could argue that the Democrats lost control of the Senate once they dropped below 60 seats, given the Republican filibuster-everything approach.  More to the point, the “Contract With America” GOP is today’s GOP, which took a bow for the first time with Newt Gingrich as its forward sergeant and Rush Limbaugh as its philosophical lodestar.  Fast forward eighteen years, and Newt is running for President while Rush is still the guiding light of conservatism.

That’s really when it happened, if you think about it.  That’s when people started to try to turn back the clock. Bill Clinton won Georgia and Louisiana, for crying out loud – can you imagine any Deep South state voting for ANY Democrat now, let alone one of the wrong color?  Can you fathom Bush the Elder or Bob Dole running on the notion that paying for birth control was an undue religious burden on employers?

The notion of dreams is something that comes up in William Gibson’s books quite frequently.  He thinks that certain subcultures – bohemians, for instance, or the cosplayers of Akhibara and Harajuku – are how our society dreams.  I suppose you could point at the breakthroughs of alternative culture in the US – the early 90s or the late 60s or even the Beat age of the Fifties – as a species of dreaming, an expression of the collective subconscious.  And we all know what happens when that sort of thing runs up against the kind of people who experience pant-shitting terror at the thought that someone might be different.

What’s amazing, though, is that the changes get more incremental every time.  The boomers talk up the 1960s, but let’s face it, the notion of overturning Jim Crow and ending segregation and mounting a mass popular protest against an ongoing foreign conflict – that’s a pretty heavy lift, even before taking into account Medicare and the War On Poverty and the race to the moon and ending pollution and the Equal Rights Amendment and abortion and birth control.  Then in the 1990s, the dream was – health care for all and open the Internet and stop the hole in the ozone layer.  Now, the dream is get more people able to buy insurance and maybe do something to slow down carbon emissions – one side keeps scaling down its ambitions and running to stand still while the other hauls the boundary of plausibility ever further to the right, to the point that John Birch Society talking points from the 1960s are now part of regular Republican discourse.

I guess, politically speaking, that’s what I keep hoping we’ll wind up with – something technocratic, wonk-friendly, something less tribal and not rooted in whipping up redneckery.  I suppose in twenty years or so, if the country survives that long, everyone who has segregation as living memory will be dead and the rest of us might be able to shift a bit, especially if “white” is a plurality rather than a majority.  We just have to be able to hold out until then and avoid completely reverting to the United States of Alabama in the meantime.

Thing is, though, I’d love another crack at 1993.  Young, smart, charismatic leadership, and the idea that brains and creativity and fresh thinking might do some good at breaking through the calcified nonsense that plagues our existing politics.  And ideally, something that might shut down the fucking punditocracy and the cable-news blowhards and put an end to government-by-the-conventional-wisdom-of-the-green-room-at-Meet-the-Press.

I’d probably have better luck waiting for a switch to parliamentary government.  After all, we’ve got the parliamentary politics – sort of.

Assorted Glee

JACKET GLEE: Subsiding slowly.  As it turns out, my go-to ought to be the soft-shell known as Vandy III, as it is pretty warm, moderately water-resistant, mostly packable (well, stuffable), and can actually fit the iPad in the inside pocket (barely).  It doesn’t conceal very well at all, but it should be sufficient if I really need to go walkabout with just the iPad until such time as I can rig something up in a shoulder-holster sort of way (YES THIS IS HAPPENING SHUT UP).

CAR GLEE: Not serious at all, but having looked at the spec, I would (if forced tomorrow) replace my car with a Prius C, level 3.  City-car size, 50 MPG city mileage, and at trim level 3 has a sunroof and satellite radio access.  Plus I could sit in line at In N Out with a clear conscience.

GADGET GLEE: So it’s being reported that Google plans to drop a 7″ tablet of its own by the end of the summer, presumably running Ice Cream Sandwich and presumably unbranded in Nexus fashion.  Despite owning a Kindle 3 and an LTE iPad, I would seriously consider buying that tablet for a couple of reasons:

* It’s unbranded and not locked to a carrier, and thus is presumably going to be able to update to whatever Google rolls out instead of being at the mercy of a cellular company or a branded OEM for updates to whatever custom crap UI would normally be stapled over top of regular Android.  So I could be reasonably assured that I would someday be able to run a newer OS than what came with it.

* It’s presumably going to be straight Android, and I would kind of like to know the ins and outs of the other dominant mobile operating system. Because if I’m honest, I don’t know that “workstation support” will still be a viable career choice in ten years and I need to be ahead of the curve in one direction or another in case one of those sysadmin positions fails to open up by then.

* It’s theoretically going to be an open-source OS on standard hardware. Which is sort of what I was gunning for with the Dell netbook two years ago running Linux.  I suppose there’s some libertarian reptile-brain part of me that likes the idea of having a portable computing option that’s not dependent on the tender mercies of “Don’t Be Evil” or the corporate direction of an Auburn graduate – and if it’s really an open and unbranded tablet, the CyanogenMod options and the like should be plentiful.  Of course, then you’re at the tender mercy of whatever random hacker is willing to write OS updates and extend the feature set, which gets back to the whole point of open source: it’s only worthwhile if you’re willing and able to write your own code.  Otherwise you’re just in thrall to a different sort of entity.

* It’s a 7-inch tablet, a form factor I’ve never really had adequate opportunity to test out for viability, which if they bring the thing in under $200 is practical. Hell, if nothing else, maybe I can swindle work into paying for it.  That might be the move, actually.

ETA: One added bit of gadget glee – AT&T will apparently unlock iPhones no longer under contract from Sunday on. Which means that on June 25, I will have an unlocked iPhone 4, suitable for going to Europe…

SHOE GLEE:  Surprisingly nonexistent, as the Palladium boots seem to have taken over for regular wear – the waterproofs have worn well since Christmas and the ultralites will probably take over on May 1.  I knew the shoe glee was subdued when  a trip to Portland was mooted and I never even thought of the Dr Martens store.  Now, that said, I’m always in the market for a nice pair of Converse Chuck Taylors lookalikes that actually have arch support or something…

TRAVEL GLEE: Going abroad may not happen this year, but we’ve covered DC and NYC is later this month and there will be definitely one and possibly two trips to Disneyland, and I’m thinking of making it to Vandy Homecoming this year (complete with football game) as a way of going home with something else to do.  That might just be enough to cover it, although the spectacle of London 2012 will probably just make me want to go.  Meanwhile, I’m treating the NYC trip as a dry run for going abroad: travel garments, light loadout, no data service on the iPad to test viability of Wi-Fi only operation, and ideally one pair of shoes (until the wedding anyway).  Come to think of it, I really need to find my loafers – that probably goes under shoe glee…

SPEAKING OF LONDON GLEE: Seven years ago this week, we were on our honeymoon in London, dodging in and out of the easyInternet on the Strand to update our friends on how well married bliss was going.  Seven years on, I have to say it’s still the best decision I ever made…the marriage, not the easyInternet, mind.


The truly disturbing thing about contemporary American politics, to me anyway, is that for the last dozen years or so it’s been possible to win – or at least to prevail – without having the most votes.  Starting from 2000, when Al Gore lost the election on a 5-4 Supreme Court vote and a glitch of the Electoral College despite a popular-ballot winning margin of half a million.  George Bush never broke 50% approval his entire second term in office.  Somehow 60 votes has been normalized as what it takes to pass a bill in the Senate, with the record for filibusters being shattered in 2007-08 and then shattered again in the ensuing term.

But more than that, it’s the way things seem to be going in reverse.  Cap and trade on greenhouse gases and an individual-mandate health insurance plan were Republican ideas as late as 2008 – now they are suddenly beyond the pale wackadoo socialism, if you believe the cable news yukfests. In the last six months, some folks have suddenly decided that freedom of religion means an employer must be able to refuse contraceptive coverage to his employees.  And now we have a mall-cop wannabe who shoots dead an unarmed kid in his neighborhood after being explicitly told by the 911 dispatcher not to follow said kid – and “news” figures are saying it’s the kid’s own fault for wearing a hoodie?

What the fuck is going on here? How is it possible that we can keep jerking the country further to the right – and further back in time – when you can poll people and get majority support for almost all of the things being decried as liberalism run amok? Are we actually going to fight the 2012 election on the morality of a contraceptive that came into the world fifty years ago?

Or is this the Karl Rove offense on acid and steroids – amp up the venom and vitriol, whip your base into a frenzy, count on the indifferent middle being too turned off by the whole nasty process and then have just over 50% of whatever is left? Keep feeding the paranoia that the scary colored Muslim atheist foreigner is going to take away your guns and your daughters and bank on chaos?

This is some scary and irresponsible shit. Largely because there are a lot of rednecks out there who want to need those guns that they’re convinced Obama is taking away, and I’m not persuaded that they will accept a loss in November – enough hype about “ACORN” and “Black Panthers” and “voting fraud” and all manner of code words, and just like that, a certain segment of the population assumes that there is no way Obama could legitimately win re-election.  And if you take the Nixon-Bush “Anything goes” approach beyond just campaigning, that’s when shit turns ugly.

Twenty years ago, if you’d told me we’d be battling the 2012 campaign out on birth control pills and whether to help Israel bomb Iran…well, I would have laughed my ass off.  Not so funny now, is it?

Of which more later.

flashback, part 47 of n

There was a brief period where I was actually holding up a cassette recorder to a clock radio to tape songs.

Seriously, that was the height of technology in 1984, before Christmas found me getting a dual-cassette boom box from Sears that would be my primary music machine for three years.  It did weird things when dubbing, and the speed was always just a little off with commercially-produced cassettes, but it got me through until Christmas 1987 when the CD age began.

I think that might have been a nodal point.  I had the big JVC boom box with detachable speakers, dual cassette (one with auto-reverse or whatever that was called when it could flip itself to play the other side), a remote control, and of course CD-ROM.  It was just the sort of system one would want for taking off to college – and it was an era when high school alternative meant “college rock.” It was the Age of Athens – REM, old B-52s, Indigo Girls, Love Tractor, BBQ Killers, the like.  And Hoodoo Gurus, Robyn Hitchcock, the Smiths, Gene Love Jezebel, the Smithereens and the Replacements…all the stuff they were playing on campus radio stations other than Birmingham, because nobody had one here.  UAB tried, and for their trouble wound up with a frequency that got handed off for another religious station.

I also went through a couple of Sony Walkmen – I got a very nice one for a summers’ worth of unpaid labor for a day care job that was damn near a permanent contraceptive, and it got replaced once or twice under Circuit City’s absurd warranty-return policy.  Got it toward the end of 1986, and it was a constant companion thereafter, especially on the bus to school and back.  With no car yet (and thus no car stereo) it was the only portable music I had.

And then there was the car, of course, the primitive car stereo that was installed specially RIGHT before the move to digital tuning.  Which would get replaced upon high school graduation with a Pioneer system that included auto-reverse AND music-seek, critical to the driving experience – but not yet.

So that’s where things were as I was on the edge of sixteen and thinking about college in a serious way for the first time.  And it was possible, with the door closed and the music up, to start visualizing what might be out there in the future.  Somehow I came by an MIT course catalog and would peruse not just the course offerings, but the extracurriculars and the campus map.  I started to imagine how things might be in college, and the music fed my dreams, even if my imagination seemed limited to the five-county metro area in other respects.  I definitely wasn’t imagining college anywhere in the state…which was part of the problem later on.  I neglected to put in college applications commensurate with my dreams and imagination, and things turned out about like you’d expect.

I replaced that boom box about the time I replaced the car, in 1993 – and while the Saturn had the stock cassette-based car stereo for its entire run, the boom box would also last over a decade.  The same sound system that woke me up to let me know whether it was too cold for tennis class on senior autumn mornings in undergrad is the system that woke me up to the Sports Junkies or NPR the last spring in DC. It sat on my dresser at Vanderbilt playing drivin’ n’ cryin’ that first week in Nashville, and it sat on the floor of my empty apartment the first week in DC playing Z104’s hourly repetition of Puffy’s tribute to Biggie at 7:30 to roust me out for work.

The first cassette single I ever bought was “Rhythm of Love” by Yes.  It was February ’88, and I kept buying them right up until I left grad school, which is about when I stopped making the mix tapes.  I was on twelve a year through high school and into college, but it tailed off to three or four thereafter, and my last mix tape trailed off halfway through in January 1998 – the last song I ever put to magnetic tape being “Life in Mono.”  So there I was in no-man’s land – and for obvious reasons I didn’t need much for music that summer and fall – until Christmastime, when I downloaded Hole’s “Celebrity Skin” – the first MP3 I ever went online to grab.

That was the transition point.  From then on, music meant the laptop for a year and a half, until I finally invested in a Rio mp3 player – which crapped out inside a year, to be replaced with a similar Nike model.  In the meantime, I would literally plug the tape adapter into the laptop to go for a drive with my digital music.  Ultimately, the digital music problem would be cleared up for good when I got my first iPod as an out-of-nowhere gift from the wife.  After that, it’s iPods all the way down, until the release of the iPhone.

Ultimately, that’s what it’s come to.  Music is stored at home on the central Mac mini, and only some of it is on the iPhone at any given time, but the iPhone is the only thing that plays the music anymore.  No car stereo (the iPhone plays through it), no songs on the laptop (work-only material), no home stereo at all.  My musical life is down to that one pack-of-cards device in my pocket that handles everything else – and with the connection to the iTunes store, I’m as liable as not to acquire my music through it, too.

Odd, how the shift points in my musical technology line up with shift points in my greater life as a whole.