Throwing cash

Some people say you get old when you sign your first mortgage.  Or when you have your first child. Or your second. Personally I’d say I really started feeling old when I first started wondering whether any given set of aches and pains was going to be there for the rest of my life.  But aside from that, I’d throw one other criterion in there: you’re a grownup the first time you realize you can’t remember the last time you checked your balance at the ATM before just getting money out.

Alternately – and this is what put me on this train of thought – maybe it’s when your default ATM withdrawal goes from $20 to $100.  I had to forcibly make myself only get out $40 at a time, both in an attempt to force more spending to the credit card (where it can earn Starwood points and be more easily audited) and to prevent the slow leakage that comes with extra cash on hand. If you’ve got $89 in your pocket, you’re less likely to think twice about throwing two bucks on a bottle of Zero.

I don’t have a really good sense of money.  I famously agonized for months over buying a $21 Nerf gun (with accessories) a couple of years back. The ridiculous thing was that I could have packed my lunch one day and not bought any sodas or snacks between meals for two days and HAD the $21.  The amount of money I’ve sunk into short-term soda rental in my life is truly staggering, if you think about it, and I can’t afford to.

But then again – there lies the problem. My shoulder was largely better until a couple of nights in a strange bed with unhelpful pillows skewed the whole thing again, and the temptation is to run down to a nice reputable spa and have somebody give my shoulder the business.* The only thing is, that’ll set me back a slick $90 plus tip – and the benefits of it may well be gone in a day or two.  The watch I agonized over for more than a year and finally bought myself for my 40th birthday with assorted gift money?  Basically a little over two massages, and that could well last me for decades.

Ultimately, that may be the biggest part of how I stopped buying cigars (not just a question of smoking locations) or how I made it two nights in Tahoe without ever stepping up to a craps table and putting down money.  Or why I’m far more likely to spend my impulse purchasing on Kindle books.  Or why I stopped chasing cell phones with a guaranteed lifespan of only a couple of years, or why I was so reluctant to take the iPad plunge for so long. Or why cocktails have replaced straight liquor when going out drinking – I could buy a bottle at BevMo and get out cheaper, so put the money into something I don’t have the time, ingredients or skill to make myself instead.

Maybe that’s why I’m still sidelong-glancing at that Filson jacket.**  Lifetime warranty? Now that’s value for money.



* When I did this in December, they did a full hour and change of hardcore Swedish therapy massage.  By the end of it, my nose was running, my ears were ringing, I was too dizzy to walk and I’m pretty sure I gave up the location of the secret Rebel base.

** Having just completed a jacket audit (and getting ready to start on shoes), I’m more convinced than ever that I have to have something done with drugs or surgery about the jacket glee.  If I’m serious about avoiding “performance outerwear” as the look, it’s going to be damned difficult to do water-resistant without being too heavy.  Might be time to custom-tailor my existing oilcloth coat and see if I can make the pockets work for me…

Nothing But Cocks

NBC would find a way to botch a gangbang in a whorehouse. But you would have expected that, given that the Today Show’s executive producer is in charge of Olympic coverage. As a result, events are delayed eight hours and then delayed further so Ryan Seacrest can tell us what Joe Jonas was Tweeting about the opening ceremonies LAST NIGHT.

This isn’t sports. This is sports thrown in a blender, drowned under entire tankers of schmaltz and nonsense, dumbed down to appeal to the kind of people who think the Today Show is a newscast, and then they shower themselves in celebrating their own cleverness. And the worst part is that we don’t have a choice. We have to dig like hell if we want to somehow steal an illegal stream of the BBC’s coverage, because the “live streaming” NBC claims to offer has yet to function all day for me (thanks largely to basing their tablet app around the binary abortion that is Adobe AIR).

Nobody wants to watch the shit NBC throws up there. They watch because they’re a captive audience – they have the only Sunday night NFL game, they have the only home games for Notre Dame, they have the Olympics all to themselves. They pay to get it and then we are stuck with them. So much for the invisible hand of the market – NBC is apparently content with just the middle finger.

So don’t let the numbers fool you, Peacock Network: your coverage has taken the Pea out of your name. If we had any sense, we’d all rely on the stream and only the stream and maybe move the needle a little. Except, because we “need the contextual help”, NBC wouldn’t stream the opening ceremonies.

Cocks. All of them.

The official blog post of the 2012 Summer Olympics (™)

Bill Simmons stole my thunder a little, with his huge Grantland post about the summer Olympics as the signposts of his passing life.  He sticks only to the summer games, which leaves out a lot as far as I’m concerned – I’ve always liked the winter games better, and they are my own set of signposts – 1980 as the first Olympics of any kind that I actually remember. 1988 bound up with the Presidential primaries and a friend’s huge sweet-16 surprise birthday party and those first inklings that there would be something to this college business. 1994 tied in with the last semester of undergrad and watching ice skating every time it came around. 1998 in that strange liminal period after first moving north, 2002 seen from DC in the wake of the attacks, 2006 invariably tied to the wedding of Team Black Swan East and my transition at Cupertino Hexachrome Fruit.  2010 should be brighter in my memory, what with curling-mania and the fact we had a friend working the Games, but apparently not yet.

But this is summer, and I’m thinking of the last couple of games.  2004, when we’d first moved here and were kind of housesitting-slash-sorta-babysitting at my sister-in-law’s house, with their much bigger TV.  And the ubiquitous AT&T ads that pushed me to want a faster and more capable phone (though it wasn’t much of a push). Again, that liminal period when I hadn’t really gotten a sense of where I was or what my life was going to be like, having just started a contract job with an uncertain future (albeit, in retrospect, one a lot brighter than it would become a couple of months on).  And 2008, which overlapped with my latter time on the NASA contract, when I was still pretty miserable about work and wondering what I was going to do.  Six months later, I had the job I have now – a job which is driving me up the wall at present.  Good job the wife and I are taking a week off.

Four years seems to be a pretty good marker – long enough that you can see what’s happened in your life with a little bit of distance.  And yet not so long that it seems forever ago.  I’ve been here at this job longer now than I was at my first one, even including contract time – but it doesn’t seem like as long.  Maybe it’s because I’m older and time goes faster, or maybe because I haven’t had as many changes of job duties and my general role to act as markers.  I’ve avoided surgery at this job, at least, and that’s got to count for something.

And now London, first three-time host.  The Olympics weren’t yet the Olympics in 1908, not as we think of them now – the main point was washing away the bad taste left over from the horrific sideshow-trainwreck of St Louis.  And 1948 was the year of the famous “Austerity Games,” the UK staging an Olympics three years removed from war in Europe and rationing still in full effect.  This time, it’s the real, full-blown, modern Olympic machine in full roar.  We were there in London in April 2005, before the games were awarded, when everything was “BACK THE BID” and enthusiasm was high.  And then they got it, and then the July 7 bombings, and then seven years of “how exactly is this going to work?”

I haven’t seen the opening ceremonies yet, thanks to the worst network in America handling the coverage – NBC, the people who brought you “plausibly live” tape-delay coverage of an Olympics held in Eastern Daylight Time – but the spoilers and bits and bobs leaking through Twitter make it sound like it’s going to be a right knees-up and no fooling.  I hope it is.  I hope they get to enjoy it.  I hope I enjoy it, which is largely to say I hope the iPad battery holds up and the streaming doesn’t suck.

Light ’em up.


Not enough that Samsung came out with a thin-and-flat flip phone called the Blade, or a keyboard phone called the Blackjack, or that their tablet’s charger looks amazingly like a certain 30-pin connector, or that their trade show booth in Germany was chockablock with the icons of iOS default applications…

Now comes the one-two punch: the judge sanctions Samsung for destroying email after already having notice to preserve documents, and evidence in court suggests that Google actually warned Samsung off the design for the Galaxy Tab because they thought it looked far too much like an iPad.

You don’t have to be a MacMac or a fanboy or think Apple is some kind of saintly organization made of rainbows and puppies to realize that as it stands, they’ve got a pretty damn good case that Samsung is a colossal rip-off artist.  This is the legacy of that intro speech in 2007, when Steve Jobs said they’d patented the hell out of the iPhone and would defend it.  This is the ghost of Steve Jobs remembering the “look and feel” case against Windows and, once again, doing everything in its power to make sure Apple would never be taken advantage of again…

Scratching their nuts

Caterpillar, off the back of a record $4.9 BILLION in profits and even higher forecasts, is demanding a six YEAR wage and pension freeze from its employees.

Why? Presumably because they can. After all, in a down economy, who’s going to quit their job?

This is why I remain a steadfast supporter of unions. Say what you like about feather-bedding and corruption, the fact is that if your employer will not hesitate to screw you in the name of padding profits, you need somebody able to draw a line and say NO.

“I’m taking your raise, whatcha gonna do about it?” Bully capitalism. This is the future unless somebody punches them in the face, hard, repeatedly, until they stop.

Because it feels appropriate, a selection from Spencer Hall’s “God’s Away On Business”

…There is no one in charge in college football. There likely never will be. One lie leading to another forms the bridge the present takes to the future, and your steps don’t lie: it feels as solid as truth, and holds up for far longer in some cases.

The editing matters so much here. You can say the sport is rife with filth, and you would be right. The negligent policemen of the sport strike intermittently at thieves. One side makes up the law as they go while the other politiely ignores it. Bowl games grease the palms of venal public officials. Television networks buy off longtime allies and reconstruct the map as they fit, as drunken in their excesses as the mustachioed cartographers of any careless empire. Players steal what they can when they can. Coaches do the same, but to much greater effect.

We know this. This is not news. Please stop acting like it is. That’s very ingenious that in the bombed-out church of football, you have figured out that there is no God, and someone is running out the door with the coffers. The only intrigue is in the variation, not in the repeated exaggerated reminders that this is a sport of charlatans, sweathouse labor conditions, and a thousand dodges behind the shield of amateurism. 

You can also give us other news to use if you’re into creative editing. You will enter into a one-way contract upon birth. All goods are temporary, and your most personal property, you, will stop functioning completely without warning or refund. Your employer, despite what you believe, does not care about you, and is only interested in the capital you can help them accrue. Your home is a house, and is a good. Your organs can be sold for a certain dollar amount on the open market. The people in charge of the imaginary territory that someone made up to fill with saleable goods are, by all accounts, unqualified for their jobs and very much do not have your best interests at heart. Your wife or husband is under a chemical delusion that ends in six months, and likely continues for the convenience it provides in raising children.

There is always free cheddar in the mousetrap, and it is always a deal.

In this edit, Pinocchio is a story about bad firewood that ends with the whale, and George Teague’s play didn’t matter because it was cancelled by a penalty. 

There is another edit. The one between naivete and cynicism. It is a delicate one. You will first have to accept that this breaks your heart. You will have to accept that this is in some part a scam. You will have to accept that you are bad firewood walking: wooden, a puppet guided by strings pulling you in directions you can’t always understand or accept. You’ll have to accept, in one form or another, that God’s away on business, and you will have to take care of this yourself no matter how long you have to run. You have to accept that the only redemption for the large, cheap machinations of life is the redemption of experience, the only thing you can control…

Nailed it. Again. As usual.

Spencer Hall, the greatest living sportswriter and the author of the single best piece ever written about college football, has reacted to the NCAA’s neutron-bombing of Penn State precisely as I myself would have.

Read this, and know that I concur in every particular. There is something to be done here, but the NCAA is basically jumping on the pile and indulging the mob – and doing something I thought would be impossible; they’re actually making me feel pity for the football organization at Penn State.

This isn’t about punishing Penn State.  Penn State football was permanently damaged already.  This is the NCAA taking a shit on the corpse and seeking applause and approbation for doing so – and, much like the NFL, asserting that it is the great and powerful Oz and in no way whatsoever throwing stones from a glass house.


ETA: I don’t know what they’re doing down there at Florida that makes sportswriters, but this post at Alligator Alley also nails my thinking with accuracy and precision: the NCAA is trying to make this go away for themselves as quickly and loudly as possible, and in doing so is simultaneously shining their own ass, protecting themselves from any tangential connections, and setting a disturbing precedent for massive intervention with minimal process.


EATA: Jon F. Morse, stalwart Kansas State partisan and outstanding chronicler of college football at the less hype-ridden levels of the game, has the definitive breakdown.  

Dark night

Not much to say. We’ve seen this show before, over and over, and we will continue to see it, because a dozen people shot dead in a movie theater, or a church, or a buffet line, or wherever – that’s apparently the price we as a society are willing to pay to avoid inconveniencing the people who want to need the guns.

At this point, there’s no other explanation.

The rare but not unheard of politics-technology mashup

So the President had a paragraph in a stump speech a couple of days ago where he discussed the interconnectedness of society, how we had to collectively build the road or run the power grid or educate the employees, and that nobody builds a business all by themselves.  Naturally, the Romney campaign sliced a big chunk out of the middle and made an ad out of the deceptively-edited speech, which Fox proceeded to flog relentlessly…honestly, at this point, I’m out of patience.  Make all the excuses you like, but if you’re voting GOP, the fact is you are objectively voting in favor of the United States of Alabama and you need to own it.  But I digress.

I think about this in terms of the current state of phones and tablets and the ongoing insistence that Android is somehow morally superior because it is “open.” Setting aside the fact that hardware makers slap on their own GUI and carriers lock the boot loader out and updates are released by Google only to make it to devices…eventually, if ever – ignore all that for the moment.  Say Android was, in fact, truly open and olly-olly-oxen-free.

So what?

For 90% of the people who buy these things, open avails them very little.  Remember our old friend Ed Earl Brown?  Ed Earl is not interested in writing his own apps, or drivers, or kernel, or what have you.  He’s not going to hack the operating system.  More to the point, he’s not going to write his own operating system.  And when he does, he’s not going to set up his own weather station wired to a GSM modem feeding back to his own server to monitor the weather, he’s not going to put together his own mail server and write his own implementation of sendmail and do his own push to his Android phone…which, in fairness, he didn’t build himself.

The question becomes, how open do you have to be?  Where is the bright line that separates the real true hacker technolibertarian from the Apple-dependent sheep-man?  Is it a question of writing your own apps? If you can do that, aren’t you still at the mercy of the OS developer’s APIs?  How much of that code are you willing to re-write yourself for the sake of not being dependent on somebody else?

And really, it goes beyond that.  This blog depends almost entirely on the tender mercies of somebody else: my brother-in-law who hosts it, WordPress for the underlying blog engine and iPad client, MarsEdit for the laptop client where I’m typing right now.  Hell, if I were typing this out, I wouldn’t be pressing my own paper from pulp and weaving my own typewriter ribbon inked with a concoction of berries and ground coal.

So what if, for you, the iPad (for instance) is just a big screwdriver?  A big complicated screwdriver, obviously, more along the lines of a power-drill with a Phillips bit, but at root just a tool?  Ultimately, I think that’s what Steve Jobs had in mind with the iPad (which we now know was in development as early as 2002) – a computer where the computing aspect of it just goes away, leaving you with whatever you’re doing.  Browser, email, weather, book, whatever – it’s there without any mucking about with file systems, contextual menus, none of that.  Just reach out with your finger and pick out what you want.  Hell, in some cases, it’s the Kramer Moviephone. “Why don’t you just tell me who you’d like to telephone today?”

In the end, ultimately, I think we lose a lot by wanking about the tool rather than what we do with it.  Sure, survivalists might want to be able to cast their own ammunition, and the guys that write the operating system should know how to do that, but for the vast majority of people – we’re going to be sitting on a lot of other people’s shoulders to do everything and anything we do.  That’s called society, it’s called civilization, and it’s not something we need to apologize for relying on.  Because the alternative is subsistence hunting-gathering and sheltering under rocks.

Which is something the privileged heir of George Romney should think long and hard about before deciding he’s the epitome of the self-made man.

Further thoughts on Yahoo and its new boss

1) SHE’S SEVEN MONTHS PREGNANT HOLY FUCKING SHIT.  If that ain’t a show I’ll kiss your ass.  Then again, if you’re trying to pull Yahoo out of its death spiral, popping out a kid on top of that is merely the parsley on the side of the plate.

2) I notice that the first instinct I had about her turnaround is “who can they buy?”  Which obviously reflects my lack of confidence in Yahoo’s ability to deliver a new product – they haven’t had a compelling offering since Flickr and I’m pretty sure they bought that too, and ages ago at that.  I don’t know what that says about my faith in Yahoo to innovate, but it says a lot about the way things have changed in the Valley – more and more, it feels like the exit strategy of choice is to get bought out and acquired by somebody bigger, whether it’s one of the Consumer Big Five that I cited earlier or by the likes of Cisco or another big player in the less-consumer-ish space.

3) I think that speaks to the extent to which the new wave of high-tech players wants to get rich instead of conquering the world.  Instagram going to Facebook is the example everyone points to, but look at the meltdown at Digg – they turned down a big-ticket acquisition and now, years later, they’re selling out for a pittance compared to what they were valued at originally.  That’s got to be a cautionary tale.  Friendster is probably the same way – they created the modern idea of social networking, spurned the Google offer, went on to get their lunch eaten by MySpace and Facebook, got big-ish in Southeast Asia and ultimately wound up a niche social game site.  At this point, if you get an offer from Apple or Microsoft or Facebook, you have to think long and hard about whether you a) think you can make it bigger on your own, b) not get swamped by some other Big Five offering, and c) live with the knowledge that you let it ride and busted out when you limp into obscurity in two years.

4) All of this makes me wonder whether Yahoo might not try to acquire somebody they want to be acquired by themselves – which sounds confusing as hell, but think Disney-Pixar.  Let’s be honest, Disney’s future is wholly owned and operated by their Emeryville “subsidiary”; if Yahoo were to latch onto Foursquare or Twitter or the like, it would give them something to aim for while still having their original portal-and-information business as a value-add for their location-based/social future.  I know it sounds nuts, but what else is going to turn Yahoo around?