After looking through the extras on The Avengers (downloaded automagically via iTunes the instant it became available) and reading through the online directors’ commentary (found here for those who don’t have DVD), a couple of things jump to mind:

1) The only deleted scene I would have left in would be the Steve Rogers “Man Out of Time” sequence.  That extra couple of beats of him coping with the fact that almost everyone he knew is dead – that Howard Stark’s SON is dragging forty-five, that you’ve got a black President and Buck Rogers phones in everyone’s hand and all the best cars are Japanese or German…he’s truly lost without that costume and a battle to point at. I’m hoping that the forthcoming sequel delves into that more.

2) Apparently Tony Stark’s line about how the arc reactor was “a terrible privilege” was an ad-lib by RDJ, which just proves what a phenomenal actor the guy is. That might have been the most meaningful line in the picture for me, and he just tossed it out there on a whim.

3) The notes on Mark Ruffalo really make a good point of noting that in the end, there are two Hulks – the one Banner chooses to become, and the one he can’t help becoming. There’s a lot in there about breathtaking anger-management issues that bears contemplating…

4) It looks like they intended to do more with Agent Marla Hill, Nick Fury’s aide-de-camp, and a lot of it ended up on the cutting room floor.  As it is, she still feels slightly superfluous to me – unless she’s in there as a nod to future use in the same way Hawkeye was in Thor.

5) Along those lines, I find it interesting that only Captain America and, to a lesser extent, the Hulk actually go by their super-heroic names.  Hawkeye and Black Widow are almost universally “Barton” and “Romanov” and Tony Stark, being publicly known as Iron Man, almost always gets called by name.  Only Captain America – who has probably been known that way for seventy years – has something distinct from his real name.  Thor is, well, Thor, and you can pretty clearly tell which is Bruce Banner and which is the Hulk.  Interesting to think about when most people follow the traditional superhero trope that superheroes always have a secret identity and that the hero is the “real” version of them, something Marvel worked on subverting from the beginning.


Now I just wonder if the Academy will acknowledge anything besides the CGI…

Big red

The die is cast. Management at work is ordering my new iPhone 5 with service on the company dime…on Verizon. Thus severing a relationship with AT&T going back to 1998, interrupted only by a year on T-Mobile in 2004.  So why now, when Verizon has clearly been the top provider in the Bay Area for a decade?

Couple of reasons:

1) LTE.  There’s no beating around the bush: Verizon’s LTE deployment is miles and years ahead of AT&T’s.  It’s been damn near bulletproof on my iPad, which was the big test.  Add to that, this: the Verizon iPhone 5 supports five different LTE bands, including some abroad and some that could conceivably be redeployed in the US.  Which is significant because…

2) Verizon’s iPhones are shipping unlocked.  You can pop a SIM in them and get service with another carrier – and with either AT&T or T-Mobile, I could get the exact same service currently available on my iPhone 4S, never mind what I might find roaming internationally with my Virgin Mobile SIM.  For the first time, I can get a Verizon phone that can not only be used abroad, but with a carrier right here in the US at need.  No hardware lock-in makes for a much more convincing case. Plus I can now use the same phone internationally, which means I don’t even have to retain my unlocked 4S for travel abroad.

3) With the proliferation of Wi-Fi on public transit, it’s now possible for me to have some form of Wi-Fi connection all the way to work except for the portions on foot or on Caltrain.  This takes away a lot of the disadvantage of CDMA at being unable to do voice and data simultaneously. (And since that advantage is technically nonexistent on LTE, I expect that to cease to be a problem as Verizon shifts more and more of its network to LTE.)  Hell, there’s free Wi-Fi at the mall, at every coffee shop, at the airport (and about !-ing time), all over Googleburg – no reason not to use it.

4) Apple has supposedly beaten the longstanding issues with battery life on CDMA devices – to all accounts, the iPhone 5 is an all-day device.  How true that will be with my usage patterns remains to be seen, but for the time being there’s no reason to think I won’t be able to get by with the new gadget. Even on my existing 4S on AT&T, the battery performance under iOS 6 seems to have improved.

But the biggest criterion of all:

5) I’m not paying for it. Whatever the merits of VZW’s plans or data provision or what have you – it’s somebody else’s problem now. My subsidy will go away but I’ll still be a net $40 a month to the good as a result of finally taking the work phone.

Now I just have to wait for company approvals and for the thing to actually ship.  Which by my calculations means I’ll have it just in time for Thanksgiving…

No Fucking Leadership

Anyone not trapped under something heavy knows what went down with last night’s Monday Night Football – the avalanche of botched calls ending with the complete clusterfuck in the end zone at the end, which to all the world looks like a missed decision that flipped the outcome of the game. Golden Tate apparently committed offensive pass interference and then failed to gain simultaneous possession of the ball from M. D. Jennings, who for all the world appeared to have the pick (which one official signaled before evidently being overruled). And Seattle got a measure of revenge for Super Bowl XL, when shaky officiating probably cost them a trophy.

Golden Tate is making no apology for how things came out, and is catching abuse for it in some quarters. Horseshit. There are people responsible for calling fouls against Golden Tate, and they are not one of them named Golden Tate. If players flagged their own fouls, we wouldn’t have officials at all. We’d be playing out on the sandlot after church on Sunday afternoon. Hell, don’t forget Seattle luck-boxed into a home playoff game at 7-9 because nobody took into account that a team with a losing record might get home field over one with 11 wins, and they didn’t rush to bail out of the playoffs or give back their win over the Saints. We have officials, like we have government, because we need higher authority than our own judgement.

But the NFL, in its infinite wisdom, has declared that officials are fungible and are going with the absolute dregs of the football officiating world, all for the sake of a sum well south of a million dollars per year per team. One estimate pegged the amount of money that would represent complete capitulation to the original refs as roughly fifty cents per game ticket. Which is literally a rounding error on the daily take of an NFL franchise. So why? Why on Earth would a multi-billion-dollar business risk the health of its players and the integrity of its competition for money that could be found in the couch cushions?

Part of it is about breaking the refs’ union, to be sure – ironic as hell that Wisconsin governor Scott Walker was agitating on Twitter for the return of the real refs – but in no small part, it’s because they can. As Steve Young famously raged, demand for pro football is inelastic. The contracts are signed, the TV rights sold, the season tickets already paid for. As long as people keep watching, the NFL has no incentive whatsoever to back down. Meanwhile, at this point, if I were leading the union for the refs? I would pull all my current proposals and concessions off the table and say “Fuck you, pay me.” After all, this is not a strike. The refs didn’t walk out, just as the players didn’t walk out last year. Once again, the NFL is flexing its muscle as the 800 pound gorilla of American sport and demanding its own way simply because it can. And its owners have bought into the Randian myth wholesale: they are the elite, the job creators, and we should count ourselves blessed to walk in their shadow and question them not.

Fuck. That.

The NFL is what it has always been: bloated, arrogant, hidebound, a league of assholes operated by assholes, a garbage organization with human garbage at its helm. The one good thing to come of this fiasco is that now the emperor’s clothes are in a flaming pile in an end zone at Quest Field, and everyone knows it.


It’s the big story of iOS 6, apparently, drowning out everything else: the maps suck. Apple’s new built-in mapping application, using a mishmash of data and its own 3D rendering, appears to be sorely wanting in comparison to the Google-based Maps app it replaced. And the usual suspects are crowing about Apple’s hubris in kicking Google off the platform.

Which to me sounds like horseshit. Look, Tim Cook (despite his Auburn pedigree) is no idiot. Neither are Phil or Scott or Jonny. They know they’ve got to sell a 1.0 product and they’re putting the best face on it, but like so much of iOS 6, this is a change that had to happen and they’ve made the decision to take the bullet now, while the stock is still at $700 and the market share is dominant and the court’s decision is still against Samsung.

Why did it have to happen? Because Google wanted it this way too. Look: Gmail is still in the automatic config options for Mail/Contact/Calendars on the iPhone. Every iOS device at the Apple Store tonight was still set for Google as the default Safari search engine. The YouTube standalone app was approved in the Apple Store before iOS 6 was even released. Apple – who OEMs a lot of chips from Samsung – is more than willing to do the frenemy thing with the Beast of Mountain View. They’d be idiots not to.

And yet – Maps hasn’t materially changed since iOS 2, when it got GPS support and traffic view. The much-vaunted turn-by-turn navigation in Android’s Maps app never made it to the iOS version, and you’d be a moron to expect it ever would. Similarly, the YouTube app – originally meant to obviate the need for Flash on the world’s hottest video site – hasn’t been updated, well, ever. And critically for Google, it doesn’t serve up ads.

If I had to guess, there was a contract with Google for licensing Maps and YouTube, and once it expired everybody was content to go their separate ways. By doing their own thing, Apple can finally offer native turn-by-turn (and for all the howling, a superior 3D rendering experience overall to the iOS version of Google Earth), and by breaking off separate, Google can go its usual route n monetization with YouTube and make Maps a party piece for Android – and, for now, a clearly superior offering on their platform exclusively. I’m sure we’ll be getting Google Maps for iOS beyond the web app, but I suspect they’ll be content out on Shoreline Boulevard to watch the Colossus of Cupertino twist in the wind for a little while.

This is a bet by Apple – that by lumping all the transitions together, they can get over the hump and back to normal service quickly. If they guessed wrong, though, this could be the point where they make the stumble that lets Android catch up – and lets Microsoft back into the game. Much depends on the iPhone 5’s battery and LTE performance, and how quickly iOS 6.01 and later can improve Maps. Will Apple get it sorted? Sure. Quickly enough? Maybe not.

Math and its failings

So while out in the wilds of the Ancestral Lands last week, I more or less completely missed the announcement of the iPhone “5.” Which let’s just start with the obvious: this is an appallingly stupid name.  This is the sixth iteration of the iPhone and it doesn’t have “5G” whatever that may turn out to be someday, so there are no logical mathematical grounds on which to call this the iPhone 5.  There’s a certain measure of dumbing-down there that is of a piece with my ongoing concern about the future of Apple (as evinced by the doings of the new head of retail).  But I digress.

The early reviews indicate that the phone feels thinner and lighter than ever, thanks to a return to a metal back for the first time since the original phone.  And since that original phone was near and dear to my heart (and reposes to this day in my “grab this running out of the burning house” box of keepsakes), I’m happy to think that the new phone will reflect a nice degree of professional sturdiness.  I suppose the stretched screen will be useful, although like John Gruber I’m mildly concerned about the one-hand-ability of the phone at a larger size.  I’m less bothered about the change to a new connector, especially since I’m syncing wirelessly, but I’m sure it’s going to mean a handful of adapters (come to think of it I need to start adding up how many and where)…

And then there’s the elephant in the room: owing to AppleCare, I just took possession of an iPhone 4S not long ago at all.  May, perhaps? In any event, I’m no longer replacing a phone that’s two years and change old, I’m replacing one that was the most current iPhone available two weeks ago.  And since my aim is to change carriers and go through work for it, the prospects of getting it immediately are slender at best…which means loading up iOS 6 today and seeing how long it lasts for me.

Then again, there’s also the matter of LTE to consider.  The LTE speed on the iPad has been amazingly quick and efficacious; I’ve pulled almost 50Mbps in downtown Mountain View which is quadruple the best speed at home on UVerse. 3G on AT&T (and don’t give me that bullshit “4G” about HSPA+; it was bullshit when T-Mobile first pitched it and it’s bullshit now) is just not a patch on LTE on Verizon in the Bay Area, and having that speed coupled to the faster processor on the phone might just be transformative.  And I certainly wouldn’t object to gaining $40 a month back from paying my own (partly-subsidized) bill, especially depending on the data package work’s willing to float…

The bulk of the tech press seems to be unimpressed, the lines are already forming out front of stores, and the Mac blogosphere is gleefully pointing out the dichotomy.  One UK radio personality last week pointed out that in your pocket, you now have a phone, a hi-fi, a television, a movie collection, an encyclopedia, a web browser, a bookstore and music shop, a camera, a camcorder, and all your email – what else do people expect at this point?  For me, that’s the point: I don’t need new and flashy and different, I need faster and longer battery life.  If everything it currently does just works a little bit better all around, that would be enough to justify making work pay for it…


So for my birthday, I pooled some of the gift money and some cash I had stuck in an old lighter (no, seriously) and bought myself this watch.  Why, you ask?

* Mechanical automatic watch.  As in, you can wind it if you want, but the motion of your arm will keep it wound, too, and store enough energy to go over 24 hours off your arm.

* No branding.  No name, no logo, no nothing, just the 12-hour time and a second hand in its own sweep wheel.  Clean, unornamented, basically if Gabriel Hounds made a watch this is it.

* Heavy steel, mineral crystal, and water-resistant to 10 ATM – so I can shower or splash with it and not worry about it.  And because I’m not changing a battery, I’m not compromising the seal by taking the back off, so as long as the crown stays screwed down it should be just dandy.

Think about that.  I’m basically on the schedule of new phone every 2 years, new laptop every 3, just picked up an iPad and who knows how long that will be viable,  and will almost certainly be getting the iPhone 5 through work sooner than later. (Of which more later.)  Our house is chockablock with old electronics that need e-cycling. Yet here on my wrist sits a device that will more or less give me the correct time, without any other maintenance or support, for the rest of my life.

Also, no flashy features – no timer, no alarms, not even the date.  The phone can do all that. This is just “what time is it right now.”  Which, if you live in the moment, ought to be sufficient…

All in

The famous Romney video doesn’t add anything new. All it does is confirm the Atlas Shrugged mentality of the 2012 GOP, which is one step removed from divine right of kings: if you have money, then by God you deserve it and earned it no matter how you came by it, and anyone who doesn’t is a parasite grasping for what is rightfully your own.

The reason Ayn Rand is so seductive among a certain adolescent segment is because it tells them the elite are better than anyone else – and said adolescents assume they are obviously among the elite. The problem is, too many don’t grow out of it, and we get what we have now.

I honestly expect the tail end of this race to look like Wallace vs Brewer in 1970. It’s all Romney has left.

The search for time lost: last Sunday morning

(NB: Everything posted under these four “The search for time lost” posts was composed in real time as noted.)

Standing in the Conservatory of the Opryland Hotel, I understand the fascination now. It’s everything I wanted from Disney World back in the 1990s: the artificial reality, the vast open space, the surreal sense that something different could happen here. And I’m glad we stayed here, the wife and I, the first time I brought her to Nashville nine years ago. Especially coming straight from a Disney resort. And the fact that it’s only about a fifteen minute drive from West End means I would totally and absolutely do this next year. Pick out a good home game, plan for at least three days, stay at the Opryland hotel, see all of Nashville, tailgate like I mean it and hopefully for more than three hours.

This weekend was a test. 15 years after leaving under my own ignominious circumstances, what does Vanderbilt mean to me now?

One thing I learned is that I’ve matured. I bought no jerseys, sweatshirts, hats, nothing I didn’t actually need. My big splurge was a new polo shirt (in gold dri-fit suitable for Cal games), a new lanyard, a new book about the history of Vanderbilt football, and one utterly superfluous scarf. I guess I already own all the things I need to make me feel I belong to Vanderbilt.

What I got out of this weekend was what almost every other SEC fan who never attended their school has. I was a fan among fans. I tailgated, I drank, I cheered, I had a great time. My fandom, my authenticity as a Vanderbilt supporter, has finally been confirmed beyond question for me. And really, I’m the only one who needed to prove it – absolutely nobody else doubted it.

I don’t want to make too much of this, but it’s entirely possible that for the first time, I may have actually retrieved something from the black hole and brought it back. It doesn’t have to be what it used to be, it can be what it is now. Which has been what I’ve struggled to learn for years now: stop trying to be who you were and just become who you are…

The search for time lost: last Saturday afternoon

(NB: Everything posted under these four “The search for time lost” posts was composed in real time as noted.)

Fifteen years ago I walked through the malls looking at things I wanted to need and couldn’t afford. Now I don’t even recognize them. No more music stores or bookstores, and I don’t feel like I need every piece of Vandy merchandise on offer. Whatever it was I used to find here, it’s not there anymore.

So many things are just not there anymore. The Rand bookstore, the lockers in the bottom of the student center, the Overcup is different, my old apartment is gone completely. Tower Records, Bookstar, Davis-Kidd. The Boston Market where Vaughn and I would eat before seminar. The intersection where I got T-boned is a 4 way stoplight now.

And yet…the colors are still black and gold, the nets are still at the ends of the basketball court, and tacos on the patio at SATCO are still the best thing ever. It’s okay there’s so much changed. I’ve changed so much. The school is like me – the forms are still there, the fundamentals are still there, but in so many ways I’m not the same person who left here and this isn’t the place I left. And maybe in the end that’s what matters. I recognize that I’m still the same person, and learn to live with the person I’ve become. And if that’s what I get out of this trip, it was a hell of a good trip.

It’s good that I didn’t – that I couldn’t – keep coming back. It forced me to regenerate fast in DC, to stop trying to be who I was and become who I had to be. If I had kept coming back and seeing the old places just the same, it would have been that much harder for me to go on to the next stage. Instead, I see that it’s as different as I am, but the same, and in a way that makes it easier to accept and validate that I was here and what I did still counts.

The search for time lost: last Friday night

(NB: Everything posted under these four “The search for time lost” posts was composed in real time as noted.)

15 years. Let’s try to put that in some kind of perspective.

The amount of time since I last set foot on campus, in 2006, is twice as long as the entire time I was here as a student. Put another way: a quarter of my life ago I’d already been gone almost twice as long as I was here. I’m standing on a bridge over 21st Ave. that would’ve simplified my life if it had existed then.

As best I can calculate I’ve been back on campus maybe four times since graduation. Without fail, it’s always a Christmas or some other holiday or sometime when there are no students around and the whole place is dead. When it’s like that, it’s easy to imagine this is the set of a movie that I saw once and was very emotionally involved in. But now, it’s the eve of the game. The campus is full, students are buzzing, and I’m standing out on Peabody Esplanade in front of the building that used to have the computer lab where I first started to really learn the Mac.

As soon as I walk past Payne, though, I realized this is not the same place. The munchie mart has been replaced with what I can only assume is the Commons cafeteria. And my car is parked across the street from where my car would’ve been parked 15 years ago, but where my apartment used to be there currently repose half a dozen new freshman dormitories. I remember standing under this very same sky on this very same lawn, wondering what was going to become of me, wondering where my life was headed, wondering if I had any future at all. Somehow, I got pulled through some fourth dimensional hole that deposited me in a science fiction future, 15 years later. And I’m dictating what I say – what I write – into something in my hand the size of a pack of cigarettes which interprets every word and gets the text about 95% accurate.

Somebody else went to school. Somebody else was a university graduate fellow. Somebody else walked these lawns, took these classes, tried to live this collegiate life. He’s been gone for 15 years now and he doesn’t exist anymore. I just pay my taxes in his name.

I’ve come back to Vanderbilt as a veritable sidewalk alumnus. My connections to the school, to this institution, to this life are more tenuous and different than anyone else’s I know here. The name, and the team, and the colors, and the general sense of what this place means are the anchor to which I attempted to tie myself when the old life collapsed beneath me.

18 years ago this autumn, this felt like a place that was always home from day one. That was true. It really was. But it was somebody else’s home. And this weekend, I’m just a guest of the people who moved in after him.