This Was 40

I wasn’t expecting it to be a great year, to be honest.  Price of doing business – aging sucks, and there’s no getting around it.  “Forty is the age that forces you to stop pretending.” I nailed that.

From a sporting perspective, it went well.  Vandy basketball won its first SEC tournament in 61 years and managed to get out of the first round in the NCAAs. Vandy baseball came back from a dismal start to make the title game of the SEC tournament and return to the postseason. Vandy football – well, the best season since 1915, and I got to see some of it in person for the first time since 1996. The Redskins collected the most electrifying young player in pro football and swept Dallas (including their first Thanksgiving win). Golden State picked up a Vandy player and sprinted out to its best start in twenty years.  Even a dismal Cal football team finally replaced Jeff Tedford (albeit two years too late), and the San Francisco Giants won their second World Series in three years.  So sports, at least, went well.

Friends did pretty well.  The cousins finally had to move out, but were replaced with a perfectly pleasant housemate who was not at all averse to Sundays camped in front of NFL RedZone and busting open a bottle of something.  We got to take a most excellent trip to New York for an old-style gathering of the old tribe and finally patch up some old ill feelings, which was nice. We did get visits with friends near and far, we rocked the 4Ps one last time, we hosted some very good parties (some better survived than others), and I even got to meet some of my actual fans (well, sorta) as part of a Vandy tailgate or two.


The defining story of my last 12 months was the story of health issues.  The shoulder flared back into misbehavior worse than it had for a couple of years, and the usual course of prednisone and NSAIDs availed little.  Two steroid shots directly into the disc only barely staunched the pain, and the drama with the drooling idiots of Blue Shield undid a lot of the otherwise good work at pain mitigation. The numbers are in: HDL, LDL, triglycerides, blood pressure, TC/HDL ratio, fasting glucose, BMI – right down the line, everything worse than the year before. And then this past February at work came along and took my back pains right back to 2005.  

Because work has been a shitshow. Dullard users, feckless management, too many people who think IT is a form of magic that will do whatever they want by rubbing the lamp, and then a crisis, badly mismanaged with a poorly conceived response that – as usual – only led to more expense and agony down the stretch And ended up with me personally imaging 230 laptops in a day to be sold along for personal replacement at 75% off.  I’m really hitting the limits of what I can continue to do without inevitably flipping out – and I need to find some way to transition into a role that’s not customer-facing.  Not just for my psychological well-being, but because I firmly believe that “workstation support,” as a job, isn’t going to exist in its current form ten years from now.  Which at age 50 will be just in time to ease me out the door as an unwanted expense in favor of some cheap young wide-eyed naif fresh out of school who thinks $50,000 is a king’s ransom.

And the fact that I’m even thinking about that sort of thing at all is the surest sign that things have changed.  I have to start taking seriously concerns about my health and potential retirement income.  The sight of my 401(k) is disconcerting because the needle never seems to move that much – and that’s money that needs to be growing if I’m going to live off it.  It would be just my fucking luck for the baby boomers to cash out and then decide on behalf of all society that “70 is the new 50” and lo and behold I’m working for a living until 2042.  I don’t think I have thirty more years of this bullshit in me.  Hell, I know I don’t.

So there’s no middle-term view these days.  I either dread what may be coming in a couple decades, or else just try to focus on whatever will get me to the end of the week.  Which presents its own difficulty.  Is it better to spend $5000 on a week in London or $40 a week on pints and dinner down the pub – will two years of weekly indulgence provide the same quality of life as one big dream of a trip does?  And do I need to be going out of the country every three years anyway, given that I’ve only been able to do it once in good mental health while not dragging unwanted relations?  But then, I’ve been reading too much William Gibson to put off wanting to see Tokyo much longer, and the foreign travel should probably be done younger – Boston and Hawaii will be easier when I’m 60 than Tokyo or India or Ireland.  Then again, will I be able to get the time off at age 60 go to abroad?  Why couldn’t I just fuckin’ be rich?  I wouldn’t be an ass about it, I’d pay my tax, you wouldn’t catch me doing any of that Kardashian douchebag shit…

All right, let’s face it, I’m a hell of a lot grumpier than I’ve been in a long, long time, too.  Chalk it up to work stress, chalk it up to residual political annoyance, chalk it up to the ever-present shadow of my Confederate relatives acting like assholes, chalk it up to the fucking cyclists who glide down my crowded platform every day under signs reading “WALK YOUR BIKE” or “DISMOUNT ZONE”. Chalk it up to the fact that I can barely go downtown in Palo Alto or Mountain View without the dying-roadkill-skunk aroma of “medicinal” weed coming from somewhere. Chalk it up to people who repeatedly misspell my name in email when the correct spelling is right there in the sig file and in the address itself.  Or people who I tell via help ticket that no, we don’t provide cat-5 cable, you need to buy some, and then email me directly wanting it. I guess I’m a cranky old man now, because nothing pisses me off harder and faster than people who won’t follow the directions.  Yes, I fucking said fuck you, you’re bombing your bike down a tunnel full of pedestrians, you’re not Rosa fucking Parks, you hipster fuck.

Which is another thing that makes me feel old – this year is the 50th anniversary of the famous MLK action in Birmingham, the “dogs and firehoses” moment that shocked the nation into admitting how bad things were down South.  I was born in Birmingham nine years later.  Or in other words, that’s as long as I will have been a Californian come June. That’s a shorter time than the time that’s now passed since the September 11 attacks.  I should feel well old. At the very least, I have the kind of perspective to see that it’s comical to assert that the hearts and minds of the South had somehow transformed by the time I was born – for crying out loud, it only took 13 years after Bull Connor for Time magazine to trumpet “The New South” on its cover, and yet I have relations by marriage that had a Rebel flag on a pole out front of their house in 2007.  The Supreme Court may gut VRA, but until the generation raised by the last generation to remember segregation is gone (yes, that’s my generation, for what it’s worth) it’s moronic to think things have changed that much.  

Then again, some things do change fast – a show like Seinfeld is already comically obsolete fifteen years on because nobody has a cellphone, let alone a smartphone.  Even five years ago, people were digging for video cameras to record Punxsutawney Phil – now my iPhone will record higher-definition video than anything I would have taken on the last trip to see the groundhog.  I remember when a 2400-baud modem to call into a BBS was an amazing thing; now multi-megabit-per-second wireless broadband is as mandatory a utility of modern life as electricity.  For godsakes, a 42-inch widescreen television is $400.  I could snap up a Nexus 7 tablet for $200, if I hadn’t just splashed out for an iPad for my last birthday…when once again, I didn’t know what I wanted for my birthday.  I’ll admit, I don’t particularly need a laptop anymore outside work, and a good thing – traditional desktop computing seems to be one of the things that has done for my shoulder this year.  It’s past time for an ergonomic assessment at the office.

And that’s another problem…I feel the pain in my back and shoulder, I work the long hours, and I feel the echo of the old man. “Do the best you can and don’t be a horse’s ass.”  I don’t want to be a horse’s ass, but at the same time, I’ll be damned if I’ll exhaust myself and let my health and well-being be ground up for the sake of fixing somebody else’s mistakes.  When the higher powers cock something up and it’s on me to fix it, I fucking well want the credit, and if I have to provide the solution I damn well want to be listened to and taken seriously in how I provide it.  And there goes the abiding fear again…that if I wanted to be taken seriously, I should have gotten on the management path, or else climbed the technical ladder, and that when I inadvertently sandbagged myself in 2007 I permanently crippled my path to advancement.

Aging sucks.  And yet I suppose it beats the alternative.  Yes, the sleep is more fitful and the pain lasts longer and the drinks hit harder and the stairs knock the breath out quicker, but fuck it, you’ve been dying from the instant you slid out of the birth canal. You just never paid attention to the fact.  Dwelling on it now isn’t going to slow the process down – just do what you can to stay healthy and get on with your life. But every February it’s the same story, and I’m starting to worry that I keep looking back because I don’t know what I’m looking forward to.  If it’s not going to be a long slow grind of the same thing every day until the grave, I need to find something to shoot for.  I need to get out of the rut and get beyond the safest, most secure option at all times.

Of which more later.


Superphone Time

William Gibson (via Kevin Kelly) talks about steam engine time – the point at which all the pieces come together to make steam engines a thing.  You might have the technology, you might have the need, you might have the necessary infrastructure to make it cost-efficient and a viable business model – but until you get it all together, it’s not steam-engine time.

Thinking about the number of leaps it took to get to the modern world of mobility computing made me think of this.  It takes a lot to get us to “superphone time.”  Not smartphone time, which arguably began with the Sidekick, but superphone in that one device is replacing everything.  Here’s what it took, measuring from my first cellphone in 1997:

1) Cellular data service. First obtained by me in 2000, not really mainstream until about 2002, and arguably not really competitive with Wi-Fi or wired data speeds until the coming of large-scale LTE deployment in 2011-12.  Along with this, you need text messaging to become a thing, which doesn’t really happen in the United States until around 2004 or so.

2) A high-resolution display and a snappy processor, plus an operating system powerful enough to drive them (and run other programs besides) yet light enough to fit in limited memory. PalmOS had a lot of this by 1998 or so, in a very primitive form – the Handspring Visor and the Treo that followed it were painfully gimped compared to a modern phone, but you had an OS that could run third-party applications and manage a wireless data connection by 2000 or so.  After that, it just took Moore’s Law to get a sufficiently capable combination

3) Digital media and the ability to purchase and use it as a mainstream means of consumption. Arguably not a thing until the launch of the iTunes Music Store in 2003, which marked the point at which major labels were willing to accept that downloaded music was their future.  Even though MP3 had been a thing for years prior (I first heard of CD ripping in 1997) you don’t get to superphone time until music companies are willing to sell you everything in bits instead of atoms.

4) Broadly pervasive and free Wi-Fi, sufficient to offload the bulk of data burden from your cell connection, which only started to get outside Silicon Valley by 2002 or so.

4) Lithium-polymer battery life capable of running the aforementioned high-resolution display, snappy processor, and persistent wireless data connection for an entire day. I didn’t really notice all-day-multi-day battery on a phone until the SonyEricsson Z520 in 2006, which I could go four days without charging.

5) Mapping and GPS worth a damn. You needed civilian GPS plus Google Maps in a phone-sized package, which didn’t appear until around 2006 (and didn’t become realistic until it could leverage the phone’s A-GPS).  The phone needed both before it could replace a commercial GPS – but by 2012, a standalone GPS made as much sense as a standalone point-and-shoot still camera.

6) Speaking of, a camera good enough to replace a basic point-and-shoot camera. You didn’t start to get five megapixel cameras in phones until late 2009 or so.

And most of all, 7) a public awareness and demand for devices that would do just such a thing.  Despite Blackberry, despite Sidekick, despite the best efforts of Windows Mobile and Symbian, you don’t really get this in the United States in any meaningful way until the day Steve Jobs stands on stage at MacWorld SF 2007 and asks “Are you getting it yet?”  They had done a cellphone that played music, and they didn’t want an iPod that made calls – they wanted the all-in-one. And they had to make people realize that an iPhone was something to be desired, people who thought Blackberries were for lawyers and Sidekicks were for Japanese schoolgirls.

So it doesn’t really start to happen until 2010.  And then, you get the Nexus One and the iPhone 4.  The first Android phone worth criticizing, and the first iPhone that required no compromises on camera or network or screen resolution.

And it’s only when you get to superphone time that some things become possible.  If it’s not superphone time, Twitter is basically limited to being a blast-SMS service (and indeed was largely SMS driven for the first couple of years).  If it’s not superphone time, Foursquare is pointless, Instagram is impossible, and Facebook remains something that happens while wasting time at work.  If it’s not superphone time, I probably have to carry my laptop on trips longer than three days in case I need to do something for work. And if it’s not superphone time, I’m still having to download podcasts every day and sync them to my phone every night to play back the next day, and I’m always at least one and usually two days behind – instead of getting the Sports Junkies by 10 AM and Geoff Lloyd by 1 PM every day.

Superphone time changes things.  It renders point-and-shoot cameras and standalone GPS satnav obsolete and damn near puts Flip out of business. It means that when a flaming engine goes twenty rows up in the stands at Daytona or a meteorite scares the shit out of half of Russia, there’s video of the event flashing around the world in damn near real time. It transforms your life as much as the replacement of public transit with automobiles and trains with airliners.

The loadout, revisited

So I’m chilling in the cabin in Tahoe last weekend talking to some folks about technology, as you expect when a bunch of people who work in the Valley are on a weekend winter break. And one fellow says that he is considering going with an iPad mini (with LTE) and a cheap Nokia phone rather than a smartphone. And I am intrigued by this, because I can’t stop looking at the iPad mini for some reason, but there is the rather small problem of needing to wear a jacket or carry a bag everywhere if I’m packing a 7″ tablet (not to dismiss the fact that the 7″ obviates the need for a bag that the standard iPad requires).

And then tonight, it occurs to me: if I were to do that, I’d need the iPad mini (or Nexus 7), the Nokia 1112 (or the newer Nokia 105, just announced today and probably not ever coming to the US) – and an iPod nano or shuffle, because I have musical and podcast needs, and if I need to update the podcasts on the fly…and just like that, I’m back from three devices to one, which is the problem the iPhone was meant to solve for me in the first place.

The iPhone, in all honestly, was the final result of the better part of a decade of paring it down.  At one point in DC, I was carrying a pager, a cellphone, an iPod, and occasionally a Blackberry (in their pre-phone incarnation).  The pager and Blackberry were long gone as soon as I left DC, but I still had separate phone and music for three years – and needed a separate camera for anything serious with photos or video until mid-2010.  Now the idea that I need any separate camera is ridiculous, given that my iPhone 5 has a higher megapixel count than my wife’s digital camera and records higher-resolution video than our HD Flip. And in the meantime, the definition of a phone has evolved to the point where a smartphone is the default meaning – a phone that does nothing but place calls is an anachronism.

It’s interesting how things have progressed so much not just in my lifetime, but in the last fifteen years.  When I left Vanderbilt, a pager and an analog cellphone equalled the height of mobility communication. I didn’t get a phone that could handle email until 2000, and it was another year before I upgraded to one that could receive AND send text messages (inspired not a little by communication issues on September 11).  Then came a smartphone in 2003, a more plausible one in 2004, and then no more smartphones until the iPhone made them practical in terms of features and battery life and layered iPod functionality on that.

There’s sort of a millennial watershed, actually.  Start with my first laptop in 1999.  Within a year, I had a data-capable phone (the old Ericsson LX280 on the original AT&T wireless, doing CDPD at 9600bps) and early DSL, and by the end of 2000 it was sort of an article of faith that most anyone I knew would have a cellphone.  By 2002, Wi-Fi had entered the scene for me – present in Apple hardware for years beforehand but only truly large-scale by then, which coincidentally was about the same time that AT&T switched to GSM. And with “mMode” as a mainstream offering and the ability to get the laptop on the network away from home, “mobility computing” was finally a thing.

Meanwhile, musically, I bought my last cassette player (not even Walkman branded despite my intense Sony loyalty for such things since 1986) in late 1997 and my first portable MP3 player in 2000…then got my first iPod as a gift in 2002.  The last mix tape I ever assembled was in very early 1998, and the first MP3 I downloaded was at the end of that same year.  I relied on Audion until SoundJam was acquired and turned into iTunes, and when OS X 10.1 dropped, I went all in on iTunes and never looked back.

Despite my best efforts with a couple of smartphones and a couple more unlocked handsets (including the then-state-of-the-art V635) I couldn’t really make a cell phone work as a truly smart device.  The limitations of T9, a proxy browser, and a screen that rarely got bigger than 220×176 were just too much to overcome. So my next big leap came with the iPhone, which finally gave me a usable device that had email AND a plausible browser AND the ability to use Wi-Fi to get faster data than mere EDGE could offer. Within a couple of years, the default device is a smartphone that has email and web access and Wi-Fi and a video camera to boot, and the game has shifted again.

In the meantime, the netbook appears around 2008 as a cheap-and-cheerful option for mainstream computing, and works well for a couple of years – until the iPad comes along and eats its lunch on performance and battery life.  All of a sudden here’s a device that lets you do 90% of what a laptop does, with legit 10 hour battery life and the option for 3G cellular so you can really go anywhere – and by 2011 with the rise of LTE, the curve is shifting on mobility computing.

Ironically, I have my own separate loadout for shutdown nights now – I have the MOTOFONE F3, which was basically already ten years obsolete when I got it as a gift five years ago. But it’s a basic lifeline, not a means of constant connectivity.  Then there’s the Kindle 3G, which is perfect for reading but whose universal wireless capability is only viable as a browser of absolute last resort.  Throw a $40 iPod shuffle on there for going to the gym or a run or whatever and you have the basics of modern technological convenience without actually being connected to much of anything – a slimmed down black-and-white version of what I described back there at the beginning.  Ultimately, that’s the loadout going back to the very beginning: a means of communication, something to read, and background music.  Back in college it was a rolled-up magazine or two, a Walkman, and a quarter for the pay phone to call the answering machine that would only pick up after two rings if you had messages to retrieve.  Now nobody even bothers to leave voicemail, for the most part.

Meanwhile, the daily carry in all circumstances is down to keys, handkerchief, pen, wallet and iPhone. And that’s basically it.  This is why the battery life of the iPhone is more important than ever (and why I have a separate dedicated charging cable at my desk at work) – it’s carrying the load for all three functions above. Even if reading means RSS and Twitter more than magazines – but make no mistake, they only get read on the electronic devices.  And that’s why the iPhone always wins: because in the end, it means I only have to carry one thing.


The Academy has one job tomorrow: call David Letterman and apologize as if he just caught them in bed with his wife.

You can be ironic, you can be too clever by half, hell, I’ll even allow for you to be as sexist and misogynistic as you need to be, but you have to be entertaining.  And the twenty seconds I spent last week with my doctor elbow-deep in my ass checking out my prostate health?  Was funnier than anything Seth McFarlane said or did the entire night.  Proof, if any were needed, that his entire career is a demonstration of the old saw that “somebody has to make humor for the mentally challenged.”

Still, Argo.  Mad love, folks. Like I said, this movie will make it make sense to people under 40 how it was that Reagan just fucking cleaned house on Jimmy Carter…hell, I’ll probably own it at some point.  I couldn’t be more pleased for Ben Affleck, who may turn out a better director than he was a writer/actor…and even if he is Big Blue, I love Clooney with the shit-eating grin and the pro-wrestler girlfriend and busting open the miniature right there in the audience…and standing back with a proud smile letting the other guys have the moment when it’s time to accept.  Nobody in Hollywood looks like they have more fun than Clooney, and he gets full marks as producer of Ocean’s Six. ;]

One miss, one potential very big hit

The launch of Google’s Chromebook Pixel has been the butt of endless derision around the blogosphere, and rightly so – the point of Chrome OS was to provide a cheap and cheerful alternative to the netbook, back when the netbook was a thing. The Pixel is basically a Chromebook with a MacBook Air case and a touch retina display…and a price tag of $1300, or $1500 with LTE. And the Google VP talks about how nobody has brought touch and high definition to web browsing until now.

Um…except for the iPad on which I am typing this, which is a year old and has the same 32 GB of storage and LTE as the high-end Pixel, for literally half the price. If you think you can sell a browser with a keyboard strapped to it for $1300, then God bless you, but you’re going to lose your shirt. The whole point of the Chromebook was to be cheap and accessible, and once it costs more than an arguably far superior ultrabook that can run, you know, software, where’s the unique selling point?

More interesting is the re-hype of Google Glass, the presently-$1500 connected eyewear device. The best way to think about this is as if it were the 21st century Bluetooth headset – it’s meant to pair with a phone for its pervasive data connection. But it has its own camera for quick photo and video work, and responds to voice command and to a touch-sensitive strip on one side. It also has its own GPS, which becomes interesting when you factor in something like Google Now – if it’s location-aware and can provide relevant data contextually, that becomes far more interesting.

Lets face it, what I want out of something like Google Glass is JARVIS. I want the heads-up display with time and temperature and instant Wikipedia on whatever I stare at, plus response to voice commands and inquiries. Between Siri and Google Now, we’re actually getting close to viable voice-directed computing, and with Glass – deftly machined into a tasteful pair of Warby Parker frames – you have the potential to do everything you’d want to do on the fly without taking the phone out of your pocket.

It’s the same deal as the Pebble watch, which intrigues me, or the notional iWatch – what’s the use case? The use case is an extension of the phone: location-aware time and temp and weather alerts, incoming texts and notifications and caller ID, remote control of the music with the ability to flip through playlists in a way the headphone remote can’t and Siri frequently won’t. And with the Pebble, it’s waterproof enough for the shower, so you can literally get your text messages anywhere now…

Seven years ago, the state of the art in cell phones was a Sony Ericsson candy bar phone with 3G, a simple proxy browser and rudimentary video calling. Today, the median bar to meet is a touchscreen phone with LTE networking, Wi-Fi, 8 megapixel camera with 1080p video capture, a full HTML5 web browser and natural-language voice control. In another seven years, the likes of Pebble and Glass will probably be a natural and accepted part of mainstream mobility computing. And Apple and Google are already ahead of the game in a way no other tech companies have proven able to match…yet.

flashback, part 15 of n

NB: According to my index, there’s supposed to be a flashback post from about 3 years ago that deals with January 2007.  And yet, I don’t see it when flipping through the archives, and I suspect it may have been a casualty of moving from MT to WP, or from ecto to MarsEdit, or who knows what.  But since that era has crossed my mind again lately, I’ll just write a new one. – The Mgmt

NB: Oh, and it’ll sit in the drafts folder for a couple of weeks while my life goes on super donkey tilt and I’ll find it and clean it up and post it now instead. -The Mgmt


A few nights ago, I was wandering around the neighborhood.  It was clear, and it was freezing cold, and I realized it’s been a while since I did it. We walk – and sometimes run – around the neighborhood regularly enough, but we have an established route that serves us as the regular track.  But back when I started wandering around the neighborhood a few years ago, it was in between areas, down alleys, along fences and rail tracks and back passages by swimming pools and clubhouses.  Basically just a good way to get lost.

Six years ago, I was coming off one of the better years of my life.  A little travel for family, an office move at work, a new roommate, but by and large it was the long-awaited dull moment for the first time in almost a decade. In a lot of ways it seems like my life never stopped moving from the moment I came flying out of Vanderbilt against my will until I settled in at Christmas of 2005 with a new wife and a new house and started going through the detritus of twenty years stuffed in the old footlocker at home.  It left me in something of a fugue state, where it was abundantly clear I wasn’t the kid I had been decades earlier.  January of 2007 was when I first started wondering “well then what am I now?”

One of the first things that tripped it was hearing some Irish music that immediately sent me on the search for the 4Ps pub experience again, which was a fool’s errand – back in greater DC you can’t throw up without hitting an Irish bar of some sort, but the sons of the Auld Sod are thin on the ground here in Silly Con Valley.  Indeed, I’ve only ever found two in the entire South Bay and none on the Peninsula that even offer live music, and it’s of the seisiun pickup variety, which isn’t exactly the McTeggarts kicking off the third set with “On The One Road” at 11 PM.

The pub quest led to the third-space quest in general, which took me to Trials in San Jose – a bar near the light rail, with no televisions at all and lots of soccer and 2-Tone artifacts on the walls.  And so I boomed “This Are Two Tone” through the iPod, because I was hearing a lot of that on Virgin Party Classics with Suggs every Friday morning at work, where I was enjoying an actual desk job with an actual desk in an actual office with an actual door.

And I did a lot of walking around the neighborhood at night, thinking about who I was and what my life was going to be like now.  Something was missing, and I couldn’t put a finger on what I’d lost. It sort of felt like I missed my gang, missed my crew, missed going out and solving problems – after all, that cushy desk job could probably have been done by a well-written shell script if there’d been a competent developer around to bang one out.  It felt like one of those liminal moments – like December 1984 or September 1997 or January 2000 – where in retrospect I was in transition without realizing it.  I just did a very poor job directing the transition in 2007, but that story’s been told before.

Still, the urge to sit quietly in a dark public house on a Sunday night in January with the music in the background comes around with every new year, even if it never seems to last past March Madness.  Maybe this year, with no rooting interest to disrupt, I’ll make it out a little more regularly.  Then again, it wouldn’t do to leave the pub after a couple of hours and find it still light…

flashback, part 58 of n

January and February 2000 were when we discovered the Irish.

It all started when we went for after-work drinks with some of our Y2K contractors, one of whom was off the boat from Kildare and who recommended a place in Cleveland Park.  It was, of course, Ireland’s Four Provinces, and after-work drinks turned into closing the place at 2 AM…and coming back the next night at 6 and staying until 2 again.

In between, on that Saturday morning, I remember driving to Tyson’s for a new pair of Docs, my second. These were proper brown 1460 8-eyelets, the sort I’d probably never have now because they’re not black or red or cap-toed or whatever, but at the time, they were appropriate to post-blizzard DC.  The roads were clear but the white stuff was still a foot deep in all directions, and there were two-foot walls of ice down the sidewalks with cuts to dodge in and out.

I didn’t have the cigar shop at this point.  I mean, I’m sure I’d been by at least once, but for the most part, skulking around for something to smoke generally meant either Georgetown Tobacco in Tyson’s or a place whose name I can’t remember over in McLean – one that stands out in my mind because they had unfinished pipes.  No varnish, no paint, no nothing – just raw wood that had been carved and sanded (mostly) and which you had to stain yourself through use and handling (and in my case, as often as not, filling with Maker’s Mark and allowing to sit overnight before first smoking).  I guess that’s the point in my life by which I had genuinely become A Smoker, albeit a pipe smoker – which meant carrying a pipe, a lighter, a pouch of tobacco, something to scrape the pipe out with and as often as not a couple or three pipe cleaners.  (A lot, when you don’t have a bag or a jacket, and I was grateful when Dockers produced their pants with the concealed zip pockets on the side.)

And on the drive to make my tobacco run, I was playing the tape – because of course we bought the McTeggarts’ cassettes the first night. All three. To this day, there’s one chord of their “Whiskey in the Jar” that puts me right back there, surrounded by the snow.  There would be other music, of course – we’d see Ronan Kavanaugh and buy both his albums, buy every Fenians disc imaginable, and that co-worker loaned a tape of old rebel songs that we damn near wore out until we knew all the words to (some version of) “The Man From Mullingar” and “The Men Behind The Wire”…and, of course, the sad tale of Roddy McCorley cited earlier.

That, I think, is when things really clicked.  We’d been the EUS for a long time before that – through the first great shedding of contractors, the 9-day backlog of support tickets, the crash project to replace Token Ring with Ethernet, and of course the massive Y2K cleanup – and we already had some small rituals in our past, like the Thursday prime rib at Sign of the Whale or the fledgeling softball team playing out on the Mall.  But it was when we got the 4Ps, when we started singing along, when we got that third space outside work to just have fun together – that’s what stands out in memory.  That’s the thing I wish we could go back for – and when I did go back in 2010 and 2012, it wasn’t to run tickets, it was to belt out the old songs and stagger out at closing time.

Even if it’s non-smoking now.

Bastard Squad Lives

O see the fleet-foot host of men, who march with faces drawn

From farmstead and from fishers’ cot, along the banks of Ban

They come with vengeance in their eyes – Too late! Too late are they

For young Roddy McCorley goes to die on the bridge of Toome today

The important thing about this tale isn’t that they were too late. The important thing is – they were coming.

There is ex-NGS. There is no ex-EUS.


Ten years ago last week, Colin Powell stood up before the United Nations and fed his reputation, his credibility and his honor into a chipper-shredder. The good soldier to the last, he took the flimsy tissue of the Bush case for war with Iraq to sell to a dubious world – and an utterly credulous American media.

People forget. The Dixie Chicks were damn near crucified for telling a foreign audience they were embarrassed that the President was from Texas – again, the cult of Texas supremacy even in its most liberal adherents, what are the fucking odds – while “eventheliberal” MSNBC cancelled its highest rated program and fired its host, because Phil Donohue had expressed ambivalence about the case for war. People who had the slightest doubt about the parade of security theater in this country were shouted down as insufficiently serious about the threat of Terror – and didn’t die of irony overdose. And then, with malice aforethought and a complete lack of reason and logic, we went forth into Iraq and shat the bed.

Thousands of Americans dead. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. A client state established for Iran. Osama bin Laden left alive another eight years. Afghanistan neglected to fester into violence.

No accounting. No accountability. The GOP had its ass royally handed to it in three of the five subsequent national elections, with Bush’s 2004 election drowned by both of Obama’s wins, but the GOP never changed course, never expressed regret or remorse or doubt, and indeed, has since made a virtual rerun against Iran the necessary touchstone of its foreign policy (that is, the foreign policy that hasn’t already been outsourced to apartheid-minded Likudniks in Jerusalem).

Being part of Conservative, Inc means never having to say you’re sorry. Or worse yet, that you were wrong.

This comes to mind because of another situation. One that has left me exhausted and physically depleted in a way I can’t remember work doing for a long time. One that has evoked frustrations and exasperations and rage that sent me out the door at previous employers. A situation brought about by a similar lack of understanding basic facts, failure to prepare, failure to plan, and an insistence on rushing in on a wave of panic with eyes tight shut. And once again, there’s going to be a price to pay and it will be paid over a very long time frame. It’s fried me and it’s frazzled me in ways I’m not particularly proud of, and it’s leached into my life outside work, which is a huge huge no-no these last five or six years.

I’m not particularly interested in wrecking myself for other people’s fuck-ups at this point in my life. And I am absolutely not willing to do so in a customer-facing position. And let’s be honest, given the current state of technology, mine is a job with maybe ten years of life in it. Unless you know of corporate IT positions in the field of “smartphone and web browser support.”

The world has moved on and it’s time I started thinking hard about what that means for me. Of which, catchphrase, more later.