Operation Clotheshorse

I suppose it began with the ill-advised acquisition of the Saboteur jacket – the waterproof silk-lined sport coat I bought in 2010. Way too expensive and a hair too small, and ultimately not quite right. But it was the start, and it broke the seal.

I suppose things were made worse by the arrival of Team Black Swan East, who brought their Southern sense of dressing well and forced us to step up our game a little. I bought a pair of American-made Lucky Brand jeans, then a pair of American-made Bill’s Khakis, then broke down and finally bought that seersucker sport coat just in time to wear it to New York and buy two Uniqlo blazers for $60.

That really did it. I had the peacoat. I got another pair of Lucky jeans, then bought three more pair of my old reliable 501s – each in a more fashion-forward wash than before. I obtained an actual seersucker suit. My first new pair of Docs in over 3 years were chukkas. My key Christmas present was the Levi’s-Filson tin cloth trucker jacket i had coveted for some time. And this week, I dropped $300 on hand-sewn American-made gray suede wingtips, the most I’ve ever spent on a single pair of shoes in my life.

So why? The guy with the famously predictable DC wardrobe, who wore the same model jeans with the same pair of workboots for five years in California, who owned 11 pair of Dr Martens and half a dozen black or gray American Apparel T-shirts and a bunch of Vanderbilt gear – why the sudden onset of boat shoes and Palladium boots and new colorful button-ups?

Maturity, possibly. Vandy Lifestyle, for one – need to look the part. Continued life and work in Silicon Valley, for another – I have the old EUS urge to look a cut above the average paste-eating neckbeard in this industry. For a third, as the old campaign poster said in high school, clothes make the man – naked people have little or no influence on society.

Maybe this is all part of the regeneration. This is just who I am now. It’s not the cheapest hobby, I suppose, but when your fixation is finding stuff you can wear for the rest of your life, I suppose it’ll pay out over time.

The Quickening

So Google killed off Reader with only three and a half months’ lead time, to the outrage of the entire Internet.  And a week later, they dropped the all-new Google Keep, an addendum to Google Drive meant as an all-purpose note-bucket…which everyone immediately saw as aimed squarely at Evernote, the best-of-breed all-everything data repository (one I make a LOT of use of, including notes toward these very blog entries).

Add to that the rumblings that there’s now a Google Watch in the offing – not surprising, but given the focus on Google Glass, it seemed as if the Beast of Mountain View was going to put most of its “wearable computing” eggs in the “eyewear” basket–

Hold up.

That phrase.  The Beast of Mountain View.  Shouldn’t that be the Beast of Redmond?  Nope.  In fact, one Mac partisan has gone so far as to declare that Microsoft is no longer the enemy.  Sure, Windows is still out there and PCs running Win7 and its predecessors are a dominant ecosystem, but in the post-PC world? Microsoft is an afterthought.  Its digital music offerings ranged from worthless to risible.  Its phone offerings were too little too late, and while intriguing currently has little prospect of rating better than a poor third in the smartphone world.  It’s not aiming to dethrone Android or iOS, it’s aiming to lap Blackberry.  The XBox – itself starting to get a bit long in the tooth – is the only spot off the desktop where Microsoft has made a dent.  And their attempt to repurpose and rebrand Hotmail as Outlook.com, complete with Google-bashing commercials, was roundly mocked and ultimately dismissed.

Meanwhile, Google’s push into new areas continues.  G+ remains a point of emphasis to compete with Facebook.  Google Play continues to be pushed as the alternative to the iTunes Music Store or Amazon (especially given the irony that Amazon built its own tablet ecosystem on Android). Google Apps for Business have reached a point that one of the hottest startups in Silicon Valley is running its entire ecosystem on them – eschewing Office, Exchange and Outlook altogether.  The Nexus line now includes a 4″ phone, a 7″ tablet and a 10″ tablet to cover the entire range of touch devices, and there’s a nice slim metal ultrabook-style Google Chromebook. And now there’s apparently going to be a mythical Google watch, to go with the mythical iWatch and mythical Samsung watch.

Google has become the new Microsoft again – they were truly indispensable for years in the field of search, especially map search, and Gmail overwhelmed Yahoo and Hotmail and all its other competitors, and one thing led to another and now way too many of us couldn’t get by without at least one Google service.  And tragically, somebody just beat me to this post while it sat in my drafts folder, so here is his take – and he’s spot on.

The fact that people are talking about how to live without Google should be the most disconcerting thing of all for the powers that be out on 1600 Amphitheater Parkway.  For my own part, now that Reader won’t be a thing anymore, it’s possible for the first time to contemplate life completely free of the big G.  Hell, Apple Maps got me to my physical therapist this morning bang on time and without a hiccup.  2013 may turn out to be the year that Google got added to the old EUS creed: “We don’t drink flavored liquor, we don’t smoke machine-rolled cigars, and we don’t put mission-critical work on Microsoft products.”

The examined life

The bit of Avenue Q that always makes me gulp very hard is the line in “I Wish I Could Go Back To College” (hell, that song is triggering enough) when Princeton sings “I wish I had taken more pictures…”  Because there are almost no photographs at all of my seven years indentured to higher education.  In fairness, a lot of that stems from the fact that there wasn’t very much worth taking pictures of, and my lack of memories is more painful than my lack of evidence – but I don’t remember even having a camera between high school and the ill-starred purchase of one of those Advanced Photo System cameras in 1997, which itself barely lasted a year before going askew under circumstances unremembered. (I chalk it up to 1998 generally.)

My then-girlfriend bought me a digital camera around…when? 2002? 2003? It was a birthday present, and it got some use, though I don’t know what ever became of it.  I’m sure I took some shots on the honeymoon trip, but I don’t recall…but the point is, that was a 2.1 megapixel camera.  And in 2007, I took possession of my first iPhone…with its own 2 megapixel camera.

Now, it wasn’t as good a camera, obviously. No optical zoom at all, no flash, and certainly no prospect for video recording.  But it was a camera that I had on me.  As with flasks and pistols, so with cameras: the one you have on you when you need it is infinitely better than the highly superior featureful model sitting in your drawer back at home.  And yet, with 2 MP and poor focus and no flash and no HDR mode to help clean up and no video for a pinch, “I have it with me” was the only real feature it presented.

If you look through my iPhoto library, though, there’s a huge spike in pictures in 2010, even correcting for the import of my wife’s pics of the trip to Europe that year. (When you correct for her pictures during The Summit, the historic weeklong visit of Team Black Swan East en route to their eventual emigration, 2009 is of a piece with 2008.) No, in mid-2010, I upgraded to the iPhone 4, which offered HD video capture, an LED flash, and – most importantly – an improved auto-focus-capable 5 MP camera.  The picture totals go WAY up.  And then in 2012, the phone gets warranty-replaced with the iPhone 4S, which improved to an 8 megapixel camera, and that’s when I start taking pictures all the time.  Sure, you could probably adjust for Twitter and Path and Instagram and Facebook, but the presence of a point-and-shoot replacement in my pocket at all times meant that I finally started taking more pictures.  Landscapes. Cocktails. I have a better record of my life since 2011 than I have of the entire 1990s.

Too, I have blog records going back to 1999.  Not always current, not always frequent, but my life now is on record in ways that it wasn’t before my great regeneration at age 25. And it’s been surprisingly helpful to be able to go back to, say, late 2003 or early 2004 or most of 2007 and 2008, and compare history and see if I’ve learned anything.  But equally important to me, in some ways, is the fact that I have a past now. The black hole has been pushed back; the void in my life is reduced.  I have memories, I have proof, I have fifteen years of experience to look back and say “I remember when” and things I can draw from and build on.  And that, on many levels, has slowly started to patch up the empty place that made me wish I could go back to college.

Appropriate Gestures

With the demise of Google Reader, I’m doing what everyone else is and exploring options.  Personally, I think the best move for iOS is to leverage iCloud and just have Reeder store your OPML file there, but in the meantime, the Internet’s preferred and chosen solution is Feedly.  Which seems nice enough on the website, but the app is unnecessarily colorful and swipey at the expense of useful.  Double-taps in an article dismiss it, swipe the wrong way and mark everything unread, and the controls are vague and not really that granular…

Which brings us to the swipe problem generally.  Gestures on a phone are more or less standard, at least in iOS world: pinch-to-zoom, the pull-to-refresh innovated by Loren Brichter, and the multi-finger swipe for app-switching on the iPad (or multifinger-pinch to get back to the home screen).  Beyond that, gestures seem to be defined on a per-app basis.  Reeder, for instance, seems content to scroll clean into previous or next article, and lets you specify what left/right swipe on an article will do.  With Feedly, it’s unclear what’s a scroll down, how you get to the next article, what suddenly dumps you back into the list of articles – at least in Reeder, there’s a steady sense of back-and-forth, the way there was in the Twitter app for iPad before they chose to fuck it up instead.

The swipe seems to be the new hotness.  Things like Sparrow and Clear for the iPhone are heavily gesture-based, the new Blackberry OS doesn’t even have a physical button – it’s all swipes. I think a lot of this is people still trying to reproduce Minority Report, but a lot of it also seems to be an attempt to carve out a distinctly different (and presumably patent-able) interface paradigm.  Given Apple’s lack of success at trying to patent the multi-touch UI (which was, at the time, a genuinely unique proposition in phones) my suspicion is that any such patent attempt would be the height of foolishness, but it might be enough for prospective players just to be significantly different.  Blackberry’s Z10 (and they seem to finally have adopted Blackberry as the company name rather than RIM) is pushing its swipe-GUI as its unique selling proposition – probably too little too late, but a sign of the times.  Their device, like the HTC One, is also a largely metal proposition, as is the BLU Life One, a genuinely interesting proposition – contract-free stock-Android unlocked device for $299 and not a Nexus?  Only Samsung is sticking by their plastic – but then, Samsung is bigger than any other Android player at this point and probably deserves its own post later.

In any event, it’ll be interesting to see the evolution of the gesture-based UI, especially in a world where everyone is waiting for the iWatch and/or Google Glass.  How do you control user interaction when there’s no keyboard or mouse and practically no screen at all?  Is the time of voice finally upon us?  Have Siri and Nuance’s Dragon line and Google’s excellent voice search interpreter finally broken the Star Trek barrier?  And how well will these interfaces cope with a gravelly drawl?  These are important issues.

Live and let diet

I’ve never been on a diet before.  Oh, I’ve given up stuff for Lent in varying quantities since college, and my first college girlfriend didn’t eat red meat so I pretty much didn’t about half the time for three years.  And when the Tired Texan closed I wouldn’t eat McDonald’s for a year.  And I tend to abide by the dietary limitations of whoever prepares dinner in accordance with their own restrictions.  But in terms of serious lifestyle change? Nothing.

Then I had my annual physical and bloodwork, on the heels of the nutritional shitshow that was the February project, and all the numbers were worse than last year.  HDL, LDL, triglycerides, ratio, blood pressure, waist circumference, percent body fat, weight, even *height* – all worse.  Time to make a change.

Over Christmas break, the wife had me read about the Primal diet, which is apparently a variation on the Paleo diet, which is in line with the eating of unprocessed foods and etc. as our caveman ancestors did, which…eh. Once I got past all the exclamation points (a hallmark of all diet literature, in my experience) and tales of Gonk or Gronk or whatever, it boiled down to a lot of the same low-carb stuff previously pitched as Atkins, or South Beach, or what have you.  With an extra helping of “Soylent Green is gluten!  IT’S GLUTEN!!” – which, given that my wife’s had a known gluten allergy for fifteen years at least, means it’s probably the smart way to go for her.

Okay, so how does this work out for me?  For the first week, at least, hardcore:

* No booze. (Ulp.)

* No more Coke Zero – in fact no more processed soda at all.  Just what I fizz up in the Sodastream with some lime juice and/or a dash of bitters maybe.  Certainly nothing pre-packaged and nothing with syrups involved.  Given the amount of Coke Zero I get through these last couple of years, that’s no small sacrifice, especially in a world of Coca-Cola Freestyle machines.

* No more junk food.  Nothing out of a vending machine. Nothing pre-packaged to speak of. No grazing on sweet stuff.

* No bread.  No sandwiches, no rolls, no empty calories from starch.  (Effectively, for my purposes anyway, this more or less adds up to “no fast food period.”

* No more sweetening the coffee.  Honey, perhaps, but no three packets of sugar or Splenda or what have you.

* Permissible beverages: coffee (black), tea (unsweet), and whatever bottled products I can find that use no sweeteners aside from stevia and the sugar alcohol that normally goes along with it whose name escapes me.  And more water. Lots more water.


The first week ended up being more like the first 10-12 days, as it turns out.  I was forced to actually walk out to the cafeteria to eat rather than run through Chipotle or just subsist out of the “automated convenience store” at work, and I was actually kind of hungry the first couple of days.  The first week saw me down 7 pounds, almost entirely water weight I’m sure, because I was legit dehydrated (not least because I was probably drinking coffee in the morning where normally I would have consumed some Zero.)  And the toughest part was that it went along with a lot of work bullshit, the sort of thing where I would normally just say “to hell with it” and go get a bottle of Zero or some Pop Tarts and tap out for a while the same way I did at the cigar shop ten years ago.

Ultimately, I think I may do more stress-eating than I realized.  The deprivation of that, for me, is less about “I can’t have this tasty pop-tart” and more about “I have enough stress in my life, do I really need to add to it by inflicting this kind of disciplinary deprivation upon myself?”  And flying off the handle isn’t near as much exercise as you’d think.  Nevertheless, I did power through.  It was Day 13 of the diet before I finally broke down and had myself a couple cans of Zero (at the end of a long and frustrating day where I basically served my guests Pork Shoulder a la Crematoria). That’s also the first alcohol I’d drunk the whole way – a glass of a nice cab plus a bottle of grapefruit radler (German biking beer) after the fiasco. (A Bushmills at dinner on St Paddy’s was the only other alcohol I’ve had.)  Last night, Day 16, I had In N Out for dinner – 3×2, plain, no fries or salad on it.  On two occasions, I broke down and had a nice gelato bar (Rechutti burnt caramel, AMAZING) which itself contains fewer carbs than the burger bun alone.  On day 9, I went to an Irish bar for three hours and had no Guinness, no chips, no curry, no apple pie – just unsweet tea, broccoli, and a half-pound hamburger patty with cheddar and Irish bacon and no bun.

I lost 7 pounds the first week and a couple more since, for what that’s worth.  But weight was not a present concern for me at all – I want to get two things out of this diet: smaller gut and better cholesterol numbers.  So far, I don’t feel like the gut has moved that much, but it may be a gradual thing or may take somebody else noticing.  And I won’t know what’s doing with my cholesterol until I give blood and get the basic numbers again to see whether things are declining to a more reasonable level.

Still, as lifestyle changes go, this one appears to be sustainable.  Simple blunt rules – no junk food, no fast food, no endless bottles of drink, no loading up on filler, and prefer red wine if it’s drankin’ time.  That sort of thing is a lot easier for me to remember and stick to than trying to keep track of total carbs or Points™ or constantly looking up nutritional information and ingredient lists online.  Pizza: out, hamburgers: out, burritos: out, Imperial pints of oatmeal porter: out. I don’t have to think too much about it, I just have to abide by the key rules.

The good news: being a platelet donor and able to give them a double-unit every week, it’s pretty straightforward for me to get that blunt-object cholesterol number to match and see what impact the diet is having.  After that, it’ll be time to start working in more exercise (not to mention rehab on my bum shoulder) and seeing what, if anything, can be gradually added in.  Pints of Guinness, or slices of Big Sur at Pizza My Heart washed down with lashings of Orange Vanilla Coke Zero, are not out of my life altogether – but they’re not going to be a routine feature either.



Let’s go steal an industry

I can’t believe that John Rogers, the creator and show runner of Leverage, wasn’t thinking ahead when he wrote this – in 2005. Long before Hulu, before Netflix streaming, before Rob Thomas could raise $2,000,000 in a day for a Veronica Mars feature film from fan contributions.  But John Rogers is a very, very, very smart man.

Read the whole thing and marvel, but for now, this:


The simple, hard-ass center of the new media revolution is that, in order for a show to show a profit on TV in the old model, it needs to stay on the air. To stay on the air, in order to generate enough perceived value for advertisers (for the network) and syndicates (for the studio), a show needs, regularly, ten million consumers a week. Five or seven on a smaller network.

In order for a show to create a profit on DVD (the fat pipe model of the present), it needs one million consumers.

There are a whole lot more risks one can take down here when you only need a million consumers. My proposal, actually, is that the better new media model (as the pipeline broadens, and the BigC’s lose more and more control over both distribution systems and the perception game) is of an insurgent, cell theory of entertainment. (*cable TV is a primitive form of this. Discuss).

It makes more sense for a BigC to cultivate a large number of small, streamlined productions, each of which cultivate a passionate (insurgent) fan base who will make multiple purchases of the entertainment product, than to continue to try for the largest common denominator. In effect, the first BigC who gives up will win. And win big.

Fuck Google

Well, there goes that. Google Reader is going down in three and a half months, and the Internet is losing its collective shit. Not least because basically every RSS reader for mobile devices relies on Google Reader for backbone sync.

Be interesting to see who steps up, because from the outcry, there’s a market for people who need this service. Marissa? In the meantime, if you recall, of all the Google services, the two I couldn’t do without were Maps and Reader. Well, Apple has Maps covered for mobile devices now…not perfectly, but good enough. It would be easy to run Google-free. Inconvenient, but the last irreplaceable part of the Google ecosystem has just pulled the plug, and the makers of those RSS apps will not just throw up their hands and say “oh for fuck’s sake” – Feedly and Reeder have already announced that they won’t go quietly and Feedly is even working on an API that could be a drop-in replacement.

Meanwhile, one thing is obvious, and has been for a while: if you’re building a product that depends on Google for a critical function, you’re an idiot.


Not much news coming out of the annual computing-hipster gangbang in Austin, unless you count the risible panel that argued that 50% of Millenials would rather have no job at all than a job they hate.  In related news, 50% of Millenials should be ground up into free meatloaf for the unemployed. If you can have horse in a meatloaf you can have a horse’s ass in a meatloaf…but I digress.

The thing that gave SXSWi a name in Silicon Valley was its fame as the launching pad for Twitter in 2007 and Foursquare in 2009.  Twitter existed, but the splash it made at the conference as essentially a cheap and easy solution to blast-group-texting sent it on the rocket ride to where it is now.  Foursquare, meanwhile, added gamification to the social check-in functions of Dodgeball (from the same author).  But Foursquare had an advantage: it happened After iPhone.  Once the iPhone was able to run apps and use its internal GPS for location services, it was possible to take the key social features of Dodgeball and abstract away the need to fill in a place and location via text message.  Dodgeball was acquired by Google, died a slow neglectful death, and was forgotten.  Foursquare conquered the location-based social networking space.  Smartphone Time again.

Problem is, these things burn out quick. No real news out of SXSW this year, nothing interesting or captivating. You can’t turn it on like a switch, and “South-by” has rapidly turned into another promotional clusterfuck, devalued by expansion and overexposure (TED talks, anybody?) – I suppose it’s nice to let Austin feel like it’s vital to the technology world once a year for a long weekend, but there’s a reason Apple, Google, Twitter and Facebook can all be found within fifty miles of one another.

Speaking of…it looks like Andy Rubin is out as head of Android within Google, to be replaced by him what runs Chrome OS.  If I had to bet I’d say convergence is on the way, and not a moment too soon – ChromeOS is a nice idea but a niche application at best and the Chromebook Pixel is the 20th Anniversary Macintosh of Google.  A convergence between Android and Chrome, with Chrome becoming the browser-based runtime for an Android environment that can go on Windows or Mac hardware…that would be interesting.

flashback, part 59 of n

When the Riverchase Galleria opened in February 1986, I had barely been aware it was coming.  At the time, the best thing going for malls in Birmingham was Century Plaza, a mid-70s two-level brick Brutalist monster with four anchor stores, a flat exhibition deck in the middle of the second story (suitable for setting up Santa Claus in December and not much else), a scattering of eateries (including the much-missed Hot Sam pretzels) and a general feel that you could just as easily be underground.  And the anchors – Sears, JC Penney, Pizitz and Rich’s – were pretty much set in stone, in ascending order of posh and respectable.

And then the Galleria opened.

The first hint that things were different came as soon as you walked into Parisian, the major Birmingham department store not represented at Century.  It was huge, airy, with a mezzanine level floating between its two stories, and in 1986 fashion, that level was loaded with nothing but Swatch watches and Coca-Cola rugby shirts.  All by itself, that would have been a revolution in local retail.

But then, you walked out into the mall itself…and it was open and airy itself, with a huge glass atrium (with neon accents!) running the entire length of the mall proper.  It couldn’t have felt more radically different.  The mall had everything I needed at the time – two record stores, two bookstores – but it also had an actual candy store, something unheard of in malls around our area.  It had a store selling nothing but video games (Electronics Boutique), it had a music box store (seriously), and in a stunning turn of events, it had a whole lot of places to eat right next to each other, with a common dining space around a huge fountain spraying three stories high into an atrium between the office tower and the hotel (yes, a hotel in a mall). 

The first food court in town wasn’t the half of the amazements, though. There were glass elevators going to the third-level observation deck (itself mainly just an extension of the office building lobby).  There was a store called Banana Republic that appeared to be some kind of safari outfitter, complete with a jeep halfway through the front glass surrounded by jungle foliage. And Rich’s, the biggest anchor store, was itself three stories, and the top story even had a tiny grocery section.  You could presumably have a room in the hotel and come over to get Pop Tarts. And to cap it all off, there was space for another anchor store, one coming in 1987: Macy’s.  Macy’s.  The icon of New York City opening a store in Alabama.

Two or three years earlier, the notion had come to me in a dream that the mall would be a perfect place to hang out and walk around and spend time as a teenager – that’s how culturally benighted we were; I didn’t get it from movies or TV, it came to me in a freakin’ dream – so to have this amazing modern super-80s temple of American commerce dropped on me at age 14 was absolutely perfect.  The obvious problem, of course, was that it was on the wrong side of town and I didn’t have a driver’s license.  But any time I could get over there, I went like a shot – after a life spent largely on the rural side of town, this was my first routinely accessible exposure to a bigger, brighter, more exciting world.  One that would lead to a couple of major changes within a year…but that’s another story.