G Unit

Well, of all things…Motorola has announced that the Moto G, its low-cost companion to the Moto X, will be available in the United States in time for Christmas.  This is the slightly downscaled version: 4.5” screen instead of 4.7”, IPS LCD display instead of fancy AMOLED, 1 GB of RAM not 2, none of the fancy co-processors of the Moto X (and accompanying services that go with them), an old-school “swap colorful backplates” rather than the American-made custom-built approach, 5 MP camera with 720p video capture rather than 10 MP with 1080p, and available in 8 or 16 GB storage rather than 16 or 32.


The Moto G costs $179 for the 8GB model or $199 for the 16.  Unlocked. Off-contract.

Read that sentence again.  Now again.  Now again.

Previously, I said that the Moto X was the most innovative and significant new smartphone since the original iPhone. But now I wonder if this might be it.   The 16GB Moto X launched for $199 on contract.  The 16 GB Moto G is yours for keeps for the same money and no obligation.

Think about it – this is a phone whose specs and performance should pretty much be on par with the iPhone 4S, which remains out there as the free-with-contract offering.  The screen is just as good and larger, there’s twice the RAM, the camera is a step backward but that’s the case with Android almost across the board.  Get the US version if you won’t be globetrotting, and you can switch back and forth between T-Mobile and AIO almost at will.  In fact, with the oft-quoted AIO deal for $55 a month, the 8 GB model and two years of prepaid service with unlimited voice/text and 2 GB of data per month…will cost you a grand total of $1500.

There are some tradeoffs with the Moto G, mostly involving the camera (the one thing that gives me pause, because I shoot a lot more pictures than I used to before my first iPhone 4), but here’s the thing: there has never, never, never been a phone of this caliber available at this price point.  Ever.  You want an unlocked iPhone 4S?  $450 for the 8 GB model. Over double what the 8 GB Moto G will cost.

More than one reviewer is saying that this is what the iPhone 5C should have been, and honestly that’s what I expected of the 5C: the guts of an iPhone 4S with a Lightning connector and a 4-inch screen.  But the Moto G not only hits the sweet spot, it creates a whole new sweet spot: the single best $200 smartphone in the world, full stop.  Manufacturers like ZTE and Huawei have to be soiling themselves at this point – right now, frankly, this is literally the only prepaid phone worth buying.  Unless the early reviews from the UK – where it’s been out for two weeks already – are wildly off base, this is a phone that Moto could have sold for a lot more; it’s on a par with the Nexus 4 that was $350 until a month ago, and unless you really want a 5-inch screen and LTE, it renders the Nexus 5 an overpriced bauble.

No gimmicks.  No gargantuan screens or stylus tricks or use-it-once-and-forget-it’s-there bullshit (looking right at you, Samsung).  Just a clean, simple, straightforward Android phone.  The phrase gets battered to the point of meaningless, but I’m going to use it anyway: this is game-changing.







Mazel Tov

Congratulations to Harry Reid, who after five years has finally taken his manhood out of the blind trust and found his testicles with both hands and a flashlight.  Today, he blew up the filibuster for Presidential appointees.

It’s a few years too late and not comprehensive enough.  Had he done it once the Republicans made public their scorched-earth approach to governance, we might have gotten a stimulus of reasonable size.  We might have gotten a public option as part of health care reform. We might have gotten some sort of check on the proliferation of guns in the wake of Aurora and Sandy Hook and (insert next week’s mass shooting here).  We might have actually had a functioning government.  Instead, we limped along begging to be allowed to have majority rule, and got stymied by a Senate tradition that appears nowhere in black-letter law, and which was never abused to the extent seen over the last three Congresses.

And Norm Ornstein nails it again – this was pretty much the plan all along.  Either you get to deny the Obama administration the ability to function normally, or you get to point fingers and say “look what they did!” and claim that the Democrats tore down the filibuster for their own partisan purposes, so now it’s OK for you to finish the job. Shameless, but then, the Confederate Party has never lacked for shameless.

I’ve moved as far as I can.  Next stop is Scotland, or something.

borrowed from Daring Fireball

“What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.” — ANDY WARHOL

Jiggity Jig

The less said about the training the better.  My brains were running out my ears like melted butter by the end of it. No, this is about the good part – the eight nights on Oahu (or as the Irish call it, O’ahu).  The Cayce Pollard soul-lag was effectively eliminated, thanks to powering on my phone on arrival and finding that Vanderbilt had beaten Florida at football for the first time since the Dead Sea was only sick.

The front end of the trip was very good – three nights in a Kailua bed-and-breakfast, one big room with the long horizontal blinds and low ceiling that evoke Disney-style Polynesian.  And when the rain is absolutely caning it down outside, it makes for an amazingly relaxing and restful night’s sleep.  For a town of almost 40,000, it feels small and sleep and relaxed, possibly thanks to a very compact downtown, possibly because we were only a 5-minute stroll through residential neighborhoods to a pristine white beach chock-full of para-surfers.  The market/coffeeshop/neighborhood hangout that provided me with my morning Kona only added to the feel of a place where I’d be more than happy to retire and just chill…provided with satellite TV and high-speed broadband, of course.

The back end of the trip was also good for different reasons.  Waikiki is exactly the sort of tourist nightmare that leads to bumper stickers on cars in Kailua reading “Go Back To Waikiki” – as if one took the Vegas Strip and replaced all the gambling with Japanese people. (Seriously, the one-every-ten-feet ABC Stores will take yen instead of dollars if asked.)  But away from the hustle and bustle of tacky souvenirs, luxury goods purveyors and wildly assorted dining, there’s one of the oldest hotels on the beach: the Royal Hawaiian, also known as the Pink Palace, now known as the apotheosis of the Vandy Lifestyle meme.  Because one of the shopping developments sits between it and the street, with the back wall facing the jungle perimeter of the back lawn, it is amazingly quiet and feels almost secluded, which takes some doing.  But if you just want to relax, that’s the spot.

Because it seems almost impossible to be stressed in that hotel.  There are no doors to speak of on the main level – all the lanais and patios and pretty much the entire reception area are wide-open archways, they’re draping leis and bead necklaces over your as soon as you step out of the car (which the valet will whisk away), the “low-end” Wi-Fi runs for free at a 10-megabit clip, there’s free guava juice at check-in and free Mai Tais waiting at the beachside bar, there’s maid service in the morning and turndown service in the evening, and endless drinks and refreshments are summoned and dismissed with a pen stroke under your room number – basically the experience of laying around and doing nothing is made as frictionless as possible. Hell, I went an entire day without ever putting on shoes at once point.

It’s not the sort of vacation we’d normally take, but after a year as trying as this one – health and work and everything-wise – it’s exactly what we needed.  We had a few sightseeing things, but rarely more than one a day and with no pressure to get anything done, and by Saturday, the only thing we had to do all day was lounge by the pool, reading and soaking up the sun.  We were free from the existence of a wider world, and it was glorious.

Hawaii was a good place, too.  When you’re a kid growing up in the South in the 70s, all you know of Hawaii is the intro of the original Hawaii-Five-O, the prize on the Showcase Showdown, or the moment Christmas afternoon when six buff dudes in their lava-lavas are furiously paddling to shore in an outrigger carrying Santa Claus in shorts and a flowered shirt at the beginning of the Aloha Bowl.  And there’s so much more to it than the beach at Waikiki.  Personally, I’d be just as happy to reinstate the royal family and see if monarchy can make a better fist of it than our current system of government.  And next time out, I want to make sure I can take in a Hawaii football game…and maybe even order the spam breakfast at McDonald’s.  As it is, I’ll wait for my two bespoke aloha shirts to arrive, save my kukui nut lei, and hope that it won’t be another forty years before I can relax in the tropical foliage waiting for either the mai tais or the afternoon showers…

Hanging out ALL the wash

* I’m going to be in training pretty much all week, and on vacation after that, so this is the quickie dump of everything I might have been blogging about.  Hang on tight, here we go…


* So the Nexus 5 has dropped at long last, alongside an Android 4.4 that’s meant to be lighter and easier to put on more limited hardware.  Between that and the Google Play layer, it’s possible Google might have licked the fragmentation problem going forward, as evinced by Moto putting the updated camera software for the Moto X onto the Google Play store to circumvent Verizon’s reluctance to push the update.  Notable too is the fact that the Nexus 5 doesn’t work on Verizon, alone among national carriers.


* Unfortunately, if you have the Galaxy Nexus, you’re out of luck; there will be no Android 4.4 support for it.  This is tantamount to Apple declaring that iOS 7 won’t run on the iPhone 4S at all; it may seem like an outrage but Google explicitly commits to no more than 18 months’ update support for Nexus devices. Still, it’s more than you’ll get from most phone manufacturers or their carrier partners (see Verizon above) and goes a long way toward explaining why Google is moving more and more stuff into Google Play Services rather than Android proper.  Of course there are other reasons too.


* The Nexus 5 includes a chip to enable some of that voice-recognition a la the Moto X, which is apparently part of the Android 4.4 code. That plus the tight integration of Google Now suggests that the forthcoming Google Watch will basically be a Google Now terminal that connects to your phone for its network connection and location info – and that, all by itself, is a far more intriguing and attractive package than the dog’s breakfast Samsung slapped together for the sake of being first out of the gate.


* Samsung actually had a developer conference in San Francisco last week or so, pushing its own ecosystem that sits atop Google.  Amazon went this route, sort of, what with building on top of the Android Open Source Project and forking from there, but Samsung is basically just slapping their own stuff over top of full Android and then asking people to develop for that rather than Android proper because of their commanding market share among Android devices. Shameless doesn’t begin to cover it, but then, Samsung’s entire approach to mobile phones has always, always been “better to seek forgiveness than permission, and better to just pay the court costs than either.”


* Meanwhile, the wife has finally gotten her iPhone 5S, which means I will finally be able to risk replacing the battery in my old 4S without leaving her high and dry.  A 4S in very good condition (year and a half old with protective plastic on it most of the way) and a fresh battery, running iOS 7.0.3, ought to be a perfectly viable everyday phone for at least another year and maybe two…and thus insurance against suddenly no longer having my work-provided device.  Also insurance against doing anything rash like splashing out on an unlocked Nexus 5. =)


* Speaking of electronics, the nerdosphere is going crazy today at the news that the FAA is revising rules on use of electronic devices during flight.  And yet, the main thing is merely the prospect of having them on during takeoff and landing – they must be held in the hand or placed in the seatback, they have to remain in airplane mode, and voice calling is still a no-no.  It’s not the olly-olly-oxen-free that they seem to be crowing about on Gizmodo or the Verge, and it drives home one of the most annoying things about flying: the people for whom having to stop playing Candy Crush long enough for the plane to reach 10,000 feet is an insurmountable crime against their freedoms.


* And while we’re on crimes against freedoms – it should be obvious right now that the main result of Edward Snowden’s revelations has been to give the entire rest of the world a club to beat the United States with.  I thought the big bugaboo was that O NOEZ WE R SPYIN ON MERICANZ!!!!! and yet all we seem to hear these days are details about how foreign citizens were having their metadata harvested and how other countries’ leaders were being spied on.  

Seriously.  Google “ECHELON”.  Or “ONYX.” This is not exclusive to the United States.  In fact, a lot of this isn’t even news.  I present to you an excerpt from William Gibson’s Zero History, published in 2010, between Hollis Henry and Hubertus Bigend:

 “Two,” he said, “counting you.”

“I can’t work that way,” she told him. “I won’t.”

“It won’t be that way. This is entirely less…speculative.”

“Wasn’t the NSA or someone tapping your phone, reading your email?”

“But now we know that they were doing that to everyone.” He loosened his pale golden tie. “We didn’t, then.”

Yes, three years ago, the ubiquity of NSA access to electronic communications was enough of a fait accompli for a major author to include it as a throwaway plot reference.  This is not new, and it didn’t remotely start with Obama, and the idea that it could – or should – be somehow made to go away altogether is to betray a profound ignorance of how the world works and how easy it is to put toothpaste back in the tube.

And now it appears that some left-wingers in Germany want Snowden to testify in person about US spying in Germany. And it appears he is amenable. Basicaly, Edward Snowden’s biggest accomplishment has been to completely compromise the discussion of how we as a society come to terms with the technological potential of mass surveillance, because he’s managed to bury it under an avalanche of homeless-man’s James Bond skullduggery and some very legitimate questions about his motives and conduct.  

If Fast Eddie Snowden is serious about the freedom of American citizens from ubiquitous surveillance, he needs to get on the next plane to JFK and face the guns from within the United States.  His profile is high enough that merely disappearing him is probably not an option, and it’s a lot harder to ignore a potentially enormous legal kerfuffle when it’s right under your nose than when it’s packed away asking Russians if they’ve tried turning it off and on again.  Basically, the biggest impact of the Snowden incident was to score a crap-ton of money for Glenn Greenwald to take his high horse private with eBay capital,  Left, right, glibertarian, whatever: freedom means the ability to cash the check.


* The thing is, we knew this was happening years ago.  Hell, we asked for this years ago.  People assumed that the government could see and hear everything and wanted to know why they weren’t able to magically see the evil Mandarin terrorists before they struck.  And then – because they were evil Mandarin terrorists unstoppable by any means, instead of a bunch of holy-rollers who hit the one-outer of a lifetime – the government naturally proceeded to do what everybody assumed they could.  And they got exposed.  And everybody shrugged.  And then, for whatever reason, this guy makes a big deal of it and clutches the pearls, and it’s a story again – mainly because while the right will always lay down for a Republican president, the American left seems to love nothing as much as slagging off Democrats.  Better perfection than half-measures…with predictable results. “We should only spy on the bad guys” makes as much sense as “the airport screeners should only search the terrorists,” but nobody wants to draw the line – so much easier to just scream that we shouldn’t be spying, period.


* Ironically, Fast Eddie is now working for the Russian version of Facebook, which is ironic in the extreme.  Facebook and Google have built their entire business on data-mining your content to sell your info to advertisers, and the ever-deeper integration of Google Now is the biggest disincentive to take the Android route. Technically speaking, you don’t have to use Apple’s services on your iPhone – you can get all your music from Amazon, you can rip your DVDs with Handbrake for movies, you don’t have to use iPhoto Stream or iTunes Match or Find My iPhone if you don’t want.  Apps themselves you still have to get through the App Store, but hell, the original iPhone didn’t have apps.  You certainly don’t have to use Apple’s mail. You don’t even have to use a Mac – it’s not that difficult to minimize your contact with Apple goods beyond the iPhone to only the iTunes you use for sync.

But if you want to use the Nexus 5 and Android 4.4, it’s almost worthless unless you use Google services.  In fact, the entire home screen – the basic interface from which everything else proceeds – has been replaced outright with the Google Search app. That’s the point; Android is a mechanism to steer you to Google services so they can get the data and sell the ads.  If it were about selling Android devices, Google wouldn’t still be churning out iOS apps that are in some areas superior to their Android alternatives.  Google doesn’t care about the hardware; Google is selling services.  And Apple is selling atoms.  And Microsoft finds themselves caught in a world where software is increasingly free as in beer or too cheap to make money for any business with double-digit employees…and Microsoft still doesn’t have a new CEO.


* Speaking of people who are at a loss, it’s now basketball season.  And Vanderbilt doesn’t have enough scholarship players to scrimmage 5-on-5; in fact, technically speaking, we are two-deep at point guard and only ONE deep at shooting guard and small forward.  With some shifting and shoveling, you can kind of fudge it, but the fact of the matter is we have a total of three true guards for two starting slots and a glut of power forwards. So it’s going to be interesting to see how an undermanned and lopsided squad, picked to finish 11th in a 14-team league, plays out the season when they know they have nothing at all to lose.


* Kids these days don’t know how good they have it.  If I were ten years old and I could’ve had a Tony Stark arc-reactor shirt that glowed under the fabric AND a Nerf revolver that shot 60 feet and could be hammer-cocked and fired one-handed AND a Nerf sword or axe or MACE even AND five X-Men movies and three Iron Man plus Avengers and actual Marvel Lego sets AND a weekly Star Wars cartoon series?  I would have sold my soul on the spot for pennies on the dollar for that stuff.


* Tech support problems in a nutshell: “I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you.”


* And now, we shut down the laptop for two weeks.  Won’t open it back up until Monday the 18th.  I hope.  We’ll see how it goes.