punching the clock

2013, done at last, and not a day too soon. Last night’s excursion to the wilds of the outer Sunset – a holiday tradition for four years now, apparently – ended up with way too many cocktail weenies and Twitter outbursts and not nearly enough quiet reading by the fire, but then, they weren’t projecting football on a screen over the fire before. I guess I’ll need to try again later, once the fog is up – and apparently because the fireplace is their sole source of heat for the building, they are not encumbered by Spare The Air days, so I could have gone anytime.

There’s a lot of complex information there about how 2013 went down. After the emotional firestorm of 2012, I was hoping for a dull moment – what i got was the worst year, health and work-wise, since 2007. So here I sit, on December 31, with the same project incomplete and the same crick in my neck hurting worse than it has in months, as if the Baby New Year is dancing around showing his ass at me.

At least five friends moved out of town this year, including my only blood family I want to claim and the only remaining Southerners I knew. The NOLA contingent and the Canadian contingent are both gone. Silicon Valley became a materially less pleasant place to be this year, driven most forcefully by the brogrammers of SOMA and the techies of the Mission (once I found out that ‘techie’ is being taken as a slur, I resolved to use it every day in a sentence, because fuck those guys). And Vanderbilt football proved once again that no good deed goes unpunished, whether you’re trying to hold a Caesar’s wife standard in a moral cesspool of a conference or persuade the powers that be that facts and evidence should hold more weight than decades of prejudice. And oh by the way we’re playing in a bowl slotted two or three below our finish and not on January 1. The chip is real, and it gets bigger every year, and it should.

Other sports…probably don’t warrant a mention. The less said about Cal and the Redskins the better, although the Skins at least got shut of the most overrated and fraudulent of their recent string of coaching disasters. Honestly, the best sports find of the year was twofold: the return of minor league baseball in an old WPA park in the California League, and the realization that my favorite San Jose bar doesn’t have a single television – which is probably why it’s my favorite.

2014: get healthier. Not so much with the soda, or vending machine chow, or fast food, or unnecessary pastry. More Vasper, more weights. More shutdown nights, even if I have to hole up in the living room or the garage to force myself. And an evening walk at least every other night – not for exercise so much as to let the brain run down, let everything slow down and burn off before going to bed. And oh yeah – get as much personal stuff as possible off the bloody work laptop, because ideally there might be an opportunity to get rid of it. But if I stay in this job, this job goes in a box, and stays there, and is only touched from 8-5 on weekdays. More water, definitely. And get better at shutting out the annoyances of the world that I can’t do anything to prevent. Suck it up and go back to taking the train some days, plug in the headphones and escape. (And maybe see if carrying an iPad mini in the jacket will help prolong the battery life on the phone.)

All I want for the new year is a dull moment. I didn’t know when I was well off.

second impressions

You wouldn’t want anything much smaller than this. The 8-inch display is amazingly crisp and clear, given that it’s the same resolution as the 10-inch iPad with retina display, and that clarity really pops. Especially when the backlight is up – text on a white background looks like print on paper. An 8-inch display also lets you actually interact with it much like you would with a larger tablet – it’s not the same cramped experience as a 6-inch “phablet” (but you can totally one-hand the iPad mini for reading or grip it by the fingertips on either side for easy pickup). Also worth noting: this is the first iPad I’ve ever had that was fully visible through my polarized Ray-Bans instead of going dark in portrait mode. That alone is a huge win.

It does fit in the inner pocket of my peacoat, although it’s a little snug and the opening is far enough up that you can’t really slide it in easily – but once in, it fits and carries without any problem (it’s less than a pound) – basically, this is going with me anywhere I wear a jacket until warm weather returns. The 200 MB per month of free T-Mobile data isn’t nearly enough for everyday use, but then, the whole point is to use the ubiquitous wifi everywhere in Silly Con Valley and have the T-Mob stuff in a pinch (and based on my testing of a T-Mob SIM in the phone for the last week, there will be plenty adequate signal for my purposes in said pinch).

Long story short: this is fulfilling the promise of what I was trying to squeeze out of the 3rd-generation Kindle all those years ago: all-purpose reading device plus enough free data to be useful without having to splash out for a monthly nut. This tablet could absolutely go to the UK with me and the temptation to do so would be mighty strong. I’m glad I have it.

Boxing Day

Out for my traditional distraction. Fortunately, the bar of my frequency in San Jose has a gas fireplace in the back and a gas stove up front, thus circumventing the ban on burning particulate matter that keeps me from the Riptide in San Francisco for the moment. Cask ale, good reading, and quiet…my own sort of homage on this day.

And blogging, as I tap this out on a newly acquired iPad mini, second generation. Through no fault of my own I stumbled into a new iPad Air, which I intend to sell – because for that money plus a little Christmas present dough plus a small investment of my own, I could turn it into the 8 inch model with similar battery life, processor performance, screen resolution, and a form factor that fits in a jacket pocket. At long last, the perfect iPad, and one that will let me mostly urge personal things from the work laptop. The free 200 MB per month of T-Mobile LTE data as a fallback is, of course, the icing on the proverbial cake.

The keyboard isn’t the best at this size, but it’s still doable. The Bluetooth would help. But the tradition of banging out a post on the new device isn’t a chore – no more than on an iPhone, certainly. Would that I remembered the password for the wireless here…

Jacketology and giving up

I bought it at the Eddie Bauer outlet in Gilroy on the way down to the 2004 Holiday Bowl.  It was on ridiculous sale post-Christmas, as were the other three or four jackets we bought (including one which became the international travel coat in 2005 and 2007) – but those all had practical applications.  To this day, I’m not sure why I thought I needed a suede trucker jacket.

In retrospect, I think it had something to do with wanting to make a clean break from the person I’d been in DC six months earlier – burned out by the rage and wanting to change how I lived.  And while the Indiana Jones jacket was and is one of my most prized possessions, it felt like I needed to change up the look if I were going to regenerate, and so I bought the suede. Button-up, of course, and the sleeves were a little big and baggy like a 90s sweater, but the pockets were deeper than the hand warmer pockets on the Indy jacket, and it was something called “Seattle Suede” which you could throw in the washing machine, and I just went with it.

I wore it off and on for three or four years, through my time working in Cupertino and during the brief ill-fated sojourn in government subcontracting. And it never looked quite right to me, somehow. It was heavier than the Indy jacket, for one, which made it about the heaviest thing I could practically wear without reverting to snow-wear.  Something about it was strongly suggestive of the pilot jackets from the original Battlestar Galactica, and not in a good way. Still, it was warm and cozy, and in the right light and with the right steel-toe boots and flat cap was oddly suggestive of leaning against the bar at a public house somewhere in York, or Kildare, or Greenock.

But then time happened, as the wife says, and the more I looked at it, the less I felt right in it.  It looked like somebody trying to be something they weren’t, somehow.  It just didn’t seem to suit me.  And this time last year, I stuffed it in the crawlspace with another jacket once I was given the black Filson number for Christmas.  And since I didn’t get it out, it’s time to donate it – which is exactly what I did.  It and two other jackets went to a Legal Aid collection in Napa where they will find their way to somebody who needs a coat to be a coat rather than a random talisman of memories they’re not altogether sure about.

There may be a lesson in there, if I’m bright enough to figure it out, but I’m not altogether sure I am.

Area Tiger Went Tiger

Let me get this straight: a backwoods hick on a show about backwoods hicks said an utterly backwoods hick thing when questioned about something backwood hicks are notoriously backwoods hick-ish about?  WELL I NEVER.

Fred Clark, who you should all be reading instead of my bullshit drivel, pretty much owns this one, so I’ll just link to him and have done with it. Short version: the usual suspects are up in arms saying that Mr. Chia Beard is being persecuted for his Christian beliefs, since apparently homophobia is the indispensable linchpin of evangelical Christianity in the Year Of Our Lord 2013.  Less observed is the fact that the same crowd, fifty years ago, was arguing that striking down racial segregation was a similar imposition upon their Christian beliefs, which they’re obviously falling about themselves to deny now…but since Chia Beard was downright Stephen-Foster-Swanee-River about black folks, it’s disingenuous to suggest that problem’s gone by the boards either.

To me, personally, the fact that one old white dude is horrible about those different from him is about as shocking as downing nine shots of tequila and finding that you’re walking like one of those blow-up things in front of a gas station. You knew damn well what you were getting when you gave a TV show to a superannuated white Southerner, and it wasn’t going to be fucking Glee.  To be honest, it’s of a piece with Honey Boo Boo or whatever: I don’t know whether I’m more depressed and offended at the prospect of blue-state folk tuning in for some sort of reverse minstrel show “look at those dumb rednecks,” or the prospect of red-state folks tuning in to say “look, we’re on TV and these people are the apotheosis of our culture and heritage!”

But it puts eyeballs on the screens one way or another, until now – I can only assume that enough of the viewership of A&E generally is the sort of folk who will be put off by homophobia, such that allowing Chia Beard to remain on TV is a greater hit for their brand than taking him off and outraging his amen corner in the Confederacy and thereabouts.  Hollywood has an agenda, all right, and it’s the same as my alma mater’s benefactor: GET MONEY. Be assured that they will find someway to finesse a non-apologizing-apology and carry on as if nothing happened, should that be the quickest way to keep printing money off the eccentricities of duck-call manufacturers.

Ah well.  Add support for Duck Dynasty’s stars and their products and their beliefs to the list of new-age Southern conservative religious shibboleths, along with buying all your picture frames at Hobby Lobby and gorging yourself on Chick-Fil-A and, well, whatever Sarah Palin does to make money these days.  It seems like the best thing you can to do make a profit down South is say something horrible about gay people or contraception or otherwise create an opening to plead “religious persecution” and the holy-roller faithful will fall about themselves to support you. Cynical and awful to be sure, but it’s as good a hustle as anything else out there these days…which only goes to show, I suppose, that the doctrine of “GET MONEY” extends far beyond Cornelius Vanderbilt and the heirs of his body.

Last week I learned…

…that I’m only ever two pints and a rebel song away from the DMV.  I was in a strange mood, and I had a couple of Guinness in me, and I chose to actually respond on Twitter to some obnoxious redneck state senator who said Obamacare was worse than the Nazis, the Communists and terrorism. And what made me snap wasn’t the obvious garden variety Fox News ignorance for once…it was the dismissive reference to terrorism.  Please, you fucking hillbilly, tell me all about how much worse Obamacare is than September 11, because as someone living in Arlington and working in DC on September 11 – and September 12 – let me offer a hearty FUCK. YOU.

The thing about DC that comes back to me lately is that I took the Metro to work, every day, except for a brief one-year interregnum where we were two to the car (and I hated it, sorry A, it’s a fact but you probably knew that already).  On any given Wednesday morning, I would be packed on the Orange line between a homeless dude, a smoking-hot George Washington U co-ed, and a 2-star Air Force general in his leather jacket and class-As.  There was a commonality there, everyone having to rub along, and it’s probably a big part of why I ran out of patience with transit earlier this year and started driving to work. Something I never thought I would be doing again if I had the option.

Because transit in this part of the world doesn’t rub along. The techies have opted out of it, and to add insult to injury routinely use MUNI bus stops for the private shuttles that run up and down 280…and ensure their passengers are spared contact with the rest of the world. And those that do use it tend to be profoundly solipsistic – never mind the northbound bikers who still use the Mountain View VTA light rail platform as their own personal bike boulevard, there’s a serious and sustained issue with people here not understanding that you have to let passengers off a transit vehicle before getting on. And it’s not just F-line tourists outside Pier 39.  Transit, at its root, is about giving up a little of your own primacy and autonomy for the sake of the collective good and to make things work easier for everyone.  It’s kind of the building block of society.

And that’s the thing: you need everyone. Somebody has to grill the carne asada at that Mission taqueria.  Somebody has to troubleshoot that printer-copier’s connection to the network. Somebody has to haul off the compost and recyclables after the party, somebody has to drive the forklift to unload the pallets at the grocery store, and somebody has to drive that fire engine to put out the roaring blaze from the unattended bong left under the tree.  Hardcore survivalist nut jobs arming themselves in the woods against the socialist zombie apocalypse still had to buy canned goods and 9mm ammo from somewhere; even if they’re doing hand reloads they still had to obtain the powder and the tools from someplace.  How much more delusional are the sorts of techies who live at the corner of Ayn Rand and Asperger’s?

My theory is this: after the financial collapse of 2008, the finance sector was no longer the key to instant wealth: if you were the sort of person who would have wanted to go to Wall Street and get filthy rich in the 1980s, that became a much less attractive option after the global credit crunch.  Instead, that sort of person came out of Harvard or Stanford with a grade-inflated degree and the necessary connections to go into high-tech.  But unlike the last bubble, the goal isn’t the IPO.  Building the next Netscape or the next Amazon or the next Microsoft was the plan in 1999.  Now the plan is to sell out to Google or Facebook or Apple, cash the check, and move on to the next thing.  And that, more than anything, is how the hackers and EECS guys and the like gave way to the current crop of hipster brogrammers. And it’s making this valley an ever more unpleasant place to be.

Because this place isn’t just some mental construct, some cloud of tech bubbles connected by wi-fi-enabled bus and self-driving car.  This is a real part of the world.  There are roads and schools and taquerias and used bookstores and Catholic parishes and Macy’s and In N Out and town high streets that don’t have an Apple Store or a craft cocktail bar.  Places that were here before the bubble and will be here long after it bursts. Places where parents have children, look around, and can’t afford to buy a house anymore.  Places where you’re looking at an hour in the car to get to a job that’s never going to provide a private bus to work.  Places where the American dream really has been turned into a luxury good.  Home ownership, children, financial stability – pick two. That’s life in the 21st century in what used to be the Valley of Heart’s Delight.

Once again…

…the Old Days in college football would have given us this in 2013:


SUGAR BOWL: Auburn vs Florida State (SEC Champ, plus FSU since the ACC wasn’t locked to the Orange)

ORANGE BOWL:  Missouri vs Ohio State (7-8 BCS)  (best original Big 8 team)

COTTON BOWL: Alabama vs Baylor (3-6 BCS)  (best original SWC team)

ROSE BOWL: Stanford vs Michigan State (4-5 BCS)  (Big Ten-Pac 12)

FIESTA BOWL: Oregon vs South Carolina (9-10 BCS)

CITRUS BOWL:  Clemson vs Oklahoma (11-12 BCS)

HOLIDAY BOWL: Arizona State vs Oklahoma State (13-14 BCS)


Guess what?  You can pair up the top 14 teams rat-a-tat-tat and get great matchups all the way down.  And no need whatsoever to go through any ridiculous gyrations to get the matchup.

As the BCS lurches to the grave, the final proof: it was largely unnecessary.  The playoff risks the same.

the ghost of christmas past, part 9 of n

I didn’t want to say much about it at the time, but December 2, 2008 is when I was offered the job I have now.  Had I known how it would turn out, I’d definitely still take it, but I’d try to be a little more heads-up going through it.  But at the time, just to escape from the world of government sub-contracting…it was paradise.  I had gone to the old country for Thanksgiving and sweated out days of waiting for the phone to ring, so to come back on Saturday and get the job offer on Tuesday – it was a country music record played backward.  Got out of prison, got my wife back, got my truck back, got my dog back…

And just like that, everything turned blue and bright again. The clouds parted and the sun shone on a cool damp green world of Christmas.  The Kanye song about the Good Life that had mocked me the year before was suddenly triumphant. Obama’s inaugural was a month away and we were still basking in the glow.  I was going to have a job above ground, with cellular reception, with actual benefits, with the ability to take the train to and from work…life, in short, was finally looking up after the bottomed-out stretch of 2007-08.

I was actually starting to experiment, too.  I had a virtualized machine on my MacBook running a lean Ubuntu instance, wondering if I could get by with a netbook.  Since the state of the art in cellphones was an iPhone 3G, the need for some mid-range device was real…and ultimately I would deal with it by acquiring a netbook, disposing of it six months later, and finally getting an iPad, which nails the netbook space far better than any actual netbook ever did.  It was also cold enough that I was wearing the international travel jacket and contemplating the peacoat…which I finally bought years later and am wearing today in the midst of a similar cold snap.

The surest sign that the world was changing wasn’t anything to do with netbooks or a new job or a black President, though – it was Vanderbilt in a bowl game for the first time in a quarter-century.  Of course, we backed into it, following up a red-hot 5-0 start by losing 6 of our last 7 games.  Scraped out a win against Kentucky thanks to DJ Moore’s heroic effort on both sides of the ball (2 TDs as a receiver, 2 INTs as a defensive back) only to lose to Tennessee (again) and Wake Forest (AGAIN)…and wound up in a bowl game in Nashville, 4 miles from campus.  And played a perfect game despite virtually no offense, and won 16-14, and our punter was the MVP.

I think the thing about Christmas five years ago is that it came with the sense that my whole entire life was on the way back – that I hit rock bottom the year before and was now, indisputably, trending back up.  There was hope, there was a new day coming, and the future was both visible and bright.  Really, that’s what I’m missing these days: not a solution on a silver platter, not an illustrated guide to the future, but just a sense that things are going the right way and looking up.  If I could somehow find that under the tree on the 25th, I wouldn’t want anything else for Christmas.

Go to hell, SEC

Well, the days of my disrespect for the SEC are certainly coming to a middle. This is something that’s occurred to me more than once in the 20 years I’ve been associated with Vanderbilt University.  It’s reaching a point where the question has to be asked: what benefit do we actually get from being in the SEC?

National exposure?  Not at all.  Our appearance against Georgia on CBS was our first appearance on the SEC’s flagship over-the-air broadcast outlet in two decades. Go back and watch the intro and see how much you see of Vanderbilt over that iconic theme music.  How about ESPN? Well, our prime-time matchup against Ole Miss to open the year – and quite frankly one of the best games of the year if you’re anyone but a Vandy fan – got shoved all the way back to an 8 PM Thursday night kickoff.  And then we got slagged for not having the stadium packed 45 minutes before kickoff.  No, most of our “national exposure” involves the 11:30 AM slot on the old Jefferson-Pilot syndicated package.  Our season opener next year has already been handed off to its replacement, the SEC Network – which come August may actually reach fewer households than the syndicated package would have.
Access to premium bowls?  Apparently not.  The “prestige” bowls only go about 6 deep.  Unless you make a BCS bowl, you’re going somewhere between Atlanta or Dallas.  Forget about a bowl in California, or the secondary bowl in New Orleans, or something other than January 1 in Florida – nope, you either land on New Year’s Day or you land in some cold landlocked place in driving distance of Nashville.
Quality competition?  Sure, you’ll get to play half a dozen ranked teams every year, all of whom will be favored in Vegas, in the media, and in Birmingham.  The most stunning thing about this season for any Vanderbilt supporter is that the officials actually reviewed the 4th down spot in Knoxville and overturned it when it proved to be a bad spot.  But every year, you’ll get to play Florida and Georgia and South Carolina and Tennessee and Ole Miss and now Missouri and God help you if you schedule a slightly easier non-conference schedule, because you’ll be tarred and feathered for having the temerity not to play a road game against a top-5 out of conference opponent.
Reputation? Well, we get to share in the SEC’s reputation – except for the championship caliber football.  Nobody gives us credit for that, but they’re more than happy to lump us in with soft scheduling and psychotic redneck fans. They certainly don’t credit us for selling out our bowl allotments in both our previous seasons, even when it meant traveling 5 miles to the same bowl game we’d attended four years earlier.  We didn’t fold our tent; we showed up and represented, and it got us nothing for our trouble.
Support from the conference? Not happening.  We went to the same bowl in 2012 at 8-4 that we went to in 2008 at 6-6, because the Gator Bowl claimed that they didn’t want a rematch of Vanderbilt and Northwestern.  And then this year, they passed us up at 8-4 for a Georgia team at 8-4 which we beat…and rematched them against Nebraska.  ACC commissioner John Swofford was on the phone, metaphorically throwing hands on behalf of Duke to make sure they didn’t get shafted out of the Peach Bowl in favor of Miami.  SEC commissioner Mike Slive…yawned.
Support for other sports? Eh. Everything we did in baseball and basketball, we did ourselves; this conference is about one team in basketball and it’s not ours.  Meanwhile, baseball finished 3rd in the nation in 2011, which was good enough for 3rd in the SEC East.  Everything that Corbin and Stallings and Balcomb and their fellow coaches accomplish happens without a lick of help from Birmingham.
Money?  The Big Ten has brought home more cash per member school than the SEC for years, only changing now because of expansion and projected playoff revenue. And they only have to split it 12 ways rather than 14, and they were ahead of everyone else on the conference channel scheme. Laugh at the advertising, but it turns out Barbasol and Ro-Tel have mad cash to spend.  Contrary to what the people on 21st Street in Birmingham would have you believe, there are other conferences that can stack the cash too.
Academic achievement and reputation?  Don’t make me laugh.
Think about it.  The Big Ten was five years ahead of the game on their network, and they have almost national coverage to go along with record revenue – setting aside the fact that every member bar Nebraska is also a member of the AAU, the prestigious academic consortium (until the expansion to 14 teams, Florida was the only other AAU member in the SEC not called Vanderbilt).  The Pac-12 has launched SEVEN channels, including a regional network for each of their traditional pairings that provides coverage for nearly every sport, not just football and basketball.  The ACC offers the likes of Duke, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, UNC and UVA – all nationally-regarded academic institutions that seem to do all right for themselves sports-wise.  Hell, it’s only been a few years since Wake actually went to a BCS bowl.  That’s right, Wake !-ing Forest went to the Orange Bowl.  If you go back and looked at the schools with comparable records in my original post about the chip, most of them were 5th or 6th in their conferences.  Depending on how you measure, we were 7th or 8th…and we wound up in the 10th bowl slot for our troubles.
We’re here.  We’re a founding member of this league.  We’ve paid our dues.  We have every bit as much right to be in this league as Arkansas and South Carolina have, never mind the Johnny-Football-Come-Lately crowd from out west.  And yet, Texas A&M gets to hop up to the Peach Bowl, and Carolina gets to hop Missouri into the Citrus despite finishing behind them for the SEC East crown, and a 6-6 Mississippi State gets to go above us in the pecking order.  We’ve delivered our two best football seasons in almost a century, we’re squarely in the middle of the conference rather than scraping the bottom or barely hanging on for bowl eligibility. We sold out our entire allotment for our bowl games in 2011 and 2012, despite the disappointment of staying home last year. Nothing matters to the SEC but football, so we did our part to be credible, and it has earned us absolutely nothing but the bare minimum required; if the Compass Bowl could somehow have taken Tennessee at 5-7, they wouldn’t have hesitated.
If it were up to me, next year we’d take the SEC logo off the uniforms. Instead we’d put a nice black-and-gold poker chip, with a star-V on it, right on the back right shoulder. Because the SEC doesn’t deserve to share our uniform. Everything we’ve accomplished as a university has happened without the help of the SEC – in fact, has mostly been accomplished in spite of the SEC.  We don’t own one iota of respect, or support, or allegiance to an organization that has not one iota of those things for us.
Our team.  Our triumph.  Anchor Down. Go Seminoles. Go to hell, SEC.

The case for godhood

I’ve spoken at length in the past about how dangerous it is for tech support individuals to indulge the wizardry delusion. What you’re doing for the hapless users is not magic, and if you let them think you’re a magician, you’re going to be in serious trouble the first time you have to do actual magic.

But looking at the problem through the eyes of a manager, or lead, or just the senior-most guy in the house on an understaffed and busy day, there’s a certain amount of appeal.  Users sometimes have the tendencies of an annoying 4-year-old, mostly around tantrums and “WHY?” and asking for things that they can’t even name. At a time like that, how much easier is it to put down your foot and say NO, this has to be reimaged and encrypted.  NO, you must complete the attestation before you are allowed onto the network.  NO, we will not bring your hamster back to life.

The irrational demands of department managers – or worse yet, their admin assistants – are frequently impervious to reason and logic.  At times like that, the ability to stand on high and proclaim ex cathedra just makes things go so much more smoothly.  Which is one reason I’ve always aggressively sought the explicit backing of management on policy questions – life is so much simpler when you can flatly declare something and have it backed up all the way up the chain.

Maybe this is part and parcel of my whole “I AM THE GOD OF HELL FIRE i am, right?” thing.