Sic Transit Nokia

I don’t know when Nokia passed Motorola as the gold standard of mobile phones in my mind, but if I had to hazard a guess I’d say it was probably around 1997.  I replaced my Nashville phone with a Nokia 636 after leaving grad school – it was HEWWWWGE in today’s terms, but I went out and bought the NiMH battery to try to eke a little more time out of it (as you can see this has been an obsession for as long as I’ve had a phone) and when I left for DC, it became my dad’s phone until he died, and was my mother’s phone after that for at least five more years…after which she replaced it with another Nokia for five years.

Because that’s what Nokia was: solid, sturdy, easy to use and utterly robust.  I kept falling back on Nokia. I got my Moto Piper when I moved to DC, broke the contract, wound up with a little Ericsson, but sure enough, before long I was on a Nokia 5160 or so.  When I moved to GSM, I had a dual-band Siemens phone that did GSM and TDMA for about six months, but it kept shutting itself off in the subway – so I wound up with a Nokia 3590.  I tried to go smartphone and got that SonyEricsson P800…and moved West and wound up pushing a Nokia 6620.  I got a cheap Moto flip as a backup phone at work with an eye toward traveling – and wound up getting a Nokia 3120 to replace it.  Even when I started using that Moto F3, I picked up a Nokia 1112 as a backup to the backup just because it sipped battery and hung onto signal tenaciously.

My nephew has that Nokia 1112 now, and my wife’s Nokia 1600 (locked to Orange) sits in a drawer against the day we go back to London, and all those other phones have been donated or sold or just lost. But nonetheless, there was still a little pang today when Nokia’s smartphone business officially became a subsidiary of Microsoft.  Sony Ericsson had the flashy UI, and Motorola had the hot industrial design, but Nokia was old reliable.  And yet, they were late to the game on smartphones.  Had they not stuck with Symbian for so long, they could have ruled the Android world the way Samsung came to – their Windows phones are things of beauty and are to all accounts right there with the best in the world for performance.  But they spent too long sticking to the low end of the market, and they paid…and eventually the only option was to go all in with Microsoft.

Which is too bad.  I wish I still had that 3120.

Random technology thoughts

* I had dinner last week with one of my tech insiders, who hadn’t actually seen and handled the Moto X yet (he carries a Nexus 5).  He was impressed with the density of the phone, and didn’t realize the screen was only a 720p AMOLED, and it occurred to me that the thing that continues to draw me to the Moto X is that it’s got the best hand-feel of any phone since the original iPhone and for the same reasons.  Solid rounded comfortable feel in the hand. Not coincidentally, the Moto X also had one maximum priority: battery life.  The various technological tricks to squeeze out 24 hours off the charger in the Moto X are the natural progression from the original iPhone’s lack of GPS, 3G, video recording or third-party apps: if the battery doesn’t last all day, the phone will be DOA in the market.

* He also concurred with me that battery life is the future of everything.  If the battery can’t be made to last – and right now the only way to get more battery life is to either cram in a bigger battery or else do some heroic things in chipset engineering – the product will be DOA. And right now, I’m still struggling to parse out how much of my battery woes are the device, how much are the carrier, and how much is just me actually trying to use the damned thing as intended. The fact that I never get more than three bars signal at work has to be a thing, simply because even if I’m using Wi-Fi for data, the phone has to burn extra power to cling to that weak CDMA signal for voice.

* New York magazine nails the Ponzi scheme of the modern tech bubble – not that it’s new, of course.  Back in the dot-com boom, everything was going for free and making it up on volume, to the point where there were free cars wrapped in advertising and free DSL at a time when DSL was new and rare and pricey.  That ended about like you’d expect. But the lack of institutional memory around here, coupled with a flood of VC money looking for returns, has enabled a bunch of startups to go down the PimentoLoaf.Com route of providing goods (or more likely services) at a loss by just burning their capital and getting ever more funding – on the presumable promise that when the bubble bursts, they’ll be the viable service left standing like Amazon or what have you.  At some point, though, I doubt investors will be happy to feed the beast with no prospect of return, and it’ll only take one economic jolt to put us back in 2002.

* I’ve said it over and over again, but what the iPhone 6 needs: 2 GB RAM, AMOLED 4.7” display, 2200 mAh battery, dedicated coprocessors for speech and location beyond just the M7.  What the Moto X2 needs: better power management, a mail client and a ringtone store that both don’t suck, improved camera performance in low-light situations, and a headphone jack on the bottom (and I wouldn’t say no to a legit iMessage client, but that’s never happening).

* There’s a major IQ test tomorrow: public sale of Google Glass for $1500. Like cocaine, or the Fisker Karma, the current version of Google Glass is God’s way of telling you that you’ve got more money than sense.  Google has managed to combine the worst of Microsoft and Apple: ubiquity plus reality distortion field. If they had just one person who’d paid attention to Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash and the opprobrium heaped on “gargoyles” therein, maybe they would have tailored the thing any better.  As it is, Google Glass is to this boom what the Segway was to the last one: a potentially useful device with niche applications at present that over-wealthy techies are managing to turn into a symbol of arrogance, detachment and social ineptitude.  After all, walking around in the Mission with $1500 strapped to your face isn’t really a good idea at even the best of times.

* After three months and change, I can say in all honesty that I haven’t missed the larger iPad at all.  The iPad mini Retina is absolutely the perfect device of its type and it’s only warm weather that prevents me carrying it everywhere. (Although I still prefer the Kindle Keyboard for long-term reading, obviously – assuming the lights are on.)

* Let’s be honest, all I want out of my next phone is to feel like Tony Stark designed it for SHIELD.  That’s how you know you’re legit cutting edge these days. =)

flashback, part 69 of n

When the smoke cleared, I was in a one-bedroom apartment facing right out on a main thoroughfare in the mid-Orange Line sector. I had no furniture – the cable was working and the TV was on the floor, and the telephone was working…but the Power Mac 6100 was sitting on top of a pizza box with a hole cut in it over where the fan intake rested. I had an inflatable mattress to sleep on, with my boom box at the head, and every morning at 7:30, I awoke to Z104, playing Puff Daddy’s “I’ll Be Missing You” regular as clockwork. We were still shirt-and-tie then four days a week, and I honestly don’t remember what I did with my shirts – hopefully I wasn’t coming to work too rumpled, because I sure don’t remember bringing an ironing board. I got up in the morning, walked down the main drag, turned to cut through the local mall, and down the road between towering condo and office buildings to the Ballston Metro station, catty-corner from The Nature Conservancy (a sharp reminder of the ex-girlfriend). And then on the weekends, an early Friday exit to allow me to beat the rush hour traffic on the Beltway as I headed back for the Pennsylvania Turnpike and back west, through rolling hills splashed with autumn color in a strange world of tollbooths and cornfields and bits and pieces of Colonial architecture…”

-August 23, 2009

Sprint Spectrum was the first PCS service in the country.  GSM-based, operating in Washington DC and Maryland (mostly) and the first step into the 1900Mhz band, all in November 1995. I’m sure that at the time, it seemed downright futuristic, and not just because of the built-in caller ID and voicemail and pager functionality. And I’d certainly never heard of them anywhere else in 1997 when it was time to start looking for cell phones – because of course I’d need to have a cell phone in DC.  Even if I couldn’t freakin’ afford it.

I’m reminded not only of that, but of walking by the Sprint Spectrum kiosk in Ballston Common Mall and seeing the new Washington Wizards gear in the sporting goods stores – that lower-case “dc” logo and all the blue and old-gold where once there had been the red-white-and-blue of the Bullets.  Because they were moving to the new MCI Center and changing their name, and because the owner had been a friend of Yitzhak Rabin and turned against the old name after the assassination.  But the thing that stuck out was – here is an NBA team. Call 301-NBA-DUNK for tickets. There’s an NBA franchise in my town now, something I’d never experienced – never mind the fact that I’d already been a Redskins fan for seven years or that there was pro hockey too. Local major league sports: completely new concept.

And transit, of course.  The Metro, the functional necessity of DC as much as air conditioning – no sane person would live there without it.  The story’s been told over and over by now of how I only realized the night before my first day of work that I didn’t have to change at Metro Center for Farragut North – I could get out at Farragut West and just walk the extra block. But then, I’d never lived anywhere with a viable public transit system before, and by that I mean one that could take me from the place I lived to places I actually wanted/needed to go.  Like work.  Like a four-level mall at Pentagon City.  Like the Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian Institute.

While I was ditching work after jury duty, I took the opportunity to watch the new Captain America movie, which is basically 80% set right between where I lived and where I worked in those first days in what’s now known as the DMV.  I was watching a guy who had a life somewhere else – somewhen else – who’d had it turned upside down and found himself living in Washington, trying to make sense of how his life had changed and who and what he was now.

It hit way too close to home.

“May it please the court, I would like to be sequestered.”

So after 42 years, I finally reached a point in jury duty that involved actually showing up to the courthouse.  I’ve gotten the summons twice before in the last five years, but both times my number never came up.  The way it works out here is that you get a notice about a month in advance, stating the week you will be on the hook and telling you to call in or check the website the Friday before.  If they say don’t come in, you check again on Monday morning and see if you have to come in that afternoon.  If you don’t, you check that afternoon to see if you come in the next morning.  And so on, and so on.  It’s actually a gargantuan pain in the ass and you’re better off just being called in, which is what happened to me this time out.

I got called in for 1 PM Monday, and the rest of Monday was spent in hardships – basically people begging off the case because they were the sole caregiver, or couldn’t speak English worth a lick, or would lose their job, or had prepaid vacation plans, or what have you.  Fair enough, start whittling down from there, and then on Tuesday get to the actual selection.  Which was interesting to me, because they go through a whole bunch of questions that are basically yes/no, and even if you’re not in the box, you have to make a note of any “yes” so you can rattle them off when you do get called up.  Only one or two people had this figured out and were able to promptly mention their nephew who’s a parole officer, or the time somebody broke into their car, or when they sat on a jury 20 years ago in San Diego and couldn’t reach a verdict in an embezzlement case.

We probably would have been done Tuesday except for the people who were plainly trying whatever shuck and jive they could to get out of it – not least the one woman who suddenly turned into Sammy Sosa testifying before Congress and forgot she spoke English.  And the judge, who I loved, was Not Having It and was on her best Judge Judy are-you-fucking-kidding-me-with-this-shit. “Why didn’t you bring this up when we asked about it yesterday? How long have you lived in this country?  Fourteen years.  Did you go to high school in this country?  Yes. Did you go to college in this country?  Yes.  Did you graduate?  Yes.  What was your main language in high school, what were you taught in?  How about college?  What do you do now?  Radiology technician?  What language is spoken at work?  I think your English will be sufficient for this case.” And a glare that added And sit your ass down. Gah. Fuck me with this no-habla-Inglais bullshit.  Priceless.

I never made it into the box, which is good, because my desperate need to do shtick in public is probably incompatible with my need not to catch a contempt case.  Not gonna lie, I did spend the better part of an hour trying to determine how close to the line I could get without a sudden non-working vacation in the gray bar bed and breakfast.  Never came up though.  We did have to go back in Wednesday because all the shenanigans people tried on Tuesday meant that we didn’t get alternates selected in a timely fashion, but for my trouble I wound up with the better part of a day off on Wednesday and time for a couple of movies, so that was nice.  In fact, the week went so well generally that it’s feeding my theory that at this point, I just need to not go to work and I’ll be mentally fine.  (Obviously the solution is retirement, but that doesn’t look all that financially feasible at present.  Working on it.)

Shots fired

There were a lot of reasons why Firefox’s CEO had to go.  The obvious one, of course, is that the guy created JavaScript, which has never worked right cross-platform and routinely makes my life tougher.  But that’s just on a personal level, and there are many more reasons.

One of Josh Marshall’s readers nailed it, though: this is simply an unacceptable look for a company in an industry that already has an image problem.  Silicon Valley 2014 is basically Wall Street 1986 with more Asians and Indians: still overwhelmingly young, male, white, and churning up tons of money for no visible product or benefit.  It’s turned into a shell game again, and the new Mike Judge series on HBO seems like it’s going to skewer this perfectly.

But there are other things, as I was discussing with a woman last Friday night who was uneasy about having this guy mau-mau’d in such a fashion, her happiness with her own marriage to her wife notwithstanding.  And while I do appreciate the need to take the high road and show some understanding and tolerance of those who disagree with us, there are a couple of things that make me say “…nah.”

1) Had the guy been a CEO in Boston or New Orleans and revealed as a major donor to anti-Catholic organizations, or a CEO in Miami or San Diego and a major donor to a nativist “English-only” organization, he would almost certainly have gotten hounded out of office with a quickness.  Even if your political beliefs are completely orthogonal to your business, it’s not a good idea to give offense to your local community.  And given the stance of Google on Prop 8, and the extent to which Firefox still relies on money from Google, that was going to be an issue at some point at a time when Google really doesn’t need negative press.

2) In 1967, Loving v Virginia invalidated laws against interracial marriage.  In 2000, Alabama voted to remove those laws from the state constitution – by a vote of 60% to 40%.  And if you consider that a quarter of the electorate is black, and probably voted to throw it out, you’re left with a majority of white people thirty-three years later still voting to uphold unconstitutional statutes against miscegenation.  Having grown up in the South and still waiting for enough people to die off so that it can move forward, I can only say that if the supporters of equal marriage don’t want to be fighting a rearguard action for the next six decades, the time to make Eich’s opinions publicly unacceptable is now. People have to know that this is no longer OK – sure, it happened fast, and there are some sincerely held religious beliefs, but I had ancestors who sincerely believed that God sanctioned chattel slavery of black people too.  Believing doesn’t make it right.

Normally when something like this happens there’s an apology and a bunch of hemming and hawing.  But for whatever reason, Eich stuck to his guns.  And now he’s paid for it.  Far too often, these sorts of things end in a muddled haze of postmodern equivocation and nothing happens in the end – somebody gets a charitable donation, somebody reads out a prepared statement, and it goes away in a week. Actions have consequences. Too much of the last decade and a half has been about a class of people who reach a level in life that they no longer face consequences for their actions.  That needs to stop.  The CEO of a high-tech non-profit is a good warning shot for the return of accountability for all, but it won’t do much good unless there are a few more shots fired.

shooting the shit

* I’m all about Desean Jackson to the Skins, largely because 1) we need a deep vertical threat, 2) I think DJax is actually an all right dude who wants you to think he’s a thug SOB, and 3) it makes old white NFL pundits pop their clogs. Which is among the best things in life.  The NFL is dreadful and so are the media who cover it.


* I’m looking at a new Washington Nationals hat to represent the DMV for just that reason – well, and the Redskins are highly problematic these days (for the record, I think they should keep the name and change the mascot to a potato.  SPUDS ON THE WARPATH, FIGHT FOR OLD DC). Torn between navy hat with red bill (looks too Braves) and red hat with navy bill (looks kinda Red Sox) – and so far, everyone I ask says navy hat. Wish they still had one with DC on it, but who knows.


* I do need an Oakland A’s hat b/c I intend to pay them at least as much mind as the Giants this year, not least because Sonny Gray was the ace of the Vandy staff and three years later is the ace of the A’s staff. That boy’s gooooood!* And to be perfectly honest, I’m probably a better fit psychologically for the Athletics, for much the same reason as the next item.


* I have baseball tickets this year – a ten-game package for…the San Jose Giants.  Why?  Because single-A ball in a park from the 40s that looks out on the flat of the valley with the mountains in the distance and palm trees beyond the outfield fence…I mean, what more do you want out of summer.  And I find that I enjoy the thought of going out in San Jose just as much as trucking up to the city, simply because San Jose has a lot more in common with the likes of Oakland or Pittsburgh or Birmingham.  It’s not flooded with tourists, it’s not a mecca for hipster techies, it’s an ideal spot for somebody with nothing to prove. And it’s home to one of my three favorite bars west of the Mississippi, so why wouldn’t you?


* I’m really interested in what the iPhone 6 will be.  I keep going back and testing the Moto X because of three things: slightly bigger screen (better for Kindle use), slightly better battery life (although tough to tell sometimes b/c I’m not able to hit it with music the same way) and the prospect of co-processor-assisted functions.  Basically I need to be down to just the one phone, if I’m honest…as long as I can go back and forth, the temptation will be strong to keep screwing around with both and not just dealing with it.  And after a long day’s work yesterday, while I can definitely *use* the Moto X long term…I mean, the iPhone experience is just so much more comfortable to me.  Call it polish, call it familiarity, call it a deficiency in my old willingness to tinker, but until something happens to take the work-provided iPhone out of my hands, the Moto X is the backup piece.


* That said, I think I may just want off Verizon.  I was at the dentist this morning, where there’s one (1) bar of Verizon signal, and the phone took about 3 minutes to get legit hot in my hand.  Verizon may have coverage everywhere, but it’s not strong coverage everywhere, and my device suffers by it in a way I don’t think the wife’s does (she’s got a 5S on AT&T).  The temptation to try out AIO for a month or so is strong, simply because I’d be willing to swap a cap of 8Mbps on LTE for a reliably sturdy signal.


* Mainly, though, I just miss 2006 and being able to pull the Z520 out of my pocket anytime knowing it would be charged, because that thing literally went four days between charges. And had no protruding edges and fit in the change pocket of my jeans.  Good times. If you could make the iPhone battery half again as large, I wouldn’t ever have to sweat battery life during the day.


* Five craft beers on a school night and then help take down an entire pub to win trivia? Slight work. (dusts fingernails)


* I’m not sure how to react to the notion of a world without David Letterman on the TV.  He first appeared at a time when  I still identified his last name with a character on The Electric Company on PBS, but by the time high school and college came round, there was nothing cooler on TV.  I played Paul Shaffer in a skit for high school which was a parody segment called “Having Sex With A Member…Of The Audience.” (And damn near wound up with Paul’s hairline.) Everyone in late night is doing Letterman shtick now, while Letterman himself has evolved to truly be the spiritual heir of his idol Johnny Carson (who I watched retire 22 years ago).  It’s one more signpost that time marches on and the things you like aren’t forever, so enjoy them while you have them.