Monday is kickoff for WWDC.  I don’t dare make any predictions.  There’s too much out there.  But here’s the thing: this is a developers conference.  You will not see anything that can’t be programmed at some level.  What you will see is the first cut at iOS 8 and Mac OS X 10.10, which means things that can run on existing hardware.  Which is why you didn’t see Siri in the iOS 5 reveal in 2011; it depended on the 4S hardware.  But everything else was in there: the notification center, the Twitter integration, et cetera.  Similarly, the iOS 7 beta showed off all the bits and bobs of the new UI, but not the TouchID or the 64-bit processor.  So if your vision for the future couldn’t run on an existing iPhone 5S or MacBook Air, don’t expect to see too much about it Monday.

The one place this could go awry is with new hardware – a new AppleTV, some sort of wearable device, some hardware that simply hasn’t existed before and needs to integrate somehow with these new operating systems.  Something like that is plausible, especially if launched with an availability date a month out or so. But don’t think for a second you’re going to have new iPhone hardware announced; ever since the iPhone 3G, there’s always been an iOS event three to four months before new iPhones themselves. That’s just how it works.  New phone means new OS, and new OS doesn’t go out the door until it’s gotten a beta, the end.

My wish list for iOS 8 is one item long, as always: a way to identify with granularity how much battery life any individual app is costing you. Turning off Background App Refresh and making sure Twitter and Facebook are deleted has more or less gotten me to a viable phone again, although using it in the fashion to which I am accustomed usually means 40% battery remaining by 5 PM.  Not dreadful unless you actually have plans in the evening, but the sort of thing that makes me want to have the iPad for personal use and the iPod Shuffle handy for non-podcast audio listening.

And my concern with any future iPhone is the same as with the existence of Background App Refresh in the first place: what is this going to do to the battery life?  I don’t mind plugging in my phone every night, but I don’t want to have to think about it until I get home.  And inasmuch as a larger screen means more battery used, I’m not crazy about the prospect.  But an iOS phone with iOS battery life that has a 4.7” display and a 2200 mAh battery would be just about right, I think…please Cupertino don’t screw this up.

sic transit Moto X

So much for the Texas Miracle.  A year after announcing their new phone would be built in America, Googlenovorola has apparently decided that the Moto X can’t be profitably built in the United States after all, and the Fort Worth assembly plant will be closing at the end of the year.  The Moto X, or its descendants, will continue; after all, the Moto G and E are hands-down the best phone available at their respective price points.  But now they’ll be slapped together in Chengdu or Shenzen or wherever.

Shame, really.  The Moto X was launched at a price point not commensurate with its stat sheet, which led people to point and say “overpriced.”  Had it come in at $400 unlocked and $50 on contract, or something similar, they could have been pitching “the most innovative and user-optimized phone ever, and made in America for half the cost of an iPhone” and had a blockbuster.  But they started off too high and promoted too little and got overrun by the Samsung publicity machine, and Google basically just wanted out of the hardware business.

At least I have my one American-made phone, which ironically as the unlocked device will almost certainly be my international travel phone in future.  After all, if I was still carrying the Z520 in 2010 I can probably make this thing last into 2015 without too much trouble (fingers crossed – more on that later) and it’s ideally suited for a place where I won’t be using it much for phone calls or music and there’s plenty of signal on all sides.  Plus it’s more subdued than an iPhone.  What’s not to like?

But it’s back in the drawer, especially with the expiry of my month of AIO/Cricket service.  Make no mistake, if I had to buy my next phone myself, it would be unlocked and off contract and I’d be on Cricket for $45 a month.  But at this point, it’s almost inevitable that my next phone will be replacing my work-provided iPhone 5 on Verizon with a notional iPhone 6 on AT&T.  And I’ve conclusively proven there’s no percentage in carrying two phones.  It didn’t work for me in 2005, it didn’t work for me in 2009, and it didn’t work for me in 2014.

Now I just have to gut it out for the 3-4 months it’ll take for the new iPhone to land.

The curse of the fresh start

There was no reckoning.

Barack Obama is sworn in as President, with control of both houses of Congress, and almost immediately it starts: this is no time for looking back. There’s no point in rehashing the past. Any retrospective investigation would be a counterproductive witch-hunt. Best just to get on with it and go forward.  And thus did the people escape who lied us into a war in Iraq, the ones who sandbagged the regulatory regime and allowed the banks to fleece us blind, the ones who laid low for a matter of weeks before inventing the grass-roots GOP-laundering known as the “tea party” with which to perpetuate the idea that the world was just fine until January 20, 2009.

That comes to mind because of work.  I haven’t exactly had a grand time the last year and a half, and there’s very little secret of that. I now have a completely different management chain (well, at least a couple layers up) and there’s going to be a huge reorganization at some point.  I admit, I feel slightly better about it than I did when it looked as if the reorg was going to be brought to us by the people who drove things into the ground over the last year and a half.

And yet.

More and more, it looks as if there’s going to be no reckoning.  The people who made the mess will just move on.  There will be no accountability for those who clusterfucked the entire process, and those who sacrificed time and health and quality of life will just have to be happy with a small bonus and a small raise and a pizza party – and the fervent hope that they can’t be stupid enough to fuck it all up again.

Looking for justice in this world is a fool’s errand, which is why as a child you’re taught to be good in life so you can get a land of milk and honey and fried catfish when you die.  Oddly enough, the people laying up treasure on Earth never seem that worried about their eternal reward – not enough to make it worth delaying gratification, anyway. Fuck up all you like, but as long as you’re above the Whiffle Line, the consequences are inconsequential.

And ultimately, that’s why I wanted a new job.  It’s as close as I can get to a reset – the hope that it’ll be different, that at least if it’s no better it’s at least a change from the previous caliber of shit.  But it also means walking away, accepting that you took the loss, that you couldn’t get over on your foes, and there’s a very real chance you’re not going to be able to leave the baggage behind just because you hit the reset button.

Of which more later.

The Faire

This was my first trip to Maker Faire in three years.  The last time I went, in 2011, it seemed almost completely like 2010 and the only thing I remember standing out was a small square tent in opaque black that was wound inside with firefly lights and fake vines.  I probably would have bought that and set it up somewhere if there were room for it. But other than that, it really felt like the event had hit the wall.

Flash forward three years.

It’s gotten bigger, make no mistake.  A lot of things that used to be indoors are now outside under tents, especially the craft and fabric-related stuff.  Not to mention a wide array of blacksmiths, fire-breathing octopi, mechanized snakes, and of course the ever-popular recreation of the Bellagio fountains with Coke Zero and Mentos.  (It used to be Diet Coke; I can only assume there’s a marketing angle here somewhere.)  Inside, there’s dedicated dark space for the glowing Tesla coils used to make music.  And there’s a lot more in the way of food-related stuff, and I don’t mean dining: there are vertical hydroponic racks suitable for growing tomatoes in the space of a phone pole.

The biggest things now are drones and 3D printing.  There were all sorts of 3D printing exhibits, applications, hardware specials, the works.  Basically the same old “the street finds its own uses for technology” – snap-together cosplay helmets printed one palm-sized piece at a time, custom-extruded Crocs made on a scan of your actual foot and fit perfectly to size, auto parts replaced by scanning and printing and lost-wax casting.  Plus assorted quadcopter-type things with HD cameras attached – some big enough to fly over streaming video of El Pulpo Mechanico live to the Internet, some about the size of your hand looking like an extra prop from Agents of SHIELD.  And there are corporate booths, of course, but they tend to be more like Radio Shack’s “Learn To Solder” booth.

Plus there’s the old standby, all of them – the naval battles between ball-bearing-firing warships on the water, the model trains propelled by live steam with tiny coal boilers, the marshmallow shooters of PVC pipe (customize your own!), an entire village of steampunk outfitters, wallets made out of seat belts and a human-sized version of the old Mouse Trap board game.  And a whole array of costumes, for every and any reason or no reason at all, whether Goth or steampunk or comic-book-ish or neo-Victorian-in-Wonderland or just made up out of your own head.  (And don’t think the opportunity to cyberpunk it up hasn’t drifted through my head once or twice, if only there were more fog and less sunlight out.)

Maker Faire, at heart, is what Burning Man used to be and tries to pretend it is.  It’s what SxSWi wants you to believe it represents (instead of spring break for startups).  Maker Faire, at its heart, is a celebration of creativity and imagination, not freighted with the baggage of ten thousand Williamsburg/Mission hipsters or techie douchenozzles (the whole day Saturday, I saw exactly three pair of Google Glass, not one of them on an exhibitor). And it’s all forms of creativity and imagination. Do you quilt? There’s something for you to see, irrespective of whether you’ve ever touched a smartphone in your life.  Do you just like to put Lego together? Go for it.  No pink feathered boas and/or skinny jeans required. Calligraphy? Iron cutlery? Fashion made out of Target bags and produce mesh? A working electric piano made out of cucumbers? It’s all there.

And there was one company offering an electrified folding scooter for $800. Cheap? Maybe – tops out at 20mph, costs only pennies to charge, folds up into a 34 lb package suitable for going on any transit, not just the bike car, and ideal for bridging the last mile (and possibly sidestepping some of the issues I have commuting to work) – I didn’t splash out for it, but it got me thinking about how to reinvent how I get to work and back or get around as a whole.  And that’s what something like this does: spurs the imagination.  And imagination is something we could generally use a lot more of.

E by gum

As of today, in the UK, we now have the Moto E.  If the Moto G was the low-end version of the X, the E is definitely the low-end version of the G: 4.3” screen at 960×540 resolution (less than the iPhone 4), only 4 GB of onboard storage, rear-facing 5MP camera with no front camera…but the thing runs Android 4.4.2 with no extra overlaid skins and costs $129.  Let’s not mince words: this kicks the shit out of every other offering at this price point.  There is no other phone in the $100-149 range that’s running a current version of Android.  There is no other phone in that range that can run a current version of Android.

Motorola has it sorted. They have three phones: the G, the X and now the E, which is as many lines as Apple supports and in similar fashion (insert gag here about how the E comes pre-aged 2 years).  They run a clean OS without all the unnecessary crap that Samsung and others use to load down the phones  (and which Moto was equally guilty of in the MOTOBLUR days).  They’re using the E and the G to put viable smartphones in the hands of people who would otherwise be paying for last year’s crap.  And the Moto X…I keep being drawn to it.  Yes, the model is almost a year old (even if I’ve only had it since February or so) and yes, it’s resoundingly middlebrow on the spec sheet for all the stat-boys that populate Android’s fandom, and…I don’t care.  I reach for the thing instinctively, even (especially) over my work-provided Verizon iPhone 5.

Because Moto nailed it.  The UX is about as good as you can make it.  The phone is responsive and snappy, the hand feel is better than any phone I’ve had since the iPhone 4 (and before that, the original iPhone), it feels solid and reliable in a way that the plastic of the 3G never did, the screen size feels larger without making the phone feel bigger, and – now that I’ve had a chance to test with an AIO SIM on the AT&T network – it absolutely kicks the shit out of my Verizon iPhone on battery life.  Maybe it’s just because there’s more pervasive AT&T signal around where I am, but on the first full workday of testing, I used the iPhone for two phone calls, seeing some incoming text messages, and checking email twice.  I used the Moto X for everything else: podcast download/playback, additional music listening, Twitter, Instagram, opening web links in Dolphin Zero, RSS reading, incoming scores, the whole fidget-with-your-phone of modern life in Silly Con Valley.

At the end of the workday, both phones were at 59%.

If I could get iMessage, iTunes and a decent mail client on the Moto X, it would be my only phone.  Hell, if it weren’t for iMessage, I would give back my work phone outright and just ask if I could be reimbursed the $45 a month it’ll cost me to stick with AIO long-term (unlimited talk and text plus 2.5 GB of LTE/4G data capped at 8 Mbps – which costs literally half the retail cost of my old plan that had 450 minutes a month, 1000 texts and “unlimited”  3G data that rarely broke 1 Mbps).

The next iPhone had better be something pretty good.  But to be honest, give me iOS in the Moto X’s form factor, and I’ll be fine.

Uber Alles

The mighty disruptive tidal wave of Uber has finally reached London.  The venerable black-cab drivers are prepared to strike over the ways that Uber is evading the normal requirements of taxi service in the British capital – that the smartphone app with its surge pricing essentially amounts to a taxi meter in a private car, which is not permitted. Setting aside altogether the fact that Uber drivers will presumably be spared the Knowledge, the exacting command of every street in the city that black-cab drivers are required to know from memory before they can drive.

The bloom is off the rose for me for Uber.  Every time I’ve tried to use it outside San Francisco, the results have been charitably described as dismal at best.  More and more, it seems like Uber’s success is down to a combination of massive subsidy from investment capital, sidestepping the existing regulations around cab service on one technicality or another, and relying heavily on “private contractors” for whom they disavow responsibility in a pinch.  In other words, the perfect 21st century American corporation.

It’s the cod-libertarian mentality of Silicon Valley in a nutshell – these rules are inconvenient, so they should be ignored.  And yet, people fail to understand why we have regulations.  You go up in a plane, you want to make sure it’s not going to collide with another one – we need the FAA.  You want to buy stock in a company, you need to know the company actually exists – we need the SEC. (The Securities and Exchange Commission, that is.  We could probably get by all right without the Southeastern Conference.) You want to build a house, you need to know the wiring’s not going to burn it to the ground and it’s not going to collapse the first time they blast for coal or the wind comes up – you need building codes and inspections.

Think about UberX, or Lyft, or Sidecar: their business proposition boils down to get in a car with a stranger because this app said it was OK.  And yet the more these companies disavow responsibility for the conduct of the drivers, or the operation of the vehicles, or compliance with existing law and regulation, the less plausible – or safe –  that proposition sounds.  There are other companies – Flywheel for one, though I’m sure there must be others – who are doing what Uber should have considered all along: take the technology, the payment system and the hailing mechanism and arrival tracking and such, and license it to existing taxi providers. The thing that people love about Uber isn’t anything qua Uber itself, it’s the ability to pull out the phone, summon a vehicle, get in, get out, and not have to fumble with the money.  Smoothing the rough edges off the taxi experience is a far easier operation than trying to replace it outright.

But that wouldn’t be “disruptive.”


It shouldn’t bother me this much, and I’m happy for him, but…it kind of sucks.  Herb Hand, perhaps the most social-media-savvy of all college football assistant coaches, apparently shot an episode of Chopped last summer and it will air in a month or two.  At the time, he was the offensive line coach of Vandy, and apparently was all in his star-V gear and everything.  But at this point, you know where that staff is now.  It’s that state school in Pennsylvania that plummeted to the abysmal depths of a 7-win season and took the entire Vanderbilt staff in an attempt to turn it around.  And for their trouble, right now they’re sitting on what is widely regarded as the #1 recruiting class for the 2015 signing year.

We can’t have nice things in Vandy athletics. Our hotshot basketball recruiter will get itchy feet after a year. Our talented class with three NBA draft picks will go 1-3 in three NCAA tournament appearances. Our #1-overall pitcher will lose the ability to find the plate in the first round of regionals against Michigan. We’ll have 48 hours to enjoy our first back-to-back bowl game victories, ever, before ESPN delivers our coach to State College because he didn’t go to Los Angeles or Austin first.  And then, when we land one of the most sought-after prospects in college football to replace him, we’ll get slotted 12th in the preseason out of 14 teams. A Kentucky team that we beat three years straight, an Ole Miss squad we beat four years out of six, a Vol squad that has to come to Nashville after losing twice and replacing their entire offensive line – they all have the Vandy game pencilled in as a win.

We get no respect for trying. We get no respect for “doing things the right way.” We tell ourselves we are to make us feel better, but supposedly Stanford was out there “doing things the right way” when they got hammered by Cal seven times in eight years, when they were winning one game a year, and do you know when people started giving them credit for it?  When they went to three straight BCS bowls.  Pity?  Sometimes.  Sympathy?  Rarely.  Respect? Never.

The fact is, we’re only going to get respect when we start beating people over and over and over and over again.  When it can’t be dismissed as a fluke play or a lucky bounce or a talented player or a coach who caught lightning in a beer bottle. And even then, as long as we have fewer seats in the stadium, fewer fans who only set foot on a college campus for games, less free-floating money wandering into the pockets of players and prospects, we’re not going to be considered a peer with the rest of our conference.  Because, to be blunt, they are not our peers.

Which begs the question…what are we still doing here?

Tech Tuesday

* The AIO experiment is happening.  There’s going to be a month at $45 with unlimited talk and text and 2.5 GB of LTE data throttled at 8 Mbps, and we’re going to see if it makes a difference.  There’s also a 703 number associated with it…of which more later.

* Samsung got dinged for what is basically lagniappe, a hundred million dollars or so for violating some Apple patents.  Forgiveness is better than permission – Samsung, more than any other Android vendor, ripped off the Apple UX wholesale and for their trouble got a commanding share of the Android market.  Shameless.  Any idiot can look and see what happened – the packaging changed, the power adapter changed, the colors of icons were the same – but they’re pretty much going to skate with it.  Microsoft managed to make a touch UI that looks nothing like iOS.  That’s actual innovation.  Samsung just pauses every couple of years to try to wash the slime off.

* Once again, a quick review of my correspondents shows that basically everyone I text with is on an iPhone.  It’s going to be tricky to move off.  The things that the iPhone is indispensable on for me are text messages, email and media content – but maybe toting the iPad will help with that.

* I still haven’t seen an episode of Silicon Valley since the first one. I need to find the time and make the time, but for some reason my heart’s not in it.  I wonder if that’s a result of looking at the real thing all around me. Sometimes I wonder if the thing you have to come to grips with when you stop being Nuke and start being Crash is that you have to accept that 21 days in the majors was all that was going to happen, and that at the end of the day you’re a really good triple-A player.  But like I say…of which more later.