Thanks again, Ralph.

The Supreme Court has just decided that if companies really really mean it, it’s ok for them to decide they won’t provide coverage for birth control for slutty slutty slutbag women, but hey, there was no real difference between Bush and Gore, right?

Do me a favor: if you voted for Nader in 2000, don’t let me know.  I don’t care where you lived, I don’t care what you were thinking.  Politics is real life.  If you wanted to dream, you should have been a theater major.  I’m just better off not knowing.

Meanwhile, the Republican dream of the New Feudalism continues.  No wonder they don’t talk about jobs sitting on this kind of real unemployment – it’s a buyer’s marker for labor. Easy to piously declare “well any woman that doesn’t like it can find a job somewhere else” – but when real unemployment persists in double digits, it’s not that simple, is it? And employers get to revert to the kind of full control over their employees’ lives we saw in the company towns of the deep South.  And it all comes full circle.

Individual freedom is for rich people.  If you work for somebody else, or have the temerity to have a vagina, shut up and get back to work.  That’s the new American dream.  If you don’t like it, lace up your boots and start punching back. Hard.  If this is enough to keep the GOP out of the Senate another two years, then we can at least make lemonade from the biggest sour lemon of the term.

the search for time lost, n-10

I miss DC.  

Not in the way that most people think of Washington DC – political intrigue, monuments, Congressional aides, West Wing-style high drama, the Sabbath Gasbags blathering on and on every Sunday morning, interns on the make, power dinners at the Palm, the whole cut and thrust of life inside the Beltway – that’s not my DC at all.  

My DC was autumn on the GW Parkway. Late nights at the dearly missed Ireland’s Four Provinces. Bluegrass on WAMU and go-go at the 9:30 Club. Sonny Sam and Frank on the call of Redskins games, Don & Mike on JFK in the afternoons and the Sports Junkies at night. George Washington and George Mason and Maryland hoops. Coffee at the Mudd House or Common Grounds, groceries from Giant, Barra Brava and the Screaming Eagles at DC United, Lake Braddock vs Annandale, DeMatha vs Good Counsel, trying to find parking at Montgomery Mall, Buck calling the Wizards and the Locker calling the Caps and Jim Vance and Doreen Gentzler and George Michael on the Channel 4 news, Mac McGarry hosting “It’s Academic”, and the 4th of July on the Mall (always better observed from the Arlington side of the river).  The whole world, the real place that nobody ever thinks of when they think about the DMV – indeed, if you hear DMV and think “drivers license?” that’s as good a shibboleth as any.

Ten years on, I have come to the conclusion that as it exists in 2014, I kind of loathe “Silicon Valley.”  I really do.  Not the geographic area, not the outstanding HBO show, but Silicon Valley as it exists in the popular mind around here.  Uber and Lyft and $18 billion in valuation for a middleman app that relies on regulatory loopholes and “independent contractor” dodges.  Stanford University and its private incubation/investment services. Most of the Mission and more than half of SoMa. The endless array of hoodie-clad neckbeards whose eyes glaze over at a “Walk Your Bike” sign. Dolores Park, all of it, every weekend. Clinkle and the endless black hole that keeps getting funding no matter what. The idea that the single best resume in high tech is “just dropped out of Stanford or MIT”. $1.2 million for an app that literally just says “Yo” and has security holes you can drive a Google bus through. The notion that a degree is worthless but Bitcoin is valuable. The appropriation of public goods for private profit, whether it’s MUNI stops clogged with shuttles or people auctioning their parking spot off with MonkeyParking. The frathousing of high-tech, the infantilization of high-tech, the parade of private buses down suburban side streets in Mountain View while Caltrain has to scramble for cash and the inability to buy a house anywhere unless you can put up 100% cash up front.  The replacement of high tech with a Wolf of Market Street cash-grab boondoggle bonanza.

Which is a shame, because in these ten years, I’ve come to love the real place underneath. The place that has In N Out burger and charbroil joints that were doing delicious burgers long before trendy names like Umami and Super Duper came along. The overcast layer in the morning and the fog spilling like Cool Whip over the tops of the Santa Cruz mountains above the reservoir along I-280.  The art and wine festival in every small town’s high street some weekend or another between Memorial and Labor Day. The beaches at San Gregorio or Pescadero and drinks by the firepit outside the Ritz in Half Moon Bay, or by the fireplace at the Riptide deep in the Outer Sunset.

I could go on.  In fact, I will.

Sal Castaneda doing traffic in the morning on channel 2 and John Madden offering commentary on KCBS radio on the drive in to work. Hole-in-the-wall Italian places in North Beach.  Following the Cal Band up the hill to Memorial Stadium on a Saturday morning.  Turkey Mike’s BBQ and a couple of beers as the sun sets at San Jose Giants games. The Warriors, any time, any place, Golden State or Santa Cruz alike. A pub without a television in San Jose and a bar without a beer tap in Mountain View. Camping in Portola State Park where there’s no data signal of any kind, just a book and a lounge chair and the shade of the redwoods. Ad Hoc in Yountville and Los Charros in Mountain View. St Francis vs Bellarmine and Santa Clara vs St Mary’s.  A slice at Pizza My Heart, a cup of fresh-ground Peruvian coffee at the farmer’s market, a sack of persimmons or Meyer lemons and take all you want because they’re overflowing the yard.

This is a real place, full of real people, with a real history that goes back decades to Fairchild engineers drinking at the Wagon Wheel or Steve Jobs bribing the Macintosh dev team with pineapple pizza from Frankie Johnny and Luigi’s or entire orchards of stone fruits as far as the eye can see. There’s a whole valley of real people and real places and real things that will be here long after the bubble bursts and the hipster hustlers decamp back to Portland or business school.  

A million years ago, seemingly, they called this place the Valley of Heart’s Delight.  If you can wall off the bullshit and immerse yourself in the real thing, it still is.

This Phone Is On Fi-Yahhhhhhhhh

Well, at long last we have the Amazon phone.  The Fire Phone is the Kindle Fire, shrunk to the increasingly-standard 4.7” screen size.  It does have a couple of party pieces of note:

* Firefly, a universal “recognize everything and send you right to Amazon to buy it” function that’s already on the Amazon iOS app under the name of Flow.  Although the Firefly implementation looks more comprehensive and is apparently extendible via an API.

* Dynamic Perspective, an approach to the UI that uses four (!) front-facing cameras with infrared lighting (!!) to do constant real-time face recognition and modify the screen display accordingly in a sort of 3-D effect (!!!).  Setting aside the “on camera at all times” aspect that will no doubt make the Edward Snowden worshippers crap their trousers, my immediate first thought was “Amazon: F Yo Battery Life, Lawya”.

* Mayday, the instant-tech-support app made famous during March Madness by Craig Sager’s exotic fashion choices.


Here’s the thing: the appeal of the Kindle Fire was that it was the first genuinely non-shit-on-toast Android tablet.  It got there by eschewing most of what made Android Android – carving off the UI and the Google features in place of an Amazon UI optimized for watching and reading your Amazon-purchased media, with apps bought from a curated and well-managed store.  In other words, by making a tablet that was everything the iPad was accused of being, and bringing it in at a ridiculously reasonable price.

But the phone is $199 with a two-year AT&T contract. And AT&T is the only launch carrier.  This sounds an awful lot like what happened with the Moto X, where a phone with less than cutting-edge specs was offered at premium price on the grounds that its Unique Selling Proposition was worth the difference.  It works with Apple, because they can offer the largest app ecosystem in mobile and the ease of use that goes along with iOS. It works with Samsung, because they max out the spec sheet and flood the zone with advertising.  It didn’t work with the Moto X, because Google simply didn’t put the kind of promotion behind it that it needed…and because its USP remained tied to AT&T for too long.

And that’s the thing about the Fire Phone…you have to really want to use the Amazon ecosystem.  I mean, really want to use it.  Because you can buy stuff from Amazon on regular Android or iOS phones.  In fact, right now, your iOS device can be used for everything on the Fire except Dynamic Perspective – shopping, Instant Video, even an approximation of Firefly via the Flow option.  And some of the things you give up – like Bluetooth LE or even multitasking, in the first iteration – are going to be a lot to ask, especially in a world where wearables are the next great frontier.  Try telling Ed Earl Brown – or his wife, as likely as not – that they can’t use the Fitbit with their Fire Phone.

Then again, this is not a power-user phone.  This is a phone that you can give your mother, and she can use it to make calls, take pictures, probably do text and email, watch movies, listen to music, read 50 Shades Of Unintentional Comedy on the down-low, and if she has problems or has questions, press a button and there’s somebody to help instead of speed-dialing you to try to talk her through something.  Maybe there’s a market there, although the jury is out until more people interact with this thing in the real world. That’s actually another trick: Google’s attempt to sell the Nexus One was a complete bust. This phone is going to have to be in front of people, and just having it at the AT&T store isn’t going to cut it.  It needs to be in Target, in Best Buy, in Wal-Mart, and people need to be able to see how things like Firefly and Mayday and Dynamic Perspective work in the real world.  That will do more to sell it than just looking at video online and taking their word for it.

But right now, there’s nothing that seizes me like the Moto X did and makes me think “I must try this phone.” Which means it’s definitely not targeted for my market.  If it is, then Amazon may have just laid an egg.  It remains to be seen how it works out for everyone else.

the search for time lost, n-20

That chime.  That guitar chord, supposedly recorded by Stanley Jordan, with the B top note and echoing F# in there somewhere.  The startup sound for the Power Mac 6100.

It echoed off the plywood floor in my room, where the carpet had been ripped up in the name of a whole-house remodel. It was my first computer. After summers and holidays spent on a borrowed Apple II in elementary school, and four years spent in the DOS version of WordPerfect 5.1, I finally owned a computer of my own, the first generation of PowerPC-driven Macs.  I had to learn what an “application” meant.  I had to learn the difference between what I thought of as a program and things like extensions or control panels.  The first time I tried using WordPerfect 3 for Mac, I literally looked for a way to turn off WYSIWYG. Because seeing the text justify itself on both sides was confusing me.

It wasn’t an auspicious start.

I also signed up for my first online service – there was some attempt to donk around with the local BBS scene, but I splashed out for an account on eWorld – it wasn’t a true ISP, but it did do email, and thus began my first attempts to interact with the wider world.  By Christmas, I’d have MacTCP installed, access to the rarely-used Apple Remote Access modem pool at school, a beta copy of Netscape, my own Vanderbilt email address and Eudora to read it with, and – for the first time – the ability to reach out to people out of town without relying on pricey long distance calls or actual postal mail.

People in the Valley these days think they’re being “disruptive” whenever they come up with a new way to use your phone instead of just pulling out cash.  But this is what real disruption means. All of a sudden, the world becomes smaller. You can stay in touch with people at a distance. Five years earlier, a “long distance girlfriend” meant you would throw letters in the mail like messages in bottles into the ocean and wait to see what, if anything, ever drifted back.  Or make a phone call, hope somebody was there, and hope that you could stay on the phone long enough for a conversation but not so long that the long distance bill exploded. And then, in 1994, all of a sudden?  Tap tap tap, done.

But there was a lot more than that.  There was all the poking and prodding needed to get a PowerMac running System 7.1.2 to perform in a reliable manner.  When I got to grad school, I had to find the software to get a network connection. Then I had to figure out how to get TCP working.  Then Eudora. Then things like Stuffit, or a Zip drive, or RAMDoubler, all bits and pieces of getting more out of the computer, like a hod-rodder trying to squeeze an extra 5HP out of the engine or shave another tenth of a second off the quarter-mile.

I didn’t know it, but before I’d even started grad school, I was on the path to my future.  And it would have nothing to do with political science.

Over Uber

So yesterday, a lot of London cabbies protested against Uber, which drove up awareness of Uber, which led to lots of chortling about how those stupid taxi drivers just gave free advertising to the competition and they should just get with the times and accept that the industry is being DISRUPTED! and this is the future…

Hold. UP.

London cabs come in two forms: the traditional black cab that everyone knows (and which for my money is the best taxi on earth) and the minicab. Minicabs are called for in advance and deliver you to a certain spot for a set fee, while black cabs have meters and pick up on the curb (you can just hail them at random). Only black cabs are allowed to run meters, and part of qualifying to drive a black cab is the Knowledge.  The Knowledge is basically an internal GPS for every street in London, in your head, from memory. It takes years to perfect, it’s documented to cause actual physical differences in the brain, and it’s part and parcel of having the fastest and most direct route to your London destination.

Comes now Uber, where the smartphone app is used to hail a cab – but the service isn’t a fixed cost.  It’s metered over distance, like a taxi, but because it’s using a smartphone app and not an actual taximeter, Uber claims that they aren’t competing with regular black cabs and shouldn’t be regulated as such.  And naturally, there’s no Knowledge to pass; your driver is presumably navigating by Google Maps or some such.

The cabbies of London are pissed, and rightly so, as are taxi companies around the world, and rightly so.  More and more, it’s becoming apparent that Uber’s entire business model revolves around evading the legal regulation normally associated with taxi service, whether it’s the medallion system in New York or the Knowledge in London or liability insurance requirements in California or vehicle inspections in Virginia.  The argument appears to be “we are neither fish nor fowl and no rules should apply to us, and oh by the way, these drivers are all independent contractors so it’s all on them when the car explodes or plows through a crowd of pedestrians, not us at all.”

Two things:

1) This is the classic “independent contractor” dodge, the ongoing drive to eliminate actual staff and the costs associated with them.  What used to be a question of driving a pickup truck to Home Depot to pick up day laborers is now all over the economy, whether it’s just temps from Manpower or adjunct instructors instead of faculty or some random with a pink mustache stuck to the front of their ride.  Over a decade ago, I forecast a world where nobody would have staff below the managerial or lead level; all the grunts would be contractors and the company would be happy to duck things like health care or retirement or benefits at all.  Nobody much cared until it started hitting the white-collar world, but here it comes.

2) It’s all fun and games undercutting taxis with your huge stack of venture funds, but as soon as the company has to turn a profit, how much are people going to make? How long is it sustainable?  Can someone in San Francisco – the only place where Uber’s ever been remotely usable for me – actually make a living and afford a home doing nothing but driving for Uber? (Setting aside San Francisco’s housing issues being distorted by the tech bubble in the first place.)  And what’s to stop them being undercut by Lyft, or Sidecar, or by taxis using Hailo or Flywheel?  When all cabs are summoned and paid for by app, where’s the value-add for Uber?

But the really dickish bit is that Uber keeps handwaving these issues away – in Virginia, they blew off a $35,000 fine and then an injunction and continue to operate anyway.  It’s the apotheosis of Silicon Valley in 2014: things like existing regulations and the rule of law are an inconvenience, to be ignored when you feel like it, and “disruption” is the highest of all values irrespective of the real-world implications.

Uber wants to be the Wolf of Market Street. Fine. Buy the ticket, take the ride.  I’ll take something else.


The one killer feature of iOS 8 that I’ve been praying for these last two (three? four?) years has finally appeared, independently confirmed on a phone running the first beta: it will now be possible to see what applications on the phone are using up your battery by percentage.  At long last, it will be possible to independently tell whether Tweetbot is better for the phone than the official Twitter client, or whether just having Facebook installed on the phone is enough to pummel the battery.  The most critical thing I’ve wanted will finally be here, and it alone is enough to tempt me to get the beta into my work phone ASAP.

Beyond that?  There are some interesting features out there, especially revolving around the interaction between the phone and the Mac and handing off functions from one to the other (including things like placing calls on the phone from your Mac or replying to SMS messages, not just iMessage). My friends will be happy to be able to opt out of group chats.  My current healthcare provider is part of the Healthkit consortium so that could prove useful at some point.   The keyboard improvements will be welcome, and the return of an actual file system to iCloud (as originally introduced in iDisk back in 2000, for god sakes, it’s not like Dropbox pioneered online webDAV-based storage) is long long long long overdue.

Siri is a bit of a red flag, though.  I’m all in favor of being able to address myself directly to Siri and have it always listening, much more than I ever have with my Moto X.  But the battery impact of having a phone always listening strongly suggests to me that either the 64-bit processor will be a lot more friendly about that, or the notional iPhone 6 will have a co-processor for that like the Moto X has, or that a notional iWatch will have the permanent ear out for your request so that the phone doesn’t have to.  Regardless, I don’t see this feature making it to the iPhone 4S, just for instance.  But having voice recognition that works more like the Google Search version would be very handy.

And speaking of Google search…DuckDuckGo finally makes it to the options list for search, along with Google and Yahoo and Bing.  Don’t think for a second that it won’t be the very first setting I change on anything running iOS 8. One more piece of the puzzle for Google independence.

Beyond that, a lot of minor itches are being scratched.  There will be an API for TouchID authentication, there will be widgets (of a sort) in the Notification Center, there will be “extensions” for apps such that you can more easily pass files between apps (for instance, take a picture and post it directly to Pinterest or Instagram, rather than just having Facebook or Twitter as options).  And naturally, there are tons of new hooks and things for developers, including an entire new programming language called Swift that’s characterized as “Objective-C without the C” – which ought to be interesting.  By and large, though, we’ve reached a point where there’s very little left to ask for out of iOS.

Meanwhile, Yosemite (aka OS X 10.10) shows even more iOS-ification, for better or worse, although at the moment it looks largely cosmetic. The fonts will change, there will be more translucency, Spotlight will become more of a command interface than just a search tool…nothing major, it sounds like, but just enough to keep my life interesting.

No new hardware today, which means tonight is probably a good time to pick up some fresh AAPL stock.  The kinds of people for whom Tim Cook has to describe what SDK means are the ones who will almost certainly ignore that a new iPhone was last announced at WWDC in 2010 and complain that Apple is falling behind because of their failure to announce any exciting new products.  Which basically means a complete failure to look at the last decade or so of WWDC and learn the lessons of history.  I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you.

Then again, it’s always fun to disappoint the meatballs who spent thousands of dollars just to get into the keynote and the bash.  Serves you right, clownbros.