More technology thoughts

* I’ve been searching for TVs. Here’s the thing: TV makers are no longer making high-end 1080p sets, they’re only making 4K sets at the high end. And yet right now, there’s no 4K programming other than certain Netflix or Amazon outlets; everything has to up-convert. Lower-end 4K sets don’t up-convert well, so buying a (comparatively) inexpensive 4K set means getting shitty video for the next 3 years while buying the best-available 1080p set means five years instead of ten for viable lifespan.  The practical upshot of all this is: I should have bought a new TV as soon as the cousins took theirs with them, but instead I now need to wait at least a year, possibly more. We are in the sour spot of the U-curve.

* In the course of all this searching around, I went by Fry’s, and it’s staggering how different it is since I was first exposed to Fry’s 13 years ago. Time was, it was jam-packed with shelves higher than your head stacked with all manner of things that aren’t there any more. No PDAs. Precious few books.  Not a lot in the way of Mac accessories.  And no shelves higher than your chest, and very wide and expansive aisles. The Amazon bomb has gone off, and it shows in Silicon Valley retail.

* I put the work AT&T SIM in the Moto X with Lollipop yesterday and tried to use it normally, turning it on around 10. By bedtime, it had only bled down to 50% with normal use.  Now, the big caveat was that I was in no way using it for mail or audio like usual, but neither was I plugging it in at every opportunity. I actually turned on location and used it to navigate once, I was fairly constantly looking at Instagram or RSS or Wikipedia, and it seems to have done OK.  Maybe it’s settled in; the time to test will be tomorrow or maybe over the weekend of the 4th. But the Moto X, even now, is the insurance against a sudden change of circumstance, and could certainly be my everyday phone until something better comes down the pike if such were necessary.

* Nerf needs to deliver the Rivals series soon. A 70mph Nerf ball is the last argument of technicians.

Tech thoughts

I need to think about something else in my life so let me catch up on gadget issues.


• I went to see Eddie Izzard on Monday night, and for the first time had a concrete use case for the Apple Watch – I would have loved to be able to see when the last train was leaving without pulling the phone out during the show. It wound up with me being the last one out (the rest of the gang split at the interval, because it was a long day and a long night and we’re all pretty banged up) and catching a cab, but it would have been useful to at least know the light rail was done. Meanwhile, I read the Newt Gingrich review of the Apple Watch, and was intrigued – he came at it from the standpoint of the device as a travel aid, one with the boarding pass right on the arm (albeit needing to be rotated at a weird angle before it would scan) and not having to remove it through the metal detector and taxing the battery to its limits (probably because he forgot to put it in airplane mode on the flight).  All in all, it strikes me as being something more useful than my Pebble, which won’t stay connected to the iPhone reliably and as for the Android…

• Lollipop, so far, is a battery-killer.  It dropped 1% an hour just sitting on the bedside table overnight and took 16% battery to ride to work reading the RSS feeds and glancing at the weather a time or two. My understanding is that Android takes a few days to settle out, battery-wise, but at the same time it feels like the battery meter in L is all over the place – it looks like it’s trying to show what percentage of the total battery each app has used, rather than what percent of the used-battery-time each is.  Traditionally, the screen is 50% or more of a healthy Android battery life; now, Yahoo Sports or Microsoft Outlook are way way WAY ahead.  And while Outlook is the best available mail client I’ve found for the Moto X, it’s kind of a showkiller on battery life.  If this Moto X is ever going to be anything but a novelty piece in my rotation, it needs to get through a full day’s normal use (and it doesn’t even have to play music routinely). Then again, Android’s greatest improvement in battery usage has been “make the screen 6 inches and stick a 4000 mAh in it” so maybe it just can’t be done.

* I kind of like the MacBook. I know it splits the difference between the 11” and 13” MacBook Air on size, and the lack of ports makes it patently unsuitable for serious business work (there’s no viable way to make this a desktop workstation because to get a mouse, keyboard, network connection, display and power is too much to handle). But much like the 12” PowerBook G4 of a decade ago, this is the blogger’s delight. If you can get used to the keyboard (and I’ve more or less adapted; the size makes up for the lack of depth) then this two-pound laptop is perfect for banging out nonsense like this very post. Or the one which preceded it. I described it to my management as being “the iPad Pro” which I still think is a fair assessment and not a dig in any way. There are niches for which the iPad Pro is the dream of perfection. Only thing is, the battery tends to sink pretty fast, which I put down to including a retina display – table stakes, sure, but you’re making some compromises by throwing in a low-power processor and chipset and then turning around and asking it to drive 2304×1440.

* I bought a pair of Bluetooth headphones off of – big Panasonics that were supposed to be the equivalent of Beats at 20% of the cost. They’re not terrible – I like having something over my ears rather than in them for the first time in ages. But the Bluetooth connection to the iPhone is a little splotchy – the phone had better be in a clear line of sight for best results; front pocket is sketch and hip pocket is right out. And they don’t have a way to activate Siri, which is less of a concern as I’m not likely to be dictating into these. These are for clamping over my head and tuning out the world. Wish I’d had them handy when I was goofed on Valium, Norco and hydromorphone a couple weeks ago, but that’s a tale for another time, except to say that I had back pain treated with a drug that Ohio used for lethal injection until 2009. ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED.

* It’s time to start looking at cars again.  While I haven’t delved in depth, the wife is keying on either the Golf SportWagen TDI or the Prius V, neither of which I find problematic (leaning Prius to be perfectly honest).  Thing is, this is the long-range car.  The car we buy after this can probably be the electric option with a range under a hundred miles, and by that time, things should be very interesting.

Old times there are not forgotten

Some people in this life need an elephant to take a shit on their head before they will acknowledge the possibility the circus might be in town. So now Nikki Haley and Lindsey Graham and a bunch of other South Carolina Republicans, finding themselves backed into a corner by the Internet and the media and the blood of nine dead citizens, are saying the Confederate battle flag needs to come down from the South Carolina statehouse grounds. Yay and hooray.

Here’s the thing: those battle flags went up across the South – and onto state flags that had not heretofore incorporated them – not in the aftermath of the War of the Rebellion, not in the heady days after the Redeemers brought an end to the Federal occupation, but in the 1950s as a deliberate response to the emerging civil rights movement.  It was “Forget, hell!” writ large.  It was pledging the full faith and credit of Southern states to the cause of massive resistance to the notion that all men were created equal.  It had nothing to do with history, or heritage, or anything of the like; it was a deliberate gesture on behalf of white supremacy, and any argument to the contrary is facially invalid.

Yes, symbols matter. But this isn’t some kind of triumph. This isn’t even a win. This is table stakes, the barest small-blind ante necessary to participate in the 21st century. The idea that Nikki Haley deserves some kind of credit for “coming around” less than a year after saying it wasn’t important because she’d been elected and she hadn’t heard from any CEO about it is risible.  She’s not doing it because it’s the right thing to do, she’s doing it because the whole world is finally watching. You get zero credit for decisions you made because CNN had your nuts in a professional threat sandwich.

Start with this. Read it. The whole thing. Don’t skip bits. This might be the most important thing written about the topic of race in the United States in the last forty years.

I know you didn’t read it.  Go back. I’m deadly serious about this.

Okay. Now. 

Here is the thing: this country has never come to a reckoning with how we got to this point. We kind of sort of tried with the war, but there were slave states in the Union too, and their slaves were not covered by the Emancipation Proclamation (slavery in places like Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri only came to an end with the Thirteenth Amendment at the end of 1865). And Reconstruction – spun by the Confederates into a horror of foreign occupation and oppression rather than any kind of effort to maybe do right by freed slaves – lasted maybe a decade, until it was possible to throw it over the side for the sake of political advantage (and the election of Rutherford Hayes as President). The Civil Rights movement lasted long enough to get a Voting Rights Act that has since been disemboweled, and efforts to extend its reach beyond the South, or Jim Crow, or the ballot box, went by the boards as soon as one party decided to take advantage of the backlash for political purposes.  We as a nation are overly fond of making a grand gesture and then forgetting about it as soon as we can get something by forgetting it.

Reparations for black America aren’t about cutting everyone a check.  You can’t dump a sack of money in everyone’s yard and call it square, because it’s not just about poverty, it’s not just about water fountains or bus seats.  Hell, the effort to try to get black elected officials got utilized to gerrymander white supremacy into Southern Congressional delegations for the last twenty years. Affirmative action – that much-derided phrase – isn’t about diversity or a quota or ticking a box, it’s about exactly what it means. Affirmative action. Recognizing that people have been wronged and making a willful, deliberate, conscious effort to undo the effects of that wrong.

It also means something else.

It means not giving in to despair.  It means not deciding that the task is too enormous, too overwhelming, too difficult to explain. It means not choosing to punt because the last slaves died decades ago and nobody alive today ever owned one.  It means grappling with how to make our society and our country worthy of what we say about ourselves.  It means taking seriously things like “justice for all” and “all men are created equal” and “a more perfect Union.”

And for the first time in twenty years, it means struggling with whether that means not throwing your hands in the air and running away and hoping that death and demographics will bend the curve for you without having to put your own shoulder to the wheel and do your part to atone for the shortcomings of your forebears.  It means turning that question in upon myself.

It means I have to ask, in all seriousness and full well aware of what the answer may require, what am I prepared to do?

Android at last

This post, gentle reader, is brought to you by Android 5.1 on a 2013 Moto X. Three months after the update and a year after the Lollipop launch, and two months after the Japan excursion on which I planned to use it. But hey, let’s overlook how long it took to show up and celebrate that we got an update at all. This phone shipped with Jellybean and now has Lollipop, and you don’t get two full updates for a non-Nexus phone very often.

The swipe function of the keyboard is pretty good given that the keys are just letters on a gray field, and the word correction looks to be pretty good. This is the speech recognition at work, and it seems to be pretty decent. Naturally there is a party piece with this version and it is Project Volta. Just as Jellybean was about getting smooth and responsive UI, and KitKat was about reducing the footprint of the OS, Lollipop is about battery life that doesn’t make you want to give your phone the Rhett Wiseman treatment with an aluminum bat. It won’t be easy to tell for a couple of days because of the way you can’t stop piddling around with a new phone, but my hope is to finally fulfill the Moto X’s original promise of a 24 hour phone that goes 24 real hours.

So off we go. More to follow.


Fifty-two years ago, white supremacists used dynamite to bomb the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham and killed four little girls.

Last night, a white supremacist walked into Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and shot nine people dead.

Set aside the mass-shooting aspect of it, because we’ve proven time again again that we as a nation don’t care. Aurora, Sandy Hook, the Gabby Giffords shooting in Arizona – somebody said that this was the fourteenth time Barack Obama has had to address a mass-shooting incident in his presidency. Mass shootings are merely the regular dues we pay to appease the people who want to need the guns, and we as a nation have decided we’re cool with that, apparently, or too chickenshit to change it.  So set that aside.

This was a 21-year-old white male (born 1994), wearing the flags of Rhodesia (which became Zimbabwe in 1980) and apartheid South Africa (which released Nelson Mandela and started dismantling legal apartheid in 1990).  This little bastard has never known a world with minority-white governance in African countries. He’s never lived in a world with de jure segregation, no separate water fountains or back of the bus. Nothing about the Civil Rights Movement or Jim Crow is remotely living memory for him.

What is living memory for him is a world in which every Democratic President has been presented as the illegitimate head of a tyrannical power out to take the guns and empower The Other at white expense.  Where all criminals are actually super-powered sub-humans only kept in check by allowing unlimited power to local police – unlimited power of the same type which they accuse the Feds of mounting against them. A world with a steady drumbeat from cable news and talk radio and the Internet, pounding the same message over and over and over: they’re coming to get you, white man, live in fear. Be afraid. Be always afraid.

And, of course, he has parents. Maybe they grew up in living memory of these things. Maybe not. They could easily be my age, born a scant few years after blood on the streets in Kelly Ingram Park and the Montgomery bus terminal and the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Maybe it’s only living memory for their parents. I had parents too. One was bombed out of her high school by segregationists in 1958. The other was able to watch from a Birmingham office window as fire hoses rolled black children down the street. I’m under no illusion about the kind of people my parents might have grown up as, what they believed, what they might still believe.  But I do know this: at a very young age, maybe four or five or six years old, they went out of their way to make sure I knew that those old ways and those old beliefs were wrong.

I don’t know if anyone ever did that for the mop-haired white-trash punk-ass thug that was taken into custody this morning. In a state where the battle flag of the Confederacy still flies over the state capital in 2015, I sincerely doubt it. Someone taught him, though. Maybe not his parents, whose piss-poor parenting job sullies the good name of piss, but someone told him that “the blacks” were taking over and coming to get him and raping their women and basically imparting to him four hundred years of racist fear and hatred. And he went into a church – and not just any church, but a black church, founded by an ex-slave who led a rebellion for his people, and don’t think that church was picked by accident – and in this church, at Wednesday night Bible study, he took nine lives.  Nine people dead because of an evil doctrine. Nine people dead because of the wickedness that comes from deciding that one human being can buy and sell the life of another. Nine souls lost to us because of a lie.

And now we have to consider the possibility that it may not be enough to contain and wait.  It may not be enough to ride out the dying of the Old Ones and let demographics and generational change do the job. It’s not going to be enough to let the hateful fire burn itself out as long as there’s someone willing to feed it fuel.  And it’s not going to be enough to let the government do it, not when we’ve sat idly by and let a black President be painted as an evil socialist Muslim dictator and the federal government of “we the people” be tarred as an occupying army of tyranny.

We did this, white people.  We built this inferno. We shook hands with the devil and decided we could compromise with sin, and we let the fundamental law of our country reduce a black man to three-fifths of a person. We let rebel slaveholding states rewrite history to glorify themselves and whitewash their crimes. And every time we grappled with the Confederate enemy, we hastened to let them off the hook. And we stopped applying the medicine before the infection was burned out.  It’s on us. We let this happen. Our mistake. Our fuck-up. Our problem to solve.

What are we prepared to do?

Least Viable Work

So today, the California Labor Commission has decided that an Uber driver was, in fact, an Uber employee. This is one of those things that doesn’t past the “are you dumb as a box of hammered snot” test: are you provided equipment by the company? Does the company set the rates for your service (and prohibit your receiving tips)? Does it rate your performance and disallow your working if you drop below a certain threshold?  Congrats! You are an employer.

I’ve been chirping for years that this sort of thing was inevitable – that given the opportunity, companies would eventually outsource anything below a director level and collect individual contributors and their leads/managers in a way that would make them completely disposable – the only thing is, I assumed it would be through the sort of staffing agencies that provided us with contractors during the boom of the late 90s in DC.  Instead, we have “the 1099 economy,” which is the middle-class-white-people-smartphone-enabled version of day labor. Minimum viable product? The modern way of life in Silly Con Valley appears to be “least possible amount of work you can do and still be a company.” That’s the trick Uber is trying to pull off: being a taxi company that outsources the business of owning cars or hiring drivers and just collects the vig for matching people up. What they argue is that they’re not Yellow Cab, they’re Tinder.

But it’s everywhere.  I get the same thing at work when the telecoms people won’t troubleshoot a phone issue – the VoIP phone is plugged into a local network jack, so go look at that and confirm it works before you call us, and oh by the way we don’t support the headsets we gave out with the phones because they’re peripherals, and if you can’t fix them you should call the company we hired to go hand out the phones and headsets in the first place, but not us.  That’s the miracle of technology combined with outsourcing: you can run a business and collect money while simultaneously chanting “NOT IT” the minute someone has a problem.

Good gig, if you can get it. But a future where you can either be the big entity cashing the checks or the 1099’er stringing together gigs to build an income sounds more like something out of a cyberpunk dystopia than a future vision of the good life.  I used to say that Silicon Valley is where the future comes from – and if that’s still true, you might not be glad that it does.

in it but not of it

I’m having the strangest feelings lately.  Put it down to reading The Bitter Southerner on a regular basis, put it down to O Brother Where Art Thou running in heavy rotation on HBO, just put it down to aging and timing and the fact it was hot as hell all week. But when you find yourself blowing up Google Street Maps to full-screen on a 30-inch display and looking at the downtown streets of your former rural-exurban haunts, it’s a sure sign something weird is going on in your brain.

Moving from Nashville to the DMV to Silicon Valley has been a process of going further and further away from the home patch. With each move, the phrase “in it but not of it” comes ever more strongly to mind. College football was replaced by the NFL was replaced by baseball as the defining local sports fixation.  The local business went from country music to government to high tech.  And I myself became an ever greater anomaly, to the point where I am now as exotic and curious an attraction as you can find around these parts.

Part of that is a lack of local ties. I lived in DC for seven years and have been in Silly Con Valley almost eleven, but I didn’t go to school here – no Dematha or Roosevelt or St Francis or Gunn or Cal or Santa Clara for me – and I don’t remember things like Mayfield Mall or People’s Drug Store or the drought and fires of ’91 or the blizzard of ’96. Every place I’ve lived since leaving the old country is someplace where other people aspire to get to, and where true locals are frequently as not thin on the ground. Every place I go, I find myself in it but not of it. Including back to the old country.

Here’s the thing: I was born in the wrong place. I never fit in there. To borrow a line from the famous British traitor Kim Philby, “To betray, you must first belong. I never belonged.” And in the early 90s, that was as true as could be.  But now…you look at the food scene in Birmingham, you look at Railroad Park and the new Barons stadium, you look at the forthcoming electric bike share program, and you consider how much less expensive it would be to buy a spot in the Southside…

Could I do it?  Could I go back to the 205?  Beer at J. Clydes, whiskey at Dram, meats and brews at Bottle and Bone, season tickets for the Barons and completely punch out of college football other than maybe UAB? A place where Uber is actually a necessity in the absence of decent transit options, where you never have to wonder if a place will have air conditioning or not during a hot spell, where you still have internet access and Amazon Prime to cover your retail needs…

Four years ago I went south with only the family I chose myself for company, barring a quick stopover in Birmingham.  But for the most part, it was just me, the wife and the cousins, and I got to see the old country through completely different eyes. Sliding around the backroads in a big black rented Dodge Charger, honeysuckle aroma strong in the humid night, that sparse style of building in dying rural exurban communities, a world away from Silicon Valley and the things about it that drive me crazy…

I’m sure I’ll come to my senses quick enough, but for the first time – well, maybe ever – the old country is something other than a thing to be avoided at all costs. There are bits and pieces that resonate, that feel important to me, that deserve to be preserved and cherished. Creeping into an empty Rickwood Field to eat a couple of special dogs in the stands with a big bottle of Grapico, riding down barely-paved country backroads to nowhere in particular with a sack of Milo’s for lunch, hanging out behind the home bullpen with friends watching local girls try to holler at Barons relievers…there are things there worth cherishing and enjoying, and it’s past time I found a way to avail myself of the good without letting it be overwhelmed by the bad.