New Stuff

So Google has gone back to LG for their Nexus 5X. LG made the original Nexus 5, which two years ago was generally regarded as the best Android phone out there: pure Android experience for a low unlocked price, basically setting the model that Motorola would follow thereafter. It’s got a 1080P display, 2 GB of RAM, shoots 4K video from a 12 MP camera, and starts at $379.

Looking at the early comments on Gizmodo, though, there are already people wondering whether this is sufficiently future-proof and will be OK in two years – but complimenting the price point because $800 is too much to spend on a two-year device. And I’m starting to wonder how much longer the two-year model will hold for phones – it began as a function of contracts and now appears to be more a function of financing than anything else; all these new plans that offer monthly payments seem to be on an 18- or 20- or 24-month cycle (when they’re not offering to upgrade your iPhone every year).  And this informs my own position, certainly.  I’d much rather be on the S cycle than the integer one with iPhones. If I had to buy a new phone now, I’d pay for the unlocked iPhone 6S, because even though it’ll be $800 up front, I’ll more than make up the difference on a $30 or $45 prepaid plan rather than the exorbitant sums you pay for postpaid service.  But I don’t have to buy one at all – I have my Moto X, and the wife will be freeing up her iPhone 5S shortly.

And that’s where things get interesting. Those are both phones from 2013, when (as I previously asserted) the smartphone crossed the finish line. Everything since has been bigger batteries, better cameras, added gimmicks like pressure-sensitive screens or fingerprint readers or NFC payment (and with an Apple Watch, you get all that with an iPhone 5S anyway). In the real world, a two year old cellphone is largely just fine – hell, my mother is still pushing an iPhone 4S (and I bet anything the battery is shot to hell, but still).

And then yesterday we saw announced the Fairphone 2: not a sealed device, not breathtakingly thin or breathtakingly light or breathtakingly hyperbolic, but something repairable for an estimated life of five years. Smashed screen?  Replace it.  Battery flat? Replace it. 100% user-repairable, and presumably upgradeable.  It doesn’t have to be the Project Ara vaporware where you mix and match all the little modules on the fly, it just has to be a phone that you can keep up and keep running for a while. It’s not ridiculously sized – the peak thickness is comparable with that first-gen Moto X and thinner than the iPhone 3GS.  And if you could somehow get the VAT refunded on purchase, it wouldn’t be that much more expensive than that Nexus 5X.

One of my biggest hopes going forward is that this will be an end of the automatic 2-year cycle. It has to be possible to buy the service and then upgrade the phone when you want/need to upgrade the phone, not because you have to do it in this window or else be screwed into paying full price. I’d like to have a phone that I can keep using for a while, and if I can somehow get another year out of that iPhone 5S…maybe.  But the other side of the problem is software: the upgrades will do for your iPhone after 3 years, and your Android phone may never get an upgrade depending on what you got. So how long can you keep it viable? Is it reasonable to expect the same five years out of the phone that you can expect out of your home PC (battery replacement permitting, and knowing the last year will drag ass)?

Maybe the next project is to find out.

The Blocker

It’s been an interesting couple of days for Marco Arment – the programmer who gave the world Tumblr and Instapaper (and less famously, a short-lived iOS Newsstand periodical called The Magazine) wrote a new Safari Content Blocker for iOS. Called Peace, and sold for $3, it shot straight to the top of Apple’s App Store sales charts directly it was released. 

Today, he pulled it down.

It’s blunt force trauma, certainly, and I understand his unease with blindly stopping everything. But the point remains just as it was a few months ago when Gruber first addressed this at DF: there is no way a 537-word text posting on a website should be a 14 MB download in the browser. None. And on mobile devices – where data is usually metered and where every electron of battery is precious – the current state of web advertising is untenable.  It’s not the fact of advertising that gives offense; that ship sailed decades ago. It’s the fact that the advertising is so resource-hungry. This isn’t billboards on the road, it’s more like being forced to detour and drive down a side street composed of nothing but billboards in order to reach a destination that’s 90 degrees the other way.

Ironically, I’ve been ad-blocking in my own way for a very long time; I’m one of those cranky old dudes still using an RSS reader – in my case, a $2 monthly Feedbin subscription and Reeder for iOS. And just like that, I’m reading about a hundred sites a day, and missing all the pop-ups and JavaScript crap weighing down the modern web.

When this guy whipped up a content blocking proof of concept in an hour at WWDC, the page-load time on the site dropped from 11 seconds to 2, and the javascript that kept hitting the network for a full minute after the page was loaded wasn’t there anymore. That ain’t hay, folks. That’s getting back serious CPU time, which means battery. And in a world where battery is the most important thing in gauging the value of your smartphone, that’s like taking a thorn out of your paw. And the world agrees, because that guy’s proof of concept, blown up into a full-fledged app, is currently sitting #2 behind Marco’s blocker in top paid apps.

If the phone has become the primary interface to the Internet for most people, this is a serious blow struck for the users, and one long overdue. Peace and Crystal are both on my iPhone, and they’re going nowhere.

Hanging Out Thursday’s Wash

* I’m going back to the Rose Parade. This makes me so very happy, you have no idea.

* I went to another San Jose Earthquakes game last night, which was plenty of fun. That stadium is the perfect size, brand-new and shiny, with plenty of refreshments and restrooms and not a bad seat in the house, and a pleasant experience watching the team. The only drawback is the transit…it’s inherently intermodal and the various trains are so poorly timed relative to games that I basically can’t get home without someone driving a car some portion of the way. This could be a problem in future.

* Everyone I talk to who’s gone to the Quakes says it’s a superior experience to Levi’s Stadium. I concur, even if the train goes right by Levi’s and obviates the need for a connecting shuttle. MLS has yet to be laden with all the freight and bullshit that goes along with the NFL, and it’s a superior experience in the absence of a hardcore emotional attachment.

* More and more I think I have reached the conclusion that the viable future for me, if I have to change my cellphone circumstances, is just to buy the iPhone 6S outright and unlocked and go with that $30 T-Mobile plan until I need more than 100 minutes. If I go back and look at the average use in 2015 – and even snipping out the two weeks I was in Japan – I still only average about 120 minutes of talk time per month. So unless the overages are ridiculously expensive, that’s the way to go.  Next step up is the Cricket $45 plan.

* Much as I love that little Moto X, and it *is* unlocked for travel abroad, the camera just isn’t gonna get the job done. And going abroad with just the Moto X means no Apple Watch. If the time comes to change my cellular circumstances, I’m going to have to splash out for an unlocked 6S – like computers, it’s slowly turning into “buy the best thing you can” especially if you’re going to be relying on it for more than two years. Taking over the wife’s 5S would be a viable alternative if necessary, and might buy another year’s worth of waiting, but by the end of 2016, replacing this phone from work will almost certainly mean buying the latest iPhone unlocked.

* On the night of September 11 or 12 (I forget exactly when), 2001, there was a soccer match in Tehran. Before the game kicked off, the entire stadium observed a moment of silence for the victims of the tragedy in America. Somewhere between a third and a half of the population now wasn’t born when the American hostages were released from the former embassy in Tehran in 1981. Iran is implacably opposed to Al-Qaeda and ISIS on religious grounds. And yet, for some reason, any sort of dealings with Iran are beyond the pale for the GOP and we must start bombing as soon as possible. One more reason why nobody with an IQ above room temperature has any business voting for a Republican until they go through party-wide detox.

* Similarly, Jeb Bush is back on the one-note parade saying his dry-drunk borderline-special-needs brother “kept us safe.” As someone who lost two co-workers on the plane that hit the Pentagon, walked past National Guard on the corners on the way to work for weeks, and almost saw my boss evicted because his rent check was trapped in an anthrax-affected post office, let me say two things to Jeb Bush: 1) BULLSHIT. 2) FUCK YOU.

* If Carly Fiorina were 11th in a field of 10 on the Democratic side, and the rules were bent and numbers strained to get her into the top 10 for a debate, the Republicans would be screaming themselves laryngitic about “affirmative action.” As it is, the RNC has apparently chosen her as the anti-Trump: an engaging cipher who can take shots at Hillary that would draw cries of sexism if launched by others, and “CEO” status that overlooks how she managed to shit-wreck the flagship company of Silicon Valley…maybe she has more in common with Trump than we think. But it’s going to take more than two X chromosomes and a willingness to stand in front of a camera and lie through your teeth if she’s serious about being President, and based on the legend of Demon Sheep, it’s hard for me to take her seriously in anything related to politics.

* iOS 9 brings with it “content blockers” – you can install software on your iOS device that will let you kill off certain web content before it even loads.  Mostly this revolves around advertising, especially when the various trackers and javascript and nonsense add up to about 10 MB on a single webpage and far outweigh the actual content of the page.  From a mobile standpoint, this is a godsend: blocking all that shit saves data usage and battery life, not to mention the speed burst that comes when you only have to show the actual page and not all the stuff that shits it up. It completely destroys a lot of the revenue model of the web world, which is fine.  You have all the right in the world to show advertising, but this is the equivalent of a television draping ads over the program while it’s on and making it impossible to change channels or turn down the volume.  Which is in fact what a lot of broadcast advertisers would love to do.

* Speaking of, fuck Draft Kings with a rusty rake. It’s become impossible to avoid their douche-a-riffic advertising in almost any sports-related venue. At games, on television, hell, the podcast of the Sports Junkies is bracketed by Draft Kings ads at the beginning and end of EVERY SEGMENT.  That’s 26 Draft Kings ads a day, for a “service” that is basically an attempt to offer sports gambling via loophole.  The plan, such as it is, seems to be to make all the money before Congress has a chance to weigh in, which makes it of a piece for the tech economy in 2015. Loophole arbitrage is the only place America innovates.

* The detachment from college football continues apace, with varying degrees of success.  The only thing that matters for the rest of the season is Saturday, though, and if Cal doesn’t beat Texas then Sonny Dykes should be left behind in Austin, just as Jeff Tedford should have been dumped in the parking lot of Jack Murphy Stadium without his wallet after the Holiday Bowl fiasco of 2011. It’s a moral imperative. Win or GTFO.

* I wish I knew what my buddy Vince sez these days.



Okay, NWA was right

First, start with this.

A lot of people will read this and think the outrageous thing is that the cops beat the hell out of an aging foreigner who didn’t speak English and paralyzed him, after a neighbor saw a dark-skinned stranger walking around and felt the need to call police.  That’s shameful, but it pales in outrageous compared to the fact that 10 out of 12 jurors, all white men, wanted to acquit the cops involved.

Violent crime – and the killing of police in particular – is at an all-time low. And yet, the usual suspects are circling the wagons and accusing the President of leading “war on police” in the face of a “crime epidemic”, which is risible all by itself until you consider that these are universally the same assholes who are constantly screaming about governmental tyranny and the overreaching power of government and “I love my country but I fear my government” as if you aren’t infinitely more likely to run up against  your local PD at a traffic stop than an ATF tactical raid coming for your precious guns.

We have reached a point where we simply can’t extend the benefit of the doubt to local law enforcement anymore. After decades of hype, the police have internalized the conservative doctrine that all suspects are guilty and all criminals are super-powered movie villains. That’s why the cops of my youth had a big-ass revolver and a nightstick and the cops of today have a Glock with three clips, a taser, tear gas, a tonfa stick, a heavy aircraft-aluminum flashlight and as likely as not a couple of assault rifles in the trunk. All that surplus military gear had to go somewhere, which is why that limp-dick with the SR-25 in Ferguson was perched on top of the Army truck in the most vulnerable possible position – because he knew he wasn’t taking fire.

It’s about time the cops went back on Barney Fife rules for a while. You get one bullet in your pocket and you can load it when the sheriff says so. Having unlimited firepower to spray around like pissing off the porch – and carte blanche from racist juries – only incintivizes the worst sort of policing from the sort of people who should never have had access to a badge to begin with.

And miss me with the bitching about why people still think the way they do about Alabama. You know why? Because fifty-two years after four little girls were blown up in church, there are still plenty enough rednecks who don’t care if the cops only paralyze brown people.

If you like pina coladas…

Setting aside the fact that song is the worst 70s coke-and-Ludes-and-Harvey-Wallbanger fern-bar easy-listening tripe ever, not to mention its hellish gag-gift-of-the-Magi ending, I will do as Guardians of the Galaxy did and exploit the theme of the title.  Today, kids, we’re talking about escape.

This is a topic that’s on my mind a lot this summer. Work sucks, out loud, and that’s basically a third of your waking life or more. I don’t much care for the nature of life in Silly Con Valley these days, as 650 gets colonized by Googloids and the axis of yuppie-techie-hipster continues to infect the entire Bay Area. (Does Castro Street in Mountain View need a third new artisanal bakery?) The wider world is a shitty, shitty place, especially for people who didn’t have the presence of mind to be born rich white and male. Speaking of, there are over a dozen candidates for the GOP nomination for President, and the only viable Democratic alternative is the same one who was “inevitable” in 2008 and for whom support – for me – is more a matter of “to hell with enthusiasm, just do your duty because the alternative is too horrible to contemplate.” And the heat just won’t quit.  Like everything else, it seems to get less bad for just a little bit, enough to give you hope, and then comes back worse with a vengeance. There is no timeline in which the Bay Area should rightfully see four consecutive daily highs in the 90s in September.

So what are we going to do to escape?

First let’s get rid of those pina coladas. And the Quaaludes and cocaine, and that bottle of Galliano belongs in the trash anyway. God knows that after being shot up with hydromorphone, I can totally understand how people get hooked on drugs, because that shit – five time stronger than morphine and an ingredient of Ohio’s lethal injection cocktail until 2009 – basically turns you into Jay Cutler.  DOOOOOONT CAAAAAAAAARE. Escape via substance is not practical, legal or sustainable, because at some point you’re going to need to fall asleep at night without benefit of opiates, alcohol or over-the-counter melatonin. Chemicals can’t actually make it better, so away they go.

Speaking of substance abuse, what about Burning Man? The sort of people who walk around naked in a desert with a bouquet of feathers tied to their Lou Holtz are the last people on Earth I’d want to socialize with, but they do make an awfully big deal about “going home” and having that as their true focus in life. And God knows there are all kinds of ways to craft another identity for yourself if you like, but that’s a temporary respite, even when it’s not inundated in creepy crawly bugs. You have to come back from Black Rock City fifty-one weeks a year. God knows I’ve come to love Disneyland, but that’s as temporary as anything else. If you have to come back, maybe you escaped, but you got caught and returned to general population.

“Change your circumstances!” So goes the ethos of Silicon Valley, where if your job is making you miserable, that’s your own fault for not following your bliss and monetizing your joy. Problem is, modern life calls for a lot of jobs that don’t exactly lend themselves to that sort of thing. Nobody ever followed their bliss into academic IT support, and I suspect the bus drivers and short-order cooks and and checkout clerks of Santa Clara County aren’t all fulfilling a lifelong dream. Too, the modern tech sector seems optimized for high turnover; the average tenure at Amazon is famously 14 months and much is made of the notion that if you’ve been at a company more than a couple of years, you aren’t sufficiently motivated.

Looking around the job market, I can tell you for a fact that five years in the same job and a college graduation date in the 1990s are a poisonous combination unless you’re willing to lowball or contract – but to be honest that makes perfect sense, because there’s a constant stream of fresh graduates just thrilled to be making money and convinced they’re loading themselves into the catapult to wealth and success.  The biggest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing workers they were professionals because they had a desk and a computer.  So it’s probably foolish to expect that you can find joy pulling down a paycheck – if you do, then God bless, but it’s not something to expect. “Do what you love” is advice for the privileged who can afford to have their parents or spouse or lottery winnings support their artisanal boutique handcrafted heritage heirloom concept (whose letterpressed business card undoubtedly reads “Fart & Washbasin” with a handlebar mustache logo or something similarly ridiculous).

In the end, for now, it’s going to come down to this: take the things I hate and stop doing them. Unplug from college football. Stop commuting on overcrowded and underfunded transit. Work from 8-ish to 5-ish and when I’m not at work, put it in a box and don’t let it cross my mind without crossing right back out again. And then identify the things I enjoy doing, the things that make me feel better, the things I love, and do them every chance I get.  We’ll get on a train and go. We’ll fly to Hawaii, we’ll experience Birmingham without my relations hovering nearby, we’ll stop faffing about needing to go somewhere else first and just go back to London. Maybe I won’t go down the pub that much, but I’ll make sure there’s enough for a pint or two at home and take Sunday night to get lost in a good book while sipping my drink and relaxing in the recliner (which itself sees precious less use than it should). If I want to buy the $10 Nerf gun, I’ll stop wittering on about it for months and waiting for some sort of pay hike to roll around and just !-ing do it already. I will stockpile the resources for the life I want so that when the opportunity to live it comes, I’ll be equipped and ready. 

And if that’s all I can do for now, so be it. Tomorrow I’ll try to think of something else.


“If you see a stylus, they blew it.” Expect to see the famous quote from Steve Jobs bandied around more than a little in the wake of the Apple Pencil, the stylus for the 13” iPad Pro. It’s larger than the damned MacBook (itself a 12” retina display) and it’s more apparent than ever that someday we’re going to have some sort of convergence.

As for the rest…meh. The iPhone 6S is thicker and heavier but not obviously in the service of a larger battery, which when you consider an even faster processor and even more complex display (plus Siri always listening now) makes me wonder what the hell Apple’s playing at with battery life aside from a Jay Cutler-esque “DOOOOONT CAAAAAARE”.  If you have the 6, there’s very little to justify the jump to the 6S, which is the way it always works…but if you have the 5S and an Apple Watch, all you’re really giving away is 3D Touch and Apple Pay on the phone itself (plus the screen, but you get a one-hand-able size and not-dissimilar battery life).

I’ve said it before, but this clinches it: we crossed the finish line on phones two years ago. If the guts of the iPhone 5S came in the body of the iPhone 5C, I’d be all about it: polycarbonate, larger battery, throw in the very very necessary TouchID, and that’s all I need. It’s the same story as the first-generation Moto X, which is still perfectly viable (albeit a bit slow with Lollipop and I haven’t tried the musical functionality…maybe this weekend).

For now, though, it’s hang onto the iPhone 6 via work (much as it pains me, and believe me it does, I can’t justify breaking off on my own to buy a new device and pay for my own service just for the sake of not being dependent on my employer) because using my Moto X with my Apple Watch is not an option.  And hope to the stars that the uncomfortable trend of Apple hype increasing in inverse proportion to innovation isn’t going to increase any more than it already has.

On Tribes

“A ghra mo chroi, I long to see the boys of the old brigade.”

-the Wolfe Tones

“You’d think after everything that went down, Frankie woulda cut Tommy loose right then. If that’s what you think, you’re not from Jersey.”

– Michael Lomenda as Nick Massi, Jersey Boys (2014)

“We’re a group. We’re a team. From the President and Leo on through, we’re a team. We win together, we lose together. We celebrate and we mourn together. And defeats are softened and victories sweeter because we did them together… You’re my guys and I’m yours… and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you.”

-Toby Ziegler, The West Wing


This is the problem with being Scotch-Irish of Appalachian-Southern extraction. By blood and history and heritage, you tend toward the clannish, the tribal, the bunker mentality of standing back to back and shoulder to shoulder with your own kind and to hell with everybody else. It’s the sort of thing that produces feuds and brotherhood and ancient hatreds and eternal loyalty.  The problem comes when you are an inherently and instinctively tribal person who has no tribe.

There are things I’m probably well-positioned to claim but have absolutely no desire to do so – my current job, my undergraduate institution, huge whopping chunks of my home state. There are things I could once claim but would be kind of tenuous in doing so now – mostly involving Apple or DC. There are things I can try to claim but feel like a bit of a fraud in doing so – like Cal, or huge chunks of Vanderbilt. But if you want affiliations based on my own experience and merit, without having to marry into them or borrow them through geography, that I’m still willing and able to identify with? It boils down to that one peculiar band of brothers from over a decade ago when we were lords of the Earth and a conquering army of vengeance. And to be honest, I’ve probably invested too much time over the last decade into trying to put together all the necessary chemicals and strike them with a bolt of lightning to produce the same building blocks of life.

There’s a scene in the pilot of the BBC drama The Hour, after Freddie’s raged out at Bel about being passed over for the opportunity to anchor her new program and refusing to get involved, and the new staff is leaving for cocktails at Lime Grove, and she drops a note on his desk on her way out – which reads, simply, “Come with us”. And it reminds me of a random date in January 1995, couldn’t say exactly when, but there was some sort of outing being planned among the grad students of the department. I found out about it when someone buttonholed me in the break room to let me know it was happening and would I go? But the telling thing was twenty minutes later, I was looking for a different person for God knows what, and they weren’t at their desk, but there was a to-do list on that desk that included “call [me] about [whatever the thing was].”  I don’t remember the details at all – the only thing I remember, twenty years on, is that not only did they want me there, they were going out of their way to make sure I knew.

wanted to belong – and they wanted me to belong too. And I didn’t appreciate the magnitude of this at the time, or else I might have made better choices in those years. And maybe I could be healthier now if I made better choices about tying my well-being to my tribal affiliation. But unwiring that particular brain-configuration is going to be a long haul and a heavy lift and require a degree of dedication and patience that I’m genuinely not sure I’m capable of any more.

I’m out. 

We don’t ask for much. Win more than you lose. Win most of the home games, try for around .500 in the conference, generally win homecoming or non-conference games, and at least beat your arch-rival about one out of three or so, certainly more than once every 10 years. A team like that, going 7-5 and 4-4 in conference play routinely, would probably be a nightmare and a misery to most college football fans. 

To Vanderbilt, it’s a once-in-a-quarter-century achievement. 

Brigadoon’s gone. Whatever cosmic mix of talent and coaching led to 24 wins in 3 years, with victories over Georgia and Florida and (twice!) Tennessee, it’s history. We’re back to the days when a good year looks like 5 wins and one upset worth turning into a DVD, when DiNardo can average five wins a year and get SEC Coach of the Year (which Franklin somehow never did), when it’s more realistic to look at the schedule and see 2-10, when the best you can hope for is that you’re building toward maybe six wins next season. 

I’m done. I cannot do this anymore. I cannot emotionally invest in a sure failure, especially when success earns nothing better. Football is an abusive relationship and I’m burning the bed. I love Vanderbilt, I support Vanderbilt, I wish nothing but the best for Vanderbilt, but until college football is de-NFL’d and we’re playing the same sport as the illiterate criminals that line up for the rest of the league, I can’t be involved. 

I’m out.