“Let’s overlook how late you got here…

…and just celebrate the fact you arrived.”

I couldn’t say where the quote originated, but I’m sitting in the gallery parlor car of the Coast Starlight. By rights I should be about three hours from Los Angeles. Instead we passed the horseshoe curve in the dark and are just setting out from San Luis Obispo.

That might be as neat a metaphor for the year – and my larger life – as you could ask for. It was rapidly apparent I needed to punch out of my job, but it took an awfully long time to give up and just put the resume online, followed by explicit threats to HR that I was looking to get out. And two and a half months later, I had a new role that I didn’t fully take up until after Thanksgiving, with a new (albeit cumbersome) title and more money to actually do less work – only the bits I was actually enjoying in my previous role. 

It also took too long for me to finish punching out of football as I’d planned – and to add irony, the Skins fell ass backward into their second NFC Least title in four years. But my life is better without it. And the entire holiday season, I found myself wearing my high school ring, that blue stone winking at me just as it did in 1988. 

I’ve gotten everything I wanted that was once on the other side of that stone. Not all at once, and I have since lost some of it, and some of it I stopped wanting, but on paper, I’ve closed out the list for that sixteen year old kid. It’s important to be reminded of that from time to time. 

Because if there’s another lesson this year, it’s that not only do you not every time get what you want, sometimes you don’t get to hang onto it. There were multiple divorces close to the family this year, and my most favorite job was transformed by a big-media deal that did wrong by many of my closest friends and teammates. Silicon Valley isn’t what it once was when I loved it here, the bar of my past Sunday frequency no longer opens on Sundays, and my loyal Rabbit has gone temperamental and will almost certainly not get through 2016. 

Nothing lasts forever, for better or worse. That’s the lesson of 2015, and it’s a good one to have learned before the really rough stuff starts next year. The good things that happened did happen, and those memories bear me along to the next episode. 

Next stop: Rose Parade. Then Hawaii. Then, at long last, London. And onward to bigger and better things at work, and hopefully better health and better feelings. As always, the plan: less soda, fewer carbs, not so much vending machine crap. Fill all three rings on the Apple Watch every single day, keep pursuing lower blood pressure and a better night’s sleep. Do the things that make me happy and stop doing things that don’t, and have some sense of perspective. 

And speaking of better late than never, see Star Wars: The Force Awakens at least a dozen more times. 

RIP Tamir Rice

They say a prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. Once again, we have a case where cops shoot a black kid – literally a 12 year old kid, with a toy gun no more convincing than the Edison Giocattoli cap guns I used to run around the neighborhood with, or the arsenal of matte-black waterguns I once lugged through an airport – and the district attorney doesn’t even find enough awry to make it worth going to trial. Never mind conviction; the DA couldn’t or wouldn’t find enough in this situation to give it a day in court.

We have a crisis in law enforcement in this country, and it is this: the kind of arbitrary government tyranny that fat old white ammosexuals claim to be afraid of is real, only it applies to black people. People who scream and rave about the incipient tyranny of Obama and the jackbooted heel of the ATF suddenly have every excuse in the world for a cop that pulls the trigger on an unarmed black person.

Never ask why black folk are angry.  Ask why they aren’t angrier. Actually, look at what Trump voters want to do in response to the slightest threat to the primacy of whites, and ask yourself why black people haven’t done even more to fight back what is increasingly obviously a stacked deck. And then ask if things are getting worse, or if they’ve been like this all along…and you just haven’t noticed it.

Twas Christmas evening, in the drunk tank

“Fairytale of New York” is one of my favorite Christmas songs going back at least fifteen or sixteen years, to the days when everything that mattered in our lives happened at that one Irish public house in Cleveland Park. It’s a complicated tale about chasing dreams and love and things not quite working out the way you thought – granted, the boy languishing in lockup while the girl dies of heroin-related complications is about as bleak as you can get without binge-watching Jessica Jones (seriously, after that show I need something uplifting, like Philadelphia maybe), but even so, it’s a story about how things don’t always work out like you planned.

This was the year that my first and most favored employer changed forever, in a way that meant my old job didn’t exist anymore and the crew was scattered to the winds. This was the year that I decided I just couldn’t care about my first favorite sport anymore. This was the year that the best man and the matron of honor at our wedding both got divorced. (Under substantially different circumstances, certainly, but it made for an uneasy coda to our tenth year of married life.) It’s also the first year we realized we had no plans on Christmas Eve, and I’ve insisted on going to the 8 PM Mass – not out of any lingering sense of Catholicism* or because it’s a critical part of the tradition, but because the thought of the two of us sitting alone on Christmas Eve was too awful to contemplate.

On a personal level, it wasn’t a worse year than last year, which is the first time I could say that in a few years. All around me, though, are people whose years have ranged from below-average to stunningly-godawful. The missus and I are not in the best of health ourselves – she battles the fatigue and thyroid stuff while I try to find a way to sleep with a bi-level CPAP mask over my face in hopes it’ll improve my quality of sleep and quality of life. It’s been almost six weeks and I still haven’t slept through the night with it once. Hell, only once have I made it to 7 AM without ripping it off and throwing it aside, and I woke up every two hours all night. I don’t think this is what they had in mind. And God forbid you go back and ask for some sort of sedative or tranquilizer or something to at least give you a chance to acclimate, because you’ll get tagged as “drug seeking” and then it’s real trouble. Which is why I’ve had to bite my tongue and just accept whatever sad-sack ineffective prescription NSAID the insurance will condescend to pay for. If there’s an opioid epidemic in this country, it sure as hell isn’t in Silly Con Valley at my Walgreens.

But we traveled again. We left the country for the first time in five years, we saw Japan for the first time, we spent some quality time in a Birmingham that has bike share and a raging craft beer scene. I probably wasted too much money this year by saying “screw it” and just buying anything I wanted that cost $30 instead of spending months agonizing over it, which is how I ended up with way too many books in the Kindle app and a couple of dart blasters that are incompatible with everything else in the house (or each other).

And I actually have plans for next year – they’re more or less the same plans as every year, but I’m going to try again to stick with it: quit with the vending machines and fast food and extraneous bread and sodas, fill all three rings on the Apple Watch every day even if it means walking or riding when I get home, and take advantage of the first positive change at the job in four years to kickstart improving the other areas of my life. The things you do to try to keep body and soul together while a depressing job tries to part them aren’t necessarily good to keep doing once you turn the tide.

Oh, and see The Force Awakens again. And again. And possibly again.



* Although I still want Notre Dame to beat the hell out of USC.

New phone, who dis

I had the same cell phone number from January 1998 through Christmas 2005. It started with an Ericsson phone from a then-fledgling AT&T Wireless, offering me a discount on account of my employer. That number lasted me through half a dozen mailing addresses on two coasts, two different cellular providers, and more actual handsets than I’m comfortable remembering (though at a guess, I’d say there were at least a dozen). I can still rattle it off from memory; at times I have to think to remember it isn’t my current number. It was as much a part of my identity as my own name; my email address changed far more frequently.

Then Apple provided me with a phone and number. And I was faced with a choice. I could continue to carry two phones, or I could take the one work was providing me for free, and they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) port in my personal number…and I was confronted with the prospect of paying over $800 a year for data service and a 703 number. And I reluctantly accepted that I didn’t live in Northern Virginia anymore and gave it up.  And I had my Apple number until I quit a year and a half later, at which time I acquired the number I had ever since…until today.

So yeah, I tend to hang onto a number for a while. That 650 cell number was my personal phone, even after I started working at a place that wanted to provide me a phone.  Instead, they reimbursed my personal phone bill until around the end of 2012 – at which point I accepted their phone and ported my 650 number to Google Voice, and pointed it at their phone for two years until I replaced the phone, changed carriers, and ported it right back in.  In any event, ringing or texting that 650 number has been a known good way to get hold of me since October 1, 2007…again, until today.

I don’t trust Google Voice. I think Google has a bad habit of launching things with a splash, making a big deal of them, promising the moon and stars, getting bored, forgetting about them, and eventually closing up shop in one of their periodic spring cleanings, sometimes with less notice than others. Wave, Buzz, Reader, the free Wi-Fi in Mountain View, Dodgeball, Latitude, iGoogle…the list is long and distinguished. So if you like Google Voice, or your Google Voice number, it might behoove you to get it out of there.

And I was tired of that 650 number. It was the product of what I now look back on as possibly the second biggest mistake of my entire life. The eight years I had it were not always the best of times. And that number had been compromised at work, fallen into the hands of more than one person who shouldn’t have had it. I have a new job now, a new role and a new title and (hopefully) a better and brighter future coming, and it was well time for a change.

People are funny about numbers.  My wife, whose impatience with my phone shenanigans is the stuff of legend, has had the same cell phone number ever since she first got a mobile phone to track the birth of her oldest nephew (who just turned sixteen). But she insisted on that 415 area code back then, because it had disappeared out from under her on two separate occasions, and she was smart to pounce on it in the mobile sphere.  Similarly, I have a burner phone lying around with a 205 number (largely held against the day I might need to port the ancestral home phone to it) plus a couple of disposable numbers still stashed in Google Voice against the possible need to give a phone number to someone I’d rather not have it. But for a permanent number, or at the very least, one that I’ll want until we switch to 14-digit dialing or Slack-over-VOIP or until this employer managed to screw me out of it?  I wanted a number I could live with, a number I wouldn’t have any ambiguity or uncertainly about, a number that wouldn’t provoke unseemly anti-bubble feelings or a vague embarrassment about parts South. A number that reminded me of when I didn’t have any questions about who or what I was. A number that honors where this me was born and built.

I’m back on 703. Like other family of mine, wherever I find myself, I’m from the DMV. As free hiring perks/ self-made Christmas bonuses go, it’s as good as I could ask for. Normal service – whatever that means for me in 2016 – has been restored.


In a different world and a different timeline, the gang is together in Stirling, Virginia tonight, for the renewal of the old tradition last exercised a decade ago, there at midnight for the release of a new Star Wars movie. Of course, we’re living in three different metropolitan areas with five children between us, so a midnight movie on a Thursday night was never going to be on the cards in any event, but it’s nice to dream.

Someone smarter than me blogged earlier that right now is the greatest moment to be a Star Wars fan, because it could still be anything at all and it’s about to happen.  That glorious anticipation – we know there’s a girl and a boy, and we think she’s a desert scavenger and he’s a fallen Stormtrooper.  There’s something awfully Vader-like, and possibly Vader-worshipping, with a lightsaber that has a crossguard.  There’s an even tinier astromech droid than R2-D2 ever was, rolling around on a spherical body with personality that just bursts through even the briefest flash of trailer.

And there’s Leia, and there’s Han and Chewie, and there’s Artoo and Threepio. All the pieces are on the board. All the players are on their marks. We’re about to pull the curtain we’ve spent three decades never expecting to see going up.

This is the movie we’ve wanted since 1983. This is what led a dorm full of Southern frat-boys to rush out and buy Heir to the Empire in hardback the moment they realized it existed. After thirty-two long and winding years, we have something the prequels simply weren’t capable of giving us.

This is the story of what happened next.

Star Wars was my life. When my first baby tooth came out at school, and I lost it, I got my first or second action figure as compensation. The packaging of those toys is iconic to the point that I wanted to run out and buy a crap-ton of action figures when they reused it for the prequels a couple years back. I got the Death Star Space Station set for Christmas in 1978, I think, and my three living grandparents all smiled and nodded with the same bewilderment I now reserve for Pokemon and Skylander Trap Team. I wanted to be Darth Vader, or else be the one that took him down. I wanted a real life snowspeeder more than anything, to the point that I received a Lego one for my forty-third birthday. I spent years running around the back yard with a sawed-off blue mop handle, thrashing endless stormtroopers and God knows what else.  And this was a world without even VCR versions of the movies. If I’d had what exists today – Blu-Ray and streaming and multiple cartoon series and Star Tours and the ability to build my own lightsaber at Disneyland – if I’d had a third of that at age 8, I would have collapsed and died in a weeping puddle of pure emotional overload.

When I walked out of the theater at age 11, it never occurred to me that there wouldn’t be a new Star Wars movie on the screen for sixteen years.  I figured 1986. And it didn’t happen, and 1990 didn’t happen, and they had stopped making toys a year or two after, and it didn’t take long to decide well, they’re done. And I think a lot of people have soured on the prequels, and rightly so in some cases, but they’ve also forgotten that we were willing to forgive and overlook a lot simply because it was new Star Wars. And at the same time, I think a lot of people still haven’t forgiven the prequels for telling us this is how we got to that point, not what came next.

Because we’re older. We know that “and they lived happily ever after” is the biggest lie you ever hear growing up. Maybe the end of Return of the Jedi was good enough for the original vision, although depending on what you believe there were either nine or twelve or six movies originally planned. I know that at age 8, I had my own timeline for what was coming after Empire, and it involved me cropping up starting in the fourth one, a Battlestar Galactica crossover in the fifth one, at least one episode incongruously titled “Run Vader Run” and the whole thing landing on Earth by the eighth one. (If Patton Oswalt’s famous improv monologue actually comes to pass, or the Guardians of the Galaxy show up in Episode IX, I am going to feel legitimately hard done by.)

And from the sound of things, our heroes’ lives didn’t turn out like they expected either. They didn’t all get to show up at the holo-opera on Coruscant for opening night ten years later either. But at some point in the next few days or weeks, in our own separate times and places, we get to touch that again and remember what it was like to all be together, and what it was like to be a wide-eyed kid waiting for that fanfare to hit. And I’m going to see an actor – who said twenty years ago that he couldn’t see playing a role as uninteresting as Han Solo again – go up there and speak for all of us.

Chewie…we’re home.

Missing the point

So Rene Ritchie of iMore has come to the defense of the thinner, lighter, less battery equipped iPhone.  He argues that lightness is critical to usability, and that an iPhone 6 or 6Plus that was as thick as, say, an iPhone 4 would be too heavy to use in the same way, to wit: 

[It] would be too heavy for many people to read iBooks or watch movies for long periods of time, for example, while in bed or while on a flight. It would also be harder to balance and use one handed while walking around.

Here’s the thing: who watches an entire movie in bed or on a plane holding the phone up? It inevitably winds up on the pillow or the cafeteria tray. Holding the phone up is only partially a function of the weight of the phone; it’s as much trying to keep your arm upright in that position. Try it. Nothing in your hand, just hold your arm up like there’s a phone in it, and see how long you can sustain it.

He goes on to say:

With Apple’s current generation of thin-as-in-light phones, you can add a thicker, heavier battery case for those times when you want or need extra power. If Apple made a thick-as-in-heavy phone, you couldn’t tear half of it off for the times when you really didn’t need the extra boost.

This way, usability is the standard and bulk is the option, not bulk as the standard at the expense of usability.

This argument falls flat for one simple reason: Apple didn’t choose to make an external battery case for the 6 Plus. It’s big enough – and consequently so is the battery – that for most people, you can get through the day without needing another battery attached.  Indeed, that seems to be one of the principal use cases for people choosing the Plus.  Battery life is usability, and there have been external battery cases from other manufacturers since the time of the iPhone 4 if not earlier.  But only now, with the advent of an iPhone 6S that has a less capacious battery than the iPhone 6, did Apple feel the need to provide such a case themselves.


Chipsets and the processes used to fabricate them will improve, screen technology will evolve, and radios will get more efficient. Add even better race-to-sleep and other power-management techniques and, over time, Apple will end up with a light, usable phone that also has extended battery life.

The iPhone 6 Plus, with its day-and-a-half of charge capacity, shows that strategy already at work.

And the iPhone 6 and 6S show how that strategy isn’t working now. The “strategy” of the iPhone 6 Plus is the exact same strategy that Android phone makers relied on for years: make the phone bigger so you can cram a bigger battery in it. If anything, this just hammers home the point I was making in my last post; Apple’s principal source of innovation in phones in the last two years has been “make it bigger and thinner and plug in an extra battery when it goes flat.”

For reference:

iPhone 6S: 143 g, 1715 mAh battery

iPhone 6: 129 g, 1810 mAh battery

iPhone 5S: 112 g, 1560 mAh battery

iPhone 5: 112 g, 1440 mAh battery


So in the body of the iPhone 5, Apple managed to add NFC and TouchID support, keep the weight the same, and still bump the battery capacity up by 8%. Yet for all the hue and cry of “lightness”, the iPhone 6S increased the weight of the phone by over 10% yet sliced a good 5% off the battery capability, all for the sake of 3DTouch. If more weight for more battery is supposedly such a bad tradeoff, how much worse is more weight for less battery?

You want somebody to defend Apple’s bad decisions at all costs, look somewhere else. Rene can probably help you out. From here, though, there’s no getting around the fact that Apple is admitting they botched – and hopefully it means better decision making in next year’s model.


Missing the Boat

On paper, it looks pretty reasonable.  The Apple battery case for the iPhone 6/6S looks ungainly, a one-piece silicon shell with a rectangular bulge under its skin, but in functionality it couldn’t be simpler: connect it to your phone and at that point it’s automatic – plug in your Lightning cable and use normally, and the phone will draw off the external battery seamlessly before switching to the internal.  Functionally it’s the same as increasing the size of the internal battery.

And there’s the rub: this is a $99 fee to make your phone do something it should have been capable of all along. It’s a tacit admission that the battery is not large enough in the 6 (and even smaller in the 6S) and that the price of making the phone hipster-jeans skinny is making it unable to cope with the power demands of an ordinary day. It is a concession in everything but words that Jony Ive’s industrial design ran out ahead of usability.

It’s not the first time, either.  More than one website is showing pictures of the updated Magic Mouse, which is rechargeable with a Lightning cable…by flipping it over and plugging the cable into the bottom, rendering the mouse unusable.  The Apple Pencil, for use with the iPad Pro, charges straight from the iPad’s own Lightning port…where it juts directly out like some kind of wack-ass antenna, just asking to be broken off. Don’t even get me started on the MacBook’s single USB-C connector, rendering it functionally useless as a desktop system – even with the adapter, you can at best attach a monitor, power, USB Ethernet at 10/100 speed and hope that you don’t run out of power on the aforementioned Magic Mouse and keyboard.

Yes, I hear the MacMacs argue, but these are horses for courses and the MacBook isn’t meant to be a desktop replacement and you don’t have to charge the mouse every day and…this is not going to wash with Ed Earl Brown. The whole point of Apple’s premium for hardware and software was that it just worked, and the number of pain points where you have to work around their way of doing things is increasing. That’s bad design, full stop. And the rumors of an iPhone 7 with only a Lightning port and no headphone jack only make things worse – if you have to eliminate the headphone jack to make the damned thing even more thin, how much battery do you expect it to have, especially once you’re relying on Bluetooth for headphones?

At the risk of sounding like the other sort of MacMac: none of this would be happening if Steve were alive. The original iPhone eschewed things like 3G and GPS, and for good reason: an all-day battery was a bigger priority. None of the phone’s whizzy features are worth a damn when it’s a dead lump of metal in your hand. Tim Cook is a fine gentleman and perhaps the greatest operations mind in corporate history, but he’s not someone who can tell Jony Ive to reel it in and come back tomorrow with something that doesn’t sacrifice usability in the name of ooh shiny.

It’s chilling but it’s true: the first-generation Moto X, the very one at which Ive threw shade in the pages of the New Yorker, the one that debuted in early-autumn 2013, is still more compelling to me than any iPhone Apple has produced since. Hand feel without giving up screen size, quality materials without outrageous expense, spec sheet glory ruthlessly sacrificed in the name of user experience – Moto, however briefly, got the game exactly right, and all Apple has come up with since is to make it bigger and thinner and plug an extra battery in to make up the difference.

At this point, I’m going to see what happens with this rumor about a notional iPhone 6C, so-called, in March of 2016. Because right now, the camera is the only thing preventing me from just taking the Moto X abroad next summer. That’s what it’s for, and it’ll do just as good a job of getting me through the day without a power cable as this iPhone 6 does currently. And that’s not an endorsement for Apple.

What’s to post about?

I mean, you can’t tell the mass shootings without a scorecard, and people are scrambling to throw shit in the air about “prayer shaming” and “terrorism” and try to obscure the fact that people getting shot in large numbers is a now-routine and uniquely-American fact of life. It sounds like the dude in San Bernadino bought all these guns in a perfectly legal fashion without having to go to Secret Criminal Terrorist Free Gun Costco anyway.

It’s fine.  It’s life now.  Once we as a country rolled over on the mass-murder of elementary school children at Christmas-time, that was the end. Movie theater? Church? Facility for the developmentally disabled? SHRUG EMOJI. Apparently this is just the price of doing business because we gave away a non-trivial amount of political power to the professionally piss-pants frightened, and we decided that being fucking stupid was a valid way to live your life.

It’s getting really really hard not to feel like I need to decamp to some country with better broadband and less likelihood of getting gunned down because Bubba the Redneck Reindeer wants to pretend he can fight off the 82nd Airborne.  Meanwhile, I’ll just sit here and try to suppress the urge to consider myself superior to these dumb fucks.  Not trying real hard, either.