Still Hanging Around

I don’t know why I can’t quit this Moto X. It’s three years old, and it didn’t have a top-speed processor when it shipped, but so many of its features – always-listening voice assistance, 2 GB of RAM, a 4.7” AMOLED display, multiple processors to handle certain functions with lower power consumption – are things that took longer to show up on the iPhone, if they showed up at all. In fact, my dream for the iPhone SE2, if it ever comes to pass, is that they have the AMOLED display and some way of switching to a black-and-white line-art sort of mode for Ultra Low Battery Mode. And maybe find some way of getting rid of the huge bezels top and bottom in favor of getting more useful display in a smaller package.

That’s a big part of the draw of that Moto X (aside from the intangibles of being able to spec out the colors myself and engrave it and that it was an American-assembled device, rarer than a unicorn) – it’s a bigger screen without feeling like an unreasonably bigger phone. The iPhone 6 family feels gargantuan after three months back on the SE, but the Moto X still doesn’t.

It’s slow, though. That inhibits a lot. So does the generally poorer quality of the apps – Reeder isn’t without its issues on my iOS devices, and the amount of background processing it does is inexplicable to me, but it kicks the shit out of something like Press for an RSS reader. Pocketcasts is…all right, I guess, but not great. Obviously I don’t have much media on the X, so one of the biggest battery-killers I have isn’t really a thing.  In fact, the limitations of performance and media walled garden mean that most of what the Moto X is useful for is…let’s see…

* INSTAGRAM. It doesn’t do well with Instant Stories and can be slow to load, but it’s mostly fine and the 10MP camera on the X is good enough to shoot for the ‘Gram (if markedly inferior to any Apple camera since the X came out).

* SWARM. It can handle check-ins. More or less.

* KINDLE. Actually it’s great for this. Set for white text on black background and the processing load is minimal, and it can buy new content from within the app, unlike the iOS equivalents.

* BANKING STUFF. Basic but doable, at least from a “check the balance and do I owe anything on this credit card I forgot I had” sort of standpoint.

* FIREFOX. The browser works fine in a pinch, especially as an alternative to the godawful Twitter for Android app.

* TRANSIT/CITYMAPPER/MAPS. Not the fastest, again, but usable in a pinch.

* OUTLOOK. Let’s face it, Microsoft makes the best email client for Android if you don’t use GMail (I don’t), and this is passable.

* ALLO/DUO/HANGOUTS/WHATSAPP/SIMSME/SIGNAL/GOOGLE VOICE. The Moto X has become the tackling dummy for new communication apps that require your actual phone number but which I’m unlikely to ever use in a meaningful way, so why not test them out on something that doesn’t have my (hopefully) permanent number associated with it?

And in a pinch, I could use it as a credit card via Android Pay, order something on Amazon with the app, or even (gasp) place a phone call with it. And while its battery life is challenged in a way any three-year-old Android device would be, I have at least two charger packs with integrated micro-USB cables, so there’s very little preventing me walking around with the ability to top it all the way back up twice.

But it doesn’t have a lot of my contacts on it. I specifically went through and wiped all but about a dozen numbers from it – not that I ever added that many, but at some point the entirety of my iCloud address book got dumped into the burner Google account I use for this phone, so I went through and flushed it so as not to dump them all into WhatsApp or Allo or whatever. There were former coworkers, there were former work hotline numbers, there were defunct moblogging services, there were at least three people now deceased. It was unsettling.

And that drove home the point for me: this Moto X has become more than an experimental device, more than an artifact of an alternate universe – it’s the phone I want to carry when I don’t actually want to get in touch with anyone. It makes perfect sense that it’s all murdered out in black-with-carbon-fiber-look, because it’s the stealth phone. Carry this and disappear in a way that I just can’t make myself do with the iPhone. And yet, the performance and the frustration and the polish always have me running back to the iPhone within a day or two. Even peace and quiet has its limits.

The other thing that creeps to mind, though, is at what point I’ll be legitimately down to only one device. My six year old Kindle bit the dust last month (and has been handed over to my tinkering niece to see what she can make of it) and while my trusty iPad mini is just fine on iOS 10, the original iPad I got for my 40th, my Dynabook, is at the end of the line for OS upgrades and will remain stuck on 9.3.5 in perpetuity. (That said, it took four years to miss an OS update; the Moto X took two. That’s bad arithmetic.) Then there’s my work iPhone, which has bad battery issues and lives in a drawer where it can be safely ignored. The question is, what would it take to get me down to just one device at a time, possibly for good?

Well, start with battery life. The new iPhone 7 supposedly has similar performance to the SE, achieved with the cunning use of multiple variable-power CPU cores and a larger battery made possible by donking off the headphone jack. That’s not bad, but the SE also occasionally fails to get me through the day. Most phone makers are only willing to expand height and width, but if they’d just go a little thicker, we might be able to get a legit all-day battery in something smaller than a six-inch phone.

Then there’s the screen. I got the Kindle because the 3.5” display of an iPhone didn’t get it done for two years, and while the 4” screen of the SE is better, the 4.7” of the iPhone 6 was better yet and the 4.7” in AMOLED of the Moto X was dead solid perfect. While I could read Kindle content on the SE, it’s easier on a larger display and more kind to the power supply on AMOLED.

Then, obviously, the camera needs not to suck. Time was that meant you had to get an iPhone, and the best cameras meant the biggest phones. Still does, if you want the dual-lens setup on the iPhone 7 Plus, but even the iPhone 7 has optical image stabilization and a pretty good sensor at this point. Not enough to make it worth paying the difference over my SE, though, especially when the SE has a damn good camera AND equal battery life AND will actually FIT IN MY POCKET.

In some ways, I guess, this explains the drive to 5-inch-and-larger phones, especially at the lower end of the market (the dirt-cheap Moto G began with a 4.5” display in 2013 and now has a 5.5” screen at the same price point) – when your smartphone is your only computing device, you err on the side of a screen big enough to watch video and read easily and ensure that the battery behind it can carry you all day. It’s possible that the iPhone Plus is the natural and inevitable coming thing for me by 2018 or thereabouts (can I get another two years out of the iPad mini? Almost certainly, but a five year lifespan on a tablet sounds about right when that’s all I got out of the Kindle or the AppleTV box).  Still, a 5.5” phone would almost be doable so long as you could get away with a jacket every day and didn’t have to commute standing on a train.  Of which…

Round 1

Back in 2000, in the first Presidential debate, Vice-President Al Gore dragged Texas Governor George W. Bush up and down the stage. He was ready, he was knowledgable, he had command of the facts and the figures, and Bush looked like a deer in the headlights. There’s no evading the truth: Dubya got rinsed.

Except within 24 hours, the RNC had cut up a video of Gore’s exasperated sighs and exhalations and whatnot, and the media – ring through the dick as always whenever the GOP complains – ran with that. And, well, you know the rest.

This is why I don’t watch debates anymore, because they do not matter. They’re merely an hour and a half of performance art where you wait for someone to fuck up or get off a zinger, and then wait two days to see how the press decides to spin it, and then another five days to see how it’s moved the polls, and it’s a complete waste of time. I spent the debate watching Norwegian slow TV and tinkering with my Moto X (of which more later. I can’t quit this phone) and I think my life is better for it.

Looking at the transcripts and reports, though, it’s more apparent than ever. Donald Trump is running as the candidate of old white people who believe everything they get in email or see on Fox News. No sane candidate would ever think that “Ask Hannity” was some sort of dispositive explanation, but a sane candidate isn’t what we’ve got. We’ve got a guy with exactly one speed who’s never had to go for an hour and a half and be challenged like this in an individual setting – the monkeyshines of the GOP debates meant that you never had more than a minute and a half every half hour or so to say something, and because nobody wanted to alienate the Trump base, they never counterpunched in a way that would have put John Kasich or Marco Rubio on that platform last night instead. He’s literally never been challenged like last night, and he wasn’t ready.

And that alone should be disqualifying. Being President isn’t something you roll up and film for 30 minutes twice a month, it’s a 24-7-365 job for four to eight years. Look at how it ages everyone it comes in contact with and tell me that Donald Trump will have the interest to do that, never mind the intelligence or the capability. Hell, he already offered one VP candidate control of “domestic and foreign policy” so his focus could be on “Making America Great Again.” This is not American big business where all you have to do is sit and play golf and yell down the chain of underlings if something doesn’t work. You have to do the fucking job.

He can’t. He won’t. He’s not capable of it. She is. Case closed. Now we just have to confirm it at the box.

What are you prepared to do?

Kiss my ass, Poppy

Nobody made George H. W. Bush hire Lee Atwater. Nobody held a gun on the family in the compound at Kennebunkport and demanded that he not disavow the Willie Horton ad. Nobody insisted that he go out swinging against “Ozone Man” or blanket-pardon the Iran-Contra conspirators.  So if the man who managed to get four different aircraft shot out from under him in the Second World War wants to understand how he’s been reduced to voting for the wife of the man who beat him a quarter-century ago, one place to start looking might be in the mirror.

There seems to be a cottage industry these days in blaming the rise of Trump on liberals in general or Obama in particular.  Oooh, we were mean to the rednecks so they are getting revenge. Ooooh, those nasty snippy late night talk show hosts made flyover country feel awful so Trump is the inevitable response.  Ooooh, ooooh, ooooh.

Miss me with that shit.

Kevin Phillips crafted the Southern Strategy in 1968. Lee Atwater built the entire Bush campaign on it in 1988. Newt Gingrich made it the motivating principle of the GOP in 1993. The complete rejection of policy, of principle, of anything other than blind loyalty to one chosen leader and hang the ideological consistency of it all, was long since in place even before Bush’s mental-defective monkey loin-fruit luck-boxed his way into the White House and did such a shit job that the Republican brand was tarnished enough for a one-term African-American Senator to break through. You want to find the origins of all these antique hayseeds screaming for Trump? Try four years ago when Mitt Romney flip-flopped on nearly his entire political career to endorse Bushism. Try eight years ago when Sarah Palin jerked the wheel on John McCain’s campaign and went full-on George-Wallace-in-a-girdle. Try most of the first decade of the century, when it was suddenly okay to burn Dixie Chicks records and even-the-liberal-MSNBC had to yank Phil Donahue off the air for being insufficiently war-hungry.

As I mentioned before, Trump has to be laundered and normalized for the GOP to continue to function – but he also has to have plausible deniability as a fluke, so that he can be tossed on the heap of candidates whose loss came from insufficient fealty to an imaginary conservative ideal that can never fail, only be failed. Anything to obscure the fact that the same consistent Southern big-mule-and-white-yeoman ideology runs all the way back in an unbroken line from Trump to Romney to Tom DeLay to Karl Rove to “a card carrying member of the ACLU” to the very same hackneyed phraseology of the American Independent Party candidate in 1968. It’s the same campaign, the same ideas, the same targets. My mistake was in believing 2012 was really the last call for the Old Ones – maybe it was their last chance to win, but if they can’t have a victory, they’ll burn the country down behind them on their way to the grave.

If we allow it.

What are you prepared to do?

Here we go…again

So this morning, Donald Trump was scheduled to “address the birther controversy.”  What he did instead was pimp his hotel for 20 minutes, have assorted military personnel endorse him, and then at the end – almost perfunctorily – say that Hillary was the one who launched the birther controversy and it wouldn’t have been resolved but for him, and yes Obama was born in the United States.

The effect would not have been much different had he chosen to whip out his Lou Holtz and piss all over the assembled media, because that’s more or less exactly what he did. After being the leading light of birtherism for years and years – indeed, having built his campaign off the back of it – Donald Trump is basically daring the media to call him on being an abject baldfaced liar.

This is not something our political system is equipped to deal with. When Mitt Romney went on stage for the first debate in 2012 and basically argued the opposite of everything he was saying on the campaign trail, Obama was caught flatfooted, as was the moderator. The problem is, everyone assumes a certain level of dissembly and mendacity in politics, such that “everyone lies” and arguing the matter of degree is like the apocryphal tale about Winston Churchill and the society lady. But even then, there are (or at least have generally been) guardrails. No one that I can remember has argued vehemently that black is white for six years, then accused their opponent of fomenting that belief and claiming to have been the one to prove black is black.  Our politics – hell, our society, our entire semiotics – can’t cope with that caliber of bullshit.

This is why I’m out of patience with people arguing for Trump supporters and claiming that they have real concerns and real points and shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.  Hillary tried to say that – accurately pointing out how many racists, neo-Nazis and other assorted scum have rallied for Trump – and then say that fully half his supporters are behind him because they have real concerns that the system is broken and their lives are in limbo and they matter. And naturally, she got flayed for it by a whipped press corps in eternal catamite servitude to the god of false equivalence and fifty years of working the refs.

Here’s the thing: she’s wrong. It’s every Trump voter. Everyone and anyone willing to seriously pull the lever for a polyester-haired reality TV shmuck.

Spare me the Hillbilly Elegy bullshit: there have been people pushing back against bankers and outsourcers and fucked-up healthcare and shitty schools. They’re called Democrats. And at every opportunity for the last twenty years, given a choice, the hillbillies have run the opposite direction, straight into the arms of big business and wealthy elites. And then have the audacity to say that after eight years of uninterrupted slander, obstruction, vitriol and prejudice, it’s wrong to call them racist.

Fuck. You.

If those problems are real, if those concerns are real, then why not vote for the candidate who was out there addressing them? Why not vote for somebody who was trying to get health insurance to your redneck ass, who was trying to get a fiscal stimulus that would jumpstart the economy, who was trying to get a public works program that would get people jobs while addressing a badly-needed infrastructure problem? Oh, right: he’s colored.

Again: Fuck. You.

This election will determine whether we deserve to have a country. Because if there are enough people stupid enough to make their electoral choices in a way that results in a President Trump, we’re broken beyond repair. If we’re willing to privilege that level of ignorance and hatred and bullshit, if we decide that truth means nothing and experience less, if we’re willing to buy this line of crap – then fuck it. At that point, we simply are not a nation worth saving.

Closing time 

We might be approaching the end of the viable life of this Moto X on which I type this entry. It’s a model that hit at the end of the summer of 2013, although I only bought mine in February 2014. It’s three generations and two versions of Android behind current. And it’s a colossal pain in the ass to run a dozen updates for apps every time I fire it up after a week or two. Hell, I’m lucky if it’s only a dozen. 

And yet this phone was week ahead of its time. 2 GB of RAM, so more apps could stay open at once. Separate co-processors to allow for always-listening voice command at a time when nobody at all had that. Awareness of whether you were walking or driving. The iPhone only got those features a couple years on, and still hasn’t adopted the power savings of AMOLED when they desperately could have used it – or reduced the bezels to fit a 4.7″ display in a one-handable phone. 

That’s one huge indictment of Google – they owned Motorola while this phone was developed, they had the most innovative new phone since the original iPhone, and they overpriced it and under-promoted it. Add it to the long list of things Google swore would change everything and got bored of within six months. And now I don’t even know when it’s going to get a security update. Forget about Android 6 or 7, this thing shipped with 4.2 – it’s a minor miracle it runs 5.1, even if it took a year to show up. 

But it’s an indictment. Because a couple months before the Moto X, I fell into the fortune of an iPad mini, the first with a retina display. That iPad has been my home laptop, for all intents and purposes, for two and a half years. And it got the upgrade to iOS 10. It’s running it now and running it just fine, and there are no signs it’ll need replacing anytime soon. 

Meanwhile, the Moto X is challenged. Part of it is just speed. It struggles to render Instagram contents in a timely fashion. It really struggles with RSS through Press, although that could be a function of the app. In fact, the real struggle is with anything that doesn’t have an iOS equivalent – apps like Swarm or Slack seem to behave a lot better than PocketCasts or Press. 

It still occupies that same space in my imagination. It’s almost a species of cosplay, a way of walking out the door with a completely different tether to the world. I won’t ever get rid of it, and I’ll keep fiddling with it for as long as I can. But as the phone that goes abroad, the phone that’s my personal phone, the iPhone SE has displaced it in every meaningful respect. 

It Has Begun

Matt Lauer basically handed Donald Trump a glide-path to the White House. Never challenged him, never fact-checked him in real time, did just the sort of hard-hitting interview you’d expect from the Today Show’s resident Very Serious Journamalist. The same brilliant mind that skims Wikipedia in real time to try to describe participating Olympic nations was helpless in the face of what appears to be Trump’s MO for the rest of the campaign: just spew so much bullshit, rapidly and repeatedly, that it becomes impossible to dispute or challenge everything just on the sheer volume.

This was inevitable. The national press corps has been in the tank to hate Hillary for a quarter century, and though nobody wants to talk about it, it’s a big part of the reason Obama made it to the nomination in 2008. Now, with a genuine sociopath at the top of the GOP ticket, they’re bending themselves into pretzels trying to find ways to make it a close race, to avoid calling a spade a spade, to make it seem like Donald Trump isn’t an outrageous deviance from the norms and values and processes of American electoral politics. On any given day, he says or does at least two or three things that would have been a torpedo at the waterline for a Dukakis or Dole or Gore, and yet the volume of shit is such that the press corps has gone numb to challenging it.

This is necessary, because the GOP is going to need a serious airing-out after this race. If Trump loses 45 states and Evil Hillary becomes President, there’s going to be a thoroughly bloody reckoning as to how the party let this happen, and a lot of people will find their futures in a burning heap of feces. So Trump has to be retconned in real time into a viable candidate, just for the sake of preserving the careers of half the Republican party-in-organization.

We’re going to put it down the memory hole. If Hillary wins, the whole “build the wall” thing is going to be glossed over as just another Dean Scream or Gore Sigh or Binders Full Of Women. There will probably be some other turn of phrase like “tea party” to re-launder the GOP’s Confederate base for another go-round in 2018. Ted Cruz will run on exactly the same platform in 2020 and almost certainly win, given that the New York Times would rather see ISIS conquer Manhattan than a fourth term of Clinton presidency.

The one consolation is that once HRC’s time is done, we almost have to move on. It’s like the frustrating college quarterback: there’s going to be someone else in four years no matter what. But then, we thought that’s what Obama was going to be, too.

Heads Scotland, tails Ireland.

Further Review

In the dark days before the Second Coming of Steve, when Apple fans tried to defend a company that was inevitably referred to as Beleaguered Apple Computer, the argument for the minuscule market share of the Mac was that Apple was like BMW: making a premium product for a premium price, and eschewing mass-market lowest-common-denominator for quality instead. (To which I would say, Power Macintosh 4400.) It was…an opinion.

If that was the case, Apple under the returning reign of Himself was less BMW and more Volkswagen: definitely an upper-end product, certainly a little bit of yuppie/hipster sheen, but an attainable product. Instead of being asked to pay $2500 for a computer that was hard to pitch as worth the money in a world of cheap Packard Bells and E-Machines running everything on Windows like everybody else, it was $1299 for an easier-to-use-than-anything iMac. Or, as the prices started to come down, $199 for an iPod mini that was indisputably the best digital music player on the market. Or, eventually, a base $199 for an iPhone that kicked the very shit out of all the other “smartphones” that were at the same price point at your Verizon or AT&T store.  It might still be a premium product, but it was value for money and it wasn’t outrageously more expensive and you could see the difference between having an iPhone 3GS or a Blackberry Storm.


After looking at the event yesterday, I’m not sure anyone ever outright named the price of the iPhone 7 or 7 Plus. They referenced the “typical installment plan” and Apple’s own “pay monthly and replace every year” gimmick, but I don’t think anyone came right out and said “this phone will cost you $700 cash on the barrelhead.”  And yes, it’s got the best camera any phone has ever had, and it’s mostly reached gimmick-parity with the top Android devices on stereo speakers (my MOTOFONE F3 was using the earpiece as a speaker in 2007, but go on) and dust/waterproofing and OOOH MAXIMUM SHINY GLOSSY, but…my cousin is currently jetting around the world from Central Asian Republics to San Francisco to the Emerald Isle packing a third-generation Moto G. It does everything he needs it to, from maps to music to WhatsApp to perfectly cromulent Instagram-grade photography. And that phone could be had right now on Amazon for $180, unlocked and off-contract.

You see the problem. Ed Earl Brown may not want to splash out $700 for an iPhone when he can get 80% of the way there and good enough for a third of the price. And maybe he doesn’t get security updates on time and maybe he doesn’t see a new point release of Android, but guess what: he can dump that phone after eighteen months and buy the Moto G-5 or whatever and still come out a couple hundred dollars to the good relative to buying an iPhone 7 that he needs to stretch for three years. And that’s before taking the headphone situation into account…

I can see why they did it. I see the justification for it, in terms of being able to move things around so they can improve the camera and get real water resistance good enough to advertise publicly and increase the size of the battery 14% (a desperate need after the 6S made it SMALLER). But in all the time I can remember, for years and years going back to that first fateful iMac in 1998, Apple has only once EVER replaced a standard port with a proprietary solution. When they dumped 8-pin serial and SCSI and ADB and that wacky hi-density video port, it was for USB and VGA and the open 1394 FireWire standard (which they invented but opened, and which other companies used). When they went down to having Just One Port on the MacBook, it was the emerging USB-C standard, not something they whipped up themselves. They’ve replaced proprietary with proprietary, certainly, as when the 30-pin was replaced with Lightining, but that was a legitimate improvement: a smaller reversible port.

Oh, and that MacBook had one port other than USB-C…a 3.5mm headphone jack.

You have to go back to the oldest iPods to see the only other time Apple did this. Sometime between the second and third iPod model, they dumped the classic six-pin FireWire jack in favor of the 30-pin connector going to FireWire. And then to FireWire and USB. And ultimately, just to USB 2.0. And then they rode with that 30-pin connector for almost a decade, carrying it through every iPod model and onto the first five iPhones. And that 30-pin port was in the service of moving the iPod from depending on FireWire to being USB-capable instead, and getting it compatible with PCs.

I don’t think this was the time to do this. If anything, I think maybe Apple should have telegraphed it a year: bundle Lightning-based earbuds with the 6S and 6S Plus while it still had an analog audio jack, and demonstrate that Lightning was a good alternative without shoving people into it. As it is, Apple got rid of the floppy or the internal CD-ROM/DVD at a time when people realized once it was gone that they weren’t going to miss it. I don’t think the headphones are at this point, and $160 EarPods aren’t going to get Ed Earl Brown onto wireless if he’s used to losing his headphones and scooping another pair at the gas station for $10.

I say all that to say this: the VW days are over. Apple has changed its metaphor again – never mind BMW or VW, they are going all-in on being Tesla. Luxurious, cutting-edge, expensive, and just trust that the infrastructure will be there to support it as you go forward. Oh, and be prepared to plug in everything every night.

Maybe it works. Maybe it doesn’t. For me, I’m going to cling to this iPhone SE as long as I can and hope that popping sound in the distance isn’t the Monster of Cupertino disappearing up its own ass.

Watch Out

I didn’t take my Apple Watch to London. I’ve forgotten to wear it more than once at work, and almost as many times I’ve put it on only to find it dead an hour later because it failed to charge. That, right there, is the biggest impediment to using the watch. I had a Pebble, the first-gen model. It was limited and limiting, but it only needed to go on the plug every five days or so. When my wife had a Fitbit (before it went walkabout in the business-class lounge at Heathrow) it was similar. My regular old tell-the-time watch doesn’t need a battery at all – wind it once, put it on, leave it on for the rest of your life barring daylight savings and time zone changes.

I suspect the newer version of the Apple Watch hasn’t really licked that issue. Yes, it was overbuilt before, but it was also deadly slow. WatchOS fixes that, but the new hardware – even if it’s more efficient – is adding real GPS, which isn’t exactly cheap on battery life. Once again, we’re back to the same problem: a smartwatch means you have to charge your watch every night just like your phone. And here’s the kicker: the watch doesn’t do that much you couldn’t get from another fitness device that relays notifications. The Pebble does that. The Fitbit does that. Hell, your phone itself can do a huge chunk of that, and it’ll respond to your voice commands these days as reliably as the watch does if not more so.

So now comes the real trick. Does the Apple Watch, take two, provide enough of an improvement to make it worth wearing all day and charging all night? Or am I properly suited to have my automatic steel-cased 12-hour dial watch? After all, that’s the aspiration: only needing to tell the time, and never having to worry about notifications or fitness or even what day it is. The Apple Watch right now mainly serves to remind me we’re not there yet.

The Big Smoke

Walking through London, especially close to a train station or even just a tube stop, you sense a diesel-and-cigarette quality to the air that lets you know straightaway you aren’t in California anymore. Even on a hot muggy day where the locals are boggling at temps over 30 in August, something about it suggests the gray haze of a London Particular, a psychogeographical climate phenomenon worthy of Iain Sinclair or Peter Ackroyd. It’s an air that suggests, as much as the weight of a pound coin in the hand or the sight of a black cab trundling up the left-hand side of the road, that you are Somewhere Else.

No grids anywhere, not even a little bit. The roads are tarmac over the cobbles over the dirt tracks that were pathed out hundreds or thousands of years ago. Our cabdriver said he took three and a half years to do the Knowledge, and I believe it, because learning the ins and outs of the London streets is far tougher than the mere nooks and crannies of the human cranium. Citymapper is an indispensable app, the 21st century answer to the old London A To Z, the only way of plotting the easiest route from here to there – and the amazing thing with the Tube is that you never have longer than a two or three minute wait and you never seem to have to make more than one change or go more than four or five stops per segment to get most anywhere. If you can set aside the warmth in the hottest week of the year in an unconditioned set of tunnels, it’s damn near teleportation.

Because it’s the only way to go fast. Even with the congestion charge, a bus sits in the traffic for twice as long as the Underground takes to go the same distance (not to deny the pleasure of the view from the front seats of the upper deck of the old Routemasters). Walking takes forever – the psychic density from point A to point B is even greater than in San Francisco or Manhattan; there’s so much stuff that it takes twice as long or more as the same distance on a flat track would. And then there’s the mystical quality of going under a bridge and seeing the front of a public house, almost like something that wouldn’t have appeared if you’d approached from the other side or failed to describe a figure 8 through the overpass before coming to the door. Ackroyd and Gaiman were right: there are pockets of lost time in London, places that have moved more slowly or more quickly. The top of the Shard is a seventy-story garden party from some oligarchian future, just as the streets from Kings’ Cross up towards Camden Lock have only slowly drifted from Victorian toward early-Thatcher.

It felt far less alien this time. No more stooging into an Internet cafe to keep up with friends or ducking into every cellphone shop to marvel at the things that hadn’t reached America yet, if ever: the iPhone SE in my pocket was the best phone available on this continent or theirs and the SIM and service could have been as easily acquired from a vending machine as from the airport kiosk we used. (For the record, 10.5 GB of data for a month, for EACH of us, set us back all of $65 prepaid – easily half what we’d pay AT&T in the US for even less data. Prepaid only in future for me.) We could walk around checking Slack and posting to Instagram just as we would in the States, with the only difference being that GMT rather than PDT allows you to tell the order in which your friends wake up and look at their phones. Transit is a doddle; the trains work like BART or DC Metro and the buses work like VTA or anywhere, really. Only the TV experience was still a little alien: turn on the set in the hotel and be presented with an Apple TV-esque grid where every channel is A Channel rather than a series of local affiliates. BBC London is just something that cuts in on the regular BBC One news.

Well, that and the trains. A day trip to Cambridge was only marginally more complicated than a Caltrain ticket from San Jose to San Francisco, and about as fast. This is what comes of a country that builds a national rail infrastructure decades before the internal-combustion automobile even exists – and then sticks with it through the years. It also doesn’t hurt that the isle of Britain is about the size of California. Brexit notwithstanding, it’s hard not to get a sense that part of the American dysfunction is that we’ve scaled beyond what works for a contemporary nation-state.

I didn’t make it to a single service of any kind. There was always Evensong somewhere in 2007, but this time I only ever set foot in one college chapel once – I don’t know what profound statement that makes, but that’s how it went down. Although I still maintain that I might be Anglican in a very ‘religious but not the least bit spiritual’ sort of way. On the other side of my religious pursuits, there was football – of the second division variety. Craven Cottage, the home of Fulham FC, sits right on the river and looks to be the English spiritual cousin of Fenway Park: a century old and largely not upgraded. We were sat on the original wooden seats in front of a row of old age pensioners, drinking Bovril on a dreary gray summer afternoon – far closer to the real traditional English football experience than the modern NFL-ized Premier League.

And then there was the water. We spent a surprising amount of time on it – whether a commuter boat on the Thames, a punt on the river Cam with someone else pushing the pole while I sipped my plastic-cup pint, or a classic canal boat going between Little Venice and Camden Lock. I don’t know how, I don’t know why, but the presence of moving water has somehow become what coffee was for me in the NGS days: calming, civilizing, guaranteed to ameliorate the mood. There were crowds stood outside pubs every day – probably for the heat, as no place in Britain seems to be air-conditioned enough even if they have it. I don’t recall seeing that before. I also don’t recall the complete absence of urinal dividers (odd when every toilet is in its own closet). I dimly recall the greater prevalence of suits, in lighter shades of blue than the United States finds acceptable in the modern workplace. I was reminded just how few public trash receptacles there are – and not nearly as many recycling bins as in California or even Birmingham.

One other thing I don’t remember noticing – maybe my ear wasn’t attuned to it, maybe we spent more time outside London, who knows – was the proliferation of accents that weren’t British. You could start to see how a certain sort of Englishman would begin to lash back (and how his American counterpart wouldn’t last a day in NorCal). And yet, even the pro-Brexit cabbie thought Donald Trump was the express ticket to World War Three, which shows you just how far beyond the pale we’ve gotten here.

The line more than once has been ‘we need to stop going to London unless we’re just going to move there.’ We couldn’t afford to, any more than we could afford to go up to the city from here, or to New York or Tokyo. But if we could…pervasive transit, half pints in a pub on every corner, politics without holy rollers and the promise of a clean escape from college football and its discontents?

Maybe it wouldn’t be any better, but I’d love to make them prove it.

The Overexamined Life

And here we are. Ten years of this blog. Damn near a quarter of my life. If you dig around in the darker corners of the Internet, you can go back even further, to 1999 or so. Most of my adult life after leaving college and coming to DC is documented for historical memory. This is an incomplete record, obviously, because I haven’t put everything in here by a long shot, nor would I. But I at least have some points of reference, some places to think about what I used to say or think or do.

I don’t know if anyone is still reading this. I think sometimes I write as if nobody is, which is incautious at best and stupid at worst. It’s unconnected to anything else, certainly to any of my social media, and I think the RSS feeds into previous blog solutions are long since broken, so I sort of feel like it’s all right – I certainly wouldn’t do the same with the Twitter accounts or the dummy blog attached to one of them. Wheels within wheels. Erase a dot and it’s gone…you don’t think about what’s under the dot.

It hasn’t always been cheerful, this blog. It went along with the collapse of my time at Apple and the corresponding collapse of Cal football, from which it has never quite recovered. It began with saying that 5-6 wasn’t going to be good enough for Vanderbilt and arrives at a time when 5 wins is a consummation devoutly to be wished. It’s gone through three Presidential elections, each more apocalyptic than the last in importance.

And yet, it all seems to boil down the usual stuff: endless wankery about this phone or that gadget, bemoaning terrible sports, lashing out at a broken political system and more broken society around me, and of course the endless timeless woe-is-me sad-sack reminisces of days gone by as if somehow I can rearrange it in a way that forms a sailboat. Or a schooner. Or a worthwhile outcome. (It’s not lost on me that this blog has also quietly seen three different antidepressants and four different mental health professionals, none of whom was ever able to do more than stop the bleeding for a while.)  I’d like to say that in the new season and the months and years to come you’ll see better and more interesting content, but you’ll get exactly what you paid for and there’s no point pretending otherwise.

Onward, then.