Apple Eve Again

Well here we go. A colossal botch or just bad timing means that the macOS 10.12.1 release contained graphics showing the new keyboard of a new MacBookSomething, with what appears to be a variable AMOLED strip of “magic keys” and a TouchID sensor. It also sounds as if the new MacBookSomething will have four USB-C ports…and nothing else. No Ethernet, no video-out, no Thunderbolt and certainly no headphone jack.

It’s entirely possible that Jony Ive has disappeared up his own asshole. More to the point, it’s starting to feel disturbingly like 1998, when Apple released the iMac and put paid to every previous input standard of its past. ADB, 8-pin serial and SCSI were all kicked to the curb in favor of USB…and basically nothing else. It was the meteor, the shift from dinosaurs to mammals in the Applesphere. And it was possible because Apple was a drop in the ocean, the company that was 90 days from bankruptcy when its iCEO first arrived, not a meaningful player.

That’s not the case now. Apple makes most of the profit to be made in the personal computing and mobility computing space right now. Depending on what day it is and the price of a barrel of West Texas Intermediate crude, they’re the first or second most valuable company on the entire damned planet. They are not so small and insignificant a player that they can engage in that level of self-disruption without consequence.

Or maybe this is Ive’s Keith Hernandez moment. Maybe he thinks they’re SO big, and Mac users have been starved for new hardware for SO long (it’s been over a year since there was so much as a CPU refresh of anything but the MacBook, and the designs themselves are three years old and counting, and the Mac Pro literally hasn’t budged since it was reintroduced in 2013) that the wave of people running out to get SOME new Mac portable that’s not out of warranty will be enough momentum to carry them over the hump. I know I’m in the market, after four years on a cramped and dented MacBook Air at work and another four-ish on a home Mac mini crippled with a 5400rpm spinning drive.

But the fact that it’s been so long – when the MacBook Retina first dropped, the iPhone 5 was au courant – and the change is so radical suggests something else. It is entirely possible that this is another big step toward the Great Convergence when the MacBookSomething is missing an ESC key…just like the keyboard cover on the iPad Pro. It suggests that Apple sees the desktop and laptop computer business as a sideline, a legacy product, something they can afford to play around with because the company doesn’t really depend on it anymore. Take a wild chance on the laptops, no bigs, the money comes from the iOS devices anyway.

And that’s unsettling. Because I’ve made a career for 19 years and counting on enterprise-level IT support for Macs. And I started worrying about getting out of the game three or four years ago because I could see the writing on the wall that said it might not be long before Mac support isn’t a thing any longer. After all, what are the steps in iOS support?  Turn it off and back on, delete and reinstall the app, refresh the settings through your corporate MDM client – and that’s almost all there is. You don’t need support staff for an iPad, by and large.

My two decades of Mac support experience aren’t a lot of use in a world with no Macs to support. And if Jony Ive needs to know one thing, it’s not to mess with a Vanderbilt man’s money.

Not my imagination

Apparently I didn’t just hallucinate that things started getting worse on transit in 2012. I knew Mountain View was the third-busiest Caltrain station behind only San Francisco and San Jose, but this article provided a truly shocking nugget: from 2012 to 2015, MV added 17,921 jobs and only 779 housing units.

That is astonishing. Even assuming that those jobs represent single individuals – without spouse or children or so much as a pet – that’s still almost 18,000 jobs in a city with a census population of 74,000 in 2010. Even extrapolating from Wikipedia’s approximate 77,000 figure in 2013, that gets you to about 81K today. And if you assume 250 housing units a year for population growth of 1000 a year, that’s almost keeping up if you assume the old saw about the married couple and 2.4 kids.


This article is largely about how Mountain View is trying to come up with some accommodation for people who live in RVs because there’s no housing stock in Mountain View, and how some homeowners are pushing back on that for fear of all the usual stuff – crime, property values, blah blah blah. The problem is, per that article, Mountain View is actually ahead of the forecast pace for home construction (unlike, say, Palo Alto or Cupertino, always far more NIMBY historically). Personally, if you can find a space to legally park your RV for three days at a time (and there aren’t a lot of places in town), I say giddy up, you’ve found a way to hang on and God bless ya. It beats paying for houses that have doubled in price in the last ten years (although you can’t sell unless you’re moving to Tennessee, because you won’t be able to turn around and buy something).

Then again, maybe the housing prices wouldn’t have doubled in ten years had they built some more housing. There are a ton of office buildings that went up in proximity to Moffett Field, there’s a new Samsung building right on the border with Sunnyvale that has its own shuttle running that way in the mornings, there was a completely new building for Zynga (that was smart). Maybe fewer of those and more living quarters next time. And while there legitimately is a hell of a lot of housing construction happening in Mountain View – drive down El Camino Real from San Antonio to Castro and take a look – it all tends to be of the luxury apartment variety, never over 4 stories tall, or else single-family homes on sliver lots whose walls couldn’t fit a playing card between them. No one is building anything affordable – possibly because you can’t afford to buy the land itself and then develop on it for cheaper than requires “luxury apartments” to make back the investment. This is a problem, not least because of all the soft-story apartments down California Street that will pancake when the big one comes – they represent the closest thing to affordable housing in the city now.

But part of the problem may be that an awful lot of these jobs seem to have been created for people who would rather be living in SoMa and the Mission and coming down on the Google bus. (Or the Caltrain, by my experience, and not one of them knows to walk their bike on the VTA platform going home in the evening.) That’s as may be, but the thought that comes to my mind is – how are you meant to add housing equivalent to 20% of your population in three years? Should a town of 75,000 people be obligated to throw up half a dozen skyscraper apartment towers just so people can live close to work, when the tenth largest city in America is literally eleven miles away and there’s a commuter train and a light rail AND multiple bus lines to get you from one downtown to the other?

That’s the problem of Silicon Valley. It’s all well and good that you have San Francisco at one end and San Jose at the other, but in between, you have literally a million and a half people – more than either of those towns – packing into a long sprawl of what was once suburban. You can still look at the Caltrain stations and see that many if not most of them are oriented for a world of people going up to the city in the morning and coming home in the evening, when I strongly suspect the non-sports traffic is starting to tip the other direction most days. The big three cities of the Bay Area have a fourth squashed in between, disguised as suburbia and populated by a lot of folks who are not necessarily NIMBYists but who specifically chose suburbia over those three cities, and don’t see why their particular town of 80,000 or so has to be enlarged to accommodate people who don’t want to commute a dozen miles. (Not to deny that Caltrain hasn’t got what it takes to accommodate its growth in ridership.)

But every other town (almost) covers this by sprawling even further – and the Peninsula doesn’t have any place left to sprawl, and hasn’t had for decades between the bay, the mountains and the cities at either end. And yet, everyone still has to establish their company here, and everyone has to get bigger here, and pretty soon you have Google dominating Mountain View in a way that simply didn’t happen with Fairchild Semiconductor or Silicon Graphics or Adobe or Netscape. The case of Adobe is most instructive for me: they got big and what did they do? They moved to San Jose. Netscape got huge, sold out to AOL, and decamped to Northern Virginia. While locating here gives you access to ready supplies of dumb money from Sand Hill Road or Y Combinator and dumber dropouts from CS50 at Stanford, it’s possible to start other companies elsewhere.  Hell, Amazon is still Seattle first (although their local presence is starting to get swole) and apps like Snapchat or Citymapper do fine despite running out of Los Angeles or London.

It’s mind-blowing that the Internet was supposed to allow anyone in the world to do anything from anywhere, but for some reason you must still have everyone in physical proximity in Mountain View. And yet.

Round 2

There were grown-up adult Republicans when I was a kid. There were people like Jeremiah Denton and Howard Baker, Nancy Kassenbaum and Bob Dole, John Danforth and Richard Lugar – solid Midwestern types, occasionally patrician and occasionally small-town, and they were people you could work with and who, broadly speaking, seemed to have the same goals and values and commitment to good government in whatever form it happened to take. 

Then Newt happened. And the GOP became the party of talk-radio, the party of Rush, the party of Fox, the party of a thousand conspiracy theories and a million nutters, and the patricians and good-government types who tried to raise a hand got sidelined. and ultimately turfed out, one after another. They went along, because it got results – it delivered the whole Congress to the GOP, it hamstrung  the Clinton presidency, it kneecapped Al Gore with the help of a dying political media – but eventually it got to be too much. John McCain tried to repudiate the birther bullshit to one of his supporters and got booed for it, but then, nobody put a gun to his head to make Caribou Barbie his running mate. I don’t recall Mitt Romney ever disavowing birtherism or conspiracy theory – but then, I don’t remember Multiple Choice Mitt ever disavowing much except for his own platform and positions in his first general election debate, when it became apparent that “bald-faced lie about what you said” is now considered an acceptable GOP debate tactic.

I don’t know what was worst last night, the lies or the truth. Saying “I never said that” about things he’d put on Twitter with considerable fanfare less than two weeks ago? Or saying he’d put his opponent in jail? Who can tell anymore? The problem is, all the subtext of the last twenty-five years of Republican politics is now text, and that text is the nominee. All the people who are cheering for “BUILD THE WALL” and “LOCK HER UP” aren’t trading in metaphor or euphemism or analogy: they legitimately want to build a wall and imprison the Democratic nominee. This crazy shit, by and large, is what they actually believe and what they actually want.

Now the GOP’s more traditional establishment elements are in a pickle: they have build their fortress on a foundation of sand and the storm is here. You can either disavow Trump and abjure his works and his pomps and his clearly empty promises, but you’re also going to cast off about two-thirds of the GOP electorate if you do, and you’re not going to get any credit from Democrats for only realizing in October 2016 that Donald Jehosephat Trump might be completely and utterly unfit even to look at a picture of the White House. Or you can ride this shitbomb all the way to Earth and die in the splatter, possibly. If you’re down in the South, or in one of those one-cow-one-vote districts out West, maybe you can survive, albeit damaged. But on current form, you’re going to be a permanent minority in national politics, you’ll probably be in a minority in Congress, and you’re going to have Trump hung around your neck by opponents for the next generation.

Ultimately, that’s what this election has become about: it’s not even Democrats versus Republicans anymore, it’s about the American system of politics versus weaponized ignorance and breathtaking unfitness for civilized society. It’s not enough to win, at this point – it’s about purging the contagion, about stopping the bleeding, about making sure that as many people as possible know that being numbered in the votes for the GOP nominee on November 8 will be to add themselves to a list of people who have proven they are unfit to govern themselves, who willingly choose the worst in humanity as the preferred leadership of this nation. About telling the Republican Party “you need to sit in the corner for a while, because you fucked up. You don’t get to play anymore.”

It’s not 1996, or 2000, or 2004, or 2008, or 2012. It’s not about stopping a guy who’s going to hold the door open for the arsonists. This time, it’s about stopping the burning truck headed straight for the fuel tank.

What are you prepared to do?

Oh and another thing

This is actually the GOP’s perfect scenario. They haven’t acknowledged the legitimacy of a Democratic Presidential victory since 1976, when they were still bleeding out from Watergate. For Bill Clinton, it was “well he didn’t break 50% so he’s not REALLY President” and for Barack Obama, who easily broke 50%, it was “well he’s not REALLY an American so he can’t REALLY be President.” Funny how none of that mattered when George W. Bush finished with fewer votes than his opponent, but anyway…

See, the GOP knows what any wrestling promoter knows. You don’t want the good guy to win the title. You want the bad guy to have the title, because the money is in the chase. So Hillary wins a historic victory – but she did it over a damaged candidate who was a fluke and a one-off happenstance, so she didn’t really win against a real opponent, so she shouldn’t really be allowed to be President. And right on cue, four more years of scorched earth and conspiracy theory and pretending the Republicans didn’t just pledge their troth to a short-fingered vulgarian from Queens with a checkbook full of red ink and the morals of a goat.

Trump will disappear down the memory hole, the Tea Party will be recycled under some other name, and the GOP establishment will win them back onside in a heartbeat by rallying them against the menace of the Evil Bitch Empress Hillary of their quarter-century’s fear-mongering. And we’ll be right back where we started.

This, ultimately, is why I didn’t have patience for the Bernie kids and why I have no time for the Libertarians or the sentient Caucasian dreadlocks that support Jill Stein. This is where our political system has left us – all a Democrat can hope to do is hold the line and stop things getting any worse. You wanna dream, go major in theater, because here in reality, we can’t have the magical sugarplum new progressive Jerusalem. Not yet. We still have to grind it out at the coalface, one day and one election at a time, until the day when we can tip the balance and start to do more than just bail out the ship. It’s not enough to show up and vote for President once or twice, it’s all the way down the ballot. It’s organizing. It’s finding candidates who can move the ball and supporting them for years as they move up the chain. And if you do that long enough, eventually maybe the lion will lie down with the lamb and we’ll beat our swords into plowshares and ain’t gonna study war no more. But until then, the lamb ain’t gonna get a lot of sleep. And neither should we.

November won’t be the end. It’ll be the end of the beginning, but there’s a long way yet to go, and you’d better be ready for a long, long haul to come.

What are you prepared to do?


So the revelation of the Access Hollywood outtakes from 11 years ago – which NBC presumably has had all along, and which they reportedly explicitly chose to sit on through Sunday’s debate until someone leaked them to the Washington Post first – seems to have done what nothing else could in this asinine and ridiculous political season: forced actual sitting GOP elected officials to bail off the Trump Train. Twelve hours ago it was only Utah, but now all manner of Congresscritters are running like hell from a candidate they backed through his birtherism, his attacks on Muslims and Mexicans, his insults of a Gold Star family, his three marriages and tabloid history, all the things that made “Donald Trump for President’ a spectacular joke and a burlesque of American politics.

Here’s the thing: the deadline to get Trump off the ballot was a month ago and change, depending on what mechanism you choose. Or at the convention. Or at the debates. Or at the very beginning, when the RNC could have dismissed him as a publicity stunt, an attention-seeker, not a serious contender for leader of the free world. But they didn’t, because they couldn’t. Because he’s not a fluke, he’s not a mistake, he’s not some sort of black swan event – he is the natural and inevitable result of a party that nailed its colors to the mast the day that Kevin Phillips published “The Emerging Republican Majority.” Lee Atwater, Rush Limbaugh, Karl Rove, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck – all signposts on the road to Trump, betting the house – and the kids’ college money and the next month’s groceries and ultimately blood, kidneys and semen – on the eternal preeminence of Archie Bunker as Real True American.

That’s why nothing mattered until now. Muslims didn’t matter. Latinos didn’t matter. African-Americans sure as hell didn’t matter. And the womenfolk would do whatever their husbands told them, see? Except for the feminazis and the diesel dykes and the hairy-legged hippies, and who cares what they want, right boys? Except this time, they didn’t piss off and dismiss one demographic group or another – never mind that while merely sloughing off Asians or Arabs or Mexicans or Muslims alone might not be a dealbreaker, dissing all of them meant you had to win all the white people. And ultimately, that’s where Trump’s cunning plan falls apart – because Trump always assumed that all the white people thought just like him.

And now, on top of everybody else, he’s pissed directly at fifty percent of the population. 

It’s not a coincidence, and it’s not a mistake by his lights. After all, Obama running for the White House uncorked eight years of race-hate on a scale not seen since the “New South” tamped down the overt racism in the 1970s. It only stands to reason that putting Hillary at the top of the ticket would pop the cork on 190-proof misogyny, and the idea that Trump knew how to put a woman in her place was at some level a big part of his appeal for the base that put him on stage in Cleveland. 

And now the rats are starting to flee the ship, now that it’s been torpedoed at the waterline. Don’t applaud them. They deserve to drown. Ask them why it took until now. The GOP is hanging onto the edge of a cliff by its fingertips. It is our responsibility, for the good of the nation, to lace up the steel-toes and stomp. Hard. Every day from now until November 8, and every day after that.

What are you prepared to do?

Let’s call assistant

So today, in one big swoop, Google’s rolling out their iPhone, their Eero, their Amazon Echo and their Samsung Gear VR. This is one big catch-up with everyone else in “look now we do our own hardware too,” which is a HUGE pivot for them. Time was, the Nexus phones were meant to be a reference design that just happened to be unlocked and assured of getting updates. Buying a Nexus gave you the feature set that the rest of the Android ecosystem would get next year – and you’d be getting software updates next year too. But those Nexus phones rotated between different makers – HTC, Samsung, LG, Motorola – and this time, even though HTC is doing the manufacturing, Google wants you to know the Pixel is THE Google Phone, moreso than any of its predecessors.

Here’s the thing with that: with Google now doing this themselves, there is absolutely no reason to buy an Android phone from another maker unless you simply can’t afford it – because with the demise of Google-Motorola, any promise of future upgrades is gone (hell, Lenovorola won’t even commit to ship the security updates in a timely fashion). And with the demise of Nexus, that $300-400-range Android that will get routine updates is also gone. For the first time, Google is nailing its colors to playing on the exact same field as the iPhone – if not more so, because they don’t have a Pixel SE. They’re starting at the same $649 price point which is the entry point for flagship premium phones in 2016. Not for nothing, too, the Pixel (the 5” model) is a hair larger than the iPhone 7, which is not surprising under the circumstances…but the iPhone 7 (and its 6/S forebears) were already just a hair too big for me. Be that as it may.

Too, the Google Pixel is a Verizon exclusive, because CDMA-based phones still require some amount of carrier involvement. If you like, you can just buy the unlocked model for the same price for your AT&T or T-Mobile SIM and get going yourself. (There’s no call for setting it up on Sprint because Sprint is shite.) But again – $650. This isn’t like a couple years ago when the Nexus 5 was as good a phone as you could buy for $350 unlocked, or even last year when the 3rd-gen Moto G would get you 80% of the way there for $200. This is iPhone pricing, and will have to deliver an iPhone-caliber premium experience. And significantly, the user-facing UI is now the Pixel Launcher, which is for all intents and purposes Google’s answer to TouchWiz or the old Android skins: they now have a custom UI of their own to lay on top of the AOSP pieces just like anyone else. Say farewell to “pure Android;” the best you can do now is “Google’s Android.”

And make no mistake, this is an All Google Everything setup. Huge huge HUGE chunks of this depend on machine learning and distributed processing and cloud storage, and it’s keyed to your Google account. Music streaming from YouTube (??), all your photos and videos stored for you at full resoultion in the cloud (where they can be visually identified as bears or trains or whatever).That’s where the privacy scare comes from – not that someone will necessarily hack Google and get it, but that at some point Google will make their own use of this data either to advertise against or possibly sell outright. For a company whose non-physical products are all “free at point of service” and whose revenue is explicitly based on advertising, this is not a comforting prospect. 

Google really wants Google Assistant to be your JARVIS. And as always, this comes down to how much you want to trade off – all you have to do is put your entire life into their grid. The phone, the voice device, everything is just another interface for The Google. Significant that they started with the phone and then went on through all the Google Assistant stuff in Google Home, which got just as much run.  Proof that the phone itself is just another UI, and the Assistant is the keystone product.  Everything is “______ by Google” now, whether it’s Phone or Home or Help or what. The trigger phrase is “OK Google.” Google is the whole big mysterious thing. Google is how you get to the Internet.

The problem, though, is the same as ever: for this to work as advertised, you have to go all-in. It needs your mail and your calendar. It needs to know where you live and work, what music apps you prefer, and to be honest in some places it’s going to need you on Google Fiber to have a data connection fast enough to make it worthwhile. Google really is the new Microsoft – only worse, because Microsoft only had you by the balls on your PCs. Between the services and the gadgets. Google’s kind of got you everywhere, whether you use it or not (this is where I point out that I don’t use Gmail but 80% of the people I correspond with in email do). This is really starting to get a sell-your-soul feel to it. Just give in and look how much easier your life will be. Only problem is waiting to see what the other shoe dropping consists of. 

Which is why launching with a Silicon Valley segment with Gilfoyle and Dinesh was a bit on-the-nose…because this is Google basically going full Hooli. 

Days gone by

I remember when there were price tags on things at the grocery store. And you needed them, because there weren’t fancy barcode laser scanners – in fact, sometimes there weren’t even barcodes. Cash registers were mechanical and they would look at the price of your stuff and ring it up, and have to hit that NO SALE key to get the drawer to pop open if all you wanted was to make change. And then you had to open the doors yourself on the way in and out, because they weren’t always automated.

Soda came from vending machines in return-for-deposit bottles, as a rule, and you’d bust your knuckles trying to pull one out. At the grocery store, neither the 2-liter nor the plastic bottle had appeared; you could buy a 64 oz Dr Pepper in a glass bottle with a styrofoam label around it, and God help you if you dropped it. You had 10 ounce bottles, 12 ounce cans (just moving from steel to aluminum, and you could tell which was which by the seam down the side of the steel ones), or 16 ounce bottles (again with a styrofoam label) of the most paper-thin glass you could imagine, a perpetual threat around poolside or down sidewalks on a summer day, or broken in the mud of a ditch where someone had doubtless flung it from a car. 

Of course, the drinks were smaller then. Small, medium and large at the fast food place, probably meaning 8, 12 and 16 ounces. The small now is the size of the large then. (God help you if you wanted a 20 ounce coffee – they would look at you like you’re insane, I’m sure, that was a triple serving back when Carter was President.) I don’t even remember if Diet Pepsi had landed – Diet Coke sure hadn’t, and Tab was pretty much the only thing going for diet soda.

Gas was leaded or ethyl, and while the price had spiked with the “energy crisis” it was still under a dollar a gallon, barely. Every gas station was a service station, a garage, a place to get your oil changed and the front end aligned and tired rotated or balanced, and they all smelled of grease. The completely-self-service quickie-mart gas station wasn’t a thing yet – only the one across from my grandparents’ church, and that seemed to be more a tiny grocery store that sold gas than a proper service station.

Four channels. ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS. We didn’t rate an independent station; it was only around the time I was born that we rated a separate station for each network. As Foxworthy says, if the President was on, your night was shot, because of course all three networks would carry the President live. You bought your TV at the furniture store, and it sat on legs on the floor. And you were the remote control: volume, channel, vertical hold, horizontal and maybe tweak the antenna cable in a pinch. 

Cars had bench seats in the front and lap belts only. A telephone was a thing in the house that made the same ringing sound in anyone’s house, and it was as likely as not wired directly into the wall; nothing modular there. McDonald’s was a twenty-mile drive, not the next exit over, and some place like Jack’s was a peer competitor with locations in four different states.

And here’s the thing – McDonald’s eventually closed the gap to ten miles, and soda got bigger and came in plastic bottles, and we got cable, but the abiding circumstances of the world didn’t really change that much all the way into college. It was only when I left for grad school, and acquired a cell phone and an email address and a post office box in another state, that the world was materially different around me. Which I guess is a big part of why it always feels strange to see that things in the old country are not dissimilar to now. Of course they have iPhones and boutique coffee and bike-share and wifi, because everyplace has those things now.

Maybe it’s future shock. Maybe it’s other extenuating circumstances. But it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if I could take a little vacation somewhere away from the bleeding edge for a while. Because Silly Con Valley really is where your future comes from, and I could do without plunging into this future just yet.