Not only is that mother big but he packs a .45

Here we sit, 365 days on, and everything is just as it was the year before, and the year before that, and the year before that.  The goal is the same, but I seem to be falling shorter of it with every passing orbit round the sun.  Ever more cognizant that the world, or God, or Loki, or whoever – nobody owes you a happily ever after.  Stephen Schwarz’s Godspell notwithstanding, it’s not always all for the best. And the days may be long and drag on, but the years go flying by, each one faster than the last.

I felt it more this year than ever before.  Friends and family leave town – over the hill or up the coast or across the country.  Others fight through health issues, of increasing seriousness. Work becomes ever more intolerable, to the point where I not only despair of it ever getting better, but despair of it being any better anywhere else.  I feel like I’ve been spinning my wheels for too long, marking time, treading water, abiding by what’s safe and secure even as the safe ground slowly crumbles beneath us.

Right now, if the Old Scratch himself appeared before me, offering to jump me ahead to age 60, but I’d be retired, with my wife and a healthy pension, and a cottage in a cold seaside town where the cops still carry revolvers and the coffee shop is still where you go for bacon and eggs and gossip, and where the one dive bar in town has a fireplace and doesn’t sell anything more exotic or complicated than Guinness, and where the sputtering air-cooled VW can get us around without the hassle and strain of walking on a bad back…I’d have to think long and hard before turning it down.  Assuming I would.

Feb 27, 2014


Not a lot has changed in the last three years, it seems. Work isn’t as bad as it was – the day-to-day doesn’t involve user-facing support any longer, and the turnover in org structure has left me with less annoyance and more peace and quiet (for now). But the one big project that I’m consumed with is something I genuinely don’t find that interesting, and other people are carrying it further and faster, and it’s still at the same terrible employer in the same terrible town. And when my boss and I discuss my future job prospects looking five years down the road, the options seem to be JAMF administrator here, or JAMF administrator in the larger organization, or JAMF administrator in another private-sector larger organization…and maybe if I was moving into a place where I didn’t have to build the underlying server from scratch (with no help from what is ostensibly a data center group that hosts and administers Linux systems), and be somewhere it would be possible to use the bulk of what JAMF can do without political obstacles or the interference created by a cockamamie networking infrastructure, it might be more desirable. But right now, barely hanging on to keep up with an unnecessarily complicated system that will eventually let us do 25% of what it’s capable of…it isn’t what I’d planned on.

It isn’t what I’d planned on. Carve that on my tombstone. Not that I ever had a plan. Just a sense of where my life ought to have been by now, and you can argue that the two biggest mistakes of my life were just that because they each cost me three to four years. Better college choice means I don’t waste three years in grad school trying to make up the difference. If I stay at Apple and let myself move away from being technical all the time, I don’t lose four years between a government subcontract with no benefits and then trying to work my way up to the salary I walked away from in October 2007. And to be honest, looking at my present life circumstances would be a lot sunnier from age 37, say, than it is from 45.

Because the future doesn’t look bright. We’re going to be stuck with a weak, stupid, selfish, obnoxious prick with a 70-year-old Fox viewer’s worldview in the Oval Office for years. Not only does that mean hell to pay on immigration and foreign relations and health care, it means that by the time the smoke clears, Comcast and AT&T and Verizon might be the only three providers of Internet access in America. And Caltrain might never have any increase in capacity while the roads get even worse. And we could wind up with a screaming cable pundit on the Supreme Court. God only knows what my retirement or health care might look like – and how grateful am I that I had the nose surgery last March and find myself much more able to breathe than ever I was before? – and it’s to the point now that I don’t feel confident that I could go visit Ireland and come back without some meathead wanting to dig through my phone. The whole entire world is on the edge of a knife, and will be for a long, long time. And that makes it impossible to exhale, to relax, to say “it is what it is” – and I’m white and male and well-off. If everyone else reacted like white men, we’d already be in a shooting war in the United States, because if Hillary Clinton had been made President with three million fewer votes than Trump and the Congress was under Democratic control, I guarantee you the redneck white trash would be spraying bullets in every direction.

My instinct is to escape. Find things to take refuge in – the books, the pub, the dozens of California’s Gold episodes on the DVR, the return of baseball. The only problem is that every time I escape into something, the real world is right here waiting, and it won’t be fixed in a day, or a week, or a month, or a year, or possibly several years. If ever. Given that this is twenty years since I embarked on this career – and ten years after that second big mistake that set me back – it’s hard not to look behind and be angry at what the view forward looks like. Because you can’t say “it’s all going to be OK in the end.” There’s every possibility it isn’t. And right now, all I want is to make sure that in my despair and rage and depression, I don’t make another five-year mistake. It’s bad enough being at the midpoint of my working life without the prospect of not having age 65 as the get out of jail free date.

So…what now? Try to reach out to old friends. Try to find some way to make new ones. Try to find something to be interested in, something that will be a distraction without making things worse the way my brief Vanderbilt sports blogger career did. Turn off the news, cancel the Twitter account, keep the world at arm’s length and just try not to think about it. Whatever it may be.

Because if there’s one thing that’s never helped me in my entire life, it’s having too much to think.

tfw there can be only one is going to bite the dust in a couple of weeks. Started five years ago, it was that most novel of Silly Con Valley propositions: the provision of an online service in exchange for cash on the !-ing barrelhead. Like Twitter, but ad-free, 256 characters per message, and with an API framework to allow it to be used for other things going forward. All in all, a delightful notion…that went absolutely nowhere. Because Twitter had a four year head start and is “free.”  Just as Facebook is “free.”

Social media networks have to be free. They simply have to. Because their entire value proposition is based on having everyone on them. And their entire business model relies on endless ever-spiraling growth. And you can’t grow at unnatural speeds if people have to pay for the service. Never mind the hassle of digging out a credit card and evaluating whether it’s worth paying money for your whatever-it-is, you then have to have a secure payment mechanism and protect the data and keep track of…it’s hardly worth the effort, is it?

More to the point, unlimited growth because “free” makes it a lot easier to pitch to advertisers and data miners (but I repeat myself). I am prepared to bet that Twitter could not actually make money charging for their service (I am prepared to bet that Twitter cannot make money full stop, and I doubt whether Snapchat will either) and that at a minimum, the amount they would have to charge to make up for no ad revenue and the shrink from loss of unwilling-to-pay users would combine to put them in a SoMa alleyway with a quickness.

And still we struggle, because Twitter and Facebook are largely garbage. The only way you can make them useful is to set them as private, lock them down to a fare-thee-well, pare your list of friends and followers aggressively, and make absolutely sure that none of them is going to go feral on you. And things being how they are, if you just want to get away from the madness of the world, you can’t do it on Twitter or Facebook.

Which is where Instagram comes in.

Yes, it’s owned by Facebook, but perhaps realizing how shit they are at mobile has led Facebook to leave their acquisition alone. And it’s completely dissociated from my existing Facebook account (which goes largely unused these days). And it has become the only “social media” that I keep on the phone and check routinely, because for the most part they’re either people I know or people whose posts I find interesting. And in a pinch, there’s even a chat client.  It’s simple, it feeds the escape urge, and at least it doesn’t make me feel like the world is collapsing around me.

Sic transit and Peach and Path and Ello and Diaspora and all the other attempts to get around the Tweetbook duopoly of social media. It’s the Gram or nothing at this point.

“I’m still trying to figure out what happened to the first mouse.”

The Pebble and the Moto F3 are both on borrowed time. The Pebble is no longer getting updates and the servers on which it depends are on borrowed time in the wake of the acquisition by FitBit. Meanwhile, 2G cellular networks are getting re-farmed and GSM phones which have been viable for years are finally being pulled off the grid. In fact, another treasured piece of tech – the iPhone I was issued gratis as an Apple employee in 2007 – will no longer work on AT&T’s network as of January 1, because they’ve already pulled the plug on the 2G network.

I brought this up some time ago. On the one hand, I got the MOTOFONE F3 as a Christmas present in 2007, and even then, it was already a sort of coelacanth – a phone in 2007 with a 7-segment display that could send and receive calls (with speakerphone even!), send and receive text messages (without even upper case or a full set of punctuation marks), store 10 speed-dial numbers on the SIM, set an alarm (to ring at the same time every 24 hours or not at all) and show the time of day on the front. It was already 10 years behind state of the art. And yet, those 10 year old phones – in theory – would still have worked just as well. Had I bought a Powertel or Sprint Spectrum GSM phone in 1997 as I’d desired, then in 2007, assuming they were not SIM-locked and I could find the appropriate SIM form-factor, I could continue to use them to place calls and maybe even set an alarm. It’s not much, but there you go.

But that required a compatible network. And just like AMPS and TDMA before it, the original flavor 2G GSM network – which started as Pac Bell or PowerTel or Sprint Spectrum or Voicestream and eventually ultimately all became either AT&T or T-Mobile – is now being refarmed in the desperate search for enough bandwidth to accommodate the Snapchat generation. Which means that any phone from before the initial re-push of 3G in 2007 is about to be a paperweight. 

(Sidenote: I remember the old uppercase AT&T’s abortive effort at pushing out UTMS in 2004. Then they got eaten by Cingular and 3G disappeared for a couple of years, only to emerge just as the initial iPhone didn’t offer it. Which in turn led T-Mobile to brand their faster non-LTE 3G as “4G” and add to the confusion that drives us all insane today. God help us once 5G starts rolling out.)

But that’s obsoleting a bunch of phones from the pre-Obama era. For the Pebble to have the rug yanked from beneath it is a little more alarming.  The first Pebble watch, fresh from the greatest crowdfunding success ever, arrived in January 2013 and was pronounced dead just under four years later. I bought one in 2015, and had replaced it with an Apple Watch within four months because if I needed a smartwatch, I needed a smarter one – but the Pebble was still useful in its way, and would have made a nice companion to the Moto X, similarly on its last legs (without a security update since last April and without an OS update since Lollipop 5.1).

As Aldrich Killian said in Iron Man 3, “the early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.” Pebble turned out to be the first mouse. And as networks evolve, it’s anyone’s guess how long something like my Moto X will continue to be viable – but I’m prepared to bet I won’t be noting that it’s just now being cut out of usability in 2024. Software makes our smart devices less like phones and more like laptops. With predictable results.

The finish line of Stuff

It’s entirely possible that 2016 is when I finally scratched the last itch for things. I got a Harris Tweed sport coat for Christmas which had lingered on my wish list for years, and then I spent some money on a pair of Australian work boots of a type I’d been eyeing off and on for half a decade. And with that, everything I actually wanted badly enough to write down was acquired.

What did I always fixate on? Shoes? I have all the shoes I usefully need for any occasion. Outerwear? Same, all possible instances and styles are covered. I have the phone I need and the accessories that suit it, I’m fixed for hats unless some perfect Vanderbilt lid descends, I need another Nerf gun like a hole in the head, I have a new car and a decent bicycle, and if I ordered one more insulated mug of any kind my wife would take my life (I’m arguably already one over what I can usefully use). But even some of the other things I wanted, however frivolously, are beside the point. I don’t want a new pair of eyeglasses, no matter how tangentially stylish. I don’t want that T-Mobile SIM with 100 minutes and 5 GB of data a month for $30, because as long as work’s paying for my phone and I own the handset myself there’s no point in sinking the money. I don’t need sports jerseys for players who probably won’t be here more than a year or two anyway. My bike is just fine, when I ride it, and no matter how cool Priority’s beach cruiser is, it’s pointless if I don’t live at the beach.

So what is it that I want to spend money on now? Given the opportunity? Books to read, mostly at home. Craft beer, mostly to drink at home. Going out with friends. Going abroad for as long as the freight will bear it (looking at you, Ireland). I may have finally crossed that millenial-threshold into experience first, after a conscious seven-year program of trying to accumulate the things I’ll be able to use for the rest of my life. With the obvious exception of the cellphone, because we’ve already proven that can’t be done…of which…

So now what, then?

The opposition to the new administration has rallied hard and fast – so much so that the elected opposition seems to be struggling to keep up. It’s not surprising that things would turn out this way, and you can point to one reason: George W. Bush.

See, in 2001, there were very few people willing to stand up and say what a disaster we had on our hands. I certainly thought so, partly because we’d not had a President win with fewer votes than an opponent in over a century and the lack of even a plurality was uncharted territory –  but mostly because I knew that what we had, aside from an amiable dunce in the Oval Office, was basically a matador for the worst aspects of a Republican Congress. And that’s more or less what we got for four years, propelled by the national panic after the attacks. But it faded fast – by the time of his second inauguration, Bush the Lesser was already below 50% approval and would never get positive again. 

So on the one hand, you have a bunch of people seeing Trump and saying “not again.” On the other hand, you have the spectacle of a President polling under 40% approval before his administration is two weeks old. And on the third hand, you have a sense that this is not some doofus you might like to have a beer with, albeit surrounded and supported by the cream of the GOP establishment. This is a weak, scared, angry old man, surrounded only by courtiers and enablers and white supremacists and possibly pawns of a foreign power, and they don’t even know how to keep the lights on or read things before signing them.

The ACLU didn’t raise four years’ worth of budget in a single weekend for nothing. The Bush years paved the way for this, even if people didn’t really get it at the time. When the GOP and the media rose as one in 2009 and dictated that there should be no accounting for the Bush years, that Obama was not allowed to demand a reckoning or even exercise the full powers of his office, they normalized everything that happened. And now the bar is being lowered again, in some ways to the point of a legitimate constitutional crisis. There are bells being rung now that cannot be un-rung, and we’re not going to survive as a nation if we pretend we didn’t hear them.

If we want to keep an America worth keeping, we have to fight now.

What if we’re not?

I keep seeing one phrase come up over and over again: “we’re better than this.” I understand what people mean by it, or want to anyway. We’re not a country that hates. We’re not a country that keeps people out. We’re not a country that relies on ignorance or stupidity or racism or general shallow foolishness.  Here’s the problem: that statement, “we’re better than this,” is aspirational. It’s not descriptive.

Think about what’s in living memory for us. Jim Crow. Dogs and firehoses. A world where a grown woman needed a husband to open a credit card for her. A world where it’s okay to fire someone because of marital status – and not just what gender you marry, the fact that you got married at all. George W. Bush re-elected despite a polled majority opposing him. Trayvon dies and Zimmerman walks. California – California – elects Arnold Schwarzenegger twice and then votes to outlaw gay marriage. The kinds of people who blew up my mother’s high school are still alive, and they all voted for Trump. 

The fact is, if you look at the reality of America in 2017, we’re not better than this. We’re just not. If we were, we wouldn’t be in this spot to begin with. But there were enough people willing to absorb lies and misinformation and deception and just let them slide, and enough people to buy it without question, and now matters are worse. A majority of the public disapproves of the accident in the White House, but not enough to hold their nose and vote for the one person capable of preventing it. There was an obvious solution, but enough people were indifferent or were too good to vote for “the lesser of two evils” or too consumed with “I got mine, fuck you” to do what it would take to prevent this.

Tommy Lee Jones, in Men In Black, nailed it. Nailed it. “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it.” And for fifteen years – going on twenty – we validated dumb and panicky. The average person on the street didn’t stand up to the fear mongering. They didn’t stand up to the lies. They didn’t stand up for majority rule when it was threatened. They didn’t stand up for the truth. They didn’t reject prevarication and bullshit and made-up internet garbage. And instead of rejecting birtherism, they elected the Head Birther In Charge to replace Obama.

We’re not better than that. We aren’t. Stop pretending we are. All we can do is try to come up with a way to survive despite. And maybe in a couple generations, we can hope that we’ve bent the curve enough to be better than this.

But probably not.

Our Wireless Future

In a turn of events that should come as a surprise to no one, the Trump FCC today bent over and wiped its ass with net neutrality. The way is now clear for Internet providers to decide what gets to you at what cost – basically, the cable-ization of the Internet. It’s not the worst thing this administration has done in the first two weeks, but it’s pretty bad all of itself – because basically it paves the way for the major wireless carriers (plus Comcast) to carve up the Internet however they please and charge whatever they like.

Why so? Because you’re running out of options. Right now, in the middle of Silicon Valley, in the heart of techno-capitalism red in tooth and claw, my options for home broadband are…AT&T and Comcast. The phone company and the cable company. In a lot of places, you’re not even lucky enough to have two options.  I have AT&T, I’m not wild about it, and my only alternative is Comcast. As I’ve said before, I’d rather contract with ISIS for broadband than Comcast.

But how did it get to this point? How did we get an incompatible duopoly? Well, in recent times, it’s because people have hammered the notion that your DSL provider or your cable company has adequate competition from…wireless companies. That’s right, there are FOUR different competitors to your wired duopoly, and please do not look too closely at the fact that your DSL provider IS one of those wireless companies, or that Sprint is circling the drain and T-Mobile is only of use in urban areas (albeit very good), or that the wireless companies have METERED DATA.

And that’s where things were headed before today. Wireless companies weren’t covered by the restrictions of net neutrality. Had the Democrats maintained control of the executive branch, I think you would have seen more and more of a push toward the notion that you can get wireless broadband either through your phone or some home base station or similar, simply because there is no legal presumption of net neutrality and there’s an existing presumption that you’re going to pay by the byte. Because let’s face it, everyone thinks of their home broadband as unlimited. Do you even know how much data you get through at home?

But with the increasing number of cord-cutters, that doesn’t help much. Consider that where I live, it would actually be more expensive to buy Comcast broadband by itself than it would be to get the double-play TV package. Looking at my U-Verse package, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that with the exception of things like HBO (which can be sold separately over the top), actual television service is thrown in for lagniappe on top of data. Just like phone calls and text messages are thrown into your phone plan, which is nowadays almost entirely driven ENTIRELY by whether you’re paying for the handset and how big a bucket of data you want to split between everyone on your plan. 

The problem is this: everything is data now. Your voice, your texts, your cable TV, anything that can be reduced to bits – all it needs now is a pipe. And the pipes come in two forms, wired or wireless. And the wired pipes are limited by geography and how willing your neighborhood is to be dug up for conduit or netted over by wires, which is why fiber rollout isn’t very quick. But when you’re at the mercy of available spectrum for wireless, that’s hardly more competitive even before considering the lack of incumbent regulation.

And the only way AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and the other horse-cocks of the broadband industry can survive is to make sure there are as few pipes as possible. Because once the dumb pipe is a commodity, the only way to keep the price up is to prevent competition…or get the right to jack up the tolls at random. Which we’re now headed directly toward. You can probably expect this to look similar to the airline industry, which starts by pitching its new deep discounts for the minimum legal service and then posits everything else – checked bags, snacks, the right to put a bag in the overhead bin – as some sort of elective privilege that you don’t have to choose if you don’t want. You can already see this in the TV-only offerings like Dish or DirecTV, where you can start with a base of local channels and a few religious and home-shopping offerings – but it jumps a LOT the minute you want ESPN and other sports channels. You know, the only cable channels that drive live viewing numbers.

So basically, we’re getting a giant handout to the incumbent telecoms and everyone else gets ready to reach for their wallets.  BUT HER EMAILS HER EMAILS HER EMAILS HER EMAILS HER EMAILS HER EMAILS HER EMAILS…

The forest of the real

It occurred to me a few nights ago to look through my list of distractions – the things I began to write down in November as part of my plan for how I would keep body, mind and soul together for the first few weeks or months of the Present Unpleasantness. I had a lot of things written down, but the ones of which I have so far availed myself are: the British quiz series QI, Roger Ekirch’s timeless At Day’s Close: Night In Times Past which I re-read every January as it is, some assorted Norwegian slow TV on Netflix, Pete Brown’s aforementioned books about the history and culture of strong drink, another rediscovered book about journeys on foot, some Rick Steves episodes, and of course several episodes of California’s Gold.

The thing that struck me in considering these is that they’re all real. Most of them are from other places, some involve other times, but they are all depictions and accounts and presentations of real things that actually exist or actually transpired. My retreat, such as it is, hasn’t been into the completely fictional, but into the embrace of a wider world that actually exists and actually happened (or is actually happening, in some few cases). Other things I have queued up are Stephen Fry in America, both the original and newer versions of Cosmos, the last DVD of Connections which I haven’t finished yet, and a couple of actual paper books which are historical in nature. Only the newest season of Sherlock is anything other than factual.

I think in times like this, when everything seems to be going to shit, there’s greater comfort for me in knowing that these places and people and things were and are real. You could wish yourself away to Hogwarts, maybe, or Yavin IV, but when you wake up in the morning you’ll still be here and they’ll still be fictional. Once I had a bit to reflect on this, I realized that one of the things that gives me comfort from all those things is that they are real, and they exist, and the chaos around me isn’t the entirety of the world. There’s a train plying the route from Bergen to Oslo. There are bikes by the canal in Amsterdam. There was a time when the normal human sleep pattern meant waking from first sleep to sit up or stand up or be awake for an hour before going back to bed, as a matter of normal course. Beer preference in brand and amount in Australia is still largely regionalized and based on where you live.

There is a great big world out there. It’s not all destroyed. It’s not all toxic. It’s as authentic as the one in front of your face, and it’s as good a place to recover and gather your strength as I’ve found. The only problem is how badly I want to go there.