It was a Christmas gift a couple of years ago. A Harris tweed sport coat. Two button, double vent, no elbow patches, in a neutral sort of tweed between tan and brown with colorful streaks through it. 

It feels like something out of another life, or maybe another time. Like something I would have worn as an asssistant professor in the late 90s, or something my dad had when I was younger. The lapels especially have a thick and rough feel to them that almost suggests upholstery somehow. There’s the thought that if you wore this out in a heavy rain, you would stay dry but it would smell like a wet sheep. 

It feels almost too nice for daily wear. It was an artifact of a time when I was trying to buy things that would last the rest of my life, and in its way it’s a perfect match for the Alden Indy boots I got for my birthday some years earlier. In both cases, a function piece of working apparel, recontextualized by time and economics in a world where workwear is churned out quick and cheap in some distant country’s factory for pennies a day. Where craft and care and durability have been sidelined by the imperative to stack it high and sell it cheap.

Like so many things in my life, it’s an aspirational artifact. I want to live in a place and in a way that this is a climate-appropriate and practical garment. The same way I want my iPhone SE to be enough as a general computing device capable of going around the world, or the way I want my mechanical watch to be all the timepiece I need without calendar reminders or two-factor authentication. The same way the Moto X was an artifact from a world I wished I lived in.  Time was, I wanted to need the things I wanted. Now I just want the things that will let me pretend I’m living the life I want. And there really aren’t that many left. Here a work shirt, there a Nerf pistol, and I’ll find an excuse for something if I fly over an ocean be it a sweater or a pair of flip-flops, but always in the service of the same thing. A world where I can eschew contacts or socks, or where I need a global timekeeping standard and an international chat app, or whether the fabric of 19th century gamekeepers is the perfect outerwear solution for my place and time.

Maybe if I have all the stuff I need, it’s time to do the things I want with it.

flashback, part 90 of n

I didn’t say much about the project as it was happening, partly because I generally avoided talking about work business on here and partly because there just wasn’t time.  But it was just exactly this time last year that everything really went sideways and pear-shaped, and my conflicting urges – to be a stupendous badass and to be left alone – really got me deep in the shit.  I avoided punching this particular tar baby for as long as I could, but I wound up stuck worse than Br’er Rabbit ever did, and there wasn’t any briar patch to beg my way into instead.

It was a combination of every single work trauma I’d ever had to that point: excessive-to-the-point-of-actual-pain physical labor, arbitrary deadlines, an ill-defined project with incompetent leadership, tons of extra bodies of the “now does anyone hear speak Windows, with some difficulty?” variety (including, famously, one contractor who just wandered off after I explained the process and decided he would do something else). Not to mention ridiculous hours, horrifyingly bad nutrition, and severe inattention to personal maintenance (i.e. a hipster neck beard of the sort I’d normally shoot myself in the face rather than wear).  Normal duties, which of course I was still on the hook for, fell further and further behind. My shoulder, which two rounds of steroid injections had mostly sorted, was soon hurting worse than ever…

– Feb 12, 2014


It was five years ago that I got dragooned into assisting with what is now recalled to memory as “the encryption project.” I don’t think I grasped at the time how much of a pivot point that would be in my life. It was like I’d coasted on one year of borrowed time after turning 40, but then everything went to shit at once. The exodus from the Bay Area of all my local friends kicked into high gear, my physical health hit the wall, and that was about the time I first started to notice that Caltrain was becoming an untenable way to get to work. (Not least because I found myself going between the third and second busiest stations in the system and then having to take a 20-minute shuttle bus ride each way to boot.) My recurring shoulder pain, my disillusion with Shallow Alto specifically and the Bay Area in general, the rise of the bicycle menace, the rapid-onset depression about my career path and future opportunities – it all started spinning out of control in late January, 2013. 

I honestly didn’t use to be this way. As late as 2012, when there was still a coffee cart at the Caltrain station in the mornings and I basically never saw anyone riding right down the VTA platform past the “No cycling, skateboarding or rollerblading” signs, I was blogging about how much I enjoyed being up in the city and filling my “what have I enjoyed in my life in this year” list with notes about drinks on Polk and chasing fog through the Avenues and checking out one craft cocktail place after another and spending weekends in a borrowed apartment on King Street near the ballpark. By 2014, I didn’t really have anything I enjoyed in the city anymore. This Valley turned hot and it turned nasty and it turned ever more dickish, and it was pretty obvious that I was on the wrong side of what counted. And I’m white, and male, and reasonably well off. If turning 40 is all it takes to put you on the outside of Silly Con Valley looking in, how much worse is it if you’re female, or the wrong ethnicity, or not even tangentially inside the tech bubble?

In a way, it worked out for the best. Three years of abject misery eventually turned into a make-good with more money for less work while retaining the same sort of “dare you to fire me” job security. I’ll never get rich, I’ll never get options or stock, but there’ll be plenty of vacation and I can do a hell of a job with 66% effort. And as I age into the back half of my career – knowing full well that retirement isn’t really on the cards anytime soon, if ever – I’m taking the off days now, taking the vacations now, making that conscious effort to build my life on something other than work because I know the rifles of the EUS aren’t walking through that door and finding another place isn’t going to be the miracle cure. I don’t know how many fresh starts I have in me at this point, and I don’t know how many I’m up for undertaking – I’ve had a couple fresh starts too many for building continuity and the kind of community and base I wish I’d developed by now.

Instead of hitting the reset, make the best of what’s in front of you, or else be prepared to deal with the enormity of pulling up sticks to move to Ireland. I guess that’s the lesson at this point.


It’s remarkable to look at the world twenty-five years ago. We were just coming off the end of the Cold War, the end of the war in Kuwait, the end of wondering when the nukes were going to fall. Anita Hill had us paying attention to sexual harassment. Rodney King had us paying attention to police violence. Al Gore had us paying attention to climate change. And for the first time, almost anyone could get to the “information superhighway” that was going to transform the world.

Of course, it was all an illusion, because “we’re going to” means nothing. The worst verb in the world is “will.” We will take care of the environment, we will get a fair shake for people of color, we will make sure women enjoy full equality in society. Because when you say “we will,” you get to drop back and punt and let the future take care of it. And then you get Ferguson, and Sandra Bland, and Harvey Weinstein and Walter Scott and Kevin Spacey and Mark Halperin and Twitter bots and Facebook frauds and a ballistic missile alert in Hawaii and above all, the racist grandpa who got to sit in the White House without the most votes. In twenty-five years, if anything, we’ve gone backward.

Because we didn’t really believe in consequences. We said “this is wrong” but forgot to mention “unless you’re powerful enough to make it hell on anyone who calls you on it” and “we all know Hollywood and CEOs and powerful people are Just That Way and what can you do.” And when the Internet became a thing, it started off as rare and different and exotic and ended up being shaped exactly the same as everything else. Them that has, gets, and them that has more gets more. Silicon Valley in 2018 is functionally indistinguishable from Wall Street in 1986, except Y Combinator has replaced Wharton and Stanford is the new Harvard. Same big swinging dicks, same get-rich-quick scam artists crowding out actual product, same firehose of wealth pointed at a narrow sliver of white or proper-sort-of-Asian dudes from the same half-dozen schools. The money assholes moved to the Peninsula and metastasized, and just kept enabling more horrible assholes to be more horrible than ever.

Because the Internet gave us a data revolution and let us slice and dice and find people. We thought that it meant a gifted kid in Alabama would never have to be lonely, without thinking that a horrible racist in New Jersey would be empowered and enabled in the same way. It unleashed all kinds of power with absolutely no control or judgement of whether this was a good idea or not. Why? Because that’s how society already is. It’s how society has always been. Don’t believe me, book a flight on a commercial airplane. Look at your seat classes and your boarding groups and your TSA Pre and your CLEAR and the fact that bags cost, snacks cost, choosing your own seat costs…somewhere back there we managed to decide that we could charge extra to treat people like human beings and slice that into tranches of its own so people would pay more for the privilege of not being veal-boxed across the country. And then technology gave us the ability to add dynamic pricing to that, so now everything is a game of chicken designed to squeeze the most out of every salable good from airline seats to baseball tickets to advertising. 

We’ve taken the internet revolution and run 180 degrees the wrong way with it. With every advance, our choices get smaller. We used to have hundreds of dialup ISPs. Then we had a handful of DSL providers. Now, you pick between your cable company and either your phone company or doing without, because fiber isn’t there for most people. There were a dozen significant phone manufacturers in 2006. Now it’s Apple and Samsung literally accounting for every dollar of profit in the mobile handset market, plus a few other players trying to find their way. We started with Yahoo and Hotwire and Excite and Altavista and Webcrawler and we wound up with Google. How many people in your address book have personal email accounts that end with something other than

We thought the Internet didn’t require regulation. We actively avoided it. These were not laws of nature, they were deliberate choices. Letting Amazon walk on sales tax for a decade or more gave them an economic advantage that catapulted them to the top of the marketplace. Letting Facebook accumulate real name information and suddenly tear down the walled garden without consequence, and then purchase Instagram and WhatsApp, gave them a critical edge on making themselves the universal address book – and the ability to sell it out to anyone with cash. Letting Twitter become a honeypot for assholes and a free-fire zone for bots and racists so their DAU numbers could stay higher was just plain fucking stupid. But for whatever reason, the kind of scorn we gave junk-bond traders and algorithmic banking hustlers just never got turned on the likes of Dorsey and Zuckerberg and Bezos and the Googlers and Y Combinator.

I don’t know how it was that we decided that “everyone should code” and that “the most important skill you can learn is being able to code” and all that sort of nonsense. There’s plenty enough in Silly Con Valley that doesn’t rely on code, and I guarantee you none of the names above have made a significant contribution to their company’s Github in years. Because it’s not really about code, and it’s not really about everyone knowing how to code. It’s about establishing “code” as a shibboleth for the technical elite and “coders” as inherently special people who deserve an exalted place, as if system administrators and technical writers and support agents aren’t equally critical in making the Valley go.  It’s about collecting and consolidating privilege. It’s like the parable of the man who thinks the one thing he knows is the only thing worth knowing. And it’s of a piece with Gibson’s character of Cody Harwood in the Bridge trilogy: a person who wants a new world while ensuring that he will retain the same power and privilege he possessed in the old.

Which actually is itself of a piece with things like the so-called dark enlightenment. Or the Six Californias nonsense of Tim Draper, or the New California nonsense of whatever Infowars deviants cooked that up over the weekend. It’s about saying that the present system needs to be changed in such a way that I will automatically enjoy greater puissance under the new regime than I presently possess…which means removing power from anyone I don’t like. Women, Democrats, brown people…come to think of it, this is all of a piece with the assorted VRA shenanigans and “voter fraud” suppressions that Conservative, Inc has been flogging for twenty years.

And we’re back to the early 90s. I’m pretty sure that history will record 1994 as a nodal point, when the South managed to get astride the American future and scream “STOP” while simultaneously signaling that “do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” Two decades of a culture explicitly bending toward the notion that you don’t have to know or care that other people exist. Two decades of making sure we don’t get any further than we were. Two decades of ending up right back where we started from. Actually, in 1995, we at least had a reasonably capable human being in the Oval Office and didn’t have to worry about ballistic missile alerts. I don’t know what I’d give just to be back where we started, instead of going in reverse.

If there’s a lesson from the last year – or the last twenty-five years – it’s that you should never say something is unthinkable, because everything is possible. And things can always, always get worse.

Saturday morning

On January 7, I woke up with an accelerated heart rate because of something that hadn’t happened in almost thirty years: a stress dream about a nuclear attack. I dreamed I was at Disney World, there was an impending nuclear attack, I couldn’t find my ID or my phone, and didn’t know what to do other than wake up with my chest pounding and take a couple of really deep breaths before cursing out sixty-three million assholes and rolling over.

Six days later, we’re walking down the sidewalk on Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki Beach when the phones start making that Emergency Broadcast System noise. Both phones showed the same message: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

So there you have it. The nightmare of your entire lifetime for every Gen-X kid who grew up on The Day After and Sting’s “Russians” and knowing you could be wiped out with the click of a button. Here we go. What happens now?

Maybe it was because of the dream, or maybe it’s because I lived through the surreality of working in Washington DC on September 11, but something about it just didn’t feel right. Everything was mostly focused on “okay what is next” and my mind never wandered for more than a couple of seconds to things like “I hope the people who promised to cuss out my mother if this happens come through” and “you know, even if we survive we’re probably never going to leave this island”. It was more like “okay, go in this hotel. They don’t have a basement. OK, let’s get back to our own hotel, that’s where our meds and phone chargers are.” And all the while, “need more data. Need more data.”

Because Hawaii’s a big place. Yeah, Honolulu is probably the A target, but maybe not, and can we narrow down where the thing is? Are we talking multiple warheads? (Probably not, I doubt DPRK could build a proper MIRV-based ballistic missile.) What are the odds the thing can hit what it aims for? More to the point, why are all four local network affiliates still running normal programming and why isn’t this on any of the cable networks yet? Even if CNN is late to the party, the local stations should be breaking in at least as much as they do in Alabama for a tornado warning, if not more.

And in the back of your mind, you’re thinking about Stanislav Petrov saving the world from a false alarm in 1983. Or all the stories about a weather balloon or a goose or the rising moon being taken for a missile. And you’re at a point in your life where you don’t trust anything you hear from anyone about anything except for when your wife says she loves you; everything else needs a minimum of two witnesses. And you just sort of decide that until you see a bang and a flash, you’re going to keep on living and see what happens. Make them bury you; don’t do it for them.

And then Tulsi Gabbard tweets out “false alarm”, and because of the above paragraph, you wait for someone else who’s maybe a little less cuckoo, and then the Hawaii EMA office tweets out “false alarm”, and then it’s a crawl on Everton-Spurs, and you can relax and exhale for a minute and then maybe the panic seeps out just for a second where you had it in a subconscious headlock before.

And you add it to the list, with the tornado near-misses and the September 11 attacks and the DC snipers and the quakes and the wildfires and the mudslides, and you start to think that maybe it’s just you. But that picture of you holding up the local paper with the huge “OOPS” headline? That’s definitely going on the Christmas card this year.

Flashback, part 89 of n

In January 2007, I was more than usually liminal. I’d had the dull-moment year, I’d had the big payoff of being at Apple (being sat in Caffe Macs on the day of the iPhone keynote), I was a year after the great needle-scratch in my head, I was approaching 35 and subconsciously aware that I had not yet transitioned into Who I Was Going To Be Now – married, homeowner, living in California, without recourse to the things that had propped me up in the preceding times.

I’ve posted before about that time, mostly with reference to Trials Pub and O’Flaherty’s as part of my eternal search for a 4P’s replacement. As it turns out, having been to London three more times since then and finally visited Ireland, those two establishments are a lot closer to what their UK and Irish counterparts are like than they are to the 4Ps. And having visited London and Ireland and put some time in (about two and a half weeks each, respectively), I daresay I am at an age and station where the approximate real thing is more welcome to me than a 4Ps equivalent when I don’t have a huge gang to go out and brace me up on a Saturday night from 7 PM to 2 AM closing. Now I’m more than happy to call it a night sometime around 9 PM and head home.

There was a book that I read for the first time in January of 2007: At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, by Roger Ekrich. I don’t know why, but it was tremendously atmospheric somehow. I first heard of it some years earlier, on an overnight public radio show back in Virginia, but finally got around to buying it and reading it, and it specifically showed up when I started compiling the running list of “things I have enjoyed this year.” I don’t know of any other individual book that has ever made that list – the experience of reading has, certainly, but that book in particular was of a piece with the history-of-Catholicism classes I was enjoying for two or three years. It was history, it was intellectually engaging, and it was in its own way as cozy as firelight and heavy socks on a rainy January night.

I think I keep keying back on that January because it points toward where I find myself now a decade on: January means time for quiet, for cozy, for dim light and flannel and reading while the rain patters outside (when we can get any, of course). January 2009 meant a new job and a renewed commitment to transit. January 2011 meant a firm line on shutting down on Tuesday nights. January 2013…well, 2013 went to hell pretty quick and there wasn’t much relief since. At least this year, for now, for the moment, January feels like a good time to start developing better habits. Take the bus. Take the class. Unplug. Try to eat proper meals. Hell, if circumstances dictate, try to cook proper meals (already done once). Less Coke Zero (10 days and counting without). Drink the coffee mindfully and go to Vasper reliably. I liquidated the change on my dresser and turned it into new Kindle books – another book about night and another book about pubs, this being the history of the Irish pub specifically.

But first I have to re-read At Day’s Close.

New year…new bullshit

Thirty years ago, amid the disappointment of Ray Perkins and the uncertainty of going to Bill Curry as head coach and losing twice to Auburn which clearly had the upper hand, the notion of “thirty years from now, Alabama is coming off five national championships in a decade under a coach who is even greater than Bear Bryant” would seem like the stuff of Star Trek time travel, the same My Weekly Reader-As We May Live nonsense that promised us self-driving cars and pocket computers and video phones and a potato baked in five minutes…

Well don’t I feel like a jackass.

I didn’t watch it, obviously. I kept apprised of it, but you don’t actually have to watch Alabama football these days. It is as ruthlessly efficient as a hard-eyed casino blackjack dealer, as joyless as a tidal wave, impossible to root for unless you’re a devoted glory-hound or a long-time loyalist. Alabama is the rake, they are the don’t pass line, they are the house – even if their kickers are the 00 on the roulette wheel. Just as Vanderbilt in 1994 prized my interest away for the first time, the Brigadoon era at Vanderbilt took me away for good. I could easily claim the Crimson Tide, because I suffered through the years after the Bear, through the bricks in the window and the Memphis State homecoming loss, the Jelks-Langham debacles and the Dubose-Franchione-Price-Shula parade of ineptitude (while noting that all of those coaches who made it to a regular season did turn in at least one 10-win performance…which Vanderbilt has never done). But I don’t, not really, because you don’t emotionally invest in the vacuum cleaner.

I like to think this would have been enough to keep relations up back South. Although maybe not. At least I was given the grace to lose my father a decade before the term “Fox Geezer Syndrome” passed into currency. I’m under no delusions about what would come of leaving someone at home to watch cable news all day for over two decades, especially when they already owned a couple dozen guns in Alabama. Although I like to think he would have drawn the line at a Trump or a Moore. At least I don’t have to know for sure.

Something broke in the last couple of months. I think I may have let go of the college thing and just accepted that, like Kimmy Schmidt said, you’re never going to not have been kidnapped. I’m never going to have not gone to Hilltop High or suffered the consequences and repercussions of that. It ultimately wasn’t necessary, there was a path to get everything that matters to me now without going through Mordor, but it just didn’t work out that way and there’s nothing to be done about it. Yes, there is a gaping hole in my life. It will always be there. Nothing for it but to go around and try not to keep falling in.

And if I’m honest, maybe part of it was seeing Luke Skywalker up there again at last. Older, paunchier, angry at how things didn’t work out. The kind of people pissing and moaning about how that’s not real and shouldn’t be canon have never been over 40 and had to live with a life that didn’t go the way you were promised. There is a certain enormity in giving up trying to will yourself a better past, to stop trying to squint at the dots until they become a schooner, to stop trying to make the pebbles have been worth counting.

There are a lot of things in this world that we’ll never make unhappen. The trick is what do we do about it now, knowing that it’s not going to be the same and that matters may be worse and we just have to battle through. I think the fact that I finally saw Ireland last year proved that there could still be new things, new discoveries, that there are still opportunities out there for the person I finally aged into being and may have wanted to be all along. And it gave me a frame of reference by which to gauge: can I live here like I’d want to live in Galway?

Take the bus. Take the walk. Work remotely. Have a pint. Put away the phone and read. Plan to travel. Go to Tahoe in the winter. Go to Hawaii in the winter. Make a list of the things you enjoy doing instead of a checklist of things that have to get done while you’re on leave. And when the place you live gets to be too obnoxious to live with, refuse to play the game. Sidestep it. Do your own thing instead. Of which more later.