away on business

So Spencer Hall shut down EDSBS today.

I think I first ran across the site when looking for someone to admit that Vanderbilt got hosed by the refs against Florida in the Swamp in 2005. I don’t know how exactly that worked out, but it was long before the SBNationing. I was there in my office in Cupertino, the one that got bulldozed to build the Spaceship, reading posts with tags like “drunk white women” and “Alabama man he can drink he can bowl he can drink some more” and “my God the Orgeron”. Will Leitch was crafting the glory era of Deadspin, and EDSBS seemed like the perfect rough-and-tumble dive-bar version devoted exclusively to what was still ostensibly my favorite sport.

And then, and then, and then. It’s not unreasonable to say that EDSBS was my principle online social outlet for about six years there for a while. I remember racing home for the national title game, trying to load the comments on my Kindle browser (seriously). I remember it being the place where you’d go to watch the sort of things people watch with Twitter open these days – the Osama bin Laden announcement, the Final Four, all manner of stuff. The Commentariat made up most of my Twitter feed for a long time, and I think many of them still follow my Vanderbilt account. (The personal ones, obviously, were lost in the act of ritual Twittercide when I blew up that account in the dark days of December 2016.)

I haven’t been a regular poster for at least three or four years, maybe more. Certainly not since the end of Brigadoon at Vanderbilt, not with college football becoming ever more intolerable and ever more annoying. My online society has become circumscribed and limited to try to avoid making a bad world worse. But I couldn’t take EDSBS out of my RSS feed, not when I would get things like this or this or this or this.

And of course, there was God’s Away On Business, to this day still the single greatest thing ever written about college football, with the paragraph that hits home more than anything on the internet probably should…

“There is another edit. The one between naivete and cynicism. It is a delicate one. You will first have to accept that this breaks your heart. You will have to accept that this is in some part a scam. You will have to accept that you are bad firewood walking: wooden, a puppet guided by strings pulling you in directions you can’t always understand or accept. You’ll have to accept, in one form or another, that God’s away on business, and you will have to take care of this yourself no matter how long you have to run. You have to accept that the only redemption for the large, cheap machinations of life is the redemption of experience, the only thing you can control…”

I got laid off a couple of weeks ago. It doesn’t take effect until the middle of September, and I have the same job waiting the next day through another employer: doing the same thing, at the same place, for the same salary, with diminished benefits and total compensation and a reduction in stability and security. That’s what life is in 2019, really: first priority has to be holding close to what you have already, because you’re not promised to keep any of it.

Writ large, that paragraph explains why I’m running, trying to use a couch-to-5K program to make cardio a regular thing. That’s why I’ve been seeing the nutritionist for a year and forcing more vegetables into my system and swearing off almost everything over 4.5% ABV except on very special occasions. That’s why I’m sitting alone making ridiculous vocalizations for fifteen minutes every day to try to strengthen my palate enough to put a dent in the apnea. That’s why I’m seeing more assorted health professionals than I’ve ever seen simultaneously, even if I can’t see how it’s going to do any good right away. That’s why I’m trying to force myself through Python and Swift, expanding my skill set ever so slightly. That’s why I set LinkedIn to “casually looking” in hopes that I might catch someone’s eye before I have to.

There are bad things in the world and bad things in my life, and I have no control over most of them. I can’t do much for the health of my loved ones, except try to support them however I can. I can’t change the politics in this country, other than by voting and trying to throw a few shekels where it might do some good. I can’t make Silly Con Valley take a fifty year old seriously as a job candidate, aside from picking my spots and shoring up my weaknesses.

But I’m doing these things anyway, and I’m going to keep doing them, and Spencer explained why.

“The horizon is always hungry for daylight, and takes it ray by ray. Run one way or the other. Stay still and your choice is made for you anyway.”

it’s been quite a year this month

I’ll only say this: the problem with having your metaphorical leg amuptated is less the fact of having it done and more the risk if having it done badly. 

Which brings up the problem of doing things badly, which seems to be the core incompetency of the tech sector these days. Twitter has done Yet Another Redesign, apparently thinking that new bottles for old vinegar mean you can sell it as wine. Facebook got a slap on the wrist, as evinced by the fact that a FIVE BILLION DOLLAR FINE actually made their stock price go up. And all the while, they profess how hard they are working on the very difficult problems that they were indifferent to for years.

The problem is, they may be right about the inability to fix them. Consider our previous wide-open solutions. We had USENET until spam went out of control (it’s where the term originated, after all) and the plethora of kill files and cancel orders (salute to the memory of Cancelmoose and Afterburner and their peers). We relied on email until it became both an identifier and the thing you have to consent to have spammed to do business (I don’t know how people without a domain name of their own or some other differentiation mechanism make it through their mail). And then, Facebook – which started as a walled garden, which was supposed to be safe and private – threw down the walls.

No open system can survive contact with human beings at scale, because enough human beings are assholes at scale that open systems will always be compromised by bad actors. These platforms enabled mass distribution without considering bad actors because “most people are good” – but if one hundredth of one percent of people are bad, and you scale to three billion users, that’s 300,000 bad actors, all able to connect and interoperate without impediment. That’s the entire population of Pittsburgh, bent on malfeasance and bad action, with algorithmic connection helpfully provided by Facebook and YouTube to ensure that they get all the connection and mutual reinforcement they need. We brought everything up into the light without making any value judgement, and while we got gay marriage we also got a major political party handed over to white supremacists and foreign powers.

And that’s why you can’t “fix” Facebook, or YouTube, or any social media at scale. You have to start over and build in a way that prioritizes security and responsibility over hockey stick growth. You have to build at human scale – and consider both of those. You have to have human scale, which is why the group chat is the premier social network of our age. People are more interested in their friends than a constant stream of random shit. And you have to build. Entropy is easy. Entropy takes no effort at all. You can get a car crash free of charge by just leaving off the brake pedals and steering wheel, and it’s probably cheaper. But you don’t want a car crash, do you? You have to build seat belts and air bags, and ideally collision sensors and lane change warnings, and all manner of safety equipment – partly to help prevent you from doing something stupid yourself, and partly to make you less vulnerable to other people being stupid.

You have to reduce the risk from others and the risk of what you might inadvertently do to yourself. If that isn’t a fucking mission statement for the next ten years of this godforsaken hell mouth of an industry, I’ll kiss your ass.

plinka plinka plinkin’ out loud, round 2

I used to have a pile of phones. And then the iPhone landed in my hands 12 years ago and that was the end of Phone Glee…for a while. But then things changed around 2013 when the Moto X dropped, and ever since, I’ve been prone to fits of dissatisfaction. To wit:

* I went for the iPhone 5 on Verizon, because they had the most viable LTE network in 2012. But their non-LTE network was slow and unsatisfying, and the battery issues with the Verizon version of the 5 once iOS 7 landed were legendary. I don’t doubt that was a big factor in casting my eye toward…

* The original Moto X, whose feature set in late 2013 included things like 2 GB of RAM, an AMOLED display or always-listening voice command that Apple wouldn’t fully get around to for years. And at 65mm wide, it fit a 4.7″ display into a smaller handset than Apple ever has, and the 2200 mAh battery is bigger than Apple ever managed to fit in a sub-5.5″ phone. But it was Android, and even if I’d been able to coax everyone to Signal (or even WhatsApp back then), the pace of updates was gruesome. It took over a year for Android 5 to be available and that was the last version upgrade it ever got.

* The iPhone 6 from work was a hair bigger than the Moto X, and thus just a hair too big. I kept being tempted back toward the Moto X, and as soon as the iPhone SE shipped, I threw the 6 in a drawer at work and never pulled it out again.

* The iPhone SE was perfect, and mostly snuffed the glee for a long time (not that I wasn’t tempted by the Moto X until it became completely untenable as even a shutdown-night device). I put in for work to buy me the iPhone X as a goof – and then they did. And now here we are.

So as it sits right now: the iPhone X is locked, and too large for me. A hair too big to be a hair too big, and yet because of the modern nature of phones, it’s the primary device and difficult to move away from. The iPhone SE is the perfect size and is perfect for travel (as proven in London, Ireland and Patagonia) but the 6S chipset and camera are starting to show their age, and there’s a real prospect that iOS 13 may be its last hurrah.

The next time I’m eligible for a replacement phone through work is 2020, assuming they still provide phones by then at all. But it would be locked again, which means international travel is a non-starter. If I lose my work phone for any reason, the iPhone SE (and self-paid service through T-Mobile) is the move until September 2020, when we presumably get a new wave of phones and iOS 14.

And that is when things get interesting. Because the Great Mentioner has a 5.4″ iPhone on the cards for 2020. If you follow the proportions of the iPhone X, that would be a phone roughly the same size as the current iPhone 8, but full-screen. And I wouldn’t even be that bothered about the AMOLED if it packed the same cameras (and computational effects) as the XR, along with replacing 3DTouch with a 2000mAh battery.

At that point, a 5.4″ iPhone, unlocked, would be enough. International ready (camera and all), plausibly one-handable, still more than big enough for video watching or Kindle reading or even writing a blog post (as I am on the iPhone X right now). And more to the point, it would have me down to one device. One thing that’s 100% of what I need instead of two things that are 80%. Which is really my whole approach to acquiring stuff in the last ten years or so.

No Future 2019

We’ve been here before.

Remember how the popular vote was lost by an amiable yet quietly vicious dry-drunk from Texas, who slept on the threat of international terror before invading the wrong country in retaliation? How a major American city was swamped by a hurricane with no federal response worth mentioning, and how the economy was blown to pieces? And then, when the other party was voted into power by a commanding margin, it was proclaimed from the rooftops that any effort at accountability would be “criminalizing politics” and that we should move forward as if nothing existed before Obama was inaugurated, and that all problems were therefore his responsibility and he should be resisted at all costs?

Watch. It doesn’t matter if Warren or Harris or Booker or whoever wins 60% of the popular vote and control of the House and Senate. Any attempt to hold individuals responsible for the last four years, however feeble or symbolic, will be “criminalizing politics” and any attempt to restore the old norms in law will be tarred as “not moving forward” and “trying to relitigate old fights”. All of the principal figures of the present kakistocracy will go on to well-paid sinecures at Fox or CNBC or the WSJ or some other wingnut welfare outlet where they can exhort the masses to massively resist the tyranny of someone who actually got the most votes. And the usual gang of po-faced catamites at the New York Times and CNN will bemoan the coarsening of politics and the extremism of both sides and demand to know why the Democrats won’t just yield and surrender to the prejudiced imaginings of old white yokels as the Only True American Voice.

It happened already. It happened ten years ago. Never mind living memory, I’ve got booze in my liquor cabinet older than that. And there is absolutely nothing at all that will prevent it happening again, other than a commitment to fight. And keep fighting. Even after it seems we might have won. Until the last boomer is strangled with the entrails of the last Confederate, we are in danger.

The old rules got torn up, long ago, and by the other side. Only a fool would continue to follow those rules on the advice of those who supervised the shredding.

as the years go by


Donny Everett’s last pitch was 101 miles an hour.

A few days after he threw that pitch, he was gone – drowned in a pond in a swimming accident between the SEC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament. His teammates, grief-stricken, went out of the regional with as much fight as you could hope for from a bunch of teens going through the unimaginable. And Tim Corbin, the iconic coach of Vanderbilt baseball, wondered if that class, that team, this program could ever recover from a blow like that.

Donny would have been a senior this year. All of his teammates came back for one more bite at the apple. His heirs were the top rated freshman class in the country, lead by a fireballing pitcher from Georgia who might himself touch 101 before it’s all over and done with in Nashville. And they played like brothers on a mission. Wednesday night, in Omaha, the circle was finally closed, and Donny’s parents were on stage with the players and coaches of the 2019 College World Series national champion Vanderbilt Commodores.

The numbers alone are staggering: most strikeouts thrown in a season, breaking a record set in 1972. 59 wins, most in a season for a champion since 1989. First SEC team to ever defeat all 13 other SEC teams at least once in a season. First SEC team since 2009 to win the conference AND the conference tournament AND a national championship. Lost one game in regionals and super-regionals combined. Lost one game total in the College World Series. Went 3-0 on the year against the #3 team in the country. Won 35 games against the top quartile of college baseball teams. Thirteen players taken in the MLB draft. And Kumar Rocker, the freshman with the exploding slider who threw a complete game no-hitter with 19 strikeouts in the Duke super-regional, threw another gem with 12 more K’s facing elimination in game 2 of the championship and wound up only the sixth freshman in history to be named Most Outstanding Player of the College World Series.

59-12. Triple champions. The most dominant Vanderbilt baseball team of all time going back to 1886, barring neither the 2014 champions or the 2013 team that won 25 games in the SEC or the 2007 team that went wire-to-wire as regular season #1 in the polls. This instance of the VandyBoys was ranked the consensus preseason #1, and finished as national champions.

More than ever, this year felt like what it must feel to be a decades-long Warriors fan in the Kerr era, or a Bama fan under Saban, or a Bulls fan in the 90s. It’s a juggernaut. It’s the Death Star. The only drama is the form of the domination, or the comeback, or who the night’s designated hero will be. This team felt inexorable, inevitable, unstoppable. If Thanos had tried to snap his fingers he would have been frozen looking at a fiery strike 3 from Tyler Brown, assuming that JJ Bleday’s bat didn’t decapitate him and send his domepiece 440 feet into the stands.

You have to deal with a lot to support the black and gold. The difficulty of finding players who can win games and make the grades and stay out of court. The challenge of a conference with thirteen other “schools” [sic] who aren’t worried at all about the diploma or police blotter. The drumbeat of a media, local and national, in thrall to the Narrative. The weight of history and the expectation of disaster. And then, after years of falling through what feels like hundreds of miles of horse shit, one night out of nowhere you ride out on a stallion. And ride like the wind, way past the border of Mexico.

After all, if there’s any program that combines smooth with money like a yacht rock concert, it’s the Commodores, right?



I didn’t see a single postseason game.

Five years ago, I worked from home on the day of Game 3. I walked out on the porch about an hour before first pitch and let the door hang open behind me. No humidity, cool summer breeze, golden sunlight through green leaves. And I told myself that it’s a good life, down deep where it counts, and win or lose I needed to remember that. And then I listened to Joe Fisher – I tried to sync the audio and the TV, but the two digital delays were impossible to reconcile so I wound up with the audio about an out ahead of the screen. And when the final out was recorded, I shouted out, overjoyed, and then we headed to the pub to celebrate with our weeknight trivia group – and won. There’s a picture of me with the trivia belt thrown over my seersucker blazer, Vandy hat on over the shades, throwing up that VU.

This year, I literally didn’t watch or listen to a single second of postseason ball before there were two outs in the ninth of the final game. I followed the games through Twitter, piping the Vandy baseball account through a little-used Twitter timeline separate from the one most Vandy fans know me by. And as the tournament went deeper and deeper, I stopped even that, preferring to look in only after a couple of hours had gone by. I didn’t see a single pitch of Kumar Rocker’s epic no-hitter, or his clutch performance in Game 2 of the CWS. I haven’t seen a single homer from Bleday or Scott or Clark or Infante. No epic Brown multi-inning saves, no Harry Ray web gems, no Austin Martin running like the wind and hitting .400.

Fear? Anxiety? Maybe? To be blunt, 2019 isn’t 2014. Deep down where it counts, it’s not that good a life right now. Every condition that pertained five years ago in my life is arguably either just as bad or worse, whether it’s an utterly unstable situation at work or a troubled and traumatic relationship with Alabama people or a world on fire with little hope of pulling back from the abyss. Next to that, you need escape, and escape through sports means the Giants – San Jose or San Francisco alike – or the A’s, or maybe some sort of soccer. Something without an emotional investment attached. Because right now, my emotional investments need to be the equivalent of a Treasury bond – safe, solid, and backed by the full faith and credit of something that isn’t ever going anywhere. And if there’s one thing an emotional investment in Vanderbilt athletics isn’t, ever, it’s safe.

I dug Vanderbilt out of the hole in 2006, at a time when I was finally and fully alienated from my undergraduate school, when Alabama football was at its lowest ebb in my lifetime, when I was having that dull-moment year and casting about trying to decide “who am I now” at a fairly liminal point in my life. And honestly, Vanderbilt felt as strange and exotic as if I had decided to support Aston Villa or Newcastle United, despite the fact that I was actually an alumnus with a degree and a ring and plenty of ticket stubs from football and basketball alike. Probably because the person who actually went there for three years is a different person than the one who went into the dark in 1998 and was rebuilt in DC.

And then, a handful of years later, Vanderbilt became my shield and sigil at a time when my entire world seemed to be defined by the University of California on one side and Stanford University on the other. Vanderbilt was mine, however tenuously, and it was something I could hold up and call my own and then punch at roughly equal weight with the forces around me. And then, of course, Stanford became China’s Oxford, the Hellmouth first of the tech sector and then of the Wall Streeting of Silly Con Valley. And as much as I despised Stanford – as much as I despise Stanford – the unpleasant thought began to dig at me that if I were in Nashville, and not an alum, I would probably have similar feelings about Vanderbilt. I don’t think we are as transparently the baddies as the Beast of Palo Alto, but it would be the height of folly to think we’re the good guys.

And my relationship with Vanderbilt is much closer to a sidewalk alum than someone who actually went there. I’ve done alumni events, they’re fine, everyone is very pleasant, but I am so not the correct demographic for the sort of people who turn up to the San Francisco Vanderbilt Club meetings. I’m as old as the new arrivals’ parents, I don’t live in the city, they don’t live down the South Bay, and my Vanderbilt experience is patently not their Vanderbilt experience and vice versa. And proper sidewalk alum-ness kind of requires you to be on the sidewalk. I’ve been to two football games in Nashville since 1996, and the last one was in 2013 (plus extra credit for the bowl game in Birmingham the same season). 

I’ve had some good times. People have been very nice to me. Vanderbilt as a whole has probably treated me better since 1994 than I earned from it in my three years there. But to be perfectly honest, I would gladly accept the wave of a magic wand tomorrow that replaced the entire seven years after graduating high school with some other higher-ed experience. As long as I had the kind of undergrad career I wanted and the fates deposited me at National Geographic at the end of the summer of 1997, you could take Vanderbilt from me and I would be all right.



So now what?

It’s entirely possible that thirty years on from only applying to three schools, I may have put the college thing to rest. Not because I’m all right with it or found some way to make it all worthwhile in the end, but because I accept that what happened, happened. There’s no do-over, there’s no making it right, there’s no way I will ever have not attended that stupid undergrad school. I don’t need Vanderbilt to be a stand-in any longer, my first job out of college dressed up in a varsity sweater and raccoon coat masquerading as my alma mater. I suspect that if I were to change my current employment, I’d feel the need even less than I do now, and the college thing wouldn’t even be a thing.


That Vanderbilt-related Twitter account I mentioned? Has over 1400 followers. My congratulatory tweet after the game got over 400 likes.  I know real live people because of Vanderbilt sports, and have introduced them to other real live people that have knit them into a greater whole. Hell, I’m the person who named David Williams “the Goldfather” in an Insta post from Rogue Tavern the night before the bowl game. Irrespective of how I got to this point, Vanderbilt sports have allowed me to build a persona, a small following, and a simulacrum of an actual affinity group.

Those are thin on the ground. I don’t think it’s a secret that I have struggled to build any kind of personal connections since leaving Apple. I haven’t done it through work, at first deliberately and then because even if I’d wanted to, the sort of people I vibe with are thin on the ground at the office. I tried things like RCIA or a cappella chorus singing or even looking at churches (of which more later), but nothing really offered me a hook. I don’t have the kind of local “where everybody knows your name,” and even if I did, I don’t frequent the pubs enough to make myself a regular anywhere anymore. Most of the trivia competitors from five years ago have moved away, or aren’t around routinely anymore, and that pub doesn’t even do trivia now as far as I know. My celebration of a national title, in 2019, was to pull a pint of Phish Food out of the freezer an hour and a half later and eat maybe half a dozen spoonfuls before putting it back. 

I did it through social media for a while. But it was obvious by 2011 that Facebook was a cesspool of scum and villainy and not worthy of trust, so I blew that up with a quickness. I was relying heavily on Twitter for a while, which sort of worked, until the election – and then I blew up my personal account and then went through a series of reductions and mutings and reconfigurations to try to keep out the noise, and then as it turns out so did most everyone else I know. I have Instagram, but the day is coming when Facebook will turn that into a shit fountain too. There’s Slack, with the same Internet friends I’ve known for close to a quarter-century, but not all the ones I wish would be on there. As really close friends go, there’s one up the Peninsula a ways, and then there are people on the other side of the country or the other side of the world. And then there’s my wife, who as a result has to shoulder a disproportionate load – one I’ve been on the other side of in a past life and one I’m consequently uncomfortable dumping on any individual person.

So…now what happens? The 2019 College World Series was a triumph for the ages, the final blast of a dreadnaught the likes of which college baseball – hell, college sports – has rarely seen, and never from Vanderbilt. But in three months, Vanderbilt sports means football, and a team that has played since 1890 without ever once winning ten games in a season, with the biggest delta in America versus its archival institution and permanently handicapped by membership of its conference. And then, even assuming an unimaginable fourth straight win over UT in football, comes basketball, with a new coach taking over a team that has so far lost 20 consecutive games in 2019, which went completely winless in conference play for the first time in history and which finished with single-digit total wins for the first time since they first hired a full time basketball coach. And maybe women’s tennis or women’s bowling will shoot for the stars successfully again, or maybe another little-followed sport will suddenly ascend to prominence, or maybe miracles will happen.

But maybe not. More likely that after Labor Day, Vanderbilt sports will be back to “why do you do this to yourself?” and I will be forced to contemplate again whether what it brings to the table for me emotionally is worth what it takes off the table emotionally. If there’s one thing in my life that I don’t need in 2019, it’s elective sources of anxiety or misery. The world is enough for that right now without me throwing gas on the fire. 

Apprehend the moment. Consider it. Appreciate it. Then release it. Time to move along. Better to seek out something that sparks joy instead of trying to force something that doesn’t.