Football roundup

Well, Vanderbilt has reverted fully to Same Old Vandy. Alabama is probably out of the title picture again. Only Cal, with the Axe retrieved and Furd vanquished for the first time in the 2010s, offers our house a good outcome. Part of that is down to Alabama being a disappointment any year they don’t win it all and make everyone else miserable, but most of it is down to Vanderbilt being back to where it was for most of my life between 1997 and 2010: an afterthought.

The NFL has been kicked to the curb for years, honored only with the ridearound once or twice a year (and with no Sonny or Sam any more, I wonder how long that will continue). This year is the closest college has come to that. No games attended, nothing watched except for a few stray Army or Navy or Ivy League games. Because that’s really it, isn’t it? Teams where the players are definitely doing something else after college, teams that have deliberately opted out of the big-time. All that matters at Army and Navy is that you beat each other. The Ivies win the league, in the regular season. No playoff, no bowls, no title game. No interaction with the system.

Because the system is what ruined the game for me. The problem of facing a whole league of teams that have a university on the side. The problem of having to meet the financial demands of staying in the big time. The problem of not being worth anyone’s notice unless you were a year away from getting into a playoff that never has anyone in it but four of the same six or seven teams. And sure enough, this year, it looks like Clemson, Ohio State, $SEC_CHAMP and $OTHER_SEC_TEAM again.

Football could spark joy, if it were possible to be competitive on a regular basis and not be drowned out by the power teams. Who cares who you’re playing; if you could play ten games a year and be reasonably sure of winning six, and beating your arch-rival at least once every three years, and have the opportunity to tailgate and make a day of it, that would be enough. But that’s not enough for college football. It has to be the developmental arm of pro football first and foremost, and that’s what has helped destroy the college football experience.

Which is difficult. College football was somewhere between a hobby and a religion for decades in my life. Getting shut of it altogether is a big ask, and there’s a hole in my life it leaves that is not adequately filled by English or Scottish soccer. It was a social outlet, continuity with my past, the one thing I could always connect with my Alabama relations over. And inasmuch as I have been unable to quit it, it’s because of other people, whether friends or acquaintances or just those strange people in my phone. When your past has swallowed up everyone behind you, it’s hard to voluntarily push more people into the black hole.

Maybe next year – or the year after – I wake up to find that Vanderbilt is a member of the Patriot League, and we’re going to go out there and smash through Holy Cross and Lehigh and go option-to-option with Army and maybe have a non-conf against Princeton or somebody, and watch the games every week on NBCSN or CBS Sports and never have to think about the SEC ever again.

Wouldn’t that be something.

stephen and jack

I don’t know anything about Stephen Vogt’s religion. 

I can make some guesses. His walk-up is a Christian rock song, and he played his college ball at Azusa Pacific, which is a religious institution. All I know about Azusa Pacific other than that is two things: Christian Okoye, the Nigerian nightmare, and the fact that Jack Gilbert taught screenwriting there.

The most religious thing I ever saw from Jack was signing off his Christmas letter with “God bless us every one.” But after his death, talking to people after his service up in the LA hills, I learned that he’d been involved with various Christian programs in Hollywood – when he wasn’t running the writer development program at Warner Brothers or teaching at Azusa Pacific or just making himself available for people willing to trade lunch for a read or a polish or just good advice. I met Jack through the same gang of Internet maniacs as everyone else in my circle in the 90s, but I got to know Jack when there was drama in the group, two or three people were alienated, and Jack – despite not being involved in the least – took it upon himself to make amends. He was given my name, reached out to me, and persuaded me to act as his agent. That’s how I learned that Emma’s was the industry florist in Nashville, and how Jack became our man in Hollywood.

I don’t know what’s in the water at Azusa Pacific, but I thought about this when I heard the story of how Stephen Vogt knocked on some doors while the Giants were down in LA, and told three rookies – including Vandy’s own Mike Yazstremski – “come down to the lobby at 9 AM, we have a suit fitting.” Because when Vogt was a rookie, some veteran took it upon himself to take him out and fit him for a nice suit, because now that you’re an adult and a major leaguer, you need a nice suit. And Vogt took it upon himself to pay it forward, because that’s what you do. You take what you have and use it to help other folks along the way. I mean, it’s not like an MLB rookie can’t afford a suit – but sometimes there are things you don’t know you ought to do, and you need a guiding hand or a mentor to coach you up in the little things that make a grown-up, and provide an example for how you ought to do in future. I’m sure Yaz and Beedah are going to be buying some rookie a suit at some point in the future now, and another little ripple of making the world better goes out.

This is not the easiest time to call yourself a Christian in America. The popular vision of Christianity is the one I was raised in, the one that has demeaned and diminished itself in a forty-year race to the bottom in pursuit of worldly power. One that can’t sing “red and yellow black and white, they are precious in his sight” without a knowing head-tilt of no they aren’t. One that has made it impossible to square what we learned in Sunday school in the 1970s with what comes out of the pulpits of 2019. One that basically drove me away from religion altogether for years and years.

And yet.

There was a hole in my spirit that was always filled by Chapel at Six on Monday nights in undergrad. It was occasionally filled in the ensuing years by the odd Sunday evening at All Saints’ in Homewood or St. George in Arlington. I’ve made an effort to find something that fits at different times – cathedral here, Evensong there, a conscious effort to make a pass through three or four different institutions in search of something that clicked. The only thing I can conclude is that there’s a chance I might be some sort of Episcopalian down deep, because it feels like I get all the liturgical ritual I need without being tied to a hierarchy and organization that clashes with my Baptist priesthood-of-the-believer sensibilities.

I don’t know what I’m looking for. I don’t know what I actually believe. But there are a couple of people who lived by the doctrine of show, don’t tell, and what I saw makes me wonder if there’s some part of that I can connect with. I don’t know how this is going to work, but it’s got to be worth a try.

not exactly plinka

It’s been three weeks and I haven’t even thought about my SE in that time. Which makes sense, because you really can’t have more than one phone these days and the AirPods Pro make me feel like I have a new angle on the whole ecosystem. Plus having decent battery life is everything, although I have to admit, I’m curious to know whether the RAM issues that finally got fixed in iOS 13.2.2 might have fixed the battery on the SE. But it’s not really worth going upstairs to sort out the drawer I chucked it into.

No, the thought process now is back to the Apple Watch. Because the news that Google is buying Fitbit has made the Charge 3 untenable in future: a vector for the exfiltration of personal health data into an ecosystem and a company that is absolutely not trustworthy of it. And despite the plethora of flaws in Apple these days – manufacturing indentured to China, Cook cozying up to Trump, the complete failure of anything remotely resembling QA in Cupertino – having an Apple Watch to charge every damn night beats shipping your step count, heart rate and sleep cycle to the Beast of Mountain View.

The problem here is that my Series 0 was a colossal bust. I wanted it for the heart rate monitoring, at a time when there wasn’t really a good alternative and I was panicked after what was arguably a panic attack at a time of great stress (and boy was I a wuss about what constituted stress in 2015, in retrospect). And it was slow, almost useless with third party apps, and stopped getting updates, and there’s very little to suggest that the delta with the Charge 3 is worth paying. Or was, anyway, until Google.

But the experience suggests to me that you can’t necessarily expect five years of watch updates. You don’t know when it’s going to get cut off (unlike the iOS ecosystem, where five years sounds right; my iPad mini 2 from Christmas 2013 did not get the 13 update at age six). Looking at the Watch options, the Series 3 is right out; pre-aged two years is a bad investment. So it’ll have to be the Series 5 (or more likely 6).

What gets interesting at this point is that i have thought in the past that an Apple Watch with LTE service would make a fine shutdown night device and alternative to one of those limited-use phones. And it would! But the problem then becomes “how do I add this watch to work” and I don’t know if such a thing is possible. And it’s not time yet for me to pay for my own phone service. (Although I have almost decided that maybe I should get this iPhone from work unlocked in case of spontaneous travel to London at some point. Hell, if Brexit puts the pound on par with the dollar it would be foolish NOT to go.)

Maybe this is going to happen next year. Maybe I’m at risk of laying down close on $2000 for new Apple gear in late 2020. But I’m not gonna lie, having 2FA and temperature on my wrist would be kind of cool again. And maybe the iPhone 9, so-called, would be phone enough. But the only thing I can say for sure is that in retrospect, crunching my SE in the first class seat was the hand of God and I was foolish to spend money to replace it.

first impressions

When the AirPods came out, I was highly intrigued. But they were pricey enough that I was uneasy about paying that kind of money for something I couldn’t be sure would fit my ears, especially after having settled on a pair of corded over-the-ear headphones for a long time beforehand. I’d used other bluetooth headsets of different sorts, none of which ever had particularly good sound or particularly reliable battery life, and I had given up and just accepted that there would be badge and sunglasses entangled with my cord forever. And then the BeatsX arrived, with the same wireless chip for pairing, and they showed up for $100 on Amazon briefly, so I pounced. I got the ear tips right, and I had the cable around my neck and the wingtips in my ears for security, and it more or less worked for two years.

Then the battery started to go. Badly. And then they flaked out in other ways and I could never get them to stay on longer than five minutes without crashing and needing a hardware reset to pair them again. And it occurred to me that the wingtips had broken off months earlier, so maybe they would be fine without…and then the PowerBeats Pro came out. Everything I wanted and nothing I didn’t. No wireless nonsense, absurdly long battery life, but…a case too big for a pocket. The principle problem with wireless headphones is that you need to know you won’t have to plug them in all day, and in a world where I actually want to use my Ballpark Pass for the Giants, I’m not convinced that even 9 hours would be enough to get me by without having the case at work or in the office or or or. Plus, it was crazy money.

But then, the rumblings began. New AirPods in October, that would split the difference and be the sweet spot for me. And sure enough, they were announced last Monday and available last Wednesday, and in a rapid strike, I rolled the dice and spent more money on a pair of earbuds than I’d spent on any cell phone but two ever, because it was worth it to me to have an Apple product on launch day for the first time since the iPhone 4 (or iPhone X, but I didn’t pay for that). I was going to be able to test these things under travel conditions and see if they were worth it.

Reader, they are worth it.

The noise cancelling is up to the task on the plane, easily. But the miracle thing is that with a squeeze of the stem, they go from noise-cancelling to letting the sound through. Transparency mode has been described elsewhere as “AR for your ears” and it’s true: you hear pretty much the world around you AND your audio. And the earbuds’ charge went up by 50% after about 15 minutes in the case, which means that buds and case combined should be good for all day every day. 

But more than that, I have the option to use one at a time without dangling cords. I can pocket them without something hanging around my neck. I can finally invoke Siri without having to so much as pull the phone out of my pocket. They make me want to figure out voice control on the iPhone and the Mac alike. They give me a feel I haven’t gotten from a new Apple product in a long time: the feeling that I’ve actually stepped forward into a new and exciting future of personal device use. 

And with a new battery in the X and these in my ears, for the first time in a while, I can go without range anxiety and maybe start being kinder to the battery and not constantly charging in bits and bobs, and maybe extend the lifespan of my devices until it’s time to pay for another phone again. Which would be awfully nice. But having these and iOS 13 make the X feel almost like a new phone. Now if only they would fix the album art bug…