May her memory be a blessing. It’s a sin and a shame that she had to spend her last years constantly grinding, unable to rest and recuperate and recover. It’s a crime that an 87-year-old woman was the last defense against a tide of corruption and malfeasance unparalleled in our history. And it’s an outrage that the GOP will, inevitably and undoubtedly, claim they must fill this seat forty-six days before Election Day after denying Barack Obama his last pick for eleven months before an election.

I’m officially terrified, in a way I managed to avoid all year. The fear is exactly where it was on November 9, 2016, and for the same reasons. All bets are off – a stuffed Supreme Court with the willingness to act on behalf of Dolt 45 in the same fashion as Bush v Gore. It means that judicial remedies will have a thumb on the scale all the way up the line, and that legal manipulation could easily be used to take what could not be won at the ballot box fair and square. The last safety catch was John Roberts’ tentative sense of maintaining the legitimacy of the court, and if a third Tr*mp appointee is seated, he will be surplus to requirement. And the Senate GOP does not have enough members with the backbone to stand for anything but what Moscow Mitch tells them to, so now matters are worse.

So now the challenge is even greater: this election has to be won, handily, on the day of the election in public view. Anything that depends on hand-counted votes after the fact will be challenged in court and in all likelihood will not survive a challenge. It’s Florida 2000 without controls or shame. Ambiguity means losing. Complications mean losing. Explaining means losing. Every set of rules depends on the notion that you will follow the rules, or else there are consequences. The tragedy of the 21st century is that the GOP has learned and internalized that there are no consequences for breaking unwritten rules, and as a result, they are now in a position to dictate the written rules and break those as well.

We have to win, somehow. I don’t know what I’m going to do if we don’t.

first impressions

It’s BIG. The 44mm Series 6 is my first Apple Watch since the original, and the screen is bigger and the bezels smaller than before, to the point that my arm feels like it’s got some sort of Jitterbug AARP phone on it. You can feel the weight – I was wearing my Fitbit Inspire HR and my mechanical watch together this weekend, and I think it’s a wash.

I chose the velcro sport band (sorry, “hook and loop”) because I didn’t much trust the sizing on the Solo Loop and want to buy it once I can evaluate in person. Turns out this was the correct move, not least because if you don’t like the Loop it came with you have to return the whole watch. Which is a debacle now that the wait time is a month for shipping. It turns out I can barely squeeze my hand through it, but that’s fine for now; it may be a bigger deal after a few days of charging.

Which is really the trick, isn’t it? I finally went to the Charge 3 over a year ago after tooling around with a mechanical watch plus a Fitbit, and actively avoiding taking the Apple Watch abroad or anything, because I couldn’t be arsed to charge it every day and because the performance was slower than waiting for Christmas morning. Five years on, we have adequate storage for a dozen local playlists AND adequate processing power to actually make Siri responsive in less than a year AND sufficient telemetry on movement, heart rate and blood oxygen to make it a useful addition to one’s health care information. It occurred to me as I went out for the first time with it that this watch has to last at least until the end of 2023 to match the original, and I suspect there may be issues with that depending on how the battery works out.

But the battery is bigger, as the Watch gets on the iPhone train of ditching Jony Ive’s ridiculous 3DTouch and replacing the space the circuitry took up with actual battery. A mostly-black OLED display will help with this too; no wacky photo displays this time. It’s supposed to charge faster, probably when I’m in the shower, and even if I don’t it can explicitly stand up to some water now in a way the original could not. There’s a watch face with eight complications for real-time environmental awareness (UV, dB level, air quality, temps with high/low, heart rate) and next stuff up, there’s the Siri face (in eternal optimism that maybe this time Siri will be useful), and there’s three swappable faces for shutdown time to give me a clock and either the AppleTV remote, the music playlists or just the temperature outside. And one of me, a Memoji with a face mask on, just for the hell of it in this year of Hell.

I could theoretically use the walkie-talkie function if I had anyone I spoke to regularly who owned another Watch. I could theoretically use it as a SmarTrip card on the DC Metro. I could theoretically use Citymapper to navigate around JNUC in Minneapolis, or a weekend in Portland, or two weeks in London, if any of those were remotely feasible. It’s a new gadget, it’s health monitoring taken away from Google’s acquisition, it’s a little slice of a pretend future that it doesn’t always feel like we’re going to last long enough to experience for real. And it’s the phone on the shelf every Sunday or Tuesday night, surplus to requirement, with me still able to listen to podcasts and music and step out of the world for a smidge.

Now if only it had the space-time GPS and the quantum time-travel suit in it. I could go work on getting those stones.

one year beneath the ass

My vision of management and leadership comes from three places. One is the novel Billiards at Half-Past Nine, in which Robert Fahmel is a consulting architect who staffs work out to three subordinates and has them check each other. His secretary only sees him work when there is a discrepancy, at which point she realized he really does know what he’s doing as he sorts out the problem himself with pencils and slide rule. The second is the novel (very much notthe movie) Starship Troopers, in which you’re not eligible for officer school until you have served as an enlisted trooper for some time and your higher-ups think you show the aptitude; the notion of training someone for management who hasn’t actually done the job is anathema. And the third is my own experience these last twenty-three years, where sometimes I’ve had a manager who did the job themselves and sometimes I didn’t. And there’s a distinct difference.

Last year, we were functionally outsourced. We still do the exact same job supporting the exact same people, but our paycheck comes from a different organization with reduced benefits and (based on the last 365 days) precious little interest in our actual jobs. Our management doesn’t much care whether we live or die, to all appearances; it’s been literally months since I heard from my boss’s boss and we are an afterthought at all-hands meetings of the new org. We still have to use the tools and resources of the organization we support but are not employed by, and as a result, we have no one in our line of command willing and able to make decisions on our behalf. 

It was not substantially better before, if we’re being honest. I’ve been answering the same phone and email for almost twelve years now, and in that time, not one person at my level has ever been promoted into a management role. Hell, before the back end of 2015, no one had ever been promoted, period. If you were Tier 2 support, that was the end of the road until they belatedly created Tier 3 and lead positions. But at the same time, they brought in all-new managers across the org chart, none of whom were internal hires. The collected effect has been to convey the message that “what you do is not important, and your work is worthy of neither recognition nor reward.”

This is partly because of the paucity of leadership and vision that’s endemic to this particular setting in the first place. But I think part of it also stems from the cult of the MBA – that you can teach management abstracted in every particular from who and what you’re managing – and from the notion that if you haven’t changed jobs every two years in this godforsaken Valley, you’re an indolent layabout without the drive and initiative to hop at the next opportunity. I don’t know what was more harmful last time I went on the job market, a college graduation in the 1990s or five years with the same company when I handed out resumes.

Problem is, sometimes you need leadership that came up through the hawser hole. You need those senior non-coms who have experience in your environment and institutional memory and know the ins and outs of how things work. The idea that the only role for the crafty veteran is to be retired and big-dicking around as a VC is why Silly Con Valley is a tech-washed Wall Street now; the money thinks it’s actually smarter than the brains now. And it probably goes a long way toward explain the cult of freedom from accountability espoused by Elon Musk and Paul Graham and Peter Thiel and the rest of the Hitler Youth at Y Combinator. Beware the man who only knows one thing and claims it’s the only thing worth knowing.

That’s why the 21st century has consisted mostly of vaporware and gaslighting. People sell promises and idiots buy, which is how morons like SoftBank can fund bullshit pyramid schemes like WeWork and Uber and Theranos that have no pathway to profitability. Companies like Lyft and Grubhub and Doordash complain about legal efforts to strengthen protections for gig workers while their long-term plans rely entirely on self-driving automation. And really, automation of everything is inevitable, because we’ve run out of places to which we can ship the labor. As humans come to demand a living wage, even in Shenzen and Dacca and who knows where else, the alternative is to mechanize and automate. If you don’t believe me, look at curbside delivery during the pandemic, ordered on your phone, and think how many waiters and cashiers are surplus to requirement even before you use the touch screen at McDonald’s or the self-checkout at Safeway.

These fuckers will legislate and agitate to pay you $2.13 an hour plus tips, pocket the tips, and then look you straight in the eye and say they’re fighting for your freedom. If the last four years hasn’t convinced you the extent to which people will gladly bullshit you about their misdeeds as they are in the process of committing them, then I can’t help you. We’re doomed as a society until we can make the cost of bullshit too great to pay for the bullshitters, instead of for us.

surveillance capitalism

…anything that leads people to have greater concern for privacy – and that makes them want better control over their own data – is quite literally taking money out of the pocket of Google and Facebook.  And yet, as long as Google and Facebook collect this data, they can be subpoena’d for it or otherwise compelled to hand it over by whatever legal instrument exists.  Therefore, Google and Facebook have to kneecap the NSA as quickly as possible – not because the NSA is a flagrant violator of the rights of citizens, but because they’re ultimately the competition.

The surveillance society arrived five or six years ago, and we all signed up for it without thinking too hard about what it meant.  Now you get to spend the rest of your life either deciding you don’t care and it probably won’t affect you, or otherwise looking over your shoulder…forever.

– March 28, 2014

Apple shouldn’t have backed down. Their latest ad shows why they need to keep doing what they’re doing. If Apple’s attempts to protect privacy break the ad industry, tough shit. There is no right to surveillance. If the courts are going to rule that the program that Fast Eddie Snowden blew the whistle on was illegal, how bad is what every advertiser on the Internet does? News sites are unreadable for pop-over ads and airplay video and chum boxes. Facebook didn’t even make any bones about racial targeting until last week; what else are they doing?

Break them. Break them all.

in faciem meam

The monkey’s paw is the archetype. You make a wish, and it get interpreted in the most literal and damaging way possible. Wish for your loved one’s suffering to end, and they die. Wish for vast wealth, and find yourself a drug lord with the DEA on your back. Wish for something you want, and get it in a way that makes everything worse. You’re not even supposed to tell your wish when you blow out the birthday cake candles, because then it won’t come true. All the stories work out like this. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. King Midas. Making a wish only gets you misery, so be content with what you have and accept your lot in life. 

Down South, they are pushing ahead with football for all they’re worth. A thousand C-19 cases at the University of Alabama, sixteen just among the Auburn football players, or even the plethora of issues at Vanderbilt – none of it is enough to make people say “hey let’s call this off,” even after the Big 10 [sic] and Pac-12 already have, along with just about everyone below FBS level (including the MEAC, the Ivy League and more). At some level, there is some kind of primal need driving the SEC and its cousins in the ACC and the Big [sic] 12 [sic], and if I had to narrow it down, I would attribute it to a line that literally came to me in a dream:

Football is huge down South because it’s the most violent thing to which the Scotch-Irish can legally affiliate themselves as tribes.

And this is where you have the problem Vanderbilt football cannot escape. Only private school out of 14 in the SEC (which in retrospect never should have grown beyond 10 once Tech and Tulane decamped). Does not have the same sidewalk fan culture as any of the other 13. Plays in a metro area where there are actual major league professional teams competing for the dollars less than five miles away. Overshadowed by other teams in the same school in a way unlike any other SEC team bar Kentucky. Vanderbilt football’s fans are few but mighty, but it’s still not on a scale with even the Kentucky or Mississippi school football fandoms. And as a result, Vanderbilt doesn’t generate the kind of income necessary to punch at equal weight with those programs. And as a result of that, Vanderbilt doesn’t have the kind of success on the field that would change minds about what Vanderbilt football is.

And yet. In 2017, Vanderbilt’s football budget was $22.15 million. Which ranked it…44th in the Power 5. More than TCU, more than Oklahoma State, more than Mizzou, more than West Virginia or K-State or Georgia Tech or Purdue. There are other programs having more success for less money in our own damned division. So clearly, it’s not enough to spend money – it has to be spent well. Granted, most of these programs have probably been spending more for longer, and don’t have as much ground to make up as Vanderbilt – but nevertheless, it reflects cold reality: merely shooting money out of a firehose won’t get this done.

It’s a catch-22 and a vicious cycle: Vanderbilt football will never be taken seriously until it is successful, and Vanderbilt football will never be successful until it is taken seriously. Not only by the fans, not only by a college football media that classifies teams based on how good they were in the sportswriter’s youth, but by its own university administration. And one of the things that matters there is finding a coach who can have some modicum of success without immediately flying the coop for bigger and better things. David Cutcliffe has been at Duke since 2008, David Shaw at Stanford since 2011, Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern since 2006. All have had more than six wins in the regular season and none has taken off for another gig after three years. Vanderbilt ought to be able to find a coach who can at least see a full class of recruits through to graduation without having to accept four-win seasons as the cost of doing business.

A decade ago, we wished for better. We wished that we could at least be good enough to win more than we lost. And we got that, for three years, and then wound up right back where we started, layered on with creeping damage to the culture of the program and the bitterness of knowing that it was possible to do better than four or five wins. But even at the peak, Vanderbilt’s best success in a century added up to 8-4, beating the arch-rival, and being under-slotted for a non-prestige bowl bid.

You don’t want to just accept what is. You want to dream, you want to hope – but in the end, there’s a reason they say “be careful what you wish for.”