The new laptop

It took a couple of Lego Star Wars games and a work policy modification to make me realize the extent to which the iPad has become my personal computer. The security configuration was changed to allow Universal Control to work at last, with the result that there is no personal anything on my work computer any longer – my RSS, Slack, Twitter, etc etc are all on the adjacent iPad mini and I can just mouse over. Then, after hours, it’s Lego Star Wars Castaways, which is a simple MMO probably aimed at a younger audience, but which hits all the marks for me.*

The thing is, this is such a more useful combination. I could have the 6.1” iPhone, a hair bigger screen than my iPhone X was, but it’s too much for a phone and not enough for an iPad. Instead, the iPhone 13 mini is perfect for everyday carry, but the iPad mini is ideally suited to travel in a way an an actual laptop would not be. I can do desktop-style browsing on it, up to and including actual work (I have done things from a tiki bar that prevented having to run right home, or worse, try to muddle it out on a 5.4” screen). And in a pinch, it fits into many of my jackets, and that ain’t hay.

The main thing, I suppose, is that I don’t pull up the laptop after hours. And I mostly don’t take the phone out on the couch either. I said a while back that it feels like the iPad has become Apple’s default solution, with the iPhone a subset and the Mac a superset that adds the command line layer – and lately, it feels like the iPad is the computer in a way that fits the same future-feel as the electric crossover in the driveway. Not for nothing, I can’t remember the last time I needed to get on the old iMac to do anything at all. (Having the ability to print wirelessly from the iPad is a significant thing.)

And the 8-inch display is big enough to be immersive. I’ve watched television on it without a fight. It’s easy to read with or without the glasses. It is the home pub night device for sure, with all the music and reading options available without the temptation and distraction of the phone. All by itself, it obviates the need for the phone and the Kindle and the scratch pad in one awkward heap.

So yeah, this was a good present. From London to Pismo to Disneyland, it’s gotten the job done and I’m grateful for it.

* Castaways is a Lego Star Wars game that takes place in what can only be described as a seaside village on a beach planet, in which you can run around doing simple tasks or play recreations of major settings in the original Star Wars trilogy – and you can do it alone or with ad-how groups, rather than needing the laborious “this is just a second job!”-type stylings of Work of Warcraft. You can’t beat two or three forms of escape at once, especially when it’s free with your Apple One subscription.

The gold watch

In the summer of 1997, after flunking out but before getting a permanent job, I had a temp gig at a large fossil fuel company in Birmingham, Alabama. One of my duties was to walk to Bromberg’s, the most prestigious jeweler in Birmingham, to collect a paper bag that contained Rolex watches for presentation to employees who would be marking their 25th anniversary with said company that month.

A couple of months later, after a sojourn in Akron, Ohio of all places, I found myself in my unfurnished apartment in Arlington, Virginia, on the night of September 14, 1997. And I looked at a map, and realized for the first time that I didn’t have to take the orange line to Metro Center and change for the red line for Farragut North, I could just get out at Farragut West and walk one extra block and save fifteen minutes and ten cents. That’s how clueless I was on the eve of my first day of work as an IT professional at the National Geographic Society.

I don’t know where I expected to be after 25 years. As early as a month before actually starting the job, when it was still a wisp of hope, I thought about the prospects offered by Apple’s acquisition of NeXT and the move to a net-centric computing world, and fleetingly thought that maybe some day I could do my job by remote control from a laptop in the woods somewhere. As it happens, my first attempt only took five years, and for the last 30 months I have done my entire job from a laptop in my house. So that much, at least, came to pass.

I hadn’t thought that far ahead, really. Just as grad school happened because I didn’t know what else to do after college, once I had the first permanent job, I didn’t think about where the next one might come from. it certainly never occurred to me that it would be Apple itself, let alone in Silicon Valley. But then, it never occurred to me that I’d spend a decade in the same employer only to find myself reset, laid off and rehired for the same job by a different payroll operator, and then be functionally abandoned during the pandemic.

I know no one stays at the same job for 25 years any more, but I look around at other people my age who have managed to stick to only a couple of jobs, who have risen to be managers or directors or vice-presidents or best of all, indispensable individual contributions who are compensated accordingly. I have no idea whether my employer values the work I do at all, and ample reason to think it hasn’t occurred to them one way or the other, and that in a pinch I could find myself unemployed as an accidental reflexive shrug of cost-cutting by someone who hasn’t looked at what the line items actually do.

It’s times like this that I regret not having completed the PhD. A masters’ degree is largely a waste of time because it doesn’t really come with any sort of recognition. If you have a doctorate, people are obligated to at least take that seriously, which explains why the hucksters and con artists are always rushing to show off their degree-mill credential. If I’d accrued some sort of military rank, or had a title of nobility that didn’t come via mail order from Sealand, or at least had the eye and ear of the CEO and the gushing approval of their assistant, I might feel like I was on more solid ground and that my work was worthwhile.

As it is, it feeds the Enneagram 6-ness of it all. “I AM THE GOD OF HELLFIRE! (I am, right?)” as the gag went in DC, where I never once questioned who I was as a person or how I was doing professionally. Even when it was unheralded by the powers that be, I knew I was doing a Hell of a job, as was my crew. Now, who knows. When the only people who get recognition are the same half-witted service desk phone operators who can’t read a knowledge base article or remember a procedure for three days running, you begin to wonder if maybe you’re not the one who isn’t up to snuff somehow.

I do remember that about a month in, I told a group of students at the University of Iowa that my job was as easy and rewarding as picking up money in the street. There were harder days for sure, days and weeks where I swore I was going to quit, and all because everyone above my manager was lined up attempting to vanquish him, me and us – despite the fact that the CEO and almost all the users swore by us. but for seven years, we were the lords of the earth, and we feared no evil.

In some way, everything I’ve done professionally since has been an attempt to capture some of that again. I’m way too old for running tickets, in a world where desktop support can be done from the end of a phone unless the computer is on fire, but I still need to be The Man, still need to prove that I do know what I’m doing and you should listen to me and afford my crew and myself the respect and consideration we’ve earned.

But I can say this: I’m definitely not five years away from being able to retire, which is something I absolutely would have believed in at the time. Not even ten years, and I would have sworn I would be able to hang it up at age 60 after a long and distinguished career at…something.

I’d hate to think I’m going to end up doing 25 years at this place.

The end of the 20th century

That’s what it is, honestly.

Elizabeth II came to the throne in the aftermath of the Second World War, burn into an era where the British Empire bestrode the world like Colossus, linked by the Red Line telegraph and the undisputed master of the seas. She leaves a United Kingdom that barely rates the name, where Scotland and Northern Ireland are both edging toward the door, where Brexit has severed the links to Europe, where the 52/48 dynamic and twelve years of ossified Tory rule has combined with plague, economic distress and political upheaval to produce a sense that this really is the end of the line.

The Queen was a coelacanth of an earlier era: an age of deference, respect, tradition, where she knew from a young age that she would spend her entire life as the main employee of Monarchy LLC. Her greatness came from the fact that she faced her duty without complaint or shirking, something that is unimaginable in the modern era. It’s something her heir was unable to manage – the divorce and the death of Diana was arguably the greatest peril for the institution of the Royal Family since Oliver Cromwell, and as for Charles—

Actually, spare a thought for Charles, who finally has the job he never wanted and had to train and wait for his entire life, and has to assume it at a moment of utter grief in how he got it, and whose history – the outspoken opinions, the troubled personal life, a life in tabloids – suggests that the Crown under his rule will not enjoy the same residual respect his mother clung to from the war era. Indeed, it’s hard to see anyone bringing that sort of gravitas any longer in the 21st century.

This is a hard blow for the UK, to be certain, and it might be a diminution they don’t come back from. It’s going to be a very tough winter – real 1970s style – and the confluence of so much at once does rather shake the foundations. The 21st century has finally fully arrived for Britain. They might not be happy it has.

Oh by the way

If anything an even less consequential Apple event than the year before. Like the iPad mini last year, though, the one thing that I might be in the market for in future was shown: the Apple Watch Ultra. It’s not something I need right away, by far, but when the time comes to get a new Apple Watch, why wouldn’t I go for the biggest screen and the biggest battery by far? Especially given how battery life has always been the Achilles heel of the Apple Watch.

Other than that, nothing of consequence. The non-Pro phones have the same base processor as my beloved iPhone 13 mini, so there’s no incentive to upgrade whatsoever. If the only options are 6.1” and 6.7”, you may as well get the Pro at this point. The AirPods are an incremental bump, one unnecessary since I got my warranty replacements in London in March. When you have a mature product line, improvements are incremental at best.

The nice thing is that four months on, I still love my iPhone 13 mini. I even love the silicone case. It’s the perfect device, my favorite phone since the original SE six years ago. If I had it to do over, I’d’ve bought it in time for London, but as it is, I intend to ride it directly into the ground, especially if the notional SE4 turns out to be based on the iPhone XR as is threatened.

Now all I need is for Apple to integrate Announcements ™ into Messages sooner than later, if Signal isn’t gonna shift Stories in 2022…