My friend Chris pinged me this morning with some interesting stuff he did to get one of the old MacBook Air 11" machines up to speed as a Linux laptop with SSD and battery upgrades. I suspect there is an 11" machine sitting in Ben’s closet under a pile of superannuated and busted up Chromebooks, but he’s keeping “19-year-old home from college for the summer” hours, so I may not be able to know for sure until … later.

The 11" Air is possibly my favorite Mac of all time. I think they landed around the time of the netbook craze, and I may have replaced an eeePC with one. I am pretty sure that’s the machine that may or may not be in Ben’s possession. I tried to replace it with the 12" MacBook, and that was just a terrible idea.

Chris put this in front of me about the time two ideas were going through my head, one he was surely reacting to and another that only occurred to me last night:

The first is just me pulling on a thread from the whole iPad-as-travel-machine post which was, after some back and forth with Luke, revealed to be less about whether iPads are good travel machines and more about how contrived and dubious the whole “iPads are too full-time machines” proposition is. And, outside the practicalities, how I am beginning to feel like there is something actively harmful about the proliferation of computing form factors when so much of the “discourse” about iPads from tech enthusiasts seems to be “I already have two other computers plus a giant phone, but I added this fourth form-factor in the hopes I could carry less, but nope, it doesn’t work very well, so now I have this thing sitting here that took energy and resources to make that nobody actually needed.”

Because we live in Neoliberal Land, or “under capitalism,” or however you want to tee it up, we are just further wearing a familiar pattern into the conversational dance floor. You’re either already there, and screaming at the obtuse middle aged guy who’s finally getting around to trying to think this thought all the way through, or wary and cagey and preparing to feel resentful about the possibility of a scolding over the horizon, or indifferent, or even hostile because you think that it is a mark of civilizational greatness that we have the privilege and luxury of agonizing over no fewer than five tiers of iPad comprising dozens of variations in size, power, and capacity, and that it is a comforting token of our liberties that we can go spend $2,500 on the all-in version of an iPad Pro to prove to ourselves we don’t actually need an iPad Pro.

I come bearing neither olive branch nor sword on this matter. If blogs are bars or watering holes, this particular one involves the bartender questioning his life choices in front of you, not demanding that you do the same.

The other idea was just realizing last night, as I shuffled some services back over from Google to Fastmail, that the thought that I might need to reconfigure a mail client was only fleeting, because without even thinking about it much or deciding anything, I’ve been living out of a browser for email and calendar for months now. It takes me a few seconds to even tell you if I’m using the Fastmail iOS client or web UI. The three computing things I don’t reliably do in a browser these days are Lightroom, Emacs/BBEdit, and terminal stuff. Subtasks fall out of those high-level things, like writing a script or whatever, but mostly I just use whatever the web app is for most of my day-to-day. I’ve even descended into the savagery of just writing RFCs in Google Docs from a template I made instead of composing them in Markdown and converting them later.

In other words, the idea of cleaning up that 11" Air and sticking Mint on it is sort of appealing. I haven’t messed around with a desktop Linux in a long time, and 11" Airs are nice coffee shop or travel machines, and I may well just happen to have one sitting around. No idea how well the Lightroom web app would run on that thing, but I’m sorta surprised to see that it is aware of all my presets and custom profiles.

Anyhow: thanks, Chris, and food for thought.

Writing an RFC in Google Docs, and I’d love autocomplete that suggested a completion for “Wednesday, September …” Huh. I think I could write Espanso completions … it’ll run Python and I think it can isolate values in the expansion (e.g. :nm, :nt, :nw, for “next Monday,” “next Tuesday,” etc.)

I spent a lot of time with the Pocket Analogue over the weekend. The thing about retro games and the cornucopia they provide is figuring out where your attention will finally alight. I’ve never played early Fire Emblem games (and found Three Houses on the Switch to be a little impenetrable) so I gave the GBA version of Fire Emblem a shot and it has stuck.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t fiddle around with quite a few more. I added the Sega Genesis core, which netted me Samurai Shodown. I don’t know how many quarters I pumped into that at the PX in South Korea in 1994. The only sword-fighting game I’ve enjoyed more was probably Bushido Blade on the PS1. I found a few more games I remembered with fondness that aren’t so great on handhelds: Power Monger and Populous from Bullfrog, which were great on PCs or sprawled out on the living room floor, but far too fussy for a tiny screen.

And while we were out for breakfast on Saturday morning we walked past a vintage game store I didn’t even know existed on Foster. I impulse bought Super Monkey Ball Jr. for $8 and felt my eyes water a little at the $65 price tag for an actual Fire Emblem cartridge (no box).

Anyhow … Fire Emblem … it suits the handheld use case perfectly: Turn-based, so you can get distracted or set it down for a second and it’s just sitting there waiting when you pick it back up. Its cousin β€”Β Advance Wars: Dual Strike β€” was one of my favorite NintendoDS games for the same reason.

The whole experience so far has made me look at my Nintendo Switch a little differently. I think I bought it because I saw someone at work playing Breath of the Wild, and that sold me on the spot. I hadn’t owned a handheld for a few years … I’d had an early Nintendo 3DS and a DS Lite before that … and it was hard to believe I was seeing a handheld.

Since then, the games I’ve really enjoyed on it have been Animal Crossing, Dead Cells, Mario Kart, Alien: Isolation, Sky Force, and a handful of others – usually stuff I could have played on iOS/iPadOS. Oh, also the mildly bonkers Everything – I played that a lot. I bought quite a few more before I realized I wasn’t really enjoying them. Ben actually got into my Switch and patiently tallied the hours played on everything and shamed me on the matter.

With the Switch, I never really felt like I recaptured what I loved about the DS Lite. The draw of ports for major titles was always there, and I’d fall for it every time, forgetting that you’re not getting the pared down version of the thing … you’re getting the whole thing. Wordy cut scenes, long load times, etc. And some ports are just half-baked. I was thrilled at the thought of X-Com in a handheld — I’ve been playing variations of that game since the PS1 port of the original in the ’90s. But it was as close to a straight port as you can get: I couldn’t read the microscopic text, and the UI was sort of glitchy and ill-suited to thumbsticks. And, finally, there’s just the form factor. It’s a big device, and sort of ungainly to keep on the desk for quick breaks.

In the end, it feels to me like it’s perhaps symptomatic of what happened to games — the gaming market, anyhow — in general: Things got serious. It’s not that you couldn’t be an obsessive gaming dweeb on a GameBoy or DS, it’s just that they could only achieve so much, and couldn’t sustain the pretension to narrative and visual immersion that was waiting to be realized by ever-more-powerful consoles. They might have longish cut scenes or “cinematic” intros now and then, but past that you were just playing Meteos, Tetris, or some other obviously handheld version of something that itself wasn’t in the same ballpark as what is normal today.

When I think about it rationally, the right move would have been to just ignore the Switch. It has some great titles that suit an aging casual like me, but there’s always the pull of the major ports and the big games, and it is utterly unnecessary, and less well suited than its ancestors, for the “pick up and play during spare moments or lazy Sundays” use case.

I’m remembering the day I donated all my DS games and really regretting it – that particular combination of hardware and software in particular was some kind of peak, given the dual screens. It enabled a sort of complexity and expansiveness that was still somehow constrained. If Analogue decided to make a DS version of the Pocket I think I’d be all over it, and if I’d thought my Pocket use case through a little more I may have just bought a refurbed DS Lite and spent the difference on games at the vintage store.

As it is, the Pocket is pretty good and does what I want (and remember enjoying). Given original titles it’s a step down from the DS Lite, but not a big step — definitely not big at all if your thing is turn-based strategy — and there’s a small market of indy games for it that traffic in a kind of self-referential and distanced nostalgia that’s a little ironic in the fun way.

Standing in the vintage game store on Foster Rd., though, I noticed a bunch of 2DS and DS Lites sitting around with spare chargers and batteries. I wonder what the long-term repair picture on those things is, because to my mind that’s possibly the last, great generation of handhelds and I wouldn’t mind rescuing a few.

A screengrab of the GBA version of Fire Emblem. A character is saying "The poison ... there must be no blunders."

Giving up the iPad-only travel dream

I was a super-early “will you haters quit moving the goalposts around about what constitutes ‘real work’?” iPad person, working an editorial job when the first one came out. As soon as you could get a keyboard to talk to one, I was doing that. I remember making it my sole work machine for an offsite at a company I left in … 2010? So, this is not me stomping in and dissing iPads on the basis of having watched Netflix and thinking it’s dumb to own a $1,500 Fruit Ninja machine.

Nope. For years I’ve been trying on and off to feel comfortable with iPads as full-timers, and I’m fine saying that if all I ever did was write I probably still wouldn’t be an iPad full-timer because I find touch screens tedious for editing work, do not like the dinky little track pad on the Magic Keyboard, find the keyboard-driven cursor movement baffling and strange, and don’t like neck strain. By the time I’m done setting up with a proper keyboard and a real mouse, I have lost sight of the use case for an iPad and resent the dead weight and bulk of a productivity-equipped one in my carryon when I could have just grabbed a laptop.

When I do see people like Mr. MacStories trying to make the case that yes, the iPad is too a fit machine for full-time work, I kind of roll my eyes, because the use case of “I can use the iPad for work because my job is trying to figure out ways to use the iPad for work” is not an actual use case for anyone but people who care about technology for its own sake, as a thing they like to think about, play with, etc.

I’m one of those people, but I don’t confuse my hobbies with what I want to be doing all the time. I can walk away from them. I can build an incredibly convoluted Shortcuts workflow to, e.g. extract all my meetings from my calendar, turn them into a page on my reMarkable (RIP), realize that was sort of hokey, and decide it’s a much better use of my time to, I dunno, set up an old iPhone as an always-on listener to respond to SMS requests for the details of my next meeting from my flip phone. I’m probably actually a bigger sicko than Mr. MacStories, because he at least makes money off of his nonsense. I just do it because I can’t help myself.

Anyhow, iPads are great. I have a couple and use one or the other every single day. I love taking them camping, because having an iPad with a few movies and episodes on it is a great way to settle in for the night when you’re trapped in a teardrop trailer and it’s raining outside. They’re also superb for catching up on RSS, reading newspaper apps, writing for brief clips, doing some photo editing, etc. etc. But I feel like sometimes people need them to be “full-time work machines” for no other reason than “it’d be really cool if they could be full-time work machines,” and possibly “I am sick of all the reflexive Apple haters, so I’m gonna prove the haters wrong.”

There is something about this nervous, never-satisfied, “surely this time” insistence on cramming these metal and glass rectangles into slightly different rectangular holes that seems unwholesome. Queasily, obsessively fixated on the proliferation of objects. Weirdly emotional in its attachment to brands.

Like I asked, what are politics? Diddling Shortcuts workflows to prove you can be an efficient tech blogger with just an iPad seems, on its face, to be inherently apolitical, but when I circle back to the “obsessively fixated on the proliferation of objects” it becomes harder to believe that.

A reminder of house editorial policy: No title, hence not meant to end anywhere, make any conclusions, or align with any other assertion. So I’m just gonna stop typing now and get some sun. Have a great Saturday!

Okay. Yes. I can get into this. (Deadeus, GB)

Screenshot of a Gameboy screen depicting a giant eyeball hovering over a screaming child with the caption "Your flesh is a debt long due."

So, does the GameBoy tie-in for Alien 3 include Ripley discovering Hicks and Newt’s mangled bodies in their sleep pods, and listening to Bishop beg for death? Guess I’ll download it and find out.

When I took a job as a commander’s driver, my First Sergeant asked me “do you know what your job is?”

I said “drive him around?” and he said “most of the time, but what’s your job if the balloon goes up?”

I said, “drive him around, but more carefully?”

He said, “no, it’s put him under the truck and fight.”

So, okay. Fine.

I shared that conversation with someone years later, and they said “you told me about that guy you drove around before. You hated him. He fired you for smiling too much.”

I said, “well, I knew had to make myself love him. How else do you accept the idea of getting shot for someone?”

It’s pretty weird to think about it now, many many years later.

I had enlisted because a few things in my life had eaten enough of me away that there was nothing to put the brakes on my curiosity. They nearly kicked me out anyhow, not for being insubordinate or bad at soldiering, but because my very literal take on our law of land warfare training precluded sounding off to baby-killing cadences, which caused the chaplain to suggest I was a covert conscientious objector. I don’t think I have many friends today who would cope well with the prospect of trying to convince your super-irritated commanding officer that no, there’s really not enough left of you to object to killing someone in cold blood, just not children or non-combatants.

Similarly, there was still not much left β€”Β even less than when I enlisted β€” when I volunteered for airborne school. A friend back home asked why on Earth I’d do that — hadn’t this whole thing just been a scam to get college money? — and I said “because fuck it is why.”

Toward the end of my enlistment, I had a good friend who’d hang out with me at the barracks picnic table and we played a little game together:

As other soldiers walked by, we’d bucket them:

  • Captain America
  • Lost Boy
  • Sociopath

I forget our count, but we can leave it at “the first and last categories did 15 or 20 percent of the work between them, and everyone else was there in the middle.” That was me and Aaron. He had entered a Lost Boy and figured out how to impersonate a Captain America. I had entered a Lost Boy and … sort of stayed that way.

I remember standing on a parade ground, and the commanding general telling us all to gather around his platform. He yelled into a megaphone that he was surrounded by people who had it in their power to end civilizations and destroy nations in a day, and a roar went up. Captain Americas who saw no problem with that particular power resting with them, sociopaths who sensed an opportunity to do their thing at scale, and all of us Lost Boys who were just happy to have something to belong to.

When Ben was young — maybe six or seven — he asked me about what it had been like to be a knight. I told him that’s not quite what it was, and that it was never anything he should want to be.

It’s hard to remember being so close to that edge, and it is a huge relief that he seems to have listened to me.

The Pocket arrived. It can play original GameBoy cartridges, and it has the ability to add software “cores” that can play ROMs from assorted platforms.

I ordered this thing a while back, and didn’t realize how badly backlogged they were, which makes this a weird combination of impulse buy and delayed gratification. There are much less expensive retro handhelds that would probably work fine, and my understanding is that the hardware layer is what makes this thing unique: It’s not emulating the hardware in software. Serious classic gamers say this removes a lot of clock issues that make some games unplayable due to timing problems when they’re running on emulated hardware. I would probably never run into this problem, and if I did I would delete the ROM and move on.

Anyhow, the other thing I believe makes it stand out compared to the many other classic game handhelds is that it is not at all fussy or weird to add a core and sideload ROMS for it. I just find the core I want on GitHub, install it to a microSD card, and then add ROMs for that core to the card as well. It took about 15 minutes to go from “empty” to “several dozen classic GameBoy and GameBoy Advance” games. I also found a number of indy games and demakes for it, similarly easy to add. I’ve owned two other retro game consoles/handhelds, and the UI has been pretty atrocious. The Analogue benefits from the Apple-like marriage of software and hardware, and the UI is clean and simple.

For the cost, I’d suggest a few other alternatives if you’re wanting a classic gaming experience:

First are the aforementioned “others,” made by companies like Ambernic. The UI can be bad, but they come preloaded with a ton of games and they’re capable of emulating all the way up to PlayStation 1-era games, and sometimes beyond, for much less money. They’ve been hard to buy because of supply chain issues β€” that’s partially why I ordered a Pocket β€”Β but I think that is loosening up.

The other option is to buy a refurbed original, like a late model Nintendo 2DS or 3DS. They have massive libraries available if you don’t mind collecting physical cartridges, the batteries are replaceable, and the 2DS is built like a tank. Ben had one and I wish I knew where it was. I don’t know how they are for sideloading, so you might end up more out-of-pocket on those, but there are plenty of cartridges out there.

And there’s always the ever-expanding library of ports for the Nintendo Switch. I happen to really, really like the Pocket’s old-school, OG Gameboy design/formfactor, and I’m pretty excited about getting the Atari Lynx cartridge adapter for it at some point, but if you have a Switch and don’t want to spend money on more hardware, it’s there for you.

Finally, the GameBoy Advance library has been a pleasant surprise. I just Googled “best GBA games,” read through the resulting listicles, and built a nice library of stuff that’s pretty high quality. Core Nintendo games and franchises have a way of being reincarnated for every generation of hardware, and there’s something to be said for the simplicity of pre-Switch stuff. The constraints on screen size, hardware, and memory resulted in more pared-down ports, or fairly faithful recreations of stuff from even more constrained times. The classic Atari console and arcade port collections available for the GBA create a sort of Inception-like “retro inside a retro” experience for stuff like Joust, Galaga, Gyruss, Elevator Action, Time Pilot, Pitfall, Enduro, Laser Blast, etc.

So now I’m sitting here weighing whether to start with:

  • Fire Emblem
  • Final Fantasy I & II Dawn of Souls
  • Final Fantasy VI
  • Harvest Moon Friends of Mineral Town
  • Advance Wars

Another smoky-ish sort of morning.

A tiny plastic cat next to a tiny plastic green bucket posed on a rock.

A building with a sign reading Mt. Scott Fuel Co. stylized to look like a log.

A bicyclist rides by a building with a sign reading Mt. Scott Bark Mulch

Demand good governance, not more essays about how bad those other people are.

This article in the Nation makes some chilling connections between rising homelessness and right-wing rhetoric. People should read it, internalize it, and remember it when they’re feeling frustrated about the ongoing catastrophe playing out on our streets, because it is ugly and it is what often happens when people have to bear witness to human misery day in and day out, with no sense of a path forward.

That said, there was this report on the abject failure of Multnomah County’s Joint Office for Homeless Services, which receives hundreds of millions of dollars per year both from a Metro Supportive Housing measure, and millions from the city of Portland. In a nutshell:

“Among the most damning findings by County Auditor Jennifer McGuirk: The office sometimes pays providers months late; it asks them to work before contracts are in place; it adjusts performance measures if providers cannot meet original goals; and it could not produce simple data on how many people it’s housedβ€”even to the county auditor herself.”

I talked to someone who manages clinical services for one of the region’s largest Medicaid recipients, has contracts with the JOHS, has been doing social work for 20 years in this area, and has been at the tip of the spear in the region’s care for the unhoused and addicted.

“Nobody likes to talk about the JOHS imploding because they’re afraid voters will get angry and pull the supportive housing measure dollars.”

The JOHS isn’t ashamed to conflate themselves and their dysfunction with the community they are failing to serve. They’d have us believe their dysfunction and mismanagement is the best we can expect to help the most vulnerable and least powerful among us. It’s a disgrace. I can’t believe the city even feels the need to debate its ongoing partnership with these people. The county, through the JOHS, foot-drags and sabotages shelter initiatives (“They say shelter isn’t housing. That’s right. Shelter is fucking shelter,” says my friend), and has generally reduced the crisis we’re facing to a bloodless exercise in technocratic managerialism that is missing the thing technocratic managerialism most depends on, which is actual managerial competence.

I’ve written before about the systemic problems Multnomah Co. creates for itself. In some ways, that is completely outside the JOHS’s control. For whatever reason Multnomah Co. long ago inflected into a “market-style” approach to funding social services providers, with all the inherent inefficiency of spinning up dozens of competing providers with their own administrative overhead, management overhead, and political backbiting. That has rendered the JOHS’s role into a procurement bureaucracy.

Where the JOHS becomes problematic is in its long history of mismanagement, and fierce defense from the former county chair because of the county’s ideological commitments around housing, including a fixation on commoditized housing. The county chair allowed its founding director to stay in place until long after it went into failure mode, allowed nepotistic consulting deals, burned through a series of interim leaders, and has utterly failed to spend money regional taxpayers generously agreed to spend.

That last part is important: Is there a rising sense of cruelty against the homeless? I think that Nation article makes a compelling case. But locally there has also been a great deal of generosity and a willingness to pay for solutions. What they’ve received in return has been shocking mismanagement — so bad that the auditor trying to understand what is going on at the JOHS had to give up in disgust because that organization can’t even quantify its purpose for existence.

The answer isn’t to read Yet Another Scathing Progressive Indictment of Christopher Rufo or Michael Shellenberger and cluck to yourself that at least you know better. The answer is not to sit around shaming others because they sometimes react poorly to the horror going on around them — and here I’m looking at all the Twitter “progressives” with the moral vanity to summarize the problem as “greedy people worried about their property values.”

The answer is to hold government accountable. If you’re a loud and proud progressive, DSA member, “good liberal” or whatever, your power doesn’t matter in the general election. Those are foregone conclusions in the Portland area. Your power matters in the primary, where you owe more scrutiny of the progressive contenders.

Make Jessica Vega Pederson earn your vote next time. Demand good governance. Quit letting these people hide behind your ideological allegiance to them. It’s a one-party county, act like it.

What Happened to Wirecutter?

Overthought conclusion. They were forced to scale by greedhead NYT executives, and far from being “anti-consumerist” they fill gaps in content with “our third and fourth most favorite kitchen gadgets are 5 percent off today” junk articles to goose affiliate clicks.

Google: “We’re launching new privacy features that give you more choice over the ads you see.”

tbh I was just using Chrome because it’s my “work” browser and I don’t have to deal with Safari’s relative under-featuredness with user profiles. Just gonna switch to Firefox now. I’m over these people.

“‘All these bulletproof songs, one after another’: remembering Tom Waits’s extraordinary mid-career trilogy

I’ll never forget the first time I heard Swordfishtrombones. And I do have a lot of affection for The Heart of Saturday Night, even if it’s not “Tom Waits.”

Wildfire smoke made for strange light this morning.

Wildfire smoke makes the morning sun dark and red.

Coppery orange light falls on a blue storefront with a sign that reads Spacemonkey Coffee

Storefront reading Mt. Scott Bark Mulch. Cafe table and chairs in the foreground.

A closeup of a cappuccino with a leaf pattern in the foam

Neoliberalism is about “protecting capitalism from democracy.” Interesting American Prestige. Ponying up my $5.…

I bought a Fujifilm X100S almost 10 years ago. 23mm (crop) was such a weird shift: I was much more used to 50mm, and had briefly anchored on 35mm (the true “normal” of APS-C) on my last cheap dSLR. 23mm felt bizarrely open and hard to fill. It’s my favorite now. (Ben, Oregon Coast, 2014)

Monochrome. A small boy on a beach, holding a towel.

I’m considering going to a reunion of some college friends this fall. They’re the people I first ever thought of as “my people,” and I’ve been out of touch with them for a while, but it has been making me think about who I’ll be among them.

Some I’ve continued to feel close to even if we haven’t interacted much, and some I don’t understand anymore. Not in the sort of standard “everyone is getting older, so some of us are getting more conservative” way. More in the how of engaging with the world.

Like, during 2016 I watched a few of them at each others' throats about Hillary and Bernie on Facebook, and it was sort of weird. I posted a few “vote blue no matter who” bromides to put a psychic bow on the matter for myself, and to skip out on the scuffle. Most of their Facebook output is paraphrases of Josh Marshall blog posts or approving links to Salon or HuffPo.

I have a reaction to that stuff I would not have anticipated maybe ten years ago:

I think to myself “God not again.” Then I think “can I guess the content from reading the headline?” and I usually can. Then I think “why is this so annoying to you? Have your politics changed?”

And that’s the thing. When I read the content, I’m sorta “yeah, sure, okay, yes, yep, yup, good” and briefly think “no, my politics haven’t changed, it’s probably just a tone or style thing.”

Then a few weeks ago another thought entered my head, which was “what do you even mean by politics? What are politics? What are your politics? How do you even know you have them?”

I think possibly I do not.

I don’t mean that in the lazy “everybody is right somehow” way.

Or the ridiculous “the truth is always in the middle” kind of way.

Or in the blackpilled “fuck all politics life is meaningless” kind of way.

Or in the checked out “I don’t know what I think it is all so complicated” way.

I do know what I think. About how the economy and the state should be organized and for whose benefit.

I mean it in the way that I am not sure you get to say you “have politics” if you are not, to name a few qualifying activities:

  • Actually doing politics. Like, holding office.
  • Doing something in your community to change it.
  • Organizing or participating in a union.
  • Sacrificing something for other people who are not your immediate family or close friends.
  • Otherwise risking something on behalf of other people who can’t stand up for themselves or need your help.

… and no, as much as people have tried to convince me otherwise, I don’t think “doing stuff on social media” counts as “politics.” I think it counts as talking about politics. I don’t think it actually is doing politics. I have not since the first time someone told me “Twitter is where I do my social justice work” and a quick scroll of their account showed a series of “πŸ‘πŸ»” tweets directed at nobody in particular encouraging their followers β€”Β people I presume are already 90 percent in agreement with them β€”Β to “check their privilege” or whatever. Someone tried to tell me that since a lot of journalists read Twitter and form their opinions there, every tweet is a micro-unit of influence in a great war of posting attrition.

If I go to be around my old friends, I think most would tell me they “have politics” or “are political,” but outside maybe a union member and one committed activist, I don’t think any of them are doing politics. Rather, I’d say they are discussing political ideas, engaging with political content, or are participating in a cultural current where it is important to “be aware” of politics.

But doing politics? It has to be more than “I have certain positions on pressing matters of the day.”

I think I am writing all this because the thought of going back to be around people who last knew me well when I was, like them, more potential and promise than realization, leaves me wondering how to account for myself and how to answer, “well, what am I now?”

It turns out, I think, that I’m not actually political, and that I think I probably should be.

Found a selfie in a book. Took two. The good one went to a girl in Alaska. Didn’t work. (D/51st Sig barracks, Ft. Bragg, NC, 1996)

Picture of a Polaroid selfie of a male with army barracks in the background.

The next phone

Time for the occasional fretting about phones.

Some things I love or have loved:

  • I love my iPad mini 6. It sort of snuck up on me how much I love it.
  • I loved my iPhone mini. I wish they still made those, and I wish they came with the Good Cameras.
  • I sort of loved my Mennonite-made flip phone. It has some issues, but it’s a nice device in a very “just does the one thing” sort of way.
  • I love my Garmin Instinct 2X Solar.

Something I once thought I loved, but have reappraised:

I haven’t missed my Apple Watch for one second after several weeks of use. It is feature-packed, nice to look at, etc. but I wasn’t using many of the features and I didn’t care for the charging hassle on vacation or long camping weekends. This last week when, on a brief vacation, I put the Garmin into low power mode and it reported 96 days of remaining battery, I swooned a little. Back in smartwatch mode and a few recorded walks with GPS, having not had it on a charger for a week, it’s still showing 23 days of battery life.

It does the things I liked about my Apple Watch: It has contactless payment and it shows texts and phone calls. But it’s a profoundly undemanding device. Time to go for a walk? Press the GPS button once to go into workout mode, once more to pick my default workout, and once more to start. Same button to pause. I was disoriented by the button interface for my first day of use, then it all made perfectly good sense and I don’t miss swiping a tiny screen, and I really will not miss it in the winter.

One ambivalent thing:

  • I feel profoundly ambivalent about my iPhone 14 Pro. The camera is amazing. Everything else is fine and all, but it makes my left thumb hurt sometimes.

Freed of the Apple Watch, the iPhone is also an anchor for one less thing: The Apple Watch requires an accompanying iPhone.

Now, I like iOS/iPadOS a lot. But it is entirely conceivable to me that I could live the parts of my digital life that do well on iOS on my iPad mini. It has cellular data, etc. etc. and I don’t tend to leave the house without a bag or sling of some kind, so I could do all my iPhone things with it and enjoy a better screen than an iPhone for reading stuff. Upsize my bag to fit my wireless Magic Keyboard and my Twelve South Compass, and I’ve got a work device.

Leave it all behind, and my flip phone is there as minimum viable tether … texts, phone calls. It even has maps and turn-by-turn — if I am feeling a little masochistic, anyhow — and a weather app. But the folks who made it are super privacy oriented, so it won’t do much else, and unlike a lot of low-end minimalist phones it doesn’t add a cheesy Facebook app you can’t get rid of.

I dunno. It’s just coming around to “New iPhone Season,” and I thought a little about how annoyed I am by iPhones since Apple stopped making the mini. Even the “normal” ones are a little too big to be one-handed without straining my thumb, and the big ones are barely pocketable but still smallish for reading. Comparatively, the iPad mini has a huge, gorgeous display.