Dog Gone

I received a set of these six balls as a gift for my dog from my son. They have teeth painted on them and they squeak. My dog has gone bat shit crazy over them, and not in a good way. She whines when she’s around them and even more when she’s not.

She’s never acted like this with any toys I’ve bought before. She’s had plenty of stuff that squeaks, so it’s got to be the teeth.

I think it’s some kind of maternal instinct kicking in, because she could have easily destroyed all of them in minutes after I released them into the yard. Instead she tries to get a couple in her mouth at one time, and bats them around with her feet.

It was kind of cute in the beginning. But after two days of nonstop whining I had to throw them in a bag and hide the bag. I’ll save them for when my son is home and is trying to get some sleep.

The gift

When we first moved to the California, we didn’t know a lot of people. My wife met a woman at her job named Reneé. She too had recently moved from the midwest. So, we started hanging out with her and her husband Mike since they didn’t know a lot of people either.

We didn’t have a lot in common with them, but they were really nice, and we enjoyed their company. Coincidentally, my birthday fell within the short time frame we knew them. Mike found out, and surprised me with a gift and dropped it by the house.

When I got home, I opened it. It was a copy of “Cigar Aficionado” magazine. He got a me an annual subscription. “Shit,” I said. My wife asked what’s wrong. I replied, “Mike thinks I’m an asshole.”

So long iTunes

Last week Apple announced at WWDC that iTunes is going away. Supposedly, it’s core functionality of playing music won’t go away, but the standalone app will no longer exist. Hopefully Apple doesn’t make everyone’s music library obsolete, or a mess like iTunes Match.

I’m bummed to see it go because I was there at the earliest stages of the app’s life.

Back in late 1998, early 1999 I was the technology manager for the desktop line at Apple in developer relations. It was an awesome job because I got to work with some brilliant developers and play with the latest and greatest stuff. I was working on the first generation G4 Mac and in charge of loaning out pre-release machines (aka seed units).

Whenever we released new hardware, developers wanted to get their hands on these seed units as soon as possible. They wanted to test their apps and make sure it didn’t break on the new machines. Managing the seed units was fun. You got to make a developers happy, which isn’t very easy.

The G4 was different than previous hardware. The supply was extremely limited and because Steve Jobs was obsessed with secrecy, he didn’t want to seed developers at all. But, Steve wanted something shiny and new to show off the G4 at launch, so we had to make sure a few cutting edge developers got units.

As the gatekeeper of G4 units, I had to decide who would and wouldn’t get one for testing. It sucked because a lot of people’s livelihoods could be upset with broken software. And yet, there was political pressure to give ones to all the big companies – Microsoft, Adobe, Macromedia – or they’d threaten to drop Mac support. This left about 10 units left for hundreds of developers. I had to prioritize developers who could show more than just faster versions of their latest app.

There were these two guys, Jeff Robbins and Bill Kincaid and they had one app that wasn’t even released. Bill used to work at NeXt, so I think he used some of his own connections to reach me (coincidentally, we were neighbors and didn’t know it).

They created an app called SoundJam. It was an MP3 player that also ripped CDs. This wasn’t new, there were already apps like WinAmp on Windows, but it was the only option for Macs at the time.

Bill wanted a seed unit because he thought it would significantly speed up ripping. The G4 processor had a built-in DSP which could give a 10-20x performance boosts for a limited number of functions.

I couldn’t loan him a unit because they weren’t even the kind of developer we supported when we had enough, but I didn’t want to be a dick. So I told him I’d try it on my personal seed unit. Sure enough, it was a lot faster. Bill kept me fed with updates to SoundJam and I got hooked. I started ripping my personal CD collection and made a jukebox out of a spare all-in-one G3 (aka “the Tooth”). Bill gave me copies to share with colleagues and soon we were all hooked.

The G3 Tooth. When Steve was evaluating the product line, he saw this one and said, “Looks like I missed one.”

Eventually, I snuck Bill a seed unit, because he had a feature he wanted to add to show off the G4’s processing power. It was a cool realtime visualizer that responded to the music you were playing. This became the thing that got Steve’s attention. When we launched the G4, SoundJam was one of the apps they demonstrated in the keynote.

I left Apple to go work for a startup called eMusic because I believed digital, downloadable music was the future. I was right, but I bet on the wrong horse. Apple would buy SoundJam a month or two after I left and rename it iTunes. And the rest, as you know is history.

iTunes is one of my all-time favorite pieces of software. Not only because I love music, but because it was unlike any other program Apple owned at the time. It didn’t atrophy or languish at some dot release for years. It was always evolving and changing, mostly for the better. In the end, maybe it is time for it to go away.

Concert file: Jason Isbell and Father John Misty at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, CA

Last Saturday we took our daughter to see one of hers, and our, favorite acts – Father John Misty at the Greek. This was the second time all three of us saw him there, and the third time my wife and I saw him. The first was in LA at the Wiltern on tour for “Honey Bear, I Love You.”

Of the three times we’ve seen him, this last concert was more subdued and shorter. He had some fun new twists on his older songs. For example there was a guitar solo instead of horns in “Chateau Lobby #4”, and an explosive surprise in the middle of “Holy Shit.”

Missing was the great light show, and time for more of his songs. I still think he put on a great show, but this wasn’t just his tour. He’s out on the road with Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit alternating between headlining and opening. Both acts split their time evenly, so it’s neither is really an opening act.

I’ve been wanting to see Jason Isbell for a while. He comes through here at least once a year, and with other interesting acts. Last year, he opened for Aimee Mann at the Greek. In some ways he’s more of an anomaly than Father John Misty. He looks and sounds like he should be doing straight-to-Ford-F-150 commercial country. Instead his stuff is more about American shittiness than exceptionalism. He’s definitely a woke white king, which must be hard in the circles he travels in outside of Berkeley.

If I didn’t know better, I’d say that was Blake Shelton from where I was sitting.

Not only is he a pretty deep and thoughtful songwriter, he plays a pretty mean. He took the lead on many of his songs including a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Tell Me All the Things You Do.”

The only minor disappointment of the evening was neither played my favorite songs. Every time the guitar tech got out his Les Paul, I thought, finally he’s going to play “Super 8” but nope. Father John didn’t play “Idea Husband” either, which I was expecting in his encore.

As much as I think it’s cool these two artists seem to be touring as buds, I’d rather go to two separate concerts and hear more of each artist’s deeper catalog.

UNTUCKit Undone

I was shirt shopping the other day at J. Crew and couldn’t believe my eyes. Someone had finally cracked the code on what has to be the biggest innovation in men’s apparel since the cargo short. They now sell shirts that are several millimeters shorter and can be worn untucked and yet, be socially acceptable.

For years, I have been seeing ads on social media for UNTUCKit shirts. I could never put my finger on what made these shirts so different? But someone did and that someone managed to raise $30M in venture capital.

J. Crew isn’t the only other company doing this. Now pretty much everyone from Kohl’s to Nordstrom is selling their own version of these shirts. This must be devastating to the investors and inventors of UNTUCKit because they just started opening all their own retail stores – a bold move in a climate where retail stores seem to be closing at a record pace.

I’ve done a little research and it turns out the UNTUCKit guys may very well have been accessory in their own undoing. If you go to their website, and scroll down. You will see someone has literally published their trade secret right there on the website for the whole world to see. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but this looks like it could be an inside job, perpetrated by some disgruntled employee.

There it is! Out there in broad daylight. No wonder everyone else was able to come out with their own versions so quickly!

I don’t know if UNTUCKit will make it, let alone deserve to survive. They have been milking this one trick pony while other breakthroughs like no pockets or reversible cuffs come from other guys. I think their founder may be asleep at the switch, too busy wine tasting in TriBeCa.

Juice Cleanse

My wife and I have been married a long time, so we thought now is as good a time as any to stress test our marriage. So we tried a juice cleanse this week. At the same time we are experiencing an extreme heat wave (105 degrees) and our old house doesn’t have air conditioning. We rarely need any, but when you do, oh boy.

I never thought something that’s supposed to feel so healthy could feel both bad and good on so many levels. First of all, I feel like I’m logger deforesting old growth forest for sport. A whole bag of kale produces a teaspoon of juice, and it takes 2 bags of carrots to get even a half cup. Each juice I make generates about a pound and a half of vegetable detritus. The good news, our town has a decent composting program and all the waste won’t, go to waste.

After trying to subsist on juice for a day and a half, I feel physically terrific. I haven’t really lost any discernible weight, but I feel lighter. Meantime, mentally, I’m an insufferable grouch.

At this point, I think I’m going to have to make a major life decision. Do I go on the rest of my life fat and happy, or healthy and hangry.

Deadwood

I started watching Deadwood, the TV show on HBO last night. I don’t exactly know why other than I just listened to Marc Maron interview Tim Olyphant on WTF.

I’m intrigued by that era and part of America because it was such a contrast. East of the Mississippi was fairly civilized by 1870. But all you had to do was cross that river and you’d go back 100 years.

There are few movies and shows that capture what it must have really been like back then. The two that come to mind are “The Revenant” and the Cohen Brothers version of “True Grit.”

The former captured the brutality and the latter the language. HBO’s Deadwood is lacking a little in both. First, I find it hard to believe everyone was dropping the F-bomb so liberally back then. I’m sure they were coarse people, but they had to have better profanity for that timeframe. Second (and this could be said about all modern westerns), they do a great job of making the men look haggard and filthy with their crooked yellow teeth and stubbled faces. Meanwhile, the whores all look like they’ve been getting to the gym.

Jeopardy

As I listen on the periphery to James Holzhauer chip away at Ken Jenning’s record, I think back to my own experience of trying to make it as a contestant on Jeopardy.

I was a freshman at the University of Illinois (same place James Holzhauer went) and saw the call for participants for the college competition at the end of the show. This was pre-web so you had to send in a self-addressed, stamped envelope (aka a SASE) with your name and college. That was pretty much it. If you wanted more details, you’d have to VCR an episode, and pause it then try read the blurry fine print.

It was 6 months later, and I was now a sophomore when then reply came in. They were holding tryouts for the for Midwest in Dayton, Ohio in a month. I told my folks I got picked and they were thrilled. So my mom booked a hotel, came to Champaign and we drove the 5 hours to Dayton together.

The tryouts were held at the nicest hotel in downtown Dayton, probably a Hyatt or Hilton or something. I just remember a lot of brown and glass.

There were over 200 students. It was a smorgasbord of nerds. While most of us had at least one parent with them, I still felt like one of the coolest guys in the room. And it was mostly guys. This was just one of 5 regional tryouts going on that day.

We were all given slip of paper with a number. Then some show biz looking guy with a clipboard told us how things would work. When our number was called, we’d file into the ballroom and listen to the instructions.

When my number was called, me and and 49 other college students entered the ballroom. There were several televisions and long tables with pens, paper, empty glasses and pitchers of water. It felt like we were about to get a time share pitch.

Clipboard came in said nothing and turned on on all the TVs. Then Alex Trebek came on and gave all the instructions we needed. He said he was going to read 25 questions, and unlike the show, we didn’t have to buzz in, just write the answers on the sheet. We’d get 30 seconds each to answers.

The questions were challenging, but reasonable. It felt like the written portion of a driver’s test. You feel like you got most right, but surely 2 or 3 trick questions will throw you off.

We handed in our sheets as we left the room and went into a waiting area for the results. It couldn’t have been more than 5 minutes when clipboard came out and said he’d like to see the following 5 people. Then he rattled off their names. None of them were mine. Then he said, “everybody else, thanks for coming,” and went back in to ballroom with those 5 people.

The rest of us just looked at each other mouths agape. We were all saying how it was impossible for them to have “graded” all those sheets in such a short time. It felt rigged!

That afternoon, my mom tried to cheer me up as we drove back to Champaign. She said they probably made their decision randomly, which only helped a little.

To this day, I still have this vision in my head of clipboard and his cohorts laughing over donuts saying, “dude, just grave the top 5 off the pile. Any geek that’s willing to spend a weekend in Dayton is easily Jeopardy material.”

Mount Everest

I’ll say this anyway, but does anyone really give a shit whether you climbed Mount Everest or not? So many people have done it with the help of modern technology and a lot of money, that it’s hardly the hill anyone needs to die on anymore.

John Krakauer’s, “Into Thin Air” is a great book, but casts a pretty negative light on those who chose, or can afford to ascend the top of that mountain.

How big a deal can it really be these days? We know it can be done. It’s like people who run tons of marathons. Once you run one, everyone pretty much believes you can run 2, 3 or a 100.

My favorite tragedy was Steven Fossett. He was the guy who kept trying to go around the world in a hot air balloon by himself. He eventually did it, but it wasn’t like Phileas Fogg in a wicker basket. He had this super high tech gondola that looked like a lunar capsule attached to a gigantic balloon. When you saw it, you’d think well of course he go circumnavigate the globe in that!

Sadly, Fossett died in a plane crash in the Sierra Nevada mountains and they couldn’t find his body for months. When he died, I remember someone saying, “at least he died doing what he loved.” Which technically isn’t true. He loved flying, crashing is what killed him.

Italy Trip

So the big news for the end of 2018 is we went to Italy. I didn’t post anything while we were on the trip because I was too busy enjoying myself, and I didn’t want it to be known we were out of town for so long.

The trip was amazing. My wife is a natural born travel planner. She put the whole thing together and got the idea to go for Christmas and New Years after seeing pictures from a friend of her’s who did the same thing last year.

We took the kids and they are great travel companions. We visited Venice, Florence, and Rome over 10 days. You can never spend enough time in Italy i have discovered. However, we did spend enough time there to get a great feel for it.

I will be posting more details from the trip in individual pages on the site. The first installment is ready and online now. Go check it out.