Photo: The best background for the Windows 8.1 Start screen

Purely by accident, I discovered tonight that a black-and-white photo makes the ideal background for the Windows 8.1 Start screen.

Background

The ease of blogging via email

Just participated in a discussion thread about blogging over on App.net, in which someone wanted an easy blogging option.

Posthaven is pretty ideal in that regard. Write an email, hit "send," and boom, you're done. Couldn't be easier.

Hell, I just wrote this post on my phone while drinking coffee. :-)

Something old, something new

Once upon a time, I had an account with Posterous. If you're not familiar with Posterous, which got swallowed up by Twitter and shut down in 2013, it was a blogging platform that made posting remarkably simple. All you had to do was send an email to [email protected]. Couldn't have been simpler.

I always liked it, but as with so many other services that I've used and liked, it went away. I tried other platforms, but nothing ever made it as easy to post as Posterous did. Then I was reminded a few days ago that there was something called Posthaven, built by the founders of Posterous and resurrecting much of what was great about it.

So here I am, trying it out. I've made a grand total of four blog posts in the last year, so maybe this will encourage me to blog more. Maybe it won't. All I know is that I won't know until I try.

My reaction to the Senate report on torture

I'm only going to say this once:

The animals who have defiled our nation and made a mockery of our ideals by torturing and killing prisoners, and those who ordered and supervised their crimes, should be immediately charged with war crimes and handed over to the International Criminal Court for prosecution.

My fantasy garage

Note: There's an updated version of this list here.

Every once in a while I'll mention my fantasy garage, the collection of vehicles I'd own if I ever found myself suddenly a billionaire, and every once in a while someone asks me what they all are. Here's the list as of today. My criteria are simple. They are vehicles that I find interesting or beautiful, that are often a bit unusual, and that I would enjoy showing up with at a car show. It's heavy on European cars, and betrays my fascination with the automobiles of the Soviet bloc. If I have a choice between a common version and one you don't often see or hear about, I've chosen the rarer one (hence the Steyr-Puch 500 instead of the Fiat 500). Anyway, here you go:

Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint Speciale
Alpine A110
Amphicar
Auto Union 1000S
AZLK Moskvich 408
BMW Isetta 600
BMW 700 Coupe
Citroën CX
Citroën DS21 sedan
Citroën DS21 Decapotable (Henri Chapron)
Citroën Dyane
Citroën GS Berline
Citroën 2CV
Citroën Ami 6 Break
Citroën SM
DAF Daffodil
Datsun SPL311
DKW 3=6
Fiat 600 Jolly
Fiat 850 Spider
GAZ M21 Volga
GAZ-24 Volga
GAZ-13 Chaika
Glas GT
Hillman Imp
Hindustan Ambassador
Holden 48-215
Honda S600 Convertible
Hongqi CA770
IFA F9
IKA Torino
Jaguar Mark II
Lamborghini 350GT
Lancia Fulvia Zagato
Lincoln Continental Mark II
Maserati Mistral coupé
Mazda Cosmo (1st generation)
Mazda RX-7 (Series 1)
Messerschmitt KR200
Morgan 3-wheeler
Morgan 4/4
Nissan PAO
NSU Ro80
NSU Spider
Oldsmobile Toronado (1966)
Panhard 24
Peugeot 504 wagon
Renault 4CV
Renault 4
Renault 5
Renault 12
Renault 16
Renault Fuego
Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III
Rover P5 "Coupe"
Saab 96 V-4
Saab 99EMS
Saab 900 Turbo
Skoda 1000MBX coupe
Skoda 110R
Steyr-Puch 500
Studebaker Avanti
Studebaker Starliner coupe
Tatra 603
Toyota 2000GT
Toyota Century (1st generation)
Toyota FJ40
Trabant 601
Volkswagen 1200 "Beetle"
Volkswagen Type 3 Karmann-Ghia
Volvo PV544
Wartburg 311
Wartburg 353
Willys Interlagos
ZAZ 965A
ZIL-114
ZIS-110

Why I left App.net

I did not intend to post anything about this, so as not to add to the drama, but I've been asked several times now for my reasons for leaving ADN. Rather than keep repeating myself, I'll post the following words, which were culled from a couple of PMs and extended a bit, and which sum it up as well as anything. These will be my last words on the subject; I will not elaborate further. Time to move on.


Basically, here's what happened: this has been a long time coming, pretty much ever since the personal attacks attending the whole kerfuffle over Brendan Eich that got me to switch to this account. I've been on ADN radio silence for the last week (publicly, anyway) because I needed some time to think. I just happened to log on yesterday and saw yet another ADN circular firing squad revolving around [REDACTED] (some of which is still going on this morning, actually; take a look at [REDACTED]’s stream). Frankly, I've had enough.

From what I can see, the tenor of the place has changed from what it was in the beginning. If things were different, if I thought the service had a brighter future, I might stay and fight. As it is, it's just more than I have in me.

Yes, Dalton has told us that it can continue indefinitely. He also told us everything was fine, right up until the time the staff got laid off. I hope you'll forgive me if I take it with a few large grains of salt. My honest opinion is that it's probably fine until the next round of renewals, and/or until iOS 8.x or 9 breaks all the apps that the devs have stopped working on (given the Apple-centric nature of ADN, that'll likely kill it quickly). Either way, I don't think the future here is bright. That's why I have been following all the ADN folk I can find on Twitter.

The @adnfuture thing is fine, except that the people behind it have no control or ownership of ADN. It's nice to talk about a new name or extending the API or whatever, except that ultimately it's all rather pointless unless there's buy-in from Dalton and Berg, and there's no sign of that. For that matter, there's no sign of Dalton, either.

I thought a lot about this before doing anything. I take no joy in leaving, and I am going to miss what once was, but what once was is no longer. I'm keeping apps on my phones for PMs and such for those folks who refuse to be anywhere else, but I won't be posting to the public stream (edit: or checking in on it, either). It's just gotten too toxic too much of the time.

So anyway, that's my take on it. I made a lot of friends here, and I hope to stay in touch with them wherever they end up. In the end, as I've been saying repeatedly, community is people. The rest is just software, and software can be replaced.

Thoughts on App.net and the future

Is there anyone with the remotest connection to App.net who hasn't read the ADN State of the Union post yet? I doubt it. It's been endlessly discussed over the last couple of days, and there's a pretty clear divide between those who see it as the end, or the beginning of the end, and those who see it as a new beginning. I'm still figuring out what I think about it, but I find that I have a few things to say about it anyway, because why leave the tech douchebaggery to others? I'm sure this will not be entirely well-received, but so be it.

Let me say at the outset that I'm sticking with ADN, because I like it, and I'll be there until they turn off the lights (or the fabled #adnprinter). But let's not kid ourselves. It's not a commercial success. It may not be an abject failure (yet), but laying off the entire staff, open-sourcing the code and taking the founders off the payroll is not the natural progression for a successful project. I actually give Dalton and Bryan a lot of credit for not just doing the easy thing and winding it up, instead of doing us all a favor by keeping it going for now, but I can't quite shake the feeling that I've seen this play before. What we're really looking at now is a probable state of benign neglect, at best. It may continue in this state for some time, but if you think it was hard to convince your friends to join ADN before, when it had a full-time support staff and VC-sponsored development, you ain't seen nothin' yet. And I'm not sure how you convince developers to build apps when the Developer Incentive Program has been killed, and even the best developers (paging Bill Kunz…) have been unable to make much money from their efforts.

Do I need to draw a picture? The original dream is over. Many of us came aboard in 2012 lured by the vision of a social network that respected your privacy, that gave you ownership of your stuff, that you supported by paying for it, built on an infrastructure that would be supported and maintained by the App.net organization, and which could serve as the foundation for third-party apps built by developers. It's hard to see this happening now. Overrun with automated posts, crossposts and outright spam from a free tier that takes up resources without contributing anything, it' s highly unlikely that the latest developments will make things any better.

Am I saying it's dead? No. After all, it is sustainable for the moment, which as I pointed out yesterday is more than can be said for Twitter. But if it were a human being, it would be on life support, in a coma, being monitored by a couple of doctors who are alone in the room after the nurses and physician's assistants have been sent home. It could die. It could recover. But right now, it's not going to be throwing the winning pass in the Super Bowl anytime soon. And it takes more chutzpah than I have to suggest that under the circumstances, everything is going to be just fine, regardless.

And with that said, despite some chatter I've seen, there is absolutely nothing wrong with ADN members wanting to take out insurance in the form of exchanging Twitter or Google+ or Plurk handles. The real value of ADN is the community of people who coalesced around it; get those people together elsewhere, and the community will survive even if the worst happens. It doesn't mean you're disloyal to ADN. For crying out loud, this isn't a nation, this isn't religion, this is a bloody social network run by a startup.

It may surprise you that this analysis is coming from me. I've been a big supporter of ADN, and I've said consistently whenever "ADN is doomed" talk came up that according to Dalton all was fine, that the VC investors were happy, and things were good, and that I'd worry about it when that changed.

I'm worrying about it now. Andreesen Horowitz appears to have pulled the plug, renewals are a fraction of what they need to be, and suddenly we have a crisis.

For what it's worth, I think Brianna Wu of Revolution 60 (@spacekatgal) was right when she wrote "More than anything, App.net was a product that tried to solve an engineering problem, not a human problem." Ironically, ADN now has a very human problem. As things stand, the best hope for ADN lies with its hardcore users, the ones who were frequently ignored or put off when they asked for certain features. Lists, anyone?

To repeat, I'm not leaving. I like it there. I've got two paid accounts, and I'm good for another year or so at least. But I'm staying with the blinders off. No more illusions.

Google's identity problem

So I finally got my invitation from Google to establish a custom URL for my Google profile. Unfortunately, because "many people have the same name," they want me to add letters and/or numbers to what they pre-selected for me, +LarryAnderson.

This is exactly the problem I thought I would have, and it's idiotic. There's no reason that URLs based on common names shouldn't be first-come, first-served. Also, it's stupid that we can't choose an alternate URL--for me, perhaps +LawrenceAnderson or +LawrenceEAnderson, or even my old Twitter handle, +larand. Twitter, Plurk, App.net, Identi.ca, and even bloody Facebook let me choose the username/URL of my preference, but Google is being difficult about it.

If you were a participant in Google's earlier, ill-fated experiment in social media, Google Buzz, perhaps you remember the kerfuffle over the way they handled it, matching your URL to your Gmail address. Then, when Google+ emerged, they insisted on people using real names only, which caused an additional uproar, forcing them to relent eventually.

Apparently, they have learned nothing.

Pleasant surprises

sunrise

Every once in a while, you start out thinking you're going to have one thing, and end up having something very different. If you're lucky, what you end up with will be a pleasant surprise.

Something like that has happened to me. A few weeks back, I ordered a Nokia Lumia 520--the AT&T GoPhone edition--to test out the local AT&T network. Several years back, I paid a substantial early termination fee to get out of an AT&T contract, because the coverage and service was just so bad. But lately, my Verizon Wireless bill has been ridiculously high, and it led me to consider alternatives. The fact that AT&T has been advertising locally that their 4G LTE network now covers the entire county was a nudge to me to see if things have changed any, and it must be said that I would love to be on a GSM network if the coverage is decent. I'm just tired of never getting the hardware I really want on Verizon.

There's also the feeling I've increasingly been having lately that the superphones, the Galaxy S4s and Lumia 1020s and iPhones 5S of the world, are really overkill. When I think about how I use a phone, it seems to me that inexpensive but capable is the new hotness. It's hard for me to justify spending $199 on contract, or $600-800 off-contract, for a phone when you have a phone as apparently capable as the 520 selling for $99 with no contract. At that price, it's almost disposable.

So I ordered the phone, with the intention that I would use it to check out the network, and meanwhile would have a new toy to play with. By sticking in a 64 GB Micro SD card, I ended up with a $99 72 GB smartphone--except that the proceeds from selling my iPhone 4, coupled with my Amazon credit, meant that the phone effectively cost me nothing apart from the cost of the SD card, which I got for a good price on Amazon. Not a bad deal. I figured that once I finished my test, I'd have an inexpensive MP3 player/GPS device/backup phone.

And then I started using it…and I started to like it. Really, really like it.

Granted, it's not as powerful as my HTC 8X, but I find that I don't really notice that much. You do see the "Resuming…" or "Loading…" message more than you do on the 8X, but it's not excessive. The screen is smaller and lower resolution, but because of the way that Windows Phone handles the UI, it's really not that noticeable. Although I never found my 8X to be excessively large, the 520 just fits in my hand more nicely. And the plastic back cover, while not as nice as the soft-touch finish on the 8X, makes up for that by being removable and replaceable, giving access to the battery, which can also be replaced, unlike the 8X. As mentioned above, it has expandable storage (yay!). This, my friends, is a good thing. The camera is, to my eye, actually a tad better than the one on the 8X--the photo above was taken with it. The screen has better visibility in sunlight than the 8X. The battery life so far seems to be better than that of the 8X. And just like the iPhone 5C, it is gloriously, unapologetically plastic. ;-)

The replaceable cover also means that you can buy one in a different color and change the appearance. Because the cheapo GoPhone version comes with a black cover with an AT&T logo (boring), I ordered a cyan cover from Europe (yes, it cost something, but it was worth it), which Nokia for some reason doesn't offer in the US. Besides being a cool color, it had the side benefit of getting rid of the carrier logo. Nice.

As for the network, it seems fine. So far, I always get a signal, and although the data on the 520 is limited to HSPA+ instead of LTE, I don't really mind. I'm usually on Wi-Fi at home and at the office most of the time anyway.

One thing the 520 doesn't seem to have is an oleophobic coating on the screen, which is unfortunate. Because of that, I find myself wiping the screen clean more often than I might otherwise. It lacks a camera flash, but I never use those anyway, except for a flashlight. And I rather wish the power button was on top, rather than on the right side along with the volume rocker and camera button. But those are minor quibbles. For the price, I'm very happy.

And that's where the pleasant surprise comes in. I carry both phones with me everywhere, and as often as not I find myself reaching for the Lumia.

This was unexpected.

I've begun to realize that when the 30 days is up on the pre-paid plan I used to activate the phone, I'm going to miss using it.

This was really unexpected.

In fact, I'm starting to think that instead of being an almost-disposable way of trying the AT&T network, it might become my primary phone. I'm going to have to run the numbers, but if the projected cost of a pay-as-you-go AT&T plan can save me enough money--and I think it will, to the tune of about $90 a month compared to our current family plan--I might just pay the ETF to get out of Verizon.

And that, my friends, is the most unexpected thing of all.

A few words on the current impasse in DC, this blog, and me

This is a very political post on a currently sensitive topic. Easily offended people probably should not read this. You have been warned. Click here to see cute kittens instead.

Just to be completely clear, I think it's time for me to state the following:

  1. I'm not crazy about the Affordable Care Act as it stands. I'd prefer a single-payer solution. However, we didn't get one, and the ACA is better than the status quo ante. Millions of people will be able to get insurance who weren't able to before, and that's a public good.
  2. The current standoff with the GOP in the House is entirely the fault of about 40 Tea Party GOP members who are acting like terrorists. You can't negotiate with terrorists. Their truculence is threatening the full faith and credit of the United States, and by extension the world economy, and that's despicable. While I have my issues with President Obama, notably on the subject of the NSA surveillance scandal, I support him in not negotiating with a bunch of angry people who are basically making an unreasonable demand, and then insisting that compromise must be found. F*** that.
  3. That is not to say that I believe all Republicans are unreasonable. There are many out there, including Congressmen, who are basically being held hostage to the obsessions of the fringe. Speaker John Boehner is enabling that, allowing himself to be led instead of doing the leading. It will be interesting to see how long he remains Speaker when this is all over.
  4. The point of this blog and of my various social media feeds, whether on Twitter, App.net, Google+ or elsewhere, is to express my opinion. I have no responsibility to anyone to be "fair," even-handed, or to blame both sides of a dispute. Sometimes, one side really is to blame. I also have no responsibility to engage in debate just because someone else wants to. If you don't like what I say, feel free to not follow me. Use your own blog or feed to put forth your opinion. The US is still theoretically a free country, and that is your right (readers elsewhere, please delete and edit as appropriate).
  5. So that you know where I'm coming from, I'm a politically liberal, left-wing registered Green (in case that wasn't already obvious). I think that sometimes government needs to be involved. I also think that corporations are not your friend. I further think that we're becoming an increasingly divided nation, both politically and economically, and that's not a coincidence. I want just enough socialism to overcome the worst aspects of capitalism. There's a balance still waiting to be found.

I think that about covers it. As always, thank you for visiting. :-)