Updating the blog

As of today, this blog is secured with SSL—see the lock icon up there in the URL bar? After eight-plus years of running my domain's DNS through ZoneEdit, I've moved to Cloudflare, which gives me SSL capability (the main reason I moved it, frankly).

Anyway, for anyone who wants to send me a message through my contact page, your message is now secure end-to-end. Glory be.

The last Indian pudding

I went out to dinner last night with my family. As a delayed birthday celebration, my mom, my brother, and my wife joined me at a local chain steakhouse to celebrate the conclusion of my latest trip around the sun. The prime rib was delicious, the bread tasty, the baked potato delightful. It was an enjoyable evening.

While we were dining, another restaurant on the other side of the country was serving its final order of prime rib. Durgin-Park, a Boston institution since 1827, founded when John Quincy Adams was president, closed for the last time. A dozen or so years ago, its longtime family owners sold out to a New York-based corporation, and apparently it was no longer considered to be profitable enough for the new owners to keep in business (and yes, when a place has been around for 192 years, a mere 12 still qualifies them as the new guys).

If you're not a New Englander, you probably haven't heard of Durgin-Park. They were renowned for their prime rib, their baked Indian pudding—a traditional New England dessert made with cornmeal and molasses, and something they may have been the last to prepare and serve in the traditional way—their communal seating, and their often surly waitstaff. I may be a Californian, but my mother's side of the family are all New Englanders, and she was a Bostonian herself for two years after high school. It was considered mandatory that when you went to Boston, you dined at Durgin-Park. There was simply no question about it.

Unfortunately, not enough people felt that way in the end. I've seen some Bostonians dismiss it as having been a tourist trap, and there was an aspect of that, but it was something more. It was a connection to a time long past, when workers and politicians and the occasional Beacon Hill blueblood ate together at long tables, perched on benches, eating traditional New England cooking, and were treated all alike by waitresses who brooked no nonsense from anybody. Yes, it was a bit of a put-on, but we were all in on the joke together.

Because of its location, across from historic Faneuil Hall on the Boston waterfront, I have no doubt that the space it occupied for so long will once again become the site of a restaurant, but it won't be the same. My guess is that it will probably feature healthier options, with locally grown produce (although good luck with that in Boston in February), and possibly be run by a celebrity chef. It will no doubt be embraced by foodies and accompanied by articles talking about a fresh new start for a historic location. It will be more in tune with the tastes of the modern world (fusion cuisine, anyone?)

But it won't serve Yankee pot roast and Indian pudding. It won't be as egalitarian. It will not be Durgin-Park, for better or for worse. Something was lost yesterday, and it isn't coming back. I grew up in a place where historic means fifty years old, where things are constantly being reinvented. As a native Angeleno, I can't imagine Philippe's or The Original Pantry closing; this is so much more of a loss than either of those would be.

It appears I have eaten my last Indian pudding, and it makes me sad.

Watches, computers, and their fans

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If you know me, you’ve probably figured out by now that I’ve gotten into collecting watches. It’s a reasonably harmless pastime, cheaper than collecting vintage Ferraris, and gives me something to do on the Internet besides reading about Cheeto Benito and watching my blood pressure skyrocket. I like it.

Of course, anyplace you go on the Internet is going to eventually have its share of drama, and recently there was a bit of it that erupted on one of the watch forums I frequent. Nothing too bad, however, and to get everyone back on track, one user decided to post a poll just for fun to see which Japanese watch manufacturer people preferred—Seiko, Citizen, Orient, or Casio.1

Each of them is a bit different. Seiko is the 800-pound gorilla of the business, with possibly the widest variety of products and a hardcore fanbase. Orient is a smaller watchmaker that’s part of the Seiko Epson empire, and they specialize in automatic (i.e., self-winding) watches. Citizen, which also owns Bulova, has carved out a niche with their Eco-Drive movements that are powered by light, as well as Bulova’s high-frequency quartz models with a sweeping second hand. Casio is most known for digitals, including the G-Shock line, which might as well be the official watch of U.S. combat troops.

The poll is in progress, and Seiko is ahead by miles, to nobody’s surprise. But there’s something interesting going on.

The conversation in the thread is full of people discussing the pros and cons of the various watchmakers. Many good points are being made all around, opinions are being stated, and it’s generally a very civilized discussion. People, it’s nice.

If you're so inclined, you can check it out here for yourself:
https://forums.watchuseek.com/f71/big-four-deathmatch-4866703.html

Now, just for grins, compare this to what happens in many places online when someone dares to bring up Microsoft, Google, or Apple in the wrong company. Most of the time, it devolves into a religious war, complete with insults implying that if you use the other company’s stuff, there must be something wrong with you. And all of that eventually gets old—very old—if you’re on the wrong side. Like the old saying—it was funny the first thousand times, but…

And that, right there, is why I spend a lot more of my online time these days in the places watch geeks (or as they often call themselves, WIS for watch idiot savants) frequent. They’re just as passionate, but much less likely to break out the insults, or to be tone-deaf. The tech crowd could learn a lot from them.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, I own Seikos, Citizens, and an Orient, but I’m mostly a Citizen guy, as the photo above will attest.


  1. Yes, you read that right—to stop some arguing, someone posted a poll asking for people's opinions. Watch folks are a different breed.

This is the way the American Century ends

Among historians, there's a school of thought that holds that the 19th Century, in its social, political, and economic aspects, didn't end until World War I. This year is the 100th anniversary of the end of that war, and that makes it doubly heartbreaking that we are now engaged in withdrawing from the world, reversing democratic and social reforms, and abdicating our global leadership position in favor of a narrow, isolationist, xenophobic, and misogynist nationalism that promotes the interests of the wealthy and the corporate, and mirrors the status quo antebellum of the early 20th Century.

Yesterday's Senate hearings made it abundantly clear that the majority party no longer has any intention of doing so much as paying lip service to the liberal consensus that has prevailed since the end of World War II. 24 hours after testimony that riveted the nation, they are acting as if it never happened. Today, they will vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, despite considerable evidence that he sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford, and likely others, and after a highly volatile performance of his own when speaking to the Judiciary Committee that brought into question his suitability for the role of justice by the standards of the legal profession itself.

The GOP, having backed him, is not backing down. They will vote to confirm him today, despite the damage it's likely to do to the Republican Party in the long term. If that seems curious, consider the following:

  • He will be the necessary fifth vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.
  • He will be the necessary fifth vote to demolish the Voting Rights Act.
  • He will be the necessary fifth vote to weaken the separation of church and state.
  • He will be the necessary fifth vote to overturn Obamacare.
  • He will be the necessary fifth vote to stop reconsideration of Citizens United.
  • He is likely to rule that Trump can pardon himself.
  • He would overturn the Justice Department regulation governing special counsels like Mueller.
  • He is one of them—wealthy, white, male, prep school, Ivy League.

Opinion polls show that a majority of Americans now oppose Kavanaugh's appointment. The Senate Republican majority will ram it through anyway on a party-line vote, because they don't care what a majority of Americans thinks—a majority of the Senate now represents only 18% of the populace, and this cannot be changed short of a constitutional amendment, which is unlikely to pass muster with a 5-4 conservative majority on the Court—which Kavanaugh will give them. We are no longer a democracy, we are an oligarchy, and we will now have two illegitimate Supreme Court justices (including Gorsuch, whose seat was stolen) to go along with the illegitimate President.

Read that list of bullet points, and consider the road we're now on. It doesn't lead to enlightenment, or human rights, or women's rights, or freedom. It leads directly back to the 19th Century.

The century that truly ended in 1914.

With a world war.

Unpopular opinion

242 years ago, the American colonies misdirected their anger at George III, who was mostly a figurehead, when it should have been aimed at the prime minister, Lord North, whose poor decision-making in dealing with the colonists was epic, worsening the situation at every turn.

We then proceeded to create a system of government under the Articles of Confederation that was so unworkable that we replaced it with the current one a few years later. Ironically, what we ended up with was a system that combined the offices of head of state with the head of government, which resulted in a Presidency that has more actual political power than George III ever had.

Happy 4th of July, everyone!

With apologies to They Might Be Giants

An admission by Sweden's national Twitter account that Swedish meatballs are actually of Turkish origin caused some chatter on social media, and this was my contribution, preserved here for posterity. Or infamy. Or something.

Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, oh Constantinople
Now a Swedish delight on a moonlit night

Every chef in Constantinople
Loves the meatballs here in Constantinople
And if you have fika in Constantinople
It'll really be Istanbul

Even old Stockholm was once just Gamla Stan
Why'd they change it? I can't say
People just liked it better that way!

So take me back to Constantinople
Gotta have that taste from Constantinople
With the Chinese noodles in Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works?
That's nobody's business but the Turks…

Thoughts on the Ford announcement

The announcement yesterday by Ford that they will cancel all but two car lines in North America, leaving only the Mustang and a specialty variation of the Focus, may seem extreme, but we are living in a time of transition in the auto industry. Additionally, this has been a long time coming; over the past couple of decades, it has become increasingly difficult to find certain types of vehicles for sale, such as 2-door sedans, utilities (like the Chevrolet El Camino), and station wagons.

For better or for worse, Americans mostly want trucks, SUVs, and crossovers. This isn't a new phenomenon. Americans have always loved big cars, and the general downsizing that took place in the late 1970s and early 1980s was mostly driven by rising fuel prices and federal fuel economy standards, not a sudden love for small cars. This hasn't changed, and relatively low fuel prices have encouraged Americans to resume their love affair with vehicles that are taller, wider, and just generally bigger. When a business decides it can no longer make money selling a type of product, it's going to stop making and selling that product. By way of example, after air conditioning became pretty much standard on luxury vehicles, demand for the four-door Lincoln Continental convertible went away, and Ford stopped making it.

In a sense, Ford will just be getting back to the state of affairs that predominated before the late 1940s. Prior to the introduction of the Ford F-100 in 1948, non-commercial trucks were basically just sedans with pickup beds where the back seats would have been. Look back to the 1920s and 1930s, and you'll see what I mean. The only difference here is that society is now going in the other direction. The Mercedes-Maybach Ultimate Luxury Concept is essentially an SUV with a trunk where the rear cargo area would normally be, and what they've ended up with, in all its bulbous, inverted-bathtub glory, is not dissimilar in size and shape to a 1954 Buick sedan.

On top of all this, you have the general graying of America. The older you get, the less likely you are to be comfortable in something long, low, and sleek. What you really want in your fifties and sixties is something where you can open the door and sit down, not something where you have to twist sideways to get behind the wheel. Crossovers and SUVs fit the bill.

And this time, Ford might just get away with it. The creeping electrification of the auto fleet means that fuel economy will no longer be the issue that it was in the 1970s; if OPEC jacks up the price to where we're paying $6.00 a gallon or more in the U.S. (unlikely given the current oil market), it matters less when you never have to go to a gas station, and having a small car to keep your fuel costs reasonable may no longer be all that important. And if you're wondering where all the electricity is going to come from, well, Tesla's got you covered. Literally.

Welcome to the new world.

Predictions

  1. Trump will fire Mueller.
  2. The Republicans in Congress, led by Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, will do nothing to stop him. McConnell is already blocking a vote on a bill that would protect Mueller.
  3. With seven months left until the midterm elections, the GOP will do everything in its power between now and then to suppress the vote in Democratic-leaning areas.
  4. The Supreme Court as currently constituted is unlikely to stop them.
  5. The Trump administration may even take some kind of legal action to interfere with the electoral process in "blue" states.

In short, those currently in power are more interested in perpetuating their own power than in the rule of law, and the people who are supposed to serve as checks and balances to each other are not interested in acting as such. As I've said before, constitutions only matter when people pay attention to them.

Seven months. Use them wisely.

The Twitter problem

I discovered today that Twitter is going to be implementing a change in its API that will kill push notifications for third-party apps, among other lovely changes.

Now, I don't want to beat a dead horse, but as others have said, Twitter's popularity was built on third-party apps. Those of us who have been there since it began will remember that there was no official Twitter app until they bought Atebits, the developer of the Tweetie app, which then became the official Twitter app. Since then, they've steadily ratcheted up the pressure on third-party apps by rate-limiting them, forcing them to stop displaying the app that was used for a post, and implementing hard user limits. For years now, they've forced all links through their own t.co shortener (which doesn't actually shorten many URLs anymore). They've screwed with the reverse-chronological display default through use of an algorithm that thinks it knows better than you do what you want to see. They've added advertising, because of course everything must be monetized1, and "In case you missed it…", and they've started showing you posts that your friends have liked, whether you want to see them or not. They've filled the timeline with so much crap that I don't want to see that I really have no choice but to use a third-party app, and of course that means that they must do their best to kill third-party apps.

Then there are the problems with Russian bots and Nazi gaslighting accounts, and while they've done a little bit to rein that in, it's not enough, it's a weak attempt at best, and it's ultimately contrary to their business model, which requires as many people as possible to be using their service. And then, of course, there's the fact that they are giving a megaphone to the current occupant of the White House, who uses it to debase his office and our political system, and who they will not ban no matter what lies he broadcasts or what slander he perpetrates. Mike Monteiro has done tremendous work in bringing this to people's attention2, but sheer volume means he's a voice crying in the wilderness.

The hell of it is that there are alternatives to Twitter, many of which are excellent, in some ways superior, and which haven't gotten nearly the attention they deserve. There's Mastodon and Micro.blog, and smaller ones such as Pnut and 10Centuries. There is even Plurk.

None of those have attracted more than a small number of users, however, because the overriding problem of social media is that you gotta go where the people are, and the people are on Twitter and Facebook. And that means that Twitter has a responsibility to society to police itself a lot better than it has done.

However, what it has a responsibility to do and what it actually will do are two different things. And that's why I may finally call it quits with the bird. It's sad, because I've been around for a long time and I know what it used to be, and what it could be again if its owners gave a damn. But they evidently don't, and it won't.

And one other thing: for the news accounts that I like (like @VCScanner), I have a system set up that pipes tweets from certain accounts into my personal, private, single-user Slack team, where I get a notification. I never even have to open Twitter. I don't even have to have a Twitter account.

Take that, @Jack.


  1. This is one of the chief reasons I use third-party apps, incidentially.

  2. And if you're on Twitter and you're not following him there, you should.

A bit of housekeeping

Now that this blog is no longer hosted on Amazon servers, I've reverted it to the root domain instead of the "blog" subdomain. What that means is that you will need to update your RSS subscription, since the feed address is different. You can find the details here.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.