Phoenix, Sunday


It’s a balmy 99F in downtown Phoenix right now and while the city may rise from the ashes tomorrow right now it is empty.

Some snaps showing the old and the new from this former wild west town:


High noon shadows.

Brutalist architecture.

More of the same.

Tour guide.

Post modernism.

Lone cactus.


Old time parking.

Hard Rock Café.

High rent district.

Old Town Hall. A mix of neo-classical and Spanish Colonial styles the gaol is on the top floor. It’s an office building today, mercifully preserved. Completed in 1929.

The beautiful facade. The top floor gaol bars are clearly visible – explained to me by one of Phoenix’s finest who was on patrol.

Filigree cast iron detail.

All snaps on the iPhone 6, messed about with in LR.

The last great iMac

Times past.

With my son recently registered at a Massachusetts boarding school, the full force of the sheer horribleness of living in the Bay Area invaded my psyche massively as I contemplated that great day.

I moved to California in 1987, Los Angeles. Loved it. Later stints found me in San Diego, loved it, and San Francisco, loved it a lot.

But, after two decades, no more. San Francisco and the Bay Area are a living hell. Maybe if you are here on an H1B visa and MacDonald’s is a new taste sensation for you, it’s heaven on earth. But for long time denizens, it’s anything but. Take the Mission District, which I love, as a microcosm of what has happened. Earnest Googlites are destroying the Hispanic culture, replacing it with seven figure condominiums and chic restaurants. We really need more of those. Housing costs effectively gentrify all poor areas – Millbrae, South San Francisco, SOMA, Oakland, and yes, even as far north as Sacramento, as our great capitalist businesses force out all those who cannot code social media apps. The result is that the people who keep a city running, the waiters and cooks, the house cleaners and secretaries, cannot afford to live where they work. That is not right.

So within a week, emulating my son, I will also take a one way flight out of here, to the more relaxed vistas of Scottsdale, Arizona in the desert that I have learned to love on my many travels there these past two decades.

That move brings with it the inevitable rigors of packing precious possessions, though in my case they are precious by association, not by value. And one which ranks right up there is the greatest desktop computer Apple ever made, the iMac G4. Here it is after the ever amusing task of trying to figure out exactly how it fits in all those complex polystyrene pieces, packaging which is a design masterpiece in its own right:

Design genius.

The original, butt ugly iMac may have saved an Apple headed for Chapter XI, when Steve returned. But it was a prosaic CRT design housed in a funky translucent plastic shell which was mostly silly for all its ‘Think(ing) Different’. The G4 iMac was something else. First there was the use of an LCD display, 15″ or 17″. No one used LCDs. SSDs did not exist – at least not at affordable prices – so Apple housed the HDD in a cheeky gargantuan half-cricket ball (OK, baseball) which formed the housing for the electronics and fans. And they boasted about it on that splendid box. See above.

But the genius of the design, an ergonomic masterpiece, was the elegantly cantilevered ‘screen on a stick’. Move it up, move it down, move it toward you, move it away, move it around. It did what it was told. Burning DVDs? Easy. At a touch of the button Pandora’s Box opened, and the DVD tray magically emerged from the cricket ball. It was fun, it was new and it was magic!

And that magical G4 iMac defines exactly what is wrong with Apple today. It’s the same thing that is wrong with the Bay Area. Life is not a mobile device looking for a new app. Life is not an overpriced condo which displaces good people. Life is a contemplative experience attended by an extended attention span which rewards those who indulge in that rarest of modern pastimes: thinking.


Hurry up and wait.

The iPhone7 manages to be an exercise in three things at once: arrogance, greed and desperation.

Arrogance, as Apple has removed the traditional 3.5mm headphone socket replacing it with wireless earbuds whose poor 5 hour life and need to carry a charger manage to simultaneously break something which did not need fixing and make the result worse. “Our way or the highway”. Did the iPhone get slimmer, the rational (?) reason to pull that socket? Nope. It’s the same as the iPhone6+, but the battery life has increased. Given that the battery was already good for a day’s use (and more with the bigger model) this a solution looking for a problem. The iPhone ergonomics, meanwhile, make a kitchen knife look sophisticated, with poor placement of buttons and easy to accidentally shift modes in the camera. Yup, you have been there.

Greed, as those earbuds will run you a shocking $159 to remove that oh! so onerous earphone cable, while deleting its handy control button. This for a device which likely costs $10 to make.

Desperation, for Apple is clearly out of ideas – those went to the grave with Steve – and is trying to milk its margins with silly earpieces. Look out below.

Apple’s onanistic boasting about how they redesigned everything, with no user benefit, smacks of a loss of awareness of customer needs much as their bizarre new headquarters building smacks of a zenith in the company’s fortunes. Building castles all too frequently means you have peaked. Ask Henry VIII and the Tudors.

Meanwhile Siri voice recognition remains worthless (come on, do you know anyone who uses it?), there is still no ‘delete to the left’ (needing but one line of code) and spelling correction has zero contextual logic. iOS is an abomination, seemingly riddled with security holes. 

The other day I was in a Toyota Prius whose driver placed her Blackberry on a small shelf at the base of the console. Now I’ll admit the Prius is not everyone’s cup of tea. There are so many videos, tones and flashing lights going on that I swear the thing would drive me potty were I to stay in one over 15 minutes. But that little shelf contains an inductive charger, common to Blackberries and many Google devices which removes a cable which really needs removing – the charger cable. Not the one to your ears.

So we wait for iPhone8. Meanwhile I hope I can get the thieves at Verizon to reduce my bill as my iPhone 6 is now paid for.

Alex Webb

Mexico understood.

It is heartwarming to see this retrospective of Alex Webb’s color images of Mexico and its towns bordering the wealthiest nation on earth.


Webb is Henri Cartier-Bresson’s spiritual successor, but with the added complexity of color masterfully handled (HC-B couldn’t take a color snap to save his life, and had no need to do so).

Click the image and just look at images 1 and 6 in the NYT’s slide show. As for a moving picture of the plight of today’s Hispanics in America, look at #8.

Matriculation Day

Winston starts at NMH.

My education was interrupted only by my schooling.
Winston Churchill.

Friday, September 2 was the best day in my son’s life. He registered at Northfield Mount Hermon School as a ninth grader and you can read the whole run up to this event here.

The school’s organization of registration day was peerless; then again, they have had a few years’ practice at this sort of thing! With many sign-ins – bookstore account, IT access, health insurance, bank account opening, dorm check-in, followed by the very moving matriculation ceremony – the potential for chaos was significant, but NMH saw to it that all went smoothly. Given how potentially stressful a first move away from home can be for a young man I am in awe at the school’s capacity for warmth, empathy and caring. Winston is in good hands.

The names of the eight Ivy League prep schools are proudly displayed in the magnificent basketball courts, used here for registration activities. Competition is fierce in all events.

Sporting a new buzz cut, my son gets his IT password.

The registration packet is handed out. Just 160 new freshmen will get one, out of 1,600 applicants. (The all boys UK schools of Eton and Harrow have 1,300 and 700 pupils, compared with NMH’s 650). My son goes by his mother’s name rather than mine. After a lifetime of spelling that accident of birth I had no intention of subjecting him to a like experience.

Outside the main administration building, Holbrook Hall. Winnie is lucky that his Advisor is none other than the Deputy Dean of the school. Many buildings in like colonial architectural style dot the 1,500 acre campus on the Connecticut River.

More signing up. Winnie opens his first bank account with a local bank. Yup, the boy is a leftie.

Moving in. I delegated packhorse duties to the boy. The smile on Winston’s face says it all.

Unpacking. We shipped all of 21 boxes to the school. How did we survive pre-Amazon?

Like father, like son. We are both twits. Winnie got the idea for the lined winter hat from the Coen Brothers’ ‘Fargo’.

In the dining hall. NMH food is renowned as the best in any new England prep school or college – vegan, vegetarian, salads, meat, sushi, you name it. A very smart policy by the administration. After all, the pupil will be eating here for four years.

Winnie went missing over lunch and on wandering outside the dining hall I found him busy at a game of frisbee with his newest friends. The open minds of kids are something to aspire to. He is on the right. The Memorial Chapel is in the back.

The Memorial Chapel. The matriculation ceremony found us singing ‘Jerusalem’ (40 years since I did that at my English prep school!) while freshmen signed the pledge in the school’s book, promising to agree with its principles.

The matriculation pledge, issued to each freshman, and signed by the Dean of School and the Dean of Students. Honor and decency are not dead.

A Day of Days, perfect in every way.

All snaps taken with the iPhone6.

At the conclusion of Convocation, September 6, 2016. Winston with the new freshmen in his dorm. My boy’s tie tying technique is more suggestive of a future on Wall Street than in the State Department! Photo by the Deputy Dean, Charlie Tierney III.