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Mon, 16 Jan 2017

Slow Reality TV

— SjG @ 10:45 am

In the garden, we have a variety of highly aggressive, imperialistic vines that compete for space.

In one hotly-contested piece of real estate, have creeping fig (Ficus pumila), pink jasmine (Jasminium polyanthum), asparagus fern (I think we have both Asparagus setaceus and Asparagus aethiopicus), fo ti (Fallopia multiflora), and red trumpet vine (Campsis radicans). The soil there is just a solid mat of roots and runners.

I propose a very very slow reality TV series. We get a big pentagon of fertile soil, light it evenly from all sides, water it gently on a regular basis, and plant one of of these vines in each corner. After a few years, we’ll see which is the victorious species!

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Wed, 10 Feb 2016


— SjG @ 5:16 pm

William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes died on the same date: April 23, 1616. However, Shakespeare outlived Cervantes by 10 days.

Wait, what!?

It’s true. The discrepancy is an artifact of Spain being on the Gregorian Calendar at the time, and England being on the Julian Calendar.

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Mon, 27 Jul 2015

Reactivating an iPhone

— SjG @ 6:34 pm

I upgraded my trusty iPhone 5 to an iPhone 6 back in December. I’ve used the old iPhone as a camera for doing some timelapse work, as a geocaching GPS and Ladybug recorder when taking my nephew on a Lost Ladybug expedition, and as a music player to drive a bluetooth speaker in my office. Now that my Mom is tentatively considering entering the world of smart phones, I thought I’d get it re-provisioned so she could try it and see if she likes it before springing for a bigger / newer phone.

Now, one of the great things about the iPhone 5 (as opposed to earlier generations) is that it has multiple radios in it, and supports multiple carriers. This particular phone is unlocked, and was used successfully in India with a Telestial India Airtel SIM card, and in several areas in the US with various other third-party GSM SIM cards on AT&T’s network.

When Mom’s hiking, her AT&T coverage drops out with her current phone. My Sprint coverage in the mountains is spotty at best, so a process of elimination led me to think it would be a good idea to switch the phone over to Verizon. The internet assured me that this was possible, beginning with the iPhone 5. Thus begins Act I.


Reactivating an iPhone, a Tragicomedy in 7 Acts
In which the author wastes over six hours in various retail establishments to get an unlocked phone active with a month-to-month plan.

Act I. The Verizon Store. The first tech looked at me dubiously. “You can’t use a Sprint phone on Verizon,” she said. “It’s unlocked,” I assured her. After recounting the litany of networks above, her suspicion increased. “You sure you weren’t just roaming on other networks?” she asked. Once I had sufficiently convinced her that I had swapped SIMs, she was willing to give it a try. She warned me that she hadn’t seem much success in moving iPhones from Sprint, even when unlocked, due to a “Verizon block.” Being prudent, she tried to use one of the store’s demo SIMs. After half an hour of resetting carrier settings and various other things, the best we could get was an “Invalid SIM” error. “See?” she asked me.

Act II. Another Verizon Store. I had tested my phone’s IMEI on Verizon’s compatibility check, and it said I was good. So I went to another Verizon store, armed with this information, and tried again. This time, I was signed up for an account, assured that it would be simple, given a SIM, and had my credit card charged all between sessions where the technician froze, spellbound by the Mexico/Panama football game on the big TV. But it didn’t work. We got “Invalid SIM” errors. It turns out there is some mysterious Verizon block, after all, even if Sprint considers the phone unlocked. “No problem,” he told me. “We can get you into a free iPhone on a month-to-month plan.” I was skeptical and amazed, but said OK. When it came time to sign on the dotted line, the box I was handed was a Galaxy S4. I made it clear I needed an iPhone. “OK, I can’t get that for free, but I can get you that for $100.” Still skeptical, I again said I’d try it. This time, I was presented an iPhone 5c, a $100 activation fee, $150 in various other up-front fees, and a 2-year contract. At this point, I got my original charge refunded, and left.

Act III. Screw it, thought I. I’ll just keep it on Sprint. If Mom likes it, we can switch networks later when she upgrades. I went to the Sprint store. “No problem,” they said. “We’ll just add it to your existing account as an extra line; it’ll be cheap and easy.” But then they noticed there was no SIM. Somewhere in the long history, the original Sprint SIM had gone missing. If I had known the pain this would engender, I would have given up then and there, and just bought a new goddamn phone. But it seemed no problem. They had a SIM card from an iPhone 6 that someone had returned, we’d just use that. The tech and I had long conversations about travel, Boston, work, school, and such things while she went through the endless steps to provision and reprovision the phone. After a few popups about SIM failure, it seemed to work. I could call to and from the phone! Victory!

Act IV. The phone, sitting on the charger, showed a popup saying “SIM has been locked” and the carrier header said “SIM Fail.” I power cycled the phone, and hey presto! It was back on Sprint. I tried, just for kicks, to bring up the web browser. Immediately, I got a “Data access denied” error, followed rapidly by the “SIM has been locked” and “SIM Fail” notices. Power cycling brought it back. And then the fail cycle happened again.

Act V. Back at the Sprint store. “Sorry, the iPhone 6 SIM must not be compatible. Better to go the Apple store and get an iPhone 5 SIM.”

Act VI. At the Apple store. “Sorry, we’re out of nano SIMs. We don’t have any for the iPhone 5.” but I looked over the shoulder of the tech, and saw numerous SIMs listed. “What about those?” I asked, pointing. The tech went off to talk to another tech. She soon returned. “OK, we have a floater phone, and we’ll use that SIM.” So eventually someone brought over a card with the SIM, and the tech spent a long and frustrating session on the phone with Sprint trying to get the SIM activated. Eventually, this was successful. Strangely, the phone would connect to the network, get three bars, then drop to a single bar and lose 3G and display the “1x extended” data plan. “We have awful Sprint coverage here,” said the tech. I looked at my other phone, at it had three bars. “It may also be that they haven’t activated it yet,” she said. In the settings, we confirmed that it displayed the correct phone number. “I’ll try calling it,” I said. Nothing happened. We power cycled the phone. The phone number in the settings now read “0007423.” The tech said “Well, either your phone is broken, or you need to wait for the activation to go through.” When I asked how it could be broken, she shrugged. “You said yourself that you didn’t use it as a phone for a few months,” was her best answer.

Act VII. At the Sprint Store. I recounted Act VI to the tech. He looked up the SIM in his database, and scowled. “No way, dude, that SIM’s not compatible.” I handed him the iPhone 6 SIM the other Sprint store had given me. The process repeated. “No way,” he said. “Not compatible.” Where could I get a compatible SIM? His advice was to go to a Sprint repair center, where they have more supplies, since the retail stores don’t carry extras. As I was about to leave, he said “wait! Someone returned an iPhone 5 not too long ago. Let me see if it’s still back there, and if it had a Sprint SIM in it.” Wonder of wonders, it was and it did! After a mere ten minutes of typing into the mysterious terminal, it came up. I could call it from another phone, and it could call another phone. It connected to data services with LTE!

Exuent Samuel, cackling with glee.

Mon, 20 Jul 2015


— SjG @ 7:37 pm

Nervously, Renny “The Cart” Cartesius stood in an ill-fitting uniform before the throng of federal agents, police, and bystanders. To his chagrin, he noticed that “Blazin'” Pascal was in the crowd, and was staring intently with a look of puzzled half-recognition — and then Pascal’s face lit up as he saw through the imperfect disguise.

Knowing that his cover was about to be blown, The Cart took a calculated risk. Hissing them quietly under his breath, he spoke the immortal words: “incognito ergo schtumm!”

Sun, 20 Jul 2014

Identity and Fear

— SjG @ 11:11 am

I’ve been researching gear for some upcoming travel, and one of the items on my list is a daily carry bag. What I mean by “daily carry bag” is a small bag with a shoulder strap that I can use to carry a few important things: wallet, passport, phone, pocket camera, pen, notepad, emergency medications like aspirin and antihistamines, maybe a water bottle, sunscreen, antiseptic wipes, etc. In other words, a purse.

That word though. When researching options, it is staggering to me how far retailers go out of their way to avoid the word. Many use “messenger bag,” even for bags clearly too small for the kinds of papers or notebook computers that would call for an actual messenger bag. Similarly, some get called “satchels” or “briefcases” when they clearly don’t fit those purposes. Some retailers have come up with newer terms: go bag, utility bag, gear bag, or even — I shit you not — urban tactical pouch. The styling of these male purses falls over itself to be unambiguously macho, with camouflage, overly robust metal fixtures, boldly-stitched leather stamped with faux-military stenciling, and so on. Many are designed to look like ammunition carriers or tool utility belts. They are absolutely, in no conceivable way, items that could be confused for purses.

It’s clear that men still fear the word “purse.” If you had asked me a week ago, I would have said my generation was probably the last where anyone would have had discomfort over the idea of a man with a purse, but my casual search shows that this is pronouncedly not the case. Men are evidently still so terrified of being thought feminine that there must be a strict demarcation between male and female luggage.

While still in high school, my brother made the wise observation that “identity is expensive.” We went to school in the rarefied environment of a wealthy, exclusive, largely homogeneous town. As a high-school student, there were many opportunities to craft your own identity. It was an angsty exercise for some of us because — like any place — there were cliques and all kinds of subtle divisions. There were the jocks, the socs, the popular people, the nerds, and so on. People like me, who were socially inept, largely created identity based on strange rigid rules. In my circle, the music you listened to was extraordinarily important. But every clique and grouping had its shibboleths. In some circles, it was the clothing you wore, in some the car you drove (in some circles, everyone had a car after they were 16), or in others the sports teams you supported. In many, it was a combination of these things. But as my brother noted, a great deal of energy was dedicated to the creation and maintenance of identity.

Even as a middle-aged adult, it’s often hard for me to understand the complexities of identity. In the real world it’s so much more complicated than the high-school microcosm, with all kinds of culturally imposed identities trumping the ones we create for ourselves. Some of the books I’ve read (books on class in America, Johnstone’s discussion of status and masks, Zinn’s histories of American class) have opened up to me whole vistas into the problem of identity.

In recent months, I created a new Twitter account and started following people on Twitter specifically to understand my own discomfort levels. I’m following people who might be characterized as social activists, but more accurately are people who discuss social oppression based on identity. They are women, people of color, trans*, and other marginalized people. They are people who speak out because they are angry, and they are angry because society treats them badly. Much of what I read makes me profoundly uncomfortable.

My initial response tends towards anger, resistance, and desire to argue. I feel myself wanting to explain things away. I want to offer possible mitigating situations. I force myself to analyze why I have those reactions, and assess what ideas I’m vested in and why. I continue to learn a great deal.

In my high school, identity was to some extent a choice. To be sure, we couldn’t choose our sex, or how wealthy our parents were, or whether or not we were beautiful. But in that time and place, there was very little visible deviance from the norm. There were almost no people of color in our town. Religiously, there was slightly more variation. We were one of a handful of Jewish families; there was a Catholic church and a Mormon community, one or two Muslim families, but the vast majority was Protestant. There was no visible queer culture at all. When a friend in college mentioned that he was gay, I told him (and honestly believed) that I’d never met anyone gay before. The struggle for identity was within these narrow bounds. I’m sure in retrospect that there were people who suffered abuse, addiction, and illness, but this too was virtually invisible.

My high school world is a tiny piece of the world against which I see such strong reaction today. The alienation I experienced as a bullied socially-awkward Jewish nerd in a WASP community was a tiny piece of the alienation I see in people speaking out today. At one time, I thought that my experiences gave me insight into the experience of marginalized people. Now I appreciate that it perhaps gives me empathy for their plight, but can’t yield any understanding.

The problem is much deeper and more entrenched than I can wrap my head around. It’s pernicious, subtle, and pervasive. And yet it’s also so obvious once I begin to be able to look. It’s as obvious as calling a purse a “urban tactical pouch.”

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