the story of a phone

I got my Nexus 4 in April 2013, and while I like the hardware and the stock Android 4.x UI just fine, somehow in 15 months I’ve broken the screen three times, and I thought I’d capture the history of all that in a post just because it’s been so ridiculous.

Not sure when I broke it the first time, probably late summer/early fall of 2013, but I took it to Onsite Cellular Repair in central Austin. At the time it cost nearly $200 to replace the screen, but I bit the bullet because the phone itself wasn’t that expensive (Google heavily discounted the prices to try to get a better foothold in the market) and anyway, work had covered it for me.

Unfortunately, they did a terrible job getting the phone open — they scratched up the frame so badly it looked like it had been kicked around on a sidewalk for a while. The screen itself seemed to work OK, at least. It had a tiny black spot in the lower left hand corner, just a few pixels in diameter, but I ignored that and went about my life.

After a couple of weeks, though, I noticed that the black spot was slowly but surely growing in size. I tried to make time to get up to the shop, but was too busy to manage that for quite a while. By the time about five weeks had gone by, I brought it in because the black spot had grown to about the size of a thumbprint and was interfering with part the UI. Since over 30 days had passed, the shop flatly refused to replace the screen under warranty, so I cursed them and went on living with the big black spot.

On Christmas Day 2013, I knocked my phone off an end table and cracked the screen up just enough that it wasn’t really usable anymore. I took it to CPR (Cell Phone Repair) at Southpark Meadows and they fixed it for about $150 — I was glad the price of the part had come down a bit, at least, and this fix worked out nicely until I dropped it on a tile floor in May 2014.

This time I took it to Mobile Phone Geeks in downtown Austin because it was just across downtown from my office. The part price had come down even more — just $100, woohoo — but little did I know I was beginning a seemingly endless cycle of visits to the shop that seemed to occupy all of May and June.

A few days after Mobile Phone Geeks replaced the screen, I noticed the Dreaded Black Spot was there again, and in the same place: small, like it had been at first, but obviously expanding very slightly day-by-day, since I kept a close eye on it this time. I brought it on in to them, and explained that I’d seen this before after the first screen replacement, and I knew what was coming.

They took the phone apart and declared that there was a bend or kink in the plastic frame around the screen that had been poking the screen in a way that caused this expanding black spot. They gracious agreed to consider this a warranty replacement because they felt they should’ve noted the frame defect that would cause problems. I’m not sure why, with the bent frame, I didn’t have the same black spot issue with the screen that CPR had put on the phone, but I never thought to ask them before I happily covered another $20 for the replacement frame and walked on out of there satisfied that my phone was fixed for good (or until I dropped it again).

But the very next day, the screen just stopped responding. It would still turn on from the hardware button, but there was no touchscreen response at all, so I couldn’t unlock the phone. I brought it back in, their tech popped it oven, and said something about a piece of conductive tape getting in the wrong place and shorting out the screen. He had it working again in just a few minutes and said he felt like things were well-situated inside the phone and the issue wouldn’t reoccur.

A few weeks went by problem-free, but then the phone stopped responding again. I brought it in again, and after investigation was told this time it wasn’t just the way things were seated inside the housing, and they’d need to order a replacement. Once again, it would be a warranty replacement, so it wouldn’t cost me anything. I grudgingly agreed to get this down again.

That was about a week ago. And today it stopped responding again.

So, if we include the original factory-installed screen, this phone has now had SIX screens on it, in under 18 months. And, with the expectation that this will once again qualify as a defective part and merit a warranty replacement, it’ll soon have the seventh.

I’m not writing this post to slam Mobile Phone Geeks, though, they have actually been really gracious and apologetic about the issues I’ve had, and of course they’ve already replaced two screens for free and will probably be doing it again. I just wonder if they need to reconsider their parts supplier at this point.

Aaron Swartz

Just caught up on the Aaron Swartz story. Very sad news. It’s especially sad to me that this has happened in the same week as Alex Jones’ widely-linked, totally unhinged “tyrannical government” 2nd-Amendment argument on that show. It just underscores that, to me, the only REAL protections from so-called tyrannical government are computers… and hacktivists like Aaron Swartz.

Helium Taxi

I am really thrilled to announce that Helium Taxi, my first-ever album of original music, is available to buy today.

Helium Taxi album cover

The album is a collection of eight instrumental tunes, in the newgrass / jazzgrass / progressive-acoustic / whatever-you-want-to-call-it genre(s). It was all recorded live, no overdubs, on Cinco de Mayo 2012, with a string-band lineup including some of my absolute favorite players in Austin, or anywhere, really: Noah Jeffries on mandolin (who also co-produced), Dennis Ludiker on fiddle, Matt Mefford on bass, and Trevor Smith on banjo (I’m on guitar for this record). Those first three guys are in MilkDrive, and Trevor’s main gig is with Wood & Wire.

The cover art is by Joonkyung Shin, a buddy I worked with at frog design, where she was generally revered by her colleagues for her versatile but always-compelling illustration style. The album title is just a little phrase I loved in the last verse of the perfect-little-gem-of-a-pop-song title track from The Weepies‘ debut album Happiness.

I have been writing music ever since I started playing guitar (obsessively) back in high school, but have never really had much of an outlet to play the material I’ve stockpiled over the years. It only took 10 years of hanging around Austin to take notice of the players who could really bring out the potential I saw in these tunes, and realize that they could be rounded up to work on such a project as long as we could figure it out among their busy schedules.

There are many more tunes where these came from, so I really hope you’ll buy a copy and tell 1,000 of your closest friends to do the same so I can do this all over again as soon as possible. Over at my Bandcamp site, you can stream all eight tracks from the comfort of your browser, purchase the 8-track digital download for only $6 (or more; it’s pay-what-you-wish), or pre-order a CD (includes instant digital download) for $12 (or more, did I mention that yet?).

Oh, and if you’d like to keep up on announcements specific to my original music activities, please head on over to the new roblifford.com and sign up for the mailing list.

more thoughts on the self+crowdfunding era

There’s a really interesting discussion going on, sparked by Amanda Palmer’s smashing of a significant milestone on Kickstarter in May. I was drawn in by Austin Kleon’s response to a New York Times article about the whole thing. Go read that in another tab. I’ll wait.

Then Scholl responded, via Tumblr, with a clarification: he was trying to say, in part, that the ability to fund your project (or even to sell your project to a record label) might affect what music gets made and heard. So, it sounds like he’s somewhat concerned that the world will miss out on some great artists if we establish a pattern where only the ones who are good at online engagement can actually get their work released.

To which I’ve just got to respond: that is a great point, Greg, but if it matters now, it shouldn’t matter for long. Many artists are already starting to unlock the potential of Kickstarter (and similar tools) in a huge way, but the fans have barely caught on yet. Someday, and I don’t think the day will be too far off at all, an unknown artist — someone who’s an electrifying performer, but fairly inept (or even just inexperienced) with net-based self-promotion — will pull in an eyebrow-raising amount to make a debut album. And it’ll happen via a Kickstarter project initiated and run completely by fans, on the strength of fan-produced audience videos, and little else.

It’s going to be really fun to watch. It’s going to be even more fun to participate.

mini-rant on gay marriage debate

It’s been an odd week on Twitter for JavaScript enthusiasts, as folks started forwarding around the fact that JS creator Brendan Eich donated money in support of Prop. 8, California’s gay marriage ban. As one might expect, this generated a whole lot of discussion and debate, with varying levels of civility. I have abstained from any participation in all that kerfuffle on Twitter because I find the character restriction way too annoying for actual discussion of complex issues, but these two quotes that showed up in my feed particularly compelled me to respond:

They come from Tim Caswell, creator of the wonderful resource How to Node and a respected member of the JavaScript community. And in response, I just have to say that I see it as not about wanting social acceptance of their “lifestyle,” but about wanting social acceptance of themselves, as human beings who can and do contribute immensely to that society. As such, they deserve no less, and in fact anything less is an injustice that we have a duty to correct.

And so, slowly but surely, we will. Over the next decade or two, through court rulings, legislation, and probably eventually a constitutional amendment, American society will force people to accept a broader definition of “marriage.” What we can’t do is force people to approve. And that’s perfectly OK. I fully support anyone’s freedom to disapprove all he or she wants. But as many on Twitter immediately pointed out, we’ve already lived through the lesson that “separate but equal” is not really equal, and so as a society we are obligated to take the next step in defining what marriage is.

I’m pleased and proud that we’re going to do this during my and my kids’ lifetimes.

another solo gig recap

About two and a half years ago I played a gig at the downtown Austin farmers’ market where I got to play guitar and focus entirely on my own material, something I hadn’t done in many years. In January I had another opportunity to do it again, so I rounded up three great musicians to play with: Dennis Ludiker and Matt Mefford from MilkDrive and Trevor Smith from Green Mountain Grass, The Bluegrass Outfit, and various other Austin acts.

This time I was also lucky to have my buddy Justin Burke doing the audio engineering and so we got some of it recorded: here’s most of set 2.

I called the band WYSIWYG for the day, a one-off I won’t use again now that I know that some band in France uses it. A lot of these tunes are a little rough the first time through the changes and many of the endings are pretty ragged too, since we were basically unrehearsed for all this (we’d just met up a couple nights before and played through most of the songs once each so they’d have some slight familiarity), but once the guys get their ears wrapped around each song there really is some spectacular playing here and there. Oh, and Violet and Graham got to sit in and sing “The Alligator Song,” as they do at many of my gigs these days :)

Cheris caught a couple of tunes from the first set on video with our Flip cam — there’s plenty of wind noise but overall these guys played such great stuff on this tune that I had to post it. The mom swinging her kid around right in front of the camera near the end of the video is pretty awesome too…

There’s some second set video footage as well; I’ll put that on YouTube after I have a chance to update it with the wind-free audio that Justin captured.

Looking forward to doing one of these again if I can find the opportunity to do that when the MilkDrive guys aren’t on the road.