Dropping the Ball

A quick lesson in how not to communicate with your customers.

I’m surprised to realize I’ve never done a blog post about Dropbox.

Since I work on three different computers (desktop, laptop, and tablet), I need to be sure I have the latest version of all of my files on each. Dropbox makes it mindlessly easy. Install the software on each machine, and once past the initial download, it all Just Works. Make a change on one machine, and it gets copied to the others. No network? No problem. As soon as you’re back on line, all the changes get shared around. And if disaster strikes (this is earthquake–and wildfire–country) Dropbox works as an off-site backup too.

It was great when Dad and I were writing The RagTime Traveler, too. Dropbox lets you share specific folders and files with other users. We shared a working folder, and everything he wrote, I got within seconds and visa-versa. No more emailing files back and forth, making changes and then discovering we’d edited the wrong version.

And, best of all, Dropbox supports Linux. The only one of the big names to do so. (Digression: it still seems odd that there’s no Linux client for Google Drive, despite Google’s use of Linux throughout the company, and early promises that one would be coming “soon”. It’s not like Google never puts money into economically unsupportable projects.)

Granted, the support has been somewhat half-hearted. Many system configurations were officially unsupported. But for the most part, they worked. They still do. But.

Here’s where we come to the “How Not To” part of the discussion.

Apparently, Dropbox has had a change of heart. On Friday, I got a warning message from Dropbox on my desktop machine (the Linux one). “Dropbox will stop syncing in November.” No explanation, no specific date, no web link for further information. Also no similar message on the laptop or tablet.

Naturally, I went online. Nothing on Dropbox’s website. So I sent a message to their Twitter support address*. That’s the one that promises “quick replies”. Four days later, nothing. Not even crickets.

* Twitter’s got to be good for something, right?

So I looked further. Used my awesome Google skills, well-trained by years of digging for odd bits of information to surprise and delight readers. (Ahem. Sorry.) Anyway, it turns out I’m not the only one who got the message. I know, what a surprise, huh? There’s a long thread on Dropbox’s support forum. Long, because of Dropbox’s response to the initial question.

Okay, I need to digress again. If you know what a file system is, you can skip the next couple of paragraphs.

Greatly oversimplified, a file system is the way your operating system lays out your data on a disk. Could be a hard drive, a floppy (if you’ve got a really old computer), thumb drive, whatever. There’s more than just raw data, of course. There are indexes to allow the computer to find the files, and there’s provision for some information about the files. For example, every file system keeps track of when files were created and/or changed. On systems that support multiple users–and yes, that includes Windows–the file system will also track who owns which files.

Every operating system supports multiple file systems. Windows, for example, mostly uses NTFS, but it also supports the older FAT file system and a recent variant, exFAT. Different file systems work best under different conditions–and of course every OS manufacturer wants their own FS to work best with their OS. So file systems proliferate.

End of digression. Let’s move on.

Dropbox’s official response to the user who asked about the warning message was to sacrifice Jay. Jay is a “Community Moderator,” someone who helps keep Dropbox’s support forum on track. Jay was given the delightful job of telling the world that as of November 7, the company is going to disable their own product on non-supported file systems.

On Windows, that means NTFS only. Which is actually the status quo; you haven’t been able to use Dropbox for Windows on anything but NTFS for years. Two file systems, HFS+ and APFS, are supported on Macs. Since those are Apple’s own file systems, and probably 99% of Macs use one or the other, again, it’s no big deal.

But then we come to Linux, where exactly one file system is supported: Ext4. And that’s a big problem for Linux users. Because Linux users are long-accustomed to tweaking their systems to maximize performance. And so there are many, many supported file systems on Linux. At least two of which are arguably more popular than Dropbox’s choice.

Even if a Linux user is running Ext4, if they’ve turned on the file system’s encryption functionality, Dropbox won’t sync it after November 6.

Having delivered this bombshell–that Dropbox is not only throwing Linux users off their system, but forcing them to decrypt their computers if they want to stay–Jay disappeared.

There has still been no official word from Dropbox about the reason for the change (the technical explanation Jay gave in his message is complete nonsense, leading many to believe it’s a cover for the first step in dropping Linux support entirely). The support site has been quietly updated with the same word Jay gave, complete with the same nonsensical reason.

Now, you may be asking why it matters. After all, Linux users are a small fraction of computer users. Why should Dropbox support them.

And to some extent that’s true. Dropbox doesn’t have to support Linux. But changing the status quo is risky. Linux users are, for the most part, more technically oriented than the average computer user. They’re often the people who keep corporate computers running. And, as the comments on the support thread show, many of them were instrumental in their companies’ decision to go with Dropbox as their cloud storage provider.

By changing from a “use at your own risk” approach to “do it our way or beat it” without an announcement and with no willingness to engage the community, Dropbox has changed all of those promoter-users into ex-customers. Telling those who might otherwise stick it out that they can’t encrypt their computers (and let us not forget that many companies require all laptops to be encrypted) ups the pain.

Losing one Linux user’s ten bucks a month won’t hurt Dropbox. Losing his employer’s two thousand dollars a month (assuming one hundred corporate users) will hurt, especially when multiplied by a few hundred companies.

One has to wonder about the timing of this action as well. Thursday, the day the Dropbox software started warning users about the shutdown, is also the day Chief Operating Officer Dennis Woodside announced he was stepping down, effective September 4.

That announcement cost Dropbox ten percent of its stock value.

An interesting coincidence, no?

Has Dropbox learned anything from the furor they’re facing in the press? Say, to engage their customers and get buy in before making significant changes?

Don’t make me laugh.

Three Cats

A grab bag of felines today–though I don’t recommend putting cats in a bag. Especially not multiple cats.

Lefty continues to heal.
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As you can see, the fur is starting to grow back on his forehead, and his nose no longer looks scabby and raw. And this picture is several days old; he’s looking even better now.

He’s still spending most of his time in his Fortress of Solitude and refusing to interact with us, but he’s moving around well, eating enthusiastically, and keeping himself groomed. In fact, he’s turning into quite the dapper gentleman.

Then there’s Watanuki, who seems determined to prove that even the most thuggish fellows have their charming moments.
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Normally, he’s extremely dignified, but occasionally he forgets himself and winds up showing off his cute side.

Speaking of which…
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Patience may not be a kitten any more, but she continues to embody the very spirit and soul of cute.

An Extra Large Oreo

I’ve been using my Pixel 2 XL for a couple of weeks now, so it’s probably time to throw out a few thoughts.

First, now that I’ve seen the specs on the thoroughly-leaked Pixel 3, I’m less bothered about not being able to consider it as my upgrade option. That might change if there really is a low-end version in the works, but for now, I’m happy.

Also, all of these comments are based on the phone running Android Oreo. Pie is downloading as I type these words, so I’ll save my thoughts on the upgraded experience for another day.

My immediate reaction after unboxing the phone was “Holy cow, this thing is huge!” But it doesn’t feel nearly as big in my hand. It’s not that much heavier than the 5X, and it’s very well balanced. I’ve yet to feel like it’s trying to slip out of my hand. It is a bit of a stretch to hold it at the balance point and still get a finger on the fingerprint reader, but not a painful one.

There’s no reasonable way to operate it one-handed. I have fairly long fingers, but even so, my thumb can only reach about half the screen. I’ve always been a “hold it in one hand, operate it with the other” user, so I haven’t had to make any changes in my habits there. But if you’re a “do everything with one hand” sort, you’re going to need to change your habits.

And that’s just as well. One-handed operation encourages multitasking, and I’d really rather you weren’t using your phone while driving, waiting in lines, or anything else that requires you to pay attention to what’s going on around you.

The fingerprint reader doesn’t have the same problem the 5X did with false triggering when the phone is in the pouch. That was half the reason why I wound up putting the 5X in a hard-shell case. The other half was that the car holder I use hits the 5X “Volume Down” button; that’s also not a problem with the 2XL. So I may not bother with a case this time around.

Setting up the phone initially had a couple of hiccups. Recent Android versions assume you’re moving from an older device, and they really want to transfer your data and settings. Since I couldn’t do that, the 2XL sulked a little, primarily around the first Wi-Fi connection.

To be totally fair, though, since it made the first connection, it’s been rock solid on multiple Wi-Fi access points, much more so than the 5X ever was–and much faster on the same ones. Transferring large files to and from the phone run as much as two times faster.

That said, the transfer from Wi-Fi to cellular data seems to be a little slower. If I’m streaming audio (say, listening to a baseball game in the car) I get a break of as much as ten seconds before it gives up on the Wi-Fi signal. But, to be fair, the switch from cellular to Wi-Fi is nearly instantaneous.

Fast is definitely a recurring theme. Apps launch instantly, data refreshes in a snap. Some of that is because I had to make a clean start and I haven’t reinstalled many of the apps I almost never used. Fewer apps and not having two years of photos on the device* means I have about four times as much free storage space as before, which translates into a speed boost. Though, naturally, most of the increase is just down to the more powerful hardware.

* Of course, all the pictures and videos are still available through Google’s Photos app. If you don’t have your phone set to automatically back up all your pictures to the cloud, give it some serious thought. Aside from its everyday benefits, it makes the transition to a new phone easier.

The photos are much better. You can see the improvement in last Friday’s post, where Kaja and Kokoro are clearly visible, even though they were backlit. And the difference is even more striking in low light conditions. There’s much less blockiness and the colors are clearer, probably because the automatic white balance seems to work much better.

Focusing is faster, too, which means I can get the shot I’m after before the subject wanders off or tries to sniff the phone.

It’s not perfect. It’s very reluctant to use the flash when it’s set to automatic. But the HDR is improved enough that it almost doesn’t matter. Almost.

The battery life is fine. I’m reliably getting by charging the phone every other night. Granted, I probably use the phone less than Google’s target audience. If I was watching videos for a couple of hours a day, I might feel otherwise. That said, videos look great, and the audio is noticeably better than on the 5X.

Other complaints.

The Home screen has a lot of wasted space, especially vertically. There’s nearly a whole icon’s worth of unused space above and below the “At a Glance” display (currently showing only the date and weather). And I could fit in a whole additional row of icons without affecting usability if I could put them closer together. (To be fair, I’ve gotten spoiled by the default launcher/home screen on LineageOS, which I’m running on my Nexus 9. That lets the user change the icon size and spacing.)

I’m also not a fan of the much-ballyhooed “Active Edge” feature. That’s the one that makes the sides of the phone pressure-sensitive, so you can launch the Google Assistant by squeezing the phone. I lasted two days before I turned that off. I hold the phone by the edges. Every time I picked up the phone, the Assistant triggered. Decreasing the sensitivity didn’t help; if there’s a sweet spot between “too sensitive” and “doesn’t register at all,” I couldn’t find it.

No great loss. Holding the “Home” button or using the voice activation is plenty good enough for this neo-Luddite skeptic.

A minor annoyance: Much as I love the “always on” display when the phone is locked–and I do–I wish I could add more data to the display. The current battery percentage would be nice; I shouldn’t have to wake up the phone to check that. Baseball scores. Some people might like to have a stock ticker. You get the idea. I hear Android Pie adds the battery percentage. Maybe Quisp will include some kind of widget-like functionality that third-parties can tap.

Bottom line: If you need a new phone, you could do far, far worse than the Pixel 2 XL. But there’s nothing here so compelling that you should immediately abandon whatever you’re using now.

And now, I’m going to hit the “Reboot” button and see how I like Pie.

Pie

Google startled the tech world yesterday by releasing Android P. Many techies were unprepared for the news, not expecting the release to happen until the twentieth.

Naturally, the surprise didn’t stop anybody from playing the name game. Now that we know Android P, aka Android 9, is officially named “Pie,” the just-released OS is ancient history, and everyone is speculating about the name of next year’s release.

Let’s face it, there just aren’t a whole lot of foods beginning with “Q”–and most of those aren’t sweets by any stretch of the imagination. Quesadilla? Quiche? Quinoa? Goddess preserve us. Pun intended, because the most likely choice I’ve been able to come up with is Quince, which is frequently found (to the extent you can call it “frequent”) in jams, jellies, and preserves.

But you know, there is a dark horse candidate.

Quisp Cereal
(Image copyright Quaker Oats.)

It’s a sweet. No more so than any other sugared cereal, I suppose, but yeah, there’s a lot of sugar in those boxes. It wouldn’t be the first time Google has done a corporate tie-in for an Android release. And really, wouldn’t Android’s robot mascot look great with a propeller mounted on its head?

Android Robot
(Android Robot owned by Google, naturally.)

Come on, Google, make it happen.

If you think I’m pulling that idea out of my rear end, you’re partly right. But there is a possibility that Google is prepping us for a bit of MTV-generation nostalgia.

Consider: Why did they choose yesterday, August 6, to make the Android Pie release? 8/6 is hardly a date of significance to pie. But it starts to make more sense when you consider that news reports citing Google’s announcement started appearing around 9:00 (US PDT).

I can’t find the actual press announcement from Google, but… Allow reporters a bit of time to pull up their stories and add last-minute details. That would imply the release came out around 8:00. Might it have been 7:53:09? Just saying.
Counter-arguments that yesterday was three months after Google I/O will be cheerfully ignored. Secret conspiracies are much more fun. And besides, why do you think they chose the date they did for I/O?

Joking aside, there aren’t a whole lot of surprises in the release. Google revealed most of their plans at I/O back in May. And, of course, developers and the incurably brave have been using the public betas for the past three months.

Perhaps the biggest surprises are those of omission. Two big pieces of planned functionality–“Slices,” which will allow apps to export content to other apps and the “Digital Wellbeing” initiative, a set of features designed to make you put down your phone and interact with humans–aren’t included. Google says they’ll both be released “later” this year.

That’s a little disappointing. I was looking forward to seeing Digital Wellbeing in action; some of the announced bits of it sounded useful.

I guess I can spend the intervening time getting the hang of the new navigation. The changes to the Back button should be simple enough–either it’s there or it isn’t–but when it is, it should work more or less as it has in the past.

Doing away with the “Recent Apps” button will be tougher. I use that one a lot. Sure, I’ll eventually retrain my muscle memory to swipe up from the “Home” button and to swipe left/right through the apps instead of up/down. But the whole thing smacks of change for the sake of change.

Unless, of course, Android Quisp is going to introduce some startling new functionality behind a button located where “Recent Apps” used to be. In that case, getting the button out of the way now, in order to give sluggards like me a whole year to reprogram their brains, is an excellent idea.

I’ll undoubtedly have further thoughts on Android Pie once I get my hands on it. I’m still waiting for it to show up on my shiny new Pixel 2 XL. You’d think Google was being cautious with the rollout. It’s not like Android ever has unexpected bugs, right?

A Rare Sight

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It’s not that they actively dislike each other. Though it’s true that dinnertime can be a bit fraught. Kaja is on a restricted diet and often supplements her meals at Kokoro’s expense.

Nor is it that they don’t spend time together. True, Kaja is largely confined to one room, due to her history of expressing her dislike of Yuki in physical terms. But Kokoro spends most days in the same room, in a largely successful attempt to avoid, well, everyone else*.

* It ain’t easy being Queen, uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, and other platitudes related to royalty maintaining its mastery over the commoners.

In truth, one hardly ever sees them sharing space simply because there are so many cat-attractive hangouts in that room. The heat vent. At least two caves. A hidden nook behind a pile of boxes. The desk chair. The middle of the floor, next to the food bowls.

But every so often, the stars align, and we find Her Majesty and her Chief Hunter just chillin’.

(Note, however, which one of them gets the full benefit of the sun.)

Losing Face

More proof, as if anybody needed it, that Facebook didn’t get where they are today–a dominant force on the Internet, with a bankroll large enough to slide them through public relations disasters that would kill any lesser company–by playing nice.

Not with its users, and certainly not with the outside world.

You’ve probably seen the recent news stories about their detection of several accounts, possibly linked to Russia, that Facebook believes were attempting to sow confusion and create conflict leading up to the November elections.

In brief, these accounts were promoting protests, specifically counter-protests against pro-Nazi–pardon me, Alt-Right–events.

My cynical side wonders whether Facebook would have taken action if the accounts in question had been promoting the original rally rather than the counter-protest, but since there’s no way to know, that’s something of an irrelevant point.

The bottom line here–and Facebook is, of course, focused directly on the bottom line–is they have to be seen to be doing something about Russian interference with American elections.

Not only have they closed the accounts in question, but they’ve taken the additional step of notifying people who expressed interest in the counter-protest that it might be a Russian operation.

Needless to say, this has not been a popular move with the event’s other organizers, who have had to spend the past couple of days proving to Facebook that they’re not fronts for Russian spies, while simultaneously reassuring people that the counter-protest is real.

Naturally, Facebook doesn’t see a problem. They’ve Taken Action! They’ve Caught Spies! They’ve Made Facebook Great Again!

And it’s not like the protest groups are major advertisers, paying Facebook large sums of money to promote their event.

Facebook’s other recent move is to make it harder for their users to see what’s happening outside of Facebook. Until yesterday, it was possible for bloggers to automatically link their blog posts on Facebook. No longer. (It’s not just blogs that are affected by this move, either. Auto-posting of tweets to Facebook won’t be possible anymore, nor will it cross-linking be possible from any other service.)

Sure, you can still manually link a post. Log into Facebook and copy/paste the relevant text or URL. Takes two minutes. Except, of course, if you’re a prolific tweeter, blogger, or what-have-you-er, those two minutes per post are going to add up quickly.

What really stings about this move, though, is that it only affects posting to Profiles, not to Pages.

Grossly oversimplified: Profiles are intended for users–consumers, in other words. Pages are intended for groups or businesses–or, as Facebook would prefer to call them, revenue generators.

Pages get less visibility than Profiles. Unless, of course, the owner of the Page pays Facebook to advertise it.

I did mention that Facebook’s eyes are on the bottom line, right?

So where does this leave me? I make no secret of the fact that I’m on Facebook–with a Profile, not a Page–purely because it’s considered to be a major part of an author’s platform. “How are people–readers!–going to find you if you’re not on Facebook?”

Right or wrong (and I’m well aware of the counter-examples, thanks), that’s the reality we live in right now. Nothing has changed in that regard since the Cambridge Analytica revelations. So leaving Facebook still isn’t an option.

If I want my posts to keep showing up on Facebook, I’ve really only got two choices: post manually, or convert my Profile into a Page (and then pay Facebook to promote it).

Converting wouldn’t stop them from selling my personal information to other advertisers, and I really hate the idea of paying them to sell my information. And I’m not crazy about having to post everything twice (and thank you, Twitter for not setting up a similar block).

This post will get a manual link. Future posts will too, at least for the time being–but I’m not about to link to the Friday cat posts at midnight. My loyal Facebook followers will have to wait until I get to my desk Friday morning.

And we’ll see how it goes. I will undoubtedly forget from time to time. No question that I’ll botch the copy/paste periodically. If the whole thing gets to be too big a hassle, I will give up on Facebook, regardless of the “necessity” of being there.

Because, no matter what Facebook thinks–or, more precisely, wants its users to think–Facebook isn’t the Internet.

Not On Our Side

Not exactly the way the Mariners wanted to come out of the All-Star Break. Two and one against the White Sox, owners of the third-worst record in baseball. Splitting a two-game series with the Giants, who are struggling to stay at .500. Losing two of three to the Angels, the fourth place team in the Mariners’ own division.

Still, it’s better than the eight games going into the Break, when they went two and six.

And there are signs of hope. The seven run first inning against the Angels Sunday. Last night’s low-scoring, but ultimately victorious match with the Astros. For that matter, the Astros’ four straight losses going into that game and the Athletics’ dropping three in a row to the Rockies didn’t exactly hurt the Ms.

Going five and four and winding up two games closer to the division lead is unusual, but who–outside of Houston and Oakland–is complaining?

The Orioles, by the way, have gone four and five with one rainout over the same stretch. That’s also not exactly world-beating, and they’re still five and half behind those pesky White Sox, but they’re riding a three-game win streak coming into their series with the Yankees. Go Birds!

But I digress.

The Mariners have made a few moves ahead of the Trade Deadline–which we all know is more of a Trade Mild Headache Line. Like their recent record, there’s nothing spectacular there, but nothing horrifying either. Bolstering the bullpen is a reasonable move. A (usually) safe move.

But as I’ve said before, defense doesn’t win ballgames. It can keep you from losing games, but winning requires offense. Just ask Felix. Or, better yet, ask Harvey Haddix, who pitched a perfect game for twelve innings back in 1959 and wound up losing the game 1-0.

Maybe the Ms will do something to bolster the offense today. A trade. A promotion from the minors. A new locker-room ritual. Something.

But this is the Mariners. The gang that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2001. Loyal fans have come to expect something to go wrong. Or, more likely, a whole mess of things to go wrong.

Come on guys, make a break with history. Let’s get it right this year.

Feeling Lucky

If you were wondering, yes, the coyotes are still around. We haven’t seen the adults lately, but the pups put in an appearance from time to time. Needless to say, we’re not happy about that. But what can one do?

Well, for starters, one can put MM in protective custody.
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She’s been an involuntary resident of the catio* for a while now.

* Note, by the way, that the catio has been upgraded with a real roof and a partial wall on the side that gets the most rain. These upgrades should make life much more pleasant for any inhabitants during the rainy season. Assuming we ever have another rainy season, of course.

Don’t let that mild demeanor and the sun-basking fool you. She is not happy to be there.
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Not only did she tear the railing off the shelter and make a massive mess of the straw, forcing us to replace the wooden shelter with one of the plastic “quonset hut” shelters from the yard, but she also tore up and tore apart the rubber floor mats.

She’s calmed down a bit, but she still wants nothing to do with the nasty bipeds who locked her up. She hides in the shelter when we take her food out and we hear an occasional “Cattica! Cattica!” chant late at night. At least we’ve persuaded her that the litter box is for excretion, not residency.

We’re not sure how long we’ll hold onto her, but we’ve given up any notion of civilizing her. Once we decide it’s sufficiently safe, we’ll let her loose.

And then there’s the other involuntary recipient of our hospitality.

Meet Lefty.
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He hasn’t been with us as long, mostly because it took several times as long to trap him. (We caught MM the first night we tried. Lefty was more cautious, and it took more than a week.)

And if we thought MM was unhappy in the catio, Lefty took matters to previously unconsidered depths. He complained. He prowled around, shoving shelters out of his way, and generally created chaos.

Nor, to be blunt, did he get along with MM. She wanted him in the catio even less than he wanted to be there.
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To make matters worse, Lefty is not the most graceful cat we’ve ever met. He’s got an excuse, granted, but the combination of clumsiness and escape attempts resulted in several rather nasty wounds.
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Be glad I’m not showing you any of the earlier pictures. This one is quite upsetting enough; the others are…well, put it this way: I did not look at them, just attached them to an email to the vet and hit send as quickly as I could.

No, he’s not a calico; he’s pure black except for a small white patch on his chest. That strip down his forehead and nose is one of the wounds he picked up in the catio.

He took a trip to the vet and he’s looking better now. We’ve given him separate quarters in the garage while he recovers from his neutering, goes through a course of antibiotics, and generally heals up. That space seems to be more to his tastes: we haven’t seen any sign of escape attempts and he’s eating more enthusiastically than he did in the catio.

We don’t know if it’s going to be possible, but we’d like to adopt him into our posse. Not because every team needs a good southpaw (sorry), but because of that excuse for his clumsiness.

Some of you, especially knowing that we generally give neighborhood cats descriptions instead of proper names, may have figured out why we call him “Lefty”. For the rest of you, here’s a hint:
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That cloudy right eye is no camera illusion. As we feared, and the vet confirmed, it’s unlikely he’s got any vision in it. We don’t know if it’s acquired or congenital, but either way, it’s not curable.

On the brighter side, the vet doesn’t think there’s any need to remove it to avoid infection. So, while a nicely piratical eyepatch might look good on him, he won’t have to wear one.

Further good news: he’s tested negative for Heartworm, FIV, and FeLV.

So he’s been lucky so far. But monocular vision certainly puts him at a disadvantage on the streets.

We’ll see how he’s doing by the time he finishes his antibiotics. If he’s still relatively chill, we’ll see if we can persuade him to adopt an indoor lifestyle. It’ll be a long haul, and an awkward one, since we don’t feel at all comfortable about putting him back in the catio, even after MM goes on her way. But it’s worth a try. Wish him (further) luck.

The Inevitable

My humblest apologies for the lateness of this post. Sadly, my beloved smartphone passed away last night, and I’m in the throes of grief. Ah, Nexus 5X, we hardly knew you.

Well, okay, considering that I’d had the phone since April of 2016, I’d say I knew it pretty darn well. So did you all, for that matter, since 99% of the photos I post are taken with my phone. And I wasn’t spending (much) time weeping and wailing; I was trying to revive it.

The fatal disease in this case is the so-called “boot loop,” in which the device gets partway through booting, then starts over or shuts down–mine fell into the latter group. It’s a known hardware problem with the 5X. Apparently some component unsolders itself from its circuit board. And in retrospect, I probably should have seen this coming. The phone has been having increasing difficulty connecting to Wi-Fi for the past few months–which some websites suggest is a related issue–and the constant attempts to reconnect raise the phone’s temperature, which hastens the major component failure.

I have to give kudos to both Google and LG (the actual makers of the phone) for their handling of the situation. The Project Fi customer service representative had me do one simple test to confirm the problem, then told me that LG had extended warranty coverage to all devices that fail this way, so there would be no cost for a repair, not even shipping.

He then conferenced in an LG customer service representative and introduced us before dropping off the call. She was equally polite and efficient, confirming that the repair would be done under warranty and would take about two weeks. It took her longer to get my address into the computer than everything else combined*.

* To be fair, the address problem was not the rep’s fault, nor, really, was it LG’s. Blame the US Post Service. My zip code is shared between two cities. Companies that auto-populate the city based on the zip code using the official USPS database always get it wrong, and usually have to fight to override the default.

I’m currently waiting for LG to email me the FedEx shipping label; that should come today, I was told, but may take a little longer than usual because of the address override. Fine. What’s a day or so in a two-week process?

Because, really, two weeks without a phone? Inconceivable!

The Google rep suggested that if I have an old phone, I could temporarily activate it with Fi, but I’m not sure that’s feasible, since my previous phone was with Sprint, which didn’t use SIMs at the time. But I’ll try, because why not?

But I’m not counting on it working, so I’ve ordered a new phone. Yeah, I know. Bad timing: Google is widely expected to introduce the Pixel 3 series in October. But let’s face it, about 95% of my phone time is either listening to baseball games, sending email, or taking pictures of cats. And the Pixel 2 camera are still widely regarded as among the best phone cameras available. It’ll be a major upgrade over the 5X camera, certainly. And spreading the payments across two years makes it more or less affordable.

In the worst case scenario, if the Pixel 3 series renders the 2 series totally obsolete, well, I’ve got a phone that’s a major step up for what I do. By the time it’s paid off, I can trade it in for a Pixel 5 (which obsoleted the Pixel 4 that made the Pixel 3 look like trash).

If you believe Google’s estimate, the new phone could arrive as soon as tomorrow or as late as Monday. Four days is a hell of a lot easier to face than two weeks. With a bit of luck, next Friday’s cat post will feature photos taken with the new phone.

So why am I getting the phone repaired if I’m buying a new one? That Google rep again. He pointed out that the trade-in value of a working 5X is almost double that of a dead one and that I’ve got thirty days–four weeks, twice as long as the repair should require–to send in the old phone. Logical and helpful. Thank you, Google Support Guy!

Or, heck, I may keep it around as an emergency backup. Maggie has a 5X, after all. It probably won’t drop dead–it seems to be from a newer production run which may not have the same unsoldering issue–but keeping the old phone would provide a little peace of mind.

Rest in peace, Nexus 5X, secure in the knowledge that your resurrection is pending.

Who’s Next?

Sorry, but I’m going to get all political on you again. Feel free to ignore my paranoid rantings.

One of the things that QA and writing have in common is the need to answer the question “Why?”

When testing, it’s not enough to know that a certain sequence of steps causes the program to go blooey*. The tester has to try to determine why; the answer to that question will have implications for who’s going to fix the bug and when–or even if–it’ll get fixed.

* Technical terminology.

Similarly, when writing, it’s not enough to know a character takes a certain action. The author needs to know why; characters who act illogically or do something stupid because the plot requires it make readers throw down the book and not buy anything else by the author.

So I’m doubly inclined to ask “Why?” when my government goes blooey.

In this case, the question is “We have a president who continues to spew lies, ignore the advice of his councilors, threaten war, and generally do the exact opposite of working for the benefit of his country. Why, then, has not a single member of his party–the majority in Congress–acted to restrain him?”

Let’s ignore for the moment the question of why Trump acts the way he does. For the most part, it’s irrelevant to the question we’re looking at now. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that his actions are driven in part by Russian influence. We’ll take that as a given and move on.

Possibility One: No Congressional Republicans are acting to counter Trump because Russia has something on every single one of them.

It’s possible, but improbable. Diogenes notwithstanding, moderately honest people aren’t hard to find. Granted, the ratio is probably skewed in Congress, but the odds still say that there must be one or two Republican congresscritters who haven’t taken money from the NRA or another Russian front organization, been recorded cheating on their spouses or stealing from church poor boxes, and don’t relax by pushing old ladies down the stairs.

More likely, what we’re seeing is a mass case of mental paralysis. Suppose you’re chatting with your friends at a restaurant. The waitress asks “Would you like some dessert?” and you haven’t even looked at the menu. You stare at her while you try to process the question. Finally, she takes pity on you and says “The cheesecake is good,” and you immediately say, “Great, I’ll have that!” even though you don’t much like cheesecake, and would really prefer the strawberry shortcake.

That’s mental paralysis. The honest Republicans never expected to have to decide between party and country, re-election and personal honor, and they’re frozen. They go along with whatever the party wants because it gets them past the brain lock. And maybe cheesecake isn’t so bad after all.

Sooner or later, though, they may start to decide they’re tired of cheesecake and want that strawberry shortcake. We may have seen the first sign of that with Senator Scott’s move to block the appointment of Ryan Bounds to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Kudos to Senator Scott.

But then, why–there’s that question again–does the party leadership not at least act to replace Trump with somebody less polarizing?

Even if we leave Trump’s value as a distraction, allowing them to push their agenda through, who could they replace him with?

Consider the succession. President, Vice President, Speaker of the House, Senate President Pro Tempore.

If Trump is removed–impeached, forced to resign, assassinated, whatever–Pence becomes president and chooses his new vice president. Who must be confirmed by both houses of Congress. The Republicans would need to get their choice past the Senate without a vice president to break a tie. It would only take one Republican breaking ranks to block a candidate.

And if you think Congressional Democrats have mobilized against Brett Kavanaugh, you ain’t seen nothing yet. That fight could easily drag past the November election.

And let’s get real here. If Trump is actually guilty of conspiring with Russia to swing the election, would anyone believe Pence wasn’t also in the plot up to his eyebrows? If Trump goes down, the Democrats block the appointment of a new vice president, and take control of either house in November, then the games get really interesting.

Remember, while the Speaker is an elected position (voted on by the members of the House), the Senate President Pro Tempore is not. That’s based strictly on length of service in the Senate. If the Democrats flip the Senate–which seems more likely than the House–Patrick Leahy of Vermont steps into the succession. Nominally, he’d be fourth in line, but if the vice presidency is vacant, he’d move up a step.

Meanwhile, over in the House… Suppose compelling evidence of wrongdoing by Pence turns up after Trump’s departure. Pence goes down (eventually). With no vice president, we get President Paul Ryan [shudder] and the same logjam in appointing a VP. Assuming, of course, this all goes down before a new Speaker is elected in January. Yes, we really could have a lame duck Representative become president.

Logically, Ryan is as likely to be guilty of collusion as Pence, if not more so. But that might even be beside the point. If Ryan becomes president, he can’t also be a member of the House. Imagine the confusion if the Republican governor of Wisconsin has to appoint somebody to fill Ryan’s seat until the new Congress is seated in January–especially if a Democrat wins Ryan’s district.

Bottom line here: the current situation is chaos, and there’s no clear path to stability for Republicans who, for whatever reason, won’t or can’t relinquish power.

Stay tuned. December may be a very interesting month, especially if Democrats flip both houses in November.