Change Is A-Coming

The end of an era is the beginning of a new era.

I’ve been doing this full-time writer thing for almost six years. Despite what you might think, that was never the plan.

In my latest newsletter*, I said “Everything takes longer than planned.” That was true of getting Like Herding Cats out the door. And it’s true of the plan for launching my writing career.

* Are you subscribed to the newsletter? If not, why not? You could be reading exclusive first draft excerpts from Like Herding Cats, and blog-like rambles on the publishing industry and my place in it. How can you not want to read my extended metaphor of the querying process as a theatrical audition? Millions of authors singing, dancing, and doing Hamlet’s soliloquy for your pleasure! Ahem. Pardon me. And if you’re not already signed up, please click that link over in the sidebar.

See, the original idea was to take six months to focus on writing. Learn to string words together in pleasing ways. (Pleasing to me and to others. The latter is much harder than the former.) Develop the habit of writing. (The jokes about procrastinating writers are funny because there is a certain amount of truth behind the stereotype–which is why we tend to get defensive when non-writers tell them.)

And after six months, I’d start looking for a job, because, despite what Kokoro might tell you, cat food doesn’t just magically appear in the bowl. I never figured it would take five years to land a paycheck. But somehow, that’s what happened.

I haven’t started the job yet; I’m still doing paperwork. I don’t know what my hours will be, so I can’t gauge the impact on the blog. But I can make some contingency plans. If I wind up working or commuting Tuesday and/or Thursday mornings, I won’t be blogging at those times. Ideally, I’ll change the schedule* and blog other days or times. Not so ideally–and it’s a possibility since I will unquestionably have less time to write–I may have to make the hard decisions.

* Friday cat-or-other-critter posts are always written and posted ahead of time, so I don’t expect any change to those. You’re welcome.

If it comes down to a choice between blogging and writing novels, I’m going to pick the novels.

It’s all well and good to say that this blog is building platform–attracting followers who’ll buy my books–but if I never write the books, it doesn’t matter how many followers I’ve got. I won’t stop blogging about things unrelated to felines. But if I have to cut back the frequency, I will.

With that said, let’s move on. You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned who my new employer is. That was intentional. The job is in the technology sector. I plan to continue my usual snark about Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and anyone who believes the Internet of Things is a good idea. My employer may fall into one of those categories. Or not. This might be disinformation.

But I want to be absolutely clear that anything I say here is my own opinion, completely uninfluenced by questions of employment or sanity.

Welcome to the new era, in which I’m less worried about waking up to find that somebody has supplemented their diet with my toes. Hopefully, that’ll make for a more cheerful blog, the political environment notwithstanding.

Change is good. In well-controlled, carefully measured doses.

One Step Forward, One Step Sideways

Lefty is starting to feel more comfortable. He’s spending more time sitting on top of his condo, grooming–at least when there are no humans around.

Let one of us come into the room, and he reverts to his “Lurker in the Shadows” persona.
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But even there, he’s less obnoxious about it. He no longer flees at the first sight or sound of humanity, and if he accidentally comes out of hiding while we’re around, he looks us over carefully–especially if we’re interacting with one of the other cats–before ducking for cover.

Which is not to say that progress has been smooth or without issues.
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To be fair, we’re almost certain toppling the condo was an accident. The video* suggests he was trying a Parkata Felis maneuver, flipping from “bowling pin” atop the condo to “fuzzy donut” inside it without occupying any of the space between.

* Unfortunately, it’s not ready for posting. I have to pull the recordings off the camera in batches, and that one is still pending.

It didn’t quite come off: he appears to have gotten a toenail snagged in the carpet around the top of the condo.

No harm done, as far as we can see, and he split his time between the milk crate (as seen in the photo above) and the condo*.

* Well-known fact: cats are liquid, assuming the shape of whatever vessel they’re placed in. A curved floor is no problem at all.

While his stare can be unnerving, we find it reassuring to know he’s keeping his eye on us. (Sorry.)

Flat As a Basketball

Really, Steph?

I can’t believe we’re talking about this.

Yeah, the whole moon landing contretemps. First Stephen Curry says he doesn’t believe men have been to the moon. Then he gets all coy. Then he claims it was a lesson in critical thinking and information literacy.

Sorry, Steph, I’m not buying any of it. I don’t care whether you’re a conspiracy theorist or not. But no matter how you look at it, this was a stupid move.

If you really believe the moon landings were faked, then claiming otherwise in the face of the outcry makes you look credulous and wishy-washy.

On the other hand, if it was a joke that got taken seriously, doubling down on it with the Intelligent Design/Climate Change “just asking questions” defense makes you look stupid as well as credulous.

And on the gripping hand, if you intended this as a lesson in critical thinking from the beginning–and a not so covert swipe at the current U.S. government–this was completely the wrong way to go about it.

As we’ve seen on a daily basis since 2016, nobody pays attention to the corrections. Telling the “kids out there that hang on every word that we say” not to believe what they hear is about as pointless as a cat on a linoleum floor trying to bury the evidence of excretory malfeasance.

If they even hear the lesson–and many of them won’t, because it’s not sexy enough to get the same play in the media as the original statement–they’re not going to go to the trouble. The lesson they hear over and over in school, at home, and from their peers is “believe what the boss says”. Believe your teacher, unless he contradicts your priest. Believe the president, unless he contradicts your father.

Don’t look it up. Nobody likes a smart ass.

No, I don’t have a fix. But neither does Steph.

Oversight

How about a rant about product delivery that has nothing to do with Amazon? What’s more, it’s not about UPS, FedEx, or OnTrac! Pardon me while I put on my old fart pants, because I’m talking about newspaper delivery.

Back in the dim reaches of prehistory, delivery in residential areas was mostly done by kids on bikes. Up in the early morning hours to get the papers delivered before school. The technique you see in vintage movies, where the delivery boy flings the paper at the front door without slowing down was actually more common than you might believe.

I have to wonder if it’s even still legal for kids to deliver papers. It’s certainly frowned upon, in the same way that society frowns on letting them go out to play by themselves. But I digress.

Today, delivery is done by those old enough to drive. Some things don’t change, though. Our carrier, at least, flings the paper out of the car window without slowing down.

And it mostly works. Usually the paper arrives while I’m getting dressed and checking my email–just in time for me to read it while I eat breakfast. It’s almost always in a bag, rarely in a puddle, and hardly ever missing sections.

When things do go wrong, though–well, that’s why I’m ranting.

There are two papers around here, the San Francisco Chronicle and the East Bay Times. The latter is small and, IMNSHO, overly click-baitish. So we get the Chron. Except, of course, when the carrier goofs and gives us the wrong paper. That happens about once a month.

So we call the Chron and talk to their friendly robot in charge of delivery problems. No, I’m not being snide about an underpaid human. The whole process is automated, right down to the fake typing noises after the computer says, “Let me look that up for you.”

Not once have we actually gotten the paper redelivered when we’ve been given a Times instead of a Chron. I’m guess that’s because the Chron doesn’t have a “I got the wrong paper” option, just “Did you get your paper? Please answer yes or no.” So I suspect what happens when we say we didn’t is that Chron’s robot passes the word to the delivery person, who says to himself, “I remember tossing it into their driveway. They’re trying to scam an extra paper.” Why we’d want a second Chron, I can’t imagine, but I doubt logic really enters into this process.

Then we got a laser printed flier from the delivery service–or more likely, from the actual delivery person–that advised us to call them instead of the paper.

So that’s what we did the next time we got a Times. Wound up talking to an answering machine and were actually able to say, “Hey, we got the wrong paper today!” Wonder of wonders, a couple of hours later, we found a Chron outside.

Problem solved, right? Well…

That business about not calling the Chron rubs me the wrong way. It smacks of an attempt to cover up their goof. I’m sure the delivery contract specifies a service level agreement: papers to be delivered by a particular time, with no more than such-and-so many errors per month.

If we don’t call the Chron, those missed and incorrect deliveries might not be counted. There’s no incentive for the delivery service to improve their process*. There’s no accountability, no oversight.

* Nor, for that matter, is there any way for us to get a credit from the Chron if the paper never does show up.

We’ve decided to call both numbers. What’s the worst that happens? We might get two newspapers. Oh, the horror. But at least we’re doing our part to ensure that the situation doesn’t get any worse.

The analogy with the current state of the American political system is left as an exercise for the reader.

(Mostly) Quiet Moments

A few quick updates on the gang.

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Kokoro will take any opportunity to sprawl on my lap, even if it means sharing with Rhubarb. Since the weather turned colder and wetter, she’s been even more enthusiastic. The weird thing, though, is that the colder the weather, the more she melts.

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‘Nuki needs his toenails clipped and he’s got no qualms about using that fact when he demands attention. He hasn’t quite figured out that his threats would have more gravitas if they didn’t include those cute pink toebeans.

Lefty continues to be cautious about bipeds. He spends most of the time in his condo, and if we catch him outside, usually retreats immediately.


However, he’s realized that once we turn off the light, we rarely come back into the room. So he’s often at the food bowl before we even finish closing the door. His fastest time from light off to nose-in-bowl is three seconds, although the average is closer to six.

When humans aren’t involved, Lefty seems to be a rather mellow fellow.  At this point, he’s met most of the others, at least briefly, and Rufus spends every night and most of the days with him.  And so far, all the encounters have been peaceful.  No threats issued from between the bars in either direction.

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But Lefty takes relaxation almost to Rufusian levels.  Most cats I know would be uncomfortable in this situation. Not Lefty. He glanced out of the condo when Rufus climbed on top of the cage, then went back to sleep.

Two formerly feral fellows sharing a peaceful moment. What could be better?

(Lefty does love that poor catnip lemon, by the way. He’s all but disemboweled it and keeps it close to the condo at all times. But oddly, the pumpkin doesn’t get much love. He’ll play with it occasionally, but he always comes back to the lemon.)

Quick Takes

A couple of shorter items today, because reasons.

First up, the Matier & Ross column in yesterday’s Chron announced that ticket kiosks are being reinstalled at the Temporary Transbay Terminal, suggesting that it’s likely to a while before the new terminal is back in operation.

Oddly, that’s not really bad news. I don’t think anybody expected a quick fix. Even by the most optimistic estimates, the new terminal couldn’t have reopened before February.

The only real surprise in the news is that testing of the cracked beams is still going on. That was supposed to be complete sometime in November. So, yes, the process is lagging behind schedule, but did anyone expect otherwise? And, frankly, I’m choosing to regard the delay as a good sign. Better to take it slowly and be sure everybody is happy with the testing than to rush it and stoke fears that something has been missed.

Assuming the tests wrap up this month and show the cracking isn’t a design problem, we’re still looking at a few more months. The fix will need to be planned, approved internally and by an external group of engineers, and then implemented and (one hopes) tested.

So spending the money to put the kiosks back where the riders are just makes sense.

Moving on.

A bit of news out of the Northwest.

Seattle has been granted a NHL franchise and will begin play in 2021.

Even though I no longer follow hockey, I’m pleased to hear it.

Just this once, let’s skip the discussion of injuries, violence, and general unpleasantness that usually goes along with talk about the NHL and NFL.

It may come as a surprise to many people, but Seattle was once a big hockey town. Back in the nineteen-teens–before the NHL was founded–the Seattle Metropolitans played for the Stanley Cup three times, winning once and losing once. (The playoff was canceled in 1919, due to a flu epidemic. No vaccines in those days.)

They also had a team from 1944 to 1975, playing in the high minor Western Hockey League. That was the team I followed obsessively in my possibly misspent youth. (There’s also a current minor league team, the Thunderbirds, but they don’t get a whole lot of press, even in Seattle, so…)

So, yes, it’s good to see high-level hockey coming back to Seattle. It should be good for the city: like the Mariners, they should be able to draw fans from Oregon, Idaho, and Montana, which means hotel revenue. There’s an automatic rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks, not just because of geographic proximity, but also because Vancouver used to treat the Seattle team as a farm club. Now they’ll be meeting on an even footing.

The big question now, of course, is what the team will be called. That WHL team started out as the Ironmen, changed to the Bombers and the Americans, before settling on Totems. It doesn’t seem like there’s any sentiment for those first three names, but Totems has a lot of appeal–though, as several people have already noted, it would take some significant outreach to avoid controversy over cultural appropriation.

Apparently there’s even some interest in reviving the Metropolitan name. I’ll admit to liking the idea, but it probably won’t go anywhere. Inter-sport name collisions are one thing, but conflict within the league is discouraged. The NHL has a Metropolitan division, so confusion would be inevitable, especially given that Seattle won’t be in that division.

Some of the other ideas the franchise owners are considering are also problematic. “Rainiers” is on the list, but the Tacoma Rainiers baseball team is only about thirty minutes away. Awkward. “Cougars” isn’t much better. Washington State University wouldn’t be too happy about that, and annoying a big chunk of your potential fanbase doesn’t seem like a good idea.

“Renegades”? Blech.

“Evergreens”? Maybe. It’s somewhat unique, anyway. But are we really ready for the reporting when the team loses and attendance drops? “Last night the Evergreens tried to answer the old chestnut, falling 3-0 in a mostly empty arena. Not a sound was heard.” Nah.

I’m sure we’ll hear plenty more as ownership narrows down the list.

Sitting One Out

What’s the opposite of “going for it?” There’s “tanking,” but that has implications of “we tried, but failed, so we’re going all in on failure” combined with “we’re outright trying to suck.” I’m looking for the phrase that describes “we’re not even going to try to be good, but if it happens anyway, we’ll take it.”

Whatever you call it, this year’s poster child is the Seattle Mariners. Which is a new experience for Mariners fans. For decades, the team was somewhere between “bad” and “adequate.” For a brief period between 1995 and 2003, they swung wildly between “ouch” and “pretty damn good*.” Since then, they’ve hovered around “adequate” with occasional jumps and dips. Which isn’t to say some of those dips haven’t been spectacular. Mariners fans try to forget 2008 and 2010, when the team went 61-101, clearly in the “horrible” range.

* 2001, of course, was an outlier at “amazing.”

The mantra since 2003 has been “we’re one good X away,” where X has variously been a big bat, a Number Two pitcher, and a general manager.

The 2018 season was the Ms’ best since 2003 and their sixth best since they were founded. (My usual reaction to hearing stats like that is “when was their worst season?” For those of you who enjoy train wrecks, the answer is 1978, their second season, when they went 56-104.)

Despite the glittering–by Mariners’ standards–record, they missed the playoffs for the seventeenth time in a row. Apparently, the front office has finally gotten the message that the team isn’t “just one” anything away from anywhere you’d want to be.

It’s only December, and they’ve already traded away every player with name-brand recognition outside of the Pacific Northwest*. Granted, the correlation between recognition and talent is loose, but it’s a convenient indicator. Correction: they didn’t trade Nelson Cruz, they let him go to free agency.

* Okay, yes, they still have Kyle Seager. But if you ask anyone outside the Ms’ viewing area about “Seager,” they’ll think you’re talking about his younger brother, down in LA. And the Mariners are listening to offers for Kyle.

Some of their activity has been collecting young talent, not yet ready for the majors. Some of it has been dumping salary. None of it is explicit tanking, but the front office has said that they don’t expect to compete in 2019. Whether 2020 or 2021 is the realistic target to go for it again is arguable, and can’t realistically be settled until we see how many more trades the Ms make between now and July 31.

We also can’t tell yet whether 2019 is going to be a 1999-like “meh” or a 1980-ish “OMG, hide your eyes!” So much of the talent the Mariners have picked up so far is clearly not ready for the majors, that I suspect their Opening Day starting lineup is going to look a heck of a lot like the Tacoma Rainiers’ lineup this past October.

Some of you may wonder if I’m going to be watching. And the answer is a qualified yes.

I’m increasingly disenchanted by MLB’s streaming offering, and I may yet cancel my subscription. There’s the whole fiasco around giving games to Facebook, which is outrageous–this past year, games on Facebook couldn’t even be broadcast on local television. Way to kick existing fans–to say nothing of the younger fans and potential fans you want to court–in the face.

There’s MLB’s lack of interest in offering MLB.TV subscribers any support. Last year they took down their online message board, eliminating a major venue for fans to help each other. And their individual support is horrid. I sent them a note about a bug in the Android app and got an email back explaining how to delete the app. The bug never did get fixed.

Post-season games are blacked out of MLB.TV unless you have a cable or satellite subscription. Cut the cord? Forget about MLB.TV for the playoffs. No streaming provider has been approved by MLB, not even the ones owned by an approved provider. If your streamer doesn’t have the channel the game is on (MLB Network, anybody?), you’re SOL.

MLB.TV subscriptions renew on March 1. Last year, the announcement about Facebook exclusive broadcasts didn’t come out until March 9, four days after the deadline to cancel a subscription and get a refund. I fully expect the same thing to happen this year, so if you prefer not to pay for games you’ll be prevented from watching, cancel your auto-renew now.

So I may not bother with MLB.TV this year. I’ll miss watching the Mets and Orioles, but at least I have options for the Ms–or at least the games MLB grudgingly allows to be aired.

Irresistible

I know I’ve posted pictures of various cats under the covers before. But really, how could one ever get tired of the genre?
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Just look at Sachiko’s expression of grim determination not to be bothered. At her whiskers carelessly curled under her chin. The handsome tail lovingly curled and pointing to the pink toe beans.

Irresistible!

Not a Train Wreck

Let’s talk about Ralph Breaks the Internet (to be referred to as RBtI henceforward, ’cause, you know, lazy.)

As usual when I talk movies, there are going to be spoilers. Don’t want to see the spoilers? Stop reading now and come back after you see the movie.

And, not to spoil the post, I am recommending it. Yes, you need a good high-level grasp of popular culture and internet practices. If you don’t see the humor in Disney princesses discussing their own tropes, this isn’t your movie. Nor is it your movie if you haven’t rolled your eyes at your favorite search engine’s attempts to guess what you’re about to ask it.

If you don’t have a favorite search engine, this is really not your movie.

You don’t need to have seen Wreck-It Ralph to enjoy RBtI, but it will help. There’s a fair amount of world building in the first movie that the second film simply takes for granted. But with a few exceptions, I suspect you won’t be considering RBtI at all if you haven’t seen W-IR.

Anyway.

So yes, it’s good. The jokes are mostly on point, and the pace is fast enough that when one joke does miss, there’s another one coming right behind it. There are plenty of cameos, background gags, and audio jokes to keep you entertained when the main story drags. Which it does a couple of times.

The Disney princesses are a high point in both of their appearances, and I loved the big race scene.

Sure, there are a few things I could quibble about–an eBay with no snipers? Nah! The biggest curb I tripped over, though, is the way the monetary thing was handled. I can live with the idea that BuzzzTube lets you directly convert likes to dollars. It wouldn’t work in the real world, but we’re aiming at kids, so okay, I suspend my disbelief. Where I fall down is on the exchange rate. Ralph’s first video racks up, if memory serves, about a million and a half likes, giving him a balance of $43. That’s a weird ratio. But if we take that as given, the numbers just don’t add up later. Sure, we don’t see all the videos he makes, but the ones we do see show similar like counts. Counting on my fingers, that suggests Ralph had to make something upward of 600 videos. And collect the necessary views in a limited (and apparently rapidly changing) amount of time.

That “spung” sound you just heard was the spring in my suspension of disbelief punching through the cylinder.

But it’s still a quibble, not a major flaw.

RBtI had a couple of significant missed opportunities. (This is the point where you should leave if you don’t want to see me wearing my writer hat.)

Remember how the first movie was Vanellope’s film? Sure, it had Ralph’s name on it, but the heart of the movie was Vanellope coming to terms with her glitch. W-IR got a lot of kudos for the way it handled that part of the story. Along comes RBtI, and that all goes out the window. Vanellope uses the glitch twice (once to evade capture, once to cheat in the big race). Then it blows up on her, taking down “Slaughter Race”. But the solution is just to reboot the server–it’s got nothing to do with Vanellope or what she’s learned during the course of the film.

Sure, this was Ralph’s film–his chance to grow–but it shouldn’t come solely at the expense of the other characters.

I don’t have a solution to this one, but then, I’ve only been thinking about it for a couple of days. The film’s writers had four years (I gather there wasn’t much discussion about possible directions for a sequel until 2014.)

The other missed opportunity is smaller and easier to solve. Vanellope’s “princess song”. Okay, yes, it was a great bit. Gosh, she really is a Disney Princess. I laughed as much as anyone else in the theater.

But.

That song just didn’t work stylistically. Vanellope is caught between “Slaughter Race” and “Sugar Rush” and her song ought to reflect that in the musical as well as the lyrics. Sure, start it off with the stereotypical Disney Princess song and get your laugh. But then give us a nod to the “Sugar Rush” track from W-IR–even just a line or two–and then slide into a verse done as something you might find on the “Slaughter Race” soundtrack. Metal. Hip-Hop. Reggaeton. Something with a serious bite. Come back to the Disney Princess song at the end if you have to, but give us that explicit link to Vanellope’s past and future.

Okay, hat off.

The bottom line? Ralph Breaks the Internet: good, but not as good as it could have been.

A Departure

This will be the last blog post I link to on Facebook, at least for the foreseeable future. If you’re coming here to find out when I’ve posted*, I recommend you use the link on the blog itself to be notified by email whenever I post. You can also–at least for now–follow me on Twitter (@CaseyKarp).

* As part of your other Facebook usage, of course; I’m not quite egotistical enough to think following me is the only reason you’re on Facebook. On the other hand, if you are, drop me a note: I could use the positive reinforcement.

In addition, I will no longer be reading Facebook posts. No more likes, no more birthday greetings, and no more comments (though I will look for and respond to comments on this post for a few days).

Believe me, it’s got nothing to do with you, singularly or collectively. No, this is all about me. Because, as several people who know me will tell you, everything is all about me.

Okay, Facebook itself has a lot to do with my decision. And if you really want to spread the blame around, toss a bit at Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, who recently summed up much of what I’ve been thinking about Facebook.

I’m not going to follow his lead and delete my account, at least not yet. I’ll come back to that shortly.

Spoiler: my decision has little to do with the annoyance of having to link posts manually, except to the extent that the inability to link posts automatically is a symptom of the larger problem.

The bottom line here is literally that: Facebook is so focused on the bottom line that they’re incapable of admitting a mistake. Worse, even if they were to try to fix something, they’ve gotten so big and unwieldy they can’t possibly do it quickly or well. (Yes, the old oil tanker problem: if every course change costs you time and money, you had better get the course right the first time.) Facebook can’t change course on a dime. Hell, they’d be doing well to change course on a billion dimes.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that my Facebook account is, and has always been, in support of my writing. We’ve reached the point where at least as many people go to Facebook to look for someone as who go to Google or Bing, LinkedIn or Instagram, or any other search or interpersonal networking site, so if a writer wants to be found by his readers, he needs to be on Facebook.

Nor is it any secret that Facebook makes its money by selling information to advertisers. Not just who you follow, but which posts you read, what you Like or Hate, who you comment on, how long you spend on the site, and even how long it takes you to read a post.

And yes, Facebook limits what posts you see by how much the poster is willing to pay to get the posts in front of you.

Which is why the ability to automatically link blog posts went away. Facebook doesn’t want you leaving their site to come to mine, so they’re limiting my ability to lure you away, unless I pay them for the privilege.

Sure, there are ways to get around that, ways to see everything a particular person posts, but they’re clumsy, and not everyone knows about them.

Not only is this kind of silo not what the social internet* was created for, but if we can believe any of Facebook’s public history, it’s not what Facebook was created for either.

* The part of the internet used by the entire world to talk to each other, as opposed to the original, original internet intended to link military computers. (Gross oversimplification, I know. It’s a side-issue. Deal.)

I’ve decided that I’m not interested in being part of Facebook’s walled garden any more. I don’t want them making money by selling people advertising because they’ve chosen to follow me–or because I’ve chosen to follow them.

As I said, I’m not going to delete my account. If people are going to come to Facebook looking for me, I’m mercenary enough to want to be here to be found. But only to the extent necessary to direct them elsewhere.

Over the next few days, I’ll be unfollowing and unfriending everyone on Facebook. Don’t be offended: as I said, it’s not you, it’s me. And Facebook. If you want to do the same to me, please go ahead. Or if you would rather leave things as they are in the hope I’ll come back someday–and it could happen, although I agree with Dr. Plait that it’s unlikely–feel free. Your relationship with Facebook is your own business.

Hope to see you somewhere else.