Boxed

Did you know that rabbits are susceptible to Maru’s Syndrome?
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“If it fits, I sits,” indeed. There were several bunnies at the county fair who had more extreme cases of the disease, but this one was the cutest.

Speaking of boxes, I went to clean the litter boxes a few days ago and discovered that someone had left a message.
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That’s not a casual comment or accident. The scoop normally lies on the artificial grass mat visible at the lower left. Whoever it was had to pick it up and carry it into the box.

And no, I don’t think the message was that the box needed cleaning. Despite what it looks like in this picture, it actually had less mess in it than usual.

Nor has the message been repeated. Maybe it was just “I’m bored and this looks like a toy.”

I don’t know who left the message either, but odds are good that it was one of these guys.
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They may look cute and innocent when they’re curled up on the bed together, but I’m fairly sure that the more innocent they look, the more likely they are to be plotting some fresh deviltry.

And, speaking of deviltry, Sachiko wanted to know when I was going to put her on the blog again.
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Never let it be said that I gave her an excuse to bury the litter box scoop. Not that she’d need an excuse if she thought of it.

A Quick Fix

Today’s post is a bit later than usual because I was forced to deal with a technological crisis. See, we’ve got computer equipment scattered all over the house. In particular, the computers we use every day are upstairs, but the network storage boxes–the ones that hold the backups of our entire digital lives–are downstairs.

To be clear, the absolutely critical stuff (yes, including my writing) is also backed up offsite, because you can’t have too many current backups. But the key word there is “current”. If anything were to happen to the computer with all of my email, I’d need to restore it from one of those machines downstairs.

In typical geekly fashion, we’ve connected the upstairs and downstairs parts of the network by running a cable down the underside of the staircase. However, rather than running separate cables for each device–even by our rather casual decorating standards, that would be excessive–we use a network switch so the downstairs computers can share the single cable.

(For those of you who don’t know what a switch is, think of it as the network equivalent of a powerstrip. It lets you connect multiple devices to a single plug.)

The beauty of a switch is that, unlike so much else in the world of networks, it requires no management. Plug it in and forget about it.

Of course, when something goes wrong with it, there’s likely to be a mad scramble to fix the problem.

Guess what dropped dead in the middle of the night last night?

I have no complaints. The downstairs switch was a consumer grade model. It’s made of flimsy plastic and just plain feels cheap, but it ran continuously for just shy of nine years (except for power outages, which are unfortunately frequent around here) without ever causing a problem.

There’s a metaphor there about the overlooked points of stability in one’s life–the opposite of the squeaky wheels. Take it as given; that’s not really why I’m writing about it.

If the new switch–same manufacturer, but a model marketed to small businesses–lasts half as long, it’ll have been money well spent. This one’s got a metal shell and feels solid. Not that that means anything. It’s not the case that matters, it’s the guts inside that are important. Time will tell if the inside lives up to the outside.

Yeah, yeah, another metaphor about skin-deep beauty. Feh.

I could grumble a few words about single points of failure, but really, how much reliability do I actually need? I mean, the backup drives down there are single points of failure themselves. Redundant network connections would be useless if the drive itself failed. And keeping multiple devices for all of the gadgets down there would be excessive. Almost nobody needs two Blu-Ray players, two TVs, or even two game machines in a single room, and I’m not one of the minority.

No, the real point of all those words is to point out that, in these troubled times, isn’t it nice to know that there are still some problems that can be solved quickly and easily, simply by throwing money at them?

A Pox On Their Ballpark

A little bit of follow-up on last week’s trip to the Oakland Coliseum. Non-believers and heretics, indulge me on this one, because it’s not really a baseball post, okay?

First, and just to get it out of the way, the Mariners’ possession of a playoff spot lasted two days. By Friday, they were half a game out, and today, after losing five straight games, they’re two and a half back, behind the Angels, Twins, Royals, and Orioles. With forty-two games left, they’re not out of it–there’s that hope thing again–but it sure ain’t looking good.

Second, I sent a polite email to the As pointing out the incorrect information they had given me, and, I presume, everyone else who bought tickets online. (If you’ve already forgotten last Thursday’s post, they sent an email announcing that the parking lots would open at two, when they didn’t actually open until four.) I didn’t expect much; a bedbug letter at most. But to date–a week later–I’ve received absolutely nothing. Not even an acknowledgment they’ve received the note, much less an empty promise to look into my concern.

This is not the behavior of a company that cares about its customers. One might think that with MLB blocking the As from leaving town, the team’s ownership might want to hang onto the fans they have. Apparently one would be wrong–perhaps since the Warriors and Raiders are fleeing Oakland, the As think they’ll have an automatic monopoly on sports fans. Here’s a hint guys: it doesn’t work that way.

But that brings us to the third item.

On Friday, I got an email from “Oakland Arena Events” sent on behalf* of “our good friends at the Oakland Athletics”. The email asked me to take a survey about my opinion on their new “ballpark efforts”. Okay. I may be a Mariners fan, but I live in the As’ territory and if they ever get the new stadium built, I’ll go to games there, so I might as well let them know what I think.

* I guess that explains why I haven’t heard from the As. They clearly don’t do email. Maybe I should have Instagrammed them or something. What are the cool kids using these days?

San Francisco Chronicle Sports Columnist Scott Ostler got the same survey. Today’s Chron has his take on it. It’s well worth the read, but for those of you in a hurry, the bottom line is that he thinks the survey is pointless. Fans don’t care, he says, about the stadium and its amenities. All they care about is whether there’s a competitive team playing there.

He’s right. But he missed the point about the survey.

See, when you go to the survey online, the first ten pages ask demographic questions. Some of it’s relevant. It makes sense for the team to ask respondents whether they live in Oakland and how many games they’ve attended this season. However, if the survey is really about where to put the new stadium, the As have no need to know how much money I make, how old I am, or what color my skin is. And there was nothing on any of the pages suggesting that the questions were optional.

Actually, I misspoke. The previous paragraph should have said “at least the first ten pages”. I stopped at page ten.

If the team was really interested in people’s opinion about the stadium, they would have asked those questions first. And, had they done that and put the demographic questions at the end, clearly marked as “optional” I would have been fine with it.

But the way they laid out the question makes it clear that the information they can use to target future marketing pitches is what’s really important to them.

I sent another email, this one to Oracle Arena Events, asking them to share it with their good friends. In that email, I expressed my displeasure at receiving a marketing survey thinly disguised as a request for my opinion.

I’ve gotten no response to that email either.

The current ownership’s approach to communication makes it clear that they have little or no interest in their fans as fans; their interest begins and ends at our wallets.

So here’s my opinion about the As’ new ballpark, if it ever happens: enjoy it. I won’t be going to any games there. Nor will I buy tickets for games at the Coliseum while the As are there.

Unless the team’s owners make it clear that they have some interest in baseball beyond how much money they can extract from fans’ pockets.

It wouldn’t take much. As Scott Ostler suggests, making a visible effort to field a better-than-AAA quality team would be a good start.

Or just reply to customer complaints–even if it’s with a bedbug letter.

Widening Horizons

A couple of weeks ago, Rufus came to visit me in the bedroom. Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. In truth, I lured him into exploring with copious quantities of petting.

But the point is, he made it into the bedroom.

Barely.
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As you can see, he was under close observation* by Watanuki, who considers the entire house to be his territory.

* If you’ve never seen cats playing the “I’m not looking at you, so you damn well better not move a muscle” game, I pity you. It’s hilarious.

Eventually Rufus retreated to his familiar territory upstairs, and he hasn’t been back downstairs since. But it’s still progress.

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His new den has been rather more successful. It took him about half a day to decide it was a great hangout.

Mind you, we had intended him to sit on top of it so he could look out the window, but so far he’s not interested.

Which may be a good thing, as someone else is.
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Surprisingly, their interactions have been peaceful.

Mostly.

‘Nuki occasionally tries to figure out what’s going on underneath him.

Fortunately, he’s a bit unclear on the concept.
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I don’t think Rufus even noticed Mr. Knuckles’ investigation.

Downs and Ups

I wouldn’t have thought I’d have reason to be thankful to Chevrolet.

Sunday night, I happened to notice that not only was Chevy paying for parking at Tuesday’s Mariners/Athletics game, but they were also partially subsidizing tickets in one section of normally-cheap seats. So, in theory, one could attend the game and pay only the cost of an abnormally-cheap seat: $5.

I decided to go.

That five dollar ticket wound up costing $10.25 by the time all the various fees were added, but considering that parking alone is normally $20, I was still well ahead.

The expedition didn’t start well. On Monday I got an email from the As informing me that the parking lots would open at 2:00, and they expected the lots to be filled to capacity. So I left earlier than I normally would have for a 7:00 game, figuring to watch batting practice, and generally groove on the experience. When I arrived at 3:15–and, for the record, there were a half-dozen cars lined up when I got there–the gates were locked and the guard was adamant that they wouldn’t open “until sixteen hundred”. He liked that phrase, and repeated it several times during our brief conversation.

Once they finally let us all into the parking lot, we had another wait because the gates to the stadium didn’t open until 4:30. And yes, we had to go through metal detectors. Empty pockets, let them search our bags; at least we got to keep our shoes on. The new normal.

Finally inside, I made my way to the food truck plaza. Back in February I expressed some concern about traffic flow in and out of the plaza. I didn’t have any trouble, but the only entrance I found was through a narrow hallway where ushers and food service workers were gathered and clocking in. I can’t imagine that the hallway clogs with pedestrians closer to game time.

Once you make it out to the plaza, though, it’s quite nice.
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I don’t know if I was too early or if plans have changed, but the promised “eight to 16” trucks were actually five. But they all looked good. I eventually settled on a catfish po’boy from Southern Comfort Kitchen.
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Very tasty, though a bit more vegetation would have been nice. Catfish needs roughage.

In retrospect, I’m very glad I didn’t go to the regular food stands. Wednesday, Sports Illustrated released their health ratings of MLB stadium food sellers. They only got data for 28 of the 30 ballparks, but the Coliseum’s food stands ranked 27th. (Note to Jackie: Camden Yards ranked 26th. Bring your own dinner!)

I knew my seat wasn’t going to be the greatest, but it turned out to be worse than I feared.
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Okay, not quite that bad. Here’s another look with enough zoom to more accurately represent how it was with the naked eye:
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Not so bad as all that, you might think. The problem is that I’m somewhat acrophobic. Every time I leaned forward, I saw this:
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I didn’t even make it all the way through batting practice. Fifteen minutes after I sat down, my arm was aching from the death-grip I had on my chair. Since there didn’t seem to be any chance of installing a seat belt, I admitted defeat and paid to upgrade to a seat on the lower level.
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That red asterisk marks my original seat as seen from my upgraded spot.

On the bright side, they only charged me the difference in price and didn’t add any new service charges or handling fees.

I’m going to digress here. I know, what a surprise, right? The rise of electronic and print-at-home tickets is robbing us of emotionally-valuable souvenirs. Would you really want something like this as a keepsake?
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Too big to keep pristine, flimsy printer paper, three different barcodes, and an advertisement. Not the stuff of which memories are made, not when compared to the real thing, printed on cardboard, crisp and shiny.
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It screams “Baseball!” where the first example could be a ticket for anything.

Okay, digression over. Surrendering the cheap seat was the low point of the evening. I was the only person in the entire section in my original seat; downstairs I was sitting right behind a group of four Mariners fans taking a mini-vacation. In front of them was a family of five from the Netherlands taking a decidedly non-mini vacation. They were rooting for the As, but the kids, all under ten, were so happy to be at the ballpark that I forgave their sin. It was the last day of a tour around California, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada and the parents were obviously tired. But they stayed for the entire game–and, I can’t help but point out, the kids stayed awake and involved the whole time. Better than all too many adults in these benighted times.

Not that the game started well for the Mariners. The As scored three in the first, and by the end of the fifth inning they were leading 6-2. Adding insult to injury, the As’ final run came on a homerun, after which everyone in our section of the stadium was awarded a coupon for a free pizza. Or at least something resembling pizza.
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(Pardon the added text. I wouldn’t want anyone to be tempted to try to scam a freebie from Round Table by printing a copy. Or at least not without doing some work to clean it up first.)

In fairness, my objections to Round Table have more to do with their advertising slogan than their food. The latter is unobjectionable at worst. The former–“The last honest pizza”–is offensive at best.

Then the evening improved. The kids from the Netherlands made it onto the big scoreboard screen, much to their delight. And the Mariners stopped giving up runs and started scoring them. It was 6-4 after six innings, 6-5 after seven, and tied at six after eight. No scoring in the ninth, so we even got extra baseball before the Mariners won it in the tenth thanks to a two-out homerun. Can’t write it any better than that.

Earlier in the evening, around the time the As were taking that 3-0 lead, Kansas City and Tampa Bay were losing their games. So Wednesday morning the Wild Card standings looked rather interesting, and not just from the perspective of a Mariners fan.
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Mind you, with the Mariners winning again Wednesday and both the Rays and Royals* losing again, the standings are even more pleasant now, but that’s beside the point.

* In case you weren’t watching the Royals lose to the Cardinals last night, it took a cat to give the Cards the victory:

Heck of a roller coaster ride Tuesday.

Thanks, Chevy.

Fair to Middling

We’ve moved from July to August, and you all know what that means. No, not that. It’s county fair season again.

After a year’s absence, we returned to the Solano County Fair. And, much as I hate to say it, it wasn’t as good as last time.

There was a complete absence of Xathanael Todd in the art show. Yes, there were some nice pieces–I particularly liked Stephanie Liu’s “Succulent Pot Costume”–but nobody stepped up to give us the sustained off-kilter artistic vision Xathanael did so well.

Once again, the fair failed to provide strawberry shortcake.

And, while I can’t give firm numbers, I’m fairly sure there were fewer critters. Certainly the carousel lacked anything more than boring horses, but even the live animals seemed sparser than I recalled.

All that said, don’t think I didn’t have a good time, because I did. Just not quite as good as in 2015.

A few highlights.

This year was the year of the rabbit nose twitch for me. I just found them insufferably cute and took several videos.

I’ll note in passing that some of the artwork that wasn’t part of the art show was more entertaining than what was. In particular, the deconstructed chicken–part of an educational sign detailing “The Digestive System of Chickens”–should have gotten a blue ribbon.

It’s the row of violets on the ledge below the art that really puts it over the top.

This year won big on music. Two years ago, we didn’t hear anything particularly distinctive, but this year we caught Metalachi.

Full disclosure: We didn’t stumble over the band at the fair, we went intending to catch their show.

Heavy metal done mariachi style. Great concept, well executed. I’d like to hear them take on some original compositions. There is, after all, only so far you can go as a cover band. But in fairness, not every musician is a composer. And on that subject, need I mention that I was hoping they’d go for the multi-cultural trifecta and do a BABYMETAL number? I was and they didn’t. Perhaps a bit too much to hope for.

The video isn’t great. Between the backlighting and the demolition derby next door, I’m surprised it turned out as well as it did. If you go in search of better videos, be warned that they tone down the act for the family friendly venue.

And then there was the food. The “Shark on a Stick” folks were back, but I again declined. A BBQ beef sandwich did quite nicely for protein and vitamins and set me up well for the obligatory “only at a fair” food dessert.

Behold this wondrous offering from the “Everything Deep Fried” food truck!

Granted, the caramel comes off as something closer to syrup, but frying the sandwich turns the peanut butter into a delicious oozing mass and the jelly is transformed into sweet streams of liquid. The cereal adds a nice note of crunchiness that the syrupcaramel can’t soggify. It was well worth the experiment, even knowing I’ll be visiting my doctor to discuss my cholesterol later this week.

In all, despite the minor disappointments, it was a successful day at the fair. And remember: the Solano County Fairs for ewe.

No, really, it says so right over the entrance, lack of apostrophe and all!

Fencing

No, no, the other kind of fencing.

Remember last month when I joked about our backyard fence falling apart? Yeah, maybe not so much a joking matter.
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As I implied, the fence was rotted out beyond repair, so the whole thing had to come down.
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Living with craters and loose poles was interesting. Even the neighbors thought so.
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Actually, Tuxie and MM were real troupers through the whole process, and kept a close watch on the deconstruction and subsequent construction.
04-3If only the Bay Bridge had had such dedicated QA engineers! They came by every evening to make sure the job was being done to spec.

Nor were they the only ones to drop by.
04-4We lost a few plums to that guy. Though, in fairness, I should say that we only saw him eating groundfall.
04-5Naturally, the local gang came by as well. “Nice fence you’re building there. Be a shame if anything happened to it, y’know?”
04-6MM and Tuxie weren’t impressed, and extended their supervisory warrant to include security. And no, the changes didn’t affect their appetites.

So now we’ve got a lovely, new fence.
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Even Tuxie approves.
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Deja Vu

Apparently this country has made no progress in the last 150 years.

Back then, the big issue was the Chinese. During the gold rushes of the 1840s and after, many Chinese came to America in search of a better life. And, because life sucked so badly for so many in China, those workers who came to the US were willing to take any job at pay rates far below what white workers demanded. Corporations, seeking as always to maximize profits, actively recruited Chinese laborers and paid them as little as they could.

And millions of Chinese took those jobs because they were still better than anything they could find at home. Some of them were probably illegal immigrants, but as far as I can tell, most of them had entered the country legally.

At least until 1882, when anti-Chinese violence persuaded the government to ban all immigration from China–a ban that was renewed in 1892 and 1902.

Of course, banning further immigration didn’t do anything to improve the lot of those immigrants who were already in the country. By the mid-1880s, there were riots across the western US, most notably in Rock Springs, Wyoming Territory and Seattle, Washington.

Let me note, by the way, that when I went to school in Seattle in the 1970s and 1980s, the Seattle riot wasn’t discussed in History class. Somehow I doubt that’s changed; if anyone in the Seattle area knows differently, I’d love to hear it. Those who don’t remember history…

Anyway, the Seattle riot is noteworthy if only for the sheer pointlessness of the actions taken by the rioters. A loose coalition of labor leaders and Socialist activists rounded up 350 Chinese residents of Seattle’s Chinatown and marched them to the docks.

When the captain of the ship they chose demanded payment to carry the Chinese, the rioters passed the hat and raised funds to cover the fares. In short, roughly two hundred of the Chinese were deported. Not back to China, but down the coast to San Francisco. Arguably, the original expression of Seattle’s NIMBY spirit. As for the rioters, a confrontation with the militia resulted in serious injury to three rioters and two militiamen and the imposition of martial law, which lasted for two weeks.

So here we are, a century and a half later. We’ve got corporations fighting against minimum wage laws and a president who wants to cut off immigration, ostensibly to protect American jobs.

Deja vu, anybody?

PS: Something more cheerful tomorrow, I promise. Oh, and don’t forget that my monthly newsletter for August comes out on Monday. If you want a sneak peek at my current work in progress, sign up now!

Catnip It Ain’t

Warning: Spoilers abound. But you may not care.

The most noteworthy aspect of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets may just be the title. Never before in my experience has a title so accurately summarized everything that’s wrong with a movie.

It’s worth noting that when Maggie and I got home from the theater, the cats wanted to know if we had brought them any valerian. If you didn’t know, valerian (the herb) has a very catnip-like effect on cats. It also stinks to high heaven and tends to depress the human nervous system. The parallel is obvious.

Though, to be fair, Valerian (the movie) doesn’t stink that badly. It just takes a few wrong turns.

Let’s start with that title. Alpha is a “city of a thousand planets” in the same way that New York is a city of eight million stories. It’s a city. In space. With, so we’re told, residents who come from a thousand different species. It’s marketing. Hey, if the main character drops by to visit me in the sequel, we can call the movie “Valerian and the City of Pride and Purpose”. That almost sounds exciting.

Oh, and let’s not forget about Laureline. Although whoever named the film sure did. The original comics that the movie was based on are called “Valerian and Laureline”. And she gets nearly as much screen time as he does. But she’s apparently not enough of a marketing draw to make the title. Which pretty well summarizes her role in the film, come to think of it. When Valerian isn’t around, Laureline is, by and large, a kick-ass character. And as soon as he comes into the room–whether she knows he’s there or not–she turns into the archetypal helpless movie female. Hell, he doesn’t even have to be in the same room: just talking to him on the radio turns her into such a ditz she doesn’t realize she’s holding a map upside down! (Insert laughter here–because the audience in the theater didn’t supply any.)

I wanted to like the movie, even if it was only in a “turn off the brain and enjoy the pretty pictures” way. And for the first ten minutes or so, I thought I might. Opening with a space scene a la 2001 set to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” was a lovely way to invert a SF film trope. And then the opening narration blew away my suspension of disbelief.

We’re told that Alpha, the space station that grew up around the International Space Station, got so big that its gravity endangered the Earth and it needs to be moved out of the way. This is wrong on so many levels, I don’t even want to discuss it. I may have missed a couple of lines because I was banging my head against the seat in front of me, but the next thing I remember is that after several centuries, Alpha has moved “seven hundred million miles”. Big whoop. That’s not even as far as Saturn. From the perspective of a culture that routinely moves from one solar system to another in minutes, covering 700,000,000 miles in three or four centuries is like me walking up to the mini-mart on the corner.

Yeah, I get it. The film is based on a comic book, something not known for scientific accuracy. But how difficult would it be to change a couple of sentences to avoid the worst clunkers. Send Alpha out on a mission to spread Earth’s culture to the universe, and change “700,000,000 miles” to “7000 light years”. Problems solved–still sufficiently comic book, but not as grating to the ear.

Then there was the mcguffin, the living 3D printer that can create unlimited copies of anything–including fully-powered batteries that hold enough juice to power a spaceship–with no raw materials. And what good is having the critter going to do the Pearls? Unless they can convince it to duplicate itself–something that seems unlikely, given the film’s apparently universal rule that all species have two sexes–someday it’s going to die and take their utopian civilization with it.

And I haven’t even touched on the main plot, which relies so heavily on coincidence and character stupidity that it almost makes Star Trek Beyond seem logical. Almost. At least there’s no motorcycle.

All that said, still, the visuals are spectacular, the set pieces are at least competently executed, and there are some nice auditory jokes hidden in the music. The film’s biggest problems are that it’s too long and its plot not only makes no sense, but brings the film to a screeching halt every time it comes to the fore.

Fortunately, one fix would solve both problems. Trim the film by thirty minutes by simply cutting out the plot. The remaining travelogue and explosions would come in at a comfortable hour and three-quarters, and make a perfectly serviceable late night film.