Buy Me Some Alka-Seltzer and…

I trust you all–at least those of you in the US–had a pleasant Presidents’ Day holiday. I did, though I’ll admit that I accomplished the feat by completely insulating myself from any information about the current possessor of that office.

It wasn’t easy, but I did it. I skipped a large chunk of the front section of the newspaper, stayed off Facebook and Twitter, and left the TV and radio off. The result was quite relaxing: exactly what a holiday is supposed to accomplish.

Look, no matter how you feel about the current administration, following what’s going on in the world today is stressful. And nobody can run at full throttle all the time–that way lies burnout. So take a day off here and there. Unplug, tune out, and drop off the radar.

Moving on.

One newspaper article I did read was (no surprise) in the sports section. It seems the Oakland As have finally realized that the food choices at the Coliseum are offal. Pardon me. Despite the occasional flow of raw sewage through the stands and dugouts, the correct word is actually “awful”.

So they’ve spent something on the order of $1.7 million upgrading the “West Side Club”–now the “Shibe Park Tavern”*–and the food stands. It’s now possible for food to be prepared at the stands instead of in kitchens buried deep in the bowels of the stadium. Since we all know what else lies deep in the Coliseum’s bowels, this is unquestionably a change for the better.

* The changes at the Club/Tavern don’t have much to do with food, apparently. They’re largely to commemorate the Athletics’ glory days in Philadelphia with memorabilia, photos, and 24 beers on tap.

But the bigger change is that the plaza between the Coliseum and Oracle Arena will now host “eight to 16 gourmet food trucks”. And yes, there will be vegetarian and gluten-free choices. There will also be bocce ball courts and a “big video board”.

While I applaud the As for finding a way to bring higher quality (and, one hopes, safer) food to the fans, I can’t help but think that promoting bocce ball is a misstep. Why would I pay the outrageous price to go to a baseball game and then spend my time playing bocce ball and watching the game on TV?

To be fair, the As’ ticket prices aren’t as bad as many other clubs. Depending on the day of the week, the opponent, and the seat location, single game tickets can be as cheap as $14. But still. I’d be willing to bet that few bars offering big screen TVs and bocce ball courts have cover charges higher than the price of a baseball game.

I also worry a bit about crowd flow. The lines for beer and hot dogs on the stadium concourse are bad enough. If the food truck lines bottleneck through a single set of doors, the lines could easily get so slow that getting your gluten-free barbequed tofu wrap and GutBuster Pepperoni Pizza Burger* would take several innings. And, since the plaza is outside the stadium, they’re going to need to figure out how to handle re-admissions. With poor organization you might go out for your food before the third inning and not make it back until after the seventh inning stretch.

* Not real products. I think.

Mind you, this is all of theoretical concern to me. For the past several years, I’ve brought food with me to the Coliseum. While many parks have rules against fans carrying food in, the As have resisted that trend, and I don’t see anything on their website suggesting that’s going to change. Though, to be pessimistic, I don’t see anything about the food trucks either, so it’s possible that a rule change is in the works, and the website just hasn’t been updated yet. We’ll see.

Variety

Some of you have been following the blog for long enough to know there are more critters living around here than just cats.

We’ve got a large flock of wild turkeys, who like to congregate in the streets and extort protection money from drivers.

There are several deer who often use the open space behind the house for their jousts.

And then there’s this lady.

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I’m sorry I couldn’t get a closeup shot. She really is a lovely slightly-translucent brown.

Very hardworking, too. She built this web overnight, right after the last set of storms ended.

We have an agreement with the spiders: if they stay outside, we won’t sic the exterminators on them.

By and large, they keep the treaty well, though I do occasionally find one in the bathroom and get Maggie to take it outside. I don’t worry about small violations like that.

However, climbing into the bed and exploring my ear is cause for immediate reprisals.

We had another storm Wednesday night, and Thursday morning the web was gone. I do hope the spider is OK.

Back On Track

Baseball is back!

Well, for suitably generous definitions of “back”.

Spring Training has started. Pitchers and catchers for all teams have reported to camp, and the position players are coming–the reporting date is today for nine teams and tomorrow for eleven more. Since some players show up early, it’s safe to say that by the time the sun sets on Friday, more than two-thirds of players will be with their teams in Florida or Arizona.

Actual preseason games, meaningless as they are, don’t start until the twenty-second (the Arizona Diamondbacks will be taking on the Grand Canyon University Antelopes in a game that will, no doubt, give us a good idea of whether the consensus of 76-78 wins for the Diamondbacks this year is accurate.)

MLB is sending out reminders that MLB.TV subscription renewals will happen at the end of the month. However, despite the email’s announcement that subscribers will be able to watch more than 300 Spring Training games, the information about which games will be streamed hasn’t been posted yet. Annoyingly, audio-only streaming, which has traditionally included almost every game, is also still a black hole at this point. There’s no information about which games will be available–and, in fact, I can’t even find anything to support the notion that there will be any radio broadcasts.

But I’m not worried. I have faith that something will be worked out by the time two putative major league teams take the field against each other on the twenty-fourth.

I say “putative” not because of the teams involved (the first games, all at 10:05 Pacific, feature the Mets, Red Sox, Orioles, Tigers, Phillies, and Yankees), but because it’s usual for the first few games to feature players who will probably be starting the season in the minors. Gotta protect those name-brand players, and indeed, anyone who’s a probable lock to be on the twenty-five man roster, on Opening Day.

Of course, the World Baseball Classic may put a wrinkle in the works. With so many players leaving camp early, teams may have to decide between playing major leaguers earlier than usual or cutting games short.

But in the first couple of weeks, I really don’t care who’s playing, and I doubt I’m alone in that. For many fans, it’s the presence of the game that matters, and many of us tend to binge-watch or binge-listen through Spring Training and even into the first days of the season. All part of the process of emerging from our baseball-deficient hibernation.

I’m especially looking forward to being able to put a game on in the background this year. It may be biased observation, but I believe I write faster and more fluidly when I’m listening to baseball. I haven’t done exhaustive word count checks, but I think the totals are highest in March–the time of year when there are multiple games during my writing hours every day. I have no idea why that is; speculation about the rhythms of the game relaxing the logical parts of my brain and letting the creative parts take charge are completely unscientific.

But, regardless of why it works, I’m looking forward to exceeding my writing targets for a few weeks. Even if it’s just the placebo effect, the words on the screen will be real.

It’s too early to say “Go Mariners!” How about a resounding “Go Baseball!”?

Nor Any a Drop

Those of you outside of California are probably wondering what’s behind our ongoing and ever-changing problems with water.

Believe me, we’re wondering too.

First we don’t have enough. Then we’ve got too much and can’t figure out what to do with it.

The bridges we build over it would be better suited to deserts. We’ve got some of the world’s biggest dams–but apparently we can’t maintain them.

A quick summary of the background: As a result of the unusually heavy rain in January and February, the reservoir behind the Oroville Dam is quite literally full to the brim. With two more months left in the rainy season and higher-than-usual snow melt expected, it’s necessary to release some of the water in a controlled fashion to avoid flooding. Unfortunately, a large chunk of the main spillway collapsed, reducing the amount of water that it can safely carry. A secondary spillway was activated for the first time in the dam’s history, and it quickly eroded to the point where the integrity of the dam itself was threatened.

The collapse of the dam, releasing the entire contents of the second-largest reservoir in the state would be, well, let’s say, not an ideal outcome. An evacuation order has been issued covering some 200,000 people. Engineers are trying to reinforce the secondary spillway, and the main spillway is running at its maximum safe capacity. With luck, the next round of storms, expected to being tomorrow, will hold off long enough for the reservoir to drain enough to hold the inflow.

The question everyone is asking now is “Why is the main spillway disintegrating?” And the answer is “We don’t know yet.”

What we do know is that the Department of Water Resources (DWR) has known about problems in that part of the spillway for nearly a decade. Defects were found in 2009, and repairs were made in 2013, 2014, and 2015–in exactly the area that collapsed last week. The obvious inference is that the repairs didn’t address the underlying cause of the problem; treating the symptoms rather than the disease.

It’s worth emphasizing that this is not the same situation as we’ve been hearing about with the Bay Bridge. No violations of the guidelines for proper construction. Testing is being done and issues are being addressed. The Chron–as usual, my primary source–quotes several engineering experts as saying that the DWR has been doing “everything that normally should be done.”

So the question we should be asking is “What changes in the ‘normal’ processes need to be made to avoid this situation in the future?”

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has ordered a forensic analysis to determine the root cause of the spillway failure. Let us hope that the outcome of that analysis is used to update the definition of what normally should be done. At least Caltrans isn’t involved. There’s hope.

Integration

“Separate but equal” is not an acceptable option.

Accordingly, we’ve been continuing to introduce Rufus to the rest of the gang with increasing levels of interaction and self-guided exploration.

Thursday evening, we opened the door to Rufus’ space*, and then sat back to watch what happened and intercede if the political negotiations got out of paw.

* Which is also the space where Sachiko lived until she was sufficiently socialized to join the “big kitties”. As such, she takes a certain proprietary interest in that room.

Rufus spent a few minutes sniffing around the bathroom.
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Not finding much to interest him, he headed down the hall in the other direction. Kokoro, ‘Nuki, and Yuki were much more interesting than the bathroom.
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And, of course, they found Rufus quite intriguing as well.

Approximately three seconds after that picture was taken, ‘Nuki and Rufus exchanged a few paw swats, none of which made contact.

Discretion being the better part, Rufus returned to his room, to discover that somebody had taken advantage of his absence to explore.
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Shortly thereafter, Yuki decided to join the party.
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As you can see, Rufus wasn’t amused. He returned to the hall, sending Yuki into a precipitous retreat–so naturally Kokoro and Sachiko took advantage of his absence to explore.

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When he came back, Kokoro made a successful escape, but Sachiko panicked, and tried to hide under the futon. She realized it was a mistake almost as soon as she stopped moving, but she couldn’t bring herself to leave past Rufus. Nor could we lure her out–even her favorite treat–licking the fork that we mix Rufus’ food with–couldn’t tempt her out.

The poor Skittercritter stayed under the futon, growling at nothing (or perhaps herself) until we gave Rufus his dinner. As soon as Sachiko realized he was distracted, she hurled herself across the room, out the door, and down the stairs at the end of the hall. She didn’t quite crack the sound barrier, but I think she exceeded the freeway speed limit.

That was all more excitement than we had planned for one day. So the next few days we’ll step back and limit interactions to what they can do through a just-barely-ajar door.

Once everyone’s chilled out, we’ll let them mingle again.

Unseasonal

It’s been a damned long winter, but signs of spring are everywhere.

I’ve finished my current bag of oatmeal–Bob’s Red Mill Rolled Oats. I don’t insist on the organic variant, but Amazon doesn’t seem to have the inorganic variety–and it’s warm enough I feel no urge to replace it.

The Chron is beginning to run baseball stories that have nothing to do with the As’ attempts to relocate outside of Oakland. According to the latest story, their slogan this year is “Rooted in Oakland”. I’d suggest they reconsider, but since they’ve already filmed commercials using the phrase, it’s probably too late. (To clarify, “root” has several meanings, not all of which convey the sort of message the As probably had in mind. In particular, the Australian slang interpretation makes it a darn good summary of the organization’s attitude towards the team’s fans over the past decade or so.)

And, arguably most importantly, the recent rains have resuscitated our lemon tree. After more than a year of producing next to nothing, it’s suddenly covered in lemons.

Let’s get one thing clear. I know some of you outside the Bay Area are thinking “Whoa, that writing thing must bring in pretty good money if he can afford a house with an attached citrus grove.” Untrue. It’s one tree. And, to be blunt, lemon trees are common around here, only slightly rarer than indoor plumbing. Granted, ours is a little unusual, in that–until the drought took its toll–it produced so many lemons we thought it must be part zucchini. But realty listings don’t even bother mentioning lemons; they’re just assumed.

But I digress.

It’s not exactly the season, but what can you do? When your lemon tree gives you lemons…

So there’s a jug of lemonade in the fridge, made to an exacting, complicated recipe:

  1. Combine one part sugar, two parts lemon juice, and six parts water.
  2. Mix well.

(You can make this at home, even if you don’t have a tree. Do not get packaged lemon juice, especially the kind that comes in a little plastic lemon. The flavor just isn’t there. Buy lemons and squeeze ’em yourself. Better yet, get the kids to squeeze ’em. It’ll keep them out of trouble for a few minutes and give them a sense of accomplishment.)

I know some of you are thinking “Sugar? No, honey!” It’s a valid point. But I’ve never had much luck with honey. It doesn’t dissolve as well as sugar.

And, while I’ve had some tasty honey-based lemonades, IMNSHO the flavor of the honey distracts from the pure lemon-sour/sugar-sweet contrast that’s the soul of the beverage.

Pitchers and catchers begin reporting to Spring Training on Sunday. Have a cold glass of lemonade and enjoy the turning of the season.

Well, That Was Super

So another Super Bowl has passed into history. In this case, more impressively than most. Greatest comeback in the game’s history (or, if you’re a fan of the Falcons, the biggest collapse in the history of the “Big Game”).

But I’ll leave dissection of the actual game to the actual fans of the sport or the teams. I’d like to see someone who knows the NFL culture address the proverbial elephant: Since the Patriots have made such a big deal about drawing motivation from the “excessive” punishment Tom Brady received for his role in the Deflategate scandal, are we going to see the other teams demanding to be punished to restore competitive balance to the game?

While the experts are pondering that, here are a few other semi-random thoughts about the spectacle.

Points to Coke for their pre-game re-run of the multilingual “America the Beautiful” commercial from the 2014 Super Bowl. But I had the same sense of a false note this year as I did then at the decision to switch back to English for the “God shed his grace on thee” line. Fear of a backlash from the rabidly outspoken Christian fringe at the merest hint of the suggestion that non-English speakers might have valid religious beliefs?

Why am I not surprised that Fox hyped the heck out of their coverage of the Daytona 500? After the fifth or sixth commercial, their attempts to convince viewers outside of the nation’s heartland, where NASCAR reigns, that an automobile race is even more important to Life, Liberty, and the Purfuit of Happineff than the football game they were nominally watching got more than a trifle pitiful.

And then there were the commercials for APB. Apparently the world needed a weekly TV show glorifying the militarization of the police and celebrating the ability of the ultra-rich to literally purchase public servants. Fox certainly thinks so.

Was I the only person bothered by the fact that right after the tribute to football players from historically black schools, we got a commercial for Mexican avocados in which it’s the black conspirator who doesn’t understand the concept of secrecy?

And, speaking of being bothered, Kia, what the heck were you thinking with that Melissa McCarthy ad? If we’re to believe you, environmentalism is dangerous to life and limb. And if we shouldn’t risk ourselves to save whales, trees, and polar ice caps, why should we bother spending the money on your new hybrid? How about giving us some idea of what makes the Niro better than every other low-emission vehicle out there?

Mixed messages from Anheuser-Busch as well. Big props for not pulling their pro-immigration Budweiser ad, which they had to know was going to trigger calls for a boycott even before the events of last week. But then they literally brought back the ghost of Spuds MacKenzie. Couldn’t they have let the poor, alcoholic pooch rest in peace? There’s got to be a better way to sell light beer than with a “Christmas Carol” rip-off.

And then there’s Lady Gaga.

Kudos for carrying the entire halftime show herself. First time we’ve had a single act do the show without supporting acts since The Who in 2010.

For that matter, I believe she’s the only female performer to go it alone in the history of the Super Bowl. I only have data going back to 2000 handy, but the solo performers since then have been Paul McCartney, Prince, Tom Petty, and Bruce Springsteen. Add the bands that didn’t need supporting acts, and you get the all-male U2, Rolling Stones, and The Who.

It’s about time the Super Bowl Halftime Show got an anything you can do moment.

But more importantly, she gets big props for invoking “This Land Is Your Land” on Immigration Weekend and bigger ones for ramming “Born This Way” down Mike Pence’s throat–live on Fox!

So I’m willing to ignore the thousands of acres destroyed in mining all the rhinestones that went into her costumes–land that is, of course, the native habitat of the innocent nauga.

But maybe I’m being hasty. There’s something to be said for her final outfit (for those of you who missed it, she finished the show wearing much-Bedazzled shoulder pads and sparkly shorts). It could be a great thing for the NFL if it caught on. No, not with the cheerleaders. With the players.

Reduce the amount of armor they wear, and the players might be a little more cautious about hurling themselves headlong at each other and the ground. That ought to cut down on injuries just a bit.

And–be honest now–who wouldn’t want to see Tom Brady dropping back to pass in that uniform?

Upon and Within

For your appreciation at the end of this busy week: a quiet scene of domestic bliss. MM and Tuxie took advantage of a dry spell early in the week to soak up some sunlight before the rains returned Thursday.
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Which is not to say that everything was sunlight and fuzzies the whole time. On Wednesday, MM decided to invade Tuxie’s turf.
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We’d never seen her on Cape Odd before, and she looks incredibly smug, as only a meezer can. Mind you, her victory was somewhat muted in that Tuxie wasn’t around to quail before her.

Which probably explains why she returned to the fence between showers on Thursday.
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I believe she was keeping an eye on a band of marauding turkeys on the far side of the fence.

Meanwhile, the “Inside the House Crew” have been exploring a new addition to their collection of condos.
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‘Nuki, as one would expect, was the first to explore the interior, despite the fact that it’s much too small for him.

YARBI

That’s “Yet Another Really Bad Idea”. Arguably the worst one yet.

If you agreed with me that the electronic license plate was a bad idea, wait’ll you get a load of this one.

According to a story in The Atlantic last December, the Air Force is planning to make “a missile for the modern age”. In other words, a missile with a network connection.

The Air Force Scientific Advisory Board will be conducting a study this year on how to make it happen. Not if they should make it happen, but how.

If you don’t see why this is a bad idea, take a look at Eric Schlosser’s recent piece in The New Yorker.

My trepidations have nothing to do with who’s in charge of the military or who’s running the Department of Energy. They’re all about the path technology has taken in recent years. The first step has been to provide the network capability. Then comes the ability for “learning”. Security, if it comes at all, is a distant last.

Do we really want our missiles to talk to each other and the early warning systems and make their own decisions about whether the US is under attack? Look how well that sort of capability has worked out for “smart” thermostats that learn when you change the settings and begin to anticipate your needs. Or smoke detectors. Remember the Nest smoke detectors that all started screaming when one of the set had a false alarm–and none of the could be be shut off?

Even if the missiles remain “dumb” and the network connectivity is only used to transmit maintenance and self-test data, how long is it going to be before someone decides that security testing is unnecessary because the devices will only be connected to a private military network, or an even more restricted local-to-the-base network?

Even if we ignore the possibility of an unauthorized connection to the Internet being set up in the name of “convenience”, let’s not forget about all of the research that’s been done by the NSA and other “interested parties” on remotely accessing computers that aren’t networked at all. There’s not such thing as an unreachable computer these days if someone is willing to devote time and money to reaching it.

So someone reaches the missile through that network connection. What can they do? It’s only for maintenance, right? Are you confident that there’s no connection between the monitoring and maintenance hardware and the command and control system? I’m not. What’s the point of monitoring the missile remotely if you can’t test the functionality of the launch system?

I can’t argue against the need to update the technology behind the nuclear arsenal. There’s a limit to how much you can do to interface modern systems with 1970s technology. BART is having increasing difficulty expanding opening new stations and increasing capacity because they can’t hook up modern trains to the ancient computer systems, and I’m sure the Air Force has similar concerns about the Minuteman system.

But updating the off-missile systems does not require updating the missiles themselves. Keep them offline and make damn sure that humans stay in control of the decision loop.

Free Books!

Apparently I’m doing this all wrong.

Oh, not the actual writing. Just the self-promotion.

I had thought that this blog was the way to go: get some words out there, attract a little attention, keep the content fresh, and build up a loyal core of followers.

Unfortunately, the current wisdom in publishing is that blogs don’t sell books. What does sell, I’m told, is a newsletter; something that reminds your fans that you exist. In other words, once a month or so, authors should go around to their readers, tap them on the shoulder, and say, “Hey, just checking in. I’m still here, still writing. Oh, and by the way, I’ll be in your town next month, signing books. Why don’t you drop by and say hello?”

The idea makes sense. I know how easy it can be to forget about a blog when you’re busy with your real life. There’s a niche for a basic reminder, free of random product reviews, rants about baseball, and cat pictures. But there’s a bit of a chicken-or-egg problem involved in getting people to subscribe to a newsletter about some author they’ve never heard of, and whose first book isn’t even out yet.

The best idea I’ve been able to come up with is to keep blogging, and try to convince the thousands of people who come here looking for recipes for leftover sauerkraut* to sign up.

* For those of you who have come in late, that’s the most popular post I’ve ever written. It’s drawn more than three times as many views as the next most popular post. Thank you, Google, for keeping it in the first page of results for more than three years!

Oh, and to offer prizes.

So, no, the blog isn’t going away, nor do I have any plans to change the content. I’ll still ramble on about the cats, the Mariners, the Bay Bridge, and anything else that strikes my fancy.

But if you look over to the right (or down at the bottom of the page if you’re reading on a mobile device), you’ll see a link to subscribe to my newsletter. Or you can just click here.

Standard disclaimers apply: I won’t sell your names and addresses, nor will I give them away. I won’t send spam, I won’t send more than one message a month (barring emergencies), and I won’t keep you on the list if you want to leave.

What I will do is send you monthly-ish updates on my publications and, when the time comes, signings and other appearances.

And, to encourage you all to sign up, I’m going to give away– absolutely free–copies of The RagTime Traveler! (At this point in the narrative, you should picture me doing my best Kermit the Frog imitation.)

I’m still working out the details–how many copies, how I’ll select the recipients (it’ll be random, but I haven’t decided between rolling dice, picking ping-pong balls out of a barrel, or throwing darts), and so on–but I will say this: the more subscribers there are, the more copies I’ll give away. So don’t just sign up yourself. Tell your friends, your enemies, and everyone in between.

And, once I figure out the process, I’ll announce the details–where else–in the newsletter.