Google Looks to 2018

A couple of weeks ago, we looked at Microsoft’s hardware announcements. This week, it’s Google’s turn. Where Microsoft was looking ahead to 2020, Google seems to be looking backward. Think I’m kidding? Consider the evidence:

New “Pixel Buds,” true wireless headphones that–in addition to letting you listen to music and made phone calls–allow you to talk to an electronic assistant. Regardless of your feelings about Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and HeyGoogle, these earbuds would have been revolutionary a couple of years ago; now they come off as “We’re going to jump off the same bridge as all of our friends.”

Then there’s the Pixelbook Go. Hmm. Where have we heard the word “Go” in a computer name lately? Microsoft used it for a machine that focused on portability. Sensible, even logical. Google uses it for a computer that, uh, has long battery life and was “thin”.

I don’t see the connection. (Google’s Go, by the way, is approximately twice as heavy as Microsoft’s.)

And, let’s be frank here. People didn’t buy zillions of the earlier Pixelbooks because they were too heavy. They didn’t buy them because nobody saw the benefit of a ChromeOS device at that price point. The Pixelbook Go will be cheaper, but it’s still at the upper end of the Chromebook price range.

Moving on, we have a new incarnation of the Google Home Mini. It’s now the Nest Mini, comes in a new color–blue–and has a wall mount. Supposedly it also has twice as much bass (which at least answers one of the major concerns about a device that small designed for playing music) and an additional microphone so it can eavesdrop on you more accurately.

After the “Apple is listening to you having sex” scandals, does Google really want to be promoting its enhanced listening capabilities?

The changes really feel like Google is repairing the deficiencies of something that wasn’t all that exciting or original in its first incarnation.

Of course there has to be an update to the mesh Wi-Fi gadget. The new version looks cooler. Slightly. It’s got Google Home built in, so your Wi-Fi network can listen in on youplay music and answer questions. Isn’t that what the Nest Mini and your phone are for?

Is it any faster than the previous generation? Able to support more simultaneous users? Dunno. Google didn’t say.

Again, incremental tweaks to a “me too” gadget.

And, finally, there’s the Pixel 4.

That actually has a unique feature: a radar sensor. No, not for detecting speed traps. For registering nearby motion so you can control it with hand gestures without picking it up.

I can see so many uses for that. Like changing the volume when listening to music while driving. Dismissing notifications while driving. Pausing videos while, uh, driving. Um. Let me get back to you on this one.

I’ll admit the new audio recorder with built-in speech recognition to transcribe lectures sounds neat. I do have to wonder how long it’ll be before they get hit with a lawsuit because someone figured out how to use it to transcribe song lyrics.

And, of course, there are the usual highly touted improvements to the camera, some physical and some in the software.

Granted, better and better cameras are, IMNSHO, a more useful arms race than bigger and bigger screens, but still, I have to wonder who the audience is. How many people use their phone camera in anything other than full automatic mode? Do the majority of us really need control of Google’s HDR algorithms? Or would we be better off with a cheaper phone that takes decentish pictures, while the few who actually need total control of their photos put the money they save on the phone toward a better lens for their DSLR?

More Exploration

Lefty’s investigation of the house continues. A couple of evenings ago he wandered down to the kitchen to watch me prepare his gooshy fud, then led me up the stairs to his room.

He’s also discovered the joys of the condo outside our bedroom.
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It’s perfectly placed to let him keep an eye on what those strange hoomin creatures are doing, and where the other cats are sleeping.

He’s still uncertain how much protection the condo gives him. Sometimes Lefty will pull back and hide inside the condo when a hoomin walks past; other times he’ll leap out and dash upstairs.

But still, it’s progress. Even a few weeks ago he would have run upstairs the instant we saw him in the condo. We’re delighted.

Where Are They Now?

Where are they now? Probably in Los Angeles preparing for Friday’s show and album release. (Side note to my friends and family in Seattle: I gather there are still tickets available for Wednesday the 16th.)

Oh. Sorry, BABYMETAL, naturally. Though I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t figure that out. It has been quite a while since I said anything about them. In fact, now that I check the archives, I see the last substantive post was a smidge over three years ago. (The TV show under discussion at the time doesn’t seem to have materialized. This is not a surprise.)

Anyway, I haven’t said anything, not because there’s been no news, but because the news has been largely depressing. In short–and if you want a fuller view of the story, the Wikipedia writeup isn’t bad–Yuimetal has left the group. The official reasons are health concerns and a desire to pursue a solo career. Of course, in light of the secretive and cutthroat nature of the idol industry, speculation is rife about whether she jumped, fell, or was pushed.

I’m not going to indulge. I talked about potential lineup changes back in 2016, when Metal Resistance came out. Nothing that’s happened since then has changed my opinions.

The new album, Metal Galaxy, will be out in a few days. The tracks they’ve released so far sound good. I’m delighted to hear BABYMETAL’s sound continuing to evolve. Doing the same thing over and over can be a financial boon, but it’s almost always an artistic failure. In particular, “Shanti Shanti Shanti” is a literal trip: Bollywood meets the psychadelic sixties. The full video is, naturally, on YouTube, but here’s a snippet from last week’s San Francisco show:

Yes, of course Maggie and I went. Armed with a new camera that doesn’t have the issues my old one did with the super-saturated reds and blues of a BABYMETAL show. So yes, there are pictures.

Not BABYMETAL:
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There was an opening act. Maggie quite enjoyed them, but Avatar isn’t my cup of fur. I do give them kudos for one thing that elevates them above your average consciously pompous metal band:

What better way to poke fun at your own image than with a trombone?

Anyway.
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Rather than rework all their choreography for two performers, Yui’s slot has been filled with a rotating cast of performers. Last week, it was Riho, doing a fine job.

As usual, reds and blues dominated the color scheme.
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Yes, the new camera does have a darn good zoom for a cheap point-and-shoot.
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Though, to be fair, I was in an excellent position, directly behind the mixing boards, so I didn’t have to crank the zoom to maximum very often.

I had fun trying to get a Moa hair shot. This one, while not perfect, is certainly the most entertaining.
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It’s easy to get a good shot of Su, given how much of the choreography revolves around her, while she stays comparatively still. (Cult of personality? Nah.)
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Riho was tougher, but she slowed down occasionally.
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Moa, though, never stops moving. Even when she’s stopped, she’s still moving.
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All in all, a good show and a good omen for BABYMETAL’s future.

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Thank you!

Microsoft Looks to 2020

There’s nothing like a pre-announcement, right?

Take, for example, Microsoft’s forthcoming Surface Neo. Announced today for release in time for Christmas. That’s Christmas 2020.

Still, it sounds like a cool device. Aimed right at my small computer fetish. Two nine-inch screens, a detached keyboard, weight under a pound and a half. With even a half-decent CPU–which it sounds like it will have–the Neo could kill off my current favorite small machine, the Surface Go.

Of course, who knows what else will be on the market a year from now when the Neo becomes available for reals?

Interestingly, Microsoft is trying the same idea in a phone. Yep, getting back into the phone game. Only this time, they’re not trying to cram the full Windows experience into a handheld device.

The Surface Duo–also scheduled for the end of next year–is an Android phone.

Stop laughing. Microsoft Word for Android is actually solid, as is their remote desktop app. I haven’t tried the Android Excel, but the reports are good. And Android Outlook is no worse than Windows Outlook. (Yes, I know that’s a low bar to jump. So?) The point is that Microsoft has a decent track record with Android, and with a year to refine their apps for a dual-screen life, they just might score a serious win.

There’s a fair to middling chance I might be looking for a new phone around the end of next year or beginning of 2021; if the Duo reaches its full potential, it just might be enough to lure me away from the Pixel 5 (or whatever Google is pushing by then.)

Long-range planning aside, Microsoft has also announced a bunch of new gadgets that are coming out this year.

A new Surface Laptop. Two actually. One with the standard 13.5-inch screen and Intel CPU, and one with a 15-inch screen and an AMD CPU.

A new Surface Pro*. Very similar to last year’s model, but this one finally adds the USB-C port Surface fans have been screaming for. (The Surface Go has a USB-C port and it’s been great. I only wish there were two of ’em.)

* The main difference between the “Laptop” line and the “Pro” line is that the former have a built-in keyboard, while the latter use a sold-separately, magnetically attached keyboard.

Earbuds. Really? Yeah, I know Microsoft’s Surface Earphones have gotten some good reviews, but did we really need earbuds? Apparently so. Anyway, if you need earbuds that take dictation, you might give these a try.

Then there’s the Pro X. A thin-and-light laptop; it’s distinguishing feature is that it uses an ARM CPU. It should be fast, but if you need programs from companies not named Microsoft, I’d suggest holding off until we get more solid data about compatibility with existing Windows software.

Anything sound interesting to you?

2019 Playoffs

Already know who you’re rooting for in the MLB playoffs this year? Or totally lost to the One True Faith? You might as well skip this post. Come back Wednesday–I may have another post this week–or Friday for the cats. The rest of you, gather around.

Sure, you can watch the playoffs without rooting for anyone. But where’s the fun in that? This post aims to help you choose a rooting interest, whether you want to pick a single team to follow throughout the month or pick a new team in each series.

Again, this isn’t about picking a winner. I’ve made those predictions, and I won’t revisit them until November. (As a reminder–Spoilers, Darling!–I picked the Dodgers to win it all. There’s still time to call Vegas.)

If you’re new to this blog, you may be surprised to hear there are rules for choosing a rooting interest. But why should something so important be left to whim and chance?

Rules for Rooting, 2019 edition

  1. Unless it’s the team you follow during the regular season, you must not root for any team that has been promoted as “America’s Team” or otherwise held up by its owners and/or the media as the ultimate expression of the sport. If you do root for one of these teams, this is a great time to reconsider your life choices.
  2. You should not root for a team from your own team’s division.
  3. That said, you should root for somebody from your own league. Crossing the league boundary without a really good excuse is in bad taste.
  4. Possession of team merchandise with sentimental value OR a history of following a favorite player from team to team trumps Rules Two and Three. It does not override Rule One. Nothing overrides Rule One.
  5. Teams with a record of recent futility or legitimate “misfit” credentials get bonus points in the decision process. A record of futility means multiple losing seasons or a lengthy stretch without a playoff appearance and/or title. What constitutes legitimate misfittery is up to you. Be honest with yourself.
  6. All other rules notwithstanding, you are always free to root for the Indians, holders of a seventy season World Series drought.

That said, rooting for the Indians this year would be an exercise in Zen Futility, since they’re not in the playoffs. But I digress.

Since I’m writing as much as possible of this post ahead of time, we’ll start with the National League, where the teams were set by the middle of last week.

The National League playoff teams are Atlanta, Washington, St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Los Angeles.

As always, Rule One applies to the Braves, thanks to Ted Turner. It also applies to the Nationals (for obvious reasons) and the Dodgers.

We’ll award a futility point to the Brewers, whose fans have now been waiting for a World Series title for half a century.

Dodgers, Nationals, and Braves followers can take the next couple of days for reflection. Fans of the other NL East and West teams have an obvious pick in the Brewers. And, much as I hate to encourage violation of Rule Two, it’s a lesser offense than breaking Rule One. So those of you who usually cheer for the Cubs, Reds, or Pirates should also be rooting for Milwaukee.

Now, on to the American League, where the playoff teams weren’t settled until Friday. The Junior Circuit has given us New York, Minnesota, Houston, Oakland, and Tampa Bay.

Fortunately for my sanity, there’s only one AL playoff team subject to Rule One–the Yankees, of course.

We’ll give the Athletics and Twins a futility point each, since their World Series droughts are at twenty-nine and twenty-seven years, respectively. (Last year, I gave the As a misfit point, primarily because of Khris Davis’ four-year streak of hitting exactly .247. That string ended this year–he finished at .220–so no misfit point for the As.)

Yankees boosters, go meditate on your media-enabled sins.

Non-playoff affiliated fans, your guidance looks like this: If you’re normally in the AL East or Central, you should looking west to cheer for the Athletics. If you’re from the West Division, the Twins are your crew. Simple, huh?

And, as always, if you don’t normally follow baseball–whether because you’ve lost the True Faith or never been properly entered in the rolls of the Faithful–you can exercise your free will. You can choose your team based on geography, following the guidelines above. Or take the easy way out and root for the As. Or exercise your masochistic side and root for the Indians.

And to reiterate: Even though I’ve predicted the Dodgers to win the Series, you can not root for them unless they were your team through the regular season. Even if you’ve got money down. Rule One is absolute.

More Inconvenient Sleepers

Continuing our occasional series of posts of cats who choose where to sleep so as to cause the greatest inconvenience to humans.

Rhubarb, as we’ve noted, is one of the leading experts in the field. A couple of days ago, he came up with a new wrinkle.

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The weather has been toasty around here lately, hitting three digits, so he’s clearly not under the covers for warmth. Although he, like many cats, is prone to developing cold toes; perhaps he’s trying to warm up his toe beans. If so, I imagine we’ll find him further under the covers come November.

While I was taking Rhubarb’s picture, somebody else showed up to see what was going on.

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Lefty is definitely curious about the actions of the other cats. He’s also getting much more comfortable around us humans; this photo was taken with no zoom.

Despite his interest and increasing comfort, he’s still not ready to explore the bed. But that doesn’t mean he can’t play the game.

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Snoozing in the bedroom doorway? Big inconvenience points for Sir Lefty.

When he decides to expand his horizons to the bed and the kitchen, he’s going to be a major challenger to ‘Nuki’s domination of the sport.

Listen Up!

Dad was a storyteller. He loved ragtime music, but I often wonder how much of his love was because of the music itself, and how much was because of the stories.

(Warning: gross oversimplification ahead.) Ragtime is unusual–though not unique–in that during its original heyday, there was very little formal scholarship. Few of the musicians and other prime movers of the genre had any interest in writing about ragtime. The history and culture of ragtime was shared and recorded almost entirely orally. By the time ragtime scholarship really kicked off during the ragtime revival of the forties, many of the primary sources–human and otherwise–had been lost.

That’s a great space for a storyteller. There’s so much room for elaboration. Interpolation. Dramatic enhancement.

Dad loved it. The music, yes. But the stories, too. The research. The “what if” scenarios.

And, of course, the newcomers. Because a storyteller needs an audience. New fans and new performers keep the music alive; they hear the stories and then create their own.

Dad couldn’t play a note, but he delighted in introducing ragtime to the next generation.

(Thanks to Oliver Moore for giving permission to post this performance from the 2019 Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival. It’s not the most spectacular or technically demanding piece he played that week, but I like it. And, not-so-incidentally, Oliver will be at the West Coast Ragtime Festival in November. Come hear him!)

Dad would have loved Oliver. And he would have loved to find a way to introduce more people to ragtime. The younger the better–if they grow up listening to ragtime and playing ragtime, some of ’em are going to stick with it.

We’ve been awed by the donations in Dad’s memory to the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Foundation. And we’re thrilled to be able to put those donations to use in a highly appropriate way.

The Ragtime Kids program will seek out talented junior high and high school age ragtime performers and researchers and encourage their development.

There’s more information about the program at the link above.

And, because this is an advertisement–thinly disguised as a blog post, though it may be–a reminder that donations to the Larry Karp Memorial Fund are still more than welcome. The contact for contributions is sjfsedalia@gmail.com.

Back to Normal

And after last week’s digression, here we are again, back with the usual crew.

Maggie took a short business trip earlier this week. She didn’t pack until the last minute, so ‘Nuki didn’t have a chance to hang out on his favorite temporary perch.

When she got back, he was taking no chances on missing out again. Less than five minutes after she walked in the door…
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Moving on.

Lefty and Rufus are big on togetherness–though Rufus does sometimes seem a bit relieved when Lefty goes exploring around the house. Most of the time, though, they can be found in tandem.

Naturally, the usual dynamic is that Lefty keeps watch while Rufus sleeps. Wouldn’t do for a hoomin to sneak up and pat his buddy, after all…
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Mixed Feelings

I’ve got mixed feelings.

That’s a good thing, actually. There are very few unmixed blessings or curses. So I tend to get suspicious when I don’t have mixed feelings about something.

But I digress.

I’m speaking here of AB5, California’s new law defining the difference between contractors and employees.

In case you’ve missed the debates, the law establishes a three-part test*: if a person performs tasks under control of a company, the work is a core part of the company’s business, and the person doesn’t have an independent business in the same field, they’re considered an employee.

* Do you know what field has a different, critical three-part test? Well, quite a few, actually, but I was thinking specifically of the three-part Miller test that determines whether something is obscene. I have to wonder if porn actors will be affected by AB5; as I understand it, they tend to form long-term associations with particular film studios and they get paid by the film or scene, which would seem to this non-lawyer to potentially put them under the AB5 umbrella. If so, by the Law of Threes, it seems like there ought to be a third three-part test that defines their field.

Not as straightforward as it looks at first glance, but clearer than many laws, so, good. There are, of course, some fields that are exempted, mostly in areas where workers tend to be well-paid. Since, in many ways, AB5 is designed as an adjunct to minimum-wage laws, those sort of carve-outs make sense.

Naturally, the Ubers and Lyfts are screaming with rage. Their entire business model is based around large numbers of cheap contractors.

Workers in some non-exempt fields aren’t happy either. Translators, for example, by and large want to remain contractors. There are others. The main argument seems to be flexibility: the ability to work when and as much as they want, and the freedom to refuse specific jobs. Which is reasonable, and I see no reason why the law couldn’t be amended to include more exemptions as consensus emerges. Expect the issue to show up on the agendas at many professional associations’ meetings over the next few years.

Frankly, I’m offended by the approach Uber is taking in fighting AB5. They’re flat-out trying to claim that their business has nothing to do with providing rides. It’s insulting that they think that’s a winning strategy. And their other attack on the law boils down to “It’ll put us out of business. You can’t do that!”

IMNSHO, no business has a right to exist. Times change, people’s needs change, conditions change. Remember “Too big to fail”? How’d that work out? Mixed results, really. But really, if a business had a right to exist, we’d see a lot fewer cars today, because of the laws created to prop up the horse-and-cart industry.

So right now I feel a certain amount of schadenfreude over the ride-sharing industry in general and Uber in particular.

But. Mixed feelings, remember?

We’re also hearing from newspapers who say that AB5 will put them out of business. Why? Because the added costs for delivery carriers will outstrip their advertising revenue. Which is a legitimate concern, I suppose, and again, no business has the right to exist. But I like newspapers a heck of a lot more than I like the Ubers of the world.

Newspapers won a one-year exemption to explore alternatives to their current delivery system.

I’m old enough to remember when delivering newspapers was a viable first job for a teenager with a bike. It’s not anymore. Not in suburban areas like mine, anyway. Now delivery is done by an adult with a car, who drives around flinging papers out of the window. (To be fair, despite my ongoing battles with our carrier–yesterday, when it was raining, our paper was held together with a rubber band; today, in glorious sunlight, the paper in a plastic bag–I have to admit their accuracy is higher than the typical Amazon delivery person’s.)

My point, however, is that at least around here, delivery isn’t done by someone working for the Chron–neither employee nor contractor. They’re employed by an independent company specializing in newspaper delivery. That third-party is the one who needs to worry about whether carriers are employees or contractors. It may affect the rate they charge the Chron and other papers for their services, but to some extent the papers are shielded from employee costs by that separation.

Mixed feelings.

Stay tuned to see how AB5 works out.