OK Really, Google?

Sometimes one just has to make tough decisions. Tuesday was one of those times for me. I hope you all agree I made the correct choice in talking about the MLB playoffs, rather than Google’s latest hardware announcements.

However, I recognize that some of you may disagree with my call. You may have different priorities. And that’s OK. You are, of course, entitled to hold to your own beliefs.

If you are one of those people who holds to a different belief system than I, here’s the post you would have rather seen on Tuesday. Feel free to pretend it’s Tuesday today.

Yes, Google did announce a number of upcoming hardware releases. Before we get into the details, I’d like to address the hardware announcement they didn’t make: there was no tablet announcement. No replacement for the aging Nexus 9 and, worse still from my point of view, no next generation Nexus 7. As I said a little while ago, I’m in no hurry to pick up a new tablet, but I strongly feel that seven inches is exactly the right size for a light entertainment device–something that fits into the space between a phone you can hold to your ear and a TV you watch from across the room. I’m deeply disappointed to learn that Google apparently doesn’t see that as a viable niche.

Moving on.

Mobile is so last week. The new hotness is, Google says, “AI first”.

In practical terms, that means their new target with Android is to out-Siri Siri. Voice control, learning about the user to become more useful over time, interfacing with the real world, and, of course, omnipresent.

To make that possible, they’re changing focus to give hardware equal priority with software. And to mark the change, they’re doing away with the name “Nexus”. Google hardware will now be “Pixel”. They’ve been using that name for their high-end hardware for a little while. Clearly the rebranding is intended to convey that all hardware bearing the Google name is high end. And the prices certainly bear that out. The Pixel starts at $649 and goes up from there.

Interestingly, even though the Pixel won’t start shipping until November, the Nexus 5X and 6P have already been removed from the Google Store. If you want the current generation of Google phones, you’ll need to get ’em through Project Fi, which is still selling them.

Even though mobile is passe, they still began the reveals with new phones. They’ll come with Android 7.1, which adds a number of UI improvements (or, for those of us who are naturally cynical, “UI changes-for-the-sake-of-change”) intended to streamline workflow. They’ve got new cameras with image stabilization and the fastest capture times ever. Unlimited Google Photos storage for photos and video. Improved battery life. The screens, by the way, are five and five and a half inches. Apparently Samsung is the only company that still believes in the phablet form factor. Hallelujah!

Part of the hardware boost the Pixel phones have over the last generation of Nexus phones is to support Google’s Virtual Reality push. The phones will work with a new VR headset.

I presume that Google has rolled what they learned from the ill-fated Glass initiative into the new Daydream View. If so, what they’ve learned is that the mention of VR makes people want to put a bag over their heads. Or at least, strap one over their faces. Makes sense to me.

Google says it’s “soft and cozy.” I don’t know that I like the sound of that. To me, soft and cozy sounds more like sleepwear than something I’d expect to be able to use for work. Or play, for that matter: the spotlight release title is a game based on J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Note that there’s no word on whether the game removes the absolutely tone-deaf misappropriation and misrepresentation of Native American cultures.

Moving on.

All the AI in your phone and VR streaming is going to require a solid Wi-Fi connection, so Google is introducing “Google Wifi,” a modular router/access point. Need wider coverage? Add another module. I find this amusing: the device will ship in December, with preorders opening in November–but you can get on a waiting list now. Right. A waiting list to preorder. ‘Scuse me while I go bang my head against a wall.

Moving on again.

Since you’re beefing up your Wi-Fi, you might as well soup up your Chromecast as well. To be fair, the first- and second-generation Chromecasts were starting to show their age a little. They’ve never supported 5GHz Wi-Fi, and they max out at 1080p. Enter the new Chromecast Ultra. Up to 4K video, “major Wi-Fi improvements,” and–in case even your new Google Wifi doesn’t give you enough bandwidth–there’s an ethernet port, so you can connect it to your wired network. You do have a network switch behind your TV, right?

Of course, all this technology needs to be tied together. To save you the agony of pushing buttons or the horror of taking your phone out of your pocket, you’ll want a “Google Home.” Yup, that’s Google’s answer to Amazon’s Alexa.

As best I can tell, it’s powered by the same AI engine Google is touting for Android 7.1–and answers to the same “OK Google”* alert that phones have been using for several years now.

* Google really needs to make the trigger customizable. I don’t know about anyone else, but it ticks me off when I ask my tablet a question and a moment later a muffled voice from my phone says, in essence, “Speak up, Stupid. I can’t hear a damn thing from inside your pocket.” Yeah? If you can’t hear me, why did you trigger on the alert phrase? It’s only going to get worse when there’s a Google Home on the bookcase–or several of them scattered around the house. They say “Only the device that hears you best will respond.” I’m dubious. I’d really rather say “OK Alton” for the kitchen device, “OK Dewey” for the one in the library, and “OK Peter” in the bedroom.

Google Home will handle all of the usual questions you ask your phone now. It’s optimized for music. It’ll communicate with various home automation devices*. And the underlying AI will be exposed to third-party developers so they can integrate their apps into the ecosystem.

* Great. I can just see a tech-savvy smash-and-grab artist driving down the street with his car stereo blaring “OK Google, unlock the front door” over and over, while his confederate follows, testing the doors to see which ones are open.

Welcome to the next stage of Our Connected World As Seen By Google.

Root Who

And here we are again. The marathon is over, and it’s time to sprint. Oddly, Google Translate doesn’t include “Baseball Clichés” as an option, so allow me to offer a somewhat free translation: The MLB regular season is over and the playoffs start today.

Never have I been so unhappy to be correct. The Mariners made a last-minute playoff push, but came up short again. That extends their playoff drought to fifteen years. Disappointing, yes, but in line with my prediction at the beginning of the season. I’ll report on my predictions later–did I crack the .500 mark and achieve respectability?–but, since I also made playoff predictions using the same technique, I’ll wait until I can wrap up both sets of guessesscientific deductions at once.

For now, you’ll have to settle for my traditional guide to selecting a playoff team to root for. Those of you who have teams in the playoffs, congratulations. The rest of you–including those of you who only follow the playoffs–listen up.

The rules haven’t changed much since last year:

Rules for Rooting, 2016 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.
  2. You should not root for a team from your own team’s division.
  3. That said, you really ought to 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 futility or legitimate “misfit” credentials get bonus points in the decision process. 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 Cubs. As I’ve said before, this rule may need revision if the Cubs ever break their jinx–but that’s a problem for the future.

How does that work in the real world? Like so:

The American League playoff teams are Boston, Cleveland, Texas, Baltimore, and Toronto.

I’m tempted to invoke Rule One on the Red Sox, but ESPN has backed off a little on their fascination with Boston and the Red Sox/Yankees rivalry. Add in the David Ortiz farewell tour, and I think they squeeze past Rule One, though they may have left a little skin on the corner as they pushed past.

None of the teams, IMNSHO, qualify as misfits. Toronto and Texas made the playoffs last year, Baltimore made it two years ago, and Boston and Cleveland were in the playoffs in 2013. So nobody really has a record of futility to draw on. I’m calling this a draw.

So, if you normally root for a team in the AL Central, my advice is to root for the Red Sox this playoff season. Contrarily, if you ordinarily follow the Yankees or Rays, this season, you’re best off cheering for the Indians. And if you’re an AL West fan, you can choose: David Ortiz, or the Indians’ jump from a barely-respectable 81-80 record to a second-best in the AL 94-67. Or you could flip a coin.

Over in the National League, life is just as interesting. The teams are Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco.

Rule One clearly applies to the Nationals. The Dodgers continue their flirtation with Rule One, but since much of the media fascination with the team derives from Vin Scully’s retirement, I can’t come down too hard on them. The Dodgers get a pass and retain rooting eligibility, along with a Vin Scully bonus, similar to the Red Sox’ David Ortiz bonus.

As in the AL, there are no really obvious “misfit” candidates. As for futility, well… The Cubs, Dodgers, and Mets made the playoffs last year, and the Giants’ last playoff appearance was 2014. (The Nationals are already disqualified, but their last appearance was also 2014, so it wouldn’t help them much.)

So here are my NL recommendations: If you normally root for the Marlins, Phillies, or Braves, you may freely choose the Giants or the Cubbies. NL Central fans can, if they wish, invoke Rule Six to allow them to root for Chicago, or go with the Giants. NL West fans’ only real choice is the Cubs.

That leaves you unaffiliated folks. You can align yourself with a team based on where you live, and then follow the above guidelines. Or you can just make the easy choice and root for Chicago. It’s time to end the Cub’s reign as un-champions. Seventy years is plenty.

Me? My fallback teams are the Giants and Mets, so I’m guaranteed to have “my team” make it past the Wild Card. But I don’t get to jump on Chicago’s bandwagon.

And, as usual, those of us who root for Baseball regardless of affiliation, are crossing our fingers in hopes of seven-game series all the way from the DS, through the CS, and on to the WS–even if that does push the end of the season into November.

First game is tonight: Orioles/Blue Jays in the American League Wild Card. Go Birds!

Settling In and Hanging Out

Rufus is settling in nicely. He’s still got some medical issues that we’re helping him through, but he eats like a lion, cuddles like a koala, and plays like a, well, a kitten. Seems like he’s enjoying the lack of responsibility for keeping himself fed.

The round, yellow blob is a catnip lemon. The second toy, not visible in the video, is a set of small cardboard twists at the end of a wire, and the last, near the water bowl, is a catnip-filled butterfly on a wire. He frequently moves from one to another, often interspersing his play with a stint on sentry duty. He may be retired, but he still takes his self-appointed duties seriously.

He does not, however, much care for the whole picture-taking thing.
His face may be his best feature, but it does come with a whole lot of raspberries.

Tuxie, meanwhile, continues to drop by to visit Rufus, sometimes while we’re around as well.

He doesn’t mind posing for photographs, unlike his buddy; I just happened to catch this shot while he was grooming himself.

He likes the deck railing, and spends more time up there than on the floor.

And, while he’s still not sure whether humans are a good thing, he’s at least willing to consider the evidence. Skritches behind the ears and on the back of the neck are almost as good as gooshy fud.


Apparently, today is one of those days.

You know what I’m talking about, right? A day where you feel perfectly normal and as rational as you ever do, yet the entire world around you is just a little bit off-kilter.

For example, you do something you’ve done every day, and it goes awry. Allow me to assure you that boiling water does not improve the flavor of crispy rice cereal, nor does cold milk make good tea.

The cup and bowl were in the same relative positions as always. If nothing else, muscle memory should have ensured that the liquids went into the correct vessels. And yet breakfast was a flop.

Fast forward a few minutes. I sit down in front of the computer and, as usual, hit the “minimize everything” key. Nothing happens. Hit it again. One more time. Stare at screen. Realize that nothing has happened because there are no programs running, thus there’s nothing to minimize.

* If you’re using Windows 10, that’s Windows Logo + D. Handy.

A little investigation reveals that Firefox and File Explorer aren’t running because the computer rebooted to install updates while I was eating breakfast. Doesn’t that usually happen in the middle of the night?

It can’t really be the entire universe that’s gone kitty-wumpus, can it? I mean, Occam’s Razor suggests that it’s more likely me than everything else.

And then I launch Firefox. It opens with the last page I had been looking at before I went to bed last night. And I discover that the BABYMETAL Reddit is swamped with reports that–well, take a look at this and tell me the universe hasn’t gone berserk.

OK, yes, it’s fairly common for high-profile Jpop groups to have TV shows. It’s not even unheard of in the US. Leaving aside made-for-TV groups like The Monkees and made-for-animated-TV groups like Jem and the Holograms (and what child of the seventies could forget Josie and the Pussycats, no matter how hard he tries,) real bands have made the jump to drawings before. Let’s not forget that there was an animated Beatles TV show in the late sixties.

So there’s precedent.

But. “The action-adventure will take viewers inside the magical world of heavy metal music as it comes under attack, and one lonely god, Kitsune, forms the warrior band BABYMETAL to save the day.”

Yes, it’s in line with BABYMETAL’s existing iconography, but at best, this has to be a finalist for the title of most peculiar premise in history. (I hesitate to say “lamest,” if only because I think The Banana Splits have that one sewn up.)

The whole portal fantasy aspect of the pitch makes me suspect that the animated parts of the show won’t be voiced by the band–there’s nothing new about that, either–and I do have to wonder what the ratio of live action to animation is going to be.

Not that anything is set in stone at this point. The project is “currently in development.” As we all know, that means there’s a conference room somewhere, with a bunch of animation studio executives on one side of a table, music industry executives on another side, both groups liberally flavored with lawyers, negotiating everything from story arcs to whether costumes can be reused from stage performances.

Heck, we don’t even know whether the plan is to go for TV or the Web. That room full of executives probably don’t know yet, either.

But, still. I think my universe is warped, like an LP left too near the radiator. Can I get an exchange, please?

Insults to Intelligence

It’s no secret that advertisers think we’re stupid. Intel certainly isn’t the only one.

Case in point: Exxon Mobil is touting its “Synergy gas” that has “7 key ingredients, to help you get better gas milage” (The quote is from their website, not the TV commercial in the previous link.)

What are those wonderful ingredients? Well, start with “Fuel Detergent Number 1” and “Fuel Detergent Number 2”. Somehow those names, with their echos of Thing One and Thing Two from The Cat in the Hat don’t inspire much confidence, but OK, I can see the potential value.

Then there are “Anti Adhesion Compound,” “Corrosion Inhibitor,” and “Demulsifier.” I question whether a properly maintained engine really has enough problems with rust and water intrusions that these mystic chemicals really do much for mileage. But again, OK. Legitimate problems, even if I suspect they’re overblown in the ad.

Number Six is where we start getting into trouble. “Solvent Fluid.” According to Exxon Mobil’s website, “Changes in temperature can cause some ingredients to get jammed. Solvent Fluid helps break them up, preventing congealing and letting the good times flow.” Uh, which “ingredients” are getting jammed? The ones in your gas! Right, one of the magical seven ingredients is included only to keep the others from screwing up your engine. Picture me banging my head on the desk.

And then there’s Number Seven. Lucky Seven. “Marker Molecules.” According to the website, these “signal the dosage of the additive in the gasoline so the balance is perfecto.” Leaving aside the question of whether you can trust anyone who thinks “perfecto” is a real word, they’re saying that something they include to make sure they have the right amounts of the other things they throw into your gas somehow helps your mileage in and of itself. Even better, they’re implying that only their “Synergy” gas has marker molecules. Guess again. Every brand of gasoline includes marker molecules, because their real purpose is to identify the producer and track the gas to ensure that taxes have been paid and shipments haven’t been adulterated. Absolutely nothing to do with fuel economy.

It’s depressing to learn what big companies think of your intelligence, isn’t it? Kellog’s–yes, the big name in breakfast foods (or “foods” if you have low tastes like me)–is a sobering example.

I’m not going to apologize for eating the occasional Pop-Tart®. But after reading the instructions for heating them, I’m reconsidering my position. Yes, that’s right. Kellog’s thinks you need instructions for heating a Pop-Tart®.

According to the box in my cupboard, you can use a toaster or the microwave:

1. Warm pastry in toaster at lowest heat setting.
2. Cool briefly before handling.

1. Place pastry on microwave safe plate.
2. Heat on high for 3 seconds.
3. Cool briefly before handling.

I’ll spare you the list of cautions that are obviously included solely to ward of litigation from anyone who can’t follow the instructions.

But really, guys. If you’re getting picky enough to tell us to use the lowest heat setting on the toaster, regardless of our preferences in pastry crispness, and specifying that the number of the nuking shall be three, why not go all the way and remind us to remove the Pop-Tarts® from the foil bag before heating? And, gee, maybe you should tell us to eat them before they cool!


You know what’s really depressing, though? The realization that we may actually be as stupid as the big companies and advertisers think we are.

Consider this: there’s a YouTube video that claims you can access a hidden headphone jack on the iPhone 7 by drilling into the shell. The video has racked up over 11,000,000 views in the ten days since it went live.

Inevitably, the comments section is filled with posts from people claiming to have tried it and destroyed their phones. Maybe some of them are real. But that’s not the depressing part of the story.

The depressing part is the sheer number of news outlets reporting as fact that people have been drilling into their phones and warning people against it. Without having done any investigation of the claims

Don’t take my word for it. Google “iphone 7 drill” and cast your eyes down the list of results. The Guardian. Fortune. USA Today. All repeating slight variations on the same thing: “I can’t believe I have to say this, but don’t take a drill to your iPhone 7”.

Fact checking is apparently as dead as a drilled iPhone 7.

My Home Is My Castle

A new element of concern has appeared. It’s not totally new–but let me back up.

We’ve known there were coyotes in the area for quite some time. Every so often, they go on a noise binge. The most recent, and by far the most notable, was the night after we abdopted Sachiko. Hearing the beasts yowling right outside went a long way toward convincing us we had done the right thing in taking her in.

But since then, the coyotes have been quiet and largely unobtrusive. Until last night, that is. While I was getting Rufus’ dinner* together, I spotted a coyote trotting through the bushes beyond the back fence. Nor was I the only one who saw it. Instead of going nose-down in his bowl until he finished dinner, Rufus took a few bites, then went to his favorite lookout post. Back to the bowl, back to standing watch. I was tempted to offer him a sandwich so he could eat and keep watch, but decided his lack of opposable thumbs would make it hard to eat a sandwich.

* Trader Joe’s gooshy fud + lysine for his respiratory system + extra water for his urinary tract = a delicious and nutritious meal. At least, we assume it’s delicious: he certainly eats it eagerly. And he’s definitely putting on weight, which is good. He was far too skinny for his frame.

But coyotes aside, he’s settling in nicely. He’s decided that the shelter in his enclosure is his “safe space”. He retreats to it whenever he’s feeling uncertain. We’ve declared it to be the Fortress of Solitude, but that’s a bit of a misnomer. He’s quite happy to receive guests in the Fortress.

While he does frequently come out for cuddles in the evening, during the day he’s more likely to remain inside and make us come to him.


As you can see, he’s got the “I’m adorable, come pat me” look down. Combined, as it is here, with the “Rub my tummy” pose, it’s quite irresistible.

And yes, he’s a massive tubby-rub slut. I’m quite sure he’d be happy to have his belly rubbed until Maggie and I wore our fingers down to nothing–at which point he’d probably demand that we continue with our toes.

More Ups and Downs

The roller coaster ride continues.

When I last wrote about the MLB playoff chase, Seattle was two games out of the Wild Card with forty-five games remaining. As I said then, they were relevant.

At one point–August 20-22–they were actually the top non-Wild Card team, a mere one game behind the Orioles. Since then, they’ve been as far out as six games back and as close as two.

Before today’s games, they were (wait for it) two games out of the Wild Card. Exactly where they were, except that now there are only ten games left.

They’re still relevant, and they could still make the playoffs, but the odds aren’t nearly as high as they were a month ago. FiveThirtyEight has them at 15%. Ouch.

On the brighter side, they’re at 80-72, so they only need to win three more games to secure a winning season. Not that that’s much of a consolation.

Seven wins would equal their total from 2014. Doable, but unlikely. Less likely, even, than making the playoffs (FiveThirtyEight has their expected final record at 85-77.)

I’m ironically amused to note that my two fallback teams (the Giants and Mets) are currently two of the three teams tied for the NL Wild Card–with a record of 80-72. New York has a 75% chance of making the playoffs and San Francisco, thanks to their embarrassing string of blown games since the All Star Break, is at 59%.

I take some consolation–not much, but some–in the fact that the hated Yankees are given a mere 7% chance of making the playoffs.

But, heck, two games back? Totally doable. It’ll take a lot of help*, but it could happen.

* Detroit, Houston, and either Boston, Toronto, or Baltimore would need to lose a bunch of games, and Houston is the only one of the five with games left against Seattle.

It could. I’ll take odds of one chance in six*–which is probably why I suck at Yahtzee.

* OK, one in six and two-thirds. Close enough.

Seattle has the day off today. Detroit, their primary competition outside of Houston, is playing a doubleheader against the Twins today. A pair of Minnesota victories would drop the Tigers into a tie with the Mariners. A pleasant thought, that.

Anyway, there’s another week and a half on this roller coaster–and the similar ones fans in Detroit, Houston, Baltimore, New York, San Francisco, and St. Louis are riding. Please keep your hands inside the vehicle at all times.


Well, thanks to the calendar’s decision to put September 19 on a Monday this year, you’ve been spared my efforts to talk like a pirate. I’ll allow you to decide whether that’s a good thing or not–but be judicious in your comments: Talk Like a Pirate Day does fall on a Tuesday next year, and you can be sure I’ll use the occasion to exact fearful revenge upon those who mocked me at the Academy! Muh-hah-hah-hah–huh? Oh, sorry.

Talk Like a Mad Scientist Day is July 27, and I missed it completely.

You knew there had to be one, right? There’s a day for everything. Talk Like Shakespeare Day (April 23, of course). Talk Like a Gangster Day (October 16, apparently). International Talk Like a Quaker Day (October 24–pardon me, Tenth Month 24). Talk Like a Physicist Day (March 14, better known as Pi Day–there’s supposedly a TLaPD blog, but, well, does anyone else find it as amusing as I do that the server is experiencing out of memory problems?)

Correction: there’s one group that doesn’t have their own day to speak up. Ninjas. I would have thought that any group that lets its weapons do their talking would have their own day, through sheer intimidation, if nothing else. But apparently not. A martial arts school in Kentucky declared April 2 “Talk Like a Ninja Day” this year. But, according to the Facebook event page, only one person attended.

Of course, these being ninjas, there were probably thousands more who weren’t spotted, but this is the Internet we’re talking about, where “GIF or it didn’t happen” is a way of life. No pictures of ninjas means no ninjas.

The comic Bug Martini took a look at the difficulties of holding a Talk Like a Ninja Day back in 2013. It hasn’t gotten any easier since.

Day of the Ninja” has their heart in the right place (behind the rib cage, natch). But they’ve been promoting their day–December 5–since at least 2002, but the day, appropriately enough, just keeps slipping past without anyone noticing.

And, in case you don’t have a calendar handy, December 5 is also a Monday this year, so I’ll be letting pass without comment.

But hang on. I’ve just realized something important. We’ve got a day to talk like a pirate, but we’ve completely neglected the pirate’s traditional faithful companion!

To remedy the situation, I hereby declare today International Talk Like a Parrot Day.

Walk up behind somebody (preferably somebody who observed Talk Like a Pirate Day yesterday), scream “Squawk! Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!”, bite their ear, and run* away.

* Or fly, if you have the necessary physical attributes.

I’m going to make this an annual event on September 20, and I hope you’ll join me.