Here We Go Again

Of course I’m excited for the return of baseball.

If it happens, naturally.

Despite the downsides.

I mean, I hate rewarding the owners for turning a global pandemic into a preview of the negotiations over the next collective bargaining agreement. But.

Come to that, during the entire stretch from March through June, I never saw anything about those of us who ponied up for MLB.TV subscriptions. I’m guessing that if there isn’t a season at all, we’d be entitled to refunds–but I’m also betting that we won’t get a pro-rated refund (sixty-three percent!) for a shortened season. Even if it’s only one game, and then MLB shuts down again, I’m quite sure the owners will keep our money.

That’s not really a major consideration, though. The MLB.TV subscription this year was less than we’re paying for a week of groceries, what with the supermarket price hikes we’ve seen over the past few months. And it’s a sunk cost, anyway.

As for the rule changes, well, they’re a mixed bag.

I’m not thrilled about the universal DH, but I’m not horrified, either. I’d rather see pitchers hit, if only because of the joy they generate on the rare occasions when they make solid contact. But I can live without all those weak grounders and wimpy pop-ups.

Three batter rule? Pros and cons again. Fewer commercials on TV and fewer inane distractions in the ballpark is unquestionably a win. And I disagree with those who say it removes an element of managerial strategy–it just requires a different strategy. On the downside, it means we’re in for months of complaints about the change.

Ejecting anyone who comes within six feet of an umpire while arguing a call sucks. It’s necessary, but it does rather kill the drama of a spirited argument. On the other hand, I’m firmly behind the new “no spitting” rule.

Really, there’s only one rule change I consider a negative. I bitched about putting runners on base to start extra innings three years ago. I’ve matured since then, and my feelings have changed. I’m no longer dubious; I’m not even revolted. I unreservedly loathe the notion. Unlike the three batter rule, it does reduce managerial choice. It makes a mockery of the grand traditions of the game. And–most importantly–it won’t do a thing to solve the problem it’s supposedly designed to address. It’s supposed to shorten games by making it easier to score in extra innings. But it’ll give that same run-scoring advantage to both teams. The only thing I look forward to with this rule is seeing Commissioner Manfred’s (ptui!) face as he tries to excuse the first game to go thirteen innings with both teams scoring in the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth innings before the home team wins in the thirteenth with a bases loaded walk.

Still, if the new rules and restrictions are bringing us sorrow–and I realize that others feel more strongly negative than I do about the universal DH and the three batter rule–they also bring us great joy.

Consider the Oakland As recently announced “Foul Ball Zone”. Fans can’t go to games in person, but they can attend by proxy. For a mere $129–with the proceeds going to local food banks, youth development centers, and other worthy causes–a fan’s photo can attend all thirty home games this season. Even better, if a foul ball hits the fan’s proxy photo, Coliseum staff will send them the ball.* I’m looking forward to the legal scramble for the first ball that bounces off of three or four photo cutouts before coming to rest. Does it go to the first one it hit? The last one?

* I presume they’ll sanitize it first–or ship it UPS, which should guarantee that any viruses on the ball will die of old age long before the package arrives at the fan’s home.

Also high on my list of re-pre-season amusements: MLB soundly rejected “Spring Training 2.0” in favor of the more easily licensed “Summer Camp”. In case you missed the announcement, Summer Camp is sponsored by Camping World. Mind you, I don’t believe they paid anything for the rights–they were already the official sponsors of Spring Training, and this probably just represents MLB’s legal requirement to give them full value for their money.

As players–those who aren’t opting out, anyway–report to camp today, I look forward to the video tours of the tents (set up in the outfield, no doubt) for the rookies and minimum salary players and the cabins–repurposed luxury boxes–reserved for the veterans with multi-million dollar contracts.

Play ball, y’all!

Noble Thrones

Don’t be fooled by her noble pose. She’s just waiting for dinner.

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(Amusingly, when I first spotted her, there was a small bird–probably something I’d call a “zippy bird” if I saw it at our feeder–perched on the light fixture. By the time I grabbed the camera, it had flown the coop. [Sorry])

And don’t be fooled by her noble expression. She’s just waiting for dinner.

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(And warming her butt on Maggie’s laptop. You might think in the recent hot weather she’d prefer to hang out in front of the air conditioner, but no.)

WWDC 2020

Well, I sure got that one wrong.

In last year’s WWDC summary, I said, “Odds are good that 2020 will be a year of minor tweaks and enhancements.” Oops.

Even if you don’t normally follow tech news, you’ve probably heard the biggest change coming this year: Apple is beginning to transition away from Intel’s chips to their own designs.

As you could probably guess, the reaction is fairly evenly split between “It’s about time” and “OMG, WTF?!” The latter crowd further subdivides into “Apple is doomed!” and “Man, this is going to be a tough few years for Apple.”

Let’s get real: this isn’t the first time Apple has made a major shift like this. The switch from 68000 chips to PowerPC caused massive confusion. The change from PowerPC to Intel, by comparison, was barely a blip, because Apple learned from experience. Since then, they’ve also dealt with the transition to OS X and splitting iOS into iPhone and iPad tracks (and last year, separating out iPad OS as a semi-independent OS).

There are going to be hiccups. Probably a missed deadline or two, as well. But Apple will get through the transition in one piece. That’s a prediction I have no qualms about.

Parenthetically, if you’re worried about how long Apple will continue to support that shiny new MacBook you bought for working from home, relax. Historically, Apple has supported all of their computers for at least five years–by which time, the technology has advanced far enough that moving to a new machine if the old one breaks is a reasonable choice. It’s highly unlikely Apple will cut off Intel support in less than five years.

Moving on.

IOS 14 and iPad OS 14 will finally support widgets on the home screen. It won’t be necessary to swipe off to another screen to check a stock ticker, control your music, check weather or traffic, or any of the other things Android users have been doing on their home screens for more than half a decade.

Can you tell I’m in the “It’s about damned time!” camp on this? I want to be able to glance at my phone and get the scores without having to launch the MLB app. It’ll finally happen next season*–whether that’s 2021 or sometime later.

* No, I haven’t given up on baseball in 2020. But if it happens, it’ll be this season.

Mac OS will be called “Big Sur”. More excitingly (for the geeks among us), it will NOT be OS X. After what, fifteen years or so, Apple is finally giving us OS 11.

The big changes are (1) a new, very iPad-like look. More specifically, a very iPad OS 14 appearance. (2) the ability to run iPhone apps. One presumes it’ll also support iPad apps. One also presumes there will be a performance penalty running iOS/iPad OS apps on Intel Macs.

We all pretty much saw this coming when iPads picked up support for mice and trackpads, right? Apple is working hard to erase the distinction between tablets and computers, and the OS 11 changes are simply the next step in the process.

Here’s an interesting note: iPad OS will get a system-wide handwriting recognition function if you have an Apple Pencil. That’s one feature that probably won’t work on Apple computers for quite a while. No touchscreens, so no Apple Pencil, after all. But it wouldn’t surprise me if Apple rolls out Pencil support in select non-Intel machines next year or the year after.

I’m going to lump most of the other announced changes together as the “minor tweaks” I was expecting: user customization of Apple Watch faces, surround sound audio on AirPods Pro, enhanced privacy labels, Apple TV picture-in-picture. You get the idea.

“Clips” sounds interesting. Apple is billing it as a way to download and use only part of an app. The example I’m seeing is for things like renting a scooter without having to install the company’s app permanently.

I’m intrigued, but dubious about the feature’s long-term prospects. Why should app makers be enthusiastic about letting you install the part of their app that does something useful without also installing the part that nags you to use the less-useful-but-revenue-generating functions? You know: “While you’re waiting for your Lyft, sign up for a subscription that’ll give you discounts on your future rides.”

“Nice idea, limited adoption” is my bet.

And, finally, there’s “CarKey”. My immediate reaction was “Why would I want an app that scratches the paint on my car?” But that might actually be preferable to what this feature does: Not only will you be able to use your iPhone or Apple Watch to unlock and start your car, but you’ll also be able to share the digital key with family and friends.

The potential for abuse is staggering. Remember, this is the same auto industry that can’t figure out how to remove app access on used cars. Would you buy a used car with this feature without some kind of proof that none of the former owners and their friends still have access?

Heck, it’s not just used cars. “Hey, Joe, I’m too trashed to drive. Here’s the key to the BWM” sounds good in principle. But are you going to remember to revoke the key the next day? Even if you do, can you revoke it if Joe isn’t right there?

The first cars that support CarKey will supposedly be out next month; the functionality will arrive with iOS 14, but will also be available in iOS 13. Brace yourselves for the onslaught of ads touting this as the greatest advance in automotive technology since the steering wheel.

I hate to end on a negative note, and the truth is, Apple has quite a bit of good stuff heading our way. So, one final bit of good news: Apple is bringing back the “bonnnnnnnnnnnnng” startup sound. It’s been gone for a couple of years. And, while it is possible to turn it on if your computer is running Catalina, it requires a visit to the command line–hardly in Apple’s point-and-click spirit. Word is that Big Sur will have a simple on/off switch for the iconic chord somewhere in the system configuration.

I’m hoping the move will prove popular enough that Apple rolls the same option into iOS and iPad OS. Just not WatchOS–that would be excessive.

Three Views of Lefty

Lefty is a cat of many moods.

Granted, most of them are of the quiet, reflective sort, but we’re fine with that. In a household full of egocentric extroverts*, it’s rather nice to find an introvert.

* Obviously, I’m speaking only of the cats here. Maggie and I tend toward the “disgruntled hermit” end of the spectrum.

He spend a large chunk of his time on “Imperial Majesty”
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Then, naturally, there’s “Are You Kidding Me?”
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Recently, however, most of Lefty’s headspace has been this:
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It’s called “Going Down There Would Be Beneath My Dignity, But If It Comes Any Closer, I’ll Squash It Like A Bug”.

Sitting Handsome

Lefty has a new hangout.

He’s discovered…

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The Condo at the End of the Hall (bum-bum-bummmmmm)

Joking aside, it’s interesting that he’s hanging out there.

That level of the condo has an outside view, but I’ve never seen him facing that way.

The view the house isn’t significantly different than what can be seen from The Cat Carrier at the End of the Hall (which is just barely visible at the lower right of the picture), and the condo offers far less shelter.

The Condo isn’t particularly padded. The Carrier has a cushion, which should make it considerably comfier.

And yet Lefty’s been sitting in the condo lately.

I’d think it’s because he knows how well the white fake fur sets off his coloration, but Lefty is still rather camera shy–I’m amazed he held still long enough for me to get this picture.

The mystery may never be solved–but I’m okay with that. We all need a few unsolved mysteries of no significance whatsoever in our lives to keep us from getting too complacent.

The Wrong Approach

Okay, I’m going there. Sorry, but it was either this or a rant about the stupidity of ending shelter in place rules while virus cases are on the upswing.

There was a letter to the editor in the SF Chron a couple of days ago. The gist was that both the Republican and Democratic parties have utterly failed to do anything to benefit African Americans. Accordingly, the author says–in apparent seriousness–“The only remedy left for African Americans to get them out of their misery is for them to form their own national political party.”

I can only assume that the writer, Guy Vigier, is either a Trumpist looking to split the Democratic vote or completely and totally ignorant of how people think.

Forget the woeful history of third parties in American politics since the demise of the Socialist movement. Never mind the fact that the NAACP–arguably the most effective organization working for civil rights in the past century plus–hasn’t managed to gain the support of all African Americans*.

* According to their own website, they currently have a membership of “more than a half-million”.

Can you think of any better way to mobilize racist white non-voters than to give the right wing the opportunity to point Fingers of Alarm at the BLM Party candidates? “They’re coming for our jobs! They want to take over! They said so themselves!” (The identity of the “our” is left as an exercise for the reader.)

Maybe there’s something I’m missing. It’s certainly possible. I’m white. I don’t have a visceral understanding of the African American experience–I hope I have a handle on it intellectually, but I don’t have the gut-level automatic understanding that comes from living it.

Maybe a BLM Party could turn a significant chunk of the American population into active, informed voters. Even enough of the population to elect a president. I doubt they could take Congress as well, but say they do. Say they do it by such an overwhelming margin that the Supreme Court can’t find an excuse to overturn the election.

What happens next? Barring assassination, I mean, though history suggests that’s a distinct possibility. A bunch of laws get passed. Most get tied up in the courts; those that don’t will be enforced by the same police they’re intended to restrain. Anyone want to put money on the laws being fairly enforced? If there’s a way to selectively enforce them against African Americans, you better believe they’ll be used that way.

Then, two years later, with the racist right fully mobilized, Republicans recapture control of the Senate. Anyone remember how much trouble the Republican Senate caused President Obama in his last year in office?

And, of course, two years after that, President Trump (or the functional equivalent) is re-elected on his promise to give America back to the Real Americans. You know: the melanin-deficient ones.

Mr. Vigier seems to think that an “African American national political party” could somehow “hold the balance of power between the two major parties” and turn that into resources for their communities. I’ve got news for him: this is not a parliamentary system. Small blocks are largely powerless.

Hell, large blocks that aren’t the majority don’t have a whole lot of power. I suggest Mr. Vigier check back on Puerto Rico and remind himself just how little aid they got two years ago, despite the efforts of a large-but-minority chunk of Congress. How would he suggest that his hypothetical BLM office holders direct money to their communities in the face of conservative resistance and without decades of political favors to draw on for support?

It’s the opinion of this white guy that the current crisis is not going to be settled by the creation of a new political party. It’s not going to be solved in a top-down fashion. And it’s not going to be resolved–not truly–at the ballot box. If it’s ever settled, it’ll be because right-minded people of all parties–yes, including Republicans, Libertarians, Greens, Democrats, and independents–come together in their communities and create change from the bottom up. By the time national laws come about, they’ll be a recognition of the status quo.

Breakthrough!

Breakthrough!

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Or, as MST3K would have put it, “We have meezer sign!”

Since we brought her inside, MM has spent most of the time either in the condo or the milk crate.

Make that “most of the time when we’ve been awake”. She’s definitely more nocturnal than the rest of the gang. Not surprising, really, given her previous living conditions.

We haven’t been worried about her, particularly. We knew she’d have a long, slow adjustment to the new surroundings. But we did have a bit of a scare a couple of weeks ago when her appetite dropped off significantly. But after a couple of days, she did a little hurking in the corner of the cage and then started eating more. So we modified her diet a bit–more water mixed into her gooshy fud–and she’s back to her previous eating habits.

But about that breakthrough:

Suddenly, she’s taking more of an interest in us, and is beginning to experiment with eating while we’re still in the room. A few days ago, she came out of the condo and started eating while I was cleaning her box. A couple of days after that, she came partway out: head and shoulders exposed so she could reach the bowl while leaving her tail and butt protected.

Parenthetically, if you check her lower back in the picture above, you’ll see some tufts of white hair. She may have some scarring there, which could explain why she’s protective of her backside. However, it’s equally likely that she’s just going through some heavy shedding. We’re currently in a heatwave and temperatures in that room are routinely hitting in the upper 80s and lower 90s.

Anyway, on Wednesday evening, she decided she needed to supervise the box cleaning. You can see a corner of the box at the lower left of the picture to give you a sense of how close she was to me.

I don’t think she was pleased.

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But the box did get cleaned without any hissing–from either of us–and without any sign that she wanted to retreat to her safe places.

There are plenty of milestones remaining, but we’re very pleased to see her passing this one.

Next up: either coming out of the cage to explore the room, or eating with us present on a regular basis. We’ve seen both paths before, and we’re curious to see which way she goes.

It’s That Time Again

If you were expecting some commentary on the state of the world, sorry. I got nothing for you today. No insights that hundreds of other people haven’t already broadcast. All I can say is that I don’t think the current unrest is the end of America, nor do I think it’s a minor blip that will quickly be forgotten. The truth, as it so often does, lies somewhere between.

And right now, I’m doing my best to stay safe and healthy, and getting on with my life.

Which, at the moment, includes babbling about my latest toy.

Looking back into my archive, I see that five and a half years ago, I shared some thoughts about my new Nexus 9 tablet. That nine-inch wonder replaced my defunct Nexus 7.

At the time, I said that I had some qualms, mostly around the size and weight of the device. It was too heavy to use in transit, a bit too large for comfortable reading, and perhaps a smidgen too small for comfortably watching videos.

As it turned out, I was right about the first two, and wrong about the third. When I was able to move my reading to another device–at various times, the Amazon Fire tablet, the Windows tablet, and the ebook reader–I didn’t hesitate. But video was just fine on the Nexus, and I often watched ballgames on it. And the size–that inch or so smaller than the iPad–made it quite comfortable for the card and word games I favor.

Jump ahead to today and the Nexus is on the decline. The screen is still fine and the weight hasn’t changed, but the battery is losing capacity rapidly. As recently as the beginning of the year, I could get four or five days of use on a charge. Now I have to charge it nearly every night.

Regrettably, I couldn’t find any Android tablets that appealed to me. Amazon’s Fire tablets are too, well, Amazon. The Amazon store is front and center, and their app store is small and in some cases out of date*. Samsung’s tablets are reasonably solid contenders, but I’m no happier with the add-on software they supply than I was back in 2015. And most of the other offerings are no-name, low-end devices that give the impression that they’ll fall apart or drop dead right after the warranty runs out.

* Yes, you can put the Google Play app on them and gain access to the full variety of apps available through Google, but the process is kind of a pain, and having two app stores on the device can get confusing–they sometimes try to update each other’s apps with mixed results.

So I went in a partly different direction: I got a Chrome OS tablet.

I say “partly” because most Chrome OS devices let you install Android apps. I figured that would let me keep using my must-have apps while investigating Chrome-native alternatives. It was a nice theory, and honestly, it’s mostly worked out that way.

The device I got is the Lenovo Duet. It’s a ten-inch tablet–which means it’s roughly the size of my old iPad Air (though the screen is larger, thanks to its smaller bezels)–and it weighs about the same as the Nexus. Assuming I don’t use the case. Lenovo does supply a case: a back cover that attaches magnetically and provides a kickstand support similar to Microsoft’s Surface Go and a separate front cover/keyboard that also attaches magnetically. Adding the cover and keyboard doubles the weight of the device.

Speaking of the Surface Go, the Duet is roughly the same size and weight as the Go. So why didn’t I just get another Go? Well, cost for one. The Duet is about half the price of the cheapest Go. And much as I like my Go–it’s still my main machine–several of my must-have Android apps have no Windows equivalents. That makes it a less-than-optimal Android alternative.

Let me get this out of the way up front: overall, I’m pleased with the Duet.

That said, there are some issues.

First and foremost, the user experience is inconsistent. For example, Chrome OS apps have access to the entire file system: everything on the device’s storage (including the Android app space and the Linux storage), the Google Drive space, and any other cloud storage options you have. However, Android apps can only access the Android space on the local drive. Any cloud access has to be provided by the apps themselves. Linux programs are slightly better off: you can give it access to specific folders in the Chrome OS space, but even there you’re limited to the local storage–even giving access to the Google Drive space is iffy.

Speaking of cloud storage, while Google gives Google Drive first class support, that’s as far as they go. Chrome OS includes the ability to connect to shared drives on your local network (say, your Windows computer), but as noted above, you can’t access those drives via Android or Linux. As for other storage options, you’re at the mercy of third parties. The Dropbox software, for example, is provided by an independent developer, not affiliated with either Google or Dropbox. OneDrive access comes from Microsoft, but for reasons of their own, it’s read-only. In neither case does it work for Android apps (of course), requiring you to also install the Android version of the software to gain access to those cloud storage locations if you need them in your apps.

The inconsistencies go further. Some Android apps and Linux programs are recognized as being associated with particular file types (for example, the Android version of the VLC media player is recognized as supporting mp4 videos). Other programs are not–and there’s nothing like the Windows “Open with” functionality that allows you to use a program that wasn’t automatically recognized.

Here’s a good one: If you have a keyboard connected, Chrome OS supports multiple desktops, so you can group related programs together and switch between the groups easily. Once you disconnect the keyboard, you can still use your existing desktops, but once you close a desktop, it’s gone. Close all of them and you lose the multiple desktop functionality until you reconnect the keyboard.

Other quirks: many Linux programs are unusable without the keyboard and trackpad because they don’t recognize screen taps*, and support for the on-screen keyboard is limited.

* This may have something to do with the way screen size is reported. The display is actually 1920×1200, but some programs see it as 3413×2133. I suspect this has something to do with making onscreen buttons large enough to tap, but it may be confusing Linux programs that don’t support high pixel densities.

Most–I’m tempted to say all–Android devices allow you to flip a switch in the settings so that you can install apps that don’t come from Google’s app store. This is handy if you want to install an older version of an app or, for whatever reason, the app isn’t available through Google. On the Duet–I can’t speak for other Chrome OS devices–in order to install third-party apps, you have to put the tablet in Developer mode, which makes it awkward to boot the device without a keyboard and may have other side effects.

One odd omission: there’s no support for widgets, so you can’t put programs on your desktop. That’s an excellent bit of Android functionality–so good that Apple is starting to move in the same direction with iPadOS–that would make Chrome OS much more attractive.

I know this all sounds grim, but as I said, on the whole, I like the Duet.

The screen looks good. And, while it’s too large for comfortable ebook reading, it’s an excellent size for reading comics. And there’s a nice split-screen function; if we ever get baseball again, I’ll be able to show the games in the top half of the screen and run an ebook reader app in the lower half–multitasking at its finest.

The sound quality is decent, and I was able to connect Bluetooth headphones without trouble.

The Chrome OS app selection is limited, but most of the Android apps I used on the Nexus work fine on the Duet. The one major omission–the app that controls the MeezerCam–still works fine on my phones and my iPad.

The keyboard is a bit too small for long bouts of typing, but it certainly gets the job done. In a pinch, I could write on it. And the Duet runs Word well, both the web-based Office 365 version (pardon me, “Microsoft 365”) and the Android app. And if I had to write something longer on the Duet, I could plug a full-sized keyboard into the USB port.

I like the Duet. But I can see where a few changes could easily turn like into love.

Who’s Really In Charge

Yuki scoffs at Sachiko’s claim that she controls the house.

After all, she may have laid claim to the gooshy, but he’s got the high ground.

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From the top of the stairs, he can keep tabs on nearly the entire house–and who cares what’s going on in the downstairs bathroom.

Knowledge is power, you know, and Yuki sees all and knows all, no crystal ball required.

Fear the big, yellow eyes, for they miss none of your misdeeds.