Further Changes

No Rufus today. Sorry, Jackie.

But I got a new picture of Lefty that I just had to share. Unquestionably my newest and favoritist photo of the Formerly Feral Fellow so far.

Observe:

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He’s still a little nervous about the camera, but he really did let me get within arm’s reach while I was pointing it at him. And better, he looks almost relaxed about it.

No, seriously. Take a closer look; I ask you, is this the face of a worried cat?

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And since you’re not here, I answer for you, “No”.

Cautious, yes. Worried, no.

Makes me want to rub his nose and scritch behind his ears.

We’re not at that point yet, if ever. But we’re a heck of a lot closer than we were even a week ago.

That’s our Lefty: putting the “Formerly” in the “FFF”.

Changing Times

I try to get the Tuesday and Thursday blog posts up around 9:30 or 10:00. You may have noticed that this one is late. You may also have noticed that it’s not the first one to be late over the past several months.

There are a number of reasons for the recurrent delays, but the big one is time.

Let me be clear here: I have plenty of time for writing. The catch is that it mostly comes in small chunks–half an hour here, an hour there–on an irregular basis.

I’m fortunate. I can write just about anywhere. I don’t need any particular conditions, as long as there’s room to set up my computer (or, as at present, when I’m doing a pen-and-paper rewrite, my clipboard). I don’t need specific kinds of music or lighting, and I don’t have any writing rituals that can’t be performed in public.

That flexibility is great. But. What I don’t have is much control. I like routines, especially when it comes to writing. They help me be productive as soon as I sit down to work. Without the organization, it can take me ten or fifteen minutes to get my brain into writing mode and producing words that I don’t immediately erase.

If I’ve got three or four hours, fifteen minutes isn’t a big deal. It is important if all I’ve got is half an hour. In a normal week, I may get two four hour blocks of time I can devote to writing.

An additional data point: a typical blog post takes me around three hours to write.

I think you can see where I’m going.

If I spend my large blocks of writing time on blog posts, I don’t get much novel writing done. And if I dedicate the time to novels, the blogs are late, uninteresting, or poorly written–or worse, some combination of all three.

So I’m taking control and changing things to allow me to establish some routines. Agency! (It’s good practice for letting my characters show some agency of their own, right? Right.)

A historical digression: when I started this blog, I wrote five posts a week. Amazing what you can do when you can set your own schedule and establish your own routines. Then, six months in, I cut back to two posts a week, not counting the Friday Critter Posts. That change was specifically to give me more time for the novels-then-in-progress.

So there’s precedent for what I’m announcing today.

Effective immediately, I’ll be posting twice a week. Friday Critter Posts will continue unchanged, but the non-critter posts will be limited to Wednesdays. (Well, this week you get your post on Tuesday–late–to smooth the transition.) Nor am I going to stress out about the timing. If it’s Wednesday morning, great. Wednesday evening, fine. Tuesday? Sure, why not? Thursday? Okay. It’s all mid-week and everything is awesome.

And with this change in place, I can finally finish rewriting Chapter 15 of Demirep and move on to Chapter 16, where Things Happen. (Yes, Smartipants, Things Happen in Chapter 15 too, but Fifteen is low-key, catch-your-breath time, before my protagonist takes charge of her destiny in Sixteen.)

Anyway.

See you all Friday.

With Age Comes…

Sachiko is no longer the twenty-four hour nuclear-propelled hellion she was when she was a kitten.

She’ll be the first to tell you that she’s a big kitty now. And she is–goodness, I just realized she’s approaching her fifth birthday!

Not a huge kitteh, but a bit on the plump side, and a significant armload.

With increasing age comes an increased desire to snooze.

Of course, as a cat, she’s required to pick a spot that will inconvenience the bipeds.

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The bathroom doorway is a fine choice. Convenient to the litter box, handy to the food bowls come dinner time, and a high traffic area for the hoomins.

Go On

I’ve been using the new computer setup long enough to have some thoughts. Since I know at least some of you share my fascination with small computers, I’ll post the thoughts here, rather than just keeping them in my head.

Let’s go back to June. In talking about my search for a USB-C hub or docking station that would support two external monitors, I said my previous computer setup just wasn’t cutting it for travel.

The biggest reason was that my laptop was too large. Too big to fit conveniently on my desk. Way too big to use on an airplane.

The adhesive holding the screen in the case was going bad, as well. I’m fairly sure it’s fixable, but until I can get that done, the “do I dare pick this up?” factor made using it even less convenient.

So, yes, I bought a new laptop. Sort of.

Remember my Windows tablet? I still love the thing. It’s a great size for an ebook reader, and having something that can run Word while still being small and light enough to carry was wonderful.

But, while I’ve more than gotten my money’s worth of use out of the tablet–$89 more than two years ago–it is showing it’s age. The storage is small enough to make Windows updates a pain the rear, the lack of RAM makes Windows 10 slower than it needs to be on that CPU, and most importantly, the power button is starting to fail. It doesn’t always turn on or off when I push the button.

So, yes, I bought a new tablet. Sort of.

To be precise, I got a Microsoft Surface Go. With the keyboard.

It’s bigger than the tablet, but when I disconnect the keyboard, it’s not noticeably heavier*, so it works well as a tablet-slash-ebook-reader. The larger screen makes it more suitable for video. I can actually watch ballgames on this thing without squinting. The keyboard is surprisingly comfortable to work with. I wouldn’t want to write a whole book on it, but a chapter or three while traveling wouldn’t be a problem. Heck, I’ve written two blog posts on it, and nobody’s complained about a surge in typos.

* It is heavier. Just not enough so that I notice in daily use.

The computer is far more capable than I expected. Just as a test, I’m currently playing a 4K video on one monitor while I write this post. The video is being scaled down to fit on the 1080p screen, and playback is still smooth, even though it’s being pulled down over the network. Nor is there any lag in the word processor. I type–on a keyboard connected to the same USB hub as the network adapter–and the characters appear on the screen.

It’s got enough muscle to run GIMP for the small amount of image editing I do, which is mostly preparing the pictures for Friday posts. It can handle WSL (Windows System for Linux), so I’m not cut off from the few Linux programs I need. I’ve even had GIMP, Word, a music player, and my email program running at the same time without a significant slow down.

Now, admittedly, I splurged a bit on the Go. I shelled out for the more powerful model–same CPU, but twice as much storage and memory–and then shelled out again for the LTE model. Not only can I write on the go, but I can get online anywhere I can get a cellphone signal without having to tether the computer to my phone. I’ve used the ability twice so far. Yes, to publish the two blog posts. Turns out I can’t get to my website with the Wi-Fi at work.

Dropbox keeps my writing projects synchronized between the Go and the multiple backups on my home computers*, so I can just pick it up and go, knowing I’ll have the latest version of everything I’m likely to work on already on the machine.

* Yes, I know I could do the same thing with OneDrive. But OneDrive’s cross-platform support lags behind Dropbox. And I’ve been using Dropbox long enough to have fine-tuned my configuration to fit my workflow. Not worth the effort to switch.

The Go isn’t perfect. Music playback does sometimes stutter when I open another program. But that seems to be more a Windows problem than something specific to the Go. I had the same problem on the old laptop.

I do a little video editing*. There’s no way I’m going to try that on the Go. But I’ve still got my desktop Linux machine. I can just use that for video edits. I can even do it remotely, so I can sit downstairs (where the temperature is more comfortable) on the Go while the Linux box stays upstairs and does the work.

* Which reminds me: I wanted to share a video from the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival. Look for that sometime next week.

There’s no optical drive. I could buy a USB drive for ripping CDs, but that same Linux box has a DVD drive. More than sufficient for my needs.

The cameras…well, I haven’t actually tried the cameras. The one that faces me works well enough for logging me in. That’s all I really need. If I want to take pictures, I’ll use my phone. Or a real camera (to the extent that a point-and-shoot can be considered “real”). That said, the facial recognition is neat, in a slightly creepy way. Maybe if it didn’t insist on greeting me by name. “Good evening, Casey” does drive home the point that nobody really knows how much detail Microsoft gets in tracking usage. But that’s another day’s post.

All in all, the pros outweigh the cons. I’m quite happy with my new little computer.

The bottom line: If you’re looking for a highly portable computer and don’t need to do serious number crunching, the Surface Go is quite an attractive option.

Good Times

The good times never last forever. That’s a universal law–just ask any Warriors fan. It’s true in baseball, and it’s true in technology.

Since I wrote about the winning ways of the Mariners, Orioles, and Giants, the three teams have gone a collective 3-10. It’s not hard to see why: in those thirteen games, they’ve scored 43 runs and given up 86. With run differentials like that, it’s a minor miracle they’ve won any games. (Kudos to the Orioles, who contributed two of the three victories.)

There are around fifty games left in the season. The Mariners are trying to figure out their next few seasons, the Orioles are looking for ways to earn some self-respect, and the Giants are hanging onto a small chance of making the playoffs.

Meanwhile, we’ve recently gotten a lesson in how the universal law applies in the wonderful world of technology.

Maggie’s much-beloved cell phone passed away. Maggie refuses to give up a physical keyboard, so she clung resolutely to her BlackBerry Q10.

Let it be noted that I’m not casting aspersions on her choice. I see the appeal of a physical keyboard and still fondly recall my RIM 750, from back in the days when pagers were state-of-the-art. Where we differ is that I’m not willing to put up with the compromises necessary to have that keyboard.

Those compromises are on the software side of the equation. BlackBerry is, if not the only company still making phones with keyboards, the only one with any actual US distribution. Their latest phones run almost-stock Android–although updates can be erratic–but the Q10 runs BlackBerry’s proprietary operating system.

That, naturally, makes it hard to find software to do some very basic things. Like, for example, back up your data.

There is, or was, a Dropbox client for the Q10. It was hard to install, confusing to configure, and usually refused to run automatically. These are not desirable traits in software you want to back up something as precious as years of cat photos.

Then there are all those years of collected emails, text messages, and the contacts that go with them. Turns out that even though the Q10 requires you to use a GMail account for setup, it only uses GMail for transport. Received emails and contacts live on the device. Contacts can be synced to Google, but it’s a manual process.

Want to see if anything has been backed up to your user account on the carrier’s system? Better hope you don’t have Sprint: they require a two-step authentication process that involves sending a text message to your phone. You know, the phone that doesn’t work.

The lesson here is NOT that BlackBerry sucks or that Sprint is horrible.* It’s not even that one should avoid unusual systems or devices.

* Ironically, it was exactly here that Firefox crashed, taking Windows down with it and forcing me to turn the power off without saving anything. Fortunately, I had just saved two minutes before, so I didn’t have much to recreate.

The lesson is that the good times will end. They’ll be back eventually, sure. But they’ll return much faster if you prepare for them. In baseball, build up your farm system. In computers, backup.

Backup everything. Frequently. Make it part of your daily routine. If you can’t do an automatic backup, do it manually.

Ite, missa est

Not Cats

It’s been a while since we checked in on the neighbors.

That’s partially because the recent family members have been so photogenic that I haven’t felt the need to look elsewhere, and partly because the neighbors have been keeping low profiles.

They coyotes are still around–we saw one on the sidewalk just a couple of weeks ago–which certainly contributes to the lack of other visitors, but there’s been a mini resurgence of late.

The turkeys are all over the neighborhood, crossing the street in front of cars and shouting rude things at the dogs.

And then there are these critters.

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We’ve seen them in the common area several times in the past week. The youngsters are starting to lose their spots, but they’re still quite cute, and we’re glad to have them in the neighborhood.

Which Road?

One can win with brilliance, dogged determination, or sheer luck.

As usual, all three methods are on display in MLB these days.

Consider the bargain basement–or, considering what some of the teams’ Injured Lists look like, maybe it’s the scratch and dent sale.

At the All-Star Break, there were five teams with records under .400: Miami, Toronto, Detroit, Kansas City, and Baltimore. (Seattle scored a Dishonorable Mention at .415 and San Francisco, at .461, was looking almost respectable.)

The picture hasn’t changed much. The bottom-dwellers list is now Toronto, Miami, Kansas City, Baltimore, and Detroit. (Kudos, though to Baltimore for the biggest improvement on the list, going from .303 to .336, putting them in a position to challenge KC for the third-worst record in baseball.) Meanwhile, Seattle has moved up to a staggering .423. That’s especially impressive when you consider that they lost eight of their first ten after the break.

And then there are the Giants, who are now sporting an honestly respectable .509 record with a legitimate shot at the Wild Card.

Which brings us back to where this post started.

The Mariners’ gain is the product of a six-game winning streak against, well, Texas and Detroit. As of today, Texas is sitting precisely at .500–not exactly the mark of a powerhouse. And, indeed, Seattle has won three of the five games the two teams have played since the break. Most of their gain, in other words, has been the result of a fortunate schedule.

Baltimore, on the other hand, has played 18 games since the break. They’ve gone nine and nine against Tampa Bay, Washington, Boston, Arizona, Anaheim, and San Diego: six teams with a combined .517 record.

That doesn’t look like luck. Sure, the truism about any team being able to beat any other team on some random day holds. But watching several of the Orioles’ games didn’t look like luck either. It looked like a team that knew it was the underdog, but was determined to make a stand. Winning half your games is usually a Pyrrhic victory, but when you start out at .303, a victory is a victory.

While Seattle has been lucky and Baltimore has been dogged, San Francisco has been, if not brilliant, at least well-polished. Fourteen and five isn’t solely luck. Yes, they’ve played the Mets and Rockies, but they’ve also played the Brewers, Cubs, Padres, and Phillies, all teams at or above .500. There’s been some determination in there: last night’s win against Philadelphia was their first after losing seven straight in Philadelphia. Most of all, though, the Giants have been succeeding with the fundamentals: well-timed hitting, good-to-excellent pitching, and acceptable fielding.

Different routes, but when it comes to wins, it’s all about the destination, not how you get there. Just ask the fans in San Francisco, Baltimore, and Seattle.

Not So FasT

Can anyone explain why there’s so much resistance to FasTrak?

That’s a serious question.

But let me back up. For those of you not in California, FasTrak is the local automated toll payment system. Currently used for bridge tolls, but in the not too distant future, it’ll probably also be used for paid access to express lanes. There’s a radio-triggered transponder in the car; when it’s tripped, a toll is debited from the user’s account.

The reason I ask is that this past weekend I got stuck in a multi-hour traffic jam on my way to work. The cause, as far as I can tell, was the non-FasTrak users blocking all the lanes as they tried to move across the freeway into the Cash Lane at the toll plaza.

This is not the first time I’ve gotten caught in one of these crunches–which is why I’d allowed enough time to get to work on schedule despite the jam–but it was definitely the worst.

I can’t believe so many thousand people don’t know that they’re going to have to get into the Cash Lane, nor that they don’t know they’re going to have to pay.

So there must be some reason they don’t sign up with FasTrak.

Granted, the program has some features I’m not happy with. Most notably, if you back your account with a credit card, FasTrak controls when your balance will be replenished and how much they’ll put in each time. But if that’s a problem, just don’t give them a credit card. Mail them a check or money order periodically. Or manage the account actively. If you make a manual deposit when the account gets low, the automatic payment won’t trigger.

The main concern I hear is about privacy. “I don’t want the government to know where I’m driving.” It’s a legitimate concern.

But FasTrak isn’t the problem. The toll plaza cameras record every license plate that goes through, whether you’re using FasTrak or paying cash. Sure, it’s partly–even mostly–to back up the FasTrak readers, but it’s also to catch toll evaders and to protect toll takers. If memory serves, the cameras were there before FasTrak.

Bottom line, the state knows where you’re driving. Or can figure it out with minimal effort.

And FasTrak does allow you to set up an anonymous account. No name or vehicle identification attached. Pay cash. Sure, they can use the camera data to tie your vehicle to the transponder, but see above–they can figure out who you are anyway.

I’ve also heard “It’s too expensive.”

Well, okay. If you use cash, there’s a $20 deposit for the transponder. But that will be returned, albeit without interest, if you return it in good shape. That aside, tolls are the same or lower if you use FasTrak. I’m not buying that argument.

How much is your time worth? If you’re on an hourly salary, you know exactly how much sitting in traffic costs you.

“I’d only use it occasionally.” So? There’s no charge for not using it. Why wouldn’t you get it for that one drive across a bridge a month or a year? If you go three years without using it, they’ll close your account and refund your outstanding balance. And if you use it enough to keep the account active, you’ll save time on those infrequent trips.

Look, I try to be among the first to condemn silly or stupid uses of technology. But I don’t think FasTrak falls into either of those categories.

So why do so many people think otherwise?

More Introductions

While we are allowing the Formerly Feral Fellows more freedom, we do keep the fence up across the stairs for most of the day.

Neither of them has made any effort to jump or climb over it, so we presume they’re not bothered by the restriction. Though they are spending more time hanging around near the top of the stairs.

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Rufus especially likes the top of that box. It’s a well-padded place to sleep, with plenty of slightly filtered sunlight from the window over the stairs.

Lefty still prefers dark, enclosed spaces, so the lower bunk suits him perfectly.

When we take the fence down and let him wander freely, Lefty frequently comes down as far as the main landing. It’s not just the food bowls that catch his attention.

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After a few through-the-fence interactions, ‘Nuki seems to have figured out that Lefty is not as easygoing as his mentor. He’s not a fighter, but he will take a swing at anything he thinks might be threatening him.

I don’t think Lefty wants to be an alpha-kitty, but he does seem to believe in keeping his options open.

As a result, we’ve had several near-interactions like this one, with the two settling down on opposite sides of the floor and elaborately ignoring each other.

Of course, it doesn’t harm the developing relationship any that Rufus casually hangs out nearby, keeping an eye on his protege.

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Oopsies

We all have bad days.

I hate having to correct mistakes, but one is warranted here. On Tuesday, I said that Massage Envy had pulled their ads off of the MLB.TV broadcasts.

This is not the case. The spots aren’t running as frequently–I only say four or five during a game yesterday, rather than the dozen or more I’d been seeing–but they are still running. I suspect the most likely explanation is that the cost to pull the ads entirely would have been more than the budget would allow.

And my point still stands: regardless of what Mike Pence might think, a massage, even one involving multiple genders, can be a non-sexual thing. And if Massage Envy is going to be in that business, rather than the sexual sort–or rape–they should be taking active steps now, before the suit goes to trial, to confirm their trustworthiness in the eyes of the public.

Moving on.

It’s only Thursday, but I think we’ve got a hot candidate for the “Bad Day of the Week” award.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles has had so many bad days of late that even their good days are pretty bad. The public outcry for Somebody to Do Something have gotten loud enough that some wild approaches are being tried.

According to the SF Chronicle, Governor Newsom has decided that the best approach is to neuter the department.

No, I’m not kidding. The Chron’s headline on a story yesterday says “Silicon Valley vet tapped to fix tech-addled DMV”.

I’m not sure I see how forcing the DMV’s employees to display shaved tummies for a few weeks will reduce wait times, improve data management, or contribute to customer satisfaction, but if you can’t trust the governor, who can–what?

Oh. The new head of the DMV is an IT expert, not a veterinarian. Nobody’s tummy will be non-consensually shaved and no pockets will be picked–aside from the usual levels of graft found in public service.

Granted, the DMV’s computer systems are archaic, but modern technology is no automatic panacea. I like that the new guy says he’s not planning to do anything new, just pick up the best bits of available technology. As long as the focus stays on customer needs rather than speculative technological nonsense like electronic license plates, he might actually accomplish something.

So, a significant oopsie on the headline writer, but not a world-class bad day, even if the headline was on the front page. But then we get to Page A8, where we learn that Hawaii has been invaded by a movie monster.

“Protests spread as activists fight giant telescope” says the headline.

Once you get past wondering why they don’t just call in Gamera to take on the giant telescope–or borrow San Francisco’s Martian War Machine, aka the Sutro Tower–you find that they’re not fighting the telescope.

They are, in fact, fighting plans to build one. In other words, their beef is with the scientists who selected the site and the government bureaucracies that approved the construction.

No laser death rays, underpowered military defenders, or badly dubbed dialog. Just another front in the ongoing culture wars.

And a headline writer who needs a day off.

I suppose they got it. I didn’t see any howlers in today’s paper. But who knows what tomorrow will bring?