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.

The Alien Among Us

Today is the latest of my sporadic attempts to remember–and remind you all–that we share living space with cats not named Rufus, Lefty, or Watanuki.

I mentioned last month that Maggie has a new phone. (Which she is backing up. Right, Maggie?) Of course a new phone means a new excuse to take pictures of the cats. Lots and lots of them.

So here’s one of the first pictures from Maggie’s shiny new BlackBerry KeyOne.

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Sachiko, aka Our Little Alien Princess.

What do you mean, “Why do we call her that?”

Maybe this will help you figure it out.

I realize that, reruns notwithstanding, the show predates many of you. But just look at those antennae and tell me Sachiko doesn’t show signs of Martian ancestry.

Not convinced? According to the Wikipedia article, Martians have certain powers Earthlings lack:

  1. Their antennae are retractable. I’m not sure Sachiko’s are retractable, but they’re certainly not always visible. Allowing for the usual quantity of errors or distortions of fact in any TV show, I think it’s close enough.
  2. They can become invisible. No question about this one. We can look all over the house for Sachiko, only to have her turn up in the middle of the dining room floor where we couldn’t possibly have failed to see her. (Mind you, I think this is a superpower shared by all cats, not just the Martian ones.)
  3. They are telepathic. Yup. As soon as we start thinking about making the cats’ dinner, Sachiko heads for the kitchen, ready to carry out her one household chore: licking the fork clean.
  4. They can levitate objects. Also no question about this one. She may not be able to keep objects aloft, but she doesn’t have any trouble getting them into the air. As a matter of fact, she’s so good at it, one of her secondary titles is “Gravity’s Little Helper”.
  5. They can speed themselves up. When properly motivated (see Number Three above) Sachiko can hit speeds in excess of any reasonable speed limit. I’m convinced that if there were fewer corners between the bedroom and the kitchen, she could crack the sound barrier.

I rest my case.

Hopeless

I complain a lot* about work preventing me from watching baseball.

* In the real world. I try not to bitch at those of you I only communicate with electronically. But sometimes I gotta.

Sunday, for the first time ever, I was grateful to work for making it impossible for me to watch the Mariners’ play.

It’s no secret that the Mariners can’t win against Houston, at least not since the Astros switched to the American League. Even when Houston sucked, they could count on picking up ten or so wins against hapless Seattle. This season has been no exception: with two games against Houston remaining, the Mariners have an astonishing 1-16 record.

And it all came to a head Sunday night in Texas.

After three innings–three!–the Mariners were down 13-0. (Remember that number. It’s significant.) The Astros added another eight runs before the game was over.

The most frustrating part of the whole affair? Seattle managed exactly one hit and no walks. That’s right. Had it not been for Shed Long’s second major league home run, the Mariners would have been on the losing end of a perfect game.

Sure, if he hadn’t hit it, things might have gone differently. That’s not the point. By the time Long put the Ms on the board, those fans unlucky enough to watch the game had seen ten batters accomplish nothing. And after Long’s hit, the fans watched another seventeen batters do nothing worthwhile.

That’s frustration, concentrated, bottled, and ready for sale. Not that you could find any buyers, but that’s beside the point.

You can’t hope for a rally if nobody gets on base. You need some kind of a tag to attach your dreams to.

A little while back, Jackie talked about doing the math. No amount of math could have helped this one. Sure, the Mariners would only have needed five grand slams to tie the game and force extra innings (where History suggests they would have lost anyway, this being Houston), but you can’t even hope for a grand slam when your batters are whiffing like Little Leaguers.

Yes, the Astros beat Jackie’s Orioles 23-2 earlier this season. But the Os managed six hits in that game. Six! And three walks. That’s nine base runners. An average of one an inning. Enough to build a dream on.

I’m not trying to one-down the Orioles here. Their current record (46-98) leaves plenty of room for depression. And both teams have had some good times this year.

Remember back in April when the Mariners looked like the best team in baseball? And remember those two glorious days in June, the 28th and 29th, when the Orioles set a major league record by beating the Indians 13-0* twice in a row? Wonderful days, those.

* Like I said, thirteen has significance.

But past glories only sustain you so long. Optimism needs a cause.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not having a religious crisis. I’m still watching all the games my work schedule permits. I’ll still be watching the Ms next season.

It’s just…I’d like to be able to say “Just wait until next year!”

Come on, guys. You’ve got seventeen games left–including three against the Orioles. Show me something. Something I can use to pin a little hope on.

Hope that I’ll be watching “Because victories!” not “Because baseball!”

Chicken!

Why didn’t anybody tell me?

Long-time readers know of my love of Alton Brown and his TV shows. Some may even recall my sorrow three years ago when Cutthroat Kitchen went off the air.

At the time, Alton was talking up his plans for a Good Eats successor. It was supposed to be an online-only show and would tackle subjects the original wasn’t allowed to address.

As best I can tell, that show never happened.

And then. A couple of days ago, Maggie and I were watching Kids Baking Challenge and a little blurb popped up in the corner of the screen. This is something Food Network does with great regularity, and it never fails to annoy me. Normally I do my best to ignore such mini-ads, but this one caught my eye. “Up Next: Good Eats Reloaded

Picture my face with exclamation points replacing my eyes.

On second thought, don’t. That’s a rather creepy image. But you get the idea.

It turns out that Food Network has been running these shows for the past year or so, and I completely missed it. They’re not new content either. They’re reworked and updated versions of some of the original Good Eats episodes.

We’ve seen two of them so far (or most of two of them: Sling’s DVR functionality has issues). Updates on broth are well and good, but the updated pasta show may be useful, given the amount of noodles we go through.

But the really good news is the reason Food Network moved Good Eats Reloaded to a better time slot: Good Eats: The Return is coming. Three weeks from today, in fact. Not quite close enough to set the DVR, but near enough to smell the garlic.

The blurb on Food Network’s website sounds a lot like what Alton was talking about for the never-happened online-only show.

I can’t wait. Well, I can–I have too–but I can’t wait patiently.

To celebrate, I’m going to do something I haven’t done for a while: post a recipe.

As with most recipes I post, it’s not a family recipe or something original. Credit where credit is due: this is stolen and modified from Sara Welch’s Slow Cooker Whole Chicken as posted on “Dinner at the Zoo”.

We’re suckers for crockpot cookery, especially recipes that require very little actual effort. If we can throw some stuff together, turn on the pot, and go to work, we’re in. When we saw this one claimed a five minute prep time, we had to try it.

And, of course, we had to tweak it a bit to our tastes.

Ingredients

  • One five pound whole chicken. Note: a bird this size fits almost perfectly into a three quart slow cooker.
  • Your favorite spice rub. Sara’s suggested mix is tasty, and does largely replicate the flavor of a store-bought rotisserie chicken. But it does require a minute–maybe even ninety seconds–to assemble. We’ve had good results with commercial BBQ rubs. Laziness FTW!
  • 4-6 small potatoes, washed. Keep ’em whole; you don’t want them to cook too quickly.

Steps

  1. Spray the inside of the cooker with cooking spray.
  2. Place the potatoes on the bottom of the cooker. They’re going to serve as your rack so the chicken doesn’t get submerged in its own juices. Soggy chicken is no fun.
  3. Rub your spice mix all over the bird. Be generous. And don’t forget to rub some inside the body cavity.
  4. Put the chicken into the pot on top of the potatoes, put on the lid, and turn the cooker on on High.
  5. After one hour, turn the cooker down to Low.
  6. Ignore it for at least five hours. We’ve gone as long as ten without harm to the result. Be safe: if you’re not letting it cook all day, use a meat thermometer to confirm the thickest part of the thigh has hit at least 165.
  7. Crispy skin is a must. Put the chicken in a baking dish and shove it under your broiler for five minutes.

Yes, you do serve the potatoes too. Why wouldn’t you? They’ve soaked up plenty of chickeny goodness. And save the liquid that’s accumulated at the bottom of the cooker. It freezes well and makes a great base for soups and stews.

Inconvenient Sleepers

My apologies for the late post. I’m blaming it on the schedule change, so it’ll probably happen occasionally until I settle into the new Wednesday/Friday reality.

It’s a well-known fact that cats cannot sleep unless they’re in a location that inconveniences a human.

Rhubarb is a master of the technique.
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My pillow is a comfy perch, but the fact that it’s my pillow is what makes it possible for him to sleep so soundly.

Yuki hasn’t attained Rhubarb’s level of mastery, but he makes up for it with creativity.

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Not only has he blocked access to the entire width of Maggie’s pillow, but he’s done it in a way that emphasizes his cuteness. Who could bear to disturb him? Well, anybody who finds the chance to rub a fuzzy kitty tummy irresistible. But that’s fine with Yuki. He’ll enjoy the cuddles and then go back to sleep. Win/win!

Parenthetically, Rhubarb doesn’t believe he knows all there is to be known about inconvenient sleeping. He’ll steal a good trick from time to time.

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Which doesn’t mean he fully masters the techniques on his first attempt. Maggie’s pillow? Check. Full length? Check. Inverted and asleep? Oops.

Our household Grand Master of Inconvenient Sleeping, however, is ‘Nuki.

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That rug scrap hadn’t been in the house for more than a day before he proclaimed it his favorite sleeping spot. It’s got a comfy deep pile, sunlight for most of the afternoon, and a convenient water bowl.

But its main attraction is that it’s directly in front of the kitchen sink. Now that’s inconvenience! ‘Nuki sleeps more deeply there than anywhere else–I’d never have gotten a shot of him with both eyes closed on a mere pillow.

The End of an Era

The mystique has come to an end.

According to multiple reports, Android will no longer have sweet-themed release names.

If this is true, Pie is a good way to go out, but it’s an interesting decision on Google’s part. Not only do they lose a wildly popular bit of their brand, but the stated reasons for making the decision don’t quite add up.

It’s a rare corporate decision that can’t be revisited. Change your logo and lose sales? Change it again to something closer to the original. Refocus on a new target market and take a bath? Bring back an old corporate spokesperson to re-engage with the original buyers (anyone remember when Snap, Crackle, and Pop vanished, only to return?)

But this is a decision Google can’t take back. If, a year from now, they announce that Android R will be named “Rice Pudding,” then retroactively the “Android Q” move will seem like a ploy to get free advertising from the media. Nor would (ahem) sugar-coating the news by claiming that Q was named Quisp (or Quince, or anything else really) within the company improve the look.

Why are they doing this? I’ve seen two claimed reasons.

The media focuses on the name rather than the new features. So? As long as users use the OS and manufacturers license the Google apps, do you think Google really cares whether the free advertising focuses on the name or the spiffy new Back button functionality?

People complained that the names weren’t inclusive enough. People switch phones for a lot of reasons, but I really doubt Google was losing business to iOS over the code names. But if I’m wrong about that, Google could improve the naming process. The company is already in the spotlight over diversity issues; improving representation in the group that chooses Android names would fall right in line with their efforts to do more improve representation throughout the company.

Of course, the reports could be wrong. Android Q will be out next month, possibly as soon as next week. Maybe we’ll find out that it’s actually named Quinoa–hey, if you can make rice pudding, why not a sweet quinoa-based cake?

Portraits

Today’s post is for all of Rufus’ fans who were disappointed that he didn’t appear in last week’s post.

Here’s my current favorite picture of the devilishly handsome silver and grey gentleman.

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The pensive expression; the extended tail; and the capper, that silly brick-colored nose, combine for a portrait that captures Rufus’ essence very nicely.

(The tail, by the way, is Kokoro’s. I’m not sure where Lefty was at the time, but he’s atypically absent.)

Moving on.

As a special bonus, enjoy this peek at–and from–one of my god-fuzzies.

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Patience continues to work Teh Kyute, as she has since she was a handful of fur. Her “Who, me?” act needs some work, though. Sticking one’s head out of the back of the stereo cabinet diminishes one’s credibility when trying to deny responsibility for turning off the music…

Jackpot!

We all have a level of risk we’re comfortable with.

I’m okay spending ten bucks a week on the microscopic chance of winning one of the lotteries operated and widely promoted by the government. You may feel the same, you may not.

I’m also fine with investing months of my life on the even smaller possibility of hitting it big as a writer*. I know some of you think that’s an insane gamble.

* To be clear, the goal is getting my books published so people can read them and making enough money that publishers will continue to buy them. Cracking the best-seller lists and making oodles of dough is what Corporate America calls a “stretch goal”.

The point is not that I’m crazy. The point is that there are some games I won’t play, but plenty of other people do.

Case in point: the ransomware game. Now there’s one with high odds.

Sure, you might go a lifetime online and never get infected. If you stick with well-known companies that don’t run ads on their websites, you’ve got a good chance. Mind you, you need to go directly to their sites, not look them up on your search engine of choice. And, really, does anybody stick with just two or three websites?

Okay, yes, there are search engines that don’t show ads. And entertaining websites that don’t show ads and never get hacked. You might get lucky.

But ransomware is on the rise. It’s the attacks on cities that’s getting most of the media attention, because that’s something new and different. Newsworthy, by definition. But attacks on individuals haven’t stopped, and–anecdotally–are becoming more common as well.

Which shouldn’t surprise anyone. It’s a great moneymaker. As with spam, all you need is one success to cover the cost of thousands or even millions of attacks. And, also as with spam, you don’t just get one victim forking over the cash (or Bitcoin).

Your profit goes up even further if you don’t actually respond to anyone who pays up. Why maintain the infrastructure to send out decryption software and keys? It’s not like a brick and mortar company, whose victimscustomers have to be able to find them. You’re hunting down your own customersvictims and not giving them a choice about doing business with you.

So, yeah, the odds in the ransomware game suck.

Install anti-virus and anti-malware software from a reputable company. Even better if it includes a browser plugin that highlights links known to be unsafe. Make sure to keep it up to date. Install a pop-up blocker as well–many attacks are made via windows that pop-up behind your main window and do their work before you even realize they’re there.

And keep multiple backups of anything you can’t stand to lose. (I keep my writing in Dropbox which backs up continuously and keeps thirty days of history so if I had to, I could go back to an older, uninfected version of every chapter of every book. I also run an hourly backup from my main computer to a second computer in another room and a daily backup to a third machine in another state. It’s not a perfect system, but there’s that level of risk thing again.)

Back up, back up, back up. (Haven’t I said that recently?)

We all have our own comfort level with risk, but I don’t know anyone who wants to hit the ransomware jackpot enough to play the game.

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”.