2020 Playoffs

Who would have believed a mere two months ago that we’d actually make it to the playoffs this season?

By “we” I of course primarily mean “we fans,” as only 53% of the teams made it here.

Not that I’m bitter, just because none of the teams I follow are in the anointed slightly-more-than-half.

Orioles? Missed the cut by seven games. Mariners? Five games. Mets? Three. Giants? One measly game. One more flippin’ win and they would have been in.

Not that I’m bitter.

But I do have a bit of a dilemma. Who the heck am I going to root for in the playoffs? The Rules for Rooting haven’t changed–unlike our commish, I don’t tinker with the rules for the sake of novelty–but they’re not much help this year.

As always, I won’t stoop to a violation of Rule One. So that eliminates the Yankees, Dodgers, and Braves. Given that my teams are all from either the East or West, Rule Two pretty well limits me to the Central Divisions.

They’re well represented, so you might think it would be an easy pick. The problem is that they’re too well represented.

I mean, I could go with the current Futility Leaders, the Indians, now in their seventy-first season without a World Series. But we’ve also got the Brewers, who not only have a fifty-plus year futility streak, but are also one of the two teams to make the playoffs with a losing record. (The Astros are the other; both finished at .483, one win shy of a barely respectable .500 record.)

We’ve got the Cubs. Sure, they won the World Series a couple of years ago, but they had a record-setting drought before that. Worthy of a futility hangover.

I could go on, but why bother? This is a rule-breaking and rule-rewriting year.

So I went to numbergenerator.org and got a random number between 1 and 13 (the number of teams in the playoffs, excluding the Rule One teams.)

I ranked the teams by winning percentage and picked the team that matched my number: 12.

Well, that didn’t work out too well, either. Is Number 12 Houston or Milwaukee, given their matching records? I can’t root for two teams. I mean, I could–it would only be a problem if they met in the World Series–but I’m not sure I can split my attention and have enough left to do anybody any good.

So in the spirit of random rule changes, I’m rounding twelve down and rooting for the team with the eleventh worst record. Which is also a tie, but at least there’s an official tie-breaker there; one team took second in their division and the other a Wild Card slot in the same league.

Playoffs start today (Astros vs. Twins at 11:08 Pacific Time), and I’m going to be right there rooting for the team with the second-worst record.

If you want to use the same method to pick your rooting interest, click the link above, then go to MLB’s postseason standings page to check the teams’ records.

Go Reds! Sweep the Braves right out of the playoffs!

More Baby Pictures

I had fun last week poking through Sachiko’s old pictures, so for no better reason than that I felt like it, here are a few goodies from the Kaja and Rhubarb Archive.

These photos predate the blog. The Flying Monkeys were about four years old when I started this writing gig, so I don’t believe any of these have been published before. (Don’t feel obligated to prove me wrong. I admit the possibility exists; there’s no need to confirm or refute it.)

Even today, the littermates are largely inseparable. At the age of four months, it was rare to see them more than a few feet apart.

Kaja was the leader–still is–but Rhubarb was an enthusiastic follower for the first couple of years of their lives. He got sedate faster than she did, but throughout kittenhood and cattenhood, he almost always shared her adventures.

Almost.

Not to cast aspersions on Kaja, but her curiosity and lack of forethought did land her in a few predicaments that her brother managed to avoid–though whether it was through intelligence, caution, or simple luck I’m not prepared to guess.

Can I Borrow a Sand Shovel?

The Mariners continue to tease us with late season relevance.

It’s a very small tease–they’d pretty much need to win all their remaining games to make the playoffs. And that includes Tuesday night’s game, which they’re losing 6-1 as I write this.

Not going to happen. Not in 2020.

But dreaming about it is a hell of a lot better than paying attention to the way everything political is going in the wrong direction. The Republicans are getting ready to stack the Supreme Court to ensure that the nigh-inevitable challenge to November’s election results goes their way. And if you believe at least four senators are going to slaughter their political careers by blocking the coming appointment, allow me to remind you of every single vote of consequence in the last three and a half years: how many times have we heard that one or two senators were straying from the party line, only to have them vote in lockstep with their orders from above?

Even the current slowing of the COVID-19 numbers has its downside. Just in time for the Dark Side to trumpet the wonderful things they’ve done to stop that virus (that wasn’t as serious as the Democrats wanted everyone to believe) as we approach the beginning of mail-in balloting (that you shouldn’t use because your mail won’t be counted, unless you’re voting Republican).

So, yes, baseball.

The Mariners may be teasing, and the Orioles hanging on by their fingernails–not mathematically eliminated, but winning-the-lottery improbable–but the Giants are still in the running. Half a game back as I write this. That could actually happen.

Even if it doesn’t, it’s looking like there will actually be playoffs this year–assuming I didn’t just jinx it (quite likely: this is 2020, after all)–as improbable as that seemed when the season started last week.

Yes, I know it was a little earlier than that. Doesn’t feel much like it.

And I know obsessing over baseball is burying my head in bread and circuses. I even know that’s a very disturbing mixed metaphor.

But why not? I know how I’m voting. I’ll fill out my ballot as soon as it arrives. And if baseball keeps me distracted enough to prevent full-stomach ulcers until after the election, I’m good with that.

Happy–Ooh, Shiny!

I had plans for today’s post. Really, I did. Unfortunately, distractability kicked me in the rear, as it has so often these past few months.

So, instead of the elaborate disquisition I had planned, you get a quick “Then/Now” post. Well, it is–as best we can tell–more or less her birthday.

Sachiko at age (approximately) three months:

In constant motion, fierce to defend her toys, but always eager for a cuddle.

Sachiko at age (approximately) six years:

No longer a model of hyperjettic behavior, much more willing to share toys, and considerably more rotund, but still an enthusiastic snuggler.

Happy Approximate Birthday, oh Pampered Princess Pointy-Bits.

Apple Hardware (sans iPhone)

I’m going to give you my usual recap of Apple’s latest hardware unveiling in a moment, but first, a public service announcement.

Ahem.

I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU’VE HEARD ABOUT TOILET PLUMES. IF YOU USE A PUBLIC BATHROOM, FLUSH THE DAMNED TOILET WHEN YOU’RE DONE!

Okay, on to Apple.

As expected, Apple is coming out with a new Apple Watch. All the features of the previous versions, and now adds blood oxygen level monitoring, an always-on altimeter, new faces, new bands, and one big new feature.

That’s Family Setup, which lets you set up watches for other people who don’t own iPhones. This could be really nice–though I suspect anyone willing to buy their kid a $500 watch isn’t going to balk at getting them a $400 phone to go with it. But I know plenty of older people–who can really use the health-monitoring capabilities of the Apple Watch–who don’t feel the need for an iPhone each. One phone to handle the watches of both members of the couple? Win!

The other big watch announcement is the Apple Watch SE. Like the second-generation iPhone SE, it’s got most of the hardware of the new watches, but at a significantly lower price. In the case of the phone, the SE’s cost savings are the display and camera; for the watch, they’re in the CPU: it’s faster than the Series 3 phones, but not up to the speed of the Series 6. (It looks like the SE is replacing the Series 5 watch; the 3 is still around at an even lower price, but the 5 appears to be gone and the SE will use similar or identical components.)

Moving on to the iPad, we’re getting a new generation with (surprise!) a faster CPU, the dedicated machine learning chip, support for the Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil. Nothing really new here.

Ditto for the new iPad Air. More colors (whoopie!) and a USB-C port instead of Lightning. New CPU–faster–and larger. I thought the selling point of the Air was that it was light and easy to handle. At eleven inches (diagonally), it’s definitely getting into the “rest it on a table or your lap” territory. I do like the idea of a fingerprint sensor in the power button. No more Home button, but still keeps the ability to unlock the device without removing your face mask.

iOS 14 comes out today (Wednesday), along with the iPad, Watch, and Apple TV variants. Nothing new there we didn’t already know about from WWDC and the last couple of months of public betas.

No iPhones, thanks to (according to rumor) problems testing the 5G capabilities. No doubt, those will be coming later this year, along with the new Apple-CPU Macs and a few other little projects in the pipeline.

Usually there’s one product line that looks generally good, and the rest are highly snarkworthy. Certainly this set of announcements is no exception. It’s nice to see the Apple Watch finally getting out of the snark category (“Breathe” app, anybody?) but we’ll have to see how long that lasts.

Sound Off!

The weird lighting and rapidly changing temperatures have everyone in the household a bit unbalanced and prone to hiding in caves and/or under the covers*. The result is a notable lack of entertainingly cute pictures this week.

* I include the two-legged inhabitants in that assessment.

So, instead, how about a Rogues’ Gallery of all of the quadrupeds with a minimum of commentary?

In order of increasing seniority:

MM

Lefty

Sachiko

The Ookis came into the house at the same time, but ‘Nuki is clearly the senior of the two.
Yuki

Watanuki (three months older and far more dominant than his shelter-brother)

The Flying Monkeys don’t fly as much as they used to when they were kittens. But again, Kaja is the obvious senior.
Rhubarb

Kaja (a born leader and much more aggressive than her littermate)

And the grande dame, Ms. Kokoro

What’s Up With You?

Strange weather we’re having around here. Two straight days over 100 (plus or minus local micro-climate variation), and then yesterday it was a good thirty degrees cooler.

Not because of any normal weather change. No offshore winds breaking up a high pressure zone or anything like that. This is totally due to smoke from the fires to the north.

I hasten to add that they’re all a significant distance away from us. There’s been no suggestion that we’re at risk, at least from the existing fires*. We’re as safe as we can be in an era where the California state motto seems to have become “Burn, baby, burn.”

* Our vegetation is just as profuse and desiccated as anyone else’s. A poorly timed and aimed firework or discarded cigarette could cause plenty of trouble around here.

But even the smoke was unusual. There wasn’t much scent of burning, and visibility was nearly as good as normal, because the smoke was staying high up.

Really, really thick, though. Thick enough to make 9:00 in the morning feel like late evening, and make 6:00 PM feel like a torrential downpour was immanent. Regrettably, the later was not the case: a heavy rainfall would be a big help with the fires.

Maybe we just need more moisture in the air. Let it condense around all those ash particles, and we’ve got a flood of biblical proportions.

Which would bring its own problems, of course, but we’re used to floods around here. A homey little well-known disaster would be an almost pleasant change.

I did say “almost”.

Though, come to think of it, heavy rains and (minor) flooding would tend to encourage people to stay inside; quite different from outrageously high temperatures that lead people to go to parks and beaches. Solving our social distancing and state burning problems at the same time?

No pitcher is going to sneer at a double-play ball.

The unusual conditions have some of the cats a bit off their feed, but not to the point that we’re worried about anyone.

In short, we’re doing about as well as can be expected in the current conditions. Hope the same is true of you all.

Major Milestone

Lefty has been making excellent progress in his acclimation to the indoor life. He has, in fact, been doing so well, we’ve officially declared him “no longer feral”.

The key milestone? He’s spending time on the bed.

Often with his best buddy Yuki–we’ve taken to calling them the Sable Saboteurs for their joint effect on the social hierarchy–but sometimes by himself as well.

There’s still some distance to go before we can declare him a fully-accredited indoor kitty.

Case in point: he’s still somewhat skittish about humans–

–especially humans with cameras. But then again, so are Maggie and I, so we’re not casting aspersions on our house panther.

But Lefty is coming to the realization that humans do have their uses, even beyond the delivery of food and treats. Pettings are nice–and they do require fingers–enough so that he’s begun actively requesting them.

And humans also make excellent pillows if you can pin them down.

Lunacy

Seriously?

I’m used to every unusual astronomical phenomenon sparking a wave of “news” articles about its history, etymology, and economic impact. Not to mention the obligatory “How to watch…” pieces.

But, really, we’ve hit the absolute bottom of the barrel.

See, the moon is full.

You don’t get it? Neither did I. Doesn’t that happen every month, sometimes more than once a month?

Well, yes. But it turns out that once every three years or so, the full moon in September is not called the “Harvest Moon”.

Remember, this is just a naming convention. It has absolutely nothing to do with the moon’s appearance.

The Harvest Moon is the full moon closest to the Autumnal Equinox. Two years out of three, that’s the full moon in September. The third year–including this year–it’s the October full moon.

And yet, presumably because we’re all so bored out of our skulls staying at home all the time, there’s a spate of articles urging us not to miss this “rare” phenomenon.

I haven’t gone searching, but I’d be willing to bet there’s at least one news story from a conservative website blaming the Democrats for moving the Harvest Moon from it’s “traditional” spot in September.

But that’s okay. There’s probably also a liberal site somewhere blaming the president for separating the Harvest Moon from the Corn Moon.

It’s not just Internet click bait, either. Well, it is, but it’s not just the usual sources of click bait.

Would you believe CNN has a “How to view…” page up?

Solemn truth.

It’s the flipping moon, people! Go outside after dark and look up! You can’t miss it!

*sigh* One more thing to blame on 2020.

Oh, well. At least there don’t seem to be any articles claiming that the moon is about to smash into the Earth and destroy civilization.

Everchanging

Sachiko and Watanuki have a peculiarly inconsistent relationship. Sometimes he’s her idol, sometimes her best friend, and sometimes beneath her notice.

Simultaneously, but not synchronously, she’s his favored companion and security consultant, sometimes his chief rival, and sometimes his best chew-toy.

The constantly changing combinations can be dizzying.

Take, for example, the other night. The Tuxedoed Terrors were sitting together at the foot of the bed. Suddenly, ‘Nuki began washing Sachiko’s ears.

By the time I was able to reach the headboard and grab my phone, he was affecting boredom while she washed his ears.

And then, by the time I adjusted the flash settings in hope of getting a better shot, Sachiko had been demoted to “Evil Villain Who Must Be Gnawed Into Submission” and ‘Nuki had been laterally transferred to “I’m Getting Away From Him Before He Eats My Throat”.

I believe Sachiko bounced off of three different walls and the ceiling in making her escape.

Watanuki turned, sprawled across my ankles, and dared me to move.

I knew better.