Now What?

More thoughts as we approach the end of MLB’s regular season.

There isn’t a whole lot of doubt left about who’s going to the playoffs this year. With just under two weeks remaining, only two teams in the AL have any chance of making the playoffs (Tampa Bay and Seattle), and it would take an epic collapse by Oakland for one of them to get in. Over in the NL, five teams still have a mathematical possibility of snagging a Wild Card slot, but only one–Colorado–has a realistic shot.

Colorado also has a legitimate shot at winning their division, and if they do, LA and St. Louis will be fighting over the second Wild Card.

So there’s still a bit of excitement left in the playoff race, but the odds are good the ten teams will be settled before the end of the season.

So what do you do when there’s no playoff drama and no chance your team will make it in?

You could ask Jackie. After all, her Orioles are going to lose somewhere between 108 and 118 games this year*. She made the front page of The Baltimore Sun with her explanation of how to survive your team’s worst season ever.

* While it may feel like the Os were eliminated before the All-Star Break, they actually still had a mathematical shot at the playoffs until August 20, one month ago today. Which says a lot about how little difference there is between a champion and a, uh, not-champion in MLB.

While Jackie gives good advice–it’s about acceptance, giving up attachments, and keeping a sense of humor–she doesn’t offer much guidance in what to do while your team plays out their thread.

My prescription is to pick some potentially attainable goals and cheer for those.

Baltimore has already attained their most obvious alternate goal. They can’t possibly set an MLB record for losses. Even if they lose all their remaining games, the 1962 Mets’ 120 loss record will stand.

So, how about a positive goal? Fifty wins is meaningless, but it’s a nice, round number, and they can reach it by winning six of their final ten.

Or there are personal goals. Offensively-oriented fans can cheer for Nelson Cruz’ pursuit of forty home runs. He came up one short last year, but with ten games left, he only needs four more to do it this year. Meanwhile, J.D. Martinez of the Red Sox is looking to be the first Triple Crown winner since 2012*. He’s currently leading the AL in RBIs and sitting in second for home runs and batting average.

* The Triple Crown is a difficult feat. It’s only been won sixteen or seventeen times (there’s some doubt about stats prior to 1920 or so). Before Miguel Cabrera did it in 2012, you’d have to go all the way back to Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.

Meanwhile, fans of pitching can watch the Mariners’ Edwin Díaz chase the all-time saves record. That’s about as likely as the Orioles reaching fifty wins, as he’d need seven in the Ms’ last ten games, which would imply Seattle can win seven of ten from the As and Rangers.

Really stats-minded sorts might keep an eye on the fielding stats. As of this writing, twenty-seven players have had error-free seasons. As best I can tell, that would be the most perfect fielders in a season since 2008. Okay, okay, nobody cares about that, except for the folks at Rawlings, who give the Golden Glove award to the best fielders at each position. But I needed something to look for on defence.

Anyway, for the next two weeks, I recommend choosing small, attainable goals. Once we hit the playoffs, we’ll have about a month to soak up all the baseball we can to tide us over to next year.

Good Sports

With the baseball season winding down, as usual, I find myself looking for ways to justify that TV in the bedroom. The DVR is set to record whatever episodes of Chopped Junior it can find. The summer Kids Baking Championship just ended yesterday.

If you think you detect a pattern in my viewing, you’re right. I’m finding the cooking competitions featuring kids to be more to my tastes (sorry) than the adult versions.

It’s not that the youngsters are better cooks than the grownups. There’s some overlap, but the adults’ skills are largely more polished and their knowledge of dishes is broader.

The reason I prefer the younger competitors is simple good sportsmanship.

How often does a chef get eliminated on Chopped and storm off complaining about how the judges were wrong to eliminate her, or how the breaks just didn’t go his way? Far too often. Even the chefs who take elimination gracefully rarely shake hands with the other competitors or wish them luck.

By contrast, the kids always encourage each other. During the competitions, they share ingredients instead of hoarding them. When they’re eliminated, they get hugs from their opponents and often say they intend to practice and learn more so they can do better next time.

Sure, some of that positive interaction has to be staged. And when you’ve got six or eight hours of footage for each competitor, it’s easy to pick the best bits for the forty-five minutes that’ll be on the air.

But that’s beside the point. You’ll never see a chef on the grownup version of one of the Baking Challenges stop in the middle of the final round to give an opponent a hug and some good advice–or if you did, the recipient would probably do exactly the opposite, suspecting a trap.

It may be a carefully selected feel-good moment, but when it happens (as it did in last night’s show), the interaction still comes off as genuine. And who doesn’t need more genuine feel-good moments these days?

It doesn’t look like there’s a new kids competition on the fall schedule, more’s the pity. So, as usual, I fill the gap with anime. And I’ve found a show that hits a lot of the right notes–the same notes as the junior cooking shows.

Uma Musume: Pretty Derby (I’ve also seen it transliterated as “Umamusume”) is yet another in the chain of unconventional sports shows. Unlike last year’s favorite, Keijo!!!!!!!!, the sport actually exists. As you may have guessed from the title, it’s horse racing.

The twist is that the horses are cute girls, who perform idol songs after winning races.

Yeah, I know, but stick with me.

The songs aren’t really a major part of the show, at least not through the first few episodes, despite being significant in the world we see.

Where do the horse girls come from? (Note that I’m not using the term “pony girl”. If you don’t know why, I strongly suggest you refrain from googling it. There may have been some artistic inspiration there, but the show goes in a whole different direction.) In-world, it’s made clear that a horse girl comes from a horse mother, but nothing’s been said about the fathers. So if you want some uncomfortable speculation, you can indulge.

But that’s background. We follow a young woman, Special Week, who’s come to the big city to pursue her mother’s dream, that she become the greatest in Japan.

Sounds just like most sports shows, doesn’t it? Where Uma Musume shines is in where it deviates from the sport show tropes. Rivals are competitive, but the rivalry stays on the track. Special Week idolizes the horse girl who turns out to be her roommate, but Silence Suzuka neither becomes Special Week’s bitter rival nor her biggest supporter: she’s helpful, but not to extremes, and it’s obvious she has her own concerns.

And the creators have not only passed on multiple chances to insert fan service, but they’ve given the stereotypical girl/girl love story subtext a miss, despite the many, many opportunities the premise offers.

There are a few wrong notes here and there–Trainer’s habit of “checking his charges’ fetlocks” springs to mind–but the positives far outweigh the negatives in my book.

If you’re interested, the show is available on Crunchyroll. Even if you’re only mildly intrigued, swing by and take a look. You can try the first episode, and possibly more, for free.

Clever Fellow

Turns out Lefty is an unusually clever fellow.

He’s a bit of a slob when it comes to eating his gooshy fud. That’s not uncommon. However, unlike most cats, who would slop it onto the floor and then lick it up from there, he just drizzles it down the side of the bowl.

And then he does this:

Kokoro is his match intellectually–she figured out how to keep can lids from sliding across the floor by holding them in place with a paw while she licks them–but it’s a level of sophistication most cats never match.

Mostly, he’s a dignified fellow. But he’s quite taken with his magic lemon. Shortly after this video was taken, he carried it into his Fortress of Solitude (the carrier visible at the far left) so he can love on it in comfortable seclusion.

We catch occasional glimpses of the lemon. It’s slowly being ripped to shreds and losing its stuffing. We may have to get him a new one in the near future. Or offer him a magic banana.

Apple Hardware 2018

Hey, guess what? That’s right, it’s new Apple mobile technology announcements.

Note the lack of an exclamation point at the end of the previous sentence. ‘Cause really, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to get excited about Apple’s hardware, especially in the mobile space.

Considering that the most exciting bit of news they could come up with to kick off their event is that the Apple Watch is “the number one watch in the world,” I have to figure even Apple is finding it hard to get excited about their own products.

There’s a heck of a lot of marketing gimmickry in that claim, by the way. Number one by what measure? Are we including all the different versions and variations from launch, or just the current models? What time period? And why do we care, anyway? Apple isn’t (officially) a watch company after all.

Anyway, yes, there’s a new set of Apple Watches coming: the Series 4. They’re about a third bigger than last year’s watches. Does this sound familiar? First we have smartphones getting bigger and bigger, to the point where they’re inconvenient to pull out for a quick look. So we get smart watches. Which are now getting bigger and bigger.

What happens when your watch gets too big for your wrist? Will we see a return of the pocketwatch? I rather hope so, actually. Though that chain across my chest could be a bit awkward at times.

Anyway, that extra space can be used to display all sorts of information: sports scores, exercise data, or Apple’s favorite app, the one that reminds you to alternate inhalation and exhalation.

The new CPU is so fast it’ll display a minute in thirty seconds. (That is what “twice as fast” means, right?)

One bit of actually useful functionality: the Series 4 watches can detect the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” scenario and call your emergency contact. It’s too bad you have to buy a $500 watch* to get the feature, because it’s literally lifesaving.

* Yes, you can get a Series 4 for $399, but those variants don’t have cellular capability. To make calls, you’re looking at a minimum of $499. Or get last year’s Series 3 for a measly $279–though it won’t have the fall-detection capability.

On a somewhat related note, the watch will also alert you if your heart rate is too slow. Better take the watch off before your afternoon nap. (It’ll also alert you to signs of atrial fibrillation and let you take your own ECG. I’m less enthusiastic about these features. FDA clearance or no, they seem designed to appeal to the hypochondriac in us all.)

Moving on.

The iPhone X is now, Apple claims, the number one smartphone in the world. Again, no indication of how they’re measuring that. So, this being an alternate year, we’re getting the iPhone Xs.

Which is just like the iPhone X, but with a bigger screen and smaller bezels so the device as a whole is smaller. Unless, of course, you opt for the iPhone Xs Max, which has the largest iPhone screen ever. Remember what I said about phones getting bigger and bigger?

Look, I like my Pixel 2 XL, but I freely admit it’s big. Well designed to be usable at that size, and I’m sure the same is true of the Xs Max, but it can still be awkward. The Max is even larger than my XL.

Of course, the new phones are faster than last year’s. 15% for the CPU (and 40% lower power draw), 50% for the GPU. Better cameras (dual cameras on the back, and a single, faster camera on the front.) Other fasters–networking, for example–and tweaks, such as dual-sim capability. But really, couldn’t you have guessed that this year’s phones would be bigger and faster than last year’s?

Well, except for the iPhone XR. It’s a bit smaller than the iPhone 8 Plus (albeit with a larger screen). Think last year’s iPhone X, but a bit smaller and cheaper. Slightly.

The XR starts at $749, the Xs at $999, and the Xs Max at $1099. Of course, that means price cuts on Apple’s older phones. You’ll be able to pick up an iPhone 8 for a mere $599, or if you’re a real cheapskate, you can get an iPhone 7 for as little as $449. No more iPhone 6s (or original X, for that matter).

So, are you more excited about Apple’s new hardware than I am? You couldn’t be less, that’s for sure.

Blowin’ In the Wind

I’m sure the residents of the Carolinas are relieved to hear that FEMA is on the job and our president says “We are absolutely totally prepared” for Hurricane Florence.

After all, FEMA and Trump did such a magnificent job in Puerto Rico last year. Undercounting the dead by two orders of magnitude. More than half a year to restore power.

But I’m sure the Carolinas will get more and better help than Puerto Rico did. After all, both states electoral votes went to Trump. Heaven help Virginia if Florence shifts to the north, though.

It’s worth noting that Trump will not be going to Jackson, Mississippi for a campaign rally Friday as previously planned. With Florence expected to reach land by early Friday morning, millions of people are evacuating the coast. And rallies aren’t the only events affected. High school and college football games are being rescheduled. Concerts have been canceled.

Notably, Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has declared a state of emergency, citing fears of flooding, downed trees, and power outages.

Regardless, our government soldiers on. The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to vote on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court on Thursday. That said, it’s widely expected that committee Democrats will delay the vote to next week, presumably after Florence has passed and power has been restored to Washington*. Because it wouldn’t do to allow the court to go into session next month short-handed.

* Though I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it hasn’t been restored elsewhere. Crews from further north and inland have already been tagged to assist in the Carolinas, and you know the comfort and safety of our elected officials is paramount, but as far as I can tell, nobody’s paying a whole of attention to the people in between.

Depressing thoughts on what should be a day of remembrance. What I find myself remembering is the way individuals always seem to step up and do what needs to be done in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.

It’s not the big agencies. They show up later–if they show up. It’s certainly not political parties.

Take a minute today and thank a neighbor for being there. Don’t get ridiculous about it. There’s no need to thank that guy down the street who lets his dog dig up your flower bed, or the ones you’re pretty sure are making meth in their basement. But the folks you don’t usually pay much attention to, good or bad. They’re the ones you’re going to rely on when your neighborhood is hit by a hurricane, earthquake, or zombie apocalypse.

The Most Happening Spot…

Fashions in feline hangouts come and go, just as with any other sort of fad. But some places are evergreen.

Everyone finds the bed convenient lurking territory, as Sachiko demonstrates.
07-1

It’s also the most popular spot for sleeping, whether alone…
07-2

(Yes, that is Sachiko. She has grown considerably, but this shot wasn’t taken from the most slimming of angles.)

…or in company.
07-3

Watanuki likes the bed, too. In addition to lurking and sleeping, it’s a perfect platform for…uh…

Dancing. Yeah, dancing. Let’s go with that.

Pay As You Go

The other shoe drops.

Remember last month when I pointed out that autonomous cars aren’t really intended for individual ownership?

I’ve been wondering how auto makers intended to push people away from car ownership. Prohibitive costs and regulation will only get you so far, after all. The people who can afford to buy a new car every few years–especially a luxury car–aren’t going to be bothered by the registration fee. And if you’re buying a car for the look or the name, you’re really not going to care that this year’s Lexus is an electric.

Well, today’s newspaper gave me the clue. The answer is car subscription programs. Pay a flat monthly fee, get a car, complete with maintenance, insurance, and the ability to swap it for a different model whenever you want*.

* Some restrictions apply, of course.

Some of the services are backed by auto makers–the article I saw talks about Canvas, which is a subsidiary of Ford and, logically enough, only offers Ford and Lincoln cars. Others, like Clutch Technologies, are independent to varying degrees. (Clutch offers high-end models from several manufacturers and concierge service.)

It’s not a lease. There’s no intent to own, and all of the costs except gas are included in the monthly payment. Some programs don’t even require a commitment longer than a month. That’s an attractive model to people who’ve gotten used to that approach with their cord-cutting TV service.

Try it for a couple of months. Don’t like the car? Send it back and get a different one (in some cases you’ll need to wait until the end of your billing cycle). Need something bigger for the weekend? Some services not only let you switch cars at any time, but they’ll even deliver it to your door and help you move your possessions from one to another.

Do you suppose they’ll transfer your radio presets? Wouldn’t surprise me a bit if they did. Be easy enough to have some kind of data transfer tool that downloads all your data–radio, seat position, preferred temperature–via Bluetooth. Horribly insecure, of course, but no more so than anything else in the car, so who cares?

But I digress.

It’s more expensive than buying a car, of course, even with the cost of semi-annual servicing and insurance factored in. And I really doubt that the insurance plans are as good as you could get from an independent insurance company–I’m sorry, but auto insurance is no more of a one-size-fits-all object than a spandex cat suit. Most of us might squeeze into it, but there are gonna be some bits sticking out here and there, and a few of us just plain need more.

So you’re paying for convenience and, arguably, flexibility.

And when the autonomous models start showing up in a few years, well, you’re going to feel pretty smug about your flat-rate subscription that means you don’t have to pay whatever Uber is charging by then. Never mind that Uber probably owns a good-sized chunk of the subscription company and makes the autonomous car you’re subscribed to.

Get Bent

Samsung has been playing coy about their plans for a foldable phone. It’s on. It’s off. We’re experimenting. It’s just a rumor.

Sheesh. Get your stories straight, guys.

Anyway, the current story–according to Gizmodo, anyway–is that they’ll be releasing a folding phone Real Soon Now. (Gizmodo speculates that it could be announced in November with shipping in early 2019.)

And my reaction is “Why?”

Samsung’s claim is that it won’t just be a tablet that folds down into a more convenient size for carrying. Somehow, they say, every feature will “have a meaningful message to our end customer.”

While I hope that means something more than “Ha, ha, Samsung’s got all your money now!” I’m not really optimistic. Maybe it’s just that I’ve seen too many technologies deployed in ways that look pretty but don’t take actual use into account. (I’m thinking particularly of all the variations on hinges in 2-in-1 laptops. They look great and do a nice job of folding the keyboard back out of sight, but give you no weight savings in tablet mode and leaving you vulnerable to accidental keystrokes whenever you shift position.)

What kind of feature or functionality can you put in a folding phone that you can’t put in a tablet? Presumably, something that works when the phone is folded. So, a second screen on the back? Maybe. But that’s been done, with limited success. And variations on the idea with normal, non-folding phones–using part of the screen to display information when the phone is locked–are largely underwhelming. Has anyone actually gotten excited over the time/battery/notification display on their phone’s lock screen?

And then there’s the impact a second screen will have on battery life. Android Pie does seem to have extended the useful life of a charge on my phone, but it does that by aggressively turning things off. Adding more hardware would just take away all the savings better software brings.

We shouldn’t forget that Samsung led the push to get multitasking into Android, so maybe they’ve got some ideas around that. But again, what distinguishes a folding screen from a non-folding one of similar size? Apps resizing themselves when the screen real estate changes? Well…consider how many times you’ve seen an app trip over its own feet when you rotate your tablet.

I’m probably missing something. Samsung has a lot of talented engineers, and hardware design is a field where more heads are better than one. I’m sure they’ve got something in mind to deliver that “meaningful message.”

I have no doubt Samsung’s folding device–or devices–will look pretty. I’m even confident they’ll have some “folding-only features”. But something so spectacular and impossible to reproduce without a folding screen that it’ll drive adoption of a new form factor? I’ll believe that when I see it.

Lefty Update

Lefty paid his first visit to our regular vet earlier this week. He’s now up to date on his vaccinations, and aside from one issue, has a clean bill of health.

Somehow he did a number on one of his hind feet, possibly snagging his toenail in something, and tore the foot slightly. It doesn’t seem too serious, but he’s taking a course of antibiotics, and we’ll need to keep an eye on him. Of course, we would anyway, but we might not have tried to figure out how to look at his feet. Still working on that…

Anyway, in honor of his good behavior, enjoy this brief video of him hanging out, looking very cool and elegant.

I’m particularly enamored of the tail curled gracefully around his toes. Gotta keep them warm, after all. Interestingly, unlike so many of the cats in the neighborhood, he doesn’t cock his hind legs outward when he sits in the bowling pin pose.

Makes you want to poke his turbo button, doesn’t it?

Bailing Out

California has approved a change to state law which will do away with bail. Only if the law stands, of course. As might be expected, loud voices have been raised in opposition.

In brief, SB 10 will do away with bail, and require each county to set up its own system of risk assessment to determine which defendants could be released on their own recognizance, be required to submit to electronic monitoring, or held in “preventive detention”.

Naturally, bail bond businesses are objecting the loudest, but they’re hardly alone. The ACLU is opposed, as are a large number of law enforcement organizations.

The primary objection–outside of the bail bond industry, which would be largely destroyed if the law stands–is that it places too much control in the hands of judges. With local jurisdictions able to assign their own weights to whatever factors they consider relevant, and individual judges free to interpret the guidelines, critics of SB 10 fear that it may increase the number of people held in jail pending trial, rather than reduce it.

And certainly, there are any number of ways such a system could be gamed to disproportionately affect minorities and the poor.

The bill was initially proposed in 2016, and has been substantially modified since then. Many of the groups who disapprove of the version just signed by Governor Brown approved of earlier versions. Even the primary author, Senator Bob Hertzberg (Democrat, Van Nuys), seems less than enthralled with the final version. The Chron quotes him as saying that “Our path to a more just criminal justice system is not complete.”

Cynic that I am, I tend to read his comment as “Well, it was the best I could do. Maybe we can fix it later.” And pessimist that I am, I’m doubtful whether fixes will be a high priority.

“Release fast, fix later” may work for software. Maybe. The jury is still out on that. But it’s a bad approach to lawmaking.

Opponents are considering challenging the law in court, and have already started a petition drive to put the question in front of voters in 2020. (The law will take effect in October of 2019 unless blocked in the courts. Or, if the referendum qualifies for the ballot, the law would go on hold.)

One additional factor that I haven’t seen mentioned in the press: it seems likely that under SB 10, electronic monitoring would become more common for pre-trial defendants. However, the defendant is required to pay a fee for the equipment. Seven bucks a day (according to an article from 2016) doesn’t sound like much, but that adds up quickly. If a defendant can’t afford bail, how likely is he to be able to afford two hundred dollars a month?

I’m generally in favor of doing away with bail, but I have to side with the ACLU* on this law.

* While I have some sympathy for the bail bondsmen, I don’t have a lot of patience for the “This change will put me out of work” argument in general, and even less in this case, where the change is intended to save the jobs of many, many more people.

The potential for abuse is too great, the approach is flawed, and the “fix it later” attitude is offensive. Scrap SB 10 and start over.