Emeraldas Beans

Way, way back in 2018, when I was doing a tour of the local toe beans, I wrote that, “MM adamantly declined to participate.”

It’s taken more than four years, but we finally have photographic evidence that, yes, she has toe beans. Elegant brown beans that harmonize well with her fur color. As one would expect of royalty.

Yes, that is Yuki in the foreground, but the foot Ms. Em is assiduously grooming is her own. I took shameless advantage of her distraction to snag this shot.

Lefty’s toe beans remain elusive, but I shall continue to stalk them. Stay tuned.

WQTS 14

A little more than a year ago, in discussing the failings of our car radio, I said “And there is a chance that JVC’s more recent units radios [sic] were designed and built following more rigorous design and testing processes.

Excuse me while I laugh hysterically.

Yes, I really did get a new car radio. Only a year and a half after sayingDespite its limitations, I have no plans to replace the radio with something newer and more capable.” (Insert that famous quote about foolish consistencies here.)

I got fed up with the lack of Bluetooth. Getting sound out of my phone onto the car speakers so I could listen to ballgames on the way home from work required plugging in multiple cables and random bits of gadgetry. And every time I tried to simplify the process by leaving everything hooked up, the Mariners would take an East Coast road trip, meaning games were over by the time I got in the car. Not to mention, it looked messy.

And, more to the point, it was starting to fail. The sound would cut out randomly, requiring a reboot. Or the display would stop displaying, also requiring a reboot. Or it would refuse to change channels, requiring (you guessed it) a reboot.

So the Circuit City relic–yes, the old radio really did come from the late lamented CC–now resides in a bucket in the garage, and its spot in the dashboard has been taken over by a newcomer.

The new one isn’t a JVC product. It’s a Kenwood. Except that the full name of the company that made it is JVCKenwood*. Which I hadn’t realized when I bought it. Not that knowing would have stopped me. Despite the old one’s limitations, I really did like it.

* Apparently there’s no slash or other separator between the C and the K, much to my surprise.

We haven’t had a power failure since it was installed, so I can’t address whether it, like its predecessor, has issues remembering user settings. But even the few weeks I’ve had it makes it obvious that JVCK’s design review process hasn’t changed for the better.

Let’s start with something that might not be obvious. The English version of the Quick Start Guide is 37 pages long. That’s one heck of a slow quick start. Still, it could be worse. The full manual (only available via PDF download) is 120 pages. Whoever wrote the Quick Start managed to trim more than three-quarters of the text.

But, still. If it takes almost forty pages to introduce someone to the basic features of a product, you have to face the fact that you haven’t done much to build in discoverability.

That aside, the new box is a significant upgrade. No more 11 character LCD with scrolling titles. Instead, it’s got a large screen (okay, not maybe not in absolute terms, but certainly by comparison. “Almost the entire front of the unit” easily qualifies as “large” as far as I’m concerned). And it uses proportional fonts, so more characters can fit in a given amount of space. In typical English language song titles, this seems to work out to about 20 characters. It also uses a smaller font for artists and album titles, so they can squeeze in around 25 characters. That’s an improvement.

Except that they don’t scroll. So Kate’s favorite truncated song title becomes “Papa’s Got a Brand “. Are we talking cattle ranching or personal promotion?

I lied. Actually, they do scroll. If you tap a small on-screen control* (yes, it is a touchscreen), the title/artist/album will scroll. Once. Better pull over if you want to (a) find the button to tap and (b) read the scrolling information without (c) causing an accident.

* This is a theme, actually. There are lots and lots of onscreen buttons. Most of them are small, and those that aren’t are tiny. Clearly nobody involved in designing this radio considered how to use it while driving. Or, if the assumption was that it would only be used in vehicles with on-the-steering wheel controls, said controls should be included with the radio.

Who thought one-and-done was a good idea? And I checked very carefully: there is no setting for autoscrolling, or even “keep scrolling once tapped”.

The old radio had a dial to change the volume. A nice dial that stuck up from the front of the box, easy to see out of your peripheral vision, so you could reach over and turn the sound up or down without taking your eyes off the traffic. The new one? Two tiny buttons at the lower corner of the radio. After several weeks, I still haven’t developed enough muscle memory to change the volume without looking. I wait until I get stuck at a red light.

There are other buttons. I have no idea what they do, because they’re equally tiny, and I don’t really want to experiment while driving. No, let me amend that. Once of them–helpfully labeled “ATT”–mutes the radio, presumably so you can quiet it enough to hear the traffic cop who’s chewing you out for swerving across three lanes of traffic while you hunted for the volume buttons. (Checking the Quick Start Guide, I see that “ATT” is right next to the “HOME” button–which also doubles as the power button. Nice.

Moving on.

One feature I hadn’t considered when buying the radio, but greatly enjoy is the ability to plug in a thumb drive full of music files. And, hey, I’ve got a thumb drive already loaded with my entire music library, almost 50,000 tracks, nicely sorted into folders by artist and album. Feel like some ZZ-Top, Brave Combo, Danny Coots, or…? Got you covered. As long as you want to listen to a specific track or album. Because there’s no way to play* all tracks in a folder full of folders**.

* Not quite true. If you start playing a track in folder/subfolder1, it will play through to the end of subfolder1, then go on to subfolder2. But you can’t shuffle all of folder’s tracks; hit the shuffle button (another tiny on-screen icon), and the radio will shuffle the current subfolder, then move on to the next subfolder and shuffle that.

** Also not quite true. If there’s a playable track in folder, it’ll go from that to subfolder1, then subfolder2, and so on. It’ll even shuffle the entire set of tracks in the subfolders (as long as you hit the shuffle button before the first track ends). But why would you have a random song in each artist’s top-level folder?

Shuffle is a particularly vexing issue for me. I like the ability to be surprised with something I haven’t heard for a while. So if I’m not sure what I want to listen to, I’ll often tell my playback device to shuffle everything. Guess what you can’t do with this radio.

Actually, you can shuffle everything. Go into the search function and hit play without making a selection. Hey, it works! For a little while. Then you realize you’re hearing the same artists over and over. Turns out that search–and therefor the search-based shuffle–can only load 1,000 tracks at a time. Oops.

Come on! Even my iPod Classic (pre-upgrade) could shuffle more than tracks than that.

Apparently, nobody considered the actual use cases for thumb drives larger than, say, 32GB. Even though someone did check off the boxes in the requirements document that said “support exFAT” and “drives up to 512GB”.

There are minor annoyances, too, pointing to inadequate testing and/or limited post-release support (the firmware for the radio has apparently been updated a grand total of twice since the initial release in 2020). For example, Android Auto can’t connect to the radio unless the phone is unlocked, even though I’ve selected the option to connect without unlocking. Swiping controls left/right works nicely unless you move your finger too slowly, in which case the radio sees a tap instead of a swipe. Android Auto always starts in the Map app (though, to be fair, this may be Google’s fault, not JVCK’s). And so on.

All my complaints notwithstanding, I do consider this radio a major upgrade from the old one. I love having the big screen that shows (most of) the title, artist, and album information at the same time instead of making me switch among them. Album art onscreen is nice, especially while listening to SiriusXM channels.

And the Bluetooth works nicely. It connects automatically and rarely skips or stutters. Baseball in the car, without unsightly wires and gadgets draped over the dashboard. Heaven!

Emergence

Yuki spends nights in the master bathroom. He’s got his own sleeping cave and, from bedtime to wake up time, a private litter box and food bowls.

Even though it’s a daily occurrence, somehow it’s still an event when he appears at the front of his cave.

The tail in the foreground is Sachiko’s. She poked her nose in to see what Big Brudder Yukles was up to, and upon discovering he was heading out to start the day, she literally turned tail.

Not that Yuki cares. As long as nobody tries to join him in the cave, he’s content.

They Don’t Make It Easy

They really don’t.

Backing up for context.

Like most, our local supermarket chain–Lucky California and a few other chains under the same ownership–runs occasional contests. Makes sense: free goodies always attract customers.

Most recently, they partnered with Shell for a double whammy: the top prizes (awarded through drawings at the end of the contest) were free groceries for a year* and free gas for a year*. There were also smaller prizes, both for gas and groceries, and–to keep the excitement flowing–instant prizes of merchandise and loyalty program points.

* I’ll come back to what that means.

We always play the games. Why not? We shop there anyway, it doesn’t cost anything to enter, and we’re no more immune to the lure of “free” than anyone else.

Not that we expect to win anything significant. Last time, we won a free bag of chips. We made nachos.

This time, about halfway through the contest, we got an instant win for 50 loyalty points. That’s fine. We collect those, and every couple of months trade them in and get $20 off our next shopping trip. No other instant winners, and when the contest ended, we promptly forgot about it.

Months later, I got an email.

“Congratulations,” it said (with three exclamation marks). “Your online entry…has been drawn for the Groceries for a Year…!”

Let’s see. We’ve got gratuitous exclamation marks and bad grammar. We also have a “click here” link to claim the prize; the link points to a website that is not Lucky Supermarket nor the contest’s special domain. The sender’s email address is shown as being the contest’s domain, but the actual sending system doesn’t match Lucky, the contest, or the claiming website. The contact phone number in the email is not the same as the contact number on the contest website. And the message is signed by “Christine” (no last name).

That last one is actually a point in the email’s favor: most scam-spams include a full name, apparently because the scammers think it conveys respectability. Other evidence pointing to legitimacy: the email addressed me by name–spelled correctly–and my name isn’t part of the email address I’d used in signing up for the contest*.

* That’s by design, and for just this sort of occasion. If an email addresses me by the name in my email address, I can be fairly sure it’s spam.

So I was on the fence.

Contests and sweepstakes are required to keep lists of winners, and according to several online resources, you can sometimes check if your name is on the list by calling the contest sponsor. So I decided to call Lucky’s customer service number. No dice. The guy I talked to was very nice about the whole thing, but he didn’t have a list of winners, and he pointed out that until someone claimed a prize, they wouldn’t be on the list anyway. He suggested I write a letter to Corporate, or check the contest website for a phone number. Given that there’s always a time limit to claim prizes, the letter idea was pretty much dead in the water. And if the website had been compromised now that the contest was over, any phone numbers would be dubious at best.

I did take a look at the recent prize winners page on the website. Three of the four Groceries for a Year prizes had been claimed, and my name wasn’t on the list.

I flipped a coin and decided to take a chance. I filled out the claim form. It wanted my name, address, phone number, email address, birth date, and the address of the store I normally shop at. Since they already had all of that information from when I signed up for the loyalty program, giving it again was no big deal. It also required my SSN. I had qualms, but decided to take the chance.

About an hour later, I got another email from Christine (point in their favor for keeping the same name) thanking me for claiming my prize and asking me to fill out a W9 tax form, since the value of the prize was over $600. Fair enough; gotta keep the IRS happy, right?

I did check the contest website again and my name had been added to the list of winners. That relieved my mind immensely. Highly unlikely that if the site had been hijacked, the scammers would go to the trouble of adding names to it. After all, to make any such scam worthwhile, they’d have to target more than one underpaid writer.

So I filled out the W9 and sat back to wait for my prize.

Which, according to that second email would arrive in 6-10 weeks.

Free groceries for a year sounds great. Slightly less so when you realize the value has been capped. Specifically, it’s limited to $5200. That’s right, $100 a week. To be fair, pre-COVID, our weekly grocery bill did come in right around that number. Now, though, it’s gone up by thirty or forty percent.

Still, free is free, and saving five grand on groceries isn’t anything to sneer at. If food prices don’t go up significantly, the prize should still last us well into 2023.

Oh, and the prize is paid in gift cards. I had visions of receiving a box of 52 $100 gift cards, and wondered if they’d be date stamped, so we couldn’t use more than one a week. But there was that 6-10 week waiting period to find out.

Exactly a month later, I got a “Your package is on the way” notice from FedEx. I didn’t think much of it; I’d ordered several things online that week, so I was expecting to get several of those notices. However, this particular one was odd.

For one thing, the sender was listed as an individual, rather than any of the companies I’d bought from. Odder still, the sender’s address was listed as Modesto, California, but the package was shipping from Buffalo, New York.

That set my scam detector tingling again. Was this some kind of “send some cheap merchandise to a random person, then demand large sums of money under threat of being reported for theft” deal? Or a “forward the package to a third party, and when it arrives we’ll send you a check which will never arrive” game?

So I googled the sender’s name and Modesto. Hey, she’s a marketing manager for Lucky’s parent corporation and the street address is the corporate headquarters. Answers that question. (And no, her name isn’t Christine.)

The cards arrived on my doorstep almost exactly six weeks after I filled out the forms. And no, there weren’t 52 of them. Just eleven: one for $200, the rest for $500 each.

Then I notice the fine print on the back of each card, informing me that the cards need to be activated before use. Nothing in the accompanying letter, much less the earlier emails, suggests this has been done.

Dash off an email to Christine. Three hours later, she writes back to assure me that they are activated. Sure glad nobody intercepted the package–mail theft is endemic around here–or I would have been out my prize with no hope of recourse.

So, finally, we’re happy. But…

Let’s sum up: scammy emails, multiple domains in use with no transparency about their relationships, difficult to confirm legitimacy, lack of consistency between contacts, insufficient information at many steps.

From what I see online, this is typical for online contests. But why? Sure, if it’s hard to claim a prize, the sponsor will save money–most such contests have a “unclaimed prizes will not be awarded” rule–but hardly enough to justify doing it this way on purpose.

Is it possible that the people running these contests have never gotten a spam in their lives? Seems unlikely.

So why do they seem to be going out of their way to seem suspicious? Especially when they could make one simple change that would greatly reduce the awkwardness of the current system.

In order to submit contest entries, players have to have an account on the contest website. So, instead of sending an email directing the winner to a third-party website to file the claim, send one that directs them to sign into the contest website. That site can have the “please click here” to claim your prize.

Granted, it wouldn’t solve all the problems of the current system, but it would be a big step in the right direction.

Technician On Call

I had to do some work on Maggie’s computer the other day. Nothing particularly elaborate or complicated, just routine maintenance. But even though the work was well within my capabilities, I had assistance.

Rhubarb is a very helpful fellow and wanted to make sure I got the job done right.

(The truth is, his technical skills are a bit rusty; it’s been a while since he got really paws-on with a computer. For which the cooling system in Maggie’s machine is quite grateful–cat fur in the fans is just asking for thermal shutdowns. But, given his sister’s proclivity for biting the tails off of mice, I’d rather have his help than hers.)

More New Apple Hardware

Of course. Gotta release a new iPhone every year, right?

New watches, new AirPods, and new iPhones.

Allow me to summarize:

The Series 8 watches add a temperature sensor to allow ovulation tracking to the existing cycle tracking. Worthwhile for that large fraction of the potential user base that’s going to find it relevant. Kudos to Apple for continuing to enhance that feature, though I do find it a little odd that that’s what they chose to lead off with.

The Series 8 can also detect if you’ve been in an auto accident and–as with the longstanding fall detection–contact emergency services and contacts.

Hey, we’ve got a new definition of “all day”. Apparently that’s 18 hours. Seriously? You can’t even go one day without charging it?

Oh, wait, there’s a new “low power” mode that sacrifices some features to give you 36 hours between charges. I guess that’s nice if you don’t use the sacrificial victims. And it’s all done in software, so it’ll also apply to the Series 4, 5, 6, and 7 watches once they’re updated to WatchOS 9. Good to know they haven’t forgotten the older devices.

And there is, of course, a new Apple Watch SE for the cheapskates among us. Adds the crash detection, but it’s unclear whether it also adds the temperature sensors.

But the big–in every sense of the word–watch news is the Apple Watch Ultra. Larger than any previous Apple Watch. It’s got a new button, a frame that actually protects the edges of the crystal, and 36 hours of battery life without the low power mode. How about a dive computer? Built in.

Apple’s calling this thing “an essential tool for essentially anything”. Can I use it to open a bottle of beer? Probably not–but I’m sure someone will try. But really, does it seem like Apple is painting themselves into a corner by calling it the “Ultra”? I mean, a few years from now, what will they call the top-end successor watch? The “Mega”?

Anyway. On to the new AirPods.

No ultra here, just a new iteration of AirPods Pro. Better spatial audio (uses the camera in your iPhone to map the size and shape of your head so sound can be placed optimally for your unique body. Better noise cancelation, four tips instead of the previous three, better transparency mode (apparently it uses some noise cancelation to eliminate obnoxious noises while letting other environmental sounds through–that seems a bit risky somehow; do we really want it hiding things like construction noise while we’re walking down the street immersed in our phones?)

And then we get to the iPhones.

Brace yourselves: it would seem that the iPhone Mini is dead. Instead of Mini, iPhone, Pro, and Pro Max, we’re getting iPhone, Plus, Pro, and Pro Max. The regular iPhone 14 is a hefty 6.1 inches, and that Plus is a staggering 6.7 inches. Shades of phablets past! Of course, it’s taller and skinnier than a tablet form factor–don’t want to compete directly with the iPad Mini, naturally.

The 14 and 14 Plus will be using the A15 chip from the ancient iPhone 13 Pro. Improved cameras, of course. 5G, naturally.

Remember how Apple killed the floppy disk and the headphone jack? Now they’re killing the SIM tray. iPhone 14 will be eSIM only. That’s going to be an interesting educational challenge: millions of people still believe that the SIM card stores their contacts, despite the fact that that hasn’t been the case for at least a decade.

Hey, the 14 series has the same crash detection sensors as the new watches. And–wait for it–satellite connectivity. So even if you don’t have cellular service, you (or your phone acting on your behalf) can contact emergency services. And for less critical functions like “Find my iPhone”.

As for the 14 Pro, it comes in purple.

Yes, it’s got all the usual enhancements over the 14 (and 14 Plus) with regard to the cameras, power efficiency, and raw CPU–yes, a new A16 replaces that A15 that’s been handed down to the mainline phones). But, purple!

As for the size, the Pro and the Pro Max are the same as the 14 and 14 Plus, respectively.

Am I the only one who finds it amusing that with the introduction of the 14 series, the price for an iPhone 13 is now the same as for an iPhone 12? That being the case, why are they still selling the 12? Using up inventory? Also noteworthy and somewhat funny: the cost for the “low end” iPhone SE has gone up slightly. The only rationale I can see for buying an SE, rather than paying a bit more for a 12 or 13, is if you have to have the smallest phone available and never take pictures.

Bottom line (you knew this was coming, right?): Back in June, I said I was genuinely looking forward to seeing some of the new software features that’ll be coming in the new operating systems. But the new hardware? I’m “meh” about that. Mostly another round of more of the same, but “bigger…stronger…faster“. And purpler.

Feline Polyamory

Emeraldas’ relationship with Yuki and Lefty is complicated.

I know I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. To be honest, we’re not sure if she realizes that they’re two separate cats.

It’s an easy mistake to make, I suppose. They are similarly sized and colored. One is floofy and the other isn’t, but maybe Her Majesty isn’t particularly texture-oriented. Whatever the explanation, she does sometimes seem confused when her boys are hanging out together.

But in the normal course of affairs, she’s happy to accept grooming from Yuki.

(I love that paw across the back of her neck. So sweet!)

And she’s just as pleased to be groomed by Lefty.

Not all is sunshine and rainbows, though. Disagreements do arise.

I can neither confirm nor refute rumors that Lefty tasted Yuki’s saliva on Emeraldas’ forehead. But he definitely got a tongue-full of something he didn’t care for–and this is the guy who’ll eat almost anything except feta cheese.

Further Rejoicing

Was it really just last week that we declared the COVID epidemic a relic of history?

Sadly, yes.

I say “sadly” because apparently the Federal Government agrees. The program to provide free in-home tests is shutting down Friday because it’s out of money. Get your orders in quickly, folks.

Actually, wouldn’t it be interesting to know how many tests get ordered this week, compared to the past three or four weeks? I doubt we’ll ever see the numbers, but I’d love to be proved wrong about that.

If you want to try and sneak in an order–I did Tuesday afternoon and it went through just fine–the URL is https://www.covid.gov/tests. Actually, the order went through so smoothly, I’m taking it as additional confirmation that the American Public as a whole has moved on to the Next Great Crisis.

And my apologies for whatever influence my post might have had in encouraging that migration.

I really do need to stop reading the news*. It only depresses me, and then I have to spend an hour or two cruising Love Meow to restore my equilibrium.

* To be fair, the local newspaper isn’t as bad as Google News. I could do without the endless 49ers stories, now that football season is upon us, but I don’t find them depressing, just boring. And–fair’s fair–I’m sure the football fans find the endless Giants stories just as useless. (I think we can all agree that the endless stream of stories about the Athletics trash fire of a stadium quest are both depressing and hugely entertaining.)

Apparently, the Google Assistant on my phone has figured out that pattern in my actions. For the past couple of weeks, every time I’ve looked at the news feed (swipe left from the Home screen), it’s included a Love Meow story halfway down the screen. I’m considering it a palette cleanser.

I can’t decide if I’m pleased that my phone is trying to take such good care of me or depressed that my phone thinks I need cheering up. And yes, I’m well aware of the irony in Google Assistant feeling compelled to counteract the effects of Google News.

For the record, as I write this post on Tuesday afternoon, Google News is showing eleven stories on its “New” home page. Mikhail Gorbachev’s death–which I’m largely neutral about–is the top story, followed by the impending heat wave on the West Coast (depressing), the water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi (very depressing), Biden calling out Republicans over gun control (about damn time, but depressing that it’s necessary and unlikely to go anywhere), and the latest on the Ukraine/Russia war (very depressing). That’s four out of five depressing.

Local news has stories on a shooting, senior housing, and school vandalizations (one depressing, one mildly enlivening, and one mixed–depressing that the local schools need nearly $100 thousand to repair the damage, cheering that it’s being donated by one of our corporate overlords (Chevron)).

The only real cheer is in the “Picks for you” section. Google is keeping the orange-faced asshole’s social media app out of the Play Store, Albert Pujols is getting close to passing Alex Rodriguez (spit!) on the all-time home run list, and an opinion piece on the rumored iPhone 14*. Two happy stories and one neutral? I’ll take it.

* The phones will probably be announced at an Apple event next week. Expect my usual Wednesday post to be delayed a day so I can bring you my usual totally unbiased coverage of all the announcements.

Destiny

I have, it seems, found my true calling.

Not librarianship. Not QA. Not even writing.

My true calling in life is to serve as a pillow for floofy cats.

Not a position to which I had ever aspired. Certainly not a well-paying career–at least not in coin of the realm–or one rich in the respect of one’s peers.

But one which serves as its own reward.

I, like Yuki, am content.

Rejoice!

Apparently the pandemic is over.

You didn’t know?

Well, nobody’s said it’s in the past, but judging by the way people are acting, we’re in the post-COVID era.

Social distancing in queues is non-existent and barely present elsewhere. I actually heard someone say they’d given up on keeping six feet away from the person in front of them in line “because it makes the line too long.” Never mind that it takes the same amount of time to move through the line regardless of spacing.

Mask wearing is at the lowest level since February of 2020. And I hear more and more maskless people saying some variation on “Oh, am I supposed to wear a mask?” or (even more annoyingly) “Why are you still wearing that thing?”

Even the people wearing masks take them off at any opportunity. I’m even seeing an uptick in people taking off their masks because they can’t hear what people are saying. What? You’re not wearing your mask over your ears, you know.

Vaccination rates continue to drop, along with semi-plausible excuses. One hardly ever hears “I’m waiting for the Omicron-specific booster,” any more, or even “Am I eligible for a booster?”

I’m surprised we haven’t seen any lawsuits alleging that widespread masking is harmful to “the children”.

I’m not even hearing much about annual COVID vaccinations to go along with people’s annual flu shot.

Remember back in 2020 when everyone wanted to know what the “New Normal” was going to be? Apparently this is it.

The sad truth is, though, that COVID is still around, infecting and mutating.

Mutations aren’t necessarily less deadly than their ancestors. Yes, over time, less-fatal strains of viruses tend to dominate. After all, parasites that kill their hosts have less time to spread themselves. But they do spread and they do kill before they die out.

Even without a deadlier variant emerging, we’re still seeing hundreds of deaths a day in the US.

But here we are.

America has collectively decided they’ve had enough of the pandemic, so they’re declaring it done.

COVID-19? Darling, that’s so last year.

I do what I can. I still mask up in public. I wash my hands religiously and use way too much disinfectant for my skin’s health. But I’m just me. Nobody’s taking their cues from what I say or do.

For a while, I thought a few high-profile deaths might motivate people to start taking precautions again, but I think we’re past that point. I’m pretty sure Donald Trump, Lindsey Graham, and Ron DeSantis could all fall victim to COVID-19 simultaneously, and the public reaction would be a collective shrug and “It’s no worse than the flu.”

COVID-19? It is this year. And at this rate, next year too.