Still More Changes

Don’t let anyone tell you cats are complete slaves to tradition and doing things the same way they’ve always done them.

Lefty, for example, has gone from avoiding humans to being our handsome snuggle-panther.

At the same time, he’s progressed from preferring the carpet-covered floor through favoring the hard futon, then the foot of the bed, to, well…

That’s my pillow he’s curled up on.

Not bad for a Formerly Feral Fellow.

And, while it may appear he’s daring me to displace him, he’s actually suggesting I put down that stupid box I’m pointing at him and give him cuddles. More specifically, it was “There’s a spot behind my left ear that needs some skritches.”

A Pointless Tale

No deep insights, no hidden truths today. Just a bit of fluff I hope will brighten your day a smidge.

So there’s this stretch of road that’s a key part of my commute. Those of you who know the Bay Area, it’s Richmond Parkway. For the rest of you, picture this: two lanes in each direction, a wide median whose grass is desperately in need of trimming, half a dozen traffic lights, and a posted speed limit of 50.

Yes, 50. On a city street. Okay, the street in question connects two freeways, and it’s semi-rural. But again, those traffic lights and pedestrian traffic.

About half the cars–in these COVID-19 days, maybe more than half–take 50 as a challenge. Sixty is common, and even 75 isn’t unheard of. Then there’s a large minority who figure the speed limit signs are in error, so they stick to 35, whooping it up to 40 if they’re feeling reckless.

Add in the trucks. Did I mention the trucks? Sorry. Many of the businesses along Richmond Parkway are the kind that make use of trucks. Big trucks. Tankers hauling liquid nitrogen or molten sulphur. Huge pickups with poorly anchored loads of scrap metal. Multiple anonymous trailers.

Do you know how long it takes a big truck to go from zero to fifty? Hint: it’s about the distance from one traffic light to the next along Richmond Parkway.

Forget about trying to pass. The trucks and the curve of the road make it very difficult to see who might be coming up on you from behind. The major differences in speed encourage shark packs that block lanes. So if you’re behind a truck or an over-cautious driver, you’re going to stay there.

So, got the picture?

A few days ago, I was running a bit late on my way to work. Not enough to actually be late, but enough that I was worrying about traffic on the freeway. I’m sitting at the first traffic light, first car in line and nobody in sight ahead of me. The radio is tuned to a classic rock station.

The last vehicle through the light from the cross street is one of those molten sulfur tankers. It accelerates up Richmond Parkway–in my lane, of course–reaching a top speed of almost thirty before it starts slowing for the next intersection.

A new song starts playing just as the light changes to green for me:

You said it, Sammy.

PS: I did make it to work on time.

Still More Baby Pictures

I’m dipping way, way back into the vault for this one.

How about the first picture we took of Watanuki when we brought him home?

Well, okay, the first video. But it was taken less than an hour after the first picture. 5:07 pm on December 24, 2010. Yes, as far as we’re concerned, Yuki and ‘Nuki were Christmas babies.

Note that even at the tender age of six months, he displays several traits he’s carried forward to this very day: a tendency to bite when licking would be more appropriate, an extreme fondness for the ‘nip, and a devastating cuteness when he wants attention or knows he’s being observed.

A Heartfelt Thank You

Let us all thank the baseball gods for the Tampa Bay Rays and their survival this deep into the playoffs.

Not only do they have the coolest logo of the remaining four teams*, but by making it to the ALCS, they’ve saved us all from a hideous fate.

* Seriously. No, not the “TB” one, the so-called “Alternate”. Check out the version on their caps.

Consider the teams we’d be watching now if the Rays had dropped out of the playoffs:

  • The Atlanta Braves – Ted Turner’s legacy, the team he billed as “America’s Team” in defiance of all common sense and geographic sanity.
  • The Los Angeles Dodgers – For some reason, MLB and their media partners keep trying to promote them as everyone’s favorite (provided you don’t count anyone on the East Coast). Sure, they’ve got a legacy of winning, but how much of it is due to their willingness to throw money at their roster?
  • The New York Yankees – Speaking of throwing money at the roster…The Yankees are the reason Rule One exists. While I don’t quite hold with the average Red Sox fan, who believes Yankee Stadium should be nuked from orbit and the crater sown with salt, I do believe MLB and baseball in general would be well served if the Yankees were forcibly relocated to someplace less visible. Tazmania, perhaps, or better yet, Antarctica.
  • The Houston Astros – Admittedly, the Astros’ place on baseball’s shit list is likely to be temporary. If they manage a couple of winning seasons to show they can succeed without cheating, followed by a few losing years to establish a corporate baseline of humility, they’ll likely be redeemed in the eyes of most fans. But right now they’re the team everyone hates.

Playoffs featuring the Four Loathsomes. A championship series with no rooting interest? (Mutual Assured Destruction is, unfortunately, off the table–somebody will win the World Series this year, as all the evidence to date suggests that Games Will Be Played, even if the final out isn’t recorded until 2021.)

So, thank you Tampa Bay. A 3-0 lead over the Astros is a good start on the ALCS; I look forward to you completing the sweep tonight, or at worst, wrapping up the AL tomorrow.

And may your logo swim to victory in the World Series.

Two Takes

On one paw, we’ve got MM.

She’s getting more comfortable around bipeds. She’ll take a treat from Maggie’s fingers–as long as nothing but her fingertips come into the cage. She allows me to put her food bowls in the cage without retreating into her Condo of Safety–as long as I don’t make any sudden motions.

And she’s mostly okay with us admiring her and taking pictures, even with the cage door open. Granted the shot above was taken with a bit of zoom, but I was right outside the open door, and her glare has more to do with my interruption of a grooming session than my proximity.

And then there’s Watanuki.

A charming pose–though it’s probably a trap intended to lure an unwary bystander into rubbing his tummy so ‘Nuki can savage their hand.

But those cute little vampire fangs are just too adorable not to memorialize.

Google and Microsoft Hardware

So I could get all schadenfreudian, but what would be the point? You all know what I’d say, he isn’t going to care, and besides, there’s no telling what new nonsense he’ll perpetrate between Tuesday night (when I’m writing this) and Wednesday morning (when I post it).

Instead, let’s talk hardware. After all, I gave Apple some airtime. It’s only fair that I do the same for Google and Microsoft, right? Right.

Google announced new hardware last week. Two phones, the “Pixel 4a with 5G” and the Pixel 5. A new take on the now-venerable Chromecast, the “Google Chromecast with Google TV”. And the “Google Nest Audio”, yet another smart speaker.

The phones are, well, whelming. Certainly not overwhelming, but not especially underwhelming. They’re there, they’re an improvement over the previous generation, but not by a huge amount. They’re arguably overpriced and underperforming–especially the 5–if you compare them with other flagship phones, but the value looks better when aligned against other phones with similar performance.

Frankly, I think a large part of the bad press they’re getting is due to unhappy reviewers who were hoping for another big step forward in camera technology. Which was, IMNSHO, a misplaced hope: Google has made it clear that they’re focused (sorry) on improving their phones’ cameras through the software, rather than the hardware.

Bottom line, I don’t think anyone’s going to be selling their current phone just to get a P5 or P4w5G. But if they’re in the market for a new phone anyway, the new Pixels are well worth considering.

The speaker is a smart speaker. Louder and with better sound quality than Google’s previous generation, but overall, it’s a forgettable entry in a forgettable category.

Then there’s the new Chromecast. The highlights here are that you no longer need to use your phone to control the playback and if you set up multiple media sources (Netflix, YouTube TV, and so on), you can see an overview of what’s available across all of them without digging into the individual apps.

That latter is a slick idea, but it’s a convenience, not a gamechanger. And if Google had come out with this device a couple of years ago, it would have been a fabulous advance over the original Chromecast family. But today it has a distinctly “me too” feel: “Hey we’ve got to keep up with the Rokus, Fire TVs, and Apple TVs.”

Moving on.

Microsoft also rolled out new toys last week.

A few accessories–keyboard, mice , wireless number pad, and a gadget to mirror your computer screen wirelessly to a TV or other HDMI-equipped display.

That last could be handy, as long as your computer supports the Miracast standard. If your phone does–and some Android phones do–that could make it very handy for both business and pleasure.

There’s an updated version of the Surface Pro X–Microsoft’s ARM-based laptop. Which has not, I suspect, sold in the kind of numbers Microsoft was hoping for. Not too surprising, since it’s not hugely cheaper than the Intel and AMD laptops it’s competing with.

The interesting device out of Redmond is the new Surface Laptop Go. As the name implies, it’s a smallish device–about halfway between the Surface Go and a cheap Chromebook–with a CPU suited to a standard laptop.

With a price similar to the Surface Go (and to a high-midrange Chromebook), it’s an easy choice if you need a highly portable machine that can also function as your main machine with a USB-C docking station.

Yes, granted, I’m still using my Surface Go as my daily machine. Beside the point. I’m talking about suitability for people who don’t have my patience for a slower computer.

I’ll be very interested to see how the Surface Laptop Go fares once people get their hands on them. If the keyboard is good and the screen doesn’t wobble unpleasantly, Microsoft might just have a winner.

Inconstant, Constant

Here we are in October, and the breaking of rules continues. Oakland has won a playoff series for the first time in umpty-ump years, darn it.

Some rules, however, appear inviolable. The Reds and Brewers have been unceremoniously bounced out of the playoffs (drat!) and the Yankees (spit) are still alive.

Isn’t it nice to know that in a year where the only rules that can’t be broken are the sucky ones, we still have cats?

Specifically, cats being adorable.

(Yes, that is a composite photo. No, I didn’t make any effort to match the halves. Rest assured the two shots were taken mere seconds apart and accurately reflect the situation on the bed Thursday night.)

Clockwise from the upper left, we’ve got Yuki, Lefty, Kokoro, and Watanuki.

Of particular interest, note that Lefty is actually asleep. Not just eyes closed, but on the alert. Asleep. This is a major step forward for Mr. Snugglepanther.

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.