Relaxicat

We often call Rhubarb our Smoked Salmon Boy.
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Not because of his appetite, though he does love to lick the lid when we open a can of salmon.

And not just because of his coloration, though he is a lovely salmon-orange and cream-cheese-white.

But mostly because he’s a cat who really knows how to put the lox in “loxing out”.

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(No, he’s not fond of that pun.  Or puns in general.)

Falling Into an Update

I decided to try something different this time around.

Microsoft released the Fall Creators Update, the latest and greatest version of Windows 10, a few days ago. You probably haven’t gotten it yet, because they roll it out in batches.

The first batch goes to computers they’re absolutely sure it’ll install cleanly on. After that, they start pushing it out to machines they’re progressively less confident about. It’s a reasonable approach. When problems arise, as they inevitably will, they can include the fixes with the next batch.

But it means some users may have to wait a long time for the update, as I found out with the previous update. Counting the little Windows tablet, I’ve got three computers running Windows 10. I upgraded the tablet manually in April when the “Creators Update” was released–I had to do it by hand because it doesn’t have enough disk space to install it automatically. One of the desktops got the update in July. The other didn’t get it until September.

It’s not that having two different versions of Windows 10 running caused me any technical problems. Frankly, the two versions behaved a heck of a lot alike. But it tweaked that part of my brain that gets compulsive about numbers.

So I decided that for the Fall Creators Update, I’d do all three machines manually. Not simultaneously. I’m not that compulsive. But in sequence.

I don’t actually need any of the features in this update. I’m curious about Microsoft’s Augmented Reality implementation, but I don’t think any of my machines have enough muscle to actually run AR software. Goddess knows I haven’t been looking forward to the ability to pin a contact to the task bar. So really, I could have waited until one got the update and then done the other two, but I got impatient.

As I write this, Computer One is running the upgrade. It’s been going for about half an hour and it says it’s 80% complete. Of course, this is a Microsoft progress indicator, and they’re well-known for making optimistic estimates. But in any case, I’ll wait until Computer One finishes the update before I start Computer Two. And I’ll make sure that one is done and functional before I start the tablet.

Barring the unexpected–and with an OS upgrade, one should always expect the Spanish Inquisitionunexpected–I should be running the Fall Creators Update on all three computers before bedtime tonight.

And come February, when the rest of you are finally getting the update, I’ll just laugh, because I’ll have been not using the ability to pin contacts to the task bar for months.

Seriously, though, if you can’t wait to dip a toe into the Fall Creators Update, the Windows 10 Download page is here. Click “Update Now” and follow the prompts. Eventually–I’m now up to 86% on Computer One–you can experience the thrill of being on the cutting edge of Microsoft technology.

(You do realize I wrote this whole post as an excuse to watch that Monty Python clip, right?)

Offseason Sports

Sports anime are extremely popular. It’s a rare season that doesn’t include at least one–though it’s true that the definition of a “sport” can be a slippery thing in the world of anime: consider Saki, for example, which is centered around the “sport” of mahjong.

Conventional sports get their share of the shows. Soccer is a perennial favorite. Basketball, tennis, judo, and American football have shown up in popular shows. And, naturally, baseball is common. Perhaps surprisingly, I’ve seen very few of the baseball shows, even among the classics.

But it’s in the lesser-known and imaginary sports that anime can really shine. Take, for example, two recent entries, that showcase the two major types of sport show.

Keijo (it’s actually Keijo!!!!!!!!, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to type eight exclamation points every time) is a twelve episode show based on an eighteen volume manga. The titular sport combines all of the most attractive elements of women’s beach volleyball and steel-cage martial arts and serves primarily as a vehicle to put the young women who compete into a variety of bathing suits.

I said that there are two major types of sports shows. The first is the one in which the protagonist is familiar with the sport, often having played it for years. Such shows generally focus on the character’s efforts to level up, improving his or her skills. Despite its unashamed roots in mindless fan-service, Keijo succeeds on its own merits as a sports show. The heroine, Nozomi, is an Olympic-calibre gymnast, who brings her skills to the sport of keijo in pursuit of riches. She learns all the expected lessons about becoming a team player and skill not being sufficient to become the best.

But what distinguishes Keijo from just another “boobs and butts” show is the sense of humor. The creators–both the original manga author and the anime staff–know how ridiculous the premise is, and they refuse to take anything about it seriously. In a training sequence, Nozomi is required to harvest turnips by pulling them out of the ground using a rope tied around her hips. Fighters use outrageously named attacks (“Full-Auto Cerberus!”) which often invoke psychic effects to confuse or distract their opponents.

The show is a classic piece of mindless entertainment; US residents can stream it through Crunchroll.

The second type of sports show features a protagonist who initially knows nothing about the sport. The audience expects to learn about the sport by watching the main character go from rank beginner to champion-quality. Welcome to the Ballroom is a current example of this variety.

As the title implies, the sport is competitive ballroom dancing, and our hero, Tatara, literally falls into a dance studio one day and discovers a purpose for his previously-motiveless existence.

In typical sports-show fashion, he quickly masters the basic techniques–that’s quickly in terms of screen time; from his perspective, it’s a long slog of late- and all-night practice sessions–but the mental disciplines and understanding of his dance partners and opponents come more slowly.

Actual devotees of dance will no doubt find Welcome to the Ballroom‘s portrayal of both dancers and dances laughable, but that’s par for the course for a genre that gives us pitchers who can throw a ball too fast for the eye to see or mahjong players who violate the laws of chance through sheer willpower.

Look past that, however, and you get a sports show that rather atypically brings in secondary characters with more than a single dimension. Rivalries go beyond a simplistic “you go to a different school, so you must be the Enemy”. Antagonists have reasons for their behavior and can become neutral (turning enemies into friends is typical; what Welcome to the Ballroom does that’s unusual is to suggest some of them might stop actively impeding Tatara without swinging all the way over to helping him.

Welcome to the Ballroom is running now–US viewers can stream it through Amazon. As of this writing, fifteen of the planned twenty-four episodes have aired.

Unusual

Want to see some of the unusual views of the feline contingent we’ve gotten lately? It’s been that kind of week.

Yuki’s not big on contemplation, so it was a rare treat to find him lost in thought Tuesday morning.
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Mind you, I’m not sure what he’s thinking about. It was probably something deeply profound like “Why isn’t it dinner time yet?” He’s not a dedicated snarfler like some of the others, but I’ve never known him to turn down a meal.

Then we were treated to a unique view of Watanuki. It’s not uncommon for him to leave a limb sticking out of whatever object he’s snoozing on, but he’s always careful to keep his paws pointed at the floor.
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But he slipped up on Wednesday. Just check out those cute toe beans. They wouldn’t be nearly as attractive without those two bits of black to set off the pink.

But I’m sure he’ll be blushing under his fur when he realizes I’ve posted this shot.

Wednesday was really the unusual day. Rufus found his way down to the living room and onto the sofa.
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Curling up and snoozing all day isn’t hugely unusual for him, though more often than not, he’ll drop by my office to see what I’m up to. But he went to the vet Wednesday morning for his annual checkup, and he was feeling a bit under the weather.

So the living room, where felines rarely go seemed ideal. A bit of blanket rearrangement, and he had himself a perfect nest to sleep off the vaccination blues.

Mind you, it wasn’t a day of total strangeness. When we told him it was dinner time…
13-4his reaction was a very typical, “Why didn’t you wake me up sooner?”

Cough

No, the fires aren’t that close. They are close enough to make the air distinctly smoky.

Smoky enough that schools are canceling classes and sporting events. I note that there are major college sports scheduled for the next few days: football games in Berkeley (Washington State and Cal) and Palo Alto (Oregon and Stanford) are the most notable. As of this writing, both games are still expected to go on as scheduled, which means teams are out practicing as usual. At the professional level, I see the 49ers are on the other coast to play the Team Which Needs to Change Its Name, so they’re unaffected, but the Oakland Raiders home game is still on. More evidence that football is hazardous to your health, I suppose.

Smoky enough that the Bay Area Air Quality Management District has issued a warning for everyone, not just people with respiratory issues. They’re saying many parts of the Bay Area currently have the worst air quality they’ve ever recorded, and Friday and Saturday are expected to be worse.

We’re holed up inside, as recommended, but the house is old enough and porous enough that we can smell smoke inside. It doesn’t seem to be bothering the cats, but if it gets bad enough that we feel the need to move them someplace with better air quality control, we’ve got plenty of carriers standing by.

Nor is there any rain in the forecasts. Firefighters are on their own, with no help from nature.

On the brighter side, fires around Napa are sufficiently under control that people with critical needs will be allowed in. It’s not much, but we’re looking for any bright sides we can find.

I’m definitely seeing less automobile traffic with locals staying indoors. Can we hope that the reduction in automotive exhaust will help keep the air quality from rising above its current “Unhealthy”? I’d prefer to avoid the next level, “Very Unhealthy,” much less “Hazardous”. There’s a map here if you want to see what the current conditions are like.

Finally, I have no doubt the religious lunatic fringe is blaming the fires on God, who is, of course, punishing us decadent Californians for our liberal views on human rights. I don’t wish similar disasters on them in return–I don’t wish them on anyone–but I take a certain quiet pleasure in knowing they’ll feel at least one bit of God’s punishment themselves, a jab where it will hurt them the most: the price of sacramental wine is going to spike upward.

Again, small victories.

Good Job

Bad commercials take a lot of flack here–all, IMNSHO, completely justified. But let me take a step to the other side for a change and direct your attention to a commercial that actually works.

You’ve probably seen it–if you’ve been watching the MLB playoffs, I know you’ve seen it.

It’s the Amazon Prime commercial with the dog and the lion costume. If you’ve managed to miss it for the last year, you can see it here:

Actually, that’s the Japanese version, but don’t sweat it; the US version is the same except for the language of the Amazon App seen briefly.

Whoever came up with the concept for this absolutely nailed it. It’s got a cute dog, a cute baby, and a sappy song. How could it miss?

Actually, it could easily have missed. But the ad doesn’t insult any of the actors–nobody’s egregiously stupid–or the audience. And it doesn’t try to do too much. If it had tried to push both the main point (same day delivery) and stress the incredible variety of things Amazon sells, it would have turned into a hyperjettic, crowded mess. Instead, it makes the point almost casually: “A lion costume for a dog? If they’ve got that, they must have the weird thing I want, right?”

The contrast is all the greater when you see the ad on TV, surrounded by ads for the Amazon Echo. Including the man who’s too stupid to put the lid on the blender and the woman who interrupts her busy day to gaze longingly at her motorcycle. Even the ad with the cat misfires: if your cat was staring into your fish tank, would your first reaction be to buy cat food? Well, maybe it would, but mine would be to put the cat on the floor, probably in a different room, before it tried to climb into the tank.

Interestingly, the ad started as a long-form piece, one minute and fifteen seconds, which you can see here. And the extra forty-five seconds absolutely ruin it. It loses focus and buries the message under a pair of not-at-all funny jokes. Cutting down to a thirty second spot saved it. More proof, as if we need it, that writing good fiction often requires you to cut the bits you love–William Faulkner called it killing your darlings.

Kudos to the Amazon Prime ad writer for that one perfect moment buried in all the dreck.

Google’s Turn

Well, the Twins started well, but it went downhill rather quickly. I think I’ll avoid picking a new team to root for–why jinx somebody?–and just enjoy the spectacle for the rest of the month.

But enough about baseball for now. For now.

In addition to being in Playoff Season, we’re also in New Hardware Season. Apple announced theirs a few weeks ago, and it’s Google’s turn this week.

Spoiler alert: Google didn’t announce a new tablet. They also didn’t announce a “Google Watch”. I find one of these failures disappointing.

As usual, I’m taking my cues from Ars Technica’s coverage of the unveiling and filtering it through my own prejudices.

Google is still talking up their Artificial Intelligence plans. In essence, they aim to make AI omnipresent and indispensable. ‘Nuff said; we’re here for the hardware they’re going to put that AI on.

First up is the Home Mini. Shrink last year’s Google Home down into something that looks like a fabric-wrapped hockey puck. Functionally, it seems to be pretty much the same; presumably, the new voice commands they talked about will be rolled out to all of the gadgets.

Google Home products will be able to interface with Nest’s home security gadgets. The example they gave was asking Google Home to show you who’s at the door, and it’ll not only put the feed from the camera on your TV, but it’ll also use facial recognition to tell you who it is. No thanks. I’m going to say right now that I’m not going to visit anybody who sets this system up. Bad enough Google knows where my phone is, but I don’t want them tracking my face when I go to friends’ houses.

At the opposite extreme from the Home Mini is–surprise!–Home Max. Same brains, but a big speaker for better sound quality. Pardon me. They talked about it’s ability to get loud, but didn’t actually say anything about how good it will sound. Interesting omission, isn’t it?

Then there’s the new Pixelbook. A thin, light laptop running Chrome OS, with support for Android apps. It’s actually a two-in-one: there’s a 360 degree hinge so you can fold the screen back against the keyboard and use it as a tablet. A fourteen inch tablet. Sorry, guys. I see the convenience factor, but fourteen inches and over two pounds is too damn big and heavy for actual tablet usage.

Nor do I find the “Pixel Pen” particularly compelling. It does all the usual stylus things with one unique feature: anything you draw a circle around will be searched on Google. Sounds like a nice convenience–though I hope that’s disabled in your art programs–but not worth the extra hundred bucks they’re going to charge on top of the thousand or more for the computer.

Moving on.

Two new Pixel phones, the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. All the usual enhancements for the modern era: better screens, faster CPUs, improved cameras, no headphone jacks. Other than size, supposedly the two are identical.

The Pixel 2s will come with a new version of the Home screen. Google Search will move to the bottom of the screen, making room at the top for your next appointment, traffic, flights, and similar “what’s coming” information. No word on whether that’ll make its way onto older phones eventually.

Also no word on whether “Google Lens” will be a Pixel 2 exclusive forever. Lens is an upgrade to Google Goggles, the visual search tool. Point the camera at something to search on it. Or recognize it, apparently. They said it will identify emails, phone numbers, and addresses. Hopefully it’ll actually do something with them once they’re recognized. I don’t need my phone to tell me “Hey, that’s an email address!” I need it to add the address to my contact list without doing a manual copy/paste.

Moving on again.

An upgrade to the Daydream View. That’s the “use your smartphone as a VR headset” thing. New lenses, new fabric, new higher price.

Nothing to see here. Move along.

And, since there’s no headphone jack on the Pixel 2, you’ll need wireless headphones. So of course there are the Pixel Buds. They’re not totally wireless: there’s a cord connecting the two earpieces. Which actually makes sense to me. I imagine it’ll be a lot harder to lose than the separate Apple buds. One cool feature: live audio translation among forty languages. If it works well in less-than-acoustically-clean settings, that could be very handy. Especially if one of those forty is “Boss”.

Nor is Google neglecting video. Want to let your camera decide when to take a picture? Of course you do! Sign up now for your Google Clips. You just set it down somewhere and it takes a picture or short video clip when it spots something it thinks is photo-worthy.

What’s photo-worthy? Pictures of people you know, apparently. Great if you’re heavily into selfies, I guess, but how is it for landscapes, museums, tourist attractions, and all of the things you don’t see every day?

On the brighter side, it sounds like it’ll make a great stalker cam. Just attach it to your belt and go about your day. Check the photos when you get home.

Not to put too fine a point on it, I hope Google Clips goes straight to the same rubbish bin as the late, not-particularly-lamented Nexus Q.

Bottom line: some interesting goodies and some real trash. If I were in the market for a new phone, I’d give the Pixel 2 serious consideration, for all the usual reasons, but I didn’t see anything so compelling as to make me rush to upgrade my Nexus 5X.

And I shall remain resolutely free of household automation.

Go, Uh…

We’ve arrived at the season after the season, i.e. playoff time. I’m posting this today to give you all time to run down to the mall or get your overnight-shipping orders in: the first game of the playoffs is tomorrow, and you want to have a cap, shirt, or big foam finger for your guys when you kick back in front of the TV, right?

As usual, my congratulations to those of you who normally root for teams that made it into the playoffs. Y’all can come back Thursday; today’s post is for those of us who need to pick someone to root for.

Remember, this has nothing to do with predicting the World Series champion. (I did that back in April. It’s going to be the Twins.) This is about where we invest our emotions for the next month.

The first five rules haven’t changed since last year, but I’ve clarified a point of confusion and contention. Rule Six, of course, has had a significant change.

Rules for Rooting, 2017 edition

  1. Unless it’s the team you follow during the regular season, you must not root for any team that has been promoted as “America’s Team” or otherwise held up by its owners and/or the media as the ultimate expression of the sport.
  2. You should not root for a team from your own team’s division.
  3. That said, you really ought to root for somebody from your own league. Crossing the league boundary without a really good excuse is in bad taste.
  4. Possession of team merchandise with sentimental value OR a history of following a favorite player from team to team trumps Rules Two and Three. It does not override Rule One. Nothing overrides Rule One.
  5. Teams with a record of futility or legitimate “misfit” credentials get bonus points in the decision process. A record of futility means multiple losing seasons, a lengthy stretch without a playoff appearance and/or title, or a generation-long demonstration of the ability to choke in the clutch. What constitutes legitimate misfittery is up to you. Be honest with yourself.
  6. All other rules notwithstanding, you are always free to root for the CubsIndians. By virtue of winning it all last year and holding together well enough to make the playoffs this year, Chicago has forfeited their position as the council of desperation. That role is now filled by Cleveland, holders of a sixty-eight season World Series championship drought.

So let’s break it down.

The American League playoff teams are Boston, New York, Cleveland, Minnesota, and Houston.

As always, I’m tempted to invoke Rule One on the Red Sox, and this year they don’t have the David Ortiz farewell tour to swing sentiment in their favor. So out they go. Blame ESPN. The Yankees, of course, are also banned under Rule One.

None of the teams, IMNSHO, qualify as misfits. As for futility, we’ve got the Indians under Rule Six and the Twins by virtue of their 103 loss season last year, which capped a run of losing seasons (only one year over .500 since 2011).

So, if you normally root for a team in the AL East or West, take your pick between Cleveland or Minnesota. AL Central fans, your only choice is Houston. Sorry.

Over in the National League, we’ve got an interesting slate: Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, Arizona, and Colorado.

Rule One clearly applies to the Nationals. The Dodgers are still flirting with a Rule One ban, but since so much of the media attention this year was legitimate–their run at the single season win record, followed by their epic slump in August and September–I’ll give them a pass again this year.

As in the AL, there are no obvious “misfit” candidates. As for futility, the best we can do is the Rockies, who’ve never won a World Series–but then, the team’s only been around since 1993. Twenty-four years isn’t much compared to the Astros’ fifty-five year career without a Series victory.

So your choices are straightforward: if you normally follow the NL West, you get the Cubbies as they try to repeat. NL Central and East fans, take the Rockies. They just squeaked into the playoffs, not clinching until the next-to-last day of the season, and they could use some love.

That leaves you unaffiliated folks. You can align yourself with a team based on where you live, and then follow the above guidelines. Or you can just make the easy choice and root for Cleveland.

Me? As a Mariners fan, I get to do the Indians/Twins coin flip. Or I could go with my fallback Giants and Mets, which would leave me cheering for the Cubs. Given those choices, I’m all-in on the Twins.

And, naturally, rooting for seven-game series all the way; Division Series, Championship Series, and World Series alike.

My Twins take on the Yankees at 5:00 Pacific tomorrow as they start their march to the title. I can’t wait!

Consolation

Something to cheer Jackie up in the face of her Orioles’ less than stellar performance this year.

Rufus continues to settle in. He still spends most of the day in “his” room–but why shouldn’t he? That’s where his food bowls are, that’s where the green pod/bed is, and that’s where the comfy futon is.
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I believe the officially-sanctioned descriptive phrase these days is “totes adorbs”. But don’t quote me on that.

Yes, that is a Hello Kitty pillow at the upper right and a Kliban blanket under his head. Nothing but the finest in feline-themed sleep gear for our crew.

Anyway, he does come downstairs occasionally, when the spirit moves him. And recently he not only joined the communal “sprawl on Casey” ritual for the first time, but he was actually the one who started it.
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Kokoro is usually the one to kick it off, but she didn’t seem too put out that he had gotten there first. Probably because he was smart enough to leave her favorite nest vacant.

And Rufus handled the arrival of the remaining participants with aplomb.
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Of course, it’s not all “Hail fellow, well met!”

There are still territorial disputes. Rufus is willing to defend his turf
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To a point.
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But, by and large, he’s fitting in better every day. Even the disputes are becoming more familial.