A Modern Headache

Need a break? Too much going on in your life, and you just need to veg out for a while? Kick back, turn on the TV. You pick the channel, it doesn’t matter.

Because your relaxation will be interrupted. Probably by a telemarketer–but that’s a subject for a different post. No, I’m talking about the commercials. Specifically, the drug commercials.

Annoying as all get-out, aren’t they? Most likely you don’t have the condition the drug they’re touting is intended to cure. Even if you do, the list of side effects would make any rational person flee in terror.

I’m especially confused by the ads that say “Don’t take this if you’re allergic to it.” How are you supposed to know you’re allergic to it unless you’re already taking it?.

But I digress.

What really puzzles me about the whole phenomenon is how many people think this is new.

It’s not. Consider Allan Sherman’s classic paen to one class of medical ads from 1963:

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Disturbing scenes of body parts you’d rather not see. Appeals to bypass authority. Untested claims of efficacy.

Replace “Bayer Aspirin” with “Otezla” and the only way the audience could tell the difference between the 1960 commercial and the 2019 commercial would be that the older one is in black and white*.

* Anyone else remember seeing “The following program is brought to you in glorious, living color” on a black and white TV set?

Bottom line, this kind of ad has built more than fifty years of inertia. That means they must work, or the advertisers would have tried something different. And that means they’re not going away, no matter how many people scream for legislation.

Let’s face it: Allan had it right. The only way to ensure you’ll never be bothered by a drug ad again is to eat your TV.

Slow Development

I’m waiting for the next big advance in automotive safety. As you might have gathered from my post last week, it’s not noise cancellation.

No, this isn’t a guessing game. It’s the logical outgrowth of the lane assist and automatic braking technology we already have.

When are we getting…um…heck, I can’t think of a good advertisable name for it. Which might just be part of the reason we haven’t seen it deployed yet. I’m talking about some kind of warning system that alerts a driver who’s following too closely.

It could just be an alert, like the lane monitoring routines that trigger if you cross the lines without signaling for a lane change. Or it could be a proactive solution, slowing down your car to increase the space in front of you, in the same way that automatic braking takes over the vehicle.

Yes, it’s a complicated problem. Off the top of my head, it would need to consider your speed and the speed of the cars around you, weather conditions, the height and direction of the sun, the state of the road, and even the age and condition of your tires. And there are other questions that would need to be addressed. Should the technology shut off in parking lots and other areas where the typical top speed is measured in single digits? What about in bumper to bumper freeway traffic? Can the driver shut it off, either temporarily or permanently?

But complicated doesn’t mean impossible, and it’s a problem that’s going to have to be solved for autonomous vehicles. That means there are plenty of bright people (and history suggests there are even more not-so-bright people) working on it right now.

I’d even be willing to bet that there’s at least one auto manufacturer who has it solid enough that they could deploy it by 2021–the same year as Bose’s noise cancellation.

But we’re probably not going to see it that soon, if ever, because if you thought the technology was complicated, give some thought to the marketing!

To be blunt, the people who most need this are the ones who are least likely to buy a car that has it. Do you think that guy who rides your bumper and goes zipping across three lanes of traffic will be willing to pay for his car to slow him down (or even nag him to back off)? How about the woman who’s trying to improve her fuel economy a little by drafting behind a big rig?

So, no, we’re not going to see Safe Distance any time soon. Not until some smart marketer comes up with a more salable name for it and all manufacturers are ready to deploy it–or there’s a legal mandate to include it in all new cars sold.

I’ll be dreaming of the day.

Blankie

Watanuki’s love affair with Maggie’s new blanket–or rather, plural blankets–continues.

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I don’t know if the colder weather we’ve been getting lately, with overnight lows in the lower forties, or just a desire for snuggles when there are no humans around.

Certainly, he has been snugglier than usual lately, which is suggestive, but not conclusive.

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Regardless of the reason, it’s quite common these days to walk into the bedroom and find a thuggish head poking out from under the blankets.

Oddly, he seems to be the only feline* so enthralled.

* Maggie is nearly as fond of the blankets as ‘Nuki. Nearly.

Rhubarb spends nearly as much time on the bed, but he’s quite content to stick with my familiar slightly fuzzy red blanket.

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Maybe he likes the way it feels. Maybe he thinks it complements his own fur. Or maybe he’s just a creature of habit. Like me.

HOF 2019

The Baseball Hall of Fame voters continue to perplex me.

This year, there were five candidates receiving what I can only assume were sympathy votes. As usual, no offense to the gents in question, but Lance Berkman? Roy Oswalt? And I hope neither of the voters who named Placido Polanco seriously thought he’d make the cut.

That’s not the perplexing part of the ballot, though. There are always a few of those votes.

Nor is the election of Edgar Martinez perplexing. As we’ve said before, the only peculiar thing about that result is how long it took. Congratulations, ‘Gar. Well deserved!

Nor are the changes in the votes received by the PED Players unexpected. Barry Bonds got a small jump from 56.4% to 59.1%. Roger Clemens climbed from 57.3% to 59.5%.

And, if we needed proof that assholery is less offensive to baseball writers than PED use, Curt Schilling got the big bounce-back I expected last year, jumping from 51.2% all the way up to 60.9%. That’s still well short of the 75% necessary for election, but let’s not forget that two years ago, Edgar was two points lower than Schilling is this year. Last year I said “Vote on his performance, guys.” It appears the voters did exactly that. Will he make the grade in his last three years of eligibility? Stay tuned.

Other non-surprises: Mike Mussina, Roy Halladay, and Mariano Rivera were all elected.

So what has me perplexed?

Let me put it this way. Back in 2016, Ken Griffey Jr. scored 99.3% of the votes–the highest percentage ever recorded–and it was generally agreed that if Junior (arguably the greatest player in the history of the game) couldn’t get elected unanimously, nobody ever would.

So how the [expletive deleted] did Mariano Rivera pull it off? I don’t doubt he’s hall-worthy. But unanimously hall-worthy?

I doubt anybody would call him the greatest player in the history of the game. I’m certainly not. Greatest pitcher? Nah. There’s a case, but no. Greatest reliever? Sure, I’d go that far.

But I don’t see how that’s enough to get him a unanimous election.

I know, I know. The vote isn’t over who’s the greatest, just who’s hall-worthy. But again, how is Rivera that much more obviously worthy than Griffey?

I hesitate to suggest bias, but we shouldn’t ignore the fact that Junior’s glory years were played in Seattle–out there in the boonies–while The Sandman played for the Yankees. The New York Yankees. I’ll say no more. Just think about it.

And, those of us who remember Junior in his prime can console ourselves with the thought that he got twelve more votes than Mariano. It’s a tiny fire to warm ourselves with, but it’ll do.

Stay tuned for next year, when the pool will include such worthies and potential worthies as Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, Paul Konerko, J.J. Putz, and Raul Ibanez.

Oh, and my leading candidate to rock the sympathy vote tally, Chone Figgins.

Quietly Bad

One bit of tech news that hasn’t gotten as much attention as I expected is Bose’s announcement that they’ve come up with noise reduction technology for cars.

They’re not making the cars quieter. They’re reducing the amount of road noise inside the car. Yes, like noise-canceling headphones, only for an entire vehicle instead of one person’s ears.

This is, IMNSHO, a bad idea.

Maybe not as bad as electronic license plates or the no-pitch intentional walk. Not quite.

Look, I don’t fly without my headphones. They work brilliantly at filtering out continuous sounds–like the plane’s engines–and not quite as well on repetitious sounds–like the crying baby in the seat behind me. But you know who doesn’t wear noise-canceling headphones on a plane? The flight attendants and the flight deck crew. In other words, the people who are responsible for the safety and comfort of the passengers.

Because the technology isn’t perfect. It also partially eliminates conversation. It glitches occasionally, allowing the background noise to leak through. Those glitches are distracting, and the unintended reduction of non-continuous sounds is a potential safety concern.

Consider how this would apply in your car.

Will Bose’s technology filter or reduce the siren of the police car behind you? Will it make your navigator–human or GPS–quieter? Will it be smart enough to know that droning noise is your favorite bagpipe CD, or will it filter out part of your music? Except, of course, for the occasional glitch where it cuts out and lets through a sudden burst of B flat.

All that aside, even if the technology was perfect, reducing only road noise, without hiccups or glitches, it’s still a bad idea.

Road noise is one of the signals a driver uses to keep tabs on the state of the car and the road. The pitch is part of the feedback system that lets you hold a constant speed on the freeway (traffic permitting, of course). Sudden changes in the sound signal a change in the road surface, alerting you to the possibility of potholes or eroded asphalt.
Do we really want to increase driver distractions and decrease their awareness of what’s going on outside their cars?

Apparently we do. Bose’s announcement says the technology “is planned to be in production models by the end of 2021.” Given the lead time involved in automotive design, that means contracts have been signed and engineers are hard at work now.

I’d offer congratulations to Bose, but they probably wouldn’t hear me.

Personal Growth

As I’ve noted from time to time, Rhubarb is the perennial undercat around here. Nearly everyone bullies him; the lone exception is Sachiko, who’s treated him with a sort of wary respect ever since she was a kitten. (Which is not to say that there’s no strife between them. Sometimes she just can’t resist a casual claw swipe in his direction. But that’s Sachiko being Sachiko.)

Of late, Rhubarb has been trying to assert himself more. It doesn’t work very well, but it’s nice to see him trying. He just hasn’t figured out that he needs to sustain his effort. One hiss or paw slap to the forehead gets attention, but not the kind of respect he’s looking for.

It’ll come to him eventually, I suspect.

And until then, he’ll be our contemplative smoked-salmon-and-cream-cheese fellow.

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Mind lost in rapturous thought, butt firmly planted on the bed.

Two Bits on Seven Gigs

Time to put in my two bits* on a technology story that’s been making the rounds. Sure, I’m late to the party, but I’m going to jump in anyway because it gives me a chance to exercise my contrarian side.

* Yes, I know the expression is “two cents worth”. I could claim it’s inflation, but the truth is, I like to think my opinion–however belated–is worth more than a couple of pennies. Either way, though, you’re getting it for free, so take it for what it’s worth to you.

Word on the street is that Microsoft is again tweaking the way Windows upgrades itself. This time it’s got nothing to do with forced reboots while you’re trying to get work done. Microsoft has noticed–and, gosh, it only took them three and a half years–that Windows 10 often runs out of disk space during upgrades.

There are all kinds of ways to avoid this problem. Making updates smaller springs to mind immediately. Upgrade files in use–a technique Linux has been using for years. Hardcore geeks will undoubtedly have other ideas.

Microsoft’s idea is to set aside a chunk of the hard drive for its own use. About seven gigabytes.

It has the advantage of simplicity.

To be fair, I’m making it sound worse than it is. On any reasonably sized drive, either 7GB is so small as to be unnoticeable or the drive is so full that sacrificing 7GB to the Deities of Richmond isn’t going to make any difference.

Where this will be a problem is on computers with small drives. Like, say, tablets, which often have no more than 32GB drives. (If the rumors are true that Google is going to allow Chromebooks to dual-boot Windows, the same will be true there.)

Much as I love my Windows tablet, space is tight. As I said in that original post, once the initial Windows updates were installed, it was down to a mere 1.5GB. After two years of use, installing just a few programs, and putting as much data on an SD card as I can, I usually have around 5GB free. If Windows sets aside 7GB for its own use, I’m going to be in negative numbers.

It may not be quite that bad, actually. Supposedly, certain temporary files will be stored in that reserved area, freeing up space elsewhere. But while zero is better than negative, it’s an awfully slim margin.

On the other hand, I have gotten rather tired of the semi-annual reclamation of disk space.

Bottom line–and this is where the contrarian bit comes in–I think this news is completely irrelevant to ninety percent of Windows 10 users.

If your hard drive is 256GB or larger, ignore the fuss. You’ll never notice those seven gigabytes.

Same goes for those of you with 128GB, unless you’re in the habit of carrying around your entire library of cat videos. If you’re in that group, embrace the cloud. Put the videos in OneDrive or Dropbox and enjoy the digital elbow room.

If you’ve only got 64GB, you’re in an odd spot. Space is likely to be tight enough that seven gigabytes will hurt, but you’ve probably got enough accumulated junk that you can free up that much space after Microsoft claims its share, and be right back where you are now. Cloud storage will definitely be your friend.

Case in point: my Windows laptop is currently using 57GB. That’s a bit tight, but quite usable. But I’d better clear out some deadwood before the spring Windows update. I note that I’ve got about eight gigabytes of photos and videos on there–a few Ragtime Festival movies and pretty much every picture of the cats I’ve ever taken. Maybe I’ll move those out to OneDrive.

As for those of us with itty-bitty teeny-weenie 32GB drives. Find that space is going to hurt. But on the bright side, once it’s done, we shouldn’t have to do it again. No more trying to scrounge those last few megabytes every six months. No more installing updates manually from USB drives and hoping the tablet’s battery doesn’t run down halfway through the upgrade. I’m inclined to think that right there is worth the initial pain.

So, yeah. Thank you, Microsoft, for trying to solve the problem. You may not have the most elegant solution possible, but if it works, don’t listen to the hip crowd. Take my seven gigs. Please!

Two for the Price of One

It’s not a Short Attention Span Theater*, but I’ve got a couple of items for you today.

* For reasons too complicated to explain**.

** Which is entirely untrue, but sounds better than “For reasons.”

First up, raise your hands if you remember multimedia artist Xathaneal Todd. Don’t feel embarrassed if you don’t. That was way back in ’15–practically prehistory in blogging terms. You can and should refresh your memory.

It turns out his skills aren’t limited to the material arts. Turns out he’s also a composer and actor.

Okay, I’ll admit I have no proof the musician and performer are the same person as the artist. But how likely is it there might be two, much less three, Xathanael Todds? Of the same age? All living in the Fairfield area?

One of the wonderful things about blogging is the way the unexpected turns up. I’ll admit to having forgotten about Xathanael myself. Until Sunday afternoon when a modest little press release popped up in my mailbox.

I say “modest” because it refrains from waxing eloquent about its subject, choosing instead to simply announce the appearance of Mr. Todd as the star of a forthcoming production of Alladin Jr..

Regrettably, Fairfield is a bit outside my usual range. But if any of you are going to be in the area January 31 through February 2, I’d encourage you to check out the show. You will, of course, be obliged to report back. In detail.

Moving on.

Gratifying as it was to hear from Xathaneal (or his press agent), what really warmed my heart-cockles this past weekend was a story in the Chron.

Remember how, despite all of the Bay Bridge’s well-publicized problems, nobody has ever taken any of the blame? No accountability, no public apologies. And there’s certainly been no indication that Caltrans will do anything differently in the future.

Well, it turns out the Transbay Transit Center officials are made of sterner stuff. The article quotes Mark Zabaneh, the Transbay Joint Powers Authority executive director as saying “Obviously, something went wrong with the process for this to happen.” It goes on to describe–at a very high level, naturally (it is a newspaper, after all)–the review processes during design and construction and then cites Zabaneh again as specifically stating that officials need to find out where they went wrong.

Look, I know that’s a long way from resolving the mess–and we still don’t have even an estimate of when the terminal will reopen*. It’s not even an actual apology. But it is a recognition of responsibility. That’s such a major improvement over Caltrans’ handling of the Bay Bridge Bolt Botch that I’m quite giddy with delight.

* Unofficially, the Chron suggests that the repair work could last well into March, which, with the need for testing the fix, could push the reopening into April. One hopes they won’t cut the new ribbon on the first of the month.

Kudos to Mr. Zabaneh for his honesty. May it continue through the repair and the post-mortem project examination.

Floof Is Everywhere

Floof is everywhere.

For starters, here’s a picture of Yuki I missed last week.
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Maggie calls it “Swirl of Floof.” It’s convincing evidence in support of the theory that cats are liquid and will take on the shape of whatever container they put themselves in. In this case, it’s the condo we refer to as “The Hammock,” a favored hangout for Yuki, as well as Sachiko and Watanuki.

And, speaking of Mr. ‘Nuki, here you see him field testing Maggie’s new blanket. Yes, the purple and blue one.
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She got it because it’s warm and snuggly–floofy, even–but ‘Nuki is a suspicious sort and he takes his role as head of household security seriously. He’s not going to approve it for use without extremely careful testing.

So far, he’s been testing it around the clock for ten days.

He won’t commit to a schedule to wrap up the testing. Though it should be noted that the actual testing process requires quite a bit of wrapping up.

Maggie may yet get to use it without Mr. Knuckles’ supervision, but at the rate he’s going, that may not be until June.

Bad Behavior

No matter how hard I try to avoid it, politics continue to suck me in.

My first draft of this post assumed you’d heard about our Fearful Leader’s latest faux pas. Then I realized that even if you have, by the time the post goes live, he’ll have committed at least two or three more. So let’s be more explicit.

So perhaps you’ve heard how You Know Who behaved in a meeting with Congressional leaders over the current government shutdown? If you missed it, he again revealed his total inability to negotiate. When the House Democrats again refused to submit to his flat demands, he slapped the table and walked out of the meeting.

I just have one question.

That’s not acceptable behavior in any context. Not in business, not in social life, and certainly not in politics. Though, given Trump’s love of everything Russian, I’m surprised he didn’t take off his shoe and pound that on the table. But I digress.

The question is why his supporters condone this sort of behavior. If their kid demanded a raise in their allowance, slapped the kitchen table, and stormed out of the room, would they praise their negotiating tactics and give them the money? Would they go into a job interview, insist they be hired immediately, slam their fist on the table, and leave, then expect to be called back and put to work?

So why do they continue to say he’s a wonderful negotiator, a great president, and absolutely should get his giant Lego set?

Moving on. Not very far, though.

I can’t help but feel a certain amount of schadenfreude over the situation Chipotle is in. Because, let’s face it, they brought it on themselves.

In case you’ve missed it, this has nothing to do with the Salmonella Story–that just reduces whatever small amount of sympathy I might have had for them. This is about claims of wage theft, corporately sanctioned policies that forced workers to work without pay.

The case goes back to 2013. More than 10,000 current and former workers filed suit and attempted to have the case certified as a class action. In response, Chipotle adopted a mandatory arbitration provision for all new hires, and last summer roughly a quarter of the complainers were required to drop out of the suit and go to arbitration.

The result? Not only is the suit continuing on behalf of the workers who were hired before the arbitration clause was added to contracts, but now Chipotle is facing hundreds, possibly thousands, of arbitration cases–which it may have to pay for itself.

All they’ve accomplished is a temporary delay in the main suit and increased their own potential financial burden.

At this point, they’ve probably spent more money on their legal maneuverings than they would have shelled out if they’d simply settled the case when it was first filed. Or–assuming there’s merit in the claims–if they’d just treated their workers fairly.

I can’t help but wonder if Chipotle’s executives have gone to the same school of negotiation as Fearful Leader.