Arms Race

We’ve been hearing a lot about the non-medical fallout of the COVID-19 epidemic: the increasing polarization of politics*, burnout among medical professionals, children falling behind on their schooling, and so on. There’s one impact, however, that I haven’t seen noted in the press yet.

* Though, to be fair to the virus, that one was already well in progress before 2020; COVID-19 is just an excuse.

Noise pollution.

Those of us in mask-wearing parts of the country are being subjected to more and more noise. And we should have seen (heard?) it coming.

Masks do muffle speech and nobody wants to try to carry on a conversation with pen and paper. Heck, only a rare few of us carry notebooks these days, and it seems like even fewer still remember how to write*. I suppose in some situations, we could use our phones. But do you want to give a stranger your phone number just so you can text your dinner order? Think that hot guy at the other end of the bar can be trusted not to abuse your number if you don’t fall for his pickup line–or even if you do? And the whole point of meeting your sweetie in person is so you can whisper sweet nothings in their ear; you might as well skip the dinner date if you’re just going to chat at each other across the table.

* I’ll skip the rant about schools no longer teaching cursive, much less penmanship in general.

So instead, we’re all speaking louder.

Problem solved, right? Not so much.

Business owners are wedded to the notion that background music improves sales.

There’s a reason it’s called “background” music: you’re not supposed to listen to it; it’s just supposed to affect you at a subliminal level. It makes you shop faster, not think about whether you can afford something, but just buy it and move on. Or eat faster, so the restaurant can turn the table over that much sooner.

But if you can’t hear it at all, it can’t have its supposed effect. And so, with everyone tightening their diaphragms and projecting their voices, stores and restaurants are compensating by turning up the music.

Which, of course, makes it harder for the customers to be understood, so they speak even louder. Vicious circle. Arms race–make that “ears race”.

Even here in the masks-mandatory Bay Area, we’re not quite up to volume levels traditionally associated with rock concerts and airports. Not yet, anyway. But hearing can be damaged by sustained noise at lower volumes.

Speaking louder gets to be a habit. I’m hearing that in my own life. At home and mask-free, I’m still talking louder than I used to, unless I make a conscious effort not to.

So I don’t think sound levels are going to drop quickly even once COVID-19 is beaten*. You might want to pick up a pair of noise-canceling headphones for daily wear over the next couple of years.

* Make that “beaten”. It’s not going to go away completely. The best we can hope for is to reduce it to the level of the flu. Get your annual flu shot (and, by the way, it’s that time of year–go get yours today!) and a COVID shot; we may even wind up combining them into a single dose.

And it just might be that now is the right time to be buying stock in companies that make hearing aids.

An Apple a Day

It seems like we were talking about Apple’s latest announcements just a couple of days ago, and yet here we are, talking about Apple’s–you know.

Let’s skip the puffery. Does anyone outside Apple really care how many awards Apple TV+ has won?

More importantly, Apple has announced new toys.

Two new iPads, specifically a new basic model and a new mini.

The former is a nice step up from last year’s model. New chips mean a 20% speed increase across the board, and a new camera will let it do some of the video trickery formerly limited to the iPad Pro.

The upgraded mini is probably the most eagerly awaited upgrade. Smaller bezels in the same form factor mean a bigger screen without increasing the weight, Touch ID in the top button*, and a 40-80% speed boost depending on what you’re doing. No more Lightning port; USB-C instead, which opens up a lot of new accessory possibilities. Better cameras, of course. That’s obligatory for any new Apple hardware, right?

* These days, Touch ID is much better than Face ID. Don’t make me take my mask off to sign in without a password, please. And nice of Apple to remember that not everyone who has an iPad has an Apple Watch they could use for automatic unlocking.

And, speaking of the Apple Watch: surprise! Get ready for the new Apple Watch Series 7. Bigger screen and bigger buttons, faster charging, stronger*, and still compatible with your old bands. Because backward compatibility is important, right?

* Let’s hope so. The screens on the previous six generations seem unreasonably vulnerable to cracking from even the smallest jolts. Interestingly, Apple is crediting the improved durability to the shape. I have to wonder why they’re not using the oh-so-strong ceramic they introduced on the iPhone 12 screens.

And it looks like Apple is simplifying the product line a little. Once the Series 7 comes out, the 5 and 6 will both go away. Series 3 for the budget-conscious, SE for the mid-range, and 7 for anyone who doesn’t want to be seen as a cheapskate.

And, of course, new iPhones. Kudos to Apple for not giving in to superstition and skipping “13”.

Smaller front camera notch and, as usual, the best camera ever in a (non-pro) iPhone. Bigger battery. Comes in regular and mini. Faster than your now-obsolete iPhone 12, naturally. Storage now starts at 128GB–no more 64GB devices–and goes up to 512GB. Not quite up to some of the top-of-the-line Samsung phone’s 1TB, but still and improvement for anyone who wants to carry weeks of music or a trans-Atlantic flight’s worth of movies.

Naturally, there’s a Pro and a Pro Max, both of which fall into the “more than six inches” category, also known as “too flippin’ big to fit in your pocket. As usual, the main distinguishing characteristic of the Pro phones are the cameras, but Apple is also talking up the improved battery life (as compared to the equivalent iPhone 12 models) and storage up to (ah, there it is–couldn’t let Samsung get that far ahead) 1TB.

As expected, most of the new devices are evolutionary; only the improved mini could even arguably be considered revolutionary.

But that’s today’s Apple.

Silver Lining

I mentioned last week that until Yuki builds up more strength and regains more control over his hind legs, we’re restricting his movements. He’s occupying the master suite: plenty of places to hang out, a favored locale for several of the gang, and frequently occupied by bipeds to give him snuggles. And, most importantly, no stairs. He’s definitely not ready for stair-climbing–no matter what he thinks.

He’s mostly putting up with it, but he dearly misses his favorite afternoon pastime: sprawling on the floor outside Maggie’s office and teasing the inhabitants, Kaja in particular.

We’ve never understood the root of their mutual antagonism, but it goes way back. In fact, the last time Yuki had to wear a Cone o’ Shame, it was because he’d incited Kaja to assault.

Since that attack, Kaja has been living in Maggie’s office, along with her littermate, Rhubarb. It was a joint decision: she largely refused to ignore Yuki’s attempts to tick her off, and he couldn’t resist teasing her, but wasn’t nimble enough to get out of her way. So when Kaja stopped roaming the house, we mostly stopped opening the office door except when we were actually walking in and out of the room.

But now, with Yuki confined to quarters, we’ve been leaving the door open in the evenings, so the Flying Monkeys can go exploring. And it’s working. Somewhat.

They’re not hugely brave about it, and oddly enough, Rhubarb has been more adventurous than Kaja. He’s made it down to the dining room and kitchen a couple of times, while she hasn’t even made it to the foot of the stairs.

But they’ve been doing the meet-and-greet with Lefty and Emeraldas, both of whom joined the crew long after Kaja gave up on the world outside Maggie’s office. Largely amicable meets, I might add–for local values of “amicable”.

The result:

Top to bottom and left to right: Kokoro, Rhubarb, Kaja, Sachiko, and Emeraldas.

Yes, five cats in one photo.

Even more impressively, Lefty and ‘Nuki were by my feet, well within sight and smell of the stairs, just ill-placed for photographic documentation.

We’ve been hopeful about reintegrating Kaja before, only to be disappointed. But this is an excellent sign.

WQTS 13

Once a product hits the thrift store, it’s much too late to make corrections to the packaging. But perhaps this can serve as a cautionary lesson.

“Ntelligemt Hulahgop”?

I understand the need to find a unique name for your company and product, but some approaches to the problem are just wrong. That includes all of the approaches used here.

How exactly does one pronounce “ntelligemt”? I’m guessing the “n” is pronounced “in”. That’s fairly standard. But is that a hard or soft “g”? “gehmt” doesn’t exactly fall trippingly off the tongue, but “jehmt” isn’t an improvement. The soft “g” might work if it weren’t for the “m”, but we’re stuck with that.

Then there’s “hulahgop”. I’m sure whoever came up with the name wanted something to suggest “hula hoop” without actually violating Wham-O’s trademark. And, yeah, okay, a “G” looks like an “O”. But we’ve got a pronunciation problem here too. It’s not the “G” so much as the “H” that precedes it. “huhgahp”? “huhjahp”? Maybe we can say the “H” is silent; “hulagahp” almost works, and “hulajahp” is even better–as long as one ignores the ease with which it could be mispronounced as a well-known derogatory slang term.

Matters don’t get any better once we move past those names.

Who thought it was a good idea to break up the word “beautiful”. I don’t know about you, but I can only assume that Beau Tiful was Beau Brummel’s lesser-known brother.

And why the missing spaces in the tagline? “exercisemakes peoplemore beautiful” Is it supposed to convey a message? Other than “Nobody associated with the product has ever bothered to learn English”. That’s the message I get.

And it’s one that’s reinforced by “free adjustments”. I suspect they meant “freely adjustable”, but the way it’s phrased, it suggests I’ll need to take it to a shop to have the belt tightened or loosened to fit my waist–but at least the shop won’t charge me for the service.

Finally, there’s that block of text at the upper left. In case you can’t read it in the picture, what it says is:

Shock-absorbing

Massage contact 360

Surround massage

Wait, what? This is a massager? I thought it was exercise equipment.

But I guess it makes sense. Doesn’t everyone like a vigorous stomach massage while jumping up and down? I know that would help me lose weight: five minutes and I’ll be getting rid of everything I’ve eaten for the past week.

Camel-back Floof

As some of you–those who are paying attention–know, I missed a post a month back.

2021 has been an emotional rollercoaster–much like 2020, in fact, albeit in a somewhat lower key. B-flat, perhaps.

The particular Bactrian-cervical-fracturing event was a medical emergency. Yuki was…well, I’m going to avoid graphic depictions here and just say that he was spewing from both ends at once. This despite not eating and not drinking significant amounts.

The short-term result was a series of vet visits, both to his regular doctors and, because they aren’t a 24-hour outfit, the emergency vet for overnight monitoring. Highly stressful for Yuki, Maggie, me, and all the rest of the gang. Many were the nervous looks and plaintive cries of “Where’s the floofy guy?”

To avoid needlessly prolonging the suspense, I’ll leave it at that and say that he’s well past that crisis and doing okay.

The main long-term result is that he’s been switched from his preferred diet (Kitty Krack and regular dry food) to a diet of foods designed for sensitive stomachs. He’s not thrilled about it, but he is eating enough of it to fill his nutritional needs.

And we’ve taken advantage of the opportunity to switch everyone to the new food. It’s amazing how liberating it is not to be buying four different kinds of gooshy food (Kitty Krack for Yuki, urinary diet for ‘Nuki, Halo for Kokoro, Kaja, and Rhubarb, and Purina One for everyone else). We’ve had a few upset tummies along the way–even if the food is for sensitive stomachs, any dietary change can be a problem for the feline digestive system–but that seems to be settling down, and nobody is voicing major objections.

Yuki is still regaining strength, and it’s an open question how much he’ll be able to do. His hind legs have been an issue for years, and they’re definitely more wobbly than they were in, say, July. (Note from Maggie: the issue with his wobbly hind legs isn’t so much a matter of leg problems as it is cerebellar problems — although he also has wonky knees and hips. Whatever’s causing his hindlimb ataxia seems to be fairly stable, but one of the known side effects of the metronidazole he was taking is…ataxia, and it can take awhile to wear off)

But he’s largely cheerful, he’s getting around the portions of the house we’re giving him access to (no stairs!), and he’s jumping well enough to get onto the bed.

The naked areas at the base of his tail, on his front leg, and on his stomach (shaved for sanitation, catheterization, and ultrasound, respectively) are a fashion statement he doesn’t much care for. We’re not crazy about it either, for that matter.

But if it’s a choice between concentrating on his walking or regrowing his floof, we’re all in agreement that we can live with a bit of feline nudity.

An Extended Response to a Recent Comment

There are stories everywhere.

“Why did this happen?”

“How did it go down?”

Answer the reporters’ traditional questions–who, what, when, where, why, and how–and you’re telling a story.

Interesting point, though: you don’t need to answer all of the questions to make it a story. Sometimes each answer is its own story. And each story leads to more questions and more stories.

As a writer, it’s my job to tell stories. And because I write fiction, I’m supposed to make up those stories.

Every story has a starting point. Even the fictional stories. Maybe it was the who: many writers start with the characters and watch them interact. Sometimes it’s the what or the how: where would a locked room mystery be without the what and the how?

Just to be totally clear, darn near everything I write here on the blog is a story. And, guess what? Most of them are at least somewhat fictional. If I start with a news story, and I don’t know the answer to one of those questions, most likely I’m going to make something up. Because you (usually) don’t tell a story by not answering questions.

Put it another way: “How can you tell when a writer is making something up?” “He’s writing*.”

* A more accurate answer would be “He’s alive” but that doesn’t call back to the old joke about lawyers as well.

Because I’m the only person telling stories on this site–ignoring the ones that you all tell when you comment (remember what I said about stories leading to more stories?)–they have a number of common elements; if you read for a while, you’ll see similar word choices, subjects, and tonalities cropping up again and again.

My tastes run toward snark and satire, so when I have to make something up for a story, chances are I’m going to come up with something intended to trigger a smirk or a snicker.

What constitutes humor, snark, satire, and parody is heavily influenced by culture. It’s easy to miss those elements if you’re coming from a different cultural matrix.

One important point: making up answers for “why” can be risky. Oddly enough, some people take offense when certain motives are attributed to them. That being the case, I try not to fictionalize human motivations when writing about stories I’ve picked up from the news.

The key word in the previous sentence is, of course “human”. Cats, by and large, are unwilling to go to the hassle of filing lawsuits and–Grumpy Cat notwithstanding–don’t have money to pay lawyers.

Looking Back

Another in a highly irregular, totally unscheduled series of looks back at the furry crew in their younger days.

Meet Rhubarb and Kaja, age approximately five months.

This is a rare shot: Kaja is asleep, but Rhubarb is awake. The other way around was (and–even though both are much more sedentary these days–is) much more common.

SAST 19

3-13

1-15

Baseball tradition says there are two ways a team can react to back-to-back drubbings like the pair the Mariners suffered Friday and Saturday. Really, after losing two by a combined score of 27-4, your only choices are to either throw your hands up in the air and surrender the season or flip the table and go on a buzzsaw rampage through the opposition*. But Seattle has chosen another path.

* Look, don’t take me too literally here. I mostly write fiction. I’m allowed to promote wistful memory to the status of established fact.

I get it. Nobody enough attention to hallowed baseball tradition these days. Not even–especially not even–the commissioner, who’s supposed to be the one responsible for maintaining the continuity of the game and ensuring it continues into its third century.

Instead of blowing Game Three against Houston 0-96 or thrashing them 78-2, the Ms squeaked out a 6-3 victory on Sunday, and needed 11 innings to do it. Okay, yes, given how poorly Seattle has done against the Astros over the last four or five seasons, any victory feels like a blowout win. But then the Mariners moved on to Oakland.

Monday, they managed a 5-3 win with three runs in the ninth–their first lead of the game. Tuesday, 5-1, but they didn’t score the last two until the eighth. Not exactly the stuff of buzzsaws.

On the other hand, that is three wins in a row, boosting Seattle to a season-high 11 games over .500 and, as I write this Tuesday afternoon, a mere two and a half games out of a playoff spot.

A nail file may not be as fast or efficient as a buzzsaw, but it can eventually cut down a tree. And those last few cuts are going to be darn exciting.

Moving on.

You know what I’m finding nearly as frustrating as the complete denial of reality exhibited by a large segment of the population? It’s the fixation on a single action as a solution to a large problem.

Let me put it in simple terms: You can safely ignore anyone who says “All we need to do is…”

“All we need to do is vaccinate [some percentage] of the population to stop COVID-19.” Nope. Even if we somehow got everyone vaccinated, we’d still have breakthrough cases and local outbreaks as immunity declines.

“All we need to do is get all the gas-burning cars off the road to stop climate change.” Nope. We’re already past the point where natural processes can get all the excess carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere in a useful-to-humans timeframe.

“All we need to do is ban construction of single-family houses to end homelessness.” Do I need to crunch numbers here to show how ridiculous this one is?

These are only a few of the “All we need” statements I’ve heard people make in all seriousness in the last two weeks. And not one of them holds up to even a cursory examination.

Just say no to “All we need”.

Moving on again.

It’s been a long, long, long time since I highlighted any amusing spam. It’s odd, but the latest tactic in blog spam seems to be insulting the blogger.

“Why throw away your intelligence on just posting videos to your weblog when you could be giving us something enlightening to read?”

“This is the worst post you’ve ever written!”

“I wish you would write about something interesting like [random subject]”

And then they go on to say “Best price on [ED drug of choice] here!” Just so you know it’s spam and not an actual disaffected former reader.

Seems counter-productive to me, but given how enthusiastic the spammers are, I guess it works occasionally.

But one brave spammer seems to be taking a contrary approach. A couple of days ago, I found this in my might-be-spam folder:

“Rattling informative and great complex body part of subject material, now that’s user pleasant (:.”

For the record, it was spam. “great complex body part” was a link to a discount pharmacy of dubious quality. But I had to admire the spammer for not only bucking current trends in advertisement, but also working a pun into his pitch.

Happy Cat, Frustrated Photographer

Her Majesty, Queen Emeraldas, has fallen under the spell of Maggie’s sewing area.

Like so many cats before her, she’s discovered that the space just to the right of the sewing machine is the perfect size for a cat to snooze. It’s got a nice view of the back yard; it’s elevated, away from other cats; and gets plenty of sunlight in the afternoon.

I’ve been trying to get a picture of her on the table for weeks now.

Either the sees me coming and hides or the backlighting from the window is too bright for the camera. Even the much-vaunted iPhone 12 camera can’t work miracles of that magnitude.

Fortunately, Maggie’s sewing chair is almost as attractive a feline hangout as the table.

This shot, taken from across the room–with the aforementioned iPhone 12–has been tweaked a bit to improve the contrast enough to make her eyes visible. But at least it’s recognizably a picture of a cat. A specific cat, even.

Even at such extreme distances, she was distinctly dubious about the whole venture.

But I’m declaring victory. Because sometimes you have to shoot the arrow and then draw the target.