SAST 21

I’m not sure what’s causing it, but linear thought and get-up-and-go seem to have deserted me this week. The calendar says it’s Wednesday, but my brain is absolutely convinced it’s Monday. Except during those intervals where it decides that two Mondays in three days is a really bad idea and declares it to be Septober 37th.

So, a few quick hits, dashed off many, many hours after my self-imposed posting deadline.

I imagine you’ve heard that Google is releasing new hardware. The Pixel 7 series of phones are evolutionary advances over the Pixel 6 series. Better in some marketing-influenced way (keep in mind that most of the significant changes are in software and will undoubtedly roll down to the older generation in due course). A few cosmetic tweaks. If you’ve got a 6, I don’t see any really compelling reason to upgrade.

Then there’s the Pixel Watch. Which really comes across as a Apple Watch wannabe. It’s got Fitbit integration and the necessary sensors to allow it to do most of the health-related things the Apple Watch does. It also has a claimed 24 hour battery life, so–like the Apple Watch–you’re going to be charging it every day. Remember when watches, even “smart” watches, could run for a week or two on a single charge? Actually, you can still find ones that can do that, but the Big Two are so determined to make watches into do-everything devices, you’re never going to find one with a Big A or Big G butt stamp. (And, yes I am bitter about Google’s decision to use a proprietary method of attaching the band, rather than allowing users to customize with the millions of bands that are already on the market.)

What else? Pixel Tablet. Not coming out until next year; plenty of time for them to release specs and hype before we see it. Nest Wifi Pro. Nest Doorbell (Wired). Great if you need ’em, zero interest for most of the world’s population.

Moving on.

Yes, of course I watched the Mariners’ first game against their nemesis, Houston yesterday.

Yes, of course I’m bitterly disappointed in how it turned out.

But no, I’m not going to second guess. I’m just going to say, “Seattle sports. sigh“.

‘Nother game in Tejas tomorrow. Hopefully with a happier ending: it’s a best of five series, so losing both games in Houston would force the Mariners to win three straight. I’m not sure they’ve ever won three in a row from the Astros.

Meanwhile…

Microsoft announced new hardware yesterday too.

The Surface Pro 9 comes with your choice of an Intel CPU or a Microsoft-designed chip, the SQ3. Because abandoning the “Surface Pro X” branding that distinguished between the two product lines isn’t going to cause major confusion among consumers. I forsee lots of returns when people discover their new laptop won’t run all the software they want to put on it. Heck, people still haven’t figured out the “S-mode” app restrictions yet.

That aside, they both look like solid machines in that thin-and-light aka two-in-one space. Microsoft has finally moved from USB-C to full-blown Thunderbolt 4, at least on the Intel machines. That’s progress.

There’s also the Surface Laptop 5. Thunderbolt there, too, along with overall decent specs at a reasonable price. Still a really low budget webcam, though. You’ll probably want to invest in a USB camera if you’re a serious Zoomer.

Other announcements are much less exciting. The Surface Studio 2 is getting a “+”: not enough of an upgrade for Microsoft to justify bumping it to “3”. New “Designer” software if you have a Microsoft 365 subscription. New hardware with a focus on accessibility*. Presentation and audio hardware designed to make online meetings better.

* I’m not casting aspersions at Microsoft by lumping it into the “not very exciting category”. It’s seriously great news for those who can’t use conventional mice and/or keyboards and I give Microsoft major props for going down this path. But the regrettable truth is that 90+% of the computer-using public isn’t going to care one way or the other.

The only thing that really made me sit up and take notice (for the few seconds my brain allowed) is the note that Windows will be able to automatically synchronize pictures from “the iOS Photos app” (i.e. iCloud). Done well, this will remove a major pain point for any Windows user with an iPhone. Done poorly, well, we won’t be any worse off than we are right now.

I Haven’t Lost All My…

As I noted a couple of months ago, the classic Backyard Bowl has been discontinued in favor of daily offerings to the various Gods of Feral Critters, over on the other side of the house, near the catio.

However, we* do maintain the water bowl in its historical location, and it continues to get visitors.

* Although I say “we”, 95% or more of the actual maintenance is done by Maggie.

Meet Marbles.

Named, as local tradition has it, by appearance. He*’s a marble tabby, so the name is pretty much inevitable.

* Conjecturally. We haven’t gotten a good look at putatively his hindquarters.

He’s not as consistent in his visits as G’aw; sometimes weeks will go by without a sighting, but we’re always happy to see him. He’s very skittish when it comes to humans. Where G’aw will keep a cautious distance, but say “hello” and “can’t you fill that bowl any faster”, Marbles will vanish if he even thinks someone is looking at him.

Which is perfectly fine. Not everyone needs to be friendly–and to be blunt, it would be highly hypocritical of me to cast aspersions on someone for being a curmudgeonly anti-social grump.

That said, we do seem to be the only ones in the area who are pleased to see him. G’aw faces him down if they both show up at the same time.

And as for the other neighbors, well…did you notice the bird sitting on the fence? It did its best car alarm imitation the entire time Marbles was in the yard.

Oh, Is It October Already?

I’m rarely so pleased to be wrong.

Not only did the playoff battle not come down to the last day–the Phillies wrapped up the last slot on Monday–but despite having clinched a spot last week, attendance in Seattle remains high.

I’m writing this on Tuesday afternoon (while I watch Aaron Judge try for his 62nd home run of the season) so there are still some positional battles remaining: will Seattle or Tampa Bay be the sixth seed in the AL; will Atlanta or New York win the NL East, relegating the loser to the top Wild Card slot; and will Philadelphia squeak ahead of San Diego into the NL fifth seed?

(Update just prior to posting: the positional shuffling is done, Judge hit Number 62–in the second game of the double-header, after I’d switched to watching the Mariners–so all that’s left for today is pure baseball, untouched by any concern greater than “Don’t get hurt, guys!”)

Final positioning aside, since the teams are set, it’s time to have our usual pre-post-season discussions.

Let’s start with my results for the season. Historically, I’ve hit somewhere between .500 and .700 in picking playoff teams. Pretty darn good as a batting average, downright sucky as a fielding percentage. And, of course, this year the playoffs have expanded from eight teams to twelve, giving me plenty of room to do a lot worse.

In the NL, I picked the Mets, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Padres, and Rockies.

Oops.

Mets and Dodgers, yes. Padres, too. But the Giants missed the playoffs by seven games, the Cubs by fourteen, and the Rockies by a depressing twenty. In their places, we got the Braves, Cardinals, and Phillies. Fifty percent on the senior circuit.

In the AL, well… I had the Yankees, Guardians, Athletics, White Sox, Astros, and Rangers.

Reality has the Yankees, Guardians, and Astros. And also the Blue Jays, Mariners, and Rays.

Fifty percent there, too. Prognostication is a tough game; nice to know I can play it consistently, if not necessarily well.

Moving on. If your team made the playoffs, you already know who you’re rooting for. If your guys came up short, or if you don’t have a regular team*, here’s how to choose a rooting interest this year.

* Only following baseball during the playoffs is much like only going to church at Christmas. We’re happy to see your butt in a pew, but we’d be even happier to see you there the rest of the year. But I digress.

Briefly, you can NOT root for a team that claims to be everyone’s team. If you have a team that didn’t make the playoffs, you shouldn’t root for a team in the other league or one in your team’s division. And, because everyone loves an underdog, teams with a record of futility get bonus points. (You can read the full rules in the 2019 Playoff post.)

So, that said, the only people who should be rooting for the Dodgers, Braves, and Yankees are the ones who root for them during the regular season. Last year I had the Astros on the list as well, due to the cheating scandals; I’m inclined to keep them there this year*, futile though I know it is. On the other side, bonus points for sustained futility before this year go to Seattle (21 years without a post-season appearance) and Philadelphia (11 years sitting out October); additional bonus points to the Mariners for never having been in the World Series (46 years and counting), and a slightly smaller quantity of bonus points to the Padres and Blue Jays (respectively, 24 and 29 years since their last World Series).

* Kid, have you rehabilitated yourself?

So, if you’re officially unaffiliated, Seattle is your obvious choice; if you have a vague NL affiliation, pull for Philadelphia.

If you normally root for an AL East or Central team, again, you should be pulling for the Mariners; if you normally follow Texas, Oakland, or LA, Toronto is your best choice. Similarly, if you’re usually an NL East or Central fan, latch on to the Padres; San Francisco, Arizona, and Colorado fans, hold those Phillies close to your hearts (though nobody can blame you if you would rather pull for the Cardinals.)

And, now that we all know who we’re rooting for, I’m going to spoil all your fun by telling you who’s actually going to the World Series and who’s going to win.

As usual, the Dodgers have the best run differential in MLB, a staggering +332, as I write this. (Parenthetically, based on their respective run differentials, I expect the Braves to beat out the Mets for the NL East title. sigh)

Their opponent in the Series will naturally be the Yankees (+242) with the Astros as a possible dark horse (only +208, but with the second-best winning percentage at .650). Either way, it will again be a Series between two Rule One teams.

But can that stellar run differential carry the Dodgers through the World Series? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say no. Just look at their recent history. Yes, they won it all in 2020–the COVID-shortened season. But in their most recent eight full-season playoff appearances, they’ve only made it to the World Series twice (2017 and 2018), losing both times. In the other six, they’ve been eliminated in their first round three times (2014, 2015, 2019) and their second round twice (2013, 2016). That’s not what I’d call a record of sustained excellence.

It’s gonna be the Yankees. Unless it’s the Astros. double sigh

And Here We Are

I’m writing this post Tuesday afternoon–we’re just about a week from the end of the regular season–and the Mariners are determined to be the Mariners.

A week ago, they had a reasonably solid grip on the playoffs, with a five game lead over the next closest team. Not a cinch, but wildly encouraging for those of us who are old enough to remember the last time the Ms played a post-season game.

There are, by the way, at least a dozen players on their 40 Man Roster who are too young to remember anything from October 22, 2001.

But again, Mariners: a subset of Seattle sports. They’ve managed to lose seven of their past ten games, and only the fact that the Orioles haven’t managed to do any better than .500 has kept Seattle in that third Wild Card spot. Nineteen games remaining: ten for Seattle, nine for Baltimore. Six Orioles’ losses, Mariners’ wins, or any combination adding up to six eliminates Baltimore and probably* clinches a playoff spot for Seattle.

* Chicago and Minnesota could still be spoilers. But for the Twins to boot Seattle out of the playoffs would require them to win all of their remaining games and Seattle to lose all of theirs. Even for a Seattle team, that’s a stretch. Chicago’s chances aren’t much better: three Seattle wins in these last ten games–the same record they’ve accumulated over the past week and a half, remember–would end Chicago’s run.

But, the Baseball Gods forbid the Race For the Playoffs to be settled without drama. And, yes, one has to admire the Ms’ willingness to look bad* in the interest of keeping interest high. Let’s face it, this is Seattle we’re talking about. As soon as the Mariners clinch–assuming they do–attendance at T-Mob is going to crater for the rest of the regular season. (Seattle is far from unique in that regard: there’s a reason why teams schedule special games–Fan Appreciation Day, Oktoberfest, Kids Run the Bases, and suchlike–during the last week of the season. Can’t get butts in seats without some intrigue; can’t find some excitement? Invent some!)

* Giving up eleven runs in one inning, and still losing by a single run? That’s drama, that is.

But Seattle teams excel at stretching drama, often until it snaps in their faces. How many times this century have the Mariners been eliminated on the last day of the season? I won’t be a bit surprised if this year’s postseason isn’t settled until the final games of the season*.

* Wednesday, October 5. Mariners/Tigers, Orioles/Blue Jays, and (for the sake of completeness) White Sox/Twins.

Of course, it being a work day, with all games starting at 4:00 (give or take a few minutes) I won’t get to watch any of them.

The Baseball Gods are cruel. It’s a well-known fact.

Mind you, I’d love to see both the Mariners and Orioles make the playoffs, even if it did mean they’d be facing each other. It could happen: Tampa Bay is only half a game ahead of the Mariners, and six of their last nine games will be against teams that have clinched playoff spots. If they were to go, say, 3-6, while the Mariners go 5-5, all Baltimore would have to do snag the last slot would be winning eight of nine*. A pair of four-game winning streaks would do it. Happens all the time, right?

* Unfortunately, Tampa Bay holds the tiebreaker–head to head record–over both Seattle and Baltimore.

Okay, it’s unlikely to happen. But you gotta admit, the odds are slightly better than the Twins’ chances of playing past next Wednesday. (Before any games were played Tuesday, FiveThirtyEight had the Orioles odds at 1%–which does, of course, include the possibility of leapfrogging Seattle, but not Tampa Bay–and Minnesota’s at the uninformative “<1%”*.

* Come on, gang, tell us how much less than one percent they are!

As I said, here we are. The thrill of defeat, the agony of victory, isn’t that how it goes? Close enough, anyway.

See you at the ballpark.

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.