Not Quite Instant

Maggie and I have succumbed.

Not to the lure of another cat. Please don’t tempt us with the thought.

No, what we’ve given in to is the latest kitchen fad. Maybe not the latest-latest, but at least the latest long-lived.

We held out against the sous vide apocalypse, but we’ve accepted the Instant Pot into our lives (and our kitchen).

Seriously, given how often we use our slow cooker, the Instant Pot was a no brainer. A six quart IP takes up about the same amount of counter space as our three quart crockpot–maybe even a bit less–and that’s important in our one-and-a-half-butt kitchen.

Is it going to revolutionize our existence? Not likely. But that extra elbow room from the doubled capacity will be very nice when we do a fauxtisserie chicken. Might even be able to do it faster. Must experiment one of these days.

Though it may be a while. We’re still learning its quirks. Heck, we’ve only used it three times so far.

Braising a hunk of cow big enough for two dinners in ninety minutes–including heat-up time and extra time for the potatoes–was nice. More work involved than in using the oven, but the savings in time and electricity make up for a lot.

The pasta dish turned out well. I’m not certain we’ll do that regularly–for one thing, it actually took longer than the traditional stovetop approach–but I’ll admit that not having to drain the pasta was nice.

The Instant Pot “one dish meal” method is not the way to go if you’re looking for a bowl of sauce with noodles swimming in it. The goal seems to be to balance the ingredients so the liquid from the sauce goes into the pasta, leaving the sauce solids bonded to the outside of the noodles. Tasty (though we’ll definitely tweak the recipe next time–more oregano at the very least) if a bit disconcerting at first.

And it does function well as a crockpot. We did chili as our first slow cook experiment. Yes, there are plenty of quick chili recipes for the Instant Pot out there and we’ll probably try some eventually. But for this test we wanted to see how it handled a known recipe.

It seems as though Low Heat is a bit lower than our crockpot’s “Lo” setting. The onions were a bit crunchier than we expected, and the meat not quite as soft was we’re used to. It’s probably as well that we used thin fajita-cut meat instead of cubes. Next time we’ll set the pot on Medium, and that should improve matters.

Our slow cooker let us set a timer–cook for some amount of time, then either turn off or, if it was on “Hi”, switch to “Lo”. We never used it. The thought of coming home to either room-temperature food or excessively-cooked food didn’t appeal. The Instant Pot, on the other hand, can be set to switch over to a “keep warm” setting after the cooking time runs out. That might just be worth a good chunk of the admission price right there.

Speaking of warming things, I hadn’t realized just how many people believe microwave ovens are tools of the Devil.

Okay, I exaggerate slightly. But only slightly. I started researching how to reheat the chili in the Instant Pot, instead of using the oven as we normally do. Nearly every site I read warned about the unspecified health hazards of microwaves–and especially reheating food in one–though none actually stated what the risks are. I conclude they’re the same risks one runs by not eating “organic” foods.

Several sites said–and I’m not paraphrasing–“Thank God for my Instant Pot!” I’m not sure how much Hephaestus had to do with the creation of the Instant Pot, but I’m sure he appreciates their gratitude. Or maybe they were addressing Hestia–a goddess of the hearth might be a more appropriate vessel for cooking-related thanks.

But I digress.

Are there Instant Pot recipes we’re not going to try? Absolutely.

As a typical example, consider lasagna. I admire the dedication and determination of all the people who’ve created Instant Pot lasagna recipes, there’s no way I’m going to try them. Every one I’ve seen requires even more effort than traditional oven-based recipes do, most of them take longer, and a significant percentage call for finishing the cooking in the oven. Why bother?

But our initial experiments with Instant Potting (Instant Pottery would be something else, I think) have been successful enough to encourage us. I don’t think this will be the sort of kitchen gadget that gets used once or twice, then shoved in a drawer, never to be seen again.

And, as soon as the weather cools off a bit further, I intend to see how the Instant Pot handles our favorite hot spiced cider recipe. I’ll report back if we figure out how to reduce the cooking time without compromising the flavor.

A Singletasker That Works

Last time I wrote about my daily-use tech tools, I praised my Surface Go as–among other things–“far more capable than I expected” and noted that “it works well as a tablet-slash-ebook-reader”.

I still stand by those remarks, but I have uncovered a significant flaw in the Go. A flaw not unique to that device, by the way, but endemic to gadgets.

There’s only one of it.

I’d frequently settle down on the bed to read for a while and discover I’d left the Go upstairs, connected to the big monitors. Or go upstairs to do some pre-bedtime writing, only to realize I’d been reading in the living room and left the Go downstairs.

First world problem, sure. But labeling it that doesn’t make it any less frustrating.

So, following the traditional pattern, I turned to technology to solve a problem created by technology.

My first attempt involved using a remote desktop app on my aging-but-much-beloved Nexus 9 tablet to bring the Go’s display to the bedroom while leaving the computer upstairs.

It worked. Mostly. Our Wi-Fi is a little spotty, so I’d sometimes lose signal mid-page and have to wait for it to reconnect before I could finish a sentence.

And, of course, the solution would be useless outside the house on those occasions when I needed reading material, but didn’t want to take the Go with me. Like, say, waiting in line for a BABYMETAL concert.

Enter the dedicated ebook reader.

Yeah, I know: it’s a singletasker. Usually not what I want. But in this case, it makes sense to go with a gadget that’s specifically designed to do one thing.

Sure, it might be nice to have a clock on it. And a calendar. And email. But keep layering on the “would be nice” features, and I’d be back in the “why not just buy another Go” headspace.

So I resolutely ignore the dedicated band of hackers who work diligently to push the gadget into realms it wasn’t designed for.

And it’s a very pleasant experience reading on this thing–a Kobo Clara HD, by the way.

It’s tiny. Remember stuffing a paperback into your back pocket? You can’t do that with a tablet. Not even a seven-inch model, much less a ten-inch iPad or Surface Go. The Clara fits perfectly. I’m careful not to sit down with it in my pocket, because it’s not going to take well to bending, but as a place to put it while I’m walking around, it’s delightfully retro.

Despite the reader’s size, the screen is shaped much better for reading than a smartphone screen. And the display is wonderfully sharp. I can crank the font down to the point where I get almost as much text onscreen as would fit on a paperback page without having to squint. Even without my glasses.

It’s not perfect. No gadget is. Loading books onto it can be slow. And there’s only one level of sorting when looking at the list of books on it. Sort by author, say, and series display in random order. Sort by series and multiple authors get mixed together. (Side note to Kobo’s developers: Please give us two-level sorting!)

But from the perspective of sheer convenience, the reader can’t be beat. It migrates from my work bag to the bedside table, so the Go can stay upstairs on days I’m not writing at work*. And on writing days, the Clara can stay home while the Go accompanies me to the library, the DMV, or wherever else I expect to be sitting for several hours.

* During meal breaks and before shifts, not while I’m on the clock. I’m not getting paid to write, unfortunately.

Even if you’re an avid reader, I’m not recommending you rush out and buy an ebook reader. A phone with a reasonably large screen or a smallish table may be all you need. But if you find yourself reaching for your multipurpose device, only to discover you left it somewhere else so it could do something important, maybe, just maybe, you should let a singletasker into your life.

Where Are They Now?

Where are they now? Probably in Los Angeles preparing for Friday’s show and album release. (Side note to my friends and family in Seattle: I gather there are still tickets available for Wednesday the 16th.)

Oh. Sorry, BABYMETAL, naturally. Though I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t figure that out. It has been quite a while since I said anything about them. In fact, now that I check the archives, I see the last substantive post was a smidge over three years ago. (The TV show under discussion at the time doesn’t seem to have materialized. This is not a surprise.)

Anyway, I haven’t said anything, not because there’s been no news, but because the news has been largely depressing. In short–and if you want a fuller view of the story, the Wikipedia writeup isn’t bad–Yuimetal has left the group. The official reasons are health concerns and a desire to pursue a solo career. Of course, in light of the secretive and cutthroat nature of the idol industry, speculation is rife about whether she jumped, fell, or was pushed.

I’m not going to indulge. I talked about potential lineup changes back in 2016, when Metal Resistance came out. Nothing that’s happened since then has changed my opinions.

The new album, Metal Galaxy, will be out in a few days. The tracks they’ve released so far sound good. I’m delighted to hear BABYMETAL’s sound continuing to evolve. Doing the same thing over and over can be a financial boon, but it’s almost always an artistic failure. In particular, “Shanti Shanti Shanti” is a literal trip: Bollywood meets the psychadelic sixties. The full video is, naturally, on YouTube, but here’s a snippet from last week’s San Francisco show:

Yes, of course Maggie and I went. Armed with a new camera that doesn’t have the issues my old one did with the super-saturated reds and blues of a BABYMETAL show. So yes, there are pictures.

Not BABYMETAL:
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There was an opening act. Maggie quite enjoyed them, but Avatar isn’t my cup of fur. I do give them kudos for one thing that elevates them above your average consciously pompous metal band:

What better way to poke fun at your own image than with a trombone?

Anyway.
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Rather than rework all their choreography for two performers, Yui’s slot has been filled with a rotating cast of performers. Last week, it was Riho, doing a fine job.

As usual, reds and blues dominated the color scheme.
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Yes, the new camera does have a darn good zoom for a cheap point-and-shoot.
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Though, to be fair, I was in an excellent position, directly behind the mixing boards, so I didn’t have to crank the zoom to maximum very often.

I had fun trying to get a Moa hair shot. This one, while not perfect, is certainly the most entertaining.
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It’s easy to get a good shot of Su, given how much of the choreography revolves around her, while she stays comparatively still. (Cult of personality? Nah.)
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Riho was tougher, but she slowed down occasionally.
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Moa, though, never stops moving. Even when she’s stopped, she’s still moving.
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All in all, a good show and a good omen for BABYMETAL’s future.

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Thank you!

Listen Up!

Dad was a storyteller. He loved ragtime music, but I often wonder how much of his love was because of the music itself, and how much was because of the stories.

(Warning: gross oversimplification ahead.) Ragtime is unusual–though not unique–in that during its original heyday, there was very little formal scholarship. Few of the musicians and other prime movers of the genre had any interest in writing about ragtime. The history and culture of ragtime was shared and recorded almost entirely orally. By the time ragtime scholarship really kicked off during the ragtime revival of the forties, many of the primary sources–human and otherwise–had been lost.

That’s a great space for a storyteller. There’s so much room for elaboration. Interpolation. Dramatic enhancement.

Dad loved it. The music, yes. But the stories, too. The research. The “what if” scenarios.

And, of course, the newcomers. Because a storyteller needs an audience. New fans and new performers keep the music alive; they hear the stories and then create their own.

Dad couldn’t play a note, but he delighted in introducing ragtime to the next generation.

(Thanks to Oliver Moore for giving permission to post this performance from the 2019 Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival. It’s not the most spectacular or technically demanding piece he played that week, but I like it. And, not-so-incidentally, Oliver will be at the West Coast Ragtime Festival in November. Come hear him!)

Dad would have loved Oliver. And he would have loved to find a way to introduce more people to ragtime. The younger the better–if they grow up listening to ragtime and playing ragtime, some of ’em are going to stick with it.

We’ve been awed by the donations in Dad’s memory to the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Foundation. And we’re thrilled to be able to put those donations to use in a highly appropriate way.

The Ragtime Kids program will seek out talented junior high and high school age ragtime performers and researchers and encourage their development.

There’s more information about the program at the link above.

And, because this is an advertisement–thinly disguised as a blog post, though it may be–a reminder that donations to the Larry Karp Memorial Fund are still more than welcome. The contact for contributions is sjfsedalia@gmail.com.

Go On

I’ve been using the new computer setup long enough to have some thoughts. Since I know at least some of you share my fascination with small computers, I’ll post the thoughts here, rather than just keeping them in my head.

Let’s go back to June. In talking about my search for a USB-C hub or docking station that would support two external monitors, I said my previous computer setup just wasn’t cutting it for travel.

The biggest reason was that my laptop was too large. Too big to fit conveniently on my desk. Way too big to use on an airplane.

The adhesive holding the screen in the case was going bad, as well. I’m fairly sure it’s fixable, but until I can get that done, the “do I dare pick this up?” factor made using it even less convenient.

So, yes, I bought a new laptop. Sort of.

Remember my Windows tablet? I still love the thing. It’s a great size for an ebook reader, and having something that can run Word while still being small and light enough to carry was wonderful.

But, while I’ve more than gotten my money’s worth of use out of the tablet–$89 more than two years ago–it is showing it’s age. The storage is small enough to make Windows updates a pain the rear, the lack of RAM makes Windows 10 slower than it needs to be on that CPU, and most importantly, the power button is starting to fail. It doesn’t always turn on or off when I push the button.

So, yes, I bought a new tablet. Sort of.

To be precise, I got a Microsoft Surface Go. With the keyboard.

It’s bigger than the tablet, but when I disconnect the keyboard, it’s not noticeably heavier*, so it works well as a tablet-slash-ebook-reader. The larger screen makes it more suitable for video. I can actually watch ballgames on this thing without squinting. The keyboard is surprisingly comfortable to work with. I wouldn’t want to write a whole book on it, but a chapter or three while traveling wouldn’t be a problem. Heck, I’ve written two blog posts on it, and nobody’s complained about a surge in typos.

* It is heavier. Just not enough so that I notice in daily use.

The computer is far more capable than I expected. Just as a test, I’m currently playing a 4K video on one monitor while I write this post. The video is being scaled down to fit on the 1080p screen, and playback is still smooth, even though it’s being pulled down over the network. Nor is there any lag in the word processor. I type–on a keyboard connected to the same USB hub as the network adapter–and the characters appear on the screen.

It’s got enough muscle to run GIMP for the small amount of image editing I do, which is mostly preparing the pictures for Friday posts. It can handle WSL (Windows System for Linux), so I’m not cut off from the few Linux programs I need. I’ve even had GIMP, Word, a music player, and my email program running at the same time without a significant slow down.

Now, admittedly, I splurged a bit on the Go. I shelled out for the more powerful model–same CPU, but twice as much storage and memory–and then shelled out again for the LTE model. Not only can I write on the go, but I can get online anywhere I can get a cellphone signal without having to tether the computer to my phone. I’ve used the ability twice so far. Yes, to publish the two blog posts. Turns out I can’t get to my website with the Wi-Fi at work.

Dropbox keeps my writing projects synchronized between the Go and the multiple backups on my home computers*, so I can just pick it up and go, knowing I’ll have the latest version of everything I’m likely to work on already on the machine.

* Yes, I know I could do the same thing with OneDrive. But OneDrive’s cross-platform support lags behind Dropbox. And I’ve been using Dropbox long enough to have fine-tuned my configuration to fit my workflow. Not worth the effort to switch.

The Go isn’t perfect. Music playback does sometimes stutter when I open another program. But that seems to be more a Windows problem than something specific to the Go. I had the same problem on the old laptop.

I do a little video editing*. There’s no way I’m going to try that on the Go. But I’ve still got my desktop Linux machine. I can just use that for video edits. I can even do it remotely, so I can sit downstairs (where the temperature is more comfortable) on the Go while the Linux box stays upstairs and does the work.

* Which reminds me: I wanted to share a video from the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival. Look for that sometime next week.

There’s no optical drive. I could buy a USB drive for ripping CDs, but that same Linux box has a DVD drive. More than sufficient for my needs.

The cameras…well, I haven’t actually tried the cameras. The one that faces me works well enough for logging me in. That’s all I really need. If I want to take pictures, I’ll use my phone. Or a real camera (to the extent that a point-and-shoot can be considered “real”). That said, the facial recognition is neat, in a slightly creepy way. Maybe if it didn’t insist on greeting me by name. “Good evening, Casey” does drive home the point that nobody really knows how much detail Microsoft gets in tracking usage. But that’s another day’s post.

All in all, the pros outweigh the cons. I’m quite happy with my new little computer.

The bottom line: If you’re looking for a highly portable computer and don’t need to do serious number crunching, the Surface Go is quite an attractive option.

It Doesn’t Ad Up

Our theme today is advertising.

Not in the “good commercial / bad commercial” sense, but–well, you’ll see.

Personally, I find advertising intended to increase my engagement with a product I’ve already purchased annoying. Encouraging me to visit a corporate website isn’t going to make me like a product any better or encourage me to buy it again. But it’s a thing companies do today, so one would hope they’d do it well.

NatureSweet does not.

Here’s the top and bottom of the lid from a package of tomatoes I bought recently.

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Do you see the problem?

The key is the word “more”. How can I learn “more” of Salvador’s story when I haven’t learned any of it yet?

No, this is not just a grammatical gripe.

If NatureSweet wants me to visit their site to find out about their growers–or anything else–they need to provide a hook. Some reason why I should care.

All I know is that some guy named Salvador drives a tractor. I don’t even know his last name, much less why I should be interested in his tractor.

Don’t just tell me he’s got a story–everyone has a story. Give me a little hint and I might follow up. There’s a reason click-bait headlines work: they intrigue the reader.

Moving on.

Massage Envy has been a heavy advertiser on the MLB broadcasts. Mind you, every MLB advertiser is a heavy one; as I’ve noted in the past, there are so few companies buying slots that one can count on seeing the same ads every half inning for the entire game.

That’s not quite a digression. If your viewers are going to see an advertisement more than a dozen times in the span of a few hours, it had better be interesting or amusing enough to sustain all those rewatchings.

Nothing is. Even with my limited exposure to baseball this season, I’m thoroughly sick of Toyota’s Buster Posey ads. As for Massage Envy’s spots, they’re gone from the broadcasts, much to the relief of tired, stressed-out viewers.

Regrettably, the ad’s absence does not represent a bit of intelligent thought from the massage chain’s owners.

The commercials were pulled because the company is now defending themselves against a lawsuit. Specifically, the suit claims the company did nothing to protect its clients against rape and failing to investigate or report accusations that some of its massage therapists repeatedly assaulted clients.

I can’t speak to the validity of the claims. But note that the suit was filed after the company began heavy advertising. If the corporate executives had any reason to think they had skeletons lurking in their closets, they should have known better than to raise the corporate profile. And if they knew they were squeaky clean–and it’s possible–then they should have taken steps to guard their reputation before exposing themselves to greater public scrutiny.

The saying is that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Massage Envy is currently proving that wrong. Even if they prove themselves completely innocent of any wrongdoing, legal or moral–as unlikely as that seems right now–they’re still going to lose thousands of potential customers.

Why? Because by running the MLB ads, the company has branded their name in the memories of people who might otherwise have ignored or forgotten the legal case. Now they’re going to pay attention and a tiny bit of doubt will stay in their minds, no matter how the case turns out.

Moving on again.

Vegetarians are up in arms about Arby’s latest advertising venture.

The sandwich shop recently released a video documenting the preparation of a vegetable-less carrot. It’s an obvious parody of the meatless burgers such as the Impossible Burger.

What I can’t figure out is why it’s drawing so much wrath.

Look, Arby’s is never going to be vegetarian-friendly, much less fully vegan. Their very name is a play on the acronym for roast beef. They’ve carved out a niche (sorry) catering to a segment of the public that wants a meat-based meal. They’ve achieved a certain recognition as a company that doesn’t do what everyone else is doing–remember their experiment with duck last year?

Frankly, I’m giving them kudos for their approach. They’re not–as far as I know–putting up signs that say “No vegetables on premises.” They’re not threatening terrorist action*. They’re not even spamming the airwaves with marrot advertising.

* How else can you interpret “Eat mor chikin”?

Instead, they’re using mild humor to remind their loyal clients that there’s at least one chain that’s not jumping on the faux meat train. (Which is probably a minor relief to Impossible Foods, who have been struggling to keep up with the demand for Impossible Burger pseudo-meat from the companies they’ve already signed deals with.)

That said, I don’t think I’m quite ready for a carrot-flavored hunk of turkey breast. Honestly, they lost me at “skinless”. Most of white meat’s flavor is in the skin and the layer of fat just underneath it.

But since the marrot, like most of Arby’s experiments, probably won’t make it to their permanent menu, I’m sure they won’t care if I forgo the experience.

Corporate satire often misses the mark entirely. Kudos to Arby’s for hitting their target in a largely inoffensive fashion.

A Good Omen

Let’s get the uncomfortable truth out of the way first: Good Omens is not my favorite Pratchett novel, nor my favorite Gaiman*. Much as I like both authors, I’ve never felt their styles quite meshed in Good Omens.

* Both tend to vary from time to time, but “Guards, Guards” and “The Graveyard Book” are usually at or near the top of their respective lists.

Even so, I’d been looking forward to seeing the TV adaptation. It took a while to get through it–the series was released at the end of May, while I was in Sedalia–largely because our TV viewing habits were formed back in the prehistoric days before the VCR and DVR became ubiquitous. Yes, we really do watch shows one–or at most two–episodes at a time.

Though it was probably scripted and produced with binge viewing in mind (it was certainly released that way, with all six episodes coming out together), our more relaxed approach didn’t degrade the experience.

Let it be noted that I deliberately didn’t re-read the novel before watching the show. I wanted to minimize any “That’s not how it was in the book” reactions and allow the show to stand or fall on its own merits.

We watched the last episodes this past weekend, and I finished re-reading the book yesterday, so I think I’m finally ready to comment.

I should mention at this point that Maggie and I are engaged in an on-going re-watch of the post-Interregnum Dr. Who. Entirely by coincidence, we’re currently working through the David Tennant years. I’m not sure which was more disconcerting: seeing the Doctor as a demon, or seeing Crowley as the Doctor. We’re both of the opinion that both shows benefited from the synchronicity.

In brief, the show succeeds. Given how little has changed, that’s quite impressive. Allowing six episodes gave the story room to breathe; had it been limited to a two or three hour movie or special, it probably wouldn’t have worked nearly as well (By contrast, the three hour Hogfather succeeds brilliantly, but would have felt thin at six hours.) A number of scenes were reordered, improving the flow of the story. Several were expanded, enhanced, or altered, generally to give more background on specific characters. And a few things were cut, mostly tangential diversions. In particular, I wasn’t at all sorry to lose the Four Horsemen’s fan club.

I heartily applaud the show’s expansion of Crowley’s relationship with his car. In the book, the car’s death and resurrection are all but shrugged off. By giving the Doctor–pardon me–Crowley a more visible emotional reaction, the show incorporates a specific example of what’s at stake in the impending final confrontation.

And then the tweaks to that climax–especially the “They told his father” sequence–were a tremendous improvement. I’d always thought Adam came off as too passive at the climax, an impression my re-read did nothing to alter. The show made his active participation in the events explicit, and as a result, he feels much stronger.

The bottom line is that in this reviewer’s Not So Humble Opinion, Good Omens is that rare case where the book was not better. I don’t think I’ll be re-watching the show regularly–certainly not annually, as I do with Hogfather–but I’m more likely to come back to it than to the novel.

A Few (Not Especially Political) Thoughts

Random thoughts from the extended Fourth of July weekend.

  • If you put your mind to it, you can see a heck of a lot of fireworks. And that’s without even counting all the amateur shows. Still, it’s weird that nobody seems to know why the city of Richmond puts on its show July 3 every year. I can theorize endlessly, but I have a sneaking suspicion that regardless of how it got started, the answer now is “Tradition”.
  • Not that there’s anything wrong with tradition. That’s what brings us fireworks on the Fourth to begin with. (And no, I’m not going to debate the ethical pros and cons of fireworks today. We had that discussion a couple of years ago.) Some modification of the tradition might be in order, given the risk of wildfires and all. But abandon it completely? Heck no!
  • A well-planned low altitude show is actually enhanced by low clouds. That said, strong cross winds not only distort the blossoms, but blow the gunpowder away from the viewers. I hadn’t realized how much of the total sensory experience of a fireworks show is olfactory.
  • If the fireworks show starts while you’re giving a speech, just shut up. Nobody cares how important your message is or how long it took you to write. You’re not the headliner. (This is a concept that applies to fields completely unrelated to fireworks, by the way.)
  • Don’t bother with an assortment of random music. Doesn’t matter if the songs are patriotic, popular, or traditional. Unless the music is synchronized to the fireworks, it’s just a distraction.
  • Reptile petting zoos are a concept whose time is now. I don’t know if kids are bored with goats, llamas, rabbits, and chickens (and who wants to pat a chicken anyway?) but snakes and giant lizards are a much better draw. Even the police are fascinated.
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    (Never has the “Scale Image” tool been more appropriate.)

 

Not That Simple

To those of you celebrating the Fourth of July and what remains of our civil liberties, happy holidays. Stay safe and sane.

I thought I’d give you a bit of a tech post for the occasion, because what could be more American than spending money on electronics? Remember, most retailers are having holiday sales through the weekend.

Note: I have not been paid for any of the comments below, nor will I receive any benefit should you run out and buy anything on my recommendation. That said, if the various manufacturers mentioned want to toss piles of cash in my direction, I’ll be happy to accept.

As you may have gathered, I did not wind up crushed beneath a pile of USB-C hubs and docking stations. As it turned out, my first test subject proved adequate to the task. You may recall that the goal was to connect two monitors, one with a VGA input and one with a DVI input to a thoroughly modern laptop which has only a single USB-C port.

I chose to begin my search with the j5create JCD381.
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Note the symmetrical layout: two HDMI ports on the left, two USB 3.1 ports on the right, balanced around the network port. Symmetry may not be important in a device’s functionality, but it is aesthetically pleasing. There’s also a USB-C input on the end next to the cable. As that leaves the end unsymmetrical, I’ve chosen not to show it here.

The big selling point for the JCD381–aside from its cheapness compared to similar, larger docks–was that none of the ads I saw warned against using HDMI-to-something-else converters.

And it works fine with my converters (more on that later). It does not, however, Just Work. It is necessary to install driver software for the computer to recognize the HDMI ports. And, in a reversion to the Days of Yore, it was even necessary to reboot the computer after installing the drivers. I may be a fan of tradition, but that was a little too retro for my tastes.

However, drivers installed and computer restarted, I plugged in the cable and darned if both screens didn’t light up. A quick trip to the display settings made the biggest monitor the primary, and presto! Word processor in front of me, email to my left, and system monitor and other low-priority attention grabbers on the smallest screen where I’ll have to make a conscious effort to see them.

The JCD381 isn’t perfect. (You’re not surprised to hear that, are you?) This is not the dock to choose if you’re running a Mac. There are multiple reports that even after installing the drivers, you won’t be able to have different outputs on the two HDMI connectors. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of those reports, but they’re pervasive enough that I wouldn’t take the chance.

More significant to Windows users, the dock lacks an audio/headphone jack. That would have been handy and including one could have fixed the lack of symmetry on the cable end.

That, however, is a quick and cheap fix if you’re converting one of the outputs to VGA. Behold!
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This is the Rankie HDMI-to-VGA adapter. Micro-USB port on the left to power it (and yes, it comes with an appropriate cable) and audio on the right. Eight bucks from that well-known purveyor of fine (and not-so-fine) goods whose name begins with an A.

Sure, I could have saved the eight dollars and just plugged my speakers into the computer’s headphone jack, but that would have meant an extra plug or unplug every time I moved the machine. Well worth the octodollar to have everything on a single cable.

There are other issues.

The USB-C input on the j5create box is a bit loose. If I accidentally move the dock when plugging or unplugging it, it can disconnect the power. Annoying, but not fatal, and I could probably find a way to anchor the plug more securely in the dock.

The dock does get hot in use. Not burn-your-fingers-and-set-the-desk-on-fire hot, but significantly toasty. Make sure it’s well-ventilated.

And, finally, the computer has lost track of the network port a couple of times. I’m still troubleshooting that one, but I suspect the problem is at the computer end–either a driver issue or a Windows bug–rather than with the hardware. Since the computer automatically falls back to Wi-Fi, I hardly notice. And the port comes back to life the next time I reboot the computer, so it’s not that big a deal. I’ll find a fix eventually, but it’s not affecting my quality of life right now.

So there you have it. Maybe not quite so simple that only a child can do it after all.

Misinterpretation

I know I’ve been talking about advertising a fair amount lately, but I hope you’ll indulge me in one more take on the subject. If it helps any, today’s focus is not TV commercials. We’re taking a look at poorly thought out and poorly presented print advertising.

Notice anything wrong about this ad? (Kate, I know you do. Give the rest of the group a minute to spot it.)
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It’s an interesting bit of technology, intended to solve a real-world problem. Unfortunately, the virtues of the product are undercut by the advertising department’s mistake.

Here me now: Unless there’s a deliberate joke involved (see, for instance, Chick-fil-A’s “Eat Mor Chikin” ads*), it is never acceptable to release an ad with a misspelled word.

* Great ads, deplorable corporate practices. But that’s beside the point today.

Does the copywriter know the difference between “hear” and “here”? It’s possible they don’t–their spellchecker would have flagged “hereing” after all.

But how does a blooper like this slip past? Does the company not realize there’s a difference between a copywriter and a copyeditor? Or were they too cheap to pay for a copyedit? If so, makes you wonder what they’re doing with the $120 bucks they take in for each set of headphones. (Yes, that is the price; I had to trim the photo.)

Stupid, easily avoidable mistakes like this one give a poor impression of the company. At some level, anyone who sees it is going to associate poor quality control in an advertisement with poor quality control of the actual product.

Moving on.

There’s nothing wrong with this ad.
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Okay, let me amend that. Regardless of one’s feelings about King’s Hawaiian buns and bread, the actual ad here is reasonable. It gives prominence to the unique feature of the product (an–IMNSHO–overly sweet roll), communicates the price and the product variations (beef and chicken), and incorporates a relevant tagline.

Perfectly legit.

The problem is that the advertisers (the Sonic chain of drive-in restaurants) didn’t consider all of the ways and places they’d be hyping the product.

What works well in a full-page graphic format doesn’t work so well in a text-only medium where space is constrained. Like, say, an LED ad board outside the restaurant.

Simplifying the message to “Try our King’s Hawaiian Clubs” points the viewer in the wrong direction:
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That’s a real King’s Hawaiian club, and yes, those are shark’s teeth around the perimeter. This is not something to sink your teeth into; it’s something that’ll sink its teeth into you.

(The maker of that particular weapon, by the way, sells a variety of related products. They look great and the prices are reasonable for what they are. I could quibble with some of the text on that webpage–I’d have said “indigenous” rather than “endemic”, for example–but most of my objections are concerns over artistic matters rather than effectiveness or appropriateness.)

It’s an oversight on the advertiser’s part. Not fatal–the context of the ads plays a part in conveying the message–but vexing.

Plan ahead, consider alternate points of view and possible misinterpretations, and–especially where multiple cultures are involved–include people from a variety of backgrounds on your planning team.