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!

They Don’t Make It Easy

They really don’t.

Backing up for context.

Like most, our local supermarket chain–Lucky California and a few other chains under the same ownership–runs occasional contests. Makes sense: free goodies always attract customers.

Most recently, they partnered with Shell for a double whammy: the top prizes (awarded through drawings at the end of the contest) were free groceries for a year* and free gas for a year*. There were also smaller prizes, both for gas and groceries, and–to keep the excitement flowing–instant prizes of merchandise and loyalty program points.

* I’ll come back to what that means.

We always play the games. Why not? We shop there anyway, it doesn’t cost anything to enter, and we’re no more immune to the lure of “free” than anyone else.

Not that we expect to win anything significant. Last time, we won a free bag of chips. We made nachos.

This time, about halfway through the contest, we got an instant win for 50 loyalty points. That’s fine. We collect those, and every couple of months trade them in and get $20 off our next shopping trip. No other instant winners, and when the contest ended, we promptly forgot about it.

Months later, I got an email.

“Congratulations,” it said (with three exclamation marks). “Your online entry…has been drawn for the Groceries for a Year…!”

Let’s see. We’ve got gratuitous exclamation marks and bad grammar. We also have a “click here” link to claim the prize; the link points to a website that is not Lucky Supermarket nor the contest’s special domain. The sender’s email address is shown as being the contest’s domain, but the actual sending system doesn’t match Lucky, the contest, or the claiming website. The contact phone number in the email is not the same as the contact number on the contest website. And the message is signed by “Christine” (no last name).

That last one is actually a point in the email’s favor: most scam-spams include a full name, apparently because the scammers think it conveys respectability. Other evidence pointing to legitimacy: the email addressed me by name–spelled correctly–and my name isn’t part of the email address I’d used in signing up for the contest*.

* That’s by design, and for just this sort of occasion. If an email addresses me by the name in my email address, I can be fairly sure it’s spam.

So I was on the fence.

Contests and sweepstakes are required to keep lists of winners, and according to several online resources, you can sometimes check if your name is on the list by calling the contest sponsor. So I decided to call Lucky’s customer service number. No dice. The guy I talked to was very nice about the whole thing, but he didn’t have a list of winners, and he pointed out that until someone claimed a prize, they wouldn’t be on the list anyway. He suggested I write a letter to Corporate, or check the contest website for a phone number. Given that there’s always a time limit to claim prizes, the letter idea was pretty much dead in the water. And if the website had been compromised now that the contest was over, any phone numbers would be dubious at best.

I did take a look at the recent prize winners page on the website. Three of the four Groceries for a Year prizes had been claimed, and my name wasn’t on the list.

I flipped a coin and decided to take a chance. I filled out the claim form. It wanted my name, address, phone number, email address, birth date, and the address of the store I normally shop at. Since they already had all of that information from when I signed up for the loyalty program, giving it again was no big deal. It also required my SSN. I had qualms, but decided to take the chance.

About an hour later, I got another email from Christine (point in their favor for keeping the same name) thanking me for claiming my prize and asking me to fill out a W9 tax form, since the value of the prize was over $600. Fair enough; gotta keep the IRS happy, right?

I did check the contest website again and my name had been added to the list of winners. That relieved my mind immensely. Highly unlikely that if the site had been hijacked, the scammers would go to the trouble of adding names to it. After all, to make any such scam worthwhile, they’d have to target more than one underpaid writer.

So I filled out the W9 and sat back to wait for my prize.

Which, according to that second email would arrive in 6-10 weeks.

Free groceries for a year sounds great. Slightly less so when you realize the value has been capped. Specifically, it’s limited to $5200. That’s right, $100 a week. To be fair, pre-COVID, our weekly grocery bill did come in right around that number. Now, though, it’s gone up by thirty or forty percent.

Still, free is free, and saving five grand on groceries isn’t anything to sneer at. If food prices don’t go up significantly, the prize should still last us well into 2023.

Oh, and the prize is paid in gift cards. I had visions of receiving a box of 52 $100 gift cards, and wondered if they’d be date stamped, so we couldn’t use more than one a week. But there was that 6-10 week waiting period to find out.

Exactly a month later, I got a “Your package is on the way” notice from FedEx. I didn’t think much of it; I’d ordered several things online that week, so I was expecting to get several of those notices. However, this particular one was odd.

For one thing, the sender was listed as an individual, rather than any of the companies I’d bought from. Odder still, the sender’s address was listed as Modesto, California, but the package was shipping from Buffalo, New York.

That set my scam detector tingling again. Was this some kind of “send some cheap merchandise to a random person, then demand large sums of money under threat of being reported for theft” deal? Or a “forward the package to a third party, and when it arrives we’ll send you a check which will never arrive” game?

So I googled the sender’s name and Modesto. Hey, she’s a marketing manager for Lucky’s parent corporation and the street address is the corporate headquarters. Answers that question. (And no, her name isn’t Christine.)

The cards arrived on my doorstep almost exactly six weeks after I filled out the forms. And no, there weren’t 52 of them. Just eleven: one for $200, the rest for $500 each.

Then I notice the fine print on the back of each card, informing me that the cards need to be activated before use. Nothing in the accompanying letter, much less the earlier emails, suggests this has been done.

Dash off an email to Christine. Three hours later, she writes back to assure me that they are activated. Sure glad nobody intercepted the package–mail theft is endemic around here–or I would have been out my prize with no hope of recourse.

So, finally, we’re happy. But…

Let’s sum up: scammy emails, multiple domains in use with no transparency about their relationships, difficult to confirm legitimacy, lack of consistency between contacts, insufficient information at many steps.

From what I see online, this is typical for online contests. But why? Sure, if it’s hard to claim a prize, the sponsor will save money–most such contests have a “unclaimed prizes will not be awarded” rule–but hardly enough to justify doing it this way on purpose.

Is it possible that the people running these contests have never gotten a spam in their lives? Seems unlikely.

So why do they seem to be going out of their way to seem suspicious? Especially when they could make one simple change that would greatly reduce the awkwardness of the current system.

In order to submit contest entries, players have to have an account on the contest website. So, instead of sending an email directing the winner to a third-party website to file the claim, send one that directs them to sign into the contest website. That site can have the “please click here” to claim your prize.

Granted, it wouldn’t solve all the problems of the current system, but it would be a big step in the right direction.

Technician On Call

I had to do some work on Maggie’s computer the other day. Nothing particularly elaborate or complicated, just routine maintenance. But even though the work was well within my capabilities, I had assistance.

Rhubarb is a very helpful fellow and wanted to make sure I got the job done right.

(The truth is, his technical skills are a bit rusty; it’s been a while since he got really paws-on with a computer. For which the cooling system in Maggie’s machine is quite grateful–cat fur in the fans is just asking for thermal shutdowns. But, given his sister’s proclivity for biting the tails off of mice, I’d rather have his help than hers.)

More New Apple Hardware

Of course. Gotta release a new iPhone every year, right?

New watches, new AirPods, and new iPhones.

Allow me to summarize:

The Series 8 watches add a temperature sensor to allow ovulation tracking to the existing cycle tracking. Worthwhile for that large fraction of the potential user base that’s going to find it relevant. Kudos to Apple for continuing to enhance that feature, though I do find it a little odd that that’s what they chose to lead off with.

The Series 8 can also detect if you’ve been in an auto accident and–as with the longstanding fall detection–contact emergency services and contacts.

Hey, we’ve got a new definition of “all day”. Apparently that’s 18 hours. Seriously? You can’t even go one day without charging it?

Oh, wait, there’s a new “low power” mode that sacrifices some features to give you 36 hours between charges. I guess that’s nice if you don’t use the sacrificial victims. And it’s all done in software, so it’ll also apply to the Series 4, 5, 6, and 7 watches once they’re updated to WatchOS 9. Good to know they haven’t forgotten the older devices.

And there is, of course, a new Apple Watch SE for the cheapskates among us. Adds the crash detection, but it’s unclear whether it also adds the temperature sensors.

But the big–in every sense of the word–watch news is the Apple Watch Ultra. Larger than any previous Apple Watch. It’s got a new button, a frame that actually protects the edges of the crystal, and 36 hours of battery life without the low power mode. How about a dive computer? Built in.

Apple’s calling this thing “an essential tool for essentially anything”. Can I use it to open a bottle of beer? Probably not–but I’m sure someone will try. But really, does it seem like Apple is painting themselves into a corner by calling it the “Ultra”? I mean, a few years from now, what will they call the top-end successor watch? The “Mega”?

Anyway. On to the new AirPods.

No ultra here, just a new iteration of AirPods Pro. Better spatial audio (uses the camera in your iPhone to map the size and shape of your head so sound can be placed optimally for your unique body. Better noise cancelation, four tips instead of the previous three, better transparency mode (apparently it uses some noise cancelation to eliminate obnoxious noises while letting other environmental sounds through–that seems a bit risky somehow; do we really want it hiding things like construction noise while we’re walking down the street immersed in our phones?)

And then we get to the iPhones.

Brace yourselves: it would seem that the iPhone Mini is dead. Instead of Mini, iPhone, Pro, and Pro Max, we’re getting iPhone, Plus, Pro, and Pro Max. The regular iPhone 14 is a hefty 6.1 inches, and that Plus is a staggering 6.7 inches. Shades of phablets past! Of course, it’s taller and skinnier than a tablet form factor–don’t want to compete directly with the iPad Mini, naturally.

The 14 and 14 Plus will be using the A15 chip from the ancient iPhone 13 Pro. Improved cameras, of course. 5G, naturally.

Remember how Apple killed the floppy disk and the headphone jack? Now they’re killing the SIM tray. iPhone 14 will be eSIM only. That’s going to be an interesting educational challenge: millions of people still believe that the SIM card stores their contacts, despite the fact that that hasn’t been the case for at least a decade.

Hey, the 14 series has the same crash detection sensors as the new watches. And–wait for it–satellite connectivity. So even if you don’t have cellular service, you (or your phone acting on your behalf) can contact emergency services. And for less critical functions like “Find my iPhone”.

As for the 14 Pro, it comes in purple.

Yes, it’s got all the usual enhancements over the 14 (and 14 Plus) with regard to the cameras, power efficiency, and raw CPU–yes, a new A16 replaces that A15 that’s been handed down to the mainline phones). But, purple!

As for the size, the Pro and the Pro Max are the same as the 14 and 14 Plus, respectively.

Am I the only one who finds it amusing that with the introduction of the 14 series, the price for an iPhone 13 is now the same as for an iPhone 12? That being the case, why are they still selling the 12? Using up inventory? Also noteworthy and somewhat funny: the cost for the “low end” iPhone SE has gone up slightly. The only rationale I can see for buying an SE, rather than paying a bit more for a 12 or 13, is if you have to have the smallest phone available and never take pictures.

Bottom line (you knew this was coming, right?): Back in June, I said I was genuinely looking forward to seeing some of the new software features that’ll be coming in the new operating systems. But the new hardware? I’m “meh” about that. Mostly another round of more of the same, but “bigger…stronger…faster“. And purpler.

Further Rejoicing

Was it really just last week that we declared the COVID epidemic a relic of history?

Sadly, yes.

I say “sadly” because apparently the Federal Government agrees. The program to provide free in-home tests is shutting down Friday because it’s out of money. Get your orders in quickly, folks.

Actually, wouldn’t it be interesting to know how many tests get ordered this week, compared to the past three or four weeks? I doubt we’ll ever see the numbers, but I’d love to be proved wrong about that.

If you want to try and sneak in an order–I did Tuesday afternoon and it went through just fine–the URL is https://www.covid.gov/tests. Actually, the order went through so smoothly, I’m taking it as additional confirmation that the American Public as a whole has moved on to the Next Great Crisis.

And my apologies for whatever influence my post might have had in encouraging that migration.

I really do need to stop reading the news*. It only depresses me, and then I have to spend an hour or two cruising Love Meow to restore my equilibrium.

* To be fair, the local newspaper isn’t as bad as Google News. I could do without the endless 49ers stories, now that football season is upon us, but I don’t find them depressing, just boring. And–fair’s fair–I’m sure the football fans find the endless Giants stories just as useless. (I think we can all agree that the endless stream of stories about the Athletics trash fire of a stadium quest are both depressing and hugely entertaining.)

Apparently, the Google Assistant on my phone has figured out that pattern in my actions. For the past couple of weeks, every time I’ve looked at the news feed (swipe left from the Home screen), it’s included a Love Meow story halfway down the screen. I’m considering it a palette cleanser.

I can’t decide if I’m pleased that my phone is trying to take such good care of me or depressed that my phone thinks I need cheering up. And yes, I’m well aware of the irony in Google Assistant feeling compelled to counteract the effects of Google News.

For the record, as I write this post on Tuesday afternoon, Google News is showing eleven stories on its “New” home page. Mikhail Gorbachev’s death–which I’m largely neutral about–is the top story, followed by the impending heat wave on the West Coast (depressing), the water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi (very depressing), Biden calling out Republicans over gun control (about damn time, but depressing that it’s necessary and unlikely to go anywhere), and the latest on the Ukraine/Russia war (very depressing). That’s four out of five depressing.

Local news has stories on a shooting, senior housing, and school vandalizations (one depressing, one mildly enlivening, and one mixed–depressing that the local schools need nearly $100 thousand to repair the damage, cheering that it’s being donated by one of our corporate overlords (Chevron)).

The only real cheer is in the “Picks for you” section. Google is keeping the orange-faced asshole’s social media app out of the Play Store, Albert Pujols is getting close to passing Alex Rodriguez (spit!) on the all-time home run list, and an opinion piece on the rumored iPhone 14*. Two happy stories and one neutral? I’ll take it.

* The phones will probably be announced at an Apple event next week. Expect my usual Wednesday post to be delayed a day so I can bring you my usual totally unbiased coverage of all the announcements.

Staying the Course

Every so often–especially when I’m having trouble coming up with something to post about–I’ll read through some of the blog’s archives. And, yes, today was one of those times. I spent an hour or so browsing through the posts from mid-2017 and, geez, not much has changed.

I mean, yes, there were some highlights: getting my author’s copies of The RagTime Traveler, Rufus integrating himself with the rest of our menagerie, watching the Mariners come from behind to beat the As in extra innings (with no Manfred Man!).

Some lowlights as well, naturally. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Senator McCain leaving the hospital to vote against making medical care more widely available, and the reminder of how little time we would have with Rufus.

But there’s a lot that I could have written in the past couple of months. The public’s increasing willingness to rush to judgement without evidence. The Mariners flirting with .500 (though this July, it’s Baltimore instead of Seattle). Apple trying to pass of incremental changes as revolutionary. Illegal fireworks. People claiming the inclusion of women in significant roles destroys their childhood memories.

Does this mean I’m stuck in a rut, or that everyone else is?

But all that aside, one post caught my attention. No, not the thing about the Project Fi Travel Socks (though, in keeping with the theme here, I’ll note that I still have ’em and wore ’em on last month’s trip to Sedalia). No, it’s the part about the Sedalia Holiday Inn Express’ horrid approach to computers and computer security.

Because five years after I wrote that post, the situation is even worse.

The Wi-Fi still offers the same three choices for signing on. Only now the HIE Club members’ method explicitly states that no password is needed. And you still need to log on multiple times over the course of your stay–though to be totally fair, the frequency has dropped to daily, rather than “every time you leave and come back”.

But the worst was that “Business Center” in the lobby. During our entire stay, I never saw anyone using them. Not once. And I don’t blame my travelers a bit. The only reason I tried them was to print boarding passes for our flight home*. And I mean “them” literally: I tried both computers.

* Yes, I know one can check in via smartphone and get the boarding pass there, too. I’m sure that’s what everyone else staying at the HIE did. But I needed paper passes. For reasons.

One of them wouldn’t turn on. At least that one’s not going to be giving away anyone’s credit card information. The other had a distinctly green screen, suggesting either an about-to-die video card or a really, really bad VGA cable. Either way, annoying but ignorable for my purposes. However, five minutes after I turned it on, I was still waiting for it to load the Windows desktop. And I mean literally five minutes, which means either a failing hard drive, a full-to-the-point-of-explosion hard drive, or an operating system crammed full of malware and harmless-but-unnecessary software. Or all three.

At that point, the helpful woman behind the registration desk offered to let me use her computer. Yes, the one that gives full access to HIE’s reservation system and all of that lovely customer data–including credit card numbers. Oy.

I didn’t lecture her. I thanked her profusely and tried to use the browser tab she helpfully opened for me before she turned away to talk to my mother. Oy, again.

Alaska Airlines refused to let me check in. Why? Because that browser was Internet Explorer, which is now officially unsupported by Microsoft and about to be removed from millions of Windows computers around the world. Oy, a third time.

Add a fourth “oy”, because there was nothing–including the helpful woman–stopping me from opening Edge to, you know, actually do what I needed to do. I could have opened any other program on that machine, or gone to any website in the world, and installed anything I wanted to.

I still didn’t lecture her. I checked in, printed our boarding passes*, thanked the helpful woman again, and went up to the room.

* By the way, there’s still no printer in that so-called Business Center. I suspect those machines are still network-connected to the printer I used under the front desk. Which implies that those printers are on the same network as every other computer in the hotel. So all of the malware on the Business Center computers has completely unimpeded access to the reservation system.

Ethically, I probably should have said something about the hotel’s inexcusable laxity, but what could she have done? She’s only a pawn in HIE’s corporate structure. Not that she would have understood why any of the issues were issues; in the few words we exchanged, it was clear that her computer knowledge is limited to turning on the computer she let me use and using HIE’s reservation system. I couldn’t spend the necessary hours to explain the basic concepts of access control, hardened perimeters, and software vulnerabilities, even if I thought she’d sit still for it.

Oh, and that green-screened “Business” computer? I checked on it as I went past. It had finally brought up the desktop, but was still struggling to open Microsoft Teams, Skype, and–I kid you not–Steam. Wait, it gets even worse. There was a Minecraft icon on the desktop and a recovered Chrome tab for a bank–with a user name and password prefilled in the Login fields, thanks to Chrome’s ever-helpful password manager.

Change. Who needs it, right?

100000: Thoughts

In late May of 2006, I took a picture of our new car’s odometer, because it amused me.

The Odometer of the Beast.

The car had 12 miles on it when we bought it; it took us approximately two months to put 654 miles on it.

No, we really didn’t drive much then.

Heck, it took us more than a month to get to the point where we had to fill the gas tank.

A couple of days ago, I took another picture of the odometer*.

* Journalistic integrity compels me to admit that the photo has been doctored. As I write this, we’re a couple of days short of actually hitting that mark. But since we spent yesterday sitting around while the car got its hundred thousand mile service, we fully expect it to pass the milestone without trouble.

Elapsed time from Photo 1 to Photo 2: sixteen years, one month, and two days. Clearly, we drive rather more nowadays than we did back then.

That first fill-up in April of 2006 cost exactly $29 at $2.759 a gallon. Sixteen years and two days later, we gassed up for a mere $62.70. Admittedly, it took an additional half gallon, but it was the pump charging $5.599 that did us in.

The good news is that we’re still getting excellent mileage. Better than 34 MPG in each fill-up this year, and the overall mileage since Day One is a solid 29.34.

The car (a 2006 Corolla, by the way) has served us well, and will likely continue to do so.

And, yet.

I look at the price of gas and the cost of regular maintenance, and I keep thinking “Shouldn’t we go electric?”

I feel disloyal. But what we’ve spent on the car–not including insurance–so far this year would be a decent down-payment on a new car. I’m not eager to commit to five years of payments, but if those payments are less than what we’re spending now…

A Different Way of Thinking

I thought this was an interesting difference in how people think.

For background, Cloudflare was down for a while Tuesday. That meant a substantial chunk of the Internet was down, because Cloudflare is, in essence, a provider of web capacity. When you make a request for a web page from a site that uses their services, the request goes first to Cloudflare. If they have a local copy of the page–they pass it to your browser. If not, they request it from the original site, give it to you, and keep a copy to fulfil future requests*. It’s all transparent to you and your web browser and it protects your favorite web sites against denial of service attacks.

* There’s more to it than that, naturally. Controls to ensure that Cloudflare doesn’t keep pages containing personal information and serve them up to others, for example.

Everything is fine and the Internet is a happy place until Cloudflare itself runs into problems.

When that happens, they generally send your browser an error message, most commonly one in the 500 range. (400-type errors are indicative of problems on your end; for example, most people are familiar with the 404 error, meaning you–or your browser–asked for a page that doesn’t exist.) 500 errors are for trouble at the other end of the connection: the server crashed, can’t handle the volume of traffic it’s getting, can’t contact the site it’s trying to be a front end for, and so on.

And most of Cloudflare’s 500-type error messages identify Cloudflare as the location where the problem occurred and make a recommendation: click a link to try to contact the original site directly, try again later, etc.

As I write this on Tuesday afternoon, Cloudflare is back up and the Internet is running as smoothly as it ever does. And, naturally, people what to know what went wrong.

According to Google’s trending searches list, the Number One search in Japan, by a significant margin, is for “Cloudflare”. (I find it vaguely amusing that this is the only English language search term on the list.)

In the UK, “Cloudflare” is the third most common search, trending well behind “Xavier Musk” and “Tom Mann”. Makes sense, right? Get your popular culture news first, then go learn why you couldn’t get the news earlier.

Then there’s the US. “Cloudflare” didn’t even make the list. Instead, there was a mass of searches for “500 error”. Google helpfully directed them to a random web page that promised to explain what they are (reasonable) and how to fix them (you can’t; see above).

Americans, it seems, are more interested in fixing a problem than in fixing responsibility. Elsewhere, there appears to be some recognition that many problems are transient, and once they’re resolved, it might be a good idea to take a look at who caused them.

Think I’m reading too much into this? Long-time readers will remember the Bay Bridge Bolt Botch. Lots of energy around the bolts, determining how many were failing, what the effects of failure would be, and on and on. Zero desire to determine who was responsible for a design that included bolts that might not have been needed, who specced the wrong bolts, who signed off on their installation, who may have tested them improperly (or not tested them at all, according to some reports).

It gives one to think, doesn’t it? Because, after all, if nobody knows who’s responsible, it could be anyone–Saudi Arabia! The President! Bill Gates! Joe Shlabotnik!

Or even nobody at all: Natural cycles! Sunspots! UFOs!

WWDC 2022

Bet you thought I was going to talk about Sedalia and the Ragtime Festival. I will, of course. Just not today. I mean, I rearranged the blog schedule so I could talk about Google’s last event, so it’s only fair not to keep Apple waiting.

And there is a fair amount to talk about.

Starting, naturally, with what to expect from the upcoming iOS 16. The biggest news there as far as I’m concerned, is that Apple has finally pulled the plug on the ancient iPhone 6 series and the iPhone 7. If you’re still clinging to those phones, it’s time to put them away. It’s only going to get harder to fix them from here on. Better to move to something newer now while the phone is functioning.

Once you’re on iOS 16, you’ll be getting some goodies, too. Like live widgets on the lock screen. So you can do things like checking the weather or sports scores without unlocking the phone. And you can personalize the appearance with new fonts and color options. Once Apple introduced the massive home screen personalization in iOS 15, personalization of the lock screen was inevitable. People really don’t want their phones to look just like everyone else’s. Who knew? (I’m particularly excited about the “live notifications” which will let a single notification update with new information. Think sports scores here: instead of getting a new notification every time the score changes—all of which you’ll have to swipe away—now you’ll just have one notification that updates. Google’s been doing this for a while with things like the Google Assistant traffic notification; it’s good to see Apple keeping up.)

Here’s a nice one: Apple will add a Quick Start feature to Family Sharing to ensure that it’s set up properly. No more having the kids “hack” the system to get around the limits you set for them by discovering that you forgot to add a password…

And here’s a horrible one: iCloud Shared Photos. Everyone who has access to the shared library can add, edit, and delete photos for everyone. Apple, kill this. It’s already too easy for people to manipulate the information on their exes’ phones. Don’t give them another avenue of approach.

And yes, I say that even though Apple is also rolling out “Safety Check”, which is intended to give you a one-click method to stop sharing with specific individuals. Safety Check is a great idea. I’m just dubious about how effective it’ll be—and how easy it will be for someone being stalked to find and turn on.

That aside, it’s unclear what effect editing or deleting a photo in the shared library has on the original. People are already confused about how to delete photos from their phones to free up space without also deleting them from the iCloud. Now there’s a possible additional level of complexity. I predict chaos.

Moving on. Updates to WatchOS: new faces, new metrics, custom workouts, and so on. I do like the sound of the Medication app: there are a lot of people who could use the reminders to take their drugs on time. I just hope there’s an easy way for doctors to add the meds for their patients; anyone with a long list is probably going to be slow to get them entered. That said, if the app also tracks when prescriptions need to be refilled and gives users an in-app reorder button, it’ll be a big win.

As for the Mac world, yes, the M2* is finally a thing. A slightly larger than the M1, with a higher ceiling and lower power requirements. The first device to get it: the MacBook Air. Redesigned to be thinner and lighter, with a larger screen. And it’s got a MagSafe charging port, so you don’t lose one of your two precious Thunderbolt ports when you need to plug the machine in. And yes, the M1 MacBook Air will still be around, if you don’t need the ultimate in power and want to save a bit of cash.

* Presumably the M2 Pro and M2 Ultra will be along in the near future.

MacOS is getting an update as well, of course. Fare well, Monterey; welcome Ventura.

This is cool: Stage Manager is a new feature that will put small thumbnails of your active programs off to one side of the screen so whatever you’re working in can be centered without having to maximize it, but still letting you keep track of what’s going on in the background.

Naturally, Apple wants you to have an iPhone to go along with your MacBook. So they’re tying the two platforms closer together with the ability to pass FaceTime calls from one to the other—and to use your phone as a webcam. Much better than the laptop’s built-in camera, especially if your iPhone is a 12 or more recent.

Nor is Apple forgetting about your iPad. Collaboration is the big focus there, with document sharing front and center, and a new app called Freeform. It’s basically a shared whiteboard. Useful for business, especially when it arrives on phones and computers.

The iPad is also getting Stage Manager. Now that is a big win. It should make multitasking on the iPad immensely easier, especially if the rumored freely resizeable windows put in an appearance.

You all know I’ve been underwhelmed by Apple’s last few system iterations—evolve rather than revolutionize. But with the exception of the shared photos mess, I’m genuinely impressed with what’s coming. Maybe not quite enough to buy a Mac, and definitely not enough to replace my Pixel phone with an iPhone. But I can legitimately say there are several things I’m looking forward to seeing in the real world.

Kudos, Apple.

SAST 20

One thing I didn’t mention in last week’s Google I/O comments was the Chromecast with Google TV. That’s something else you can blame Google for: they didn’t say anything about the gadget.

Quite a disappointment, actually. The CwGT is what the original Chromecast should have been. Though, in fairness to Google, the software wasn’t there at the time. See, unlike the Chromecast–which was designed as a single-purpose device to stream video under the control of your phone–the CwGT is a general-purpose Android device. Yes, it’s only output is via HDMI, typically to a TV, but it’s got the full Google Play Store, so you can install all* your favorite apps. Games, alternate video players, messaging apps, or whatever. All controlled via a simple remote with voice support or any Bluetooth gadget you want to hook up.

* Usual caveats about not all apps in the store are available for all devices apply.

I love mine. I’ll skip the ramblings about why, since this is an SAST post.

But.

It does have some shortcomings. Many people find its storage limited (can anyone really survive on 8 GB today–especially when the OS uses half of it?) and the hardware video decoding support lacks a few recently popular formats. And then there’s the fact that the last software update came out back in October.

So the newsrumor back in January that a new model was on the horizon was greeted with great fervor. Even the thought of the new model being intended as a lower-end option didn’t dampen the enthusiasm much. Because of course Google would slip in a few under-the-hood improvements to make up for the maximum resolution of 1080p, right?

Nice theory, anyway. But not a word at Google I/O about the CwGT or a successor. Shades of the late not-so-lamented Nexus Q media player.

Moving on.

A few days ago, I was listening to SiriusXM’s 40s channel on my way to work and–as I tend to do when I’m alone in the car*–absentmindedly singing along with most of the songs. Because I’ve been listening to Swing Era radio stations for more than four decades, I know most of the lyrics. Well enough to sing them, as long as I don’t try to think about what I’m singing. If I think about about it, though, I start trying to rewrite the lyrics and it all goes downhill from there.

* I’m not going to inflict my singing voice on anyone. I’m not that cruel.

Anyway, I was cheerfully semi-oblivious until a verse yanked me into conscious thought.

Halfway through the Martha Tilton/Harry Babbit version of “Let’s Get Away From It All“, there’s this verse:

Let’s spend a day at the White House

Pay Mr. Truman a call

We’ll visit the Veep there*

See Congress asleep there

Let’s get away from it all

* There’s a joke here: there was no vice president for the first several years of Truman’s presidency. And, as the song suggests, I’m not sure anyone particularly noticed or cared when Alben Barkley got the job in ’48.

Don’t understand why my tongue tripped over its metaphorical feet?

Consider: There was a day within living memory when common citizens could take a White House tour and have a chance, however microscopic, of seeing the president. Sure, the song is exaggerating for humor; I doubt anyone would have dropped in expecting meet Harry T.–much less sit down with him over coffee–but see him? Sure, could’ve happened. Not today.

More: Also within living memory, you could make fun of an ineffective politician or two without being branded a traitor, excoriated in the press, and buried under massive piles of letters blaming everything on the other party.

The Forties had plenty of problems, it’s true. And regrettably, most of them are problems we still have today–starting with racism, sexism, a World War, economic disruption, etc., etc., etc. And granted, politics could get vicious, but they were accessible to the concerned individual. Yes, the canonical smoke-filled room, but anyone* could get into politics at a local level and make himself a place in that room. He might have to buy his own cigars, but even so.

* Okay, any male person. Who was white. And not too obviously…you know.

I regret that we’ve reached the point where politics can’t be played by amateurs.