AI AI AI/O 2023

As promised, a few thoughts about Google’s I/O announcements. But first, I want to offer congratulations to the Kraken.

Making the playoffs in their second season. Getting through the first round, pushing the second round to seven games–and coming within inches of forcing overtime in that seventh game. Nice job, gang, nice job. Not the outcome we all wanted, of course, but on the up-side, it gives something to build on next year. Thank you for the excitement.

Now, Google. AI is, of course, the flavor of the month, and Google has been binging on it. As many commentators have pointed out, “AI” appeared in every product announcement–nearly every sentence. Oddly, as someone (my apologies to them for forgetting who it was) the only product conspicuously missing is the one that would seem the natural spot for an AI touch-up: Google Assistant. I can’t imagine GA is going to vanish, but the lack of mention at I/O does make one wonder if its days as a separate product are limited.

Anyway, the first notable announcements were “Help Me Write” in Gmail (and later, in Google Docs) and the “Magic Editor” in the Camera app (and possibly as a standalone, presumably web-based, application).

Last year’s “Magic Eraser” worked well, within limits, so adding additional tools to help with photo editing seems the logical next step. Once you’ve selected an object, why limit yourself to deleting it? Move it around, change colors (the enhanced version of the “camouflage” function we already had), resize it–all logical. Sure, you’re rewriting history, but your memory does that anyway.

Similarly, given that Gmail already has suggested responses and autocorrect/as-you-write predictions, “Help Me Write” isn’t exactly a major cognitive stretch. Feed your AI a few words to suggest where you want to go, and watch it throw something together for you. How long before it starts arguing with you when you make changes to its “suggestions”? Think I’m kidding? Have you ever had your GPS get ticked off at you when you don’t follow its preferred route?

Those last couple of paragraphs sound pretty negative. In all seriousness, I think both tools could be useful, used correctly. But how many people are going to use them to improve what they create–and how many are going to hand the controls over to them entirely? (Case in point: if your phone is set to use one of the features to automatically pick the “best” picture–HDR, “Top Shot”, and so on–how often do you overrule it, or even look at the alternatives it rejected?)

Then there’s that “AI Prompts” feature for Google Docs. I can sort of see the utility of something that sees you’re stuck and pops up with a helpful suggestion or two. But it seems like that’s going to be much too easily abused. First it suggests something to get you unstuck, then it offers to write something to match the suggestion, and the next thing you know, it’s written your whole term paper/research article/novel. And, frankly, how is it going to know you’re stuck? Half the time when I’m not typing, it’s because I’m staring at the ceiling trying to find just the right word to come next and the other half I’ve gone to the bathroom/down to the kitchen for some tea/otherwise away from the computer. Either way, having that suggestion pop up isn’t likely to help much. Hopefully the feature can be turned off.

Naturally, AI is going to fuel Google’s traditional core business: search. It will, we’re told, allow for more complex searches that currently would require multiple searches and a manual combination of the results. The example we got was asking which vacation destination would be better for a family with kids and a dog; currently you would need to ask about the destinations independently, and figure out their individual kid- and dog-friendliness. It should also allow for chaining searches together implicitly. After you finish asking about the vacation destinations, if you then search for flights, Google might prefill the destination search based on the vacation query, and maybe even limit the search to airlines that allow pets and trim out the flights that require transfers. All automAtIcally.

That’s another one that sounds nice, raises concerns. How clear will it be what the source of the search results is. Will state or local tourist boards try to bias results to favor their regions as vacation destinations. (Yes, that’s a rhetorical question.) How long will Google retain search information? Some questions have a much longer shelf life than others. Will I have to tell the AI I don’t care about the trip I took last summer, now that it’s Christmas time? Or remind it about the search I did last year on alternative energy sources so it knows to prioritize anything new?

Then, of course, there’s that whole business about AI-generated art. Google says anything created by their AI will have metadata that reveals that fact. That’s nice, but metadata is easy to remove or alter. Heck, I do it on almost every picture I post to the blog: I strip out the GPS coordinates, the camera details, and pretty much everything else, and I add a copyright statement. Takes all of five seconds with a command line tool. If I can do that much, image what someone who knows what they’re doing could accomplish!

They’re also planning an “About This Image” feature that will, among other things, tell you where else a picture has appeared. That’s nice. But I have to say, I’ve never been very impressed with Google’s picture search functionality–TinEye works much better, in my opinion. And if Google’s

AI generated images will have metadata that clearly says so. So? Stripping metadata is easy. And the “About this image” bit to show where the image has appeared is iffy–especially if it relies on metadata. Google’s reverse image search has never worked especially well for me. And if the feature relies on metadata, well, see the previous paragraph.

Other items: Why does everyone assume I’m happy to let them use my Bluetooth, battery, and cellular data to help find other people’s lost keys? Just because Apple is doing it doesn’t mean Google has to. Yet, here we are.

Emoji wallpapers? Who the hell asked for this?

The cinematic wallpapers are less annoying, but does it really improve your life to have the picture on your desktop/home page appear in simulated 3D?

Then, of course, there’s the hardware. There weren’t any unleaked surprises, but just to touch the high and low points.

The Pixel 7a is, as best I can tell, essentially a Pixel 6 with a few upgrades–which does not include the camera, which is for many people a major selling point. Why would you get a 7a for roughly the same price as a 6?

The Pixel Tablet. Did we really need another device with an 11 inch screen? That’s my major complaint about iPads: the screen looks nice, but it sucks when it comes to portability. It won’t fit in a pocket, even a large jacket pocket. For that matter, tablets in the 10+ inch range weigh too darn much for kicking back in bed and vegging out. Google’s trying for the value-add by including the base with its (presumably) decent speakers, charger, and the tablet’s Hub mode. So now you have a device that can sit on a table and act as a TV (but much smaller), photo frame, and smart controller for your home automation gadgets. How much of an improvement over the current Google Home experience does that really amount to?

The only device I actually liked the sound of is the Pixel Fold. It’s a phone when you need one (like, say, to make a call, or just shove it in a pocket), but it unfolds into a 7.6 inch tablet. As I said Google I/O 2016, “I strongly feel that seven inches is exactly the right size for a light entertainment device–something that fits into the space between a phone you can hold to your ear and a TV you watch from across the room. I’m deeply disappointed to learn that Google apparently doesn’t see that as a viable niche.” I’m delighted that it only took Google seven years to come to the right conclusion.

They hyped the “use it as its own tripod” feature, which amuses me highly, considering that Samsung got there first. But regardless of who invented it, it’s a useful tool, especially since it lets you use the high quality “rear” camera for selfies.

The only down side I see is the price. $1800? Ouch. For that price, you could superglue three Pixel 7a phones together with hinges from your local hardware store, and have a truly humongous folding phone. Still, it’s the same price as Samsung’s latest foldable phone–and we’re already seeing discounts. Google’s own Fi store is offering $700 off (over two years), which puts it in the same ballpark as an iPhone 14 or Samsung S23. Or if you trade in the right phone, they’ll knock off a full thousand bucks over the same two years.


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.


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.

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 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.


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.


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.

Google I/O 2022

And here we go.

Historically, Google I/O has been light on hardware announcements–fair enough, given that it’s really intended as a forum to alert developers to what’s coming. This year, though, Google did twin keynotes, one for developers, and one for the hardware enthusiasts. Unless you’re writing code for Android devices, you’re probably not interested in the former at all, and if you are interested, you don’t need me to explain what’s what. So let’s just take a look at the keynote for the rest of us.

Twenty-four new languages in Google Translate. Handy, especially if you’re planning a trip or doing business internationally. And if you’re not, the new languages won’t get in your way; language packs for Translate are optional add-ons.

I have a dubious about the forthcoming “immersive view” for Maps. Putting you at the center of a 3D reproduction of the city you’re navigating–complete with machine-generated interior views of restaurants–sounds both entertaining and fascinating. I can only hope, however, that it only works when you’re on foot. Way too distracting when driving. And Google hasn’t yet figured out how to tell if you’re a passenger or driver without relying on self-reporting.

A bunch of enhancements to YouTube, Google Meet, and Search around video quality and pictures. All cool stuff, and especially the part about incorporating skin tone data to improve video quality and searching while avoiding future iterations of the infamous “gorilla” effect.

Over on the Android side of things, we will, of course, be getting Android 13. The most interesting thing I see coming there is the ability to set different languages for different apps. Mind you, I didn’t say “useful”, though I’m sure many people will find it so. But from the standpoint of being able to customize your device to work better with the way you think, it’s a fascinating tweak. I’m sure Google will be collecting data on how it’s used–what apps most often get set to a different language than the device’s default, for example. I rather hope some of that information gets shared.

Moving on to hardware.

The Pixel 6a, a budget version of the Pixel 6, will be out around the end of July. $449 gets you essentially the same camera as the 6, the same 5G capabilities, and, of course, the same photographic abilities. Including that improved skin tone management as it rolls out across the entire line of Google devices and software.

Improved earbuds, inevitably tagged “Pixel Buds Pro” will also be out at the end of July. Active noise cancellation, of course, and the now-mandatory “transparency mode” to let some outside sound in so you don’t get run over crossing the street. If you remember to turn it on…

Looking a bit further out, probably just in time for the Christmas season, we’ll apparently be getting the Pixel 7. Not much in the way of details on that; I imagine we won’t hear anything much officially until after the Pixel 6a launch. Don’t want to cannibalize the market, after all.

And around the same time, we’ll be getting a Pixel Watch. As rumored. Sounds like Google will be folding much of the Fitbit’s functionality into the watch. That’s a no-brainer if it’s going to compete with the Apple Watch. And, no surprise, tap-to-pay functionality and the ability to control smart devices around the house. Reminder: tap gently. Smart watches are more fragile than the manufacturers would have you believe, and they’re expensive to repair.

Even further in the future–sometime in 2023–Google is going to release a new tablet. Interestingly, they’re not positioning it as a standalone device, but rather as a “companion” to a Pixel phone. Whether that means it’ll primarily act as a large replacement for the phone’s screen or if it will “intelligently” display contextual information to enhance whatever you’re doing on the phone remains to be seen. The former strikes me as rather a niche market; the latter could be very handy. Imagine pulling up a map search for restaurants on the phone and having the tablet immediately start showing menus, reviews, and online ordering, while the phone stays focused on where the places are and how to get there.

Bottom line: Google is innovating. Not in big, “revolutionary” ways, but in little ways. It would be a bit unfair to call what’s coming “evolutionary”, but it’s certainly closer to evolution than revolution. Recent years have seen a lot of “catching up with Apple”. This year seems to be declaring that a done deal and trying some different things to see what sticks.

A Dream and a Nightmare

You decide which is which.

Story the First: I dreamt I had moved to a small town somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Not so small that it couldn’t support a community orchestra, however. Because I joined the group when the organizers came around.

Our first concert–some indefinite period the future–was going to be an all-Bernstein program. We all show up for the first rehearsal, and it’s obvious that, while some of us might* be accomplished musicians, as a group we don’t have Clue One what the heck we’re doing.

* Strong emphasis on the “might”.

So we start setting up our instruments, looking over the sheet music, and all the things that occupy musicians’ time while they wait for the conductor: calling our loved ones, making dental appointments, playing Wordle, and so on.

Someone steps onto the podium and taps his baton for our attention.

There’s a mass intake of breath. Our conductor is none other than Leonard Bernstein himself*.

* For the record, I’m well aware Mr. Bernstein died more than three decades ago. Tell that to my subconscious.

In some little Podunk town. For a community orchestra that had never played together before.

Leonard Effin’ Bernstein.

We all clearly knew disaster awaited us, but when Leonard Bernstein tells you to play, you play.

I consider it a blessing that I woke up just as the baton swept down to launch us into West Side Story.

The moral here should be obvious. Should be.

“Don’t reach for the stars; they’ll come to you.” Nah. “Follow your leader.” Nuh-uh. “Practice? Who needs practice?” Uh…

Story the Second: As I’ve mentioned before, I have mixed feelings about Google Assistant’s Commute notification feature. A couple of days ago, I was leaning decidedly toward the negative, thanks to a notification foul-up of epic proportions, but unimportant details.

So I was ranting in a generally Maggie-facing direction; a rant which began “Have I mentioned how much I hate Google?”

When I ran down, I picked up my book and flopped on the bed next to Maggie and started to read. And then, because I do have my occasional episodes of mush, I turned to her and said, “No matter how much I hate Google, I love you more.”

There was a second of silence, perhaps a sliver of a second more, as she prepared to say, “Aww,” and then a voice was heard from the bookshelf where my phone sits while charging.

“I can’t feel romantic love but I think you are wonderful.”

Yes, my phone had misinterpreted “hate Google” as “Hey, Google” and thought I was addressing her*.

* Yes, I do consider my phone to be female. And I have no intention of analyzing why.

While I suppose it’s a relief to know that my phone has no desire to supplant my wife in my affections (yet), I’m not entirely sure I needed to know that I am a figure of wonder and (I suppose) awe.

Talk about inflating one’s sense of self-worth.

And, no question about the moral here: Big Brother is, in solemn truth, always listening.

Worth a Chuckle?

I recently stumbled across a website that purports to show last years 100 most popular searches on Bing.

According to, the top five searches are “google”, “youtube”, “facebook”, “gmail”, and “amazon”*.

* I am, by the way, using the worldwide search numbers. The order of the results changes a little if you limit the searches to the U.S., but not enough to invalidate any conclusions we might draw.

My first reaction was to laugh. Bing, as is well known, is owned by Microsoft; that people are using Microsoft’s search engine to find Google–or any other search engine–is ironically delicious.


There’s a nagging question here. Are people really searching for Google? Or are they just too lazy to type “.com”? I can kind of understand that: we’re an increasingly mouse-or-tap-oriented society. If you’re in the habit of using your computer’s touchscreen or trackpad, omitting the “.com” saves you four keystrokes and only costs you one tap.

Still, with that much love for Google, wouldn’t you think more people would be setting bookmarks for the Big G? That would reduce it to two taps with no typing. Better yet, setting Google as the browser’s home page would cut the effort to zero (beyond opening the browser, of course).

That would, however, imply people actually know how to use their software. Given that the tenth most popular search on Bing is “bing”, that may be overly optimistic.

The picture is, if anything, even worse on Google. Would you believe that “google” is the fourth most popular search on Google (again, according to*. “youtube” and “gmail” (both Google properties) are Numbers One and Five, respectively, despite the fact that both are no more than two clicks away* once you make it to Google.

* There’s a link directly to Gmail at the top of the Google search page, and to get to YouTube all you have to do is click the square made up of nine dots, then click YouTube.

Perhaps the only good news here is that “bing” didn’t make the Top 100 on Google. Though I suppose that’s really only good news for Google: if people actually wanted to use Bing, the evidence suggests they’d be searching for it on Google. Poor Microsoft.

Don’t think I’m making fun of people who don’t know how to use their computers. Okay, maybe I am a bit. But really, I’m pointing an accusatory finger at Microsoft and Google (as well as Mozilla, Apple, Vivaldi, Brave, and all the other browser makers out there.)

In the course of making the Web both indispensable and synonymous with “the Internet”, the companies that enable the technology have forgotten that software is like a language: nobody is born knowing how to speak “World Wide Web”; it has to be learned. And instead of teaching it, they’ve found ways to make learning unnecessary.

Today’s web browsers and search engines are the equivalent of a restaurant menu with no text, just pictures of the dishes on order. Point to what you want and it’ll be served on a tray.

And you won’t even get fries with that.

Are You Sure That’s a Cat?

Yes, actually, I am.

I’ll admit that I’m not sure which cat it is–there are several black and white felines in the neighborhood–but I’m certain it’s a cat.

Here, have a closer look:

For the record, I’m posting this not so much to introduce you to a new neighbor–call them our foul weather friend, as they’ve taken up residence in the Rose Cottage only during our recent rain storms–but to demonstrate what the Pixel 6 Pro’s Dark Mode can do.

This picture was taken through the rain (and the rain-splattered window), at 4x zoom. The only light was from the room behind me (hence the reflection of the water bowl on the left side) and the only editing is cropping and–in the first shot–resizing.

I’d regard the fact that you can even see the Rose Cottage, much less the inhabitant, as a triumph of technological brilliance.

Next rainstorm, I think I’ll break out my tripod and see how the phone’s astrophotography mode does in similar conditions.

Quite Nice

Maybe you’ve been wondering how I’m liking living on the cutting edge. That’s the “Pixel 6 Pro” edge, not the “JetSki-assisted Parasailing” edge*.

* Yes, for any of you–especially my relatives–who might have been concerned about my mental health, that was a joke.

It’s been a pleasant experience so far. Android’s ability to transfer data, settings, and apps from one device to another has improved immensely since the last time I tried that trick, mumble-mumble years ago. I just launched the transfer process, connected the two phones with a USB-C cable when it prompted me to, and as best I can tell, everything came over, despite multiple warnings from the instructions that some things could get left behind.

There’s a joke there about the Rapture, but since Mike Pence is no longer in office, I’ll skip it.

Anyway, I did have to sign into all of the apps that require authentication, but that’s hardly a major imposition, since I didn’t have to do them all at once. Just when I first ran each one; a process that was spread across weeks–and is, in fact, still going on.

Tip: if you’re not using a password manager, give it serious consideration. Having all my passwords on all my computers and my phone is a major convenience, and made the re-authentication processes nearly painless.

Yes, I did have to re-record my fingerprint on the new phone. Took about five minutes. And, despite what you may have heard online about the “buggy, unreliable” fingerprint reader on the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, I’ve found it to be quite solid. Many of the complaints seem to be from people who expect the phone to unlock instantly. Since I’m willing to wait for the scanner to recognize my finger–something that generally takes one to two seconds–I get very few failed logins.

I was concerned about the under-screen fingerprint reader being less convenient than the old back-of-the-phone style. It is. But not outrageously so. I can unlock the phone with my thumb as I’m lifting it into position, and it’s ready to go by the time my eyes focus on the screen. Maybe it would be more of a problem if I still had the reflexes I had twenty years ago.

The camera is, as I’d hoped, a major upgrade from the Pixel 2. Take a closer look at last Friday’s picture of Emeraldas. Right-click and open it in a new tab. That’s a trimmed, but otherwise unedited shot taken with the zoom at 4X. Nice and sharp, isn’t it? Good colors, too.

I was also concerned about the size of the phone. That turned out to be a non-issue. It is tall, but very well-balanced and much lighter than I expected, and the camera bump doesn’t really get in the way, even when the phone isn’t in a case.

So is there anything I don’t like?

Well, the tall/thin shape does make for an oddball resolution (1440×3120). That takes a bit of getting used to. I still wish Google would give the user more control over how close together home screen icons can be. We’ve got all that space, let us decide how we want to use it.

Honestly, though, the biggest problem isn’t with the phone itself. Rather, it’s been how slow case manufacturers have been to support the phone. (I’m looking at you, OtterBox!). Yes, supply-chain issues. But I’ve been limping along with a cheap silicone case to give the phone some grippiness and a belt pouch so I don’t have to risk shoving the phone in my pocket.

Cases are starting to appear, though–I ordered my usual OtterBox Defender Pro yesterday–and that annoyance should be resolved soon.

Looking forward to the new features we’re supposed to be getting any day now in the December update.

Not Quite There Yet

Despite last week’s pessimism, I will be getting my Pixel 6 Pro after all. It’s supposed to arrive today or tomorrow, and then I get the fun of transferring everything. Last time I did that–going from a Nexus 5X to Pixel 2 XL–the experience was…well, let’s just say “Less than polished” and let it go at that. To be fair, I didn’t do a direct transfer–the Nexus had died, so I did a clean setup and then downloaded my apps and data from the appropriate Google backups. Google then, and probably now, prefers the direct transfer, and since my 2 XL is still working well*, I’ll give it a try.

* Knock on wood.

Once I’ve had a chance to use it for a bit, I will, of course, share my thoughts. But that’ll be a couple of weeks away. In the meantime, I’d like to talk about a feature on the current phone that comes off as only partly baked.

The feature is simple in concept: if you’ve entered your home and work addresses in Maps, you’ll get notifications about the travel time between the two. These pop up during commute hours–home to work in the morning, and the reverse in the evening.

It’s actually quite handy. I don’t know that I need to know when the trip to work is going to take two minutes longer than usual, but I definitely want to know if I’m going to be stuck in traffic for half an hour.

But there are some weird omissions in the system, leaving it feeling unfinished.

For example, there are two routes I can take; on a typical day, the travel time between the two differs by less than five minutes. I almost always take the one that minimizes my time on the freeway because–Richmond Parkway notwithstanding–I prefer the scenery on that route.

Isn’t the Google Assistant supposed to learn your habits over time and improve the information it gives you? If so, it hasn’t been tied into the drive time feature, because the phone always gives me the travel time for the other route.

Then there’s the question of when the notifications appear. As far as I can tell, there’s no way to tweak the schedule. Mine, for example, is not a simple 9-5, M-F routine. The days vary, as do the hours. I’m not sure which is more annoying: not getting a drive time notification for a Saturday commute, getting a notification on a Tuesday when I’m not working, or getting the “going to work” update at 8:00 am on a day when I don’t start until noon.

Wouldn’t it be nice if I could tell whatever piece of the Google Assistant is responsible for these notices what my schedule is? Better yet, what if I could tell it to look for events on my calendar to clue it into the schedule automatically? Heck, I have a calendar conveniently named “Work”; I imagine I’m far from the only person who tracks their schedule that way. Wouldn’t it be awesome if the Google Assistant saw that calendar and asked if I wanted it to use that to show me relevant commute information?

Bottom line: a useful feature held back by what feels like an incomplete implementation.

But perhaps I’m doing the designers an injustice. There’s nothing wrong with building a tool to meet your own needs, and the current functionality is just fine if you (a) follow Google’s recommended route religiously–or have a shuttle driver who does–and (b) you’re always working–or work from home.

And, for all I know, the current limitations of the system are because my 2 XL is on Android 11 (and can’t be upgraded beyond that point). Perhaps that shiny new 6 Pro with Android 12 will add some controls so I can tweak the notifications to my needs.