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.

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.

SAST 18

[Administrative Note: The last SAST post was 19. The one before that was 17. Oops. Consider this a modest nod in the direction of numerical consistency.]

I was pondering the fact that the two stories everyone knows about George Washington both involve wood. That is, of course, that he chopped down a cherry tree and that he wore wooden dentures.

The first, obviously, is a myth. But I wondered if the infamous dentures were made of cherry wood. That would be at least an amusing coincidence–because the tree-chopping legend surely doesn’t predate the real dental appliance–and possibly even a source of the legend.

So, a bit of research ensued. And, annoyingly, it turns out that the wooden dentures story is totally fictional as well.

Okay, not totally. George did wear dentures. Just not wooden ones.

Still, it does leave room for some creative fictionalizing. Anyone want to help spread the story that President Washington’s wooden dentures were made from the very same tree he chopped down as a nipper (sorry)?

Moving on.

Gotta love the rumor mill.

There was a rumor making the rounds that Apple was going to release a new Mac Mini this year. Perfectly logical: the entry level Mini now has an M1 chip, but the high end Mini still has an Intel processor. Gotta have a high-end M1 Mini, right?

Then Apple introduced the Mac Studio. Which is, to all intents and purposes, an ultra-high-end Mini.

So now, of course, the rumor is that Apple is not going to come out with a new Mini this year. It will be next year.

Personally, I don’t see why we even need a high-end Mini. The original Mini was unveiled as a “bring your own peripherals” deal that would let Apple sell you on their hardware and software at a significantly lower price than the rest of their line. It’s still a great idea, and the M1 Mini fits the niche admirably.

Leave it at that, Apple. Keep the Mini low-end and low-rent and let the people who need power go with the Studio.

Moving on again.

Thanks to Eric for pointing me at this article in Politico.

There isn’t much in it that will be new to anyone paying attention to the Oakland As efforts to convince the city to give them a dream platter of goodies–though I’m somewhat amused by the author’s characterization of the Mets as the antithesis of the As.

What struck me while I was reading it, though, was the thought that perhaps we’ve been misreading the situation. The team’s ownership keeps presenting it as “give us what we want or we’re moving to Vegas.”

Totally standard sports team tactics. Except that the Athletics keep moving the fences back. Every time it starts to seem that they’re going to get what they’re asking for, they add something to their demands.

At this point, they’re promising to put $12 billion dollars into constructing their megafacility–if. Given the typical lack of correspondence between construction estimates and actual costs, the bill is likely to be closer to $25 billion than the twelve the team is promising.

What if the As ownership doesn’t want to get handed their dream package? If the city coughs up the land, the tax district, and whatever add-on gets added to the demands next, then ownership is on the hook for those big bucks.

I’m starting to think they want the deal to be rejected. They’re just looking for an excuse to head for Nevada, where they can rejoice in actually being a small market team, rather than having to fake it enough to get those subsidies from the teams in larger markets.

At this point, I’m almost ready to hope Oakland does give the As’ ownership everything they’ve asked for, just so I can see what kind of verbal gymnastics they go through in denying they’d ever promised to build a ballpark…

And, finally, on another baseball related note:

Commissioner Manfred (spit) is trying to butter up the players. He’s gifted every player on a big league roster with a pair of $200 Beats headphones.

Let us not forget that, under the just-signed collective bargaining agreement, every one of those guys is making at least $700,000 this year. I think they can probably afford their own headphones–and probably already have a set or six.

Hey, Rob! Instead of making nice on the players–who aren’t going to believe for an instant that you’re on their side, or even that you like them–why don’t you try making nice on the fans? You know, the folks who contribute the money that lets owners pay those players, not to mention the salary that you used to buy all those headphones.

We could really use a no-local-blackouts, no social-media-exclusives broadcast package.

Not a Good Look

Full disclosure–a phrase that’s highly relevant to today’s post–here: I have a Wyze camera. We use it for monitoring cats. At various times, it’s been the RufusCam, the LeftyCam, and the MeezerCam. Currently, it’s pointed at the Backyard Bowl, so we can see who shows up to indulge in gooshy fud and catnip.

So, given the background, you can easily understand why I’m rather perturbed by the recent reports of a significant security flaw in Wyze’s equipment.

Brief pause to remedy a potential knowledge gap: Wyze started out making amazingly cheap wi-fi cameras. Where most companies were selling cameras for $100 and up, one could buy a Wyze camera with most of the same features for $20. Obviously, they quickly became popular with people who wanted to keep tabs on pets, property, and progeny.

Wyze has since branched out into related products (video doorbells, door locks, camera accessories, for example)–and some not-so-related products like vacuum cleaners and headphones. Their focus has remained the same, though: most of the same features, but at a fraction of the cost.

A company selling security products should take great care to make sure their products are, you know, secure. Right? Maybe not. The latest reports suggest that Wyze not only knew about a bug for years before they fixed it, but Bitdefender, the security company that found the issue, kept quiet about it as well.

This isn’t the first time Wyze has been involved in security issues. As recently as 2018, there were reports that their cameras were sending information–metadata, if not actual video–to servers in China. Wyze eventually confirmed the reports, but blamed a third-party that was part of their backend infrastructure. In 2019, they accidentally removed security features from an internal customer database, leading to information on 2.4 million customers being exposed to the Internet.

To me, this latest failure is the worst. Not because of the severity of the bug. As I understand it, it’s not an over-the-Internet vulnerability; any attacker would need to be close enough to get onto the same wi-fi network as the target camera. My concern is that Wyze sat on the bug for three years before fixing it; even after it was fixed, they didn’t give their customers any information about the bug or how they might have been affected; and, arguably worst, they somehow persuaded Bitdefender* not to release any warning to the world about the bug until after they had finally fixed it.

* Highly annoying: Bitdefender’s much-delayed press release even suggests people should use Bitdefender’s products to identify vulnerable devices on their home networks.

More full disclosure: I recently started using Bitdefender’s “Total Security” software and like it. Ironically, the thing I like most about it is that it gives more information about threats it’s blocking than the anti-malware package I used to use.

As a society, we don’t require companies to reveal security breaches in a timely fashion, or to accept meaningful accountability–“Oopsie, my bad. So sorry we let hackers get your personal information,” is not accepting responsibility, right [insert the name of darn near every company in the world]?

But companies that specialize in security need to be held to a higher standard. They need to keep their clients in the loop when things go bad. And they have to make up for their errors. Not necessarily fines, though in some cases that might be the right thing, but something that makes them share the pain they’ve inflicted on their customers.

I’m not quite ready to toss out my Wyze camera–though I doubt I’ll be buying any more of them–and I’m not uninstalling Total Security either. Yet.

Nor am I urging anyone else to dump Wyze or Bitdefender. But I am considering it, and you should too.

Remarkably Relaxing

When approached with the proper attitude, Spring Training exhibition games are amazingly relaxing. The games don’t matter*, so it’s easy to disengage from the score. Nobody cares who wins the Cactus or Grapefruit League titles, not even those teams’ fans. There’s no advantage carried into the regular season.

* Ignore anyone who tries to tell you that the regular season games don’t matter either. Obviously a heathen.

You can take the games as they come. Pitcher can’t find the strike zone? No matter. Last year’s Gold Glove shortstop bobbles three ground balls in one inning? ‘Sokay. Pricey new slugger can’t lay off the fastball a foot over his head? Eh, he’ll figure it out.

I’ve almost reached the point where I can watch the Yankees win a game and not swear. (Not that I’ve had much opportunity to practice that particular skill this year. As I write this Tuesday afternoon, the Yanks are 1-2 and are losing to the Blue Jays.)

Team stats don’t matter. If they did, I’d be calling our World Series teams now. (Red Sox versus Brewers–both currently have a +21 run differential. I don’t know about you, but I’d rate the probability of that happening as “very low”. For what it’s worth, BetMGM agrees: their picks are the Dodgers and White Sox.)

Neither, for that matter, do individual stats. Does anybody think Jose Rojas is going to keep his 2.278 OPS into the regular season? No? There are eight pitchers who have yet to let anyone on base. They’re not going to do that for long in the regular season–and at the other extreme, I’d put long odds against Caleb Smith continuing to give up three and two-thirds walks and hits per inning.

What isn’t relaxing is trying to actually watch or listen to the games. MLB’s app has always been notoriously bad in the preseason, but this year they’ve outdone themselves. Reports of audio streams cutting out every few minutes are rampant, and many are reporting video problems as well. In my case, it’s been even worse: I couldn’t even start the audio streams because the buttons weren’t tappable (or rather, nothing happened when they were tapped). Any attempt to start a video stream gave a generic “something went wrong” error*.

* I seem to have fixed the non-responsive buttons and the video errors by deleting all the app’s data and setting it up again from scratch. So now I just have to deal with the audio stream cutting out every couple of minutes–not good when trying to listen to a game in the car.

And, of course, MLB’s response is to tell anyone who complains to read their troubleshooting webpage, which offers such helpful suggestions as “MLB Audio does not broadcast pre-game or post-game shows , and may not broadcast during rain delays or commercials.” That’s great, but it’s no help at all for the playback not starting.

That said, radios and TVs still work. We can get our baseball fixes via local broadcasts. History suggests MLB will have stomped on most of the app bugs by the time the season starts–or at least by the end of June, just in time for the update they’ll be issuing for the All Star Game to break everything again.

Apple Is At It Again

How many new product announcements do we really need? I mean, they revealed phones, watches, and iPads in September, HomePods and laptops in October. And now here we are in March, and they’ve got more goodies coming out.

But before we get to the hardware, a bit of baseball news: Apple TV+ will be showing two MLB games every Friday. Assuming, of course, that there’s an MLB season. No word on whether games on Apple will be blacked out on MLB.TV. History suggests they will; one more reason to be pissed off at the team owners and the commissioner.

New iPhones are coming.

No, not new models; the 13 is still the latest and greatest. But you’ll be able to get the 13 Pro (and, I presume, the Pro Max) in “alpine green”. Or, if you don’t need that third camera, you can get the regular 13 (and the 13 Mini?) in “green”. Just green, no alpine for you.

Of course, there is a new SE. This is now the third generation of SE, with mostly the guts of the iPhone 13 backing the same old comparatively low-resolution screen of the previous SE. Better camera, though still not as good at the 13, naturally. And it does have 5G.

Time for a new iPad Air. With an M1 chip. Clearly, last September’s iPad Pro with the M1 is so last year: unless you can’t live without FaceID, there’s not a lot to choose between the new guys and those six-month-old ancients. Better front camera than the previous iPad Air and, of course, 5G for the cellular models.

And, naturally, new computers.

No M2 chip yet. But we are going to be seeing the M1 Ultra! Can you imagine how excited I am? To be fair, the idea behind the Ultra is kind of cool: let’s glue two M1 Max chips together and treat them as a single chip.

There’s been a longstanding perception that Apple computers feel slow, even when they’re objectively screaming along. No matter how fast the computer is getting work done, the user interface has often felt sluggish. I have to hand it to Apple on this one: I can’t imagine an M1 Ultra machine feeling sluggish–unless Apple deliberately throttles it back.

So we’re getting a new computer line to hold the Ultra. Not a Pro, not an iMac, and certainly not a Mini. Brace yourself for the Mac Studio. Actually, it looks like a tall Mini. With lots of ports. Easy on desk space, which is good, because Apple wants you to pair it with a new monitor.

A 27-inch monitor. Really, Apple? When I can walk into any electronics store and buy a 32-, 34-, 43-, or even 49-inch monitor? Okay, yes, it does have a dedicated CPU for its camera and sound system, and a metric buttload of speakers, but still, 27 inches does seem rather cramped these days.

That monitor is a mere $1500. I don’t see the value, honestly. Go with a third-party monitor and audio system, and put that grand-and-a-half toward upping the specs on the computer. M1 Ultra Studios will start at $3999, which honestly doesn’t sound half bad for 64GB of RAM, a terabyte of storage, and that CPU. (A maxed out model–128 GB, 8TB, and 16 additional GPU cores–will only set you back $7999. As Apple helpfully point out, that’s only $666 a month for a year.)

I’m not sure I can honestly say Apple is doing anything revolutionary here, but it’s one heck of an evolutionary advance.

And, if you want to see something truly impressive, wait until they’re ready to announce an Apple silicon Mac Pro.

Which, given Apple’s recent pace of announcements, should come before summer.

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 ahrefs.com, 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.

Except.

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 ahrefs.com)*. “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.

A Complete Waste of Time

I believe I’ve mentioned once or twice* that my whole family loves fireworks. Why else would we freeze our hind ends sitting for hours on a cement planter on December 31 or a stretch of suburban tundra on July 4?

* Okay, considerably more often than that.

So these last couple of years have been tough. Granted, not the only way they’ve been tough and certainly not the toughest, but still.

And the workarounds have been, well, pitiful. Seattle, I’m looking at you here.

Historically, Seattle has had a fireworks display set off from the Space Needle, and it’s usually been a good show. Perhaps not world class, but well up in the ranks of civic displays.

Since a show was a no-go for 12/31/20, the city commissioned a “virtual” show. By which, they meant “Computer animated graphics added to actual footage of the Space Needle.” It kinda, sorta worked. Arguably better than nothing, anyhow. Some of the animations were entertaining. But somebody forgot that a big part of the fireworks experience is auditory. Way too much generic popular music (with Seattle ties, of course) and a notable shortage of “Boom!”

This year, there was an actual show. Nobody could attend in person, of course, so the city made a big deal about enhancing the display for TV. Much hype about the “first ever” augmented reality fireworks display.

Feh. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

And in this case, there was a big asterisk after the “can”. The computer graphics were definitely a step down in quality from the previous year’s offering. Worse, they frequently covered the actual fireworks. If you’re trying to enhance something, you don’t hide it, you emphasize it. And again, no “Boom!”, but plenty of instantly forgettable pop. (Sorry.) Not even some decent champagne could save this mess.

Even worse: the TV channel’s commentators desperately trying to sound enthusiastic about what they’d just seen.

We started flipping channels afterward, desperately trying to find something to eradicate the memory. Mixed results, obviously.

We spent a few minutes on the Nashville NYE Super Spreader Event–hundreds of sweaty, underdressed people, with not a mask in sight–before we found a channel showing fireworks displays from around the world.

And very interesting it was. Thank you, NBC News!

The show from Russia looked like it was probably excellent–fireworks blasting over onion domes is always aesthetically pleasing–but the poor image quality detracted greatly. I’m fairly certain it wasn’t an official Soviet broadcast, but a low-resolution cell phone recording, probably smuggled out via the Internet.

Oddly, neither India nor Pakistan came off well. Both looked like someone’s backyard display. The Greek show spent far too much time showing off the Parthenon and much too little showing the actual fireworks.

Hong Kong, fortunately, gave an excellent show, combining real fireworks with simulated displays on skyscrapers. Not, I don’t think, computer animated, but video projections. The displays were well synchronized, and it worked beautifully.

The real winner, though? Sydney, Australia. A massive display all around the harbor, combined with “The 1812 Overture” gave plenty of “Boom!” with lots of sparkle.

Hopefully we’ll get real fireworks here in the Bay Area (and Seattle!) this coming NYE. But if not, I know where I’m getting my fix, and it ain’t gonna be any kind of faked or “enhanced” display.