State of the Fourth Estate 07

And here we are again. Tradition must be honored, and since the tradition is that the “State of the Fourth Estate” post shall be late…This is, by the by, a tradition I find it annoyingly easy to follow–which is why one should always consider the ramifications before establishing a tradition.

(All mutterings about not quitting day jobs will be cheerfully ignored. But remember kids: don’t try this at home.)

Anyway.

My thousandth blog post has come and gone. Contrary to what I predicted last March, it wasn’t greeted with celebration, modest or otherwise. The truth is, I didn’t even notice. But let’s be honest: my ramblings about Microsoft’s semi-nefarious designs on your hard drive space probably aren’t on anyone’s list of their favorite blog posts. I enjoyed writing it, which is the main point–this blog is where I try out ideas and techniques as well as give myself a break from the novels that get most of my writing time–and I think it turned out well. But I’d be the first to admit it’s not champagne-worthy.

This post is Number 1031. Assuming I average around 500 words per post, that means the blog has about six novels’ worth of prose. Or, allowing for multiple drafts, one readable novel. I think I’ll halt that line of speculation before it goes downhill.

Speaking of novels, in a break with tradition, I don’t have one in beta at the moment. Like Herding Cats is finished and is making the rounds of agents*. The next book, Demirep, is about halfway through the second draft.

* Though, as readers of my newsletter can tell you–but why should they, when you can subscribe to it yourself–my querying is currently on hold while I rework the query letter.

Of course, the biggest news of the year was about my acquisition of a new day job. To answer the obvious question first, yes, it does mean that work on Demirep is going more slowly than before I started dividing my attention.

On the other hand, the rewriting is going faster than it would if we had run out of money for Kitty Krunchiez and I was trying to write while fending off small, fuzzy carnivores with designs on my fingers.

Life’s a series of trade-offs that way.

And–insert usual disclaimer about unexpected events here–Demirep should still be ready for beta readers in a few months. Editors and agents aren’t the only ones responsible for the notoriously slow nature of the publishing industry. Fair’s fair.

As usual, once Demirep goes out to beta readers, I’ll be starting a new project. I don’t know what it’ll be. As usual, my ideas folder has several promising entries. Whichever one does the best job of grabbing my attention when the time comes will get the nod.

That’s one of the joys of not having signed a contract for a series. Mind you, I’d love to experience the joys of having a series contract, but one thing at a time.

And right now, that one thing is Writing Year Seven.

Onward!

Right on the Edge

There is one small fringe benefit to the Mariners having gone to Japan for that pseudo-Opening Day.

In a normal preseason, Seattle plays San Diego about five hundred times. Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. While it feels like five hundred, the actual number is closer to four hundred.

Anyway, the over-Padreization is due to a combination of factors. Most importantly, the Mariners and Padres share a training facility, so it’s convenient for them to play each other. And then there’s MLB’s late, unlamented effort to force every team into a “natural*” rivalry with a team in the other league.

* The problem, of course, is that not everyone has a natural rival. Prior to Houston switching from the NL to the AL, they were an obvious rival for the Rangers. Similarly, Angels versus Dodgers and Giants versus Athletics made perfect sense. Seattle got stuck with San Diego because they were the Wests’ leftovers. After Houston moved, it got even worse. Houston got saddled with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the Seattle and Texas shared the Padres and the Colorado Rockies. Thankfully, MLB has mostly abandoned the whole concept.

But I digress.

Thanks to the Japanese excursion, the Padres and Mariners only play three preseason games this year–more like two and three-quarters, actually, since the March 5 game was a split-squad matchup* for San Diego.

* A split-squad game is where half the team plays in one game and half in another. This is often done in the early stages of Spring Training when a large chunk of the minor league players are still in camp. The idea is to give them a chance to show what they can do in something that resembles a real game without shorting the playing time of the guys who are either already slotted for the big league club or in competition for a spot.

The Mariners tied the split-squad game, lost resoundingly last night, and will play again this afternoon with a chance to finish the preseason 1-1-1 against their unnatural rivals. Tomorrow will be an day off for everyone, and then the season starts for real on Thursday.

Nobody puts in much effort in the last preseason game. The roster is largely set and getting hurt right before the season starts would be awful, personally and professionally. So everyone gets a little in-game action, goes at about three-quarters of their ability, and calls it a day. It’s generally a relaxed affair, and–benefits to the players aside–a good way for the fans to wrap up their own Spring Training.

None of which is to say that the last few games are devoid of excitement, good and bad. Boston pitcher Rick Porcello took a line drive off the side of his head yesterday. Fortunately, he wasn’t seriously injured–I presume he’s been getting follow-up medical exams since he came out of the game, though the news media aren’t saying anything about it–but it’s not the way anybody wants to wrap up their preparations for the season.

While the Mariners and Padres are facing off for the third time, the Red Sox and Cubs will be playing for the second time this year. Wednesday’s off day will be a travel day for both: the Cubs will start the season in Texas and the Red Sox–with Rick Porcello–are heading cross-country to Seattle.

Regrettably, I won’t be able to watch the real Opening Day festivities this year. I’ll be at work when the Mariners and Red Sox take the field. Oddly, my request to take the day off as a religious holiday was denied*. But I can listen to the middle innings on my way home and watch the end of the game. Hopefully the Ms can stretch their lead over the rest of the AL West.

* No, not really. But I did consider asking.

(Guess what: it’s still early enough for everyone to be optimistic. Yes, even fans of the basement-dwelling Oakland As.)

See y’all at the park.

For the Fancier

By my count, we’ve had three straight weeks of the Fabulous Formerly Feral Felines, so it’s time to give some attention to the rest of the gang again.

Unfortunately, feline cuteness and/or silliness have been in short supply lately. Or maybe I’ve just been oblivious to it. Either way, my supply of photos is a little light at the moment.

I do have this charming shot of Watanuki.
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Note the corner of the blanket neatly folded across his abdomen. He’s always been a burrower, and we take great care in checking any lumps in the blankets when we come into the bedroom.

Lately, he hasn’t been digging deep under the covers–perhaps a sign of warmer weather approaching. Instead, we find scenes like the one above, or on days when the temperature drops again, something more like:
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Devoted students of the toe bean are welcome to requests higher resolution images.

Yes, that is a bit of his leg visible toward the left of the picture, but it didn’t stay in sight long. Shortly after I took the shot, ‘Nuki twitched the covers down over his leg.

We still don’t know what the purpose of the exposed paw was. It might have been a form of temperature regulation or, since this is ‘Nuki–who’s forever leaving body parts lying around–it could just as easily have been an oversight or an artistic statement.

Too Soon?

The season has started. At least, that’s what MLB is saying. I’m having trouble believing them.

Not in a “The Mariners have the best record in baseball‽” way. (The complementary observation that “The As have the worst record in baseball!” has to be pleasant for fans of the Orioles and Royals: they now know it’ll be at least another week before their teams fall into the AL basement.*) Nor does it have anything to do with the games having been played in Japan in a stadium few of the players know. It doesn’t even have anything to do with my inability to watch those two games** because they’re played in the middle of the night***.

* Actually, since the MLB scoreboard sorts teams with the same record alphabetically by location, Baltimore is currently on top in the AL East. Not bad for a team that finished last year with a historically bad record. May this be a sign of things to come.)

** To be strictly accurate, I did manage to catch the radio broadcast of the last inning of the second game. Twelve innings stretched the game just long enough for me to hear the Ms break the tie.

*** Yeah, there’s a bit of East Coast envy happening. A 5:30 AM game would be a little easier to deal with than 2:30 AM.

I don’t get to watch the first few Mariners games in most seasons. For reasons known only to MLB’s schedulers, the As and Mariners often open the season against each other. Since I’m in the As’ broadcast territory, the games are blacked out on MLB.TV. Sure, I could watch the local broadcast on real TV, but how awkward and uncomfortable would that be, especially if the Mariners lost? So I content myself with radio–which isn’t blacked out–and wait for the second series of the year.

But I digress.

The truth is, an overseas Opening Series is just Too Damn Early.

There’s a rhythm to the seasons, whether you’re talking Earth-around-the-Sun or baseball. Shifting a few days, as has been done recently to keep the playoffs from running into November, is a little uncomfortable, but no worse than switching from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time. You feel disoriented for a few hours–a day at most–but then your brain and body catch up.

But this year, MLB is trying to convince us that two games played a week and a half early are real. That’s more like a serious case of jet lag. The kind you get flying from, say, Arizona to Japan. It takes several days to get yourself back in sync with the rest of the world.

It’s nice that MLB wants to give us an opportunity to see what things are like from the players’ perspective. I suppose handing out VR headsets with a batter’s-perspective video of an Aroldis Chapman sinker* with every MLB.TV subscription would be prohibitively expensive.

* Or, to be fair, a pitcher’s perspective video of a Giancarlo Stanton comeback line drive.

It’s a well-known fact that some players need a longer spring training than others. Position players are generally ready before pitchers, even though the latter report to camp first.

But it’s also true that fans need a certain amount of time to be season-ready. We need to fine-tune our attention. Toughen up our throats and palms for maximum volume cheers and boos. And yes, even get a sufficient look at the minor league players who won’t be making the majors this year, but might feature prominently in our “Wait’ll next year!” fantasies.

So we’re a bit off center. Maybe next year MLB will give us that week and hold off the games that count until the last week of March or the first week of April.

As for this year, it’s okay to acknowledge that you’re not quite ready. Remember, there are millions of us in the same position.

Close your eyes, picture an outfield filled with summer sunlight. Think late September, a one game division lead, and the shade of Ernie Banks saying “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame…Let’s play two!”

That’s the goal. We’ll get there.

Oopsie!

Oof. Just, like, wow, man.

Sorry. I don’t get a chance to talk about the theory and practice of QA very often, so when an opportunity like this comes along, it’s a bit overwhelming.

According to the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, four different groups of inspectors missed the construction goof that caused the Transbay Terminal closure. Four!

Granted, my QA background is in software, but I can’t imagine that construction is greatly different, at least in terms of the methodology. The basic idea is that QA sits down with the specifications–ideally, QA is involved in the process of creating the plans, helping to root out ambiguities and spot danger points early, but I’m trying to keep this simple–and produces a plan.

The plan describes what QA will test and how they’ll test it. The level of detail varies, but the intent is that it covers all the different types of tests in language that non-QA people can understand. QA then designs the specific tests, executes them, logs bugs (defects, places where the product doesn’t match the design), and eventually produces a final summary that describes what was actually tested, summarizes all the bugs, and documents any changes between the test plan and what was actually done.

Naturally, I’ve massively simplified this process. In the real world, many of the steps will be executed in parallel. There’s buy-in at multiple points in the process. Each test is documented: when it was run, who ran it, and what the results are.*

* In the software world, QA kills a lot of trees. I imagine it’s even worse in the physical world.

None of which explains how three separate groups–the outfit that made the beams, the company that installed them, and the general contractor who oversaw the whole process–apparently failed to confirm that the beams had been properly installed. Specifically, that holes cut in the beams had been ground down to prevent exactly the sort of cracks that developed over Fremont Street.

I have to wonder whether it was a planning failure–nobody said “Hey, we’ll test the welding access holes,” and none of the parties involved noticed the omission–or a failure to execute planned tests.

It’s worth noting that the holes in the First Street beam were cut differently, so that grinding wasn’t necessary. Why didn’t anyone notice the discrepancy? Was the change by design or error?

I’m less bothered by the failure of the fourth group involved. According to the Chron, a separate company did spot inspections. On the one hand, they specialize in QA. On the other hand, spot inspections will miss things. That’s part of the definition. They’re designed to give you a big picture; in the software world, you might do a spot check–a small fraction of your tests–to confirm whether a new module is ready for the full test. If, say, five percent of your tests (chosen to hit the areas of highest risk) show a lot of bugs, you’ll probably send the module back to development and say “try again.”

In this case, the Transbay Joint Powers Authority wanted checks to be sure the proper process was being followed. So, whether the tests were planned but not run, or never planned in the first place, it’s easy to see how the omission could have slipped through the cracks (sorry) of the spot check.

Anyone got an inside view of the TJPA? I’d love to know where the fault actually lies.

Scandalous

I’ll admit to some surprise over how much press the college university scandal is getting. It’s proving to be a remarkable distraction from whatever it is our darling president is up to today. And have you noticed that he’s been unusually silent about the subject? Sure, his usual crew of proxies, including DTJr, have been all over it, but as far as I can tell, he’s kept his own Twitter fingers out of the fuss.

Maybe he thinks the dignity of his former position as proprietor of a pay-for-play education institution would be compromised by taking sides on the issue.

Never mind.

Anyway, I really am surprised about the amount of attention being paid to the story. Is anyone actually surprised that the rich have a perk denied to the rest of population?

Is it because of the high public profile of some of the accused? Everyone loves a good scandal involving well-known actresses*, right? Or is it only because of the rather staggering quantities of money involved. Twenty-five million is a significant sum of money. On the other hand, annual tuition at Stanford is currently around $50,000. Add in living expenses, materials, and all of the other expenses of going to school, and you realize that $25,000,000 wouldn’t even cover the costs of a four year degree for all of the students involved.

* I have to wonder if there would be as much gloating and finger pointing if the big Hollywood names were men. But I digress.

And, speaking of the students… The Chron quotes US attorney Andrew Lelling as saying “For every student admitted through fraud, an honest, genuinely talented student was rejected.” That’s arguable, but if the goal of the investigation is to seek redress for those rejected students, why are all of those fraudulently admitted still attending their schools?

Granted, most schools probably don’t have a ranked list of candidates, and even if they did, it’s far too late to offer a slot to the top few who just missed the cut because their slots had been filled via fraud. But it would free up spaces that could be added to the available pool for next year.

Come to think of it, the goal of the parents involved was to get their kids into those colleges. Even if they’re eventually convicted of crimes, the punishment is going to be in the form of fines and jail time. The children are still going to be in school, benefiting from their parents’ misdeeds. And if someone was willing and able to pay half a million bucks to get their child into an Ivy League school, are they really going to quibble about a few thousand dollars more to satisfy the justice system?

Really, though, the most vexing thing about the scandal is that the schools themselves are unlikely to see any repercussions. A few employees have been fired and more probably will. It’s vaguely possible that the universities will be fined, but even if they are, they’ll likely be a tiny fraction of their operating budgets–but a great excuse to raise tuition. Maybe the NCAA will sanction a few sports programs–but who’s going to notice a loss of scholarships or forced forfeits in sailing and other minor sports?

What’s not going to be affected is the schools’ collective reputation. None of this year’s high school seniors are going to withdraw their applications. Nobody’s going to miss out on a post-graduation job because their diploma comes from one of those schools.

That, IMNSHO, is the real scandal.

Knowing the Cost

Nearly three years ago, I wrote about my compulsion to record the details every time we put gas in the car. At the time, I said, “Mind you, none of this information is of any particular use.”

I’m thrilled to announce that after thirteen years, I’ve finally found value in that spreadsheet. Value beyond soothing the need to collect the numbers, I mean.

Hey, I just realized: since I’ve found a use for the numbers, they’re no longer just semi-random noise. They have meaning! They’re officially information. Data! I’m sure the spreadsheet is very proud.

But I digress.

Anyway, the point is that I have a job. Which requires me to commute. And now I can calculate how much it costs me to go to work.

The bridge toll is six bucks in one direction and zero in the other. And, frankly, that’s the lion’s share of the expense. But, being compulsive, I had to add in the cost of the gas.

One round trip is approximately 35 miles, regardless of which route I take*.

* As I noted recently, crossing the Richmond-San Rafael bridge is essentially a requirement to get from here to there. But there are multiple ways to get from here to the bridge. Since all the routes are functionally the same length, and all the drivers are using the same small group of traffic apps, it’s probably no surprise that it takes the same amount of time to drive all the routes. In this case, about an hour and a quarter. As Bay Area commutes go, that’s staggeringly short for the round trip.

According to my spreadsheet, each dollar we’ve spent on gas has been good for 8.6 miles driven. So one round trip to work costs a hair over four bucks in gas. Add the bridge toll and we get the total price of the trip: ten dollars. No, I’m not compulsive enough to figure in depreciation on the car.

Apply my salary–net, of course–and you get forty-four minutes and a handful of seconds*.

* Yes, I realize that the mathematically astute curious types among you are now busy calculating my pay. Have fun. I’d just appreciate it if you didn’t spread the number around. Make anyone who wants to know go to the effort of punching a few digits into their calculators. And looking up the federal and state withholding percentages. And a few other little deductions that I’ll leave as exercises for the nosy.

With all the approximations I’ve included, you can call it three-quarters of an hour without straining the bounds of mathematics.

Why would I bother with all that math, other than to justify thirteen years of data collection? Well, it turns out that driving is two dollars cheaper than taking the bus. That says more about the cost of public transportation than anything else, but that’s a subject for another time.

More importantly, knowing the cost difference allows me to feel a little better about choosing convenience over saving the environment.

Fellowship

Contrary to what you might have thought after watching last week’s video, Lefty and Rufus actually get along well most of the time.

Even dinnertime is generally peaceful, now that they’ve arrived at a regular routine. Granted, the routine is “Rufus chows down on Lefty’s gooshy food,” but as long as they’re okay with it, we’re not going to interfere.

Oddly, Rufus seems to prefer Lefty’s gooshy to his own, but much as he loves his own krunchiez, he rarely touches Lefty’s. To be perfectly clear, they both get the same dry food, and the only difference between the wet food bowls is a little added water in Rufus’.

But I digress.

Despite the occasional spat, they hang out together and watch out for each other. Rufus guards Lefty when the horrible cat-eating monster (i.e. the vacuum cleaner) visits. In return, Lefty keeps an eye out when they’re sleeping.

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Take a closer look at Lefty’s face:

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Have you ever seen a better example of “Mess with my buddy and I’ll mess you up”?

Tiny Ball

Hey, remember last season, when I said I hoped the Mariners would be better on the field than in their commercials? Oy.

If the same thing happens this year, the Ms are going to give the Orioles some competition for the title of Most Painful Team to Watch.

At least there are only four this year. If you’re feeling brave enough, you can watch them here. Or you can just read on and let me save you the effort.

Let’s start with the worst and save the–well, not the best, but the least bad–for last.

The only question about “Hanimal Fanimal” is whether it’s the bottom of the barrel or the leaky septic tank under the barrel. A couple of seconds of Mitch Haniger in actual game footage bookends this paen to clueless bandwagon fandom. Unfortunately, all the joy of the spectacular catch is sucked away by the relentless idiocy of the spokesperson for the folks sitting in the bleachers. If he’s the sort of person the Mariners’ front office want to attract to games, I’m glad I’ll be watching on TV. Maybe there’s supposed to be an unspoken message here–that Mitch is too nice a guy to shove the moron away and get back to the game. But if so, it’s as poorly thought out as the rest of the ad. Leo Durocher may not have said “Nice guys finish last,” but there’s some truth to the sentiment. At the very least, the game comes first.

“Moving Target” isn’t bad. It’s just cliched, repetitive, and forgettable. Okay, Mallex Smith is fast. We get it. Couldn’t you find some way to show that without falling back on the quick cut? And there’s poor Kyle Seager forced into being the deadpan straight man again, just like in last year’s “Flip”. At least this year, he’s not clueless. But can’t somebody give him a decent punchline?

Next is “SpeeDee”. It’s cliched and forgettable, but at least it’s not repetitive. Okay, Dee Gordon is fast. We get it. Yeah, they really went with “he’s fast” in half of the commercials this year. I rank this one slightly ahead of “Moving Target” only because of the parachute. Having it pop open before Dee crosses the finish lineplate is the only real spark of creativity in either of the “fast” commercials. I’ll admit, that got a small chuckle out of me.

Finally–and not a moment too soon–we’ve got “Arts & Crafty”. Props for a decent pun and for giving Felix a decent punchline. The moving stadium roof makes me laugh, even on repeated viewings–I love the implication that Yusei Kikuchi knows the King is about to rain on his hard work. Unfortunately, the “It’s crafty” line just doesn’t quite work, leaving the ad about two-thirds of a joke short of brilliance. “Craft” does have additional meanings that could have been worked in to send the bit in a whole different direction. “It’s not just craft, it’s witchcraft.” Eh, maybe not. Have the stadium transform into a boat, thus alluding to both watercraft and Mariners. Better. Not perfect, but better. Seriously, with months to think about it, this commercial could have been fixed.

Call the tally a triple, a sacrifice bunt, a weak pop-up, and a three pitch, no swing strikeout. In the right order, that’s one run anyway.

May this be the year the Ms play betters the standard set by their commercials. Because if it’s not, this will be a long season–and not in the good way.