Sometimes You Control the Story…

Every writer knows that you don’t always get to tell the story you planned. Stuff happens. And the story takes control and heads off in its own direction.

This was going to be a story about Yuki.

That elegant plume of a tail, that imperial demeanor, those curiously marbled toe beans.

And then I looked behind him.

‘Nuki does have a way of taking over every story. Something about the way he muscles in, plops himself down, and starts tapping your arm with his murder mitts.

And he glares.

Even when he’s relaxed.

Happy? Glare.

Suspicious? Glare.

Writing poetry? Serious glare.

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.

Incipient Ears of Disapproval*

Kaja has been enjoying her recent freedom to explore the house, but she has been running into a bit of a relearning curve.

Cats are allowed on the table, as long as no food is present. Kaja has apparently forgotten that rule during her years of restriction to Maggie’s office.

So when she thought we were going to forcefully remove her from her latest perch…


…we got “The Look”.

* Photo and title credit to Maggie

Twofer

It’s technology week!

Okay, not really. But both Apple and Google decided the time was right to show off their upcoming toys.

Apple went first, announcing their goodies on Monday. Probably just as well, as they had much more to talk about.

They started by talking up improvements to Apple Music. Question: does anyone actually let Siri provide the music for their life? Apple claims they do, and so they’re improving Siri’s selection abilities. How? By turning the job over to human beings. You read that right. Humans will create mood-based playlists, and Siri will pick a playlist based on what you ask for.

Do we really need a voice control for that?

New colors coming for the HomePod mini. Great if you insist on color-coordinating your décor. The rest of us? Ho-hum.

New AirPods with support for spatial audio. Inevitable, but not exactly exciting for anyone who doesn’t use their iPhone as a movie theater. And you’ll still be able to buy the previous generation. I foresee great confusion down the road.

Of course, what everyone was really interested in was the new Macs. Because everyone wants an improved M1 chip. Well, everyone who wants a Mac, anyway. Let’s not make assumptions about just how good Apple’s brainwashingadvertising has gotten.

Up first, the new MacBook Pro. Built around the M1 Pro, which can have as much as 32GB of RAM–a big jump from the M1’s 8GB limit–and able to move data in and out of memory twice as fast. The result is a system 70% faster; twice as fast at graphics-related tasks. Impressive.

But if you really need power, you’re going to want the M1 Max. That basically doubles what the M1 Pro can do: twice as fast at memory operations, up to 64GB of RAM, and twice the graphics processors. Curiously, it’s only got the same number of CPU cores; wonder why they didn’t double those as well.

So the new MacBook Pro will, to paraphrase Apple’s hype, wipe the floor with the old MacBook Pro, to say nothing of all those awful Windows machines. Not that they’re gloating or anything.

Anyway, the new machines bring back all the ports the M1 MacBooks left out: HDMI, headphone, SD card reader. They are losing the Touch Bar, which disappoints me not a bit, but will no doubt annoy many loyal Apple fans. Nice touch: a new and improved MagSafe port for power, but you can still charge ’em with the Thunderbolt ports.

There’s a notch at the top of the display for the camera. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about that, but I kind of like the idea. Gives more physical space for the screen, and if you’ve got so much stuff in your Menu Bar that it runs into the notch, you probably ought to slim things down a bit anyway.

Preorders started Monday, first deliveries next week. Depending on the model and specs, you’ll be paying anywhere from $1999 to $6099.

From a technical perspective, I’ll admit to being impressed. Fiscally, too, but the numbers really aren’t that far out of line for a similarly specced Windows laptop.

But people are easily bored. Camera notch aside, I expect the complaints to start before Halloween. “It’s not fast enough for my workload.” “I need more Thunderbolt ports.” “When do we get a desktop with the M1 Max?” “Where’s the M2?”

Moving on to Google’s Tuesday announcements.

A much briefer announcement. Only two products (plus accessories): the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro.

Of course, most of the information leaked out earlier: new, Google-designed CPU, hugely improved cameras, etc., etc. The only really new information is the price point ($599 to $999 depending on model and storage) which is several hundred dollars below similarly specced iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones.

Oh, and one other new bit of information: Google is shifting to go head-to-head with Apple on services. They’ve got a bundle called “Pixel Pass” that gives you time payments on the phone, YouTube Premium, YouTube Music Premium, Google One storage, and Google Play Pass. A discount on Fi service. Accidental damage coverage is included as well.

The phones sound impressive, and Pixel Pass could be an excellent deal, especially if you were planning on buying the phone on time or were already paying for any of the premium services.

To nobody’s particular surprise, the Google Store is struggling. Preorders are (nominally) open with delivery around the end of the month, but as I write this on Tuesday afternoon, the store is up, but not able to process checkouts–assuming it doesn’t list all phones as out of stock. At that, it’s doing better than earlier in the day, when it was bouncing up and down like very erratic clockwork.

I’m very interested in the new phones. My current Pixel 2 XL is still working well enough, but the Lure of the New is getting to me–and I really want to see what kind of cat pictures I can take with the new cameras. I’ve been trying to preorder a Pro for the past hour, but I’m starting to suspect it’ll be at least a couple of months before I can actually get my hands on one.

Sleep With One Eye Open, Hoomin

The title is Maggie’s, the photography is Maggie’s, but the risk to life and limb is everyone in the house who walks on two legs.

A cat with a jar of peanut butter on its head

(A note to Microsoft Word: No, that is not a jar of peanut butter on Mr. Knuckle’s head. Object recognition is still not one of Word’s strongest suits.)

Saying Hello to the New Guys

I watched a hockey game last night.

Oh, don’t look at me like that. I’m not adopting a new religion. I stand by my past statements that hockey isn’t my sport.

But.

Long, long ago–or however many “longs” I should be using to refer to my tween years–I was a rabid fan of the Seattle Totems. I’ve still got a couple of pucks with their logo from giveaway* nights. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure I’ve still got a stick in the closet. (I just checked. Yes, I do.)

* Hard to believe now, but back in the day sports giveaways gave actual, useable items. The Seattle Rainiers provided me with bats I used all through Little League baseball and the Totems’ sticks were perfectly good for floor hockey (I had a great slap shot, but my dreams of playing “real” hockey floundered on my persistent inability to skate backward.) Try using a mini-bat, or worse, an inflatable “bat” for anything more ambitious than giving your siblings minor contusions and see how far you get. And get off my lawn.

Anyway, in those pre-Mariners, pre-Seahawks days, there was only one major league team in Seattle, the late, lamented Sonics. And basketball was, and is, even less my sport than hockey.

None of those early- to mid-seventies teams was very good. Playoffs? Hah! But in my memory, the Totems had a sense of fun and potential that the Rainiers and Sonics lacked.

So, with the arrival of the Kraken, professional hockey has returned to Seattle. And I had to watch their first game, especially since ESPN was kind enough to show it nationally.

Mind you, the game was at the same time as Game Four of the Giants/Dodgers series, so my attention was split. Baseball on the TV, hockey on the iPad. It worked well enough.

From a literary perspective, there are only two ways the Kraken’s first season can go. Either they smash through the season, leaving their competition shattered, or they dive to the sea floor, subsisting on a diet of the occasional bottom-dweller that strays into reach of their tentacles.

Keep in mind that the previous expansion team, the Las Vegas Golden Knights, took the first course. They made it to the Stanley Cup finals in their first season, and have reached the playoffs every year since. So we’ve seen that narrative recently.

Also keep in mind that the Kraken play in Seattle.

So who did the NHL schedule them to play in their first game? Why Las Vegas, of course. No question which plot they’re expected to follow.

They did their best to fulfill expectations. The Kraken looked lost in the first period. Errant passes, missed shots, even a few unprovoked pratfalls. After one period, they were down 2-0, and they made it 3-0 in the second. Then, amazingly, they pulled it together. Early in the third period, they tied the score at three.

And then, of course, they gave up another goal and lost.

Any parallels with the Mariners’ season–a late rush, only to fall short at the end–are to be expected, because Seattle sports. We expect flashes of competence, even greatness, before the inevitable slide into gloom. So it’s good to see our latest arrivals are already in tune with the local zeitgeist.

Whatever you think of the team’s performance and probable future, you gotta admit, though, that they’re way ahead of the current curve in team names. “Kraken” is so much better than “Guardians”, much less “Football Team”.

Will I continue to watch their games? Occasionally. I’m still a baseball fan. I’ll cheer for the Kraken in the same way I cheer for the Seahawks: from a distance, when I think of it. I won’t be doing the two-screen thing again–unless the Kraken make the playoffs. Hey, it could happen: flashes of greatness, right?

Welcome Kraken!

A Curious Fellow

Rhubarb is a curious fellow.

You know he was asking “What the heck are you humans up to now?”

Answers to such questions are important. Even more important than the catnip fishie left unguarded by its usual tormenters (‘Nuki, Lefty, and lately Emeraldas).

The answer was that we were taking pictures of his sister Kaja, who was exploring the dining room table.

Perhaps it would be better to say that asking the question is the important part.

It’s That Time of Year Again

The regular season is over. I’m (over)due for my semi-annual haircut. And so it’s time for me to (a) make my predictions for the results of the playoffs–based, as usual, on a mix of run differential and personal prejudice–and (b) help those of you who aren’t affiliated with a playoff team choose someone to root for.

I’ll score my predictions, both for the regular season and for the playoffs in November.

And, because I’m perverse that way, I’ll make the prediction first, then tell you why you shouldn’t root for the inevitable winner.

Let’s start with the American League. Alphabetical order, don’cha know.

It’s going to be close. Tampa Bay has a +206 run differential, and Houston came in at +205. That’s basically a rounding error (or would be if you could earn fractional runs in baseball.) Nobody else is even close. I’m calling it for Houston, though, based on consistently good playoff results.

Over in the NL, there’s no ambiguity whatsoever. LA smoked all of baseball with a +269 run differential.

And, all prejudices aside, I don’t see the Astros overcoming a +64 run-scoring lead. Heck, not counting the Dodgers themselves, only eight teams in all of baseball had a run differential above +64.

So, look for the Dodgers to stroll through the playoffs, and take the World Series in five games.

Now, who should you be rooting for?

For a full recap of the rules for choosing a rooting interest, check out the 2019 Playoff post.

In brief, though, you can’t root for a team that claims to be everyone’s team. You shouldn’t root for a team that’s in the other league or in your usual team’s division (assuming you have a usual team who didn’t make the playoffs). And teams with a record of futility get bonus points.

Again, starting with the AL:

You do not, repeat not root for the Yankees or Red Sox. Houston, tainted as they are by the recent cheating scandal should probably not get your consideration either. So that only leaves two options for American League fans.

If you normally root for a team in the AL East or AL West, you should be pulling for the Chicago White Sox. If you regularly follow an AL Central team, pin your playoff hopes and dreams on the Tampa Bay Rays.

Over in the NL, it’s a little more complicated. Rule One eliminates the Dodgers and Braves, but that still leaves the Giants, Brewers, and Cardinals as worthy candidates for your attention. NL East orphans can pick any of the three. NL Central fans can, naturally, pull for the Giants. And those of you who usually follow the Padres, Rockies, or Diamondbacks can either flip a coin between the Milwaukee and St. Louis or you can consider yourselves as normally unaffiliated.

As for those of you who don’t have a regular-season team and you NL West orphans, consider this: of the five teams you could root for, only one–the San Francisco Giants–didn’t make the playoffs last year. Granted, last year was the expanded playoffs after the COVID-19-shortened season, but it still counts in the record books.

Much as I hate to recommend breaking Rule Two, I don’t see any choice. Root for the Giants–this year’s Cinderella team (they won the NL West by one game over LA)–to go all the way and slap the Damn Dodgers’ other cheek.

Note: there won’t be a Wednesday post this week; I’m posting early, both to beat the playoffs starting Tuesday, and to give you a chance to order team merchandise for your playoff favorites. Remember, Amazon does have same- and next-day shipping to most of the country if you need an appropriate cap, pennant, or foam finger.

You Asked For It

Another late post? Yup.

Great art takes time.

And so does what I produce around here, especially when cats are involved. All jokes about cat herding aside, it’s tough to get them to actually pose.

That said, please note that you have been warned: sensitive viewers may want to skip this post.

Seriously.

Ahem.

You wanted Sachiko’s bad side?

You got it.

Just imagine this as the first thing you see when the furry alarm clock awakens you thirty minutes before the other alarm clock is set to come on.

Still Not How It Was Supposed to Work

For the second time this year, Google is caught up in a TV carriage dispute.

Correction: For the second time this year as far as we know, …

This time, though, they’re on the other side of the table.

As you may recall, back in April, Roku dropped YouTube TV. And, of course, everyone found alternate ways to get their TV fix, thanks in part to Google merging YouTube TV into the regular YouTube app. Since it would have been corporate suicide for Roku to drop the entirety of YouTube, both parties retired to their respective Caves of Solitude and indulged themselves with multiple rounds of furious fur-smoothing.

Now Google is fighting with NBC. The latter, naturally, is hyped to the max over their part in putting Locast out of business, and looking to further solidify their monopoly on their channels–even the ones that are supposed to be free to the public, i.e. local NBC affiliates.

You may think you detect a bit of bias in my language here. You’re probably right. I don’t care about most of the channels involved. The only exceptions are the two Bay Area regional sports networks (one carries the Giants’ broadcasts and the other has the As. But with the baseball regular season ending Sunday, at most I’d miss out on three games I care about. Four if the Giants wind up playing a tie-breaker game with the Dodgers to determine which would win the division and which would be the wild card. Frustrating, but hardly the end of the world, given that there are plenty of ways to purchase a few days’ access to those last few Giants games. And many, many things could happen before Spring Training rolls around.)

But even though I don’t care about the channels, I do care about the precedent.

The core of the dispute isn’t really how much Google has to pay NBC to carry those channels. Those negotiations are common and are usually handled quietly; viewers only notice when the result is a big hike in their monthly TV bill.

What’s different this time is that NBC is trying to force YouTube TV to also “carry” their Peacock streaming service.

Note the quotes. According to reports, Peacock channels would not be shown through YouTube TV, forcing subscribers to install a separate app to watch those shows and, where the lineup overlaps between Peacock and YouTube TV, pay twice for the same shows. That’s not a bundle, that’s extortion.

Of course, that assumes anyone wants to watch Peacock channels in the first place. Many commentators are pointing to the service’s low subscriber numbers as being the trigger for NBC’s demand. “Hey, if we can’t sell this crap* on its own merits, let’s force someone else to sell it for us.”

* Lest you think I’m being unduly harsh here, allow me to share a few channels: “Olympics Great Moments”, “Olympics Must-See Moments” (yes, two whole channels devoted to Olympics of the past), dedicated channels for “Saved By the Bell”, “The Office”, and “Real Housewives” (fortunately, they don’t run 24/7, but do the shows really need dedicated channels?). And the less said about “Fail Army” the better. I think NBC is well aware of how thin their lineup is; I’m sure it’s not an accidental oversight that the Peacock website does not have a simple channel list.

Parenthetically, why does the Peacock’s account creation form require you to tell them your gender? It’s nice that they included “Non-binary” as an option, but I really, really want to know why they made “Gender” a required field, especially when they also included “Prefer not to say” as a choice.

NBC charges $10 a month for Peacock if you want it ad-free. It’s probably not coincidental that Google is promising to reduce the bill for YouTube TV by $10 a month if they have to drop the disputed channels.

You can be sure that if Google had caved and ponied up for Peacock, NBC would have made the same demand of every other streaming service. (I use past tense and conditionals here because as I write this on Tuesday, reports are coming out that NBC has given up on forcing Peacock down YouTube TV viewers’ throats.) And if that had happened, we’d really be right back in the old cable model–actually, even worse: at least with traditional cable, you didn’t have to have multiple TVs to watch channels that were part of different bundles.

Hopefully Google stands firm and the future looks more a la carte and less prix fix. The latter is fine for stuffing your face, but not so great when all you want is a quiet evening of killing your imagination dead.