Finally!

It’s finally Opening Day. Once again we can bask in the glow of baseball games whose scores matter. For one day, we’ll ignore the controversies–pitch clocks, runners on base in extra innings, minor league pay and the possible impending demise of the independent leagues, and team-based pricing for parking.

Plenty of time for the issues later: the season is a marathon, not a sprint*. For now, it’s sufficient to pour the lemonade (or beer, if your tastes run in that direction), grab a hot dog/barbecued rib/artery-hardening ballpark food of choice, and luxuriate.

* Sorry. Had to say it.

All thirty teams were supposed to play today. That’s never happened before. The idea was dreamed up to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Fifty years ago, as a result of his assassination, all of the teams–there were twenty that season–played their first game of the year on the same day. That had never happened before, and it hadn’t happened since.

It’s not happening today either. As I write this, around 9am Pacific, two games have been postponed due to bad weather. The Pirates/Tigers game in Detroit and the Nationals/Reds game in Cincinnati will be played tomorrow, assuming the weather improves sufficiently.

Traditionally, of course, Cincinnati has always hosted the official first game of the season–a tradition that’s fallen by the wayside in recent years, what with teams playing overseas and scheduled-for-TV games the night before Opening Day–so it’s a bit ironic that the Reds’ game is one of the ones getting pushed.

But, MLK tribute or no, there’s still plenty of baseball today. I’ve got a busy schedule just with the teams I follow. I’ll skip the actual first game of the season (Cubs/Marlins at 9:40); my season will start with the Mets game at 10:10, jump between Baltimore and Tampa Bay for the Orioles (12:05) and Red Sox (1:00), swing down to LA for the Giants (4:08), and finally wrap up with the Mariners at 7:10.

Even without extra innings, that’s a good twelve hours of the One True Game. Sounds about right.

I’ll cut back to something a little more sensible tomorrow–if only because the Mariners have the day off–but I’ll wallow today.

Join me, won’t you? Ignore the parachutes, the trained eagles, and the off-key renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “America the Beautiful”. Wait for those two words we’ve been waiting for since November.

“Play ball!”

State of the Fourth Estate 06

In the latest blog tradition, the annual “State of the Fourth Estate” post is late. Strictly speaking, it should have gone up on Sunday or, since I don’t do weekend posts, last Thursday. But the Facebook contretemps seemed likely to have wider appeal, so here we are. At least I’m closer than last year, when I didn’t get around to the SotFE post until mid-April.

Nothing much has changed on the blog. This is Post 883; on my current posting schedule, that should have the largely-meaningless, but oh-so-round-numbered Post 1000 sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas. No doubt, I’ll observe the occasion with some modest celebration.

As usual, the infamous leftover sauerkraut post racked up the most hits of any page on the site. It beat the next most popular page, the one about The RagTime Traveler more than five to one.

As usual, the stats don’t include post read on the main page of the blog, through the RSS feed, or via email. So it’s possible TRTT is actually doing better than pickled cabbage. Unlikely, perhaps, but possible.

Speaking of email, it was around this time last year that I set up my newsletter. My thanks to those of you who have subscribed. You may be wondering why you haven’t gotten one lately. Well, it’s a newsletter, and there really hasn’t been any news about my career. No new book sales (or short story sales), no planned signings. So, rather than continue to send out a monthly “Hey, there’s nothing going on!” message, I decided to put it on hiatus until there’s something worth sharing.

What might be worth sharing? Well, selling a book certainly would. Finishing one probably would. And that might happen soon*.

* In the publishing world, “soon” is the equivalent of the software industry’s “Real Soon Now”. Nine characters shorter, because electrons are cheaper than ink and paper. They both translate as “I don’t know when, but it’ll almost certainly happen.”

Like Herding Cats is in beta. Yes, I know I said that back in November. I’m still waiting on one beta reader, for reasons that are nobody’s business but theirs. I understand, and I think the feedback will be worth waiting for. And, once I get it, barring a major surprise, the rewrite shouldn’t take more than a month or two. At which point that will be a finished book.

And, while I wait, I’m not sitting around twiddling my thumbs. I’m working on the first draft of a completely different book. Well, it’s also urban fantasy, so it’s not totally unrelated, but the location, time period, characters, and plot of Demirep* have nothing in common with LHC. I’m about 50,000 words in–about two-thirds of the way, since my first drafts tend to run short–and the plot is mostly in focus, and I’ve got a vague idea of where the ending will be. That’s actually more than I usually know at this point in the first draft. Even better, I’m keeping up with my daily target of 1,000 words more often than not.

* Or maybe “Demi-Rep”. Worrying about punctuation in a working title isn’t even on my to-do list.

So what happens if I finish the first draft of Demirep before I get the last beta report on Like Herding Cats? I won’t. No, really, it won’t happen. But, just in case it does, I’ve got, uh, hang on a second…five concepts in my “Possibilities” folder. I won’t be bored, or run out of things to write if it happens. Which it won’t.

Onward into Writing Year Six.

Neglect

Google Photos can be scary.

Not their facial recognition, although that can be startling.

Certainly not the automatic grouping of photos by date and location; that’s downright useful.

No, I’m talking about the Assistant function. I think The Algorithm gets bored sometimes.

It’ll find similar pictures and stitch them together into an animated GIF, or apply some crazy color scheme and call it a “stylized photo”. Most of them are useless, and I just delete them.

But every so often, it’ll decide one of the cats isn’t getting enough attentions, and it’ll go to a very weird place.

A couple of days ago, it decided Yuki was feeling neglected, and as a result, it created this.

Google Photos. Don’t neglect your cats.

Face It

Thousands–perhaps tens or hundreds of thousands–of people are deleting their Facebook accounts in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

And that’s great. I look forward with great anticipation to the day when the exodus reaches critical mass and I can delete my own account.

Keep in mind, I created my account when I started doing the writing thing. In today’s world of publishing, the best thing you can do for yourself as an author is to promote your books. And the best–the only–way to do that is to go where the people are.

It doesn’t do much good to do promotion on MySpace, LiveJournal, or any place else your potential readers aren’t. Today, that means Facebook. Yes, Twitter to a lesser extent. Much lesser.

At Facebook’s current rate of decline, I should be able to delete my account around the end of 2020. And that’s the best case scenario.

I’m assuming here that Facebook’s claimed two billion users statistic is grossly inflated. I’m also assuming that there are a million account deletions a day, which is, I suspect, also grossly inflated.

‘Cause, as Arwa Mahdawi said in The Guardian, “…there is not really a good replacement for Facebook.” She quotes Safiya Noble, a professor of information studies at USC: “For many people, Facebook is an important gateway to the internet. In fact, it is the only version of the internet that some know…”

And it’s true. Remember when millions of people thought AOL was the Internet? I think they’ve all moved to Facebook.

They’re not going to delete their accounts. Neither are the millions of people who say “You don’t have anything to be concerned about from surveillance if you haven’t done anything wrong.” Ditto for the people who still don’t regret voting for Trump and the ones who say “There are so many cameras watching you all the time anyway, what difference does it make if Facebook is watching too?”

Even if there’s a lot of overlap among those groups, that’s still hundreds of millions of accounts.

(Why isn’t the paranoid fringe–the people who literally wear aluminum foil hats to keep the government from controlling their minds–up in arms about Facebook? Is it only because they’re not “the government”? Or am I just not looking for their denunciations in the right places?)

Facebook isn’t going away any time soon. Not until the “new hot” comes along. If the new hot isn’t just Facebook under another name. Don’t forget that Instagram and WhatsApp are Facebook. They’re watching you the same way the parent company is, and if one of them captures the next generation of Internet users, it’ll be “The king is dead! Hail the new king, same as the old king!”

Unfortunately, stereotypes aside, those people who are staying on Facebook do read. And that means I need to keep my account open, touting my wares in their marketplace.

I’ve seen a number of people saying “If you can’t leave Facebook, at least cut down the amount of information you give them.” Which is good advice, but really tricky to do. Even if you follow all of the instructions for telling Facebook to forget what they already know, there are other things they track. You can tell them to forget what you’ve liked, but you can’t tell them to forget how long you looked at each article. (Yes, they do track that, according to credible reports. The assumption is that their algorithms give you more posts similar to ones you’ve spent a long time on.)

And then there are those apps. Those charming, wonderful apps.

I checked my settings to see how many apps I’d allowed to access my information. There were only eight, which puts me way down at the low end of the curve. It’s down to four now, two of which are necessary to have my blog posts show up on Facebook. And when I killed off two of the four, I got popups reminding me that removing their access to Facebook does not delete any data they’ve already gathered.

Should I be concerned that I didn’t get a warning about the other two?

But let’s assume a miracle. Say, half a billion accounts get closed. The FTC fines Facebook an obscene amount of money*. What happens next?

* They almost have to. How many of those 50,000,000 accounts compromised by CA belong to government officials. Officials who are now very worried about what CA–and thus whoever they’ve shared that data with, starting with the Trump family, the Russian government, and who knows who all else–has inferred about their non-governmental activities, health, sexual orientation, and so on. If the FTC doesn’t hammer Facebook, heads will roll, no matter who has control of Congress after the November elections.

Absolutely nothing. Facebook goes on. They make a show of contrition, talk up new controls they’ve put in place to keep anything of the sort from happening again*. And they keep marketing users’ personal information to anyone who might want to advertise.

* It will. We’ve seen every form of access-control ever invented hacked. The information exists, it’s valuable, therefor someone will steal it.

That’s their whole business model. They can’t change it. The only thing that might–and I emphasize “might”–kill Facebook would be for them to say, “You know, you’re right. It’s unethical for us to make money by selling your private information. We won’t do it any more. Oh, and effective immediately, Facebook will cost you $9.99 a month.”

Making Do

Down to what, about a week and a half until the start of the season? Sounding better all the time.

Several teams are taking today off, so there are only 12 games. That’s hardly enough to keep a real addictfan happy. So those of us on the edge of withdrawal symptoms have to turn elsewhere for a fix.

The Mariners are one of the teams not playing today. Fortunately, the team released their 2018 commercials last week. That’s recent enough that only the truly, truly obsessive have watched them over and over enough to have become sick of them. The rest of us will be fed up with them no later than early August, but for now, they’ll help to fill that “no Mariners” gap in our week.

Since the ads are eagerly awaited every year as entertainment independent of the game and the team they promote, I thought I’d give them quick reviews as entertainment.

As usual with my reviews, spoilers abound. Also, yeah, the spots do assume some knowledge of the team. I’ll try to note relevant information as we go. One thing you need to know right off: the Mariners are still using that stupid “True to the Blue” slogan. Guys, it’s not working. Ditch it. How about something that encourages the behavior we want to see? For a franchise that lives and breathes nostalgia, why don’t we get a season of “Two Outs, No Problem” or even (Baseball Deities help us) “SoDo Mojo”?

Anyway, first up is “Big Maple”.

I like this one. Nick Vincent’s deadpan delivery is perfect, conveying the impression that he’s had to explain Paxton’s nickname too damn many times. The nest is a nice little twist. And Paxton even manages to sound excited about the eggs hatching. Sadly, this may be the high point of 2018’s commercials.

Then we’ve got “Work-Related Injury”.

The balloons are a nice touch. I’ll give it that. But the commercial continues to perpetuate the “Boomstick” moniker that goes back to Cruz’ days in Texas. Can’t we come up with a nickname of our own? More importantly, though, any humor in the ad is overshadowed by the reality that Cruz is going to be turning 83 this July. Okay, 38–but that’s 83 in baseball years. How long can we realistically expect him to keep hitting those monster blasts? How painful is this commercial going to be if this is the year his homer total is lower than his uniform number (23)?

Moving on. The next offering is “Flip”.

The storyline is predictable and the punchline has no punch. Seager comes off as clueless. If they had to go with this idea, couldn’t they come up with a kicker that flips it around or at least makes Seager amusingly oblivious instead of clueless? Maybe dreamy-eyed musing about how it’s the music that makes the flip so special? “Hey, can your band do me some mood music?”

Better yet, ditch Seager altogether. Put Gamel and Motter in a “Hair Flip Derby” competition. Something like the Warner Brothers cartoon “Swooner Crooner” where Frank Sinatra’s and Bing Crosby’s singing made hens lay eggs. We could have had competive flowing hair encouraging balls to leave the park.

“Mound Visit” gets in a small jab at this season’s least-popular new rule.

But the idea is bland. Of course Cano is going to crush the poor guy’s curve. That said, this spot does have the best tagline of any of this year’s offerings. How often have you had someone say “Happy to help” after wasting your time with a meeting that accomplished less than nothing? And he delivers it with such casual flair that it comes off as even more menacing than the words would normally imply. So yeah, great execution of a bad idea.

And, finally, there’s “Art of the Frame”.

For those who don’t know, pitch framing is the art of making the catch in such a way that the umpire is fooled into calling a ball a strike. So what’s the joke here? Zunino doesn’t get the frame into place until after the umpire has already called the pitch a strike. So why bother? Why are we wasting a mound visit on admiring this one pitch, even if it’s the most perfect framing job in history? Do we really want to imply that Felix needs Zunino’s framing to throw strikes?

Okay, yes, the ad has a couple of good lines. I’m particularly enamored of “As a hitter, I find that offensive.” And the batter’s stunned expression is nicely done. But the commercial as a whole is a muddled, confusing mess. As a writer, I find that offensive.

Bottom line, none of this years commercials are going to be classics. Nothing like 2004’s Hall of Fameworthy “The Clapper“. Not even a minor favorite like 2002’s “Radar Gun” or 2013’s “The Wise Ol’ Buffalo“.

Here’s hoping the team is better than the ads.

Authority

Yuki decided to assert some authority last night.
16-1

I’m not sure what the point was. I had already turned on the ballgame, and he seemed quite happy to watch it. But it seemed to please him to be the custodian of the remote, so I didn’t argue.

It’s those little compromises that hold a family together, right?

Not Even Close

Now there’s a misleading headline!

According to CBS Denver, “Startup Offers ‘100 Percent Fatal’ Procedure To Upload Your Brain“.

Even a cursory reading of the article, something the headline writer must have neglected to do, reveals quite a different story.

What Nectome is actually offering to do is plasticize not-quite-dead people. Or maybe “glassticize” would be a better word; the article says the process will turn a body into “a statue of glass” that will last for centuries.

Regardless, there’s no cloud upload involved. The founders of the company are just hoping to preserve bodies at the instant their process kills their clients in the hope that someday there will be a way to read the memories locked in the glass brains and computerize them.

Assuming this isn’t a hoax–and it wouldn’t be the first time a news agency has been fooled–it’s still a horribly speculative notion. Reaching their goal would require at least three major and separate medical and technological breakthroughs:

There’s no evidence that memories are preserved in the brain after death. Nobody is anywhere close to reading memories out of a living brain, much less a dead one. And AI technology capable to preserving a human mind is even farther from realization.

I only see only significant difference between Nectome’s approach and the bizarre idea of cutting someone’s head off after they die and freezing it in the hope science will eventually be able to unfreeze it intact and grow it a new body: if you get Nectomed, your heirs can stand you up in the corner of the living room, instead of paying thousands of dollars to a cryogenic facility.

Someone needs to remind Nectome’s founders that it’s only in the performing arts that you can legitimately suggest that someone go out and knock ’em dead.

How Lucky!

I’m starting to think Larry Niven was right.

One of the subplots in his Known Space stories involves, in short, breeding humans to be lucky. He postulates strict birth control laws combined with a lottery to distribute one-child exceptions to the laws. After several generations, there will be people whose ancestors are all lottery babies.

Whether that constitutes luck, I’ll let you decide.

But in the context of the stories, the eventual result is a group of people who are so lucky that nothing bad can ever happen to them. Even things that seem unfortunate will ultimately prove to have been the best thing that could have happened to the person.

With me so far? Okay, now consider this quote from “Flatlander,” one of Mr. Niven’s stories set before the rise of the lucky. The protagonist is watching a group of hobbyists who restore and drive old internal combustion engine cars on a stretch of freeway (which they also have to restore and maintain).

They were off. I was still wondering what kick they got driving an obsolete machine on flat concrete when they could be up here with us. They were off, weaving slightly, weaving more than slightly, foolishly moving at different speeds, coming perilously close to each other before sheering off — and I began to realize things.

Those automobiles had no radar.

They were being steered with a cabin wheel geared directly to four ground wheels. A mistake in steering and they’d crash into each other or into the concrete curbs. They were steered and stopped by muscle power, but whether they could turn or stop depended on how hard four rubber balloons could grip smooth concrete. If the tires loosed their grip, Newton’s First Law would take over; the fragile metal mass would continue moving in a straight line until stopped by a concrete curb or another groundcar.

“A man could get killed in one of those.”

“Not to worry,” said Elephant. “Nobody does, usually.”

“Usually?”

You know where I’m going with this, don’t you?

We don’t need no steenkin’ breeders’ lottery to breed ourselves for luck. We’re already doing it. Every time you get into a car, you’re taking your life in your hands.

The Interstate Highway System has encouraged drivers to drive faster and faster, generating impatience with anyone who doesn’t get with the program. Merriam-Webster claims the first known use of the word “gridlock” was in 1980. Certainly the phenomenon, along with “road rage” (1988), has been around longer than that.

But even if we go with 1980, that means roughly 130,000,000 Americans have been born only because their parents were lucky enough to survive on the roads long enough to breed. By now, we’re into at least the third generation.

And it shows. People keep finding new ways to ramp up the danger level.

Drivers are no longer content to honk if the car in front of them doesn’t move fast enough when the light changes. Now they honk and pull around the laggard, using the shoulder, adjoining lanes, and even the oncoming traffic lanes. In the rain, regardless of the presence of pedestrians, and despite the drivers in the adjoining lanes doing exactly the same thing.

Somehow, most of them survive. How lucky!

The next couple of decades are going to be interesting, but at this rate, by the time the kids born in 2050 are old enough to drive, they’ll be too lucky to ever have an accident. Think of all the money they’ll save on insurance, vehicle maintenance, and transit infrastructure!

Consistency

“Spring Training results are meaningless.” We hear that every March, nearly as often as “He’s in the best shape of his life.”

By and large, it’s true. Players put up awesome numbers in March, then fizzle out when the season starts. Or the reverse, of course, coasting through Spring Training with little to show, then having a career year when the games mean something. Winners of the Cactus and Grapefruit League titles rarely win the World Series.

And yet…

It’s still early in Spring Training, but last year’s playoff teams have a combined record of 73-54. Over a 162 game schedule, that .575 record translates into 93 wins. Six of those ten teams had at least 93 wins last year. The Cubs and Yankees had 92 and 91 wins, respectively.

For what it’s worth, the five worst teams last year–the Reds, White Sox, Phillies, Giants, and Tigers–have a combined 26-36 record, the equivalent of 68 wins in the regular season. The 2017 Reds went 68-94, the White Sox were 67-95, and I won’t embarrass fans of the other three teams by quoting their records. No other team in either league had less than 70 wins.

I haven’t done the research to see if this is typical or a freak occurrence. But it does make one ponder the value of consistency. Dynasty by another name, really.

Moving on, slightly.

The Mariners (.481 last year, .417 in Spring Training thus far) looked to have one of the hottest–or at least fastest–outfields in baseball this year. They may yet, but thanks to some fan- and player-vexing injuries, it won’t be at the start of the season.

In need of help, they turned to the free agent market and picked up a 44-year-old left fielder out of Japan.

For a decade, Ichiro was the face of the Mariners. Gone for half a decade. Now he’s back.

I’ve got mixed feelings about the situation, as do many Mariners fans. We miss the Ichiro of the mid-2000s–but we know that’s not who’s joining the team. We thrive on nostalgia and swoon when a well-loved player returns and does well–but we remember the crash-and-burn ending to Ken Griffey Junior’s career.

There’s no question Ichiro can still perform at a major league level. Whether he can do it as an everyday player remains to be seen. We want–need–him to succeed. In theory, he only needs to play every day until the injured players come back. If that’s the way it works out, he should be able to slide back into a fourth outfielder/pinch hitter/late inning replacement role as he’s done with the Marlins and Yankees. But trouble comes in bunches, and there’s no telling whether everyone will come back on the currently-projected timetable.

If one can believe the newspaper reports from 2012, his trade to the Yankees came at his own suggestion, because he felt he could contribute more to the Mariners that way than on the field. If he can’t produce as an everyday player, that same ethic should lead him to retire rather than drag the team down. But that would be a tough choice for anyone, much less a man who wants to play baseball until he’s fifty.

And, of course, it would leave the Ms with an outfielder shortage again–but sometimes there is no good answer to a question.

So we hate the necessity of bringing him back, but love the fact that he’s here. The ovation when he steps onto the field on Opening Day in Seattle will, in all likelihood, rattle windows as far away as Mount St. Helens.

Go Ichiro. Go Mariners.