Here We Go Again

A quick reminder: the MLB season ends Sunday* and the playoffs start Tuesday evening with the NL Wild Card game. In keeping with this blog’s usual public service orientation, Tuesday morning’s post will be our annual guide for “Who To Root For If You Don’t Have a Team In the Playoffs.”

* Monday’s scheduled make-up game between the Marlins and Pirates has been canceled, presumably because it has absolutely no impact on the playoffs.


That said, stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Not the one about a woman being put on trial in the Senate over a man’s alleged inability to behave like a moral individual. Though that is getting to be a rather tired story, and I really wish Congress’ slush pile reader would try something different.

No, I’m talking about the one where a Bay Area multi-billion dollar transit project goes wildly over budget, and only to have serious construction problems uncovered.

Long-time readers will remember my fascination with the Bay Bridge Bolt Botch. In large part, my interest was due to the obvious QA failures and the (still!) unanswered questions about what testing was done and how the reports were handled.

And now we’ve got a new serial to watch. The brand new Transbay Transit Center opened just last month after $2.2 billion in over (if memory serves) a decade of construction. Mere weeks after it opened, decomposed granite paths in the park on the center’s roof underwent further decomposition, crumbling and developing potholes. But that was just a warm-up for this week’s troubles: on Tuesday, the center was closed indefinitely after workers found a large crack in a major support beam. The beam supports the bus deck and the park where they cross Fremont Street, so the street was also closed as a further precaution.

On Wednesday, inspectors found a second cracked beam adjacent to the first.

The cause of the cracking hasn’t been determined yet. Despite a lawsuit between the company that handled the steel work and the primary contractors over construction documentation, it doesn’t seem like there was a QA failure this time around. The Chron says they passed inspection after installation and again when the beams were fireproofed two years ago.

Speculation about the cause of the cracking is all over the map: manufacturing defects, installation errors, and design flaws are all getting consideration. Despite the uncertainty, temporary repairs are in progress, aimed at reopening Fremont Street by the end of next week. Presumably–hopefully!–permanent repairs won’t start until the root cause has been determined.

The situation is rife with irony.

Not only was the problem found during Transit Week, San Francisco’s official celebration of public transportation, but the official name of the facility is “Salesforce Transit Center”–and Salesforce is current holding their huge, annual “Dreamforce” convention a couple of blocks away.

But wait, there’s more.

Traffic coming into downtown San Francisco on I-80 across the Bay Bridge exits the freeway on–you guessed it–Fremont Street.

QA implications or no, I’ll be following the story as more information comes out.

No Sleep Until…

The ongoing saga of Brett Kavanaugh makes me want to go back to bed and not come out again until November 6. Which is, of course, exactly the response Republicans want. So here I am, at the keyboard, not hiding under my warm, dark blankets.

I keep wondering just how stupid the Republicans–or the people behind the Republican decision-making processes–think we are. Dumb enough to try a fake punt*? Especially if the stream of accusers continues to flow–and let’s not forget we’re hearing about a possible third now. There could be more.

* They’re already using the ol’ hidden ball trick, concealing their current attack on Medicare and Social Security in the latest emergency spending bill behind the noise and confusion of the Kavanaugh and Rosenstein shows.

Not that I’d suggest anyone might try planting an accusation. But if someone turns up with an accusation that Lindsey Graham and his colleagues see as particularly weak? I could see him saying, in essence, “You want an investigation? Fine.” Turn that one accusation over to the FBI for investigation, take whatever evidence they turn up that doesn’t outright prove the accusation, and use it to say “Hey, this has been proven false, so therefor all the other accusations must be as well.”

Probably not, though. Senator Graham is already on record as saying he’s going to vote in favor of Judge Kavanaugh’s appointment no matter what. And he clearly expects all Republican senators to go along with him. So why bother trumping up evidence of Kavanaugh’s innocence? Frankly, I’m surprised he hasn’t called for a vote already.

I still don’t see the value in rushing his confirmation through ahead of the November elections. Even if the Democrats take control of both the Senate and the House, the Republicans will still be in charge until January. Plenty of time to ram the nomination through. Even if Kavanaugh goes down in flames, unlikely as that seems right now, they’ll have enough time to get somebody they approve of onto the court in time to save Trump’s bacon.

And let’s be realistic: even if the Blue Wave succeeds far beyond Democrats’ wildest dreams, they’re not going to gain enough seats to put impeachment–of Trump or Kavanaugh–on the table. That would take a two-thirds majority in the Senate. There’s a better chance that a couple of conservative judges will have fatal heart attacks in the next few months than there is of the Democrats gaining that much control.

None of which is to say the Democrats should give up. Any Supreme Court justice appointed by the current administration will be a disaster for the country.

Delay, delay, delay. Put it off as long as possible, take whatever gains they can in November, and build on them in 2020.

Then maybe it’ll be safe to crawl into bed.

Not Insomniac

“Cats are rather delicate creatures and they are subject to a good many ailments, but I never heard of one who suffered from insomnia.” ― Joseph Wood Krutch

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Proper sleep habits are, of course, of vital importance in the feline world. Mind you, the rules of proper sleep can be summarized as “There’s no such thing as too much sleep” without losing any important details.

Kokoro is the most dedicated sleeper in the house. Perhaps it’s natural inclination, or maybe just that, being the oldest, she’s had more time to develop her sleep skills. Certainly, a proper nose-tuck takes both natural talent and dedicated practice.

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‘Nuki, on the other paw, is rather careless about how he sleeps. He frequently leaves body parts dangling.

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Much, it should be noted, to Rufus’ complete lack of interest. “Not my problem if he wakes up with his tail all pins and needles.”

But the results can be entertaining to other onlookers.

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In this household, though, uninterrupted sleep is a rare luxury. And ‘Nuki, bless his thuggish little heart, is often the cause of others’ rude awakenings.

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Now What?

More thoughts as we approach the end of MLB’s regular season.

There isn’t a whole lot of doubt left about who’s going to the playoffs this year. With just under two weeks remaining, only two teams in the AL have any chance of making the playoffs (Tampa Bay and Seattle), and it would take an epic collapse by Oakland for one of them to get in. Over in the NL, five teams still have a mathematical possibility of snagging a Wild Card slot, but only one–Colorado–has a realistic shot.

Colorado also has a legitimate shot at winning their division, and if they do, LA and St. Louis will be fighting over the second Wild Card.

So there’s still a bit of excitement left in the playoff race, but the odds are good the ten teams will be settled before the end of the season.

So what do you do when there’s no playoff drama and no chance your team will make it in?

You could ask Jackie. After all, her Orioles are going to lose somewhere between 108 and 118 games this year*. She made the front page of The Baltimore Sun with her explanation of how to survive your team’s worst season ever.

* While it may feel like the Os were eliminated before the All-Star Break, they actually still had a mathematical shot at the playoffs until August 20, one month ago today. Which says a lot about how little difference there is between a champion and a, uh, not-champion in MLB.

While Jackie gives good advice–it’s about acceptance, giving up attachments, and keeping a sense of humor–she doesn’t offer much guidance in what to do while your team plays out their thread.

My prescription is to pick some potentially attainable goals and cheer for those.

Baltimore has already attained their most obvious alternate goal. They can’t possibly set an MLB record for losses. Even if they lose all their remaining games, the 1962 Mets’ 120 loss record will stand.

So, how about a positive goal? Fifty wins is meaningless, but it’s a nice, round number, and they can reach it by winning six of their final ten.

Or there are personal goals. Offensively-oriented fans can cheer for Nelson Cruz’ pursuit of forty home runs. He came up one short last year, but with ten games left, he only needs four more to do it this year. Meanwhile, J.D. Martinez of the Red Sox is looking to be the first Triple Crown winner since 2012*. He’s currently leading the AL in RBIs and sitting in second for home runs and batting average.

* The Triple Crown is a difficult feat. It’s only been won sixteen or seventeen times (there’s some doubt about stats prior to 1920 or so). Before Miguel Cabrera did it in 2012, you’d have to go all the way back to Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.

Meanwhile, fans of pitching can watch the Mariners’ Edwin Díaz chase the all-time saves record. That’s about as likely as the Orioles reaching fifty wins, as he’d need seven in the Ms’ last ten games, which would imply Seattle can win seven of ten from the As and Rangers.

Really stats-minded sorts might keep an eye on the fielding stats. As of this writing, twenty-seven players have had error-free seasons. As best I can tell, that would be the most perfect fielders in a season since 2008. Okay, okay, nobody cares about that, except for the folks at Rawlings, who give the Golden Glove award to the best fielders at each position. But I needed something to look for on defence.

Anyway, for the next two weeks, I recommend choosing small, attainable goals. Once we hit the playoffs, we’ll have about a month to soak up all the baseball we can to tide us over to next year.

Good Sports

With the baseball season winding down, as usual, I find myself looking for ways to justify that TV in the bedroom. The DVR is set to record whatever episodes of Chopped Junior it can find. The summer Kids Baking Championship just ended yesterday.

If you think you detect a pattern in my viewing, you’re right. I’m finding the cooking competitions featuring kids to be more to my tastes (sorry) than the adult versions.

It’s not that the youngsters are better cooks than the grownups. There’s some overlap, but the adults’ skills are largely more polished and their knowledge of dishes is broader.

The reason I prefer the younger competitors is simple good sportsmanship.

How often does a chef get eliminated on Chopped and storm off complaining about how the judges were wrong to eliminate her, or how the breaks just didn’t go his way? Far too often. Even the chefs who take elimination gracefully rarely shake hands with the other competitors or wish them luck.

By contrast, the kids always encourage each other. During the competitions, they share ingredients instead of hoarding them. When they’re eliminated, they get hugs from their opponents and often say they intend to practice and learn more so they can do better next time.

Sure, some of that positive interaction has to be staged. And when you’ve got six or eight hours of footage for each competitor, it’s easy to pick the best bits for the forty-five minutes that’ll be on the air.

But that’s beside the point. You’ll never see a chef on the grownup version of one of the Baking Challenges stop in the middle of the final round to give an opponent a hug and some good advice–or if you did, the recipient would probably do exactly the opposite, suspecting a trap.

It may be a carefully selected feel-good moment, but when it happens (as it did in last night’s show), the interaction still comes off as genuine. And who doesn’t need more genuine feel-good moments these days?

It doesn’t look like there’s a new kids competition on the fall schedule, more’s the pity. So, as usual, I fill the gap with anime. And I’ve found a show that hits a lot of the right notes–the same notes as the junior cooking shows.

Uma Musume: Pretty Derby (I’ve also seen it transliterated as “Umamusume”) is yet another in the chain of unconventional sports shows. Unlike last year’s favorite, Keijo!!!!!!!!, the sport actually exists. As you may have guessed from the title, it’s horse racing.

The twist is that the horses are cute girls, who perform idol songs after winning races.

Yeah, I know, but stick with me.

The songs aren’t really a major part of the show, at least not through the first few episodes, despite being significant in the world we see.

Where do the horse girls come from? (Note that I’m not using the term “pony girl”. If you don’t know why, I strongly suggest you refrain from googling it. There may have been some artistic inspiration there, but the show goes in a whole different direction.) In-world, it’s made clear that a horse girl comes from a horse mother, but nothing’s been said about the fathers. So if you want some uncomfortable speculation, you can indulge.

But that’s background. We follow a young woman, Special Week, who’s come to the big city to pursue her mother’s dream, that she become the greatest in Japan.

Sounds just like most sports shows, doesn’t it? Where Uma Musume shines is in where it deviates from the sport show tropes. Rivals are competitive, but the rivalry stays on the track. Special Week idolizes the horse girl who turns out to be her roommate, but Silence Suzuka neither becomes Special Week’s bitter rival nor her biggest supporter: she’s helpful, but not to extremes, and it’s obvious she has her own concerns.

And the creators have not only passed on multiple chances to insert fan service, but they’ve given the stereotypical girl/girl love story subtext a miss, despite the many, many opportunities the premise offers.

There are a few wrong notes here and there–Trainer’s habit of “checking his charges’ fetlocks” springs to mind–but the positives far outweigh the negatives in my book.

If you’re interested, the show is available on Crunchyroll. Even if you’re only mildly intrigued, swing by and take a look. You can try the first episode, and possibly more, for free.

Clever Fellow

Turns out Lefty is an unusually clever fellow.

He’s a bit of a slob when it comes to eating his gooshy fud. That’s not uncommon. However, unlike most cats, who would slop it onto the floor and then lick it up from there, he just drizzles it down the side of the bowl.

And then he does this:

Kokoro is his match intellectually–she figured out how to keep can lids from sliding across the floor by holding them in place with a paw while she licks them–but it’s a level of sophistication most cats never match.

Mostly, he’s a dignified fellow. But he’s quite taken with his magic lemon. Shortly after this video was taken, he carried it into his Fortress of Solitude (the carrier visible at the far left) so he can love on it in comfortable seclusion.

We catch occasional glimpses of the lemon. It’s slowly being ripped to shreds and losing its stuffing. We may have to get him a new one in the near future. Or offer him a magic banana.

Apple Hardware 2018

Hey, guess what? That’s right, it’s new Apple mobile technology announcements.

Note the lack of an exclamation point at the end of the previous sentence. ‘Cause really, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to get excited about Apple’s hardware, especially in the mobile space.

Considering that the most exciting bit of news they could come up with to kick off their event is that the Apple Watch is “the number one watch in the world,” I have to figure even Apple is finding it hard to get excited about their own products.

There’s a heck of a lot of marketing gimmickry in that claim, by the way. Number one by what measure? Are we including all the different versions and variations from launch, or just the current models? What time period? And why do we care, anyway? Apple isn’t (officially) a watch company after all.

Anyway, yes, there’s a new set of Apple Watches coming: the Series 4. They’re about a third bigger than last year’s watches. Does this sound familiar? First we have smartphones getting bigger and bigger, to the point where they’re inconvenient to pull out for a quick look. So we get smart watches. Which are now getting bigger and bigger.

What happens when your watch gets too big for your wrist? Will we see a return of the pocketwatch? I rather hope so, actually. Though that chain across my chest could be a bit awkward at times.

Anyway, that extra space can be used to display all sorts of information: sports scores, exercise data, or Apple’s favorite app, the one that reminds you to alternate inhalation and exhalation.

The new CPU is so fast it’ll display a minute in thirty seconds. (That is what “twice as fast” means, right?)

One bit of actually useful functionality: the Series 4 watches can detect the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” scenario and call your emergency contact. It’s too bad you have to buy a $500 watch* to get the feature, because it’s literally lifesaving.

* Yes, you can get a Series 4 for $399, but those variants don’t have cellular capability. To make calls, you’re looking at a minimum of $499. Or get last year’s Series 3 for a measly $279–though it won’t have the fall-detection capability.

On a somewhat related note, the watch will also alert you if your heart rate is too slow. Better take the watch off before your afternoon nap. (It’ll also alert you to signs of atrial fibrillation and let you take your own ECG. I’m less enthusiastic about these features. FDA clearance or no, they seem designed to appeal to the hypochondriac in us all.)

Moving on.

The iPhone X is now, Apple claims, the number one smartphone in the world. Again, no indication of how they’re measuring that. So, this being an alternate year, we’re getting the iPhone Xs.

Which is just like the iPhone X, but with a bigger screen and smaller bezels so the device as a whole is smaller. Unless, of course, you opt for the iPhone Xs Max, which has the largest iPhone screen ever. Remember what I said about phones getting bigger and bigger?

Look, I like my Pixel 2 XL, but I freely admit it’s big. Well designed to be usable at that size, and I’m sure the same is true of the Xs Max, but it can still be awkward. The Max is even larger than my XL.

Of course, the new phones are faster than last year’s. 15% for the CPU (and 40% lower power draw), 50% for the GPU. Better cameras (dual cameras on the back, and a single, faster camera on the front.) Other fasters–networking, for example–and tweaks, such as dual-sim capability. But really, couldn’t you have guessed that this year’s phones would be bigger and faster than last year’s?

Well, except for the iPhone XR. It’s a bit smaller than the iPhone 8 Plus (albeit with a larger screen). Think last year’s iPhone X, but a bit smaller and cheaper. Slightly.

The XR starts at $749, the Xs at $999, and the Xs Max at $1099. Of course, that means price cuts on Apple’s older phones. You’ll be able to pick up an iPhone 8 for a mere $599, or if you’re a real cheapskate, you can get an iPhone 7 for as little as $449. No more iPhone 6s (or original X, for that matter).

So, are you more excited about Apple’s new hardware than I am? You couldn’t be less, that’s for sure.

Blowin’ In the Wind

I’m sure the residents of the Carolinas are relieved to hear that FEMA is on the job and our president says “We are absolutely totally prepared” for Hurricane Florence.

After all, FEMA and Trump did such a magnificent job in Puerto Rico last year. Undercounting the dead by two orders of magnitude. More than half a year to restore power.

But I’m sure the Carolinas will get more and better help than Puerto Rico did. After all, both states electoral votes went to Trump. Heaven help Virginia if Florence shifts to the north, though.

It’s worth noting that Trump will not be going to Jackson, Mississippi for a campaign rally Friday as previously planned. With Florence expected to reach land by early Friday morning, millions of people are evacuating the coast. And rallies aren’t the only events affected. High school and college football games are being rescheduled. Concerts have been canceled.

Notably, Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has declared a state of emergency, citing fears of flooding, downed trees, and power outages.

Regardless, our government soldiers on. The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to vote on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court on Thursday. That said, it’s widely expected that committee Democrats will delay the vote to next week, presumably after Florence has passed and power has been restored to Washington*. Because it wouldn’t do to allow the court to go into session next month short-handed.

* Though I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it hasn’t been restored elsewhere. Crews from further north and inland have already been tagged to assist in the Carolinas, and you know the comfort and safety of our elected officials is paramount, but as far as I can tell, nobody’s paying a whole of attention to the people in between.

Depressing thoughts on what should be a day of remembrance. What I find myself remembering is the way individuals always seem to step up and do what needs to be done in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.

It’s not the big agencies. They show up later–if they show up. It’s certainly not political parties.

Take a minute today and thank a neighbor for being there. Don’t get ridiculous about it. There’s no need to thank that guy down the street who lets his dog dig up your flower bed, or the ones you’re pretty sure are making meth in their basement. But the folks you don’t usually pay much attention to, good or bad. They’re the ones you’re going to rely on when your neighborhood is hit by a hurricane, earthquake, or zombie apocalypse.

The Most Happening Spot…

Fashions in feline hangouts come and go, just as with any other sort of fad. But some places are evergreen.

Everyone finds the bed convenient lurking territory, as Sachiko demonstrates.
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It’s also the most popular spot for sleeping, whether alone…
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(Yes, that is Sachiko. She has grown considerably, but this shot wasn’t taken from the most slimming of angles.)

…or in company.
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Watanuki likes the bed, too. In addition to lurking and sleeping, it’s a perfect platform for…uh…

Dancing. Yeah, dancing. Let’s go with that.

Pay As You Go

The other shoe drops.

Remember last month when I pointed out that autonomous cars aren’t really intended for individual ownership?

I’ve been wondering how auto makers intended to push people away from car ownership. Prohibitive costs and regulation will only get you so far, after all. The people who can afford to buy a new car every few years–especially a luxury car–aren’t going to be bothered by the registration fee. And if you’re buying a car for the look or the name, you’re really not going to care that this year’s Lexus is an electric.

Well, today’s newspaper gave me the clue. The answer is car subscription programs. Pay a flat monthly fee, get a car, complete with maintenance, insurance, and the ability to swap it for a different model whenever you want*.

* Some restrictions apply, of course.

Some of the services are backed by auto makers–the article I saw talks about Canvas, which is a subsidiary of Ford and, logically enough, only offers Ford and Lincoln cars. Others, like Clutch Technologies, are independent to varying degrees. (Clutch offers high-end models from several manufacturers and concierge service.)

It’s not a lease. There’s no intent to own, and all of the costs except gas are included in the monthly payment. Some programs don’t even require a commitment longer than a month. That’s an attractive model to people who’ve gotten used to that approach with their cord-cutting TV service.

Try it for a couple of months. Don’t like the car? Send it back and get a different one (in some cases you’ll need to wait until the end of your billing cycle). Need something bigger for the weekend? Some services not only let you switch cars at any time, but they’ll even deliver it to your door and help you move your possessions from one to another.

Do you suppose they’ll transfer your radio presets? Wouldn’t surprise me a bit if they did. Be easy enough to have some kind of data transfer tool that downloads all your data–radio, seat position, preferred temperature–via Bluetooth. Horribly insecure, of course, but no more so than anything else in the car, so who cares?

But I digress.

It’s more expensive than buying a car, of course, even with the cost of semi-annual servicing and insurance factored in. And I really doubt that the insurance plans are as good as you could get from an independent insurance company–I’m sorry, but auto insurance is no more of a one-size-fits-all object than a spandex cat suit. Most of us might squeeze into it, but there are gonna be some bits sticking out here and there, and a few of us just plain need more.

So you’re paying for convenience and, arguably, flexibility.

And when the autonomous models start showing up in a few years, well, you’re going to feel pretty smug about your flat-rate subscription that means you don’t have to pay whatever Uber is charging by then. Never mind that Uber probably owns a good-sized chunk of the subscription company and makes the autonomous car you’re subscribed to.