Pie

Google startled the tech world yesterday by releasing Android P. Many techies were unprepared for the news, not expecting the release to happen until the twentieth.

Naturally, the surprise didn’t stop anybody from playing the name game. Now that we know Android P, aka Android 9, is officially named “Pie,” the just-released OS is ancient history, and everyone is speculating about the name of next year’s release.

Let’s face it, there just aren’t a whole lot of foods beginning with “Q”–and most of those aren’t sweets by any stretch of the imagination. Quesadilla? Quiche? Quinoa? Goddess preserve us. Pun intended, because the most likely choice I’ve been able to come up with is Quince, which is frequently found (to the extent you can call it “frequent”) in jams, jellies, and preserves.

But you know, there is a dark horse candidate.

Quisp Cereal
(Image copyright Quaker Oats.)

It’s a sweet. No more so than any other sugared cereal, I suppose, but yeah, there’s a lot of sugar in those boxes. It wouldn’t be the first time Google has done a corporate tie-in for an Android release. And really, wouldn’t Android’s robot mascot look great with a propeller mounted on its head?

Android Robot
(Android Robot owned by Google, naturally.)

Come on, Google, make it happen.

If you think I’m pulling that idea out of my rear end, you’re partly right. But there is a possibility that Google is prepping us for a bit of MTV-generation nostalgia.

Consider: Why did they choose yesterday, August 6, to make the Android Pie release? 8/6 is hardly a date of significance to pie. But it starts to make more sense when you consider that news reports citing Google’s announcement started appearing around 9:00 (US PDT).

I can’t find the actual press announcement from Google, but… Allow reporters a bit of time to pull up their stories and add last-minute details. That would imply the release came out around 8:00. Might it have been 7:53:09? Just saying.
Counter-arguments that yesterday was three months after Google I/O will be cheerfully ignored. Secret conspiracies are much more fun. And besides, why do you think they chose the date they did for I/O?

Joking aside, there aren’t a whole lot of surprises in the release. Google revealed most of their plans at I/O back in May. And, of course, developers and the incurably brave have been using the public betas for the past three months.

Perhaps the biggest surprises are those of omission. Two big pieces of planned functionality–“Slices,” which will allow apps to export content to other apps and the “Digital Wellbeing” initiative, a set of features designed to make you put down your phone and interact with humans–aren’t included. Google says they’ll both be released “later” this year.

That’s a little disappointing. I was looking forward to seeing Digital Wellbeing in action; some of the announced bits of it sounded useful.

I guess I can spend the intervening time getting the hang of the new navigation. The changes to the Back button should be simple enough–either it’s there or it isn’t–but when it is, it should work more or less as it has in the past.

Doing away with the “Recent Apps” button will be tougher. I use that one a lot. Sure, I’ll eventually retrain my muscle memory to swipe up from the “Home” button and to swipe left/right through the apps instead of up/down. But the whole thing smacks of change for the sake of change.

Unless, of course, Android Quisp is going to introduce some startling new functionality behind a button located where “Recent Apps” used to be. In that case, getting the button out of the way now, in order to give sluggards like me a whole year to reprogram their brains, is an excellent idea.

I’ll undoubtedly have further thoughts on Android Pie once I get my hands on it. I’m still waiting for it to show up on my shiny new Pixel 2 XL. You’d think Google was being cautious with the rollout. It’s not like Android ever has unexpected bugs, right?

A Rare Sight

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It’s not that they actively dislike each other. Though it’s true that dinnertime can be a bit fraught. Kaja is on a restricted diet and often supplements her meals at Kokoro’s expense.

Nor is it that they don’t spend time together. True, Kaja is largely confined to one room, due to her history of expressing her dislike of Yuki in physical terms. But Kokoro spends most days in the same room, in a largely successful attempt to avoid, well, everyone else*.

* It ain’t easy being Queen, uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, and other platitudes related to royalty maintaining its mastery over the commoners.

In truth, one hardly ever sees them sharing space simply because there are so many cat-attractive hangouts in that room. The heat vent. At least two caves. A hidden nook behind a pile of boxes. The desk chair. The middle of the floor, next to the food bowls.

But every so often, the stars align, and we find Her Majesty and her Chief Hunter just chillin’.

(Note, however, which one of them gets the full benefit of the sun.)

Losing Face

More proof, as if anybody needed it, that Facebook didn’t get where they are today–a dominant force on the Internet, with a bankroll large enough to slide them through public relations disasters that would kill any lesser company–by playing nice.

Not with its users, and certainly not with the outside world.

You’ve probably seen the recent news stories about their detection of several accounts, possibly linked to Russia, that Facebook believes were attempting to sow confusion and create conflict leading up to the November elections.

In brief, these accounts were promoting protests, specifically counter-protests against pro-Nazi–pardon me, Alt-Right–events.

My cynical side wonders whether Facebook would have taken action if the accounts in question had been promoting the original rally rather than the counter-protest, but since there’s no way to know, that’s something of an irrelevant point.

The bottom line here–and Facebook is, of course, focused directly on the bottom line–is they have to be seen to be doing something about Russian interference with American elections.

Not only have they closed the accounts in question, but they’ve taken the additional step of notifying people who expressed interest in the counter-protest that it might be a Russian operation.

Needless to say, this has not been a popular move with the event’s other organizers, who have had to spend the past couple of days proving to Facebook that they’re not fronts for Russian spies, while simultaneously reassuring people that the counter-protest is real.

Naturally, Facebook doesn’t see a problem. They’ve Taken Action! They’ve Caught Spies! They’ve Made Facebook Great Again!

And it’s not like the protest groups are major advertisers, paying Facebook large sums of money to promote their event.

Facebook’s other recent move is to make it harder for their users to see what’s happening outside of Facebook. Until yesterday, it was possible for bloggers to automatically link their blog posts on Facebook. No longer. (It’s not just blogs that are affected by this move, either. Auto-posting of tweets to Facebook won’t be possible anymore, nor will it cross-linking be possible from any other service.)

Sure, you can still manually link a post. Log into Facebook and copy/paste the relevant text or URL. Takes two minutes. Except, of course, if you’re a prolific tweeter, blogger, or what-have-you-er, those two minutes per post are going to add up quickly.

What really stings about this move, though, is that it only affects posting to Profiles, not to Pages.

Grossly oversimplified: Profiles are intended for users–consumers, in other words. Pages are intended for groups or businesses–or, as Facebook would prefer to call them, revenue generators.

Pages get less visibility than Profiles. Unless, of course, the owner of the Page pays Facebook to advertise it.

I did mention that Facebook’s eyes are on the bottom line, right?

So where does this leave me? I make no secret of the fact that I’m on Facebook–with a Profile, not a Page–purely because it’s considered to be a major part of an author’s platform. “How are people–readers!–going to find you if you’re not on Facebook?”

Right or wrong (and I’m well aware of the counter-examples, thanks), that’s the reality we live in right now. Nothing has changed in that regard since the Cambridge Analytica revelations. So leaving Facebook still isn’t an option.

If I want my posts to keep showing up on Facebook, I’ve really only got two choices: post manually, or convert my Profile into a Page (and then pay Facebook to promote it).

Converting wouldn’t stop them from selling my personal information to other advertisers, and I really hate the idea of paying them to sell my information. And I’m not crazy about having to post everything twice (and thank you, Twitter for not setting up a similar block).

This post will get a manual link. Future posts will too, at least for the time being–but I’m not about to link to the Friday cat posts at midnight. My loyal Facebook followers will have to wait until I get to my desk Friday morning.

And we’ll see how it goes. I will undoubtedly forget from time to time. No question that I’ll botch the copy/paste periodically. If the whole thing gets to be too big a hassle, I will give up on Facebook, regardless of the “necessity” of being there.

Because, no matter what Facebook thinks–or, more precisely, wants its users to think–Facebook isn’t the Internet.

Not On Our Side

Not exactly the way the Mariners wanted to come out of the All-Star Break. Two and one against the White Sox, owners of the third-worst record in baseball. Splitting a two-game series with the Giants, who are struggling to stay at .500. Losing two of three to the Angels, the fourth place team in the Mariners’ own division.

Still, it’s better than the eight games going into the Break, when they went two and six.

And there are signs of hope. The seven run first inning against the Angels Sunday. Last night’s low-scoring, but ultimately victorious match with the Astros. For that matter, the Astros’ four straight losses going into that game and the Athletics’ dropping three in a row to the Rockies didn’t exactly hurt the Ms.

Going five and four and winding up two games closer to the division lead is unusual, but who–outside of Houston and Oakland–is complaining?

The Orioles, by the way, have gone four and five with one rainout over the same stretch. That’s also not exactly world-beating, and they’re still five and half behind those pesky White Sox, but they’re riding a three-game win streak coming into their series with the Yankees. Go Birds!

But I digress.

The Mariners have made a few moves ahead of the Trade Deadline–which we all know is more of a Trade Mild Headache Line. Like their recent record, there’s nothing spectacular there, but nothing horrifying either. Bolstering the bullpen is a reasonable move. A (usually) safe move.

But as I’ve said before, defense doesn’t win ballgames. It can keep you from losing games, but winning requires offense. Just ask Felix. Or, better yet, ask Harvey Haddix, who pitched a perfect game for twelve innings back in 1959 and wound up losing the game 1-0.

Maybe the Ms will do something to bolster the offense today. A trade. A promotion from the minors. A new locker-room ritual. Something.

But this is the Mariners. The gang that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2001. Loyal fans have come to expect something to go wrong. Or, more likely, a whole mess of things to go wrong.

Come on guys, make a break with history. Let’s get it right this year.

Feeling Lucky

If you were wondering, yes, the coyotes are still around. We haven’t seen the adults lately, but the pups put in an appearance from time to time. Needless to say, we’re not happy about that. But what can one do?

Well, for starters, one can put MM in protective custody.
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She’s been an involuntary resident of the catio* for a while now.

* Note, by the way, that the catio has been upgraded with a real roof and a partial wall on the side that gets the most rain. These upgrades should make life much more pleasant for any inhabitants during the rainy season. Assuming we ever have another rainy season, of course.

Don’t let that mild demeanor and the sun-basking fool you. She is not happy to be there.
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Not only did she tear the railing off the shelter and make a massive mess of the straw, forcing us to replace the wooden shelter with one of the plastic “quonset hut” shelters from the yard, but she also tore up and tore apart the rubber floor mats.

She’s calmed down a bit, but she still wants nothing to do with the nasty bipeds who locked her up. She hides in the shelter when we take her food out and we hear an occasional “Cattica! Cattica!” chant late at night. At least we’ve persuaded her that the litter box is for excretion, not residency.

We’re not sure how long we’ll hold onto her, but we’ve given up any notion of civilizing her. Once we decide it’s sufficiently safe, we’ll let her loose.

And then there’s the other involuntary recipient of our hospitality.

Meet Lefty.
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He hasn’t been with us as long, mostly because it took several times as long to trap him. (We caught MM the first night we tried. Lefty was more cautious, and it took more than a week.)

And if we thought MM was unhappy in the catio, Lefty took matters to previously unconsidered depths. He complained. He prowled around, shoving shelters out of his way, and generally created chaos.

Nor, to be blunt, did he get along with MM. She wanted him in the catio even less than he wanted to be there.
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To make matters worse, Lefty is not the most graceful cat we’ve ever met. He’s got an excuse, granted, but the combination of clumsiness and escape attempts resulted in several rather nasty wounds.
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Be glad I’m not showing you any of the earlier pictures. This one is quite upsetting enough; the others are…well, put it this way: I did not look at them, just attached them to an email to the vet and hit send as quickly as I could.

No, he’s not a calico; he’s pure black except for a small white patch on his chest. That strip down his forehead and nose is one of the wounds he picked up in the catio.

He took a trip to the vet and he’s looking better now. We’ve given him separate quarters in the garage while he recovers from his neutering, goes through a course of antibiotics, and generally heals up. That space seems to be more to his tastes: we haven’t seen any sign of escape attempts and he’s eating more enthusiastically than he did in the catio.

We don’t know if it’s going to be possible, but we’d like to adopt him into our posse. Not because every team needs a good southpaw (sorry), but because of that excuse for his clumsiness.

Some of you, especially knowing that we generally give neighborhood cats descriptions instead of proper names, may have figured out why we call him “Lefty”. For the rest of you, here’s a hint:
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That cloudy right eye is no camera illusion. As we feared, and the vet confirmed, it’s unlikely he’s got any vision in it. We don’t know if it’s acquired or congenital, but either way, it’s not curable.

On the brighter side, the vet doesn’t think there’s any need to remove it to avoid infection. So, while a nicely piratical eyepatch might look good on him, he won’t have to wear one.

Further good news: he’s tested negative for Heartworm, FIV, and FeLV.

So he’s been lucky so far. But monocular vision certainly puts him at a disadvantage on the streets.

We’ll see how he’s doing by the time he finishes his antibiotics. If he’s still relatively chill, we’ll see if we can persuade him to adopt an indoor lifestyle. It’ll be a long haul, and an awkward one, since we don’t feel at all comfortable about putting him back in the catio, even after MM goes on her way. But it’s worth a try. Wish him (further) luck.

The Inevitable

My humblest apologies for the lateness of this post. Sadly, my beloved smartphone passed away last night, and I’m in the throes of grief. Ah, Nexus 5X, we hardly knew you.

Well, okay, considering that I’d had the phone since April of 2016, I’d say I knew it pretty darn well. So did you all, for that matter, since 99% of the photos I post are taken with my phone. And I wasn’t spending (much) time weeping and wailing; I was trying to revive it.

The fatal disease in this case is the so-called “boot loop,” in which the device gets partway through booting, then starts over or shuts down–mine fell into the latter group. It’s a known hardware problem with the 5X. Apparently some component unsolders itself from its circuit board. And in retrospect, I probably should have seen this coming. The phone has been having increasing difficulty connecting to Wi-Fi for the past few months–which some websites suggest is a related issue–and the constant attempts to reconnect raise the phone’s temperature, which hastens the major component failure.

I have to give kudos to both Google and LG (the actual makers of the phone) for their handling of the situation. The Project Fi customer service representative had me do one simple test to confirm the problem, then told me that LG had extended warranty coverage to all devices that fail this way, so there would be no cost for a repair, not even shipping.

He then conferenced in an LG customer service representative and introduced us before dropping off the call. She was equally polite and efficient, confirming that the repair would be done under warranty and would take about two weeks. It took her longer to get my address into the computer than everything else combined*.

* To be fair, the address problem was not the rep’s fault, nor, really, was it LG’s. Blame the US Post Service. My zip code is shared between two cities. Companies that auto-populate the city based on the zip code using the official USPS database always get it wrong, and usually have to fight to override the default.

I’m currently waiting for LG to email me the FedEx shipping label; that should come today, I was told, but may take a little longer than usual because of the address override. Fine. What’s a day or so in a two-week process?

Because, really, two weeks without a phone? Inconceivable!

The Google rep suggested that if I have an old phone, I could temporarily activate it with Fi, but I’m not sure that’s feasible, since my previous phone was with Sprint, which didn’t use SIMs at the time. But I’ll try, because why not?

But I’m not counting on it working, so I’ve ordered a new phone. Yeah, I know. Bad timing: Google is widely expected to introduce the Pixel 3 series in October. But let’s face it, about 95% of my phone time is either listening to baseball games, sending email, or taking pictures of cats. And the Pixel 2 camera are still widely regarded as among the best phone cameras available. It’ll be a major upgrade over the 5X camera, certainly. And spreading the payments across two years makes it more or less affordable.

In the worst case scenario, if the Pixel 3 series renders the 2 series totally obsolete, well, I’ve got a phone that’s a major step up for what I do. By the time it’s paid off, I can trade it in for a Pixel 5 (which obsoleted the Pixel 4 that made the Pixel 3 look like trash).

If you believe Google’s estimate, the new phone could arrive as soon as tomorrow or as late as Monday. Four days is a hell of a lot easier to face than two weeks. With a bit of luck, next Friday’s cat post will feature photos taken with the new phone.

So why am I getting the phone repaired if I’m buying a new one? That Google rep again. He pointed out that the trade-in value of a working 5X is almost double that of a dead one and that I’ve got thirty days–four weeks, twice as long as the repair should require–to send in the old phone. Logical and helpful. Thank you, Google Support Guy!

Or, heck, I may keep it around as an emergency backup. Maggie has a 5X, after all. It probably won’t drop dead–it seems to be from a newer production run which may not have the same unsoldering issue–but keeping the old phone would provide a little peace of mind.

Rest in peace, Nexus 5X, secure in the knowledge that your resurrection is pending.

Who’s Next?

Sorry, but I’m going to get all political on you again. Feel free to ignore my paranoid rantings.

One of the things that QA and writing have in common is the need to answer the question “Why?”

When testing, it’s not enough to know that a certain sequence of steps causes the program to go blooey*. The tester has to try to determine why; the answer to that question will have implications for who’s going to fix the bug and when–or even if–it’ll get fixed.

* Technical terminology.

Similarly, when writing, it’s not enough to know a character takes a certain action. The author needs to know why; characters who act illogically or do something stupid because the plot requires it make readers throw down the book and not buy anything else by the author.

So I’m doubly inclined to ask “Why?” when my government goes blooey.

In this case, the question is “We have a president who continues to spew lies, ignore the advice of his councilors, threaten war, and generally do the exact opposite of working for the benefit of his country. Why, then, has not a single member of his party–the majority in Congress–acted to restrain him?”

Let’s ignore for the moment the question of why Trump acts the way he does. For the most part, it’s irrelevant to the question we’re looking at now. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that his actions are driven in part by Russian influence. We’ll take that as a given and move on.

Possibility One: No Congressional Republicans are acting to counter Trump because Russia has something on every single one of them.

It’s possible, but improbable. Diogenes notwithstanding, moderately honest people aren’t hard to find. Granted, the ratio is probably skewed in Congress, but the odds still say that there must be one or two Republican congresscritters who haven’t taken money from the NRA or another Russian front organization, been recorded cheating on their spouses or stealing from church poor boxes, and don’t relax by pushing old ladies down the stairs.

More likely, what we’re seeing is a mass case of mental paralysis. Suppose you’re chatting with your friends at a restaurant. The waitress asks “Would you like some dessert?” and you haven’t even looked at the menu. You stare at her while you try to process the question. Finally, she takes pity on you and says “The cheesecake is good,” and you immediately say, “Great, I’ll have that!” even though you don’t much like cheesecake, and would really prefer the strawberry shortcake.

That’s mental paralysis. The honest Republicans never expected to have to decide between party and country, re-election and personal honor, and they’re frozen. They go along with whatever the party wants because it gets them past the brain lock. And maybe cheesecake isn’t so bad after all.

Sooner or later, though, they may start to decide they’re tired of cheesecake and want that strawberry shortcake. We may have seen the first sign of that with Senator Scott’s move to block the appointment of Ryan Bounds to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Kudos to Senator Scott.

But then, why–there’s that question again–does the party leadership not at least act to replace Trump with somebody less polarizing?

Even if we leave Trump’s value as a distraction, allowing them to push their agenda through, who could they replace him with?

Consider the succession. President, Vice President, Speaker of the House, Senate President Pro Tempore.

If Trump is removed–impeached, forced to resign, assassinated, whatever–Pence becomes president and chooses his new vice president. Who must be confirmed by both houses of Congress. The Republicans would need to get their choice past the Senate without a vice president to break a tie. It would only take one Republican breaking ranks to block a candidate.

And if you think Congressional Democrats have mobilized against Brett Kavanaugh, you ain’t seen nothing yet. That fight could easily drag past the November election.

And let’s get real here. If Trump is actually guilty of conspiring with Russia to swing the election, would anyone believe Pence wasn’t also in the plot up to his eyebrows? If Trump goes down, the Democrats block the appointment of a new vice president, and take control of either house in November, then the games get really interesting.

Remember, while the Speaker is an elected position (voted on by the members of the House), the Senate President Pro Tempore is not. That’s based strictly on length of service in the Senate. If the Democrats flip the Senate–which seems more likely than the House–Patrick Leahy of Vermont steps into the succession. Nominally, he’d be fourth in line, but if the vice presidency is vacant, he’d move up a step.

Meanwhile, over in the House… Suppose compelling evidence of wrongdoing by Pence turns up after Trump’s departure. Pence goes down (eventually). With no vice president, we get President Paul Ryan [shudder] and the same logjam in appointing a VP. Assuming, of course, this all goes down before a new Speaker is elected in January. Yes, we really could have a lame duck Representative become president.

Logically, Ryan is as likely to be guilty of collusion as Pence, if not more so. But that might even be beside the point. If Ryan becomes president, he can’t also be a member of the House. Imagine the confusion if the Republican governor of Wisconsin has to appoint somebody to fill Ryan’s seat until the new Congress is seated in January–especially if a Democrat wins Ryan’s district.

Bottom line here: the current situation is chaos, and there’s no clear path to stability for Republicans who, for whatever reason, won’t or can’t relinquish power.

Stay tuned. December may be a very interesting month, especially if Democrats flip both houses in November.

Eternal Verity

In trying times like these, when everything seems unsettled, it’s a good idea to take a step back and remind yourself that some things don’t change.

A sleeping cat is, by definition, cute.
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Yuki needs a pillow to sleep soundly, and Rhubarb needs to be used as a pillow before he can doze off.
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Synergy!

So when you’re stressed, when you need a break from the insanity, go pat a cat.

Better yet, take a nap with one. Your psyche will thank you.

I’m Not Touching You

If you missed the alerts for the first six parts of this series, please check your spam folder… No, not really, but it is tempting.

Corporate over-communication is getting to be quite the fad. Consider these two examples, which occurred within a week.

We have a home alarm system. When it triggers, the alarm company first tries to contact us at our home phone number. If we don’t answer, they also try a cell phone, a mobile email address, and a text message. Only if all contacts fail do they pass the alert to the police or fire department. This is good–it only adds a couple of minutes to the response time, and it cuts down on false alerts, which can be very expensive.

But.

We had a false alarm recently. The trigger was a sensor falling off one of the doors. No harm, no foul; the system worked as intended: I spoke to the alarm company, the police didn’t come to the house, and I set up a service call to have the sensor remounted.

The false alarm happened on a Friday, in the evening. When I made the appointment for the service call, the representative first offered Saturday, “between noon and five”. Well, we had plans for Saturday afternoon, so that wouldn’t work, and we settled on Monday afternoon. A few minutes later, I got an email confirming the appointment.

That’s when everything went off the rails, thanks to the alarm company’s zealous need to stay in touch.

Over the next few minutes, I got two more identical emails. Probably a hiccup in their email system. At least, I hope so. I deleted the extras and went on with my day.

Saturday morning, a few minutes before eight, we were woken up by the phone. Caller ID said it was the alarm company. We hadn’t set the alarm when we went to bed–no sensor–so we knew it wasn’t a break-in alert. So we went back to sleep. Or tried to. Shortly after I pulled the covers over my eyes, my cell phone rang.

You guessed it. The alarm company, calling a number they’re only supposed to use for an alert.

“Hi, this is [name] with [company]. We have a technician in your area who can come fulfill your service request today between eight and noon.”

The conversation went downhill from there.

Note, by the way, that the window had changed from afternoon to morning. If morning was an option, shouldn’t the original representative I spoke to have offered it? But I digress.

And yes, the caller had left a message on our answering machine before calling my cell phone.

Saturday afternoon, I got an email urging me to upgrade the alarm system to their latest system which has an all-new app for iOS and Android. You all know my feelings about apps that let you arm and disarm alarm systems from anywhere. Trashed the email.

Sunday brought a reminder email about Monday’s service appointment.

Monday, a few minutes before noon, I got a phone call from the technician. “I’m on my way, I’ll be there in about fifteen minutes.” Hopefully he wasn’t actually on his way; I’d hate for him to risk getting into an accident because he was calling ahead while driving.

And, about two minutes after that, I got an email informing me that the tech was on his way. (Excuse me, I just checked: it says “on their way”. Kudos to the company for not making gender assumptions in their annoyingly redundant messages.)

So that’s four emails and three phone calls for one appointment. I was about one contact away from telling the tech to rip out the system, take it back to headquarters, and shove it up the rear end of the executive in charge of customer service.

Oddly, now that the appointment is over, there’s been complete silence. Not a single phone call or email begging me to take their customer satisfaction survey. Though it wouldn’t surprise me if one came in somewhere down the road; some companies seem to wait for months before sending those out, perhaps in the hope that you’ll forget just how horrible the service was.

Another example.

My doctor gave me a referral to a clinic I’ve never dealt with before*. When I called to make an appointment, I had my choice between two days away, two months away, or three months away. For obvious reasons, I took the first option, and set up the appointment for just over 49 hours in the future.

* This is for a minor, but annoying condition. Nothing life-threatening. No need to express concern, but thanks in advance.

One hour later, I got an automated phone call to confirm the appointment. No problem, that’s standard practice these days.

Then I got an email confirming the appointment again and including paperwork I was supposed to fill out and bring with me. Again, fine. I’d rather fill out the forms at home than on the Group W bench at the office.

This was accompanied by a separate email urging me to set up an account on their “patient portal”. This would, it said, allow me to send secure messages to my “care team” at any time; view my bills, test results, and appointment details; and schedule “visits”.

I ignored it. I don’t plan to be a regular client, thanks.

Then I got another email asking me to click a link to confirm my appointment. Didn’t I just do that on the phone? Oh, well. I clicked the link.

Then came another email, this one demanding that I set up the portal account and offering the ability to fill out forms online. Fine. If I can fill out this five page questionnaire online, it’ll be easier for everyone. I won’t have to carry it with me, and the doctor won’t have to read my handwriting.

I signed up. Noticed that my address was wrong*, so I fixed it and went looking for the form. Surprise! It’s not in the system.

* This is not uncommon. There are two cities sharing our zip code, so any business that uses the Post Office’s zip-to-city database gets it wrong.

Logged off in disgust, just in time to get two more emails. One informing me that my portal password had been changed and urging me to call the office if I hadn’t made the change. And one to “confirm the recent changes made to your profile”.

Mind you, I didn’t change the password, I set it up. But that’s a grammatical quibble. The profile change message, however, is more annoying. It doesn’t give any clue what has changed. I presume it’s regarding the address change. But since it doesn’t give any information, I can’t tell if it’s alerting me to the change I just made, to their system reverting the change because the city I entered doesn’t match their database, or some other change.

At this point, I’ve spent as much time dealing with the emails as I expect to spend at the appointment–and that’s still almost thirty hours away. Plenty of time for another half-dozen messages.

What gives the alarm company the ability to use contact information I gave them for one purpose for something else entirely? Is it really that hard for the clinic (or, more likely, their outsourced techies) to get their phone and email systems talking to each other and to merge portal notifications that happen within a short amount of time into a single contact?

[Shrug] You tell me: am I overly sensitive, or are these companies overly aggressive?

Either way, don’t expect anything to change. There’s no economic impetus. Emails are effectively free, after all, but it would cost money to reprogram the systems.

Late Midway

Here we are at the middle of the season.

Yeah, yeah, I know. Most teams are past the ninety-five game mark and several are at ninety-eight–60% of the season. But the All-Star Break is still the traditional mid-point, even though–thanks to this year’s schedule changes–it’s never been later.

And we all know how important tradition is to baseball. (One assumes that Tevye and the rest of the gang fleeing Anatevka became rabid fans when they reached the U.S. Though they probably would have rooted for the Trolley Dodgers, so there’s that. But I digress.)

Jackie’s Orioles, while not exactly covering themselves with glory, at least made it to the break on a two-game winning streak, giving them 28 victories on the season and putting them percentage points ahead of the Royals in the race to avoid the “Worst Team in Baseball Dunce Cap” (not a real award).

The Giants (hi, John!), despite dropping their last two games to the Athletics, are still two games over .500 and have a legitimate chance to challenge for the NL West crown and a playoff spot.

And, of course, the Mariners, flying high as recently as two weeks ago, have lately put on a performance that makes the Orioles look stellar. They’ve lost four straight and seven of the last ten. That they’re still sitting in the second Wild Card slot says a lot more about the way the rest of the American League started the season than it does about the Ms themselves.

Vexingly, they’re not in the Machado sweepstakes. They’ve got a pretty darn good shortstop already, and their third baseman isn’t exactly shabby either. So, while Manny’s bat might be just what they need to kickstart the offense again, they don’t have anywhere to put him. (As I write this, it appears he’ll be going to the aforementioned Trolley Dodgers. Feh!)

Anyway, the All-Star Break means the Home Run Derby. You know I love me some Derby, even though it’s not really baseball. (If preseason baseball is methadone, what does that make the All-Star Game and the Home Run Derby? Nicotine gum, maybe?)

This year’s HRD may have been the best I’ve seen. Certainly the best since I started blogging. No gross mismatches, a couple of dramatic comebacks, an exciting final round, and a complete lack of distracting charity gimmicks. (The key word there is “distracting”. T-Mobile is donating money to Team Rubicon based partly on the number of home runs hit during the Derby. Good for them. And doubly so for not hitting viewers over the head with their message as has been the case with previous charitable donation promotions.)

I could have done with a bit less Bryce Harper adulation during the event. Yes, I know: local player, heavily favored, plays well to the camera. But the frequent cuts to his latest mugging felt contrived. But it’s a minor complaint, all things considered.

The youthful ball-shaggers were good. I saw a couple of nice catches and only one incident that put me in fear for a kid’s health. And it was great to see them get some on-screen recognition as Pitch, Hit & Run winners. Nobody robbed a competitor of a home run as famously happened to Ryne Sandberg in 1985, but I did see a clean snag just short of the wall.

More nicotine gum tonight with the All-Star Game, then two days of withdrawal before real games resume. (Yeah, okay, there’s a Cardinals/Cubs game on Thursday to help tide us over to Friday, but outside of St. Louis, it’s not a big deal. Certainly unlikely to have significant playoff repercussions.)