Too Many Choices

It’s that time of year again.

You know, the one where all the major sports are going at once. Baseball is in Spring Training, hockey and basketball are into the second halves of their respective seasons with the playoffs approaching, and football is all about trades and cutting ties with players who’ve been arrested.

On top of that, the ever-popular Oscar season is over and college basketball’s March Madness is just ahead.

And, just to make it a perfect sweep, Daylight Savings Time kicks in this weekend, leaving us to sleepy to figure out what time the games we wanted to watch are on. I stand by last year’s observation that there is literally nothing President Trump could do that would raise his approval rating more than to do away with DST. Okay, yes, resigning would be a more popular move, but it wouldn’t raise his presidential approval score. Somebody tell him how many jobs it would create, reprogramming all the computers and IoT devices not to make the change. Feel free to exaggerate by a few orders of magnitude; he’ll never know the difference.

But I digress.

Of course, this year we’ve also got the popular game of guessing which member of Congress will be next to resign and which member of the administration will be next to be indicted, subpoenaed, and/or censured. I jest, naturally. As long as they remain part of the administration, they’re in a consequence-free zone. Just ask Kellyanne Conway, who’s been found to have committed multiple ethics violations again, but will undoubtedly not be disciplined this time either.

But I digress again. Sorry, I’m a bit grumpy today. I take some consolation in knowing Democrats are misbehaving too. The resignation of the mayor of Nashville, TN is currently the top trending story on Google–stepping down is a condition of her guilty plea to charges of embezzling city money to finance an affair.

Ms. Conway’s latest peccadilloes scored two ranks lower than Ms. Barry. She’d probably have done better with a new act. Unless you’re the Rolling Stones, you can’t get away with doing the same show over and over again, after all.

Number Two, by the way, is searches for tornado warnings after Illinois residents were incorrectly informed a tornado was imminent. Not as attention-grabbing as nuclear missiles, perhaps, but enough to beat out illegal acts by White House employees. No word yet regarding whether this error was also a result of poor computer interface design, or whether the person responsible will cooperate with the investigation.

Anyway, I’m glad we’ve got such a variety of entertainment choices these days. Enjoy your sport-of-choice!

Sports Grief

Yes, Bay Area, I understand. You’re bummed. Completely reasonable.

But please remember that the ISO standard for public displays of grief over sporting events is 72 hours. So, no more front page headlines after 8:00 Pacific Wednesday. Got it? Thanks.

Doesn’t mean you can’t grieve as long as you need to. Just do it in the privacy of your own homes, bars, clubs, and arenas. It’s for your own safety, really. You don’t think those thugs down south aren’t gloating? You don’t want them to see how much you’re hurting–they’ll just take advantage of your pain.

Now that we’ve got the legalities out of the way, let me state for the record that I sympathize with you 100%. Losing sucks, no question about it.

Right now, it feels like you’re never going to get over it. And, honestly, you never will be completely free. Twenty, forty, or a hundred years from now, you’ll still wake up in the middle of the night, wondering “what if…?” But over time it will happen less often. I promise.

I know it’s antithetical to the Bay Area sports mentality, but just take a look to your frenemies to the north. Yeah, I’m talking about Seattle. They know where you are mentally right now.

Consider February 1, 2015. The Seahawks were one play away from winning their second consecutive NFL title and came up short.

Yeah, OK, so they weren’t riding a record-breaking regular season. How about October 22, 2001? The Mariners won 116 games in the regular season, and got blown out of the playoffs by the Yankees–they didn’t even make it to the finals.

“But those aren’t basketball,” I hear you say. “And what’s worse, the Warriors are moving out of Oakland.”

Cast your eyes back to 1978 and 1979. In ’78, the SuperSonics went to the NBA finals and lost to the Washington Bullets in seven games. The next year, the Sonics were back in the finals and that time they took the championship in five. It took them seventeen years to get to the finals again, where they lost to the Chicago Bulls in six games. They didn’t make the finals again; in 2008, they moved. Not down the road to Tacoma*, where Seattle fans could still root for them, but to Oklahoma City.

* Not an arbitrary choice of location: they spent the 1994-95 season in Tacoma.

Seattle’s got some street cred when it comes to losing big in sports finals. So when I say they know how you feel, I’m not just blowing smoke.

I’m not trying to one-downer you here. Just suggesting you take a little guidance from those guys up north. Grieve. Let it all out (quietly).

And then, stay on the bandwagon. The good times will come again. Stick with your guys, and wait’ll next year.

Good luck.

The Decline of Civilization–And Google I/O, too.

Today is the first day of Google I/O, the Big G’s annual excuse to shut down a couple of blocks around San Francisco’s Moscone Center. As always, I’ll be giving you my first reactions to their plans for the coming year–at least those plans that they warn us about.

While we’re waiting for the keynote address, though, I wanted to vent about a couple of signs of the encroaching End of Civilization As We Know It. If you’re not in the mood for my curmudgeonly rantings, feel free to skip ahead.

Still here? Good.

According to today’s SF Chronicle, Ross Dress for Less stores has settled a lawsuit brought by 2,400 of their janitors. The suit alleged that Ross and their janitorial contractor, USM Inc., failed to pay the janitors minimum wages and overtime between 2009 and earlier this year.

The settlement? $1 million. That’s right. Each of the janitors will receive a smidgen over $400 to compensate them for as much as five years of missing wages. Rubbing salt in the wound, Ross is also paying $1.3 million to the lawyers who negotiated the settlement.

Two questions: Are Ross and USM facing a criminal investigation into whether they did in fact conspire to cheat their janitors? (The newspaper article doesn’t say anything one way or the other; my guess is no.) And, has anyone checked with the janitors at the lawyers’ offices to see if they’re getting minimum wage and overtime? (Again, my guess is no.)

Moving on.

As I’ve said before, I don’t much care for basketball. Living in the Bay Area, though, it’s hard to avoid getting caught up in the current excitement over the Warriors*. So I watched about fifteen minutes of last night’s game while I was exercising. Mind you, that was about five minutes of actual game time.

* For those of you who don’t have the excuse of headlines screaming “40 YEARS IN THE MAKING” to clue you in, the Warriors are the local professional basketball team. They just made it to the finals, the NBA’s equivalent of the World Series, for the first time since James Naismith crossed the Delaware and brought a burning bush to the basketball-impoverished masses. Or something like that.

The game has changed a lot since I watched it in my misspent youth. Back then, when a team put up a shot, most of the players from both teams converged on the basket to go after a rebound. Today, the offensive team mostly heads for their own basket to play defense, conceding the rebound.

And that’s the other thing that’s changed. Back in my day (Damn kids!), after scoring, the smart teams put pressure on their opponents, making it difficult for them to move the ball into shooting range. Today, they just foul the worst freethrow shooter on the court.

According to the commentators, this is the height of strategy. And why not? It’s the same kind of thinking that figures it’s cheaper to settle a lawsuit than to pay the legally-mandated minimum wage.

Sorry, I don’t buy it. If the rules of the game are structured so that you’re better off breaking the rules than actually playing the game, then your sport needs to be fixed.

It’s an easy fix, too. All you have to do is award five points for a successful free throw. When it’s more expensive to commit a foul than to play the game, teams will stop committing strategic fouls.

Until that happens, though, I won’t be watching any more basketball.

Enough. On to Google I/O.

  • Android M – Lots of bug fixes. Oh, and a few improvements. A couple of them are even interesting.

    Apps will now request permission when they try to do stuff instead of getting blanket permissions when you install them. That means you can block some actions but allow others. Don’t want to let that new game have access to your address book? On the whole, that’s a win for users, but it’ll be interesting to see how developers handle the brave new world where users can block apps’ access to the ad network.

    Apps can “claim” web pages, so if you try to go to a particular website, you’ll get the equivalent app instead. From a user perspective, I think this one’s a step backward. I have the WordPress app installed on my tablet and use it occasionally for managing this blog. That doesn’t mean I want the app to open every time I try to access a WordPress blog–or even my blog.

    Android Pay is getting a facelift. You won’t need to open the app anymore. Whoopie. I hope they’re also improving the reliability. I got so many failures to connect with the terminal that I’ve given up on Android Pay.

    Doze sounds promising: if the tablet doesn’t move for an extended period, it’ll go into a power-saving deep sleep mode. If users can control the timeout, it’ll be big win. And an even bigger one if we can control what happens when it wakes up and all the suspended apps try to grab updates at once…

    Interestingly, the preview of Android M is only available for the Nexus 5, 6, 9, and Player. No Nexus 7. Apparently that “might” come later. Combined with the outrageous delay in bringing Android 5.1 to the Nexus 9, it does suggest that Google’s Android team may be a bit overextended, and that the Nexus 7 is going to be completely unsupported soon.

    I haven’t seen any hints of what the dessert name for M will be. I’d love it to be Marshmallow, if only because I want to see the statue they put on the Google lawn. I suspect we’ll get some hints once people start poking at the developer preview.

  • Brillo & Weave – A slimmed down Android for connected devices and a protocol to tie them together. We’ve talked about the security risks in “Internet of Things” devices before. I’m not sure I really want Google making it easier to create app-enabled locks.
  • Machine Learning/Context Sensitivity – They made a big deal out of this across all their products. Searches that understand pronouns and references to the data you’re looking at. Enhancements to Google Now to be more aware of where you are and what you’re doing–they’re calling it “Now on Tap”. (The example was recognizing that you’ve just landed at the airport and offering a Google Now card to “order an uber”. Given Uber’s recent bad press–quite the antithesis of Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” mantra–is that really a company Google wants users to associate them with?)

    The new Google Photo sounds potentially useful, though. Every picture you store will be automatically tagged so you can search for things like “Photos of my nephew at Folklife last year.” If the recognition works well, the advantages are obvious. If it doesn’t work well, then we’ve got a repeat of Flickr’s recent image tagging fiasco. The fast, simple sharing functions sound good too. As always, the gotchas are in the implementation details (security, security, security!)

  • I’m going to skip most of the rest of the goodies. Many of them are around ease of use. Good to know, but not all that interesting in detail. I did find the announcement that the enhancements to the developers’ tools will include the “Cloud Test Lab”. Google will perform some level of automated tests on your app across multiple devices with different hardware and software configurations. This kind of testing is, IMNSHO, not hugely useful for large, complicated apps, and there are definitely potential security concerns when the app needs to connect back to your corporate network for test data. But it can be useful. If any of my former cow-orkers use the Cloud Test Lab, I’d be interested in hearing how you like it.
  • Of course, Google is also working on a number of other projects: driverless cars, wireless Internet access via balloons, and so on. All part of this nutritious breakfastusing “technology to solve problems for everyone in the world”. That includes a new version of last year’s favorite Google I/O gizmo: Cardboard, the low-cost virtual reality device. The new version supports larger phones and is easier to construct. The software is also supposedly significantly improved. Last year, it took a few days for templates to show up online. If the same holds true this year, all of you with those lovely phablets will have a chance to check out VR on a budget.

Bottom line from my perspective: Google’s making some useful moves, playing some catch-up to Apple, and really only making one dumb move. If Brillo and Weave meet a quick death or get stuck in an endless pre-development stage, I’ll consider this the most worthwhile Google I/O yet.