When Feeling Better Trumps Being Better

I am reading Jonathan Haidt’s article in The Atlantic, The Coddling of the American Mind, and I am wondering whether the hypersensitivity to emotional wellbeing Haidt describes can be somewhat attributed to our associating gun violence to mental illness over the last several decades. Mental illnesses are real but I think are diminished when we start tossing out the term as being the cause to all our ills. Perhaps it would not be an issue if we actually did something about mental illness, but I think we mostly talk about it. Our unwillingness to actually address problems and instead simply focus on symptoms is teaching generations of people that symptoms are actually the problems when they are not.

What Haidt does not address in the article is how hypercapitalism, which is the practice in the United States of prioritizing wealth over everything, contributes to the problem. We have many religions in the United States, but I think capitalism is the one that rules them all. The religion of capitalism preaches that there are to be no restraints on one’s ability to be wealthy and thus it teaches that the ends justify the means.

Manipulating emotions may be the number one tool of generating wealth in the United States. Marketing and advertising is emotional manipulation for the purpose of selling products, the buying of which produces wealth. Advertising is all about coveting that which another has and thus has existed ever since humans became aware of their surroundings. Technology continually optimizes advertising and today’s targeted and viral ads are extremely effective at making us covet.

No popular church nor religion in the United States truly teaches the dangers of wealth. Who preaches and teaches enough is better than more? Heck, the “ministers” of many of the most well known churches in the United States are themselves extremely wealthy. Yet, Christianity claims association to Jesus who plainly taught of these dangers. The consequence is that we live in a society that actually encourages the practice of one profiting off the suffering of another.

Children are immersed practically from the moment of birth in emotions, and our religions teach them how to feel better. The pursuit of happiness is a treadmill for the more and the idea that there is enough for all to be happy is considered un-American. We are frogs floating in warm pot of water and the temperature is increasing toward death.

Another Chicago Cubs Scapegoat

Whenever a general manager/front office of a professional sports team fires a good coach, or in baseball manager, I am suspicious of the true motivations behind the decision. I tend to think such decisions are often deflections of attention away from the front office. Today the Chicago Cubs dismissed David Ross and hired Gregg Counsell and many will note similarities in this decision with how they dismissed Ricky Renteria in 2014 to hire Joe Maddon who unexpectedly become available. I personally do not think the two situations are the same.

Renteria had been on the job for only one year, had not really proven himself as a manager, and did not have any history with the Cubs. Ross is one of the heros of the 2016 world championship team and had taken the Cubs to the playoffs as a manager. Counsell is a good manager and had taken the Brewers to the playoffs five of his six seasons with them, but did not have success in the playoffs. I do not think Counsell is as good a manager today as Joe Maddon was in 2014.

More important, David Ross was not the reason why the Cubs did not make the playoffs this season. The Cubs did not make the playoffs because of a depleted bullpen and in my opinion bad offseason acquisitions that were eventually released during the season, and those decisions were made by the general manager and president of baseball operations.

Ricketts might have bought Hoyer’s argument that jumping on the opportunity to get Counsell is similar to when Epstein jumped on the opportunity to get Maddon, but if Ricketts really wants to address the root cause for why Cubs did not meet expectations this season he ought to be questioning the decisions made by Hoyer and hold him accountable. If the Cubs have decided to completely move on from 2016 that means moving on from Jed Hoyer. In my opinion, the Cubs released the wrong person from their team.

Oh, and by the way, if the Cubs make this move of stabbing one of their own in the back, they darn well better be aggressive at signing free agents during the off season.

Just Looking In The Rear View Mirror

From the perspective of my life time of 1966 to present, I think the most consequential change on society has been the rise of conservatism. Today many people claim themselves to be conservative while not being clear what they mean. Wikipedia defines conservatism as “a cultural, social, and political philosophy that seeks to promote and to preserve traditional institutions, customs, and values.” How conservatism is practiced varies among societies.

At the risk of over simplifying, I think Americans who claim to be conservatives mean they are for smaller government, translated to mean lower taxes, lower government spending, and less government involvement in their daily lives. Recently I think the label has simplified to just mean, not liberal, or “Trump supporter.” While some want simply to be left alone and have more agency over their lives, many want to return to some time in the past, such as during the 1950s, when they believed life was better.

I believe conservatives and liberals have an unhealthy obsession with the past. Conservatives want to return to the past, liberals want to correct the past and it seems neither understand that the value of history is to learn from the past for the purpose of not repeating mistakes in the future. I think it is ironic that conservatives and liberals are seen as polar opposites while in reality both are obsessed with the past and neither side has a healthy perspective on progress. In short, you can’t really make progress when you are constantly looking in the rear view mirror.

Don’t believe me? Can you think of any area of politics that is not about the past? From the age of our government leaders, to how the U.S. constitution is currently used, to why there are wars, to why we cannot decrease the number of mass shootings, work to improve the climate and become healthier, every one of these are only really viewed from the perspective of the past. If most people agree that we should do something about these things, why can’t we?

The current obsession with polarization means more interest is in the argument rather than progress. I am not sure either side really wants progress because whenever either one has the ability to make progress disagreements within their ranks prevents it from happening. Polarization is focused on getting one’s way and beating the other and lost is any amount progress that in past times was born out of debate between the two points of view.

It’s one thing to have different ideas for how progress is to be made, or even what is progress, and another to not want to progress at all. Right now the United States has no desire for progress, we see this in how everything of significance is being handled in the world. I think how we got here is born out of a belief, more shared than we like to realize, that humanity cannot really improve itself. Too many now think the world cannot be better for future generations so it’s not even worth trying. So long American dream. No wonder why Gen Z is pissed of at all older generations and considers everything they say as b.s., and we are seeing the consequences playing out.

Consequently, why bother with empathy? I don’t need to consider how events affect you, the other, when I know how they affect me. Without empathy there is no way to love my neighbor, nor see my neighbor as a part of myself, I only need to know the world through my own feelings and state of being. In fact, they aren’t neighbors, most are enemies. No need to imagine a better world and the hope that inspires, rather one’s imagination only produces nightmares.

Humanity is driving itself toward extinction, what only seems open to debate is how, destruction incrementally via climate change, or suddenly via nuclear war? It always has taken work and the desire to co-exist with and even love the other with whom we share space with on this planet. What is certain is destruction will happen while we are only looking in the rear view mirror and not through the windshield toward the future. Humanity is so diverse that there will never be agreement on which turns to take along the road, but surely we can agree it is desirable to move forward!

World Series Starts Tonight

Two wildcard teams, the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Texas Rangers, will play each other in the 2023 MLB World Series. Before the playoffs began I alluded to how wildcard teams have an advantage from being forced to play playoff level games for longer. I expected the Diamondbacks to do well and I am not surprised that they made it to the World Series. The Rangers should have won their division but lost it on the last day of the regular season to the Houston Astros. Now that the Diamondbacks are in the Series, I think they are going to win.

My 2023 MLB Playoff Preferences

I am not as crazy as to pretend that I can predict what will happen in this year’s Major League Baseball playoffs, but I did want to go down on record about what are my preferences given that the Chicago Cubs are not in the tournament.

Given I closely follow the Cubs, I am more emotionally invested in the National League games, so I will start with the easy part, which is that my preference for the American League champion is any team other than Houston. Houston has won it recently, most of the others have not, and that is the bottom line. For some reason I find myself drawn to the Baltimore Orioles, so I will prefer they play in the Word Series for the American League.

Wild card teams seem to excel in the tournament and do so at the expense of the higher seeds who are division winners. I think the wild card teams have the advantage of actually having played under playoff pressure for weeks up to the tournament just to make it in to the postseason. Of the the wild card teams, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Arizona Diamondbacks made it to the NLCS, and I think a championship between them and Atlanta would be very fun to watch.

My emotional preference is for Philadelphia to represent the NL in the World Series because of Kyle Schwarber, but I expect Atlanta to make it to the World Series and win it all because they are the best team in all of baseball. A big part of me likes the idea of Schwarber having the most success of the former Cub players after the 2016 World Series given how the Cubs front office gave up on him waaaay too soon.

Why The Cubs Are Fading

The World Series, like most major sports championships, is won by defense. In baseball that mainly translates to pitching, but also fielding. When you play the same team in a playoff series your hitters usually face the opponent’s best pitching, consequently you should plan for 3 or fewer runs scored and that means you want your pitching to hold the opponent to 3 or fewer runs.

Since the beginning of September the Cubs have been in playoff games. Nearly all of the teams they faced need to beat them to move ahead of the Cubs in the Wild Card playoff standings. By my count the Cubs have played 17 games so far in September and in 7 of them their opponent scored 3 or fewer runs. My conclusion is that the Cubs pitching is simply not good enough to win in the playoffs.

I think my conclusion holds if you look at the larger body of work over the season. I expect that in a high percentage of the games the Cubs won they scored 4 or more runs, too many of those they needed to score 4 or more runs. During the regular season it is not surprising that your hitters will have more success because they will be in many situations where they face poor pitching.

A team built to win in the MLB playoffs has the pitching that more often than not can hold their opponent to 3 or fewer runs. Truth is the Cubs got through the 2023 season with only one reliable starting pitcher, maybe two (Steele for sure, and possibly Hendricks). Stroman and Taillon have not been consistent and Taillon has been aweful. Javier Assad joined the starting rotation too late in to the season so it is really hard to assess his reliability. The bullpen is no better, only Merrywather and Alzolay has been reliable, though Leiter is borderline.

The fact that the Cubs are in a playoff race is much more important this year than they actually make the playoffs, and the goal long term is be winning division championships and not gain a playoff berth via the wild card. While at the beginning of the season there was some hope the Cubs could compete with the Brewers for the NL Central division championship, I think it was evident early on through head to head games with the Brewers that this Cubs team is not as good or better than the Brewers. Sure, the Cubs can win any game, but can they win a series?

Bottom line, the Chicago Cubs are on schedule for their long term goals of winning division titles and the World Series in upcoming years. Clearly, the Cubs need to improve their pitching. Jordan Wicks has shown he is a piece of the puzzle for next year, and we can hope Taillon will return to the how he pitched in the past. Stroman might be back, but with Hendricks being another year older I think the Cubs need to sign at least two reliable starting pitchers during the off season as well as keep Merryweather.

From the lineup perspective, I think the Cubs should be aggressive in their attempt to sign Bellinger, but I doubt he stays and his departure will create a big gap in their lineup. Maybe youngsters Morel, Mervis, or Crow-Armstrong can help fill that gap but all are too inexperienced with MLB pitching. Consequently, the Cubs need to sign at least one big-name hitter to maintain their current starting lineup performance.

Finally, the biggest question of the off season might be whether David Ross has what it takes to manage a championship caliber baseball team. Every manager makes questionable lineup and in-game decisions, and this is Ross’ first manager job so we need to keep in mind that he is learning on the job. I personally can’t pin the current Cubs situation on Ross, the bottom line is that the players have to perform and they are not performing. Ross has made lineup changes and pitching changes, as far as I can tell he is doing everything he can to try and have the Cubs win games. I would not be in a hurry to replace Ross unless there is a championship experienced person to replace him. So, David Ross’ fate, like Rick Renteria’s was in 2015, may be decided more by who is available rather than by his own performance.

I am frustrated by and mad about the Cub’s performance this month, but I am mostly mad at the Cubs veterans who have under performed with the pressure on. Frankly, if it weren’t for Suzuki the Cubs would probably would have a longer losing streak. Swanson, Bellinger, and Happ have not met expectations as the veteran leaders. In the big picture I am happy about where the Cubs are, they met my expectations for this season and look to be on track of near year and beyond. All of the younger Cub players who have never been in this position of a playoff race in September are gaining valuable experience of how to deal with the pressure, and in my opinion experience matters most.

Welcome To September Baseball

As of this morning the Chicago Cubs are 3 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers for the N.L. Central lead and have a 2 game lead in the N.L. Wildcard. Nearly all MLB teams are not playing today. On Friday (September 1) the Cubs will have a chance to gain more ground on the Brewers by virtue of a double header, whereas the Brewers play the Phillies. The double header is in Cincinnati and the Reds are chasing the Cubs for the Wildcard, so both teams have playoff positions to play for and therefore the games will be tense.

Time For The Chicago Cubs To Embrace The Pressure

The 162 game schedule is a big part of what makes Major League Baseball unique among professional sports in the United States because it tends to force differences in how games are approached throughout the season. No team is ever going to be undefeated, the current best team, the Atlanta Braves, has won a little over 65% of their games. The MLB season is a marathon meaning that in most cases a game is not treated as “must win.”

Oddly, while a long schedule means most games are not “must win,” for some teams, earlier than they would like, the season transitions to “it doesn’t matter whether they win or lose” because they are out of playoff contention. As a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan it has been my experience more often than not that the Cubs are out of playoff contention by the end of May or early June. Further, as a lifelong Cubs fan, I have learned it is much more fun watching games year after year when the team is playing meaningful games in September. I would much rather have the team lose in the playoffs every year than have the team out the playoffs by June in the majority of seasons.

So, in baseball, a transition occurs over the course of a season where teams move from playing to win games to playing to must win games. The benefit of expanding the number of playoff teams is that more teams start playing more “must win” games in September than in years past. In my experience, teams with players who have the most experience winning “must win” games are best positioned for long term success.

As an aside, it should be obvious why wild card teams, which have worse records than division winners, have had so much success in the playoffs, it’s because they usually play more “must win” games during the last month of the season and through that gain valuable experience and confidence. Turns out there is a big difference between “wanting to win” and “needing to win.”

At this point of a long 2023 season, the Chicago Cubs are starting the transition in to “must win” territory. Nobody associated with the Cubs is going to admit publicly that the games they are playing this week and next are must win, but it’s a mistake if they don’t start viewing the games as such, in fact they ought to embrace the transition. As Billy Jean King is often quoted as saying, “Pressure is a privilege.” The pressure of being in “must win” mode as the calendar flips from August to September is a badge of success.

The unpredictable nature of sports mean should the Cubs make the playoffs they could win the World Series. The probability of the 2023 Cubs winning the World Series is not high, not like it was for the 2016 team. However, the experience of playing as many “must win” games as possible over the course of the final month of the season is huge! The Cubs are exactly where they hoped to be at this time of the season and now players who have not had the experience with this type of pressure gain the experience that will provide dividends for years beyond.

I was mad the Cubs were crushed by the Brewers last night because I desire the immediate gratification of winning the N.L. Central this year, but I am happy that the young Cubs players such as their current best starting pitcher, Justin Steele, are getting this experience playing these games. However, the full value of that experience will not be realized if the team, from top to bottom, doesn’t consider these games “must win.”

The 2023 MLB Season is transitioning from “would like to win” to “must win” for the Cubs, and I am looking for the team to embrace the pressure.

Cubs vs. Tigers at Comerica Park, Detroit, Michigan

The Chicago Cubs are playing the Detroit Tigers in Detroit this week, and I went to the Monday and Tuesday night games. The Cubs won 7-6 Monday night in a game when the Cubs gained and gave up a four run lead but hung on to win. The Tigers won Tuesday night 8-6, but the Cubs had a 4-3 run lead after the top of the fourth inning and then gave up 4 runs to the Tigers in the bottom of the inning. The Cubs scored 2 runs in the top of the fifth inning to pull within one run, but scored no more while the Tigers added an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth inning. As of today the Cubs record is 65-60 and they are 3.5 games behind the Brewers in the NL Central division and have the second wild card for the NL playoffs.

Highlights of the games include seeing Cody Bellinger, former NL MVP, playing for the Cubs, he will likely not re-sign with the Cubs at the end of the season. Future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera was the DH for the Tigers in Tuesday’s game, possibly his last game ever against the Chicago Cubs. Click to see the pictures I took during the games on Monday and Tuesday.

Finally, I captured a foul ball during the game on Tuesday. It was fumbled by the guy in front of me and I grabbed after it landed on the steps next to me.

Hope Is Not A Strategy

I am resigned to the fact that Chicago Cubs are not going to be a playoff team this year, which makes them sellers for the upcoming trade deadline, and it is this idea of “selling” that makes me mad. We knew that Cody Bellinger was only going to be with the Cubs for a year and if he played to any amount of his capability would be a mid season trade, so his leaving is not a problem. What I don’t want to see is the Cubs trading Marcus Stroman.

Starting pitching is the foundation of a MLB team and the Cubs have no real pitching prospects in their farm system. Every free agent pitcher not on their team that the Cubs sign is an unknown. Jameson Taillon is the most recent case in point, the Cubs didn’t really know what they were getting when they signed Taillon but they hoped he would be as good as he was in previous seasons. When you sign a player not on your team you hope they will perform as you expect, but hope is not a strategy!

Stroman has been the best Cubs pitcher the last two years. You can make the claim he is one of the best pitchers in baseball and the Cubs should know best about his health, his mental make up, and his skills. In other words, Stroman is a known asset, and when you are building a team I think general managers should bias what they know about the players on their team.

If the Cubs trade Stroman, to me that not only means this season (2023) is down the drain, it is also that they are not closer to making the playoffs in 2024. What such a trade tells me is that the Cubs continue to tread mediocrity and have no real plan for returning to the playoffs. Further, if the Cubs trade Stroman and thus are sellers at the deadline ownership must make a change in the front office and the manager. I don’t think Hoyer has any real idea how to build the team, he is just hoping to improve, and hope is not a plan.

The “buyers and sellers” phenomenon is not good for Major League Baseball. The way teams treat free agency is destroying how they build their teams and farm systems for continued success. Now, because most teams in baseball are not very good, most teams are unloading their best players mid season for prospects that might never make it to the majors or at best won’t be on their team until 3 years down the road. Every off season teams buy a bunch of free agents (basically creating new rosters every year), all who are unknowns, and hope they perform well enough to form a competitive team. Most teams find their hopes were ill conceived and they rinse and repeat.

Put it another way, nearly all MLB general managers are doing their job no differently than fantasy baseball managers. Problem is, fantasy baseball is not the real world. MLB does not build rosters based on a draft of the entire pool of available players. Right now the Cubs, and most MLB teams, are building new rosters each year from a small pool of unknowns. I am looking for leadership from the Cubs with a real plan and the funding from ownership to stick to the plan. It is looking more to me that Hoyer does not have a real plan and Ricketts has to find another person to run team who has a plan, otherwise he is no better than all prior owners of the Chicago Cubs.

Smokey Eye Not Good

I watched the Air Quality Index for my home showing on the Nest Hub creeping up all yesterday afternoon to as high as 193, due to the wildfires in Canada. Right now it is 187 and I am planning on not going on my normal walks. It’s troubling to me for it not to be raining or incredibly hot yet avoid being outdoors. Last night I watched the Cubs play in Chicago, somewhat surprised they were even playing the game with the AQI over 200. I would have expected the teams and Major League Baseball to be concerned about the health of players and the fans. As far as I know, there is no change coming soon.

We have an Airthings Wave Mini in the basement to track humidity and temperature, but it also tracks what they call Volatile Organic Compounds, which are airborne chemicals emitted by every day items. The biggest influence I see on VOC in our house is the furnace and air conditioning and the good thing is that the AC was not running as much as it could so the VOC number has stayed in the good range. VOC is not the same as Particulate Matter pollution caused by the wildfires and currently affecting the outdoor air quality, I would need a different sensor for that reading.

Generational Expectations On Time For Change

Lately I have been ruminating on generational differences in relationship to technology. Like all things, technology changes over time. I remember a time before cell phones, when the only way to make a phone call was to by using a handset in our home, but I don’t remember a time when there were no phones. Generations younger than mine do not know of a time when cell phones did not exist. Today Dave Winer writes of a similar technology change, between black and white and color television.

The differences between those who lived during “before and after” periods and “never knew anything else” periods of technology can have significant societal consequences. I think the Internet is one such case, with those who have never lived without the Internet expecting all matters related to time happening much faster than my generation and older who grew up without the Internet. The “Internet” generation will not tolerate society changes needing to take tens or hundreds of years of time (civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, etc..) to complete, they expect such change to happen in months if not days!

First Impressions Of The Google Pixel 7a

Google announced and began selling the Pixel 7a earlier last month, and I ordered a Sea colored version from Amazon about a week later. The Pixel 7a is replacing the Pixel 4a that has been my everyday carry phone for the last three years. I really like the size and feel of the Pixel 4a and so I was not eager to up-size to the newer phone, but it has come to the end of the road with Android and there are features the 7a has that make the upgrade a “no-brainer.”

My main concern about the Pixel 7a has been its size and glossy back. The Pixel 7a is taller than the Pixel 4a and because of that I find it harder to operate with one hand. The weight, however, is the most noticeable difference. I am finding that due to the weight it is more comfortable holding the phone in my left hand, but in a position where I can’t scroll apps with that same hand and as a result this phone requires more two hand operation than the Pixel 4a. The weight and size difference is also noticeable when I put the Pixel 7a in a front pant pocket. Fortunately, the size do not make these use cases impossible, just different and I suspect the difference will become less noticeable over time.

The back of the Pixel 7a is more “polished” than the Pixel 4a, but it doesn’t feel so slippery that I fear it is going to quickly slip out of my hand. I purchased a really nice Latercase that does not add much weight or bulk and gives a more matte like feel to the back of the phone.

Battery life appears to be better, but I don’t know whether that is simply because the battery is larger or the Google Tensor G2 is that much more efficient. Accubattery is showing that screen of battery consumption is at 2% or less, which is definitely better than the Pixel 4a that is closer to 3%. Battery life is an item that requires a longer duration to evaluate.

I don’t know if it is just me, but I think pictures using the wide angle lens have a bit of a fish eye affect. (See the last picture on this page for an example.) I don’t think the camera app clearly indicates how to switch between cameras.

I really like the under screen fingerprint scanner, although that may be more due to the fact that scanner is on the front of the phone rather than on the back. Now I know exactly where to put my finger and therefore the scanner works more accurately. The face unlock also works ok, but doesn’t seem to trigger fast enough. People complain about the speed of the finger print scanner, but I find it plenty fast.

As I expected, it was a real pain to move the Pixel Watch from the Pixel 4a to the 7a. Google really does not understand what is a technology ecosystem, it’s not just a suite of products that have the same appearance, it’s products that work together with little effort by the user. The fact that one has to factory reset a WearOS watch to move it from one Pixel phone to another is the clearest evidence of Google’s cluelessness when it comes to tech ecosystems. At least the Pixel Buds were automatically recognized and work.

Of the new features I get with the Pixel 7a, I like the wireless charging the best, although I am still working on how often to do the charging. I bought the Pixel Stand and have it on my desk where I could put my phone during the work day, but what is the impact on battery health from keeping the phone on the charger for extended periods of time? Articles on lithium batteries say it’s best to keep the phones between 20% to 80% charged given that each full cycle has an impact on the life time of the battery. Seems to me though that Google intends users to keep the phone on the stand, so you would think they would incorporate programming to help with the battery health.

Over all I am happy with the Pixel 7a. It’s larger than the Pixel 4a but it is the smallest Pixel, and I definitely think it is better to buy it than the cheaper and older Pixel 6a. Rumor is that the 7a may be the last of the “A Series” pixel phones, but it’s not clear exactly what that means. It could mean that Google will stop staggering the release of phones in the spring/summer and fall/winter like they have over the last several years but keep the “small, medium, and large” sizes, or it could be they drop the phone all together. Given that the Pixel 7a has nearly all the same specs as the Pixel 7, it seems the only reason one would buy the “flagship” phone is to get a larger screen. I really hope that Google keeps a phone that is no larger than 6-inches tall.

Detroit Grand Prix

I am watching the IndyCar practice of the Detroit Grand Prix, which is racing around the Renaissance Center where I worked for nearly nine years. At one time or another I’ve driven parts the entire circuit, and I made turns 4, 5, 6, and 7 nearly every week day. I am seeing them going 70 mph on stretches I wouldn’t dare drive more than 30. The pits are in a parking lot where I used to park when we first started working at that location.

As much as I disliked the 40 minute commute (on good days), I really enjoyed working at the Renaissance Center, particularly when there were events like the Super Bowl and this Grand Prix because at those times it is the center of activity.

The IndyCar car race is on Sunday at 3:45 PM, but if you have Peacock you can watch the practice and qualifying right now and Saturday.

With AI, Focus On The People

When I read something about the dangers of AI I can’t help but fear the writers are missing an important point. Saying that AI is bad is like saying the Internet is bad or guns are bad. In truth none of these items are bad. What is bad, and what we need to focus on, is that there are bad people who can and will use these items to amplify what they can do and thus inflict harm on others.

Back before the Internet was known by most of the world those who supported it advocated for all of the good it can do, but we failed to take in to account how it can be used for harm. What is common among AI, the Internet, and guns, particularly automatic guns, is the scale and speed at which harm can be done.

So, my advice is, focus a bit less on the technology and more on the ways in which people want and might use that technology for harm and then craft policies aimed at constraining the the people who may do that harm. It might be making a nuanced argument, but I think it is an important one when encountering those who see themselves as needing to defend/protect the items.

Does screen refresh really matter on smartphones?

One of the unwritten rules of tech is the idea that more is better, the purpose of which is to have us continually buy the latest generation of a product. The rule began with the model year releases of automobiles and became adopted by the tech industry. Unfortunately, we consumers don’t often enough question whether the latest features really do matter. We aren’t helped by tech reviewers who often seem to advocate more for the tech industry than consumers. An example that I am thinking about is the push for faster refresh rates on smartphones.

If you have read smartphone reviews over the last year or so you have probably been convinced that phones with 60Hz refresh screens are bad and really should be avoided. We all should be clamoring for 120Hz or at least 90Hz screens so that we get the fastest, smoothest screen scrolling. Do we, really, need smartphone screens faster than 60Hz?

Up until last week I have been using the Pixel 4a, and it’s “limited,” 60Hz screen as my daily driver. When I got the new Pixel 7a I dutifully changed the setting, as prescribed by nearly all tech reviewers, to turn on Smooth Display so that it displays at 90Hz. Every reviewer who directs one to make this change intones something to the affect, “why is Smooth Display not enabled by default?”

While I can say, yes, after turning on Smooth Display scrolling text up/down on the Pixel 7a is faster, what nobody seems to ask is, on a 6-inch display, does one really need that scrolling to be faster? I am skeptical. I am thinking we are being convinced that faster smartphone refresh rates are needed, but they really are not. Increase the size of the screen to perhaps the 11-inch standard tablet, or larger, and I can see how faster refresh can really matter, but on a 6-inch screen?

Another example, at least to me, is the “insistence” that we all need 5G wireless data on our phones. Of course, I ran a speed test using the Pixel 7a as soon as I could and observed the fact that the 86 Mbps download feature is faster than the “plain” LTE transfer speed of my Pixel 4a. Ok, but in what way am I really going to notice or even need that faster transfer speed on a smartphone with a 6-inch screen? For example, I streamed video on the Pixel 7a and it looked no better to me than on the Pixel 4a. Again, if I were on a tablet or certainly a PC then I would likely benefit by the faster transfer rate, but I doubt that 5G is really going to make difference on the Pixel 7a.

To be fair, I do gain some benefits in the upgrade from the Pixel 4a to the 7a. I am finding the front, under-screen finger print scanner is much better than the back scanner of the 4a. The camera is much better and thus I am getting better pictures. Battery life seems to be better, probably thanks to a larger battery and the Tensor G2 chip, and I am happy to finally have the convenience of wireless charging.

Truth is, we likely reached peak smartphone many years ago, therefore there are really fewer needed new features that really matter, and consequently there is a need for more marketing to get people to buy phones. If you are wondering why Google will be selling the Pixel Fold, the reason why is because the smartphone “industry” is convinced such foldables are needed in order to keep selling phones over the next ten years. (The main case for foldables is people want to carry smaller devices, but ironically that could be served by selling phones with smaller screens!) In my opinion, the only change in smartphones that we really need is in battery life, and the technical problem of gaining more battery life from the same size batteries appears to be impossible to overcome. Ironically, one way to improve battery life is to set the screen refresh to 60Hz and use slower file transfer speeds, but then we could get by with last year’s phone.

Google's Tech Ecosystem Failure

I have now replaced two Pixel phones with a newer model and each time I do I am astounded by how little Google understands technology ecosystems. Not only does Google require physically connecting the two phones together with a cable to transfer data, but to transfer a WearOS watch, like the Pixel Watch, from one phone to another you have to factory reset the watch. Seriously! Does anyone at Google ever even try moving from one generation phone to another?

Google seems to think that when one buys a new Pixel phone they are going to buy a new watch too. The factory reset of the watch would not be so bad if one could restore the watch like one can with a Pixel phone, but Google does not provide a backup of WearOS watches to their cloud.

Here is the process for one who owns a Pixel Watch paired with a Pixel 4a to replace the phone with a Pixel 7a. You transfer the SIM from the old phone to the new, then connect a USB-C cable between the 4a and the 7a to transfer your phone settings (ring tones, etc..) and SMS messages. During the transfer the icons for your apps are added to the new phone, but then all of the apps have to be installed. In many cases app settings, particularly logins, do not transfer, so after the apps install you spend a considerable amount of time going through each app to be sure it works as on the “old” phone.

Over the years I have replaced several iPads with newer models and never once have I ever had to physically connect a cable to move settings and apps between the tablets. Apple has been doing this for many years, and honestly, I do not understand why Google, with all of its technical brilliance cannot figure out how to make this process of transfering from one model Pixel phone to another as pain free as possible.

So, once you have the phone set it comes time to pair the Pixel Watch to the new phone. The process requires doing a factory reset of the watch as if you just took it out of the box, and worse, after you pair it with the new phone there is no transfer of app icons, settings, or anything. Oh, and neither the Google Play store nor the Google Watch app keep track of what apps or watch faces you install on the watch, so you have figure out what to install! Anyone at Google who does such a transfer finds this acceptable ought to be embarrased, it might be the most brain dead process of all of technology!

It’s not like nobody at Google has figured it out. Transferring the Pixel Buds Pro from the Pixel 4a to the 7a works exactly how one expects, and how transferring a watch should work. No reset, no pairing, no manual configuration, just take the buds out of the case, put them in my ear, and they just work on the new phone!

Like the Pixel Buds, the Pixel Watch is an accessory to Pixel Phones, but the WearOS, Android, and Pixel teams seem to think the Pixel Watch is a standalone device. Sure, one can buy a watch with an LTE radio and with it and the built-in GPS the watch can function apart from the phone, but honestly, most users are not buying watches with LTE radios. Even if they do, the process of using the Play Store app on the watch to find and install apps is best described as tedious.

The worst part of the WearOS apps process is that Google actually had it right the first time it released their smartwatch operating system. When Google first released a smartwatch there was no way to install apps directly on the watch, you had to use the phone, and the companion app on the phone made it easy to manage the apps to install. Back then while recovering from a factory reset did not automatically restore the watch, it at least put all the apps you had installed in one spot so that you could manually trigger the installation.

For all the progress Google has made over the years to improve Android, Pixel phones, and develop the Pixel Watch, the lack of emphasis on making the products work together seamlessly is a huge let down. Given there have been now been several iterations of Android, WearOS, and Pixel phones, there is no excuse for why the transfer process so brain dead. What I see is a lack of diligence and a willingness to accept things that are not good enough, and I have to question whether such a company unwilling to do things right ought to be trusted playing with technology such as Artificial Intelligence that could be dangerous.

Straight Jacket Voting

We frequently fall in to the trap of thinking that how things work today is how they have always worked. Take for example voting in the United States. The whole concept of an “independent voter” is driven by the fact that today one can vote for people of different parties rather than all representatives from a single party. For example, you might vote for a Democrat for President and a Republican as your Senator.

What I learned while reading The Age of Acrimony is that in the 19th century there was only straight party ballots. The ballots may have been nothing more than a card of one of two different colors. Voting was not in private, one put their colored ballot in the ballot box while everyone else was watching. Elections could and often did become violent affairs. The invention of the ballot booth, with it’s privacy curtain and the ability vote for people running for different offices rather than a party’s representatives cooled the temperature of politics. It also created the idea of the “independent” voter.

You might have noticed that the temperature of politics has definitely risen to higher temperatures over the years, highlighted by the insurrection on January 6, 2021. My theory is that the idea of voting for one’s party, no matter who is running, has become more in vogue ever since Ronald Reagan, when I think the Republican party learned during Reagan’s second term that what letter was next to the name of the candidate was more important than the actual person. The thinking is that what is most important is the party elected to office and not the person because the party’s ideology is what is most important for leading toward the desired outcome. It doesn’t matter whether the President has dementia if the decisions are really made by his handlers.

I think we will see this played out most vividly during the 2024 election. Neither Biden nor Trump are popular among Democrats or Republicans, but they will vote for either the Democrat or Republican candidate. The question will be how the so-called “independents” will vote, and that becomes more difficult when the campaigns become nothing more than don’t vote for the other crazy old person.

Politics is broken because the system is gamed towards the status quo for the benefit of those people who gain from the status quo. Today this is not only the military industrial complex, but nearly every corporation in the United States. How else can you explain why all the candidate we can seem to elect are always of the same generation? Both parties rig it so that the anointed ones are the only options, hence incumbents never are challenged from within, and the non-incumbent pool of candidates are tightly controlled.

Freedom Versus The Internet

The most dangerous affect of bans on books and teaching by government is its erosion on the culture of free speech. While the United States has the first amendment that prohibits government censorship of nearly all speech, a culture of “this is how we do it here” is more important. One way that culture is expressed is when one says, “I don’t agree with what you are saying, but I will fight for your right to say it.”

This article does a great job of explaining why free speech, and thus the freedom of expression of ideas, is so important to liberty and progress. One thing the article does not address is the consequences of time. The time it took for the national mind to change its views on smoking and gay rights was long, and in today’s Internet time, most will now say too long.

What happens in a society when more citizens lived after the Internet and the compression of time that it creates? I think you see this being played out right now with the issue of trans rights, many will not tolerate change taking as long as gay rights did because the have always lived in a world of instant gratification thanks to the Internet.

I think the current tug of war between nearly all dualism is become so intense due to the Internet’s affect on the expectations of change. Half of society demands fast change, the other half prefers slower change and sees the only way to achieve it is by digging in their heels so they can be comfortable. The extremes demand an all or nothing approach, either all change right now, or no change now or maybe never. Both sides are so obsessed with the outcome they cannot see the consequences of the fight.

R.I.P. Computer Magazine

Ironically, I read about the last print publication of Maximum PC and MacLife via RSS and the web, which long ago for me replaced computer magazines. Harry McCracken writes something like an obituary for the computer magazine.

Last week my wife told me the amazing news of a new brick and mortar book store opening within a mile of our house. The news brought back memories of spending hours in Borders and Barnes and Noble, both which were within a mile of our house and long since gone. (Sadly the Barnes and Noble building still sits empty more than a decade after it closed.) One of the main things I did in these stores was thumb through, and often buy, computer magazines, sometimes I would just read them while sitting in their cafe.

At one time I payed for subscriptions to several magazines, but over time as the web grew, there was little point in buying them. The web, and more specifically my blogs, even enabled me to live out the fantasy of being a writer like Jerry Pournelle.

And, so the excitement of the news about the new book store near me faded fast. Why would I shop there? Today I only buy ebooks and I get my computing news and do product research online. I know for many the medium is the message, and I truly hope there are enough such people living near me to keep the new book store open. Yes, I spent many hours browsing book stores and reading magazines but I’ve never once missed the glossy print magazines nor the heft of Computer Shopper.

Googe Nest Hub Disappoints

The Google Nest Hub is frustrating to use because I want to use it as an Android display, as I think I should, but instead it only provides a very narrow set of functions. The most obvious use for me is displaying a local weather radar, which is useful during weather events. A simple way Google could provide this is by enabling Radarscope to run on it.

Today there is an ice storm moving through my area. An option I found is a Michigan weather live stream on YouTube, which I figured I could view on the Nest Hub because it has a YouTube app. Problem is, the YouTube app on the Nest Hub only displays a list of Recommended videos and does not provide me away to select a specific video on YouTube that I can watch. How come Google didn’t provide the FULL YouTube app on the Nest Hub.

I can cast the video from my Pixel 4a to the Nest Hub, but it does not make sense to me that I should have to. I couldn’t even get Google Assistant to display the video I want. some reason why I asked it to display a video from YouTube it wants to cast it to my TV rather than on the display itself!

Updating My Now Page

In 2015 Derek Sivers proposed the idea of sharing one’s status by creating a /now page off of one’s web site. The intent of the page is simply sharing what one is doing. The idea caught on and today many sites, some more current than others, have a now page.

I decided to create and maintain my /now page using Dave Winer’s Little Outliner because I felt it was a good editor for this type of writing, and it worked particularly well with another piece of software by Dave called pagePark. PagePark is a HTTP server that renders the OPML files that Little Outliner creates into HTML. Dave hosts an instance of pagePark that is integrated with Little Outliner such that as soon as an outline is saved, the HTML version of that outline is nearly instantly available. Consequently, the process of editing and publishing changes to my /now page was as simple and quick as loading Little Outliner and writing. Low friction increases the possibility of keeping the page current.

Connecting my /now page to my blog was straightforward because the hosting provider makes it easy to create pages that redirect to other pages. Therefore, when you type https://frankmcpherson.blog/now you end up at my /now page. I took the idea of the page redirect off my blog a step further by purchasing a domain, frankm.info, that I configured to forward to the site. If anyone asked me online, what am I doing, I can tell them to simply go to frankm.info to find out.

Over time I expanded beyond the single /now page to add pages that listed the technology that I use and the books that I have read, each with their own alias URL. Using a forwarding URL enables me to move the actual location of the files, update the forwarding destination in DNS, and instances of the alias URL that I have in my writing will point to the current location.

Since the time that I set all this up using Little Outliner, Dave created a new “version” of it called Drummer. I’ve used Drummer since its beginning and always knew that it would some day replace Little Outliner. I didn’t move my informational outlines to Drummer until recently when Twitter made changes to its API that Dave has been using for user identity management and login. Dave announced he would be updating Drummer with a new login process and also move access of it to HTTPS. He stated he did not intend to make changes to Little Outliner, and advised anyone using it to move to Drummer as soon as possible, and at that time I migrated my files over so that I can edit them in Drummer, and I updated the alias URLs accordingly.

Dave had to make the changes quickly because Twitter had not stated a clear deadline by which it would cut off access to its API, and that means prioritizing what he works on first. For example, the blogging capability Drummer provides currently does not work. I am sure that capability will be restored, and Dave will get to it when he gets to it. The “publishing” of OPML files via an instance of pagePark is also lower on the list. Consequently, I started thinking about what I can do to restore my ability to publish updates to my /now page.

One option was to stop using Drummer to edit these pages, but that would create a lot of work moving the content and formattting it. The option that I took was to build my own instance of pagePark. First I tried using an instance of pagePark that I built under a free account at Render. Render only allows HTTPS access and the free account takes the site offline after 30 minutes. When you request the site, it’s brought online but there is a noticable delay. Consequently, I built a new virtual machine using free resources provided by Oracle Cloud Infrastructure.

I’ve updated my projects outline with the details about how I set this up, it was pretty straightforward after I figured out how to get around firewall issues. What I have is not integrated with Drummer, so there is now a publishing step that involves downloading the files to my computer and syncing them to my instance of pagePark. I can edit at any time with any computer, but publishing is restricted to few computers I’ve set up.

Right now access to these pages is only via HTTP. I’ve looked at the page source for Drummer to see how Dave has changed the includes and I think I should be able to edit the templates pagePark uses with the right form of those includes to eliminate the mixed content errors. I intend to use the instance of pagePark I have on Render to test that work when I have time. If I get access to these files working on Render I will then have to decided how to handle the SSL certificates if I move off Render, which I would probably do by using Caddy.

Look In The Mirror, There Is a Gun In Your Hands

If one is a child, a teenager, a college student in the United States, aware of the realities of the society that they currently live in, how can you possibily conclude anything other than the fact that the generations older, now Millenials through Baby Boomers, don’t care about them at all? It’s seems we have all forgotten the desire for providing our children a better life than our own. Better should be safer. Instead we do absolutely nothing.

I am Gen-X, and to my recollection the last time enough people in power were shocked enough by a shooting was in 1993 when the Brady Bill was passed. Looking back from today, it seems that only the attempted murder of an old white man who happens to be President lead to action. Not murders of elementary, high school, and college students.

I see people of my generation ripping on younger generations as “entitled” and “lazy” and don’t seem to really care why. Might it be that in the United States the probability of a kindergartener experiencing an in-school shooting before graduating high school is greater than zero? I don’t know this is a fact, but I know it’s true, but the fact is that truth does not piss off enough people to take action.

Parents and grandparents need to stop convincing themselves their child will never face a shooting. It’s time to stop numbing ourselves hoping that it will never happen. It’s time to face the reality that it will happen, to your child, someone you love, maybe tomorrow.

Writing Microblog Posts Using Drummer

The three posts below were intended to be part of one post. I wrote them using Drummer, forgetting that the publish script I use treats each node as a separate post.

I suspect if I want everything in one post I need to write them as a child of a parent node in Drummer. This is a quick test. Confirmed.

United States Empire

Dave is pointing out the relationship between the United States paying its bills, the value of the U.S. dollar as the the world’s reserve currency, and how that all translates to life as we know it in the United States. What Dave does not point out is that the the U.S. dollar being the world’s reserve currency is a fundamental part of the United States Empire. It’s how we can punish other nations like Russia and Iran with “economic” sanctions or why cutting Russia off from SWIFT (which is the network that all banks, including national banks use to move money around) is in fact punishing.

While (like the Roman empire) we have built U.S. Armed forces bases all around the world, U.S. citizens, let alone the world, will not accept frequent military intervention, so the bases are mostly for show of power and rapid deployment capability. Consequently, the economic tools, like the reserve currency, are the tools of choice that we use to flex U.S. might.

I think most nations know exactly how the U.S. uses the reserve currency status to imposes its will upon them and that is why some of them are considering using something other than the dollar. The U.S. missing payment on its bills will provide good reason for the nations to pull the trigger and that could start the fall of the U.S. empire. If this happens we will find out quickly just how much our way of life has grown to depend on empire.

P.S. The United States is the only country in the world to have dropped nuclear weapons on another country. The fact that we were willing then to do such a thing and the fact that we use our economic muscle to enforce our empire makes us the bad guys for most of the world. The good life we enjoy keeps us from seeing our shadow self.