This Baseball Thing Might Catch on, Thanks to Mookie Betts 

Friday, November 16th, 2018

Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts is very, very good. Yesterday, he finished off a World Series championship season (go Sox!) by winning a much-deserved MVP award. Grant Brisbee broke it down.

If you’re fan of baseball, or even just a fan of drama, do yourself the favor of taking a few minutes to watch Mookie Betts’ incredible at-bat from a game back on July 12th. The Sox had won 9 straight at the time, but were losing to the Toronto Blue Jays 2-1 in the 4th. Mookie came up with the two outs, but the bases loaded. 13 pitches later, the situation was quite different.

The whole thing is worth a watch in real-time, and I love so much about it. Color commentator Dennis Eckersley’s urging that it was “time to party” set a tone for the rest of the season. Mookie’s’ jubilation when he finally connected is deeply human, as is the fact the he almost tripped while starting his well-earned trip around the bases. Even Eck’s simple home run call of “Yaaaaaaaay!” is perfect. Seriously, just watch, and enjoy a smile.

Lousy Emoji Suggestions

Thursday, November 15th, 2018

Since 2016’s release iOS 10, the Messages app on the iPhone has been able to make suggestions to replace text with emoji.


Emoji suggestions for “Happy”, “Sad”, and “Dog”

These are all perfectly cromulent suggestions, and this is a vaguely useful feature, or at least a vaguely enjoyable one. However, I recently noticed that iOS was giving some very flawed suggestions. It started, as these things so often do, with the word “squirrel”.

When typing the word “squirrel”, iOS suggests this:

Upon spotting this, I initially thought “that’s not a squirrel, it’s a chipmunk”. And indeed, a bit of research showed me that the official Unicode 7.0 spec lists the character in question (U+1F43F) as “CHIPMUNK”. Despite that fact, iOS is treating it as interchangeable with the word “squirrel”, which seems flat-out wrong.

Now you can call me old-fashioned, but before leaning in to my outrage, I wanted to be sure of my facts. While the tremendously common Eastern gray squirrel is monochromatic, I had to consider the possibility that some squirrels may indeed have stripes. It turns out that’s the case, and there are indeed ground squirrels that have stripes. Here’s a comparison provided by NatureMapping:

At a glance, it seems obvious that the chipmunk emoji could also substitute for the golden-mantled ground squirrel. However! The aforelinked page informs us that while chipmunks and ground squirrels are both striped, ground squirrels “look similar to chipmunks, but do not have stripes on the head”. Let’s take a closer look at the 🐿️ emoji in question. Enhance:

Enhance…

Enhance!

Oo, that’s a bingo! We’ve got head stripes, which means that’s a chipmunk, not a squirrel. Come on, Apple. Until we get a proper squirrel emoji, you simply need to not suggest any replacement for that word.

When I first spotted this, I thought it was just an amusing one-off. However, it wasn’t long before I saw another problem. While typing the word “sluggish”, I got this suggestion:

OK, come on! Even at the tiniest size, it’s clear that that is a snail, with a massive shell. That’s the biggest difference between a slug and a snail! Here’s the very first paragraph from the Wikipedia entry for slug:

Slug, or land slug, is a common name for any apparently shell-less terrestrial gastropod mollusc. The word slug is also often used as part of the common name of any gastropod mollusc that has no shell, a very reduced shell, or only a small internal shell, particularly sea slugs and semislugs (this is in contrast to the common name snail, which applies to gastropods that have a coiled shell large enough that the animal can fully retract its soft parts into the shell).

That makes at least two cases where Apple’s emoji suggest feature is missing the mark. The emoji set is of course incomplete, and always will be. But as it gets larger and more specific, it becomes ever more ridiculous to suggest we substitute in entirely different animals. We all look like idiots here, Apple.

Still, at least we don’t look as ridiculous as this emoji snail. Snails are weird, man.

Not Safe For Work, Except if This Is Your Work 

Wednesday, November 14th, 2018

When machine learning is combined with massive amounts of data, computers can be taught to do tasks better than humans can. To give just one example, computers have learned to detect lung cancer more accurately than doctors.

Engineers at the center have taught a computer how to detect tiny specks of lung cancer in CT scans, which radiologists often have a difficult time identifying. The artificial intelligence system is about 95 percent accurate, compared to 65 percent when done by human eyes, the team said.

That’s all very impressive. This is also a worthwhile use of machine learning.

No Spoilers, Please 

Tuesday, November 13th, 2018

If Antarctica isn’t safe from attempted murder, then truly, no place is safe.

What Do You Want, a Medal or a Cookie?

Monday, November 12th, 2018

I’ve ripped on Potbelly’s before, but I still enjoy both good sandwiches and a good deal. As such, I remain on their mailing list, and so it was that I received this absurd mailing yesterday:

A free cookie for military veterans seems like an alright promotion, and that’s a nice big cookie too. But they really spoiled the whole thing with that subject line:

  • Vets, we can’t repay you, but how about a free cookie?

“We know you sacrificed years of your life for the good of the country, and that you may be suffering from wounds both visible and invisible. Hey, have a cookie, on us!”

It’s as if they realized they needed to acknowledge how utterly insufficient this gesture is, but only wound up making the whole thing worse. Maybe next time, just skip it entirely.

It’s Hard to Figure 

Friday, November 9th, 2018

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why Woody Harrelson would be the celebrity “ceremonial starter” at the World Chess Championship. It went about as well as you’d expect.

Sadspirational 

Thursday, November 8th, 2018

In his not-as-short-as-the-numbers-indicate-it-should-be NFL career, Nathan Peterman has thrown three touchdown passes. He has also thrown three pick-six interceptions, that is, interceptions where the defense caught the ball and ran it back for a touchdown. In total, he’s thrown the ball 130 times, and 12 times, his opponents have caught it. In short, he is not doing well, but the Buffalo Bills keep running him out there. Perhaps it’s inspiring?

Under Pressure 

Wednesday, November 7th, 2018

I recently stumbled on an article from a few months back detailing the fascinating lives of saturation divers. This job seems intriguing and also completely terrible.

Who Wants Children on Demand? 

Tuesday, November 6th, 2018

For several years now, “Uber for X” has been a shorthand way to describe many different nascent companies which provide on-demand services. Instacart is like “Uber for groceries”. Wag is like “Uber for dogwalking”. Given that, this recent Boston Globe headline is a bit confusing:

  • These new companies are like Uber or Lyft for kids

Sheprd is1 actually a service providing ride-sharing services to children (Uber requires passengers traveling alone to be at least 18), but you might not know it from that headline.


Footnotes:

  1. Was, actually. Unfortunately, whether you want safe rides for your children, or children brought to you on-demand, you’re out of luck. Sheprd is no more. ↩︎

Rat Lungworm Sounds Like a Bad Way to Go 

Monday, November 5th, 2018

Add slugs to the list of things in Australia that’ll kill you.