Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Song: Starless (King Crimson)

Earlier in the month, I went to see "Children of Men" at the Brattle Theater in Harvard Square. I love this movie and in preparation for the rewatch, I listened to its sound track. One of the songs is "In the Court of the Crimson King" by the band King Crimson. This song got me listening to some of the band's other songs. I eventually stumbled on "Starless."

This song is so incredible, so good. It's a track that is a bit over 12 minutes, so give yourself time to enjoy its epicness. The song features a build up of tension that is exquisitely released in the song's closing seconds. The foreboding bass, the funky mellotron, and the dark lyrics ("Starless and bible black!") make the song mysterious yet alluring.

When I like a song like this, I'll often go to YouTube to find covers. My favorite one is a music school's production from 2018. It was for their "Prog Rock" show. Prog rock does away with verse-chorus-verse and instead embraces complexity and multiple sections. Kind of like metal, I think.

I was happy to learn of this song, and amazed that it's been around since 1974. I like to think this song would have captured my attention when I was younger. Who knows? All I know is that old music can be new music if you are willing to open your ears.

King Crimson (Red)


Sunday, March 31, 2024

COVID-19: Paxlovid

COVID-19 finally caught up with me last weekend. I woke up feeling sore and weak and achy. I had a mild fever. I was going to start a juice and rest routine when I thought: could this be COVID? Sure enough, I saw my first positive test result. My wife encouraged me to call the doctor to see if I could be prescribed Paxlovid, the antiviral medication for COVID-19.

The next morning, a Monday, I learned that Massachusetts has a free telehealth "clinic" that can determine if Paxlovid would help. I logged into the website, answered some questions, then waited for an online call. Within a half-hour I was talking to a Family Nurse Practitioner. She briefly discussed my answers, declared that Paxlovid would help, and confirmed my closest pharmacy. I had a box of Paxlovid within an hour. (Thanks to insurance, this was $25.)

I took the pills right away. Within a few hours, my soreness and achiness went away. I felt a bit better though my fever persisted. The next day, my fever began to subside. By day three I was feeling about 70-80% normal. This medicine felt like a modern miracle. The only side effect I experienced was a metallic taste in my mouth. Drinking water and taking cough drops helped with this.

The world has moved on from the state of high alert regarding COVID. By now I know maybe 6-12 people that got sick with COVID. During the early months of the pandemic, most just rested and let the virus run its course.  It's only in the past year did I start to hear about effective antiviral drugs. I have a feeling taking Paxlovid early in my illness helped with its efficacy.

This whole week I stayed home, though state guidelines suggest I could have returned to my office to work as early as Day 4 of my five-day Paxlovid regimen. For at least another week I'll be wearing a mask and carefully monitoring for a rebound (something that does occur with people who take this medicine). I highly recommend Paxlovid if you get sick with COVID. It's fast and effective.


Thursday, February 29, 2024

Unlit Stall Thoughts

A few weeks ago I was in a bathroom stall at work, playing some Freecell, passing a little time and a little gas. Not much else though. Suddenly, the lights went out. 

After that split-second of low-grade confusion, I realized that I was the only person in the bathroom, and the facility's motion detector must have shut off the lights when it didn't detect anyone moving. I certainly wasn't doing much moving (in more ways than one).

My thoughts went towards how you might add sensors in the stalls or even the toilets. Those sensors could communicate to the lights that there were people inside who couldn't move but were nonetheless present. It could do double-duty by tracking stall usage.

But then my thoughts went towards the ancient times. How did people go to the bathroom at night before there were lights? Did they just stumble around their unlit homes? Did they fire up a candle? What about prehistoric times? Did people just wake up in the night then wander nearby to relieve themselves? They would likely be concerned about predators.

My thoughts finally settled back towards mid-2021, back to when COVID was starting to fade away. Nearly four years later, my office building is a small fraction of its former population. How long before someone else walks into this bathroom? I waved my arms, but that didn't trigger the lights. 

Just as I started to think practically about finishing up in the dark, someone else walked in. The lights came on. I thought about how this person might have calculated he had the whole bathroom to himself, but then  realized another person was here, sitting in the dark. He went into anoter stall, and then I made my way out, into the light.

Bathroom from Post

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

My 2023 Books and Movies

In 2023, I read 25 books (LibraryThing) and watched 66 movies (Letterboxd) (24 were rewatches).

My favorite book: Solito. I won't ever forget the gentle bravery of the little boy in this immigration story. Another favorite that I read in that same month was Dave Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Its maximalist style jumps off the page and I greatly enjoyed it.

My favorite movie: The Holdovers. I so loved the sweet sadness of this movie. The fact that some of the movie takes in place in Boston only adds to it. Other new movies from last year that I liked: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,  and No Hard Feelings.

Some books I read in 2023

Sunday, December 31, 2023

Welcoming the New Year with AI

I asked ChatGPT to write my monthly essay a few weeks ago. I first asked if it could write an essay, and it replied "Please provide me a topic or a prompt and I'll be happy to generate a 400-word essay for you." How about that? It would be happy. My prompt: "Wrapping up the old year and welcoming the new year."

The words poured out of the ChatGPT window quickly and assuredly. Put it this way: it "generated" 400 words faster than it took me to write the title to this post. The essay it generated had this opening sentence: As the final days of the year unfold, it is a natural inclination for individuals to engage in reflection, taking stock of the events that transpired over the past twelve months. (To see the rest, click here.)

This essay request is my latest foray with AI. Earlier in the year an old friend asked if I was up to date on AI, and I sheepishly admitted that I was not. I was in the camp of being against it, though I was curious about its recent hype. In the Summer, after a co-worker expressed great enthusiasm for it, I finally logged into Bard and gave it a spin.

I first used AI for looking up technical details I would normally search with Google. LMGTFY is a meme after all! The AI robots have a very confident presentation in their answers. When I type their code or commands in, most of the time their excerpts work! Of course, when they don't work I have to scroll through Google results or use my brain.

Writing essays and doing drawings was something I knew AI could do. I liked what the AI produced for me, but it ended its essay with this sentence: In conclusion, wrapping up the old year and welcoming the new year is a profound and universal experience that unites humanity in reflection and anticipation.

I didn't like the phrase "In conclusion". Too stuffy! Also, it was a bit repetitive. The more I read the essay, the more I found it sterile, and lacking in personality. I like to think that a regular reader of my writing would be able to tell if I decided to replace my writing with an AI's writing. 

What I liked though were the AI's ideas. I liked its conclusion that the year end is not just a "temporal event", but merely a step in our "continuous journey" of growth. I agree with it. I know that the AI is not thinking these ideas, but one day when it does start thinking and writing on its own, I'd prompt it to give me another draft!


Thursday, November 30, 2023

Ads and Ad Blockers

I don't use any ad blockers on my devices. I'm not a fan of advertising, but I have a grudging belief that advertising pays for content. I think about old media like newspapers, television and radio. Consumers of this media endured ads because they were getting something of value: news, entertainment, new music. Ads and content were locked together.

It's hard to justify this position with our new media options today. I can get news from an X (formerly Twitter) timeline, entertainment from TikTok and new music from Spotify. At best, ads get in the way, and at worst they're intrusive. For new media, it turns out you can separate ads from content. I then remind myself that ads provide the funds for the media platform and their creators.

Old media consumers could be considered a passive audience. We just turn to our newspaper, or TV, or radio, and have content instantly available. New media consumers are a more active audience. New media involves establishing a subscription, and perhaps a new device.

The old media audience understood there was no practical way to block out ads. The most you can do is lower the volume on the TV or radio when the ads come on. That's what I do. The new media audience have easy ways to stop most ads, but it involves action: installing a plugin, setting up a Pi Hole, etc.

In the end, it's a software battle: consumer ad blocker software versus media platform servers. Is your ad blocker adept enough to prevent an ad from pre-rolling on Netflix? Or a major news website? It's pretty clear which group has more money.

The new media adage is "if you're getting something for free, you're likely the product." Whenever I'm scrolling through Facebook or TikTok, I'm aware that ads pay for the content and for my (brief) attention. I can only hope they're good ads!


Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Doodling and Drawing

The greatest video on YouTube to me is Jeremiah's "A Conversation with my 12 Year Old Self". It is funny and witty and always makes me laugh. It's been on the Internet for 11+ years and it's an easy favorite.

There is a part in the video where the older present-day Jeremiah asks "What were you doing before you made this video?" and young Jeremiah gives an answer that completely pauses the older Jeremiah. The young Jeremiah was drawing! He shows a picture of a funny looking rabbit, and the older Jeremiah is stunned. It's a perfect moment, in a video that is full of perfect moments. 

Not long after rewatching this I found myself doodling more at work. It's the perfect thing to do during long remote meetings when you're not speaking! Like the young Jeremiah, the young version of myself liked drawing. A long-ago friend helped spur my interest by bringing over a copy of "Draw Comics the Marvel Way" and from that I learned how to draw grimacing faces and action poses.

Like all childhood things, doodling and drawing somehow faded away. But I never really forgot them. When we moved out of our house I found in the basement an old notebook of those long-ago "Action Comics" that I drew "the Marvel Way". The story was about a hard-edged secret agent named Clint Cad. It's a remarkable time capsule!

Like all childhood things, it's fun to take it up again. Drawing, like making music, or writing, or crafting, feeds our creative nature. And while there's an analytical side that gets frustrated at every imperfection, I have been channeling the advice that perfection isn't the goal. Instead, it's about the process and being in a different headspace.

Since I spend my entire working day exercising my analytical nature, it's fun to let my mind engage in something so different and creative. I'm glad it's reentered my life and I'll keep going with this for as long as I can.