Friday, October 30, 2020

Musings on Facebook

Facebook is going to cancel their notes feature, which is where some of you read these postings of mine. The 250 or so notes I have posted here will remain, but if I want to post my writing on Facebook in the future, I'll have to copy them into Facebook posts ("What's on your mind, Rick?"), or post a link to my BLOG.

This update from Facebook had me thinking about how different things were before Facebook. Back then, in order for people to share their thoughts they'd have to post on specialty websites, or post on pre-browser communities like email lists, IRC or even USENET. In the end, the mass audience ended up on Facebook. And everyone wants the audience.

Mark Zuckerberg succeeded in making the web a lot more relatable, by creating a platform that was so easy to use that practically everyone I know in my immediate and extended family is on it. I was naive back in the 1990s, thinking that everyone would have their own websites, and people would largely communicate by email or through links.

I remember a co-worker in the early 2000s complaining that he'd have to get on Facebook eventually, because he kept missing out on party invitations. I did a quick check and sure enough he's on Facebook. Eventually, people succumb to the network effect: the more people on a network, the more useful the network. Facebook has become a mandatory online destination.

I do admire people who have managed to stay off of Facebook, despite its wide reach. One of my favorite pieces of writing is Steve Pavlina's 30-day Facebook fast. It's worth reading for its reminder that Facebook isn't everything: cultivate and cherish your real relationships, your real experiences.

All that said, I'm still on Facebook, perhaps now a bit more begrudgingly.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

COVID-19: Getting Tested

I had a colonoscopy this month. My original appointment was for April, but a few weeks before the gastroenterologist's office called me and said they'd need to postpone. Many doctors at that time stopped performing non-emergency procedures to help flatten the rising curve of COVID-19 cases.

Fast forward to September, and the gastroenterologist office said that before I could come in for my rescheduled appointment I'd need to have a COVID-19 test, with a negative result. The testing office called me separately and scheduled an appointment for a few days before the colonoscopy. "It's at a drive-thru facility. You won't even need to leave your car."

The day of the COVID-19 test, I drove to a medical building in North Cambridge, and pulled into its garage. The "facility" was a folding table and a few rolling storage cabinets by a side door. There were signs that indicated I was in the right place however. A technician signaled to me, and he walked over to my car.

The tech confirmed my identification. He then put on some gloves, pulled out a labeled test tube from his smock, and broke the seal on what looked like a small cotton swab. I had heard that some tests just need to scrape a sample from my mouth, or just the first 1 or 2 centimeters of a nostril. The way he was holding the swab, I thought it was going to be the latter.

"I'm going to insert this into your left nostril, and twist it around for 10 seconds," he told me. "Now, if you could look to your right at those trees in the distance." I did as I was told, and then he proceeded to insert the swab. Suddenly, it seemed to telescope to about 10 inches because I felt it reaching and probing all the way to the back of my left eyeball.

I didn't dare look at the tech. He started counting down from 10, twisting the swab with each number. It was a very uncomfortable process, and I was glad when he pulled the swab out. My nasal passages and left nostril felt irritated when it was all over. It took 3 to 4 hours before my head finally felt normal.

A few days later, I got an email from the testing facility. Negative. A mild relief. I kept thinking that for my next invasive procedure, the colonoscopy, I would be blissfully sedated.

AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias

Monday, August 31, 2020

Sunday Driver

Of late, I've been taking long meandering car drives over the weekend.

In the lazy part of the afternoon, I'll jump into my car and start driving. No GPS, no set plan. I only decide what direction, then I take a highway and take an exit. I generally drive lost until I can find a familiar highway exit.

We moved earlier in the year, so these drives are helping me become more familiar with the area. I know all the nearby towns and cities by name: Billerica, Carlise, Bedford, Chelmsford, Woburn, and Reading. Driving through them is another matter.

GPS has made all of us expert navigators, but we shouldn't fool ourselves. We've become good at following a computerized navigator but our sense of direction, our sense of orientation is fading. GPS inhibits our ability to develop our sense of direction.

The GPS in my pocket (in the form of my smart phone) is a lifeline, but I resist it so that I can practice dealing with uncertainty. I am rewarded when I see the same landmark from previous trip, perhaps coming from another direction, and I feel my internal map becoming larger. More and more of the surrounding area is becoming familiar.

It's my afternoon adventure these days, but it's hardly strenuous. I'm not in the wilderness after all. If I get really lost, or if I truly uncertain which direction to take, I'll use that lifeline. Often I'll find I was near some place I already knew!

Friday, July 31, 2020

Coffee and Bananas

A few weeks or months ago (it's hard to tell during these COVID times), I forgot to eat my banana at lunch, so I decided to eat it with my afternoon cup of coffee.

Before COVID, I pack my fruit with my lunch, so I don't forget to eat it. An hour or so after lunch, I grab an afternoon coffee (usually decaf). I usually sip it alone but if I'm lucky, I'll enjoy it with a piece of candy or dessert leftover from some earlier meeting. Yes, I miss corporate America.

I did not set out to experiment combining my banana with my coffee. I was going to eat the banana first while letting my coffee cool. But somehow I started sipping my coffee as I was munching on my banana. This is what passes for crazy at my age, but guess what? The flavors work great together!

My taste buds perked up, as the coffee blended with the banana. It was a distinct flavor pairing, one that I can't remember ever experiencing. The coffee's boldness matched up with the sweetness of the banana. One wouldn't confuse a banana with a piece of cake, but the pairing made sense. Banana is nature's dessert.

I didn't dip my banana in the coffee, although I considered it. I refrained because I would never do the same with cake! Coffee and banana, like coffee and cake, are best when they're taking turns. Sip of coffee. Bite of banana. Maybe two bites of banana, if the coffee is still overly hot. You get the picture.

Enjoy this, Internet!


Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Covering #BlackLivesMatter

This past month I tweeted out four song covers honoring #BlackLivesMatter. Here are some notes from each song.

"Wake Up" performed by Brass Against with Sophia Urista (original: Rage Against the Machine). This great song is a warning and wake up call for those agitating for change. The cover goes toe-to-toe with the original. Lots of credit goes to all those brass instruments, but especially to the charismatic singer who punches the chorus in an eloquent scream.

"41 Shots" performed by Living Colour (original: Bruce Springsteen). This is a song Springsteen wrote about the 1999 shooting of Amadou Diallo in New York City. The police union there decried the song at the time, with some reporting suggesting they hadn't even heard it. Bruce's version is a fine example of his unquestioned relevance, but Living Colour's version is sad, spare, and powerfully personal.

"Blackbird" performed by Alicia Keyes (original: The Beatles). Paul McCartney, who sang the original, has said this song about a black bird with a broken wing is about the American Civil Rights movement. The imagery from the lyrics suggest a rising up from something that hasn't done so before. McCartney's version is spare. Ms. Keyes' version is more soaring, giving air under those wings, willing it to fly.

"Southern Man" performed by Merry Clayton (original: Neil Young). There's no mistaking Neil Young's lyrics above that brooding beat and crackling guitar solo: "Southern Man, when will you pay them back?" Merry's version feels hipper but no less serious. She's demanding respect with her delivery. Neil's version is an outsider's scold, Merry's is a fervent demand.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead

Since early April I've been playing the video game Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead. It's a roguelike, the kind of ASCII-oriented game that first appeared on computers from the mid 1980s. Those original games normally present dragons in dungeons, but Cataclysm dishes out zombies in a post-apocalyptic New England.

You control a character who finds him or herself at the start of this terrible future. You have to avoid zombies and mutated animals. You have to find food and shelter, and then make or find weapons to protect yourself. Your character has to navigate a harsh landscape to the refugee camp, and it's difficult to find working vehicles.
The game has very primitive graphics. I use a setting where small icons represent the objects in the game. Since nothing in drawn, the imagery takes place in my mind. It's been quite a while since a video game captured my imagination like this one.
I'm drawn to the detailed survival scenarios. I'm drawn to zombie combat. But I'm also drawn to the permanent death of my characters. Once they die, that's the end of them, and all that they've learned and achieved. I've had lots of characters die on me the last few weeks. The game fits my mood these days.
Check out my reinvigorated Twitch channel to watch me play the game! And stay safe out in the Cataclysm.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

COVID-19: Handouts

When I was a high school kid on a family trip, we were at a rest stop getting gas when a couple came up to our van and approached my Dad. I overheard them saying that they were out of money, and asked if we could spare them a few dollars. I don't know what my Dad said, but I remember they left without anything.

In my diary entry for that moment, I wrote "We could've [helped] but could we trust them?" Was I always this cynical? I grew up in a city so I have seen the homeless and the destitute up close. Perhaps at a rest stop with other tourists was the last place I expected to be reminded of those down and out.

I think about this in light of the news that 22 million people have filed for unemployment benefits over the past few weeks due to COVID-19. The graph is remarkable: a flat line representing decades of 'normal' unemployment (hundreds of thousands jobless), and then a massive spike: 22 million people suddenly jobless. I have this image of hundreds of people coming up to me, holding out their hand.

The United States is one of the richest countries in the world, yet there have always been people holding out their hands. And now COVID-19 makes it much more so. Do I trust their motives now? With normal economic life shut down, I rue the fact that our economy is based on competition. Even though I'm not losing, I certainly don't feel like I'm winning.

Graph from Vox.