Over at Kottke.org, Tim Carmody writes about two perspectives on COVID-19, Rachel Maddow’s experience caring for her partner, who has the virus, and Farhad Manjoo’s article in the New York Times about doing the calculations around whether he should go to visit his family for Thanksgiving or not based on his contact bubble. He does an excellent job of summing up both perspectives, so just hop over there to read it—it’s worth the time.
But it was his summation of the whole thing that stuck with me; he’s a much better writer than I will ever be and this final thought sums up how I’ve been feeling this whole time:
We do not know who to trust. We have no money, no help, and no plan but to wait. We have no sense of what rules our friends and neighbors, colleagues and workers, are following when they’re not in our sight; we don’t even know what practices they would even admit to embracing. We have no money; we have no help. We are left on our own, adrift in deep space, scribbling maps and adding sums on the back of a napkin. We are all in this together, yet we are completely alone.
I haven’t really had much to write about around here other than small updates on lots of little projects.
- I’ve been working nonstop this week on a report at work that will be released both as a print and digital product; the process demands a completely new workflow which has been an uphill climb to learn and a series of trial-and-error attempts to get things right. When it’s done it will be an exciting launch, but it’s taken a lot of late nights to get this far.
- We’re still waiting on grout for the kitchen tile. I bought some “white” grout at the Home Depot and tried it on a test sample, and it dried more gray than white. There’s another color, called “avalanche” which looks whiter than white that I’d like to try next.
- I cleaned out the greenhouse last weekend, pulling all of the rest of the tomato plants out and consolidating the tubs. All of the yard furniture went inside with the last rain barrel, and I reinstalled the panel on the back wall. I’m sad to see it all buttoned up for the winter, but I’m already thinking ahead to next spring.
- Walking the dog last week, I passed by a house that’s been on the market for several weeks and noticed the owners were moving a bunch of stuff out to the curb under giant FREE signs. Always interested in FREE stuff, I bypassed a charcoal grill, several shelves, old office chairs, water jugs and other assorted stuff and focused in on a Dewalt tool case containing a corded drill in excellent shape; I then juggled that, my coffee, and the dog all the way home. I headed back in the Scout to see if I could score one of the shelves to use in the greenhouse. While I was loading that into the truck, the owner asked me if I was interested in a ladder. Sure, I said, immediately thinking of Glenn, who could use a ladder of his own. He showed me to a 20′ aluminum ladder in excellent shape, so I threw it in the truck and texted Glenn. He’d borrowed one of my ladders to pull his shutters off before having their house painted, so we swapped ladders later that day. I’m always looking out for stuff like that, and when I can find things for family, it’s that much better.
- We had an electrician come in and hook up the heater in the new bathroom, after a year of waiting in vain for my neighbor to come back over and finish it. That job went pretty quickly and as a result I had him come back out to put a switch and mount in for a ceiling fan in on the porch. He was smart and jumped a wire from the lighted doctor sign on the front of the house; it took a little longer than he was expecting but it’s all ready for a fan we haven’t bought yet. I’ve got a bunch of patching I need to do on the drywall out there because he had to cut a hole around the switch and up at the top of the wall to get through the sill plate.
- After several months of back-and-forth with Warby Parker, I’ve got new glasses on the way. I was trying to avoid going for an eye exam in person to avoid COVID, and they have an app that roughly tests for prescription changes that I tried, but I was told—after the test—that it didn’t apply to my prescription. After the in-person test I was told two things I already knew: my distance prescription hasn’t changed, and that I need readers. They made the case for a set of bifocals but I think I’m going to just find a cheap pair of readers at Target for now.
I feel like there is so much going on and I don’t know what I can do about any of it. I’m overwhelmed with information. I found a list of 75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice here, and I feel like this is a place I can start.
You can reach out and say, “Hey, I can’t imagine what you’re going through, I’m here if you need it.” Because instead what often we get is this emotional outreach of, “I’m so sad, I’ve been crying all day, I’m really struggling.” And it becomes this really selfish thing where it’s like, wow, if you, a white person, are sad and scared, ask how a black person feels.
Also tangentially related: Your Phone Is a Goldmine of Hidden Data for Cops. Here’s How to Fight Back
The frequency of my posts here have dropped off in recent weeks. For some reason I’m in a fallow period for the blog, and I’m spending too much free time just aimlessly looking at the internet for tiny dopamine hits. Weekends are different because I can get out from behind the desk and accomplish large visible things that have a tangible result, which I’m leaning on heavily for motivation. As my job-related output gets increasingly intangible it’s hard to feel a sense of accomplishment when my output for the day is a list of items crossed off on a list in a notebook.
This is not a complaint. I’m happy—and lucky—to have a job in the current climate. Some weeks it’s just more difficult to shift my mindset to the new normal.
The tomatoes in the greenhouse are beginning to perk up. After several weeks of apathy, they’ve noticed the change in temperature and are beginning to pick up their growth. When I look at my Flickr feed from last year the store-bought plants are a full month ahead of where I am this year, but I’m taking a much more careful approach to how I’m letting these grow. Being home every day means I can keep a closer eye on them—pruning back the suckers and extra branches to keep the main stem strong and healthy every day. From what I’m seeing online I need to be much more ruthless about pruning back extra branches that have set flowers, as they take the energy and growth away from fruit on the main section of the plant. But with the additional plants I’m growing, we’ll hopefully have a lot more production overall.
Happy Anniversary, Jen. I can’t imagine being stuck in a house and enduring a global pandemic with anyone else in the world.
6:45: I wake up and give Hazel some belly scratches until she wakes up fully. Belly scratches used to make her nervous, but now she won’t get out of bed without them. This dog is weird.
7:00: I shove three pills down Hazel’s throat: a giant frozen horse pill that’s supposed to help her ear condition, a Prozac, and a tranquilizer to keep her from shaking her head every five minutes. Then I mix up some food with some fish oil and feed her. It smells like ass.
7:10: In the new shower. The heated floor feels nice.
7:30: I kiss the girls goodbye and head out the door.
7:40: I’m sitting in the car, parked a little ways away from the train station. I’ve got about 10 minutes to kill before I have to walk to the platform, so I sip some coffee and search for some new podcasts to follow.
8:00: I’m on the train, listening to Sidedoor, the Smithsonian’s podcast about things in their collection you might not see in the museum. Highly recommended.
8:45: Filing through Union Station, following hundreds of other people on their morning commute.
8:50: I drop my bag at my desk in the office. Then I spend about 15 minutes warming up my oatmeal, sipping coffee, and reading the day’s headlines while I eat.
9:10: One of my designers asks me for some help with a visual in Flourish, our interactive charting software. We spend the next 20 minutes trying to get it to do what we want (showing percentages in a popup for data in a bar chart that is represented by numerical values). I’m able to get it displaying percentage data from a different part of the spreadsheet but I can’t crack the particular formula it needs, so we send an email to their enterprise support team.
9:30: I meet with my video producer, who thanks me for the noise-cancelling headphones I got for him, and asks for my help transferring a project from Final Cut Pro to Premiere. I spend the next half-hour directing him on a wild goose chase; he’d heard that previous versions of Premiere would import FCP files, and we have several machines that are running older versions. This proves to be false. He finds a way with a third-party application, and gets to work.
9:45: I set up my production manager’s new MacBook Pro with a Dropbox account and begin syncing about 35GB of data.
9:50: Down to the café to reset the Amazon Fire stick running the display software for that room; the TV has been set to shut itself off from 7PM-8AM and the Fire stick didn’t reboot itself. The batteries in the remote are dead, so I source some new ones. I update some settings and do the same for the three lobby displays upstairs. Fire sticks are unreliable. I’ve returned two of them and another is acting strange.
10:00: I leave a message with a data visualization candidate I’m hoping to hire: I’ve got some good news for her.
10:15: Going through email, sorting out the day’s priorities and tasks (I have 5 hours blocked out on my calendar for actually producing some work, and I’m able to take advantage of about 1 hour of it).
10:40: I get a callback from my candidate and offer her a job! Best part of my day. She’s excited and we work out some of the details.
11:00: I dig up a slide deck from 2017 to answer a question from the London office about getting a map of our locations printed for their walls; the map they like is three years out of date. I find a suitable replacement, set it up for print, and send it to them.
11:15: I shoot an email to my data viz candidate about a side project she sent me a link to (Muppets!) and offer some feedback. Now I have the Muppet Show theme song stuck in my head.
11:18: We get an email back from the Flourish folks, who say they’re working on a solution.
11:30: Reviewing some videos from an international office and fielding questions from other folks on our team, then request a meeting to review the strategy.
11:45: I have to look over some design changes from the folks who are building a system to create interactive reports for us; they’re going into production this week.
12:00: Cleaning out my email inbox, which has filled up again.
12:15: I set up a blank drive and begin cloning the internal drive on my old laptop so that I can return it this week. When that’s done I check on the Dropbox syncing on the other laptop.
12:30: I run out for some Chipotle and bring it back to eat at my desk. I’m not finished with it when…
1:00: …I jump into an hourlong meeting with an external web vendor to talk about design needs; the first 45 minutes is spent going through data spreadsheets until I ask to change direction, and we accomplish everything I need to in the last 5 minutes of the meeting.
2:00: I go directly into another meeting to talk about the IO videos and sort things out.
2:30: I’m called out of that meeting to go shoot some pictures of one of our program leads, who is getting an award from the DOD for being a great boss and giving one of his employees enough time to join the Air National Guard and go through a 6-month training program. I sit through a very low-key ceremony, then have the lead and the DOD rep follow me to our step-and-repeat, shoot some standard grip and grins, then go to a different spot and repeat the process.
3:00: I go back to finish the video discussion, and help come up with a strategy.
3:45: Following up on more email. So much daily email.
4:15: Both laptops are done, so I wipe the drive on my old machine and install Catalina.
4:20: I finish final details with my data viz candidate and arrange for the offer letter to be sent.
4:25: Reviewing about 20 new candidates for our Graphic Design position, taking notes, and narrowing down to 4 for follow ups.
4:40: There are about 20 shots of the award group to go through, so I cull them down to 5 good ones, color-correct the best two, and post them to our Flickr feed. Then I send an email to the DOD rep and our internal team to kickstart the social media posts.
4:50: I lock all the cameras, laptops, and other gear away and attempt to straighten up my desk.
5:05: I’m out the door and on my way to the train. Listening to Broken Record, a podcast with Rick Rubin interviewing various musicians.
5:20: my train pulls out of the station and I’m on my way home.
5:58: I hike back to my car and drive to the liquor store to replenish our beer supply. Jen gets a 6-pack of Harp and I choose a six-pack of Victory Cloud Walker, a hazy juicy IPA.
6:30: We sit down for some dinner: a southern beans and rice recipe Jen found that includes chorizo. Yummy.
7:15: I help Finn go through her homework to make sure everything is complete.
8:20: Jen and Finn head upstairs to bed. I let Hazel out for an evening pee.
8:30: Playing through Fallout 4 as a new character, because I’m lazy and I don’t feel like learning a whole new game. Hazel is settling at my feet, after wandering the first floor worrying at her bones.
9:15: Watching an episode from the latest season of The Venture Brothers on Hulu. Just as funny as it was in 2004.
9:50: I put Hazel out for her last pee of the day. She comes back in and waits by the stairs for me to pick her up and put her over the baby gate.
10:15: Laying in bed and reading through some dumb Internet before going to sleep.
Neil Peart died of cancer last week, and because of a site meltdown here at Idiot Central, I was distracted. But what I saw around the internet surprised me. I don’t know if it was a reflection of the algorithms knowing I am a fan, but it seemed like there were tributes to him, and to Rush, on every site I visited—most notably the hipster music sites that traditionally frown on prog rock. I was happy to see so many artists from such a wide range of genres pay their respects.
I’ve mentioned the band here in the past, but having reviewed their catalog in depth this past week, I should restate how big an influence they were on me at a crucial point in my life. I was learning how to play bass when we moved to New York at age 13, and struggling to find new friends in a town that was radically different from the upper-class Connecticut town I’d come from. When I met some people in the music department and bonded over shared interests—and a burning desire to play the bass parts on the first side of Moving Pictures perfectly—I felt like I was accepted and belonged somewhere, which was a huge deal for me.
We spent hours sitting on amps playing their albums over and over, trying to get the fills and grooves right. We piled five guys into a car to drive to the mall in order to buy Power Windows the day it came out, and begged our parents to go see the concert at the Meadowlands when the tour came through our area.
As I got older, my tastes expanded to more esoteric music, and by the time I headed off to college I was still enjoying their music but not keeping up with it. I think Roll the Bones was the last album I bought, and while my college roommate and I saw them live in ’92, my interest faded. Years later, when I read they were doing their farewell tour, I looked into tickets and was interested in seeing them live one last time, but wasn’t able to put it together.
I’ve been listening to their late 70’s to mid-80’s discography (Hemipsheres to Power Windows, roughly) all this week. There’s an urgency and a groove behind their best stuff, and it’s the same thing that makes us music nerds bust out the air drums whenever YYZ or Subdivisions comes on. It makes me feel like I’m 15 again, sitting on a shitty amp in someone’s room, trying to get the bass riffs down, and nailing one for the first time.
I read with a heavy heart this afternoon that Nine-O-Nine, the Collings Foundation’s B-17, crashed due to engine failure at Bradley Airport in Connecticut. Details are sketchy, but from what I’ve read there are several dead and several more injured. I’ve seen Nine-O-Nine up close (we crawled through the bomb bay back in 2007) and it was a beautiful airplane.
I don’t have much to write about right now. This week has been a grind for various reasons, and I’m looking forward to the weekend so that I can keep making progress on the house.
- The dog is still in a holding pattern. We’ve got an appointment with an outside trainer who will come to the house and train us how to live with Hazel. Hopefully he can help us find a way for the five of us to coexist.
- I’m about to pull the trigger on having our driveway dug up and paved properly. It currently looks like shit. It was last paved around the Eisenhower administration so there are vestiges of asphalt under the grass and weeds, and now there’s a huge pile of mulch in the back half where the tree used to be. I found a company who will set up a diagonal drain to guide the runoff down into the neighbor’s yard (the lowest spot in the area) instead of directly into our garage. It’s not cheap but it will drastically improve the curb appeal of our house. They will also widen the entry so that it’s a proper two-lane driveway, which will make jockeying cars much easier.
- Windows are in but the front pair still needs insulation and final touches on the outside, and I can call that project done for now. Paint and final touches can come later.
- I’m headed to Easton on Sunday to help Karean with a pile of IT issues—she has an old Mac that contains her picture archives and a bunch of other hardware that needs service, so I’m going to pack up a toolbox and see if I can’t solve a bunch of problems for her. If the weather is nice I might drive the Scout over there.
Jen got a text yesterday from our neighbors, who told her there was an attempted robbery at their house that afternoon. A group of boys walked up their driveway at about 5:30, went in their open garage, and stole a bicycle. Then they came back about 15 minutes later to see what else was there. At this point my neighbor saw them and chased them back down the driveway, briefly grabbing one of them, who twisted away. They fled down the street while his wife called 911. Five minutes later they were sitting on the curb in front of the Baptist church and a squad car while the police sorted things out. I was driving home and stopped by on my way to the grocery store, and was able to watch the surveillance camera footage (they have a Nest camera mounted above the garage) which was hilarious. When it became clear they’d stolen his bike—which was not a cheap bike—the beef got escalated to B&E, grand theft, and trespassing. The kicker: the youngest boy in the group was 9 years old.