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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Exile on Corona Street, Day 9

(because we all need a reminder)

You know, the least that the cosmos can do for us during this time of forced shut-in is to not make it miserable outside.  Today has been a pretty overcast & gloomy day in Northeastern Pennsylvania, with temperature in the low 40's and a perpetual sense of drizzle in the air.  I know, you could argue that the reverse, as in it being really nice outside, would be worse, but I disagree...there is nothing preventing any of us from going outside and enjoying the fresh air.  As long as we stay outside and keep at least 6 feet away from others.

As for me, I did go outside today, mostly to take some measurements for an outdoor project that I'll be starting soon.  I've got the time.  See yesterday

I had wanted to start these postings with some news of the pandemic crisis, but honestly, why make it worse?  What I will provide, of interest to my fellow Pennsylvania residents, are the following links:

You can add these to the Guardian/Johns Hopkins University excellent overall United States coverage (link HERE) if you want to keep up with the numbers.  

Among other news of note, there is conflicting information about how Covid-19 may interact with  Ibuprofen products, leading some to say that Acetaminophen may be the better choice to manage aches, pains and the like (reference HERE).  If you don't have Acetaminophen/Tylenol in your home, you may want to get some.  We didn't have any*, so there was a purchase made yesterday.  I really should be using Acetaminophen/Tylenol all the time, as it easier on the entirety of my digestive system, but Ibuprofen works better.  Anyway, go get some Tylenol, before the mad hordes start to hoard it.

Bouncing back to home, and in the news of the pedestrian and ironic, I'm getting the parts tomorrow needed to set up dual monitors at home.  This was for all the working at home I will was going to be doing.  I'm still going to set it up, as it's yet one more thing to tinker with and add to my technical resume.  On a more serious note, others have tried to convince me of the merits of dual monitors, but the last 9 months have truly shown me the light.  If you want less paper in your work life, go the dual monitor route.  

Lastly, now more than ever we need music.  More music.  Right before I started typing, this song just happened to appear in my head...

...which given the situation in New York City seems all the more fitting.  Here's to hoping that the lights go back on before too long.

Oh, and hey, let's be careful out there.

(*) In fact, I have some in my former work office, in a desk drawer.  Unfortunately, I can't access it at the moment, as I'm still working on the mechanics of collecting my (former) office stuff.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Exile on Corona Street, Day 8

It's one of the oldest bits of wisdom imparted upon us:  Practice makes perfect.  That's usually applied to things where we want to get better.  Sometimes it's not though.  That's especially true for me now, as I found out yesterday morning that my position was one of several eliminated as a result of the economic slump caused by Covid-19.  Yes, I am being given more practice at the art of not being employed.

Was I surprised when I got the news?  Not really.  We all choose where we are in our professional lives, for the most part.  Part of having a cool job in a field like HR/learning and development is the realization that, come expense cutting time, you might be closer to the top of the job endangered list than you are to the bottom.  To quote the late Dr. Hunter S. Thompson:

"Buy the tickettake the ride… and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well… maybe chalk it off to forced consciousness expansion..."

Sure, being a fully functioning human being I do, in fact, feel a whole host of emotions when it comes to this recent life event.  Mostly though, I'd much rather spend my time thinking about what's ahead for me rather than what's behind me*.  This noted I think I've gotten enough practice in the layoff area, thank you very much.

More to come on that front.

* * * * * *

I've read in the news that some are calling for a relaxing of social distancing requirements (see HERE).  My take?  If this comes from a politician or business person...beware.  In spite of what some may have the general population believe, science is remarkably simple in that it is about a preponderance of the evidence.  Science doesn't care about politics or profits.  This means that if there is scientific and medical consensus around relaxing these guidelines, well, then take heed.  Otherwise?  Don't assume the folks at the press conference/briefing always have your best interests at heart.

On a related point, one of the (many) things giving me pause these days is the impact that the covid-19 outbreak is having on the elderly and/or those who may have compromised immune systems.  Even if you personally don't think you need to stay at home because of the virus, remember that you could inadvertently expose someone else to it.  This could be someone who is not in as good of a position as you are to weather the (viral) storm.

I get it by the way...part of me wants to go get a slice of pizza at Bouna's, sit down, and ponder life in a cloud of granulated garlic.  I know though that the best path between now and when I can do that again is to do my part and stay home.  That's pretty un-American of me (America's motto should be "I want it all, and I want it now"), but it's also the most human thing I (and we) can do.  Besides, these are truly first-world problems.

That's a wrap for this posting.  Remember, let's be careful out there.

* * * * * *

(*) I am, of course, looking for a new employment opportunity.  If you know of something, if you're curious about my background, or if you are in a similar boat, please do connect with me.  You can comment on this posting or connect with me through LinkedIn.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Exile on Corona Street, Day 6

(From THIS source)

So, how goes the "sheltering in place"?  Note that everyone should be sheltering in place, to the greatest extent possible, until further notice.  We're doing our level best in West Pittston, Pennsylvania to heed that advice, although I wouldn't call us complete shut-ins.  Currently, the amount of outside the house ventures are pretty much limited to the grocery store every other day or so (usually just for perishable things, like fruit and milk), walks when it is warm enough and car rides done basically just to remind ourselves of the world outside of the home, with the occasional trip for take-out food.  I suspect this will be the new norm.

One thing that does involve being outside and which is also exceptionally safe is working around the house.  I happen to love this time of the year.  Saturday I spent about two hours cleaning up the yard of debris, and today it was about an hour or so cutting down some branches that I trimmed off of our dwarf plumb in the front yard.  The actual pruning of the tree took place two or so weeks ago.  Of the things I do as part of any kind of routine, working outdoors is one that brings me real satisfaction.  Part of that is grounded in my need to work with my hands from time to time.  Another part comes from growing up where there was no yard of our own to tend for.  Maybe the biggest appeal is the fact that when I'm outside, it just seems like my thoughts are somehow more free than they are when I am inside.  These days that is more important than ever.

Speaking of inside, it's looking like I will be working from home (WFH) for many weeks to come.  As I mentioned in the Day 1 posting (which I inadvertently over-wrote), I really don't like working from home.  That noted, it truly is the best thing these days, and I count my blessing at having that opportunity.  Anyway, to prepare for the extended run of WFH, I ordered all of the parts I will need to run dual monitors in my home office.  The biggest expense for that project, namely actually having a second monitor, is one I don't have to bear, as we just happen to have a spare.  For those curious, we have a total of 8 flat-screen televisions and/or computer monitors, 3 of which will soon be running in the office.  A side benefit of the dual monitor set-up is that I am configuring it to easily switch between my work laptop and my home desktop.  I know, this whole subject is of interest only to me, but there's more to it:  It gives me something different to focus on, even if just for a moment or three.

Do you worry about all of this swirling around us?  I do, although I find those worries tend to slip in between the mental cracks.  It's easy for those cracks to exist, by the way, as following the pandemic news is about as addictive as crystal meth.  I need to do more to detach from the onslaught of 24/7 corona coverage.  No small feat for someone (myself) who feels a real need to have 3 or 4 things pinging around in my head at any given time.  Maybe that's part of the appeal of working outside for me:  I can trade one set of thoughts for another, such as this afternoon when I needed to be concerned about cutting a stack of branches down so that it would fit into a yard waste can.   

Maybe another line of thinking, one that is more productive, is to ponder just what the world is going to look like when this is over.  I haven't really fleshed that out all too well, but I do see two things right of the bat:  1) A newfound respect for those on the front lines of employment...such as truck drivers, grocery store personnel, the folks at your local pharmacy, etc.  2) A re-orientation away from the idea that collecting it money, power, somehow the highest aspiration for our country and species.  Maybe, just maybe, we will discover that greed is not, in fact good.  

Looking to the week ahead, I have to take my younger brother to the bank, something that has to be done in person once a month, going inside the bank to see a teller in order to execute a slightly complex transaction.  I'm not looking forward to it, and the truth is that I never look forward to that monthly chore, but I am thinking about how I can limit my (and my brother's) exposure risks.  Outside of that, it will be more of the same new normal.  As long as everyone stays healthy, well, that's not too bad.

By the way, when we do get take-out, we make it from a local establishment/small business.  This evening the trek was made all the way to Plimmitt (actually Plymouth; inside joke) to get barbecue from Uncle Buck's.   

(Half rack of ribs)

Yes, I've been relegated to posting pictures of food.

A Final Thought
I've managed to ramble on in this posting for a few paragraphs.   Honestly, I am quite unimpressed.  The reality is this:  I am stressed.  You are probably stressed too if you are paying the least bit of attention.  This pandemic thing is vexing:  On one hand, the vast majority of people who catch Covid-19 end up with a mild case; on the other hand, fear and anxiety rarely care all that much about logic and statistics.  All of us will just need to slug this one out, doing the simple but important things, like hand-washing.  I wish I had something more inspiring to say, but that's really just it...keep washing your hands.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Exile on Corona Street, Day 3

(you can find the original of the above HERE)

"I saw the decade in, when it seemed
the world could change at the blink of an eye
And if anything
then there's your sign of the times"
- Jesus Jones: Right Here, Right Now

It's Day 3, and among other things, the number of cases in Pennsylvania increased by something like 40 between lunchtime and 5:30pm today.  This is with testing results just starting to come in.  We also had the Governor of Pennsylvania declare that businesses have been forced to close today at 8pm.  From what I read in the order though, there are a lot of exceptions.  You can find the full list HEREMore on that in a moment.

High drama?  When all is said and done, this is going to make Macbeth look like an episode of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.

On a more contemplative note, Ms. Rivers and I were talking about how we would manage if one of us fell ill.  Right off the bat, there's something of a flaw in that logic, in that if one of us got sick, the other one wouldn't be far behind anyway.  Regardless, we are fortunate (in many ways) that our second floor has a kind of master suite to it that can be closed off and which has its own bathroom...and my office.  If it were me, well, just slide some Oreos under the door and I think I would be fine for 14 days.

Getting back to the news of the day, namely the Pennsylvania Governor's closing of businesses, I've officially learned that my employer is exempt under the order (we manufacture things out of purchased Steel...yes, that's how it's worded in the official guidance).  The jury is still out on Ms. River's day (and evening, and night, and early morning) job, although regardless of physical locations closing, she's more than capable of working from home for an extended period of time.  I'm personally relieved that my employer isn't impacted...not so much for me, in that we could weather an extended closing financially...but more so for those folks have less in the way of savings and more in the way of relative financial resources.  That's the thing, by the way, about growing up poor:  You never forget how it felt. 

A Final Thought
On the above note, it's getting late and it seems like I've spent days in front of a computer screen.  That can't be good for me, but given the real danger faced by, say, healthcare workers, I have little room to complain.  I'll end this note by talking about heroes...real heroes...who are out there right now saving lives.  This includes just about everyone on the front lines of healthcare.  It includes public safety personnel who can't shirk away from those in need, pandemic or not.  It includes truck drivers and supermarket employees who are making sure that there is always something on the shelves.  Maybe one of the outcomes of this whole thing will be a recognition that sometimes heroes look suspiciously like normal people.

Be careful out there.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Exile on Corona Street, Day 2


Where does the title come from?  Click HERE.  The intent here is to document what's going on during this time of the coronavirus pandemic.  As the more urban folks would say, "$hit got real".  Maybe 10 years from now I'll look back, read this, and be inspired.  Maybe I'll be amused.  Maybe I'll simply be confused.  Regardless, the intent is to be here 10 years from now to actually read this.

On to the posting.

* * * * * *

It's day 2 of the new normal, for as long as the new normal lasts.  For those that noticed, my "Day 1" posting has disappeared.  Illuminati?  Bilderbergs?  Nope...I accidentally over-wrote it.

What's in a Name?
In the news today, among other things, we had the President of the United States refer to the Covid-19 Virus as the "Chinese Virus", not once, but at least twice.  Here's why that's a problem:
  • By tagging this outbreak with a racial term, the President is giving the worst of our society, also known as racist swine, license to act against Asians in general, Chinese people in particular.  
  • The virus itself is not actually Chinese.  The idea of race is a categorization we use for humans, not pathogens.
  • The virus may have jumped species in China, but "from China" is different than "Chinese".  For example, I read a defense of the President's name for Covid-19 that went along the lines of "yeah, well what about Lyme Disease...that's named after a place!  Is that racist too?"...which is actually an incredibly stupid defense of an incredibly bad name.  Why?  Well yes, Lyme Disease is named after a real place, Lyme Connecticut.  However, for the comparison/racist-excuse to work, the disease would have to be called something like "Connecticuter Disease".  You see, "Lyme" is the name of a place.  "Chinese" is the name of a group of people.
  • Even if you buy some incredibly far-fetched 2am talk-radio inspired conspiracy about the origins of Covid-19, not every single person who is Chinese could possibly be in on it.
This, by the way, is what happens when I have time to think about things.

How Was YOUR Day?
Today was day 2 of working from home for me.  As I mentioned in the day 1 posting...if it still existed...I really don't like working from home.  That noted I'm making the best of it.  What helped the day improve was the fact that we visited our favorite ice cream parlor (Ballyhoo) for some take-out after dinner.  If you can, please make an extra effort to patronize local businesses during this crisis.  The WalMarts of the world will weather this fine, but small businesses may not be so lucky.

A Final Thought
More so than any time in my life, it's clear to me that how we end up after this crisis has ended will have far more to do with how we have acted as individuals than any kind of government policy or edict.  This literally could be something of a re-set button for us, a chance to take a step back and appreciate the value of kindness and helping each other.  We desperately need that in this country.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Update, From (sort of) Introvert Paradise

A follow-up, of sorts, to THIS posting.

I hope anyone reading this is doing well, given the circumstances.  I say this knowing full well that things are going to get worse before they get better.  I also know that's the epitome of negativity, but when it comes to a serious business such as this, well, valuing facts is more important than any kind of spin, positive or otherwise.

Just how bad will it get?  Here's an interesting and informative article on that very subject.

As for myself and my wife, well, we're in good shape.  Fortunately, we began making preparations since mid-February, so we have more than enough of the essentials to last a while, including cat food.  Granted that there will very likely be some inconveniences coming up...for everyone...but sometimes being inconvenienced is better than being sick (or worse).  We're both working on behavior changes as well, including being careful what we touch and avoiding large crowds.  We even have hand sanitizer in our cars so that we can even disinfect a bit after being out.

By the way, there's a lot of misinformation about the use of hand sanitizer out there.  For example, I was in a store checkout line and the 50's-ish woman in front of me was loudly proclaiming that hand sanitizer only killed bacteria.  While washing your hands is the best defense against picking up a virus, hand sanitizer can help.  Just ask the Mayo Clinic.

Changing behavior is difficult.  I am notorious for touching my face and rubbing my eyes.  That's something I am working on changing.  It's not easy, but I try to remind myself of just utterly ridiculous it would be for me to get sick because of a compulsion. When it comes to times like this, sometimes the little things are big things.

An area where I am admittedly at something of an advantage is social distancing.  I don't really enjoy socializing all that much, and in fact, the places were I spend most of my time (my home and work offices) are decidedly low-traffic affairs.  In fact, my work office is at the end of a hallway, and the nearest office that's regularly used is a good 20 feet away.  For once in my life, appearing to be anti-social is actually an advantage (of sorts).  With Spring nearly here, I've also started doing some yard-work, which I both enjoy and which is about one of the seemingly lowest risk endeavors out there these days.

Granted, I do have worries:
  • I worry about parents who have to face children being home from school without any child-care arrangements available.
  • I worry about the healthcare workers we depend on...especially now...who will be at a far greater risk of infection than the rest of us.  
  • I worry about people who truly live paycheck-to-paycheck that may struggle with basic necessities as this drags on.
  • I worry about the elderly and those with chronic medical conditions who will suffer the most from this outbreak.
I'll do my best to help where I can.

Lastly, we should also think about what happens after this outbreak.  There could be enormous good resulting from all of this...such as a national realization that healthcare is a fundamental right, and that there should be a universal standard of sorts for sick-time.  No one should be forced to go to work and possibly infect others purely on the basis of personal finances.  I also hope that this re-focuses our national attention away from lying politicians and sensational media and towards rational decision-making grounded in both compassion and a healthy respect for what science teaching us.  

Be careful out there.  Don't take unnecessary chances.  Make rational decisions.  Rely on a preponderance of the evidence, not what some talking head on TV reads from a teleprompter or what some social media Russian Bot posts on-line.  Question those would have you believe that everything is okay or that this is the end of the world as we know it (the truth is somewhere in the middle; in fact, let's hope that the word does change).
Lastly, and most importantly in my mind, be kind.  Simply be kind.  Help people.  Show compassion.  Reject anger and those who push a blame-agenda.

To end on a more positive note, ladies and gentlemen, Mr. George Harrison.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

James Lipton's Quiz

In honor of the late James Lipton
What is your favorite word?
What is your least favorite word? Demand What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? People who are kind (to themselves, others, animals, etc.). What turns you off? Large egos. What is your favorite curse word? Sh*t What sound or noise do you love? A baby giggling. What sound or noise do you hate? Anything techno. I'm getting a headache just thinking about it. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? An architect or an electrician. What profession would you not like to do? A dentist; I just couldn't ever see myself sticking my fingers in different mouths. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? "Welcome, Steve. Let me take you to your brother...he's over there with all the cats."*

(*) This pre-supposes that I will die before my wife, which is likely a good bet.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Coronavirus - Ignore the Talking Heads, Listen to the Scientists & Medical Professionals

(What some would have you believe; note that it apparently stinks to be Hawaii & Alaska)

Preface:  Right off the bat I will confess to the fact that I have a conflict of interest when it comes to this topic.  Specifically, I have a daughter, Dr. Albert, who is a real-life scientist.  This is in addition to my bias against bull$hit, especially as spread by politicians and the opinion media.  On to the post.

* * * * * *

We live in an interesting age, one where truth can attempt to be re-written by a Sharpie and science marginalized because it provides truths that some voters may just as soon not want to hear.  As if ignoring a fact somehow changes it into a fiction.  Anyway, you can find some rational, non-politicized advice from scientists and medical professionals about the coronavirus HERE.   A key point or two is noted directly below.

"A mask that you have never used before and wear all day long, that gets damp, is not going to help you. You may touch it a lot because it is uncomfortable, lowering its effectiveness.
Quite simply, good hand hygiene and face hygiene will protect you from a lot of illnesses, including Covid-19.
    Risk is dependent on exposure. Some people will have an increased risk of infection, such as health care workers caring for patients with Covid-19 and other close contacts. For the general public in the US, who are unlikely to be exposed to this virus, the immediate health risk from Covid-19 is considered low at this time."

    This is a serious, nasty business.  As someone with asthma, I dread just getting a cold, as it takes forever for me to kick and inevitably ends up with me taking steroids that make me both bouncy and greasy (which, admittedly, is better than not actually breathing).  Needless to say, I want to limit my exposure to the virus, and quite frankly, you should too, especially if you or a family member is at heightened risk for infection.  Please take this seriously!

    For the record, you will not get good information about the virus from talk radio or any single source, including (unfortunately) the United States government.  I just want to put that out there, in case anyone wants to believe that coronavirus is no worse than the common cold.

    Here are some additional sources of information that are not tainted by the political lens.

    World Health Organization (WHO) Facebook Page

    WHO Webpage

    Coronavirus Live Map (New York Times)

    BBC Coronavirus Tracking (BBC)

    Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Information

    Wall Street Journal, What We Know...

    Center for Disease Control (CDC)*

    Again, please take this seriously by staying informed.  Spend less time listening to politicians and more time listening to scientists and medical professionals.  Have a plan for how you will manage your affairs if, for example, schools and other public places are closed.  Stock up on medications.  Have plenty of extra non-perishable food on hand.  Avoid traveling if at all possible, especially by airplane.

    Mostly though, be careful out there.

    (*) Note that increasingly, it seems that attempts are being made to politicize information coming out of the CDC, including placing Vice President Mike Pence in charge of coronavirus communications (reference HERE). I am not suggesting that CDC information is unreliable, but I am stating that I would not solely rely on medical/scientific communications coming through someone who doesn't have a great track record when it comes to actual science (reference HERE).

    Wednesday, February 26, 2020

    Ash Wednesday

    True stories:  When I was a kid, I found three experiences to be particularly traumatic.

    #1) Dental Work
    As a very young kid, we went to a dentist who didn't believe in using Novocain.  Not a drop.  As I type this, I still have a memory of that drill going into my baby teeth...the pressure...the pain...the smell.  Fortunately, by the time reached about age 12, the old Dentist stopped practicing (that or Simon Wiesenthal finally caught up with him) so we started seeing a new dentist.  This one was far more compassionate.

    #2) Needles
    Like most kids, I hated needles.  What made me particularly bad with the pointy things was the fact that I had surgery three times between the ages of 5 and 7, so I got stuck a lot.  It honestly wasn't until my 20's before that fear started to wain.  Nowadays?  Heck, I give instructions on the placement of an IV (top of the hand, thank you very much).

    #3) Ash Wednesday
    I loathed Ash Wednesday as a kid.  I literally hated it.  In fact, on more than one occasion I would become sick...real or imaginary...when the day came around.  Why?  Well, there are probably a few reasons, but three come to mind...
    • I simply didn't like someone smearing dirt on me.  It made me feel filthy.  Just writing that brings back memories of that gritty feeling as the dirty was spread on my all-too-large forehead.  It reminded me of filled ashtrays at home. 
    • Reminding me, as a young kid, that I was going to die seemed cruel, especially given my incredibly fertile imagination.
    • The exercise seemed so insincere, what with normally mean-spirited people walking around with this mark on their heads, saying "look at me, I'm so pious (in all of the wrong ways)".  It was a kind of "black badge of insincerity". 

    What's kind of ironic is the fact that the first two items have completely turned around on me as I've grown older.  I am border-line fanatical about my teeth these days, and I even had a dental implant done.  As for needles, well, see above...I really don't mind.  In fact, if it's something that will help me, well, bring it on.  Ash Wednesday, it still skeeves me out.  Luckily for me, nowadays I no longer have to pretend to be sick when the day comes around every year.  I still don't, however, like to look at people with it on their foreheads.  

    Monday, February 17, 2020

    IKEA Smell

    I make no secret of the fact that I really like IKEA.  In fact, it's about the only retail experience these days that I find the least bit interesting.  Simply put, IKEA turns shopping for things into an event.  In my case, that would be an event that is worth driving 90 or so minutes to experience two or three times a year.  Among the many reasons I enjoy about IKEA?  The smell.

    The Internet tells me that IKEA smells like cinnamon buns (reference HERE), but I don't buy it.  I know the smell of cinnamon buns.  I like the smell of cinnamon buns.  IKEA does not smell like cinnamon buns.

    If I had to describe the smell, it would be something that's a combination of:
    • A light cleaning solution/disinfectant of some type
    • 3,000 tons of laminate
    • The cafeteria, although not a particular food
    • Something sweet
    • Slightly herbal
    • Slightly floral
    Maybe this is part of some greater Swedish conspiracy to get folks like me to buy more reasonably priced but yet stylish self-assembled furniture*.  Maybe it's all in my head.  But the smell is there, I swear it is.

    I could rant on and on about how much I enjoy going to IKEA and why it's a terrific business (including their composting of cafeteria scraps).  In fact, over the course of the 11+ years of the blog I probably already have, but I am too un-motivated to check at the moment.  I will note though that I do have one IKEA complaint:  The don't sell ribs in the cafeteria anymore.  When I first went to IKEA, something like a dozen years ago, the cafeteria had ribs that were among the best I have ever had in my entire life.  Bar none, I swear.  Alas, the ribs are gone, and I have to make do with the Swedish meatballs (which are pretty good).

    To end on a high note, some IKEA humor.

    (*) All of the furniture in my home office is from IKEA, including two work surfaces, a bookcase, a dresser, a cube unit, a rolling file storage unit, and a Symfonisk speaker lamp.