The pattern of this year.

Monday, July 6th, 2020

I’m not proud of my continued inability to avoid engaging with folks online in this pandemic-y, protest-filled election year.

I get other things done. I get the trash out to the curb on Monday nights. The bills appear to be paid.

But then I see some online snark that blames a fictional partisan “mainstream media”, I have to break out a keyboard (even if it’s just the teeny one on my iPad screen) and start whomping elegantly-crafted paragraphs of passion and, yes, patriotism and casting it off into the ether with a satisfying poke of “post reply.”

This is why I could not exist (nor would I want to) on Facebook, not even for a day. My latest engagements haven’t been on the Twitter or the Instagram, just some not-that-important special interest forum that seems to attract a bunch of guys who like to take shots at Hillary Clinton (still!?) or any Obama or any woman or…agggh.

I like to write! I like words! I like making a coherent argument in a paragraph or two! My (diminishing?) faith in my own writing abilities leads me to the “post reply” precipice again and again.

I’m not proud. But that’s the pattern of this year.

The day after Independence.

Sunday, July 5th, 2020

I think what worries me the most are the folks who say: “independence equals freedom. I can do whatever I want, that’s what the founding fathers fought for, my right to do whatever I want.”

I want to turn to their grade school teachers and say “how did you explain America to these people!?” Maybe that’s unfair. It’s probably unfair.

But there’s more to being this country than having freedom. There’s the responsibility of taking care of others. And it feels like the list of our neighbors who need care and patience and whatever else we can offer is growing by the day.

Stock up on some loud noises just off I-24 between Chattanooga and Monteagle, Tennessee. Our photo from June, 2017.

I like signs.

Saturday, July 4th, 2020

This probably is no great surprise to you if you’ve been reading this site for a while. Signs in general, and road signs in particular. It’s typography perched at the side of the road. Colorful. Regional. Idiosyncratic. Who can ask for anything more?

I was doing some maintenance work today on our vast vast collection of photos, so I was scrolling through my road signs album. It starts, as you see here, with a much younger me with my favorite Oaxacan road sign, which says, of course, “Respect the signs.” (Or ‘Obey the signs.’) Good idea.

Scrolling the signs is (for me) a great diversion from the small fireworks explosions outside and the continued polarized political pandemic experience.

Hope you enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Eve of Independence.

Friday, July 3rd, 2020

It’s a steamy July Friday night in Atlanta, and more often than not, we would be “up north” in extreme upper Michigan enjoying a big party with a couple of dozen people, many who we know and care about.

But not this Friday. It’s really not worth the risks, and besides, the party as a large affair isn’t going to happen (although I bet they’ll attempt a scaled-back socially distanced version with just 8, maybe 10 people.)

So what’s everybody else doing? Apparently a lot of people are watching streaming content, in the house or projected on a drive-in-like screen in their driveway. There’s the film release of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, and it sounds (if I believe the Twitterland) that many, many, many people are trying to consume it at once. Sounds like a good test of Disney+’s servers. We’ll catch up with it after the rush.

And there seem to be some fireworky sounds in the near and far distance. Not on my weekend to-do list. Also not on that list: heading out to South Dakota to watch Trump orate in front of a crammed-together crowd under Mount Rushmore, after which they will attempt to do fireworks without setting the tinder-dry Black Hills ablaze.

This seems like a very different birthday of the United States, one where we may be beginning to recalibrate how this place came to be.

Just do the thing.

Thursday, July 2nd, 2020

We gave some money to a public radio station because we listen to them from time to time. When we sent it in, we enclosed a note that said:

Please configure our account to receive NO email solicitations or notifications or, well, anything. Solicitations make it LESS likely we’ll send more.

Keep paying your fine on-air staff. Thanks for all you do.

and we got a nice note back that said in part:

Thank you. I have set the preferences so that you do not receive email or mail solicitations.

This afternoon, I got three identical copies at the same moment (1:09 PM) of the same marketing email from them. Now this is a small station and I know they probably have a limited staff and are trying to cope with working remotely and so on, but this is still annoying. Annoying in part because (as I later confirmed) they outsourced their bulk email marketing services to some other company and are probably paying them with our money to screw up. What can they do? Complain to their vendor.

As I wrote,

It seems like so much of my contribution goes to MORE marketing and MORE solicitation—not to the very real costs of broadcasting, like paying your on-air and news staffs and paying the transmitter(s) power bill. I sure wish our small contribution could be earmarked in that way. It also seems like the simple act of saying “please don’t keep us on any list where you will solicit us” is just about impossible.

It sure shouldn’t be.

This is true of major national organizations we’re very happy to support—not just public radio and television, but nonprofits involved in supplying food and health services and making sure that the bad guys get taken to court. I’d love to have a checkbox labeled “send no marketing emails and don’t spend a penny of this on marketing or development or promotion.”

Just do the thing you said you were here to do.

July, the roller-coaster month.

Wednesday, July 1st, 2020

Welcome to July. The pandemic continues.

For many renters who have been out of work for months, the rent is due. They might have to fight evictions in court.

According to the Washington Post, drug overdoses jumped 18% nationally in March, 29 percent in April, and 42 percent in May.

The President’s campaign has released an America First Trump 2020 T-shirt with an aggressive right-facing eagle remarkably like the one on Hitler’s Nazi banners.

And I went to the Murder Kroger on Ponce today to get some milk, and except for one guy and one woman who was making a phone call with her mask down around her neck, everyone was wearing a mask.

Pence was wearing a mask getting off the plane in Arizona.

Georgia governor Kemp has been wearing a mask in most public appearances.

Mississippi’s governor and Texas’s governor have been begging their citizens to follow CDC guidelines. Some have closed bars and beaches. Some governors have said there’s no way citizens will follow those instructions. But they are pivoting. Republican senators are joining them.

I had started out going to the Atlanta midtown Trader Joe’s, but signs on the doors said it would be closed all day today for “a deep cleaning.”

Less than two weeks ago, it was 100.4 degrees F in Verkhoyansk, in Siberian Russia. That’s a bit warm for the arctic.

That’s a lotta ups and downs for, what, one day?

Scrapped, painted, tilty.

Tuesday, June 30th, 2020

Scrapped. Shot June 19, 2019.

The painted tunnel. Shot November 18, 2019.

Tilty routes. Shot December 19, 2018.

Hi there, it’s the last day of June, and I have plenty of random ideas floating around my head this evening, but a lot of them carry the burden of Life These Days in a pandemic, and so I can’t quite bring myself to share/inflict/instill them upon you.

So I do what I often do. Go back into the past and look at our images of our city, and remember wandering. (These are all from my photostream on Flickr.)

Hope you have a safe and great July, and hope your road signs are more vertical and your Krog Tunnels festive and spattered with creativity.

Scattered and humid.

Monday, June 29th, 2020

Every so often I’m reminded why I like to work on a large screen (two, actually) on a desktop running a fairly current (but not the absolute latest) version of the MacOS operating system.

It’s connected to Mondays. Or at least Mondays like this one.

You got your terminal windows and your PDFs and your web pages a-plenty. You got your textfiles laden with, well, I’ll be charitable and call it code. You got videos where a guy is discussing “Data Essentials in SwiftUI”—one of the sessions from last week’s virtualized WWDC. You got a podcast where two smart and snarky guys reflect on that session. I’m learning how to make creative crosshatch patterns in vector graphics with just a line or two of Javascript. I’m reading someone’s Masters’ thesis from Mumbai about a Spanish crime series (on Netflix) and it’s anarchist roots. I’ve got a terminal window reporting the humidity down in the basement every 30 seconds (I have a science experiment down there.)

And this is just Monday, the last Monday of June. The trash and recycling is out on the curb, it’s late, and let’s call it a scattered Monday.

Random meaning.

Sunday, June 28th, 2020

December 5, 2015.

July 23, 2016.

September 9, 2014.

We have this small chunk of code I wrote that takes all the Instagram pictures I ever posted (some 3300, stretching back to October 2010) and all the ones Sammy has done (thousands as well) and puts them together, selects 200 completely at random, and displays them on our home TV with nice dissolves for our entertainment.

Yes, a slideshow.

As I said, completely at random.

And just like other elements of our world where humans attempt to divine patterns and meaning, sometimes we sit there and look at the TV while reading something else and…whoa, what a coincidence!

Boom, there’s one with a quirkily-punctuated sign from up by the city water plant, taken five years ago, but viewed on a day where a lot of our town remains under a boil water advisory. Boom! There’s one that says ‘jug filler’ from a rest area. What are the odds!? And there’s a big glass of water with lemon in it! How does it know that this water thing is on our minds?

It doesn’t, of course, but it’s amazing what patterns our brains attempt to engrave upon randomness, especially when given a lot of free time to ponder the world.

Once in a blue moon.

Saturday, June 27th, 2020

36 inch water main break at Hemphill and Ferst, from 11alive.com

Early in the afternoon a very large water main broke just north of the Georgia Tech campus, pretty much due west of here. Within 60 seconds, the twitter world was speckled with tweets asking something along the lines of “anyone know whats going on with the water in atlanta? it seems like it suddenly shut off in multiple neighborhoods.“ Our house never lost water, but the pressure dropped.

We (because we’re old fashioned) watched on the 10:00 pm television news an Atlanta watershed spokesperson say that the large pipe just “gave way”, something that might happen, y’know, “once in a blue moon.”

The end result, we’re under a Boil Water Advisory, out of the famed abundance of caution that we seem to have these days in such abundance.

I think most neighborhoods have water again into this evening (but, y’know, boil it) and we find ourselves confronted with the reality that using good ol’ Atlanta water to frequently wash our hands, sanitize our dishes and surfaces, and so on represents a new complexity to be worked around in a state with unsettlingly high rates of Covid-19 infection and hospital admission.

And, again, we’re among the fortunate: a line of storms came through late in the afternoon and knocked out some (other) peoples’ power.

It’d be nice to be able to pause the usual infrastructure crises during this global health one, but of course, that’s never the case.

But boy, that one break sure messed up the Saturday of a lot of Atlantans.

Unplanned non-obsolescence.

Friday, June 26th, 2020

We have a significant number of old computers in the house. We even have some in drawers and the fabled “porch room” that are historical artifacts only, much like Sammy’s family’s black dial telephone that sits on a shelf behind me.

But the one I’m working on right now, a fine 27″ Apple iMac, was purchased almost six and a half years ago. Our laptop is our newest, and came into our lives 2.6 years ago. But there are other perfectly functioning iMacs here that are 12.6 years old, and 10 years old.

Those darn Apple products, they keep working…for the most part (don’t try to stick any SD cards into the 10 year old one—that port stopped sailing years ago.)

They are, unfortunately, obsolete in another sense. They can’t be upgraded to the latest version of MacOS, the fabled MacOS 11 Big Sur. Well, the laptop can. Barely. They have been upgraded several times and are now running a version of MacOS that was released in September 2017. That’s three major releases back.

Apple would be happy to take these off our hands if we purchase a new one—for precisely $0 in trade-in value. We could sell them, maybe, on Craigslist, if we’re willing to chance an encounter in a midtown parking lot (yeah, I’ve done that.)

About WWDC time (which is to say June) Apple announces the new OS, and the ‘system requirements’ list gets a little smaller each time. This time, my main machine did not make the cut.

So I can’t upgrade to the latest and greatest. On the other hand, the upgrade process itself obsoletes some software I like and find useful. And although you can certainly say “if it ain’t broke, don’t upgrade it,” there are some fairly important security components that do break over time, and if you can’t find an update for just that tiny part, sometimes lots of larger components can simply stop working.

It’s when you focus on hardware and software as a holistic system that you realize that it has so many distinct parts that it’s foolhardy to proceed assuming everything will be fine, forever.

And sometimes, you just want the new hotness.

Tunnel half empty, or half full?

Thursday, June 25th, 2020

I hesitate to toss in this image of, yes, a tunnel, because it’s such a frequently-used metaphor for “you’re inside this linear, constricted space, and it seems like your options are few, and the daylight is maybe only a point in the distance, but eventually, inexorably, you’ll get through and burst out into the sunshine again.”

Which is certainly what I’m hoping for all of us, although it seems like it might take months to emerge.

So here’s a tunnel pic, maybe not as a metaphor, but hey, it looks nice and I find it cheery to look at. Also dark and tubular. Hmm. Anyway, here!

Nobody knows nothing.

Wednesday, June 24th, 2020

And just to prove that headline, I typed it in thinking “that’s one of those Yogi Berra sayings, isn’t it?”


No. It’s about…baseball? No.

I should have known, I have the book on my shelf, it’s from screenwriter William Goldman’s 1983 memoir Adventures in the Screen Trade. He was, of course, talking about the film business, and that’s just one post Covid-19 arena to which it certainly applies.

The folks charged with getting film production started again have some vague plans and safety initiatives and, well, they’re just going to kick it off soon and see how it goes.

The folks who run movie theatres would like you to come in and watch a movie and a mask is not required, no, wait, it is….no, wait, it’s…well, they’re working on it.

The folks who run Major League Baseball think they have their sanitized, PPE-equipped ducks in a row and they are going to, what the heck, play 60 games and see how it goes.

The folks who run the Democratic National Convention have a plan where there will be some sort of convention in Milwaukee, but they’d like the delegates to stay at home, and, well, the other details are being shaped up.

The folks who run Texas thought they had a plan, and they ran with it a while to see how it goes and oh jeez, it is not going well. So they’re trying to reel things back in without using the words “lockdown” as hospitals fill to overflowing. The folks in Arizona and parts of California are in similar straits.

The folks who run Disneyland this very evening decided to push back their repoening. Maybe they are seeing how it’s going.

Scientific papers are emerging with new details about how the infection spreads. It most certainly does and is very dangerous, but it doesn’t quite do things as expected.

Nobody knows nothing. And that certainty about the uncertainty is a great way to spread stress far and wide.

Tuesday mixed modes.

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2020

Been spending today in a mixture of tech support mode and continuing education mode as Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference continues, virtualized, and thus made Covid-19 safe, into a series of tidy and informative videos.

When you have a nice fast internet connection, you can watch these sessions and download early beta versions of the software on your iPhone and iPad, just to see what all the hoopla is about. First reaction: pretty darn solid. This is not always the case. There have been years where installing unfinished software led to a cascade of problems, and there have been years where I chose the discretion of “let other adventurous souls try it” over the valor of having the latest OS right there in your pocket.

In the meantime, I’m looking north this evening to Kentucky’s primary to see if the people who wanted to vote could in fact make it over and through the obstacles placed in their way. And yes, starting to make plans now about Georgia’s November election.

Bien sûr.

Monday, June 22nd, 2020

Well, hey, okay, to follow up on what I wrote yesterday, yes, Apple did indeed announce a transition away from Intel chips to Apple’s own design of chips that use that 64 bit ARM architecture I went on about yesterday.

They announced all this in a slickly-produced video set in and around Apple’s pretty empty at the moment spaceship campus, Apple Park. At the end of the presentation was a long list of “Health & Safety” credits, the new “no animals were harmed in the filming of this episode.”

But hey, new architecture! Big transition!

Are there new machines we can buy today? Um, no, check back toward the end of the year. Will the transition be easy for developers and for the most part invisible to consumers? Apple says indeed. How long will it take until they no longer sell any Intel chip machines? About two years. Right now if you’re a for-real developer you can apply to pay $500 to get what looks like a rental Mac Mini with the same system on a chip that powers the current iPad Pro inside, so you experience the new system and write your code and debug it appropriately. This is similar to the developers’ program they had when they went from PowerPC to Intel.

There will be a new version of MacOS this year, just like last year’s release of the (somewhat derided and problematical) MacOS Catalina.

This one will be called MacOS Big Sur. Big Sur! Also it’s MacOS 11.0 after a seemingly endless stream of Mac OS 10.something releases.

Thanks Apple, for a distraction from the troubling world around us. Good luck with those new SoCs.

Forewarned is foreARMed.

Sunday, June 21st, 2020

On June 6, 2005, Apple announced that the computer maker would transition to Intel microprocessors in their desktops and laptops, replacing the Motorola PowerPC chip series that had run Macs since mid-1992.

On August 7, 2006, they announced the transition was complete.

On January 9, 2007, Apple announced the iPhone, a hand-held computing device (and yes, music player and phone.) It ran not on PowerPC or Intel, but on an Apple-designed system-on-a-chip (SoC) that uses what’s called ARM architecture, a reduced instruction set architecture first designed to run British Acorn microcomputers.

The ARM architecture has expanded its influence and reach to where today companies create ARM-based systems that combine multiple cores of processing, both CPUs and the graphics-focused GPUs.

The chip that’s in my iPhone, probably yesterday’s news, held by evil robot pincers.

If you have an iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch, you have an ARM SoC designed by Apple running in there at remarkable speeds, sipping battery power, and getting things done for you silently. It is a key to the success of those devices, and Apple has become very good at designing and refining these things.

In fact, if you have an Android phone, it too probably has an ARM architecture SoC inside. There are those that say these “reference designs” aren’t as fast or as power-efficient than Apple’s take on the architecture, but the fact that they get the job done at all in a thing that small is a tribute to the robustness of the ARM approach.

ARM systems-on-a-chip are also running the two tiny Raspberry Pi linux computers in our house. They are powerful and sip power.

So. Tomorrow, Monday June 22, 2020, Apple is “widely expected to announce” (if you run that through your secret decoder ring, you get “the rumor sites are really almost 100% positive about this”) that they will transition—somehow—their desktop and laptop machines—their Macs—from Intel chips, which they of course have to pay Intel for, to Apple-designed ARM-based systems-on-a-chip. That will be a profound transition, if true.

It might mean…well, there are sites right now filled with what it might mean. We could just tune into Tim Cook’s 1 pm eastern Keynote talk and find out for sure.