Bleat before April.

Tuesday, March 31st, 2020

A lamb from County Meath, Ireland, 2017.

I have the data in front of me, my high-powered machine that says what day it is in varied timezones around the globe, and for the purposes of posting this, we have arrived at the last day of March, the 91st day of this leap year, where it is supposed, according to traditions way too arcane for me to parse, to go out like a lamb.

That’s it for you, March. In with bluster, out with quiet bleats in Irish meadows.

And looking back, this has been a March as atypical as they come. Fast-paced? not really. More like relentless. There’s another day of this, and then another one.

On March 1st, I babbled about old YouTube educational movies exhibiting the hubris of the late 1950s. But the very next day, I had a screen filled with departing Democratic candidates and MSNBC anchors, and a headline under Dr. Anthony Fauci that said “Coronavirus ‘likely’ to become ‘pandemic.'”

We don’t put the quotes around either of those terms any more. Less than a month ago. Wow.

Happy birthday Christopher Walken and Twitter co-founder Ev Williams. Look what you’ve wrought.

Very much hoping that April does not come in like a fool.

Signs of concern.

Monday, March 30th, 2020

Surprising amount of traffic headed into Atlanta on I-75 Sunday afternoon.

The discussion of how best to be safe during this period of semi-locked-down-ness and, for sure, distancing, has reached a level where it has been thrust into the arena of politics.

Strange but true.

Should we wear masks when out in public? Experts disagree. Should our state boundaries be policed so that the potentially infected from those other states are kept out, quarantined, or minimized? Experts disagree.

But the trends day-to-day suggest the most socially distant type of consensus, as even politicians from the reddest of states start slowly tightening the “urgings” and “suggestions” into something more like mandates.

As March comes to a close, I don’t think there are many Americans left who think that this will all come and go by Easter. So the end of April is the new benchmark. Sammy and I were to be traveling internationally around then…we are (I’d say) quite adjusted to the reality That Will Not Happen.

And we’re quite adjusted to the earliest sense of what the succeeding months will bring to our world.


Sunday, March 29th, 2020

There’s a decade-old iMac in our dining room right now, running dimly in a corner. It’s the machine Sammy’s been using at her desk for years and years, and before that, it was my main machine for cranking out fine, fine television graphics. Right now it’s sitting in the dining room with the brightness turned down but not off, and I peer in every so often to see if the screen has snapped off, which is what it’s been doing with great random frequency of late.

Random and often increasing snapping off is not a good thing. Tends to put a crimp in the workflow.

A lot of people have these exact machines, even today, and this problem, turns out, is not uncommon—or some problem like it. It’s therefore the subject of endless uninformed posts and YouTube videos that take 12 minutes to explain with a badly miked voice in an eastern European accent that it may be this, but it might be that, he or she is not really sure. But click subscribe if you like this video.

This is the quality of tech support that exists on the internet these days, and it can be frustrating. It used to be that you could reliably find at least one soul out there somewhere who has had a matching experience and indeed had five minutes to write down their clever solution clearly and cogently and share it with the world.

At any rate, I think I’ve narrowed it down to one or two possibilities, and in the meantime, I hope I’ve supplied Sammy with a decent workstation, using her laptop with a wonderful new 4K monitor that the folks at MicroCenter were happy to sell me this morning once I slathered on some of their hand sanitizer as I walked in and was assigned a salesperson to tag along with me at a social-distance-appropriate range just to make sure I didn’t, I dunno, start licking the keyboards? It was, in fact, a smooth transaction and before I knew it I was back inside the perimeter foraging for a grocery or two in midtown, and then home.

And as I say, there’s the other machine, parked in time out in the dining room, which has lots of RAM and a decent solid state drive and really works great when it isn’t doing that one blanking-out thing, which might be related to heat. Heat, the nemesis of electronics. These machines have a network of sensors these days to make sure that the heat generated by these modern CPU and GPU chips makes its way out into the room and away from sensitive components where it can do damage. In fact, most modern machines watch their own temperature so carefully, they throttle down—they slow their processing speed if there’s some sign that things are getting too warm inside the box. Phones and tablets do this too. They (those who know) talk about the thermals of a machine, its combination of fans (or not) and clever vents and some very strange sticky paste put just so so that the heat from, say, a graphics chip, is conducted out and away from the chip itself.

This stuff (from my perspective and having watched a bunch of YouTube videos of chip-slathering) is very persnickety and I’m grateful that I don’t think the iMac needs a repair that involves thermal grease or paste. I think I’ve found a possible replacement board (according to one of my theories of the crime) on eBay and in other times, I’d be confident when I ordered it, it would be in my hands in a very few days.

In other times.

Oh, the other theory involves a small quarter-sized NVRAM battery on the motherboard buried so deeply it would strain my abilities to dig the one dollar battery out and replace it, which I guess you should do every decade or so. (It’s a CR2032, probably the same one in your car keyfob.) But there’s a YouTube video where a guy—some guy—shows how he did it—or something like it. Where are my Torx drivers and suction cups?

Three and done.

Saturday, March 28th, 2020

It’s late on Saturday night, and I’ve spent a lot of today researching technical problems and resolutions of screens and display gamuts and type of connectors and so on and so on. (I think Sammy needs a new monitor. It both is and is not as simple as that sounds.) And who knew, right now screen prices are going up because folks are equipping work-from-home setups at a remarkable pace.

I just am not in the mood to plow though any of that any more. I wish I could do the Archaeofacts thing of two or three pictures, a line of copy, on the surface just kinda observational, but on second pass, deeply profound.

It’s a skill.

Boom. Chalk. Ahh, colorful, precise, attention-getting.

Aaagh! Mask. Monochromatic, discarded, portentious.

Third one! Another splash of color! Smeary! Energetic.

I’d like to thank the Poncey Highland neighborhood of Atlanta, just a few blocks from here, for being a constant source of visual interest and amusement, even during a quick walk down to the store to rebourbonize the house. G’night!


Friday, March 27th, 2020

There was unanimity of sentiment from the nation’s papers today, the last Friday in March, 2020. Job losses soar. They skyrocket. They have surged. They have done so with so much visual drama that newspaper graphics people played the spike large on the page, taking up most of a column.

If you’re connected with food, or entertainment, or anything involved with the social clustering of human beings, you can feel this—it’s probably old news to you—and more likely than not you have simply lost your job as your workplace has been shuttered. If you are one of the lucky, lucky few where your bosses have vowed to keep people on the payroll in some shape or form, then you have a thread or two of hope that you can come out the other side with a recognizable way of making a living.

Congress and the President, in what seemed like a glacial week-plus of finagling, finally passed a coronavirus relief bill that Speaker Pelosi will be the first to tell you is really only a preamble for the work ahead. It’s huge, and it will help some of the right people and a lot of corporate America that I have less human empathy for at the moment, but at least it’s done and the guy who got elected President attached his illegible sharpie-scrawl to it and it is done. Kind of sounds like they’re now headed for their respective bunkers, although Speaker Pelosi on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show friday night sounded like she didn’t want to take any victory laps—even those surrounding her 80th birthday—until she and everyone can freely hug their loved ones wherever they are.

Sure wish them luck in that challenge.

Target achieved.

Thursday, March 26th, 2020

I rolled our pollen-coated car out of the driveway and went on a quick, efficient grocery/supplies run to a Target and Trader Joe’s here in intown Atlanta.

The streets of the city seemed not barren—without doing any traffic studies, I’d say there were maybe half as many cars as a usual weekday, which means that there were lots of cars, but no traffic jams, except where a construction project at Briarcliff and Rock Springs had one lane open, flaggers and cops running the traffic, and a big gaping hole in the center of the intersection (which seems to be related to sewers, or, y’know, pipes. Something.) Are people working from home? Boy, it’s hard to tell.

Target had a bunch of blue Xs spaced out along the floor from the cashiers to reinforce social distancing, and shoppers seemed to be playing by the rules, and giving each other the very definition of a wide berth while trying to remain cordial.

Trader Joe’s had a guy handing me a cart absolutely freshly wiped down (it smelled sanitizer-y) and admonished me that if I brought in our own bags (I did) then I should be prepared to do my own bagging (we always do.) The TJ inventory was very close to normal, and I scored the important things that we’ve made habitual in our normal intown Atlanta lives.

Target had absolutely no paper products—toilet paper or paper towels—but that wasn’t why I was there anyway (bags of coffee, mostly.) Groceries otherwise were hit and miss, but they did pretty much correspond to what the Target app said would be there at the store. As I rolled down North Druid Hills, I saw a big old Target truck turn into the lot. Paper?

Gas prices are absurdly low—$179.9 for regular. We have two vehicles with filled tanks and nowhere effectively to go, so, ok.

Workers at both places had smiles for me (and they are all working hard under crazy crazy conditions.) When the guy at Target asked “did you find everything you were looking for?” I just started laughing. He said “I know, we’re always supposed to ask.”

I got home and dragged the bags in and washed my hands and washed them again as Sammy looked over the haul.

@jcburns March 26, 2020 at 9:30 am

Why is this political?
Why can’t we say “we’ll do the things the smart people tell us to do, for as long as it takes.”
“It will be hard, but easier if we do it together.”
All of humanity needs our help.
Why is this political?


Wednesday, March 25th, 2020

Previously! On Survivor!

Yes, our content distraction this evening is (in part) the stalwart mainstay of broadcast television, CBS’s Survivor. This is season 40 of the show (since it airs twice a year, more or less).

It has a lot of that comfortable-old-shoe component, with a host and format largely familiar, if aged by the 20 years of airings. It’s also a weekly show that is taped on a far-off island significantly before air dates. In this case, we’re watching TV recorded in June of last year.

So it goes without saying, it’s a story with a lot of people in very close circumstances on a far-off island in a time before pandemic.

Yeah, kinda nice to divert. Kinda nice to pretend for 45 minutes or so that’s the reality in the world.

But we know better.

File footage.

Tuesday, March 24th, 2020

One of the things I’ve noticed since watching (arguably?) more television during our period of Staying At Home is how many commercials we’re seeing now contain footage from…back then. Before the crisis. before the great Distancing. The commercials, be they for cars, lawyers, prescription drugs or banks, show a delighted multicultural America hugging and hanging on each others’ arms as they walk down a crowded street or go off on a refreshing cruise.

Maybe only in the bast few days have I seen any ads themselves (unless you count news promos—network, cable, local) that discuss the new normal. One I saw today was for an Atlanta heating and air contractor, who wanted us to know three ways from Sunday that their crews practice distancing, are super-sanitary, and will wipe down everything they touch with gallons of sanitizer.

I picture these ad agencies and production companies with vast reserves of this sort of happy footage, asking themselves if they get to use it again in the months ahead.

I sure don’t know, but it might be as anachronistic as pre-9/11 episodes of shows that show families greeting and dropping their loved ones off at airport gates.

Battle lines.

Monday, March 23rd, 2020

As the battle (and why should it be a battle?) to disperse a big pile of money and relief to those who need it most goes on in Congress, I find myself arguing, jcbsplaining, and just plain trying to communicate with people (well, sometimes they’re people) on Twitter. Angry people. People who really don’t like those “demonrats.”

Well, let me be a bit more frank. I take this on myself, and I shouldn’t, for all sorts of mental health reasons, but the past several days when I could be learning new cool 3d modeling things, I am instead (I tell myself) speaking up for the working poor, for health care workers, for those maligned by the right’s very very broad brush.

And though I think of myself as someone who tries to follow enough of a spectrum of the American body politic (and even some Europeans where I can parse some of the language), I am blown away when this app opens a small door into a world that I don’t willfully turn away from, but clearly it’s outside of my day-to-day viewscape.

So I get some nasty comment from this one user on Twitter, ‘Coalonel‘ (no real name given.)

Like so many of these folks, his one-line biography is a secret decoder ring full of emojis:

Husband to 5⭐️DAR⭐️, DAD to 2 young ladies😇 and the Pretty Princess🤴🏻…….. 🏈is life🤙

And look at his 90 followers. Without their names, here are a handful of the bio lines:

Wife. Momma. Small Biz Owner. Speaker. Christ follower. Improv. Satire. Conservative.

TXT ME your name to stay updated 929-XXX-XXXX. ↓ Sub to my Podcast

Father🇺🇸Husband🇺🇸US Marine🇺🇸American🇺🇸Patriot🇺🇸

Video editor. contributor. I support President Donald J. Trump!

#ConservativeTHUG™ #RepubliCAN #liberaltearssipper #MAGAtron Pot Smoking Patriot

Campaign Manager for @realdonaldtrump 2020 Presidential Campaign. #MAGA #KAG #Trump2020

(yes, that last one’s Brad Parscale. Apparently he’ll follow anyone.)

This is the part of America that (apparently), if I followed just one or two of these folks on Twitter or created a Facebook account, would be the very political air I breathe every day. These are people that at my most empirical have to say are echoing ideas they’ve heard elsewhere (the bio lines give you a clue) and when those folks hear hey, no big deal if 3% of Americans die from this, then that’s what they say with as many exclamation marks as they can cram in. For them, socialism is a pure evil that only manifests on the Democratic side and powerful women leaders (again, Democrats) are “shrill”, “headstrong”, “bimbos.”

There’s a part of me that says I shouldn’t tune these people out. They’re people with bills to pay (health care bills mostly), kids to raise, fears and dreams. Car payments. Pickup truck payments.

They are as human as the people in Ireland, France, Italy, or Alabama that I follow.

But they’re also an embarassment to me as an American. So I try.

Fruitless picking.

Sunday, March 22nd, 2020

The title of my post three nights or so ago was “Picking fights.” I’m sitting here after a late afternoon of fiction watching (with an interesting documentary on typography thrown in) and I’m trying to have arguments with a mixture of idiots, zealots, and bots on Twitter. It’s like the 2016 campaign, but the stakes seem more…mortal.

Why (I ask myself) do I spend so much energy on such a fruitless pursuit?

I think the near real-time nature of the Twitterland gives me hope that one thing I write and push out there oh so quickly will touch a hardened heart and make them think a tiny bit more compassionately about their fellow human.

The power of ideas? I dunno.

* * * * *

Let me leave you with two or three of my browser tabs as I call it a night:

* * * * *

A Science magazine interview with Anthony Fauci. Somehow this quote is unsettling even as I have great respect for the guy: “I know, but what do you want me to do? I mean, seriously Jon, let’s get real, what do you want me to do?” You can imagine the question.

* * * * *

Harsh Steps Are Needed to Stop the Coronavirus, Experts Say in the New York Times, again by Donald G. McNeil, Jr, wise voice in the wilderness. Consider Extreme Social Distancing: “If it were possible to wave a magic wand and make all Americans freeze in place for 14 days while sitting six feet apart, epidemiologists say, the whole epidemic would sputter to a halt.”

* * * * *

One more from the NYT: Rupert Murdoch Put His Son in Charge of Fox. It Was a Dangerous Mistake. …which pretty much gives it to you in the headline.

First word.

Saturday, March 21st, 2020

What’s the first word of this very website’s title?


I’ve been paging through the past couple of weeks of posts, and holy moly. Yee gads. Yikes-a-mundo. Lamenting and fighting, lunacy and tempers boiling over.

And if I just sat here and opened up a nice new empty window and started writing what I was experiencing, thinking about, feeling over these last 24 hours or so…well, it just wouldn’t be that positive, would it?

We’re fine. I’m fine. There’s plenty of fine-ness within 6 square meters or so of our home.

We’re watching comedy on Netflix (at the moment.) I have chuckled maybe a half-dozen times in the last 10 minutes. Mmmm, feels good.

That’s a positive thing, right?

Just another week.

@jcburns March 20, 2020 at 10:32 pm

Patch me through.

Thursday, March 19th, 2020

Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett talks to whoever he darn wants to.

The first time I thought I saw a glimpse of the future was on the late 1960s Hawaii Five-O, where ace investigator Steve McGarrett would yank on the microphone of his 1968 Mercury’s police radio and use it like a car phone. A phone, in your car! All you needed to know (it seemed to a very young me) was the secret incantation “Patch me through to…” and then, well, it could be anyone. “Patch me through to the Governor!” “Patch me through to the Hong Kong Police!” “Patch me through to Chin Ho Kelly!” “Patch me through to the President!” And then, without missing a beat, he could have actual voice conversations while driving or by the side of the road.

I had no idea of who exactly was doing the patching, or the maze of 1960s-era audio cords, relays, and transmitters that helped accomplish the miracle. I just enjoyed the end result.

I think this came to mind today as we connected (re-connected) with a handful more people important in our life, just to make sure they were doing OK in the midst of all of this. Some we just typed to. Some we spoke to and heard their for-real voices, our words chopped into LTE and TCP/IP bits. But it was still a connection.

Hope you’re feeling connected as we proceed one day at a time.

Picking fights.

Wednesday, March 18th, 2020

I spent a lot of the day scrolling through what amounts to the wire service for the rest of us—Twitter. This global story of contagion, infection, testing, and treatment has so many angles, so many perspectives, and it can have so much of an emotional component that what people write (or cut, paste, or retweet) doesn’t meet much of a journalistic standard, although it may well be their truth.

It also (it seems to me) speaks volumes about how the average person has trouble understanding the math and science of epidemiology. They hear “no gatherings of more than ten people” and figure a small intimate dinner party would be “just fine.”

I’ve for the most part resisted the urge to respond on Twitter when I see a comment that is dangerously misinformed, or simply (maybe) a fear-based racial attack on “the other.” For the most part.

I think news organizations are doing a yeoman’s job of trying to explain why any size party or communal event would not be “just fine.” There are straightforward stories like the one in the Boston Globe with the lengthy, informative headline “A Boston doctor and five friends went to Miami. All six came back sick, at least four with the coronavirus”. It has the classic “well, I figured I could deal with it if I got sick” attitude that seems oblivious to the effects on the rest of the world around you. One of the best terse explanations I saw today said, in essence “Don’t operate as if your mission is to avoid getting sick…act like you are sick, and you’re trying not to (perhaps fatally) infect anyone else.”

The New York Times offers one story that would make a lot of people I know say “Well, of course you wouldn’t…” When they say Don’t Trust Memes That Promise Coronavirus Cures—but maybe that’s the kind of educational service we need right now. Don’t drink that bleach!

And then there’s an NYT article that offers hope in technological innovation while raising (for me) some questions of privacy: Can Smart Thermometers Track the Spread of the Coronavirus?

Just a little light reading (as opposed to my somewhat more painful observing of the collapse of the global markets) as we continue to follow the (fairly straightforward, for us) mandate to stay isolated, stay at home, stay away from our fellow humans for a couple of weeks. Or so. Or more. Now, let me wash my hands of all of this.

St. Patrick’s lament.

Tuesday, March 17th, 2020

Dublin in May 2017.

We were excited to hear, when we visited him in February, that nephew-the-younger’s Seattle high school band was going to get the chance to perform in Ireland on this St. Patrick’s Day. Marching down a Main Street in Dublin! Beyond that, it sounded like a great trip to visit lots of towns and sights on the Emerald Isle.

Well, you know what happened. We all know what happened. The parade was called off in Dublin. The trip was called off. School itself was called off.

Last night, my brother and sister-and-law returned from a not-really-that-long European trip that started normally, with stores, museums, attractions open, and ended with the feeling they were getting the last flight out of town. They’re home safely. The nephew is safe with his family in the Pacific Northwest.

And we too are fine. We’re all ready to spend the next two weeks or so (to begin with?) in a sequestered mode. It’s like we’re all antisocial novelists.