Choice of leaders.

Thursday, April 30th, 2020

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) and Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (R).

On the left is our mayor. On the right is our governor. The picture of the governor is from Wikipedia. He hasn’t been that available for on-camera interviews during this crisis. The picture of the mayor is from CNN, but last night she was on Rachel Maddow on MSNBC and she’s been frequently, frequently interviewed the past few days about the crisis and our state and local response to it. If you’ve turned on television news in America the last few days, you may well have seen her.

She has been very visible, and has emerged as a smart, sane voice agreeing to politely yet emphatically disagree with our state’s governor about his ‘reopening’ policy. Her advice and explanations of complex issues of a pandemic are reassuring, and her leadership makes me glad to have voted for her.

The governor didn’t bother to consult the mayor of the state’s largest city about the ‘reopening’ changes. He didn’t bother to consult the mayor of Albany, Georgia, where there has been a massive outbreak of Covid-19. I don’t believe he consulted with any of the mayors in the state outside his party.

The Mayor worked in her mom’s hair salon in her teenage years. She literally knows first-hand how close you get to your customers in the kinds of establishments that Kemp thinks it’s OK to reopen now. She doesn’t think it’s OK. She’s asked us, the residents of Atlanta, to stay the course. Yep, Ms. Mayor, we can do that.

Revealing tatters.

Wednesday, April 29th, 2020

The sustained winds of a hurricane can claw at the rooftops of even well-built houses, tearing away layers and peeling back insulation and exposing the flaws, shortcuts, and inequities hidden within.

Ah, that’s the best I can do. Block that metaphor!

Let me try again, in plainer words: feels like I’m living life in a once-proud democracy where the sustained impact of the Coronavirus crisis has exposed some very raw and fragile societal and economic edges.

We have a conservative idiot (Ben Shapiro, nah, he doesn’t deserve a link) saying “If somebody who is 81 dies of COVID-19, that is not the same thing as somebody who is 30 dying of COVID-19…If grandma dies in a nursing home at age 81, that’s tragic and it’s terrible, also the life expectancy in the United States is 80.”

Which, as someone in Twitterland pointed out, is pretty Logan’s Run. The tragicness of death is…it turns out, relative! It’s ranked by these dystopian idiots by their age, and while they’re at it, by class, race, gender, what have you.

We have a, what, libertarian-ish gazillionaire Elon Musk tweeting “FREE AMERICA NOW.” Yeah, the citizen of South Africa, Elon Musk.

We have the very wealthy treating their nannies as relocatable and reconfigurable household appliances. Deploy unit B5 to the Hamptons immediately!

The president of the University of Georgia says they “are anticipating a resumption of in-person instruction for the Fall Semester beginning in August 2020 for all [University System of Georgia] institutions,” but hey, it’s a fluid situation. Good choice of words.

But in good news, a beta version of the iPhone operating system will make it faster to use a passcode to unlock your phone while wearing a mask.

Good enough Tuesday.

Tuesday, April 28th, 2020

It was a quiet, productive day today. I did all the correct stuff and went grocery shopping. We now have a pantry and refrigerator full of fine foods. Had a great dinner featuring the stuffed pasta that Trader Joes had been out of for a while, but it’s back. Reported a spam/spoof email to the company it was pretending to be from. Watched some content on the device(s). It was that kind of day.

Enjoyed paging through some more of my non-screen-based living room reading, the delightful Designing Graphic Props for Filmmaking. I have determined that the necessity to create not 1 but 32 ripped telegrams, not 1 but 24 passports from a fictional country might daunt me before I began and keep me away from yet another non-career that I have (optimistically) 70% of the skills for. Yes, I know movie people do lots of takes. But they could just, y’know, be careful with the intricately crafted book of train tickets from another era. Use gloves!

Since I was reading a book by a Dublin-based designer and our usual pattern of international travel remains disrupted, and since Dublin is in Ireland and Scotland is, well, right nearby, I leave you with a (for me) nostalgic picture of Lochgilphead. Possibly the first picture of Lochgilphead you’ve seen this week! How’s that town name pronounced? How indeed.

Very quiet sunrise.

Monday, April 27th, 2020

John Portman at Williams, looking east, 9:14 am, Monday, April 27. ©2020, jcburns

When I first moved to Atlanta in the late 1970s, I looked at all the then-new John Portman architecture and thought “whoa, cool, it’s like living in a science fiction novel.” And certainly more than any city’s share of post-apocalyptic dramas have been shot here.

Parts of the city were very quiet this Monday morning, and parts nearby were most certainly not. There’s a lot of construction going on right now. Infrastructure. City streets. New buildings. Hospital expansion. And somehow the enormous dump trucks and oversize flatbeds with prestressed concrete beams are rolling around as if they are in command of the streets.

The crews pulling up street plates and trenching for sewer pipes were, for the most part, unmasked and in close proximity to each other. A few blocks away on Courtland Street, a couple of dozen homeless and needy, with a small handful of masks in various states waited for a morning meal. And at the places—hair salons, massage therapy, tattoos—in the metro where to do your job means coming into close contact with people, the next day of “reopening” got underway.

I guess we won’t know too much about how all these stories end for a few weeks.

Risky thaw ahead.

Sunday, April 26th, 2020

It was the day after March 12th when I tossed a montage of US newspaper headlines up here to give you some impression of the impact of the crazy seven previous days. Stocks plummeted. “Outbreak begins to upend life” across the country.

One week later, March 20th, it was lockdown lockdown closing, schools closed, and a sense of no real plan emerging from the White House.

Then, on March 27th, I found a common theme in cases, deaths, and unemployment claims skyrocketing to gargantuan numbers.

It’s Sunday night, late April, a day short of one month after that last link. Barely 30 days!

And the headlines (shown above) have the affect of a shell-shocked soldier peering cautiously up out of the trench. States are “weighing” reopening (here in Georgia, that calculation has been made, and personally we have pretty much doubled down on isolation in the face of ill-informed bravado.) The AJC reports on rural Georgia hospitals, ill-equipped and victims of consolidation even before the pandemic. They are worrying for sure.

Experts ponder how to create a ‘fortress’ to protect employees. The candidates are not campaigning at all in traditional ways. It just sounds so fragile.

The ‘Risky thaw ahead’ headline came on a day where we heard from our friends up in the upper peninsula of Michigan, perched on the north edge of a lake that is only now starting to thaw substantially. You wouldn’t want to just blindly march out there. Perfect.

I came downstairs this morning asking Sammy if there was any way we could just fast-forward 30 days. I knew the answer, of course. We can see May on the horizon, but it’s ours to get through.


Saturday, April 25th, 2020

I got deep into the weeds this afternoon trying to read up on a proposed approach to getting the global pandemic under control. Once you get started with some of this material, linking deeper and deeper to scientific papers and forums where the politics and attitudes about collective action have a way of drowning out all the discourse, one pulls back (okay, I pull back) from the screen and shakes his (my) head and says “all these pathways of communication and this is the best we can do”?

Let me back up. The proposed approach appeared to me first in a Hacker News-linked blog post—posted Friday!—by a guy named Paul Buchheit, who I had never heard of, but his Wikipedia entry (he proudly or conveniently links to it on his blog) He’s 47. Early employee for Google. Worked on Gmail. Worth roughly $600 million, and doesn’t need to work now. All that aside, his thesis is: it’s really important for us to avoid contact with people who have the disease to prevent its spread. The only way to that goal is super mega ultra testing. He advocates ubiquitous daily screening (he put it in bold face, so I did too.) So like…everyone, every day. You get a read right away whether you’ve become infected. If you have, you’re quarantined.

This sounds a little like science fiction and makes my dreams of a medical tricorder a teeny bit less fuzzy.

But apparently the science-fact or the science-it-could-be-this-way behind the dream is something called LSPR or Surface Plasmon Resonance testing. Give an automated box some saliva, and for (at scale) less than $1 per test, you detect the presence of specific proteins on the surface of COVID-19. (The teeniness we’re talking about boggles my mind.)

He then says “We’re planning to start operating the first scanner within a month. It’s a fully automated system, similar to a kiosk or turnstile. If all goes well, there will be millions of scanners deployed by this fall”…and then says “My goal for the year 2020 is to wipe out COVID-19. That sounds unrealistic, but once we have demonstrated that viral screening is possible and effective, I believe that the benefits of this approach will become overwhelmingly obvious and institutions around the world will rush to embrace this solution. This is a startup effort, so our success is far from guaranteed. This is why I want to raise awareness of this strategy…”

The comments attached to this post at HN run the gamut of discussing the potential of the idea to challenging the concept that the virus is something we must expend huge energies to track and fight to questioning who this “we” is that is developing this box/kiosk/thing. Good question, that last! The ‘we’, I eventually parsed, is a company called PreDxion Bio, Inc. They’re in Ann Arbor, and their founders have some University of Michigan roots. The website is just barely a placeholder.

And so I roll away from the screen with some slight overlay of hopefulness, and try to imagine a world where concrete answers to what we want…need to know, are just a spit-beep-boop away.

No buffet for you.

Friday, April 24th, 2020

Today is the first day of the state of Georgia’s attempt to, well, it’s hard to say what exactly. The governor’s office might say “restart the economy,” but facts seem, to me, to line up behind “put us all at greater risk”.

First of all, his executive order is entitled “Reviving a Healthy Georgia.” The choice of the word “reviving” seems off here, because if you’re healthy, I don’t think you need life breathed back into you. And the whole “reviving” thing in the context of a virus that is communicable through aerosol particles…well, yeesh.

For the brave/foolhardy/desparate restaurants that wish to offer inside, at-your-table service, there are a bunch of guidelines, some hilarious:

  • Discard all food items that are out of date;
  • Discontinue use of salad bars and buffets;

And some simply in the category of “you mean they aren’t already doing this?”:

  • Clean and sanitize restrooms regularly, check restrooms based on the frequency of use, and ensure adequate supply of soap and paper towels at all times;
  • Ensure the Food Safety Manager certification of the person in charge is up to date and provide food handler training to refresh employees;
  • Thoroughly detail, clean, and sanitize the entire facility prior to resuming dine-in services and continue to do so regularly, focussing such cleaning and sanitation on high contact areas that would be touched by employees and patrons;

As for us, we’ll pass on the dine-in experience for a while longer. Maybe a long while longer. Maybe until we hear more from scientists and experts on how we’re doing at phase one of this — distancing to prevent the spread.

How it goes.

Thursday, April 23rd, 2020

I started today sipping a delicious cup of coffee, carefully crafted by Sammy. Then!

  • Watched an episode of Perry Mason on MeTV. They apparently they air in order, and they’re most of the way through the final season, so you get a sense the writers were struggling to keep things interesting, and the director and camerapeople were experimenting with even more noir-ish lighting and dramatic push-in camera moves and super-tight shots of sweaty foreground suspects with the split-diopter effects of Perry or Burger in sharp focus in the deep background. Also: great mid-1960s cars! Dial telephones! Paul Drake’s sport jackets!
  • Put together an Amazon order that should show up on the weekend—stuff we were having trouble getting at Target. Yes, a spreadsheet was involved.
  • Discussed global shipping with my brother, who awaits a fancy yet tiny new phone at his doorstep tomorrow, and yeah, he’s tracking it.
  • Sent a couple of emails wherein I could assure folks that despite gubernatorial idiocy, we’re fine and hanging in there..uh, here. Also, when the afternoon brought severe weather to the southern part of our state, I could reassure one western correspondent that yes, we were largely north of the severity.
  • When the morning rain abated, went out and tried to scrub some of the pollen off of the car, in hopes that the late-afternoon storms would rinse it the rest of the way.
  • Watched one of the masters of in-the-trenches vfx discuss how to get fancy ‘bullet-time-like’ results by (to start with) shooting with your iPhone. It involves putting the pricy-but-increasingly-powerful device at the end of a broomhandle and whipping it around a room, which sort of makes me nervous. No iPhones were harmed, though.
  • Chatted online with our niece about her new fancy animal-portrait-mode capable phone, which is not going on the end of a broomhandle, as far as I can tell.
  • Checked around Wall Street closing time if our retirement savings had evaporated when I wasn’t looking. Not yet.
  • Discovered that SMPTE, the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, has made some of their very technical standards—the stuff that defines how television and movies work—available online for free. Nice! Now I wonder whether I should point out their website has a (slightly) wrong version of their organization name on the copyright line of their site. Yeah, probably should.
  • Read on Twitter about a planned workers strike on May day, affecting Amazon, Whole Foods, Target, and Instacart. (But, uh, our order should be here by then.)
  • Discussed reasonable takeout options nearby with my dear spouse.
  • Prepared for an evening’s consuming of content.

Best of luck.

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2020

I started this morning knowing I had to “fire a client,” or, more realistically, step away from a situation where there wasn’t really anything I could do to help, and the things that the president of the organization said in an email made it clear that they had already headed off in another, more expensive direction.

Okay then, farewell, and the best of luck. (If I didn’t precisely say “best of luck,” I also managed to avoid saying “you’ll need it.”)

This nonprofit spent several years struggling to get any of their people to create fresh content for the website, and then bemoaned that it just seemed stale, it needed a refresh. That syndrome, which can happen to for-profits, non-profits, and single-person web presences alike, befalls projects where the website is viewed as something that is designed by mystery coding wizards and then, well, there it is! And when it’s not right, then…design again! That’s usually a sign that the client has no idea from what seed a website grows. It is, when stripped of fancy styles, fonts, colors, and images, a container for content, and someone has to sit down and literally (yes! really! you!) write the content.

If you’re huge enough, you can pay a professional to do the writing, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but don’t assume you can say “ok, so write stuff!” and step away and that’s it. Sometimes, it’s much more work to bring writers up to speed on the workings, thinking, ethics, and sensitive areas of what you do. Ironically, some of these people (I’m thinking of the folks from this morning) are professionally trained in writing—creating intelligible reports is part of their job description. They have advanced degrees!

But they are also swayed by the bright and shiny and they will now use their members’ hard-earned dues to pay for that. As for me, well, it feels kinda good to step away and close that file folder.

Tattoos available.

Tuesday, April 21st, 2020

I’ve been checking in, or more accurately, have been checked in on by several out of state friends, who are curious about the exact level of lunacy possessed by Governor Brian Kemp, Republican of Georgia. The guy we’re forced to count on to make decisions that are, by definition, life and death.

And I say yeah, he’s the guy awarded the Governorship after an extremely disputed election where, quite antidemocratically, he was running the Election board for his own election in his role of Secretary of State. Stacey Abrams can tell you all about Kemp.

And lo, he has put forth new rules, effective starting Friday, with even more opening next Monday, and for reasons that completely elude me, well: Georgia tattoo parlors. Bowling alleys. Massage parlors. Open for business.

Several wise people have said this is a classic Republican move. These people can’t claim unemployment if their jobs are ostensibly ‘available’…and yet super dangerous now, super risky. So it puts less of a strain on the state, which has been set up by GOP legislators to have way less capacity to handle the strain of the unexpected.

Several other wise people have pointed out how this virus as well as the recovery from it unfairly and disproportionately affects people of color, the poor, people who are less likely to work from home. Georgia very much has that sort of makeup. The next 30 days are, well, the die is cast.

Picked the wrong year.

Monday, April 20th, 2020

Lloyd Bridges in Airplane, 1980, directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker

I know that I went to see the movie with some Turner colleagues in, y’know, an actual movie theater, probably the LeFont Tara or The Screening Room. I know at least some of my moviegoing companions were high when we saw it, and although I’d like to pretend I was wasted as everyone else, I probably wasn’t. I may have had a social toke, but really, it was never my thing.

Happy 4/20!

This movie was by turns excrementally bad and side-splittingly funny, and to this day just thinking about some of the scenes just causes spasms of laughter or repressed giggles. It’s like when I watch MST3K with Sammy anywhere around and stifle a giggle…she says “hee hee! hee hee!” because I think it delights her to see me laughing like an 8 year old.

But Airplane was in several moments…in a lot of moments, my kind of humor.

My kind of humor is when the posse in Blazing Saddles, accompanied by rich orchestral music, rides by an entire orchestra in the desert, playing the music we’re hearing.

And my kind of humor is when Robert Stack orders “Steve, I want every light you can get poured onto that field” and the next shot we see is a dump truck of lamps and bulbs being poured out onto the airstrip.

And my kind of humor is when Bridges jams a cigarette in his mouth after asking “where the hell is Kramer” and the camera pulls back to include a portrait of him in that exact same pose…in front of a picture on the wall of him in that exact same pose…in front of a picture on the wall of him in that exact same pose.

Which is, I guess, stoner humor, or literal humor, or old guy humor, or just…funny.

I just want to say good luck, I’m counting on all of us.

Why we’re doing this.

Sunday, April 19th, 2020

Let’s see. Last week at this time we were worrying about severe weather coming through Georgia and the Atlanta metro. There’s severe weather in south Georgia tonight, but “all” we’re getting is lots and lots of rain.

A week before, I grumbled about distractions from the challenges that we faced as a planet and how the President’s conferences really did more harm than good.

And one week before, I asked “should we wear masks out in public?” as March came to a close.

I’m just calibrating here. Trying to get a sense of how fast time is in fact passing. We’re getting through April! That ought to be reason for optimism, but it sure sounds like if states loosen up sooner rather than later, simply put, more will die.

* * * * *

The photo of the day, for my money, though comes out of Denver, where, in the face of screeching protests by (half? un?)-thinking Americans demanding that they be able to go and do whatever they want and spread disease in any way they see fit because, yeah, America…they encounter in crosswalks nurses, wearing masks, after working shifts saving lives, who stood in front of pickup trucks and staged a counter-protest. A protest for sanity and freedom from the effects of our neighbors’ bad choices.

There’s video of this too, which I have yet to watch with the sound on, because the intensity of the woman leaning out of her Dodge Ram is, well, kinda terrifying.

Chase Woodruff @dcwoodruff — a writer for Denver’s Westword, on Twitter:
Remarkable scene at 12th and Grant, where two healthcare workers from a Denver-area hospital — they declined to say which or give their names — are standing in the crosswalk during red lights as a “reminder,” they say, of why shutdown measures are in place.

Everyone sleep well and be safe.

Photo by Alyson McClaran


Saturday, April 18th, 2020

One of extremely minor side effects of spending more time at home (and we have been spending more time at home) is that our living room TV, which can display pictures from our huge photo library, our Instagram accounts, or old television graphics I’ve created is showing slideshows we’ve created and honed over several years and they’re getting a bit boring.

We call these “screensavers” because they function a lot like the computer screen screensavers—presenting something interesting while keeping the image changing frequently enough that it won’t burn in on the screen.


So I spent a chunk of time updating the script that reads the photos we have on the little 3TB hard drive and then shuffles them and presents them in new and entertaining ways. And because I’m not a particularly good coder, each iteration reveals some silly thing that I had done in the past (“hey, that one picture of Clyde’s Drive-In in St. Ignace showed up three times!”) I was able to tighten it up and make it more allegedly bulletproof.

In order to do this, I had to cobble together javascript code that read the various directories, extract the list of images into an array, and then randomly choose, say, 50 of them to display on the screen.

Oh, did I mention we use a Raspberry Pi hooked up to one of the HDMI ports of the TV to do this? There’s one big clue that this is a hobbyist kind of operation.

But as I was saying, an array that needed to be shuffled. In Javascript.

Hey, Javascript has all kinds of ways to add to, combine, and sort arrays, but there is no native shuffling algorithm. Which led me to learn about the Fisher–Yates shuffle algorithm, also known in the modern form as the Knuth algorithm, or what Knuth himself called “Algorithm P (Shuffling)”. If you’re a human being aware of computers, you probably think that telling a computer to randomly shuffle a collection of things is as simple as asking for just that. Well, no. At least at some level, it has to go down to the methodical process of picking a random element, swapping it with another, and then doing it again, and keeping track of when you’ve done it to all the elements.

This is why I’m glad I’m just a software dilettante. But my hat’s off this afternoon to Fisher, Yates, Knuth, and the people online who published web pages discussing how this works in very, very simple terms.

Lesser-known new state alliances.

@jcburns April 17, 2020 at 3:36 pm

  • The Legion of DelMarVa Doom
  • The Union of Panhandle-Enabled States
  • The Greater New England Snootiness Society
  • The More-Vowels-Than-Normal Midwestern State League

Crossing Tenth.

Friday, April 17th, 2020

The drive west from our house, along the south edge of Piedmont Park, and then over the freeway to the area north of Georgia Tech is one I have made for decades, at one point to go to work at Turner Broadcasting. Familiar territory. Today my mission was to follow safety procedures as best I could and…head to Target, over by Atlantic Station.

My takeaway driving Tenth along the park was that there were lots of people out there enjoying the springtime. Many of them were in little distant-from-the-others individual clusters, but let’s just say some weren’t. Lots of cyclists, even some with rental bikes (haven’t seen that since before the pandemic) and none of them were wearing masks.

As I got over by the Georgia Tech campus, I drove by one of the Covid-19 ‘rapid’ testing sites, this one, I believe, run by CVS. It begins with coned lanes smack in the middle of State Street on the Tech campus, with lots of signs and instructions and lots and lots of masked cops (quite a few from Kennesaw State University, hmm.) I gave it a wide berth.

In the store, it was pretty busy on an early Friday afternoon and the staff was doing a great job of being helpful and socially distant. Some of the customers (the women, mostly?) had masks on, and some didn’t. There were plexiglas shields and marked places to stand and I found most of what I was looking for.

I was, in aggregate, a little alarmed by the general traffic levels in Midtown at 2 pm. They were, I’d say, maybe 70 percent of normal for our fair city, and that’s a lot of people out (and yes, I have to count myself. Could I have postponed the Target run? Maybe. Did it help my mental health some? Yeah, it did.)

I’m worried how many people will be at the park this weekend. I’m more concerned about the days after the mythical “turn the economy back on” happens.

No glimmers.

Thursday, April 16th, 2020

I spent a lot of today scrolling, with mouse or finger, in a largely futile search for hopeful items, observations, moments, maybe even memes. Nah, I have no use for memes.

At any rate, the nuts and bolts functionality of our home remains solid if a tad repetitive. I went out for groceries early today to take advantage of ‘geezer hours’ and it was painless and everything was well-stocked and we want for nothing.

Our sources of content remain abundant. Our internet remains fast. Our car, after sitting quietly for several days, seemed to enjoy its brief mission within a mile or two of here.

But then I watch interviewed protestors who believe the Founders fought and died for our right to get our hair done and our baseball stadiums filled. I look at a picture from a park in Lansing where I walked with Sammy when we went up to care for her parents, and there’s a protesting duo with a Trump/swastika/Pence banner as tall as they are.

And I really want to get past this. No, not just the virus.