Under pressure.

Saturday, March 14th, 2020

It’s the first Saturday night under, well, what is it? The self-quarantine…? The stay-home-and-be-socially-separate? The flatten-the-curve via binge watching and assiduous hand-washing (because that’s really all individuals can do at this point)?

And in the real world as much as on the never-ending scroll of social media, the cracks are beginning to show. After just a couple of days. The looks on people’s faces at the Trader Joes here in Midtown when cashiers told them that they could only buy one package of toilet paper per customer. The rage against GOP machinations and, frankly, ineptitude that caused otherwise well-behaved Democrats to wish the illness on callus politicians who obstructed and cut budgets.

People (apparently) boiling over in frustration and taking that out by pouring it into a series of mean, hostile, dangerous tweets. Young people taking shots at the old, and vice-versa.

The best of what human beings can be? Ah, I think not.

But then someone tweets “great double feature on Turner Classic Movies. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (and) All The President’s Men.”

And the wave of online vitriol subsides for a few minutes.

The day after March 12th.

Friday, March 13th, 2020


There are days I would like the ancient comfort of the smell of newsprint mixed with coffee as they are spread on my morning table, allowing me to take in the story (stories!) from as many angles as the local newsstand could offer.

I don’t need electricity (OK, yeah, probably for the lamp) and I do still need my reading glasses, but still. A different presentation, a different pace.

Now, of course, I can just tuck away the day’s front pages in JPEG or PDF form and decades from now, chances are, they’ll be there in a frequently-backed-up directory deep within my desktop machine…unyellowed and unfaded.

Info therapy.

Thursday, March 12th, 2020

I think I used to have a better read on the power of information and its therapeutic effects in living a warm, informed, wide-angle, multidimensional life.

These days, in a home where the internet comes rushing in like a mighty stream, I have an embarrassment of choices. I can see how the BBC is covering this pandemic. France. Germany. Live! I can read Le Monde in French. I can page through the New York Times, Washington Post, and The Atlantic. I can go to governmental websites that are supposed to give me releases and transcripts that are accurate, full-text, and official. I can see financial information that is almost up to the second and download an accurate snapshot of our life’s savings in a second or two.

And then there’s that Twitter thing. I can scroll absently through at least a tiny subset of this vast ocean of 280-character instant emissions from all over—from reporters, famous and famous-ish people and simply the vast opinionated of more or less my choosing. And from people who might seem like people but who may be code simply designed to pick a fight.

This should be (see above) an embarrassment of choices. An embarrassment of informational riches.

It’s really these days more of an embarrassment.

This health crisis that is being (mis)run by the leaders of this public policy disaster, this global phenomenon that is by definition so steeped in science and based in facts (even the facts of what parts are unknowable or hard to determine at this point) is being subject to the same two-step mealy-mouthed lie-based propaganda mechanism that seems to be the Trump administration’s only answer. To everything.

So I am not informed, or reassured, no not nearly enough. There are a lot of reporters out there doing some very very good work under very bad conditions, trying to use the tools of the trade to point out the tragic mishandling of testing, containment, or health policy in general.

But taken together, it doesn’t give me that warm fuzzy feeling of “aha, well, at least we know.” Because…do we?

I’m going to do more work on what I consume and how.

@jcburns March 11, 2020 at 11:04 pm

The president’s actual words:

” We will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days. The new rules will go into effect Friday at midnight.”

We avoided watching the speech. We read coverage afterwards that (based on the above quote) said ALL travel from Europe (minus UK) was going to stop. THEN at 10:30-ish a tweeted press release from the DHS head “clarifies” that US Citizens (permanent residents) are exempt.

We have to wait for ALL the clarifications until we learn the government’s actual position?

This is just insane.

NAB Show 2020: nope.

Wednesday, March 11th, 2020

The NAB in 2013.

If you work in or around television (or movies, visual effects, radio…) you know the NAB as the huge trade show that is literally too big to be held anywhere else (before 1991, it would take over places like Chicago, Dallas, or even Atlanta, but since, it’s all Vegas, baby.) Hall after hall packed with cameras, switchers, lights, helicopters, microphones, all the toys.

And packed with humans, humans, humans from around the world, eagerly, well, getting their hands on the gear. Selling, dealmaking, absorbing. And outside the halls, drinking, eating, carousing, and sweating.

I used to go every couple of years, then, every half-decade or so, then…well, it’s been a while. It was, after all, a good excuse to see a lot of tech and get a good In n Out Burger.

But in the past couple of weeks, tweeted cancellation notices from big companies like Adobe, Ross Video, and AJA seemed to indicate that ol’ ‘abundance of caution’ was reaching critical mass.

And today, we get a release from NAB President and CEO Gordon H. Smith (the former Oregon senator with whom my brother-in-law shares some of a name.)

In the interest of addressing the health and safety concerns of our stakeholders and in consultation with partners throughout the media and entertainment industry, we have decided not to move forward with NAB Show in April. We are currently considering a number of potential alternatives to create the best possible experience for our community.

As of this moment, the best possible experience is not to (literally) rub shoulders with masses of colleagues from around the world. The other big worldwide annual TV stuff show is the IBC held in mid-September in Amsterdam. It’ll be interesting to see if the world has changed (again) by then.

Too early to call.

Tuesday, March 10th, 2020

And although it’s early, we are now able to project that the candidates have walked away from big congratulatory rallies in Ohio, scene of one of next week’s primaries, out of abundance of caution.

Yes, my fellow Americans, there is just too much caution in northern Ohio. It’s there in abundance. Bernie and Biden have to keep a respectful social distance from that.

And yet just a few miles across the state line, in Michigan, where there is a primary tonight, NBC’s Chris Jansing reported from Livonia that since there have been no diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in Michigan, the big box of hand sanitizer brought in (out of an abundance of caution) has gone unused.

Is that wise? Hmm. Too early to call.

Pole chirps.

Monday, March 9th, 2020

One of the things I admire about how Sammy pulls together a daily post is that she’s been out walking in the natural world, and, this time of year, is usually rewarded with an abundance of wonderful colors and fine details of blooming stuff in our basically very urban neighborhood.

I guess her choice to head toward Piedmont Park today also tilted her captured visual world in the direction of the beautiful.

Me, I plugged in bluetooth earbuds and headed down toward Ponce.

I paid my respects to our library, closed for months now, under…renovation? That’s what we’re told. It kind of looks like the venue for a hostage situation right now.

The fine vehicle above is a fixture in front of Intown Hardware. It has stickers and rust from places near and far.

And, well, this is the pole I stare at as I wait for the odd bird chirping noises and iconography that indicates it’s safe to head across the busy Ponce de Leon Avenue.

The outside world.

Sunday, March 8th, 2020

There are days, and today may be one of them, where I turn to the available distractions of our life in order to avoid thinking too much about the world outside our door.

My old client, (Verizon’s) FiOS1, consigned to the graveyard of 24 hour local news channels, tried to use that very phrase as a slogan for a while: bringing you the world outside your door. Nowadays, I think the general reaction would be: no, don’t bring that world in here. Deliver me a steady stream of fiction and ‘reality’ TV and plenty of unbaked internet bits that enable me to delve deep into areas my brain is momentarily enchanted with.

But then I come up for air, so to speak, and put on coverage from the CBC and the BBC and Sky News and France 24 and, oh yeah, CNN, NBC, and CBS. And guess what? The world outside our door is still, hm, how to say it? Troubling. Chaotic. Very uncertain?

  • CNBC: Dow futures tumble more than 1,000 points as all-out oil price war adds to coronavirus stress; 10-year Treasury yield drops below 0.5%
  • CNN: Ben Carson: There’s a plan, but I don’t want to talk about it
  • NYT: Senator Ted Cruz will self-quarantine this week after interacting with a person at the Conservative Political Action Conference who has since tested positive for the coronavirus.
  • (I include these headlines in the sincere hope that I can re-read them a decade from now and shake my head in delight that we made it.)

    Enjoy your week ahead. I’m going to look up how license plates were made in the early 1960s. Or something.

    More posts from jcburns.

    Saturday, March 7th, 2020

    I looked at one of my Instagram posts this evening on a web browser on a desktop machine and saw this at the bottom:

    Is this new? It’s a feature-y box with the six most recent pictures I’ve uploaded. I’ve really got dual feelings going for the Instagram these days. I am not signed up for Facebook and sorry, never will. However, I am well aware that Instagram is owned by Facebook (it’s right there at the bottom of that page!) and the things I’m doing there are all grist for the burgeoning Mill of Zuckerberg.

    But (and this is a sentence that all my friends with Facebook accounts have uttered in one form or another) I have no other way to make sure this particular outlet of my creativity gets seen by the people in my life I care about, and of course conversely I have no other way to get a sense of how their lives are going. And I like looking back at the 3171 images I’ve cast onto Instagram’s servers since October of 2010 (when Instagram was not owned by Facebook) and using them as little life thumbnails.

    So there’s some sort of grade A hypocrisy emerging from me right there.

    I’m thinking of maybe simulcasting those images from now on here. But it seems like a different sort of conversation we’re having, a different channel.

    More pondering is called for. But hey, for now, enjoy the pictures! There’s a taco with a moustache and our old neighborhood video store and Robot vs. Prius and french typography and tilty Zuckerberg and the 36 MARTA bus lurching through the night.

    As am I.

    Compu-Serv.

    Saturday, March 7th, 2020

    You are getting timeshare-y. You want to connect to an early network via an acoustic coupler…

    Friday floral.

    Friday, March 6th, 2020

    A roller-coaster political week, overlaid by the fear and misinformation that the Pandemic of 2020 has engendered worldwide, but especially here in the land of a lying administration.

    Meanwhile, we took a deep breath, noticed the bright sun in a clear-blue sky, and took a foray (as we do) to the Atlanta Botanical Garden and Piedmont Park.

    Sammy has a bright red and yellow flower (ah, don’t ask me what kind) in her sights.

    It was gusty, a little cool, but after rainy day after rainy day, it was a novel treat to wander with our fine phone cameras and the one we call ‘new’—the Sony RX100 M7. And the park and garden gave us plenty of colorful moments to gather pixels and admire their beauty.

    (This kind of expedition often yields the raw material for Sammy’s daily posts, which can be scrolled through as a sort of reverse-stop motion movie of spring’s emergence. Quite beautiful.)

    The rest of the news of the world dropped away for a while, and that sure was nice.

    Thursday without Warren.

    Thursday, March 5th, 2020

    Well, she’s still around…just not running for president any more.

    In fact, I commend to you an interview she just did (live, tonight, Thursday, and you can catch it again at midnight, and then I suspect it will be chopped up and distibuted a la care throughout our worldwide series of tubes.) It’s a conversation with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow in the sun room of her Cambridge house. It’s remarkable in so many facets, but in the last large segment near the end, she extemporaneously explains how all the current bad stuff—starting with the increasingly concentrated wealth of big banks, through the insanity of Donald Trump, and on to how the fragile economic house we’ve built is now being asked to withstand a global pandemic with a leadership team that believes in lies and magic.

    It’s not a pretty picture, but it’s a brilliant analysis. I do so like it when smart people run for high office and then are willing to put up with so much crap. So much.

    Thanks for your service to us, Senator Warren, past, present, and I sure hope, in the not too distant future.

    Wednesday with Warren.

    Wednesday, March 4th, 2020

    After listening to an hour of conversation between Rachel Maddow and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I’m having a respectful debate with myself between my desire for significant structural change in the way stuff works here in the Executive, the Congress, and the Judiciary (I feel as if we need to do some deep trenching, clean out, and recalibration) and the part of me that understands politics are about compromise to a greater good for a great number of people.

    I like a lot of what Sanders says, but I don’t hear a whiff of willingness to reach across and get things done from his corner.

    And when Georgia’s primary rolls around, I’m voting for a leader who, I believe, can get stuff (healthcare, education, America’s role in a diverse world) done. That’s Elizabeth Warren. And as of this moment, on this rainy Wednesday, she’s still in the race. There are 16 days until the Georgia primary. Phew.

    We’ll see what happens tomorrow.

    Tuesday tallies.

    Tuesday, March 3rd, 2020

    It’s the night of Super Tuesday, and the cable and broadcast television networks are running at full speed, counting down to poll closings with gigantic clock numbers on sets that largely consist of a cavalcade of bright synchronized led screens tossing up piles of infographics that, until the polls actually close, are not really all that informative.

    They made a pact, you see, an ethical choice, they’d tell you, not to report their exit poll numbers until the polls have closed in that state.

    And we have these time zones, and one incredibly populous state out on the western edge of the continental US.

    So they make do with the characterization questions from those same exit polls. They didn’t pledge to hold off on those. Alabama voters are “angry”, more than anything else. Black voters in Alabama are really really angry at the President, and…oh, wait, the polls in Alabama closed. Now we can decloak these results and, well, look at that, huge votes for Biden from those angry angry voters.

    This goes on state by state as the sun sets over the west. We won’t get to California before 11 pm eastern…two and a half hours from now as I type this.

    Maybe there’s some way to reform this time-zone dependent way of voting and tallying? Dunno. Play the music and roll the graphics. Woosh!

    Monday newsday.

    Monday, March 2nd, 2020

    Rachel Maddow loves to get you into the tent, so to speak, by starting out with “this has been a really, really big news day.”

    Yeah, this feels like it’s been one.

    Villages v. Progress.

    Sunday, March 1st, 2020

    I have lately watched more old films from the 50s and 60s than I probably should admit. No, not the fine fiction you’d more likely find on Turner Classic Movies, but the juddery nonfiction you’d most likely had experienced through a Bell and Howell projector perched on a couple of a World Book Encyclopedia volumes in the back of your elementary school classroom.

    The kind of experience where the martial music starts slow and wows up to speed, and the stentorian narrator speaks of American progress with a boomy optimism that these days makes me squirm a bit. There are splices and jumps at the beginning because the film has been shown and threaded and rewound and rethreaded so, so many times. But after 30 seconds or so the scratches subside and the opening titles conclude and we are deep into 20 minutes of exploring…

    Detroit! Building those cars!

    Freeways! Blasting our way through to our transportation future!

    The miracle of touch tone dialing!

    And most recently, I came across one entitled “The Eighth Sea,” an epic story of dam-building and river-rerouting and trenching and blasting and power generation as the rapid-filled St. Lawrence River was forged into the St. Lawrence Seaway, an engineering triumph of the late 50s. I was particularly interested in this because when we left the Upper Peninsula last fall, we drove through Canada and along the Ottawa and St. Lawrence, all the way out to Montréal and then Québéc City. We could see sections of the Ottawa with picturesque rapids, and we could see the results of the industrial labor along the St. Lawrence that made it possible to get freighters upriver to Lake Ontario and beyond.

    This film starts with actors, all older white guys playing engineers talking in front of chalkboards about the challenges and plaintively saying “it couldn’t be done” followed by a sudden burst of confidence: “gentlemen, we can do this!” and then, well into the film, suddenly a youthful Walter Cronkite appears and takes us through in extensive detail, using models and tiny ships, the challenges of damming up this and trenching that and oh by the way, moving a village or two.

    Walter Cronkite explains progress! From periscope film.com’s YouTube upload.

    Uh…what? Yeah, turns out that a lot of people, their homes and farmland were displaced by this project. Cemeteries. Roads. Railroads. One town, Iroquois, Ontario was moved “in its entirety” more than a mile from its original location. There’s a great article at the Canadian Encyclopedia on The Lost Villages and the effects that are still part of their lives.

    But they made it work. And big ocean-size freighters could lock and steam up into the Great Lakes and bring…well, eventually zebra mussels.

    That’s progress?

    Oh, and did I say big ocean-size freighters? Well, now the shipping industry bemoans the Seaway’s 1960s-era size because those massive ‘Neo-Panamax‘ container ships…ah, well, they’re too big.

    That’s progress.