A Little Less Bang

Maybe this is a good year to skip fireworks.

The past couple of years, I’ve posted tips for photographing fireworks around this time of year. They’re popular and taking photos of them is just as popular. But, maybe this year, with tensions running so high and people under so much extra stress, maybe with all that, we could tone down the fireworks. I haven’t heard anything about public fireworks displays this year, but, considering the crowds, I would hope that most of them would be canceled this year. Unfortunately, that probably means that more private “displays” of fireworks will happen instead. Smaller gatherings of neighbors who buy fireworks from the roadside stands and light up the cul-de-sac with barely controlled, hand-lit explosives. In theory, they’re illegal in most good size cities and neighborhoods, but they’re such a tradition that they’re hard to stop entirely. I’ve already read stories that would seem to indicate these neighborhood fireworks have been on the rise since the COVID-19 lockdowns started. And, I’ve read complaints about them on local message boards, especially by dog owners whose dogs get so very worked up by the sudden and random noise. If you don’t care about how it gets the neighborhood dogs worked up, at least consider your neighbors that may have survived a mass shooting or served in the military and seen combat. I know several people who have been down range and had significant experience with high explosives that were definitely not fireworks. They all have post-traumatic stress disorder to some degree.
For many most, it’s not even diagnosed. It’s just something that happened and they have to live with it every day, but the government doesn’t give them much in the way of support. I know one person who qualifies as at least partially disabled due to his PTSD and he was actually given a diagnosis to qualify for aid. But, whether any of our honored veterans were diagnosed with any psychological issues as a result of their service and exposure to combat, I don’t know a single one that looks forward to holidays that include fireworks.
So, maybe, this year, we should consider those neighbors. We’re happy to politicize military service and our patriotism around how much we allegedly support the troops, but this is an actual thing we can do to help them in a real way. I know I’ve shot off my share of those supposedly harmless fireworks, too, but, as I got to know more guys who had served, I came to realize how hard it was on them. The random explosions and shooting lights are very much like small arms fire and the kinds of smaller devices that are used by insurgents in our more recent combat theaters and conflicts. It brings someone with PTSD right back to those battlefields and the incredible danger that they escaped physically, but can never escape mentally.

And, if you know someone who suffers from PTSD, or any other mental health issues, trauma related or not, don’t forget these resources:
MentalHealth.gov – Get Immediate Help

The National Alliance on Mental Health Helpline – 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline – 1-800-622-HELP (4357)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255

And, specifically for those struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, National Center for PTSD “Get Help in a Crisis” page.

And, as I wrote last week, please, remember, there’s no shame in getting help. In fact, getting help is what strong people actually do.
If you or a loved one needs help with depression or any other mental health issue, please, don’t wait until it’s too late.

Facing The Black Dog

Yeah, I’m talking about depression.

That metaphor, calling depression the “Black Dog”, is usually attributed to Winston Churchill, but I’ve definitely heard it from a lot of sources. We tend to want to show our best faces on social media and on our blogs, but the truth is, most of us aren’t the happy, shiny Instragram people we want the world to see. I know I’ve had my own bouts of depression, on and off, for years. It feels like sitting in the bottom of a pit without light or hope, at best forgotten, but at worst with people shoveling dirt on top of me. There have been various reasons for it and I’m grateful that all my depression has been transitory. It’s always been what I call situational depression. One time, it was because I was getting divorced. Another time it was because my cardiologist had given me betablockers, which killed my motivation and made me want to just lay on the couch all the time. There have been other times, usually around a job loss or some other relationship failure on my part.
Right now, though, all of 2020 so far has been enough to depress anyone. I mean, I’m pretty blessed to have a job that pays well and lets me work from home at least some of the time, but I’m very aware that a lot of people don’t have that. And, even though I count my blessings on a regular basis, I still worry about COVID-19 for my wife and me and the rest of my family. I still worry about the economy and my friends who don’t have stable work. I’m absolutely blessed, but only someone out of touch with reality wouldn’t find some things to be depressed about right now.
And, even in that, I know I’m lucky. My depression has always gone away, so I know the latest bout of it will absolutely fade, too. But, my wife has clinical depression. She spends a good portion of her day dealing with that, whether it’s making sure all the meds she takes are right and that she’s stocked up correctly, or planning healthy meals, or trying to get enough rest, or enough exercise. She works very hard at it all the time. And, I’ve seen her when all that’s NOT working and she does get swallowed up by depression. I know how hard it is to watch, and I can only imagine how hard it is to live through.
So, I’ve got nothing fun or happy or silly for you this week. What I’ve got is a little understanding if the Black Dog has gotten off the leash and you need a little help. If you feel like everything is too much and depression might overwhelm you, try one of the resources here:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255

MentalHealth.gov – Get Immediate Help

The National Alliance on Mental Health Helpline – 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)

And, remember, there’s no shame in getting help. In fact, getting help is what strong people actually do.
If you or a loved one needs help with depression or any other mental health issue, please, don’t wait until it’s too late.

Money Management

I always seem to have more expenses than money.

The other day I was working from home and my wife came to get me in a little bit of a panic. There was a considerable amount of standing water in our back yard and right at the edge of our house. Definitely, not a good sign. She was sure we had a leak and I started to hyperventilate. If you’re a homeowner, you know that problems seem to come in roughly $5000 increments and from the size of the puddle in the yard, this was looking like about a $15,000 problem, at least. Like I said, definitely, not a good sign. Luckily, after calming down and checking the neighbor’s yard, it turned out that they’d just left their hose on over night and the water had run from their driveway to yard. It was gone by the end of the day.
But, that really got me thinking about money. I know that most Americans can’t handle a $400 emergency, much less a $15000 emergency. No one really ever taught me to manage money. I’ve had to learn on my own, which is why I carried so much debt for so long. The irony is that along the way, I started keeping track of everything with Quicken. I used to be able to connect to all my various accounts and reconcile everything easily. They’ve made that a paid service now, and I’m not quite willing to pay for that.
I did see Thursday, that you can now “Track Your Spending with Microsoft’s New ‘Money’ Template for Excel“, which sounds great, until you realize that you have to pay a monthly premium for that, too. And, it’s only good if you have a personal or family subscription to Office 365. My corporate license won’t give me access to the template. The good news is there’s a free alternative that does everything but directly link your bank accounts. You can download it from Vertex 42, The Guide to Excel in Everything, at Free Money Management Template. You’ll have to manually enter and reconcile your accounts, but, for most of us, that’s not that many accounts. And, this is free. No monthly fees. They even have a version for LibreOffice, if you scroll down a bit. In fact, they have quite a collection of free templates.

And, when you get a handle on all your money, if you have any left over, you might consider donating to causes that support a United States of America that is truly free and equal for all of her citizens, like the ACLU or the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or some other civil rights cause that scratches your political itch. Not everyone may be willing to risk their life or incarceration to protest injustice, but a monetary donation can help support those people who are fighting that fight.
Or, if you still can’t afford a straight donation, we can support more minority businesses. There’s a great list of resources for Black freelancers at Freelancers Union that include lists of Black businesses we can support.

And, of course, we can continue to educate ourselves, because it is OUR responsibility to educate ourselves as to the condition of our fellow citizens, not theirs. If you’re not sure where to start, this list from the Chicago Public Library can help. We can read books from lists like that and continue to educate ourselves because this is an issue that we can’t ignore any more, no matter who you are or what you do for a living.

Yes, I’ve posted that last bit a couple times already. With everything going on lately, I thought it bore repeating. Next month, I may highlight some other minority causes. I’d say I’d take suggestions, but I’m afraid of some of the suggestions I might get. The internet isn’t the friendly place it was when I started my blogs!

SysAdmin Software For Your Budget

Everyone’s IT budgets are shrinking this year, and probably next year, too.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been through a down-turn in the economy. And, every single time, no matter what the industry I’m in, IT and software purchases are some of the first casualties. Unless you work in an industry that is really deep into software and systems, it can be really hard to sell a software purchase to upper management, even under the best of circumstances. SO, now, with things as tight as they are, it can be almost impossible. One of the reasons I almost never worry about being unemployed for long is that I’m blessed with a reputation of doing more with less. I’m the kind of guy that will use PowerShell and batch files to build middleware. And, I’m absolutely the sort of geek who’s willing to put in some effort to use free, open source software to fill a need when a budget gets tight. So, since I’ve mostly been posting new content at my other blog, I thought I’d share something appropriate to Diary of a Network Geek, the first blog I ever started.
I’ve had this link for a couple of months at least, but there’s been a lot going on lately, so I haven’t shared it, until now. This week, I’m suggesting you take a look at Awesome Sysadmin, a curated list of amazingly awesome open source sysadmin resources, which is a fork of the older Awesome Sysadmin, a curated list of amazingly awesome open source sysadmin resources inspired by Awesome PHP. (I know, those names are confusingly redundant and vague.) I have to admit that I’ve only used a few things off these lists, but Clonezilla and NAGIOS were both solid tools for me when I had a shoestring budget and had to get stuff done. In fact, I still use Clonezilla because, frankly, it works so well. We use it to image Windows 10 machines without any issue. Laptops or desktops, either one works fine. So, if you’re in the network plumber business, as I refer to system administration, these lists are a great place to “shop” for free, open source software that can help you add another tool to your digital tool bag. And, yes, they may take a little extra time to set up and configure or may require reading some documentation, but that will just help you sharpen your skills.

And, with all the money you save on software, you can afford to donate to causes that support a United States of America that is truly free and equal for all of her citizens, like the ACLU or the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or some other civil rights cause that scratches your political itch. Not everyone may be willing to risk their life or incarceration to protest injustice, but a monetary donation can help support those people who are fighting that fight.
Or, if you still can’t afford a straight donation, we can support more minority businesses. There’s a great list of resources for Black freelancers at Freelancers Union that include lists of Black businesses we can support.

And, of course, we can continue to educate ourselves, because it is OUR responsibility to educate ourselves as to the condition of our fellow citizens, not theirs. If you’re not sure where to start, this list from the Chicago Public Library can help. We can read books from lists like that and continue to educate ourselves because this is an issue that we can’t ignore anymore, no matter who you are or what you do for a living.

This post originally appeared on my original blog, Diary of a Network Geek.

Political Agenda

Buckle up, this might be a bit of a bumpy ride.

I usually work pretty hard to stay non-political on my blog, but it’s too late for that. As my childhood hero, Abraham Lincoln famously said “In times like the present, men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and eternity.” So, what I’m willing to say and be responsible for through time and eternity is that, yes, we need to change. We need to be a truly free and equal society. Being more aware is a start. I can’t change everything myself, but we can damn well vote for people that we think can change things to be more like the way we were taught they should be. We can vote for officials that want to make our country what we were taught it was already. Every state can be a swing state if enough people vote their conscience. If you’re not registered to vote yet, go do that right now.

And, we can continue to educate ourselves, because it is OUR responsibility to educate ourselves as to the condition of our fellow citizens, not theirs. I’ve already bought the Autobiography of Malcolm X and there are several lists of racial justice books that have been recommended, including this list from Early Bird Books and this list from the Chicago Public Library. We can read books from those lists and continue to educate ourselves because this is an issue that we can’t ignore any more.

We can support more minority businesses. There’s a great list of resources for Black freelancers at Freelancers Union that include lists of Black businesses we can support.

We can donate to causes that support a United States of America that is truly free and equal for all of her citizens, like the ACLU, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or the Southern Poverty Law Center. Not everyone may be willing to risk their life or incarceration to protest injustice, but we can absolutely support those people who are fighting that fight. We may not even be able to donate time to them, but we can absolutely give them money to keep the fight going.

Why do all that? Because, while we may not be who’s afraid today, we can be who’s afraid tomorrow. And, because the things that the activists are fighting for will benefit all of us as a nation.

Embracing My Inner Geek

Because, that’s who I really am.

So, this week I was going to write about the error message I’ve seen filling up my logs which is due to some issue in the AuthorWrite theme I use here. But, thanks to some prodigious sleep procrastination, I was able to find the error and the fix it last night, with the help of Professor Google. Apparently, there are some security and encryption salts that are technically optional, but really should be added into the config on WordPress that I hadn’t done. Frankly, I blame that on being so far out of date on WordPress development that it’s ridiculous. The joy of it is that I don’t need to be up to date. Back in the old days, when I was running MoveableType, I had to know how it all worked because there was no one who was going to help me figure it out. But, now, with how popular WordPress has gotten and how many great programmers are working on it, I hardly have any issues. And, when I do have an issue, it’s almost always related to a theme or plugin that needs to be updated. In a couple of cases, plugins have been abandoned, and don’t work because the underlying architecture has changed and there’s no one updating the plugin code. That’s sad because there are some great plugins that I’ve had to stop using due to them not being supported and causing issues on my sites. Yes, I can almost always find a replacement for them, but, sometimes, the old plugins have nice features or an easy-to-use interface that I miss. Oh, well, life is change. Either way, the issue is resolved.

But, all that nerdy goodness got me thinking a bit. Being a computer geek is absolutely built into who I am now. It’s funny because back in high school, I was a little obnoxiously well known for hating computers because I already saw so many of my peers relying on them instead of thinking for themselves. That’s pretty remarkable when you consider that I graduated high school in 1986. Of course, some of those people I went to school with are now big shots in the technology industry, but, hey, I still prefer to think for myself. Not that I mind making a living off malfunctioning computers. It provides me and my family a pretty damn good living. But, I do find myself gravitating toward the, well, shall we say, darker side of computers and networks? When I attended DEF CON 20 in 2012, it was pretty life-changing. It truly opened my eyes to a whole new world of computer security. But, it also showed me that I already knew more than I was giving myself credit for! Beyond the security aspects of things, the idea that computer geeks might also be gun geeks or music nerds was sort of a new idea. My buddy, famous artist Mark Flood, knew about the hacker rappers that performed at DEF CON, but it was news to me. And, apparently, there’s a whole slew of nerdcore music and musicians that I’ve not heard of before. It’s an event he and I still talk about on a regular basis. Things we saw there are still trickling out into the mainstream, like smart car hacking. It makes me a little sad that DEF CON is Cancelled this year, at least in person. I still hope to get back one day to experience it all live and in person, but, if you have the time, this year’s virtual event August 7-9 is a great opportunity for you to safely check it out. Just make sure you’ve got all your antivirus and security patches up to date! (Just kidding! I’m sure it will be 100% safe! Trust me!) And, I’ve already ordered two DEF CON is Cancelled t-shirts, which will get here in a couple weeks. They’ll pair well with my Guy Fawkes COVID-19 mask that I should have by the end of the day!

And, if you just want to relax a little, not think about big issues like computer security and nerdcore music and COVID-19, then try unlocking some browser games with help from Lifehacker. Yes, all three major browsers have them, though some are easier to get to than others, not to mention more fun.

Try to enjoy your weekend and week and do something you love.

Finally, Some Changes

You know how I keep threatening to write differently here?

You may have noticed that things were starting to change a bit over the past several weeks. Yes, I’ve still been bringing you “fun” links on Friday, but that’s been mostly swallowed up by all the other writing. I’m still mostly too busy to write as often as I did ten or fifteen years ago, so I haven’t managed to get in more than a single blog post per week yet. I’d like to write more regularly here, but I’ve got creditors who demand to be paid and that means my “day job” comes first. So, after a minimum of forty hours of work for them, and my paycheck, I don’t always have a lot of energy or focus to write anything else.
You may remember that I started writing morning pages about two weeks ago now. That was inspired by the keynote for a virtual fantasy convention given by Brandon Sanderson. He talked about how frustrated he was when he started out writing because he wasn’t producing work that he liked. Well, that sure sounded like how I’ve felt for the past ten years or more. But, he offered a cure; fall in love with the writing process again. And, to at least some degree, that was what was behind me starting those morning pages. It was about relearning to simply enjoy the act of writing. And, so far, that’s really started to happen again. Now, I despair of being able to convert those random thoughts and stream of consciousness worries into coherent fiction at some point, but that, ultimately, is the goal here. So, in that spirit, and because I imagine my fictional readers being interested in the same things I am, I have a link to share. Brandon Sanderson is also a teacher, as well as a writer. He’s shared an entire course of lectures on writing fantasy fiction, which you can stream for free. I plan to watch them all, though, since they’re an hour long a piece, I’m not sure when I’ll find the time to watch all of them. Either way, if you’ve got it in your head to write fantasy fiction, you could do worse than watch his lectures. His work is incredibly popular and I found his talks so far to be helpful and inspiring.

You know, I had other links that I was going to share, but, I think that one is enough this week after all. It’s been a hell of a week. For one, a friend of mine lost her father. For another, my own father, who’s about two months away from being 91, and who’s going through chemotherapy for liver cancer, was admitted to the hospital with heart issues this week. Thankfully, it seemed to be caused by some fluid on his lung, which was causing some cardiac stress. He’s been given a diuretic and sent home and it sounds like he’ll be able to continue his chemotherapy. Chemotherapy which is working pretty well, by the way. So, good news for my father, but still, a lot of stress and worry, especially since I couldn’t just jump on a plane to go see him if things had gotten worse thanks to COVID-19, which he tested negative for, too, thankfully.
So, while I try to relearn what exactly makes a plot work and apply that to some of the ideas that have been bouncing around in my head for the past couple of decades, I’ll keep up the morning pages. And, in some form or fashion, I’ll keep writing here, too.

Escape The Confines Of Your Mind

Feeling a little trapped? Me, too.

So, I usually have a theme to these Friday posts, but even I have to admit they’ve gotten pretty thin lately. And, while I’ve started working some days back in the office, I’m still home more than I’m not and I can feel the mental pressure some days. I haven’t gone quite so far as to ask the dogs for advice about IT management. Honestly, I think if they could, they’d have some good ideas. At least, they can’t have any ideas worse than some I’ve heard out in project meetings over the course of my career.
In any case, until those animals start to talk, I’ll have to contend with the rest of the circus animals walking around talking up a storm. It’s enough to make me want to flee the scene. Actually, that’s a pretty common day-dream fantasy of mine; packing my life into a van or boat or something contained and portable and just, well, running away. I know it’s possible, because Brian and Karin Trautman have been living on a sailboat for 10 years, and they love it. I, personally, lean more toward the camper van or tiny house thing, but, hey whatever works. It’s the idea of being portable and light and having fewer attachments. I have a lot of attachments and absolutely recognize that the source of all my real problems come from those attachments. But, hey, knowing is the first step, right?
One other way I escape from my own brain is to lose myself in movies and books. But, weirdly, I need my escapism to feel real. I know, that’s a bit of oxymoron, but, well, as old Walt Whitman said, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, I am large. I contain multitudes.” So, with that in mind, I really enjoyed watching a former FBI agent reviewing mobster movies and, conversely, a former mob boss reviewing gangster films. It’s a nice contrast. It’s funny, because I remarked to an old friend just the other day online that for whatever reason, ultra-violent gangster movies are very calming and soothing to me, especially if they’re about the yakuza. Go figure.
And, since we’re talking about movies and, well, everyone is working from home these days, I thought I’d share this disturbing, but also fascinating mashup of The Office and The Matrix. Watch it!
And, finally, for the word nerds out there, like me, I have This Word Does Not Exist, a site that creates a new word and defines it for you. I think we should all pick one of those generated words and work it into our everyday conversations until we get someone else to adopt it. Because I’m bored with email and video meetings. And, I want to lead you astray.

I’d have had better links and a better post for you, but it’s been the busiest week of the pandemic for me. Seriously. I’ve barely had time to eat lunch most days. On the plus side, I have been getting up earlier and writing Morning Pages. Though, I’ve been doing it via the keyboard, which is verboten by the traditionalists. The average length of a page of a trade paperback is about 500 words, I’m told, so I’ve been doing 1500 words. It may not be the officially sanctioned method, but, hey, it works for me. I’ll try to remember to let you know how it goes.
See you all next week!

Today, More Than Ever…

In these troubled times, we’re all talking about the same thing in the same way.

I know the isolation is getting rough for all of us and it’s definitely giving me more days where I feel like my brain has more in common with moldy cottage cheese than the evolutionary advantage I’m told it is. In fact, I’ve been trying to write this post for days. Normally, I queue up these weekly posts with plenty of time to spare, but, lately, I’ve been writing them closer and closer to my self-imposed morning deadline. Honestly, I know in part it’s because I’ve been just as busy as I normally am, if not busier, but also because my creative thinking is just weak and stagnate. That’s been made no better by the posts on LinkedIn telling me that “…[if] you don’t come out this quarantine with: -A new skill -Your side hustle started -More knowledge you never lacked time, you lacked discipline.” For one thing, that’s bullshit. If you have time to do any of those things, you’re unemployed and worried about finding work and healthcare, which is not conducive to actually accomplishing any of those things, or you’re stealing time and resources from your employer. Either that, or you’re about to be laid off because you’re normally so unproductive that you have all this spare time and just needed to be able to more sufficiently hide that from your supervisor by not being seen. And, even if you aren’t doing that, but for various reasons are legitimately employed and legitimately not stealing time from your employer, you may still be massively depressed because of all the chaos and fear and stress at all levels of society. Saying that we should all just get our collective shit together and magic up some of that toxic hustle that the magical thinking, next-wave, would-be Napoleon Hill’s have been trying to sell us for the past decade, is about like telling a person with clinical depression they should just try to be happier. That’s not how it works. If that’s all it took, we wouldn’t have a multi-billion dollar antidepressant medication industry. Granted, those faux inspirational messages all seem to come from marketing companies who, traditionally, make more money when they can sell people things to fix problems we don’t have until the marketing companies convince us that we need to fix them, but it seems like it’s been really bad the last couple of years. Really, it’s just the latest “get rich quick” scheme meant to fleece the unwary and desperate. Of course, the truth there is that the only way to get rich quickly, is to sell someone else the “sure-fire method” of getting rich with little to no work. (Spoiler alert; those are all scams!)
And, for me, the added stress and strangeness of working from home has made everything seem flat and repetitive. Surely, you’ve noticed that all the commercials lately sound the same, right? According to the Boing Boing article titled “Every COVID-19 Commercial Is Exactly The Same”, part of my challenge may be something called “semantic satiation”, which is “…a psychological phenomenon in which repetition causes a word or phrase to temporarily lose meaning for the listener, who then perceives the speech as repeated meaningless sounds.” And, that’s officially the excuse I’m using for why it feels like nothing anyone is saying any more matters. And, that’s true for news stories about the ailing economy, too. So, basically, what I’m saying here is that I feel massively overwhelmed by this entire situation, as do, I imagine, the two other people who probably still read this blog, as well as everyone else in the country. We can’t keep track of what day it is, or what we should be doing, which are both signs of stress and depression, by the way. And, I seriously think that just maintaining my “day job” is impressive enough.
The thing is, the world is changing. Of course, the world is always changing, but, right now, we are all very, very aware of the fact that it’s changing and that the changes are pretty much all out of our control. Honestly, that’s how it is pretty much all the time, but, right now, we just can’t avoid that particular truth. And, you know what? That’s a really scary thing to wake up to and it’s okay to be scared or whatever you may be feeling by all this. It’s okay. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed and like it’s super hard to do anything that really matters. It’s okay to just want to have a hobby that’s fun and not going to result in some monetary gain. It is okay.
For me, that’s been photography in the past. They way I like to do photography takes a lot of time, though, so I haven’t done as much as I’d like. If you feel like you’d like to get creative and learn a little photography, for fun, but haven’t known where to start, I have good news. Now you can get some free, thanks to the Photography Life YouTube channel, which has all kinds of video tutorials meant for beginners. (I do have to admit, I found them thanks to PetaPixel.)
If that’s too much, then go ahead and try a game. In the past I’ve talked about Universal Paperclips, which is still a good choice, as it mostly runs in the background after a certain point. But, there’s also a new game that looks fun, based on this article on Engadget, Who knew I’d get obsessed with a spreadsheet game?.
And, if you just need to have some soothing music in the background while you try to work, try Robert Fripp’s Music for Quiet Moments series. Each is about 50 minutes of gentle, peaceful music. For something a little more unnverving, try the AI-generated music based on famous artist’s original work. It’s a little odd, but certainly interesting.

Finally, I’d like to share something with you that I personally find helpful and uplifting; Pema Chödrön on SuperSoul Sunday via the Oprah Winfrey Network YouTube channel. She’s a fantastic Buddhist teacher and her talks and books are incredibly valuable teaching for me in “these uncertain times”.

So, like I promised, things are getting weird. Next week, I’ll be in the office a bit. My co-worker and I are coming in every other day, to try and help keep the potential for exposure to COVID-19 to a minimum for us. I pray that it goes well.
Check in next week to see!

Time Distortion Under Stress

Or, does anybody really know what time it is?

I know everyone is talking about this, but I have to constantly remind myself of the day and time. And, yes, I know this is a side effect of being do far out of my normal routine, like everyone else is, that my brain’s sense of time has gone into a kind of psychological freefall. Also, it it may be a side of effect of both the isolation and the stress. I know, for instance, that some of my issues with concentration and memory are almost certainly related to the stress of working from home and the rush I went through to try and get as many people as possible able to work remotely. So, I feel confident that when my work schedule more closely resembles something that’s at least regular, if not “normal” whatever that even means any more, some of those issues will be less. Of course, that sense of time dislocation and general fuzzy-headedness is the reason that I’m writing this at 10:30pm on Thursday night, when I usually write these much earlier in the day and week, queueing them up in time for Friday morning. At least I know that I’m doing the things that will generally help with long-term stress, according to this article on LifeHacker, which is keeping up with my normal, regular sessions of sitting meditation, regular phone calls to distant family, and getting back on my rowing machine, which I’ve neglected for far too long. I should be getting better sleep and trying to be more creatively engaged, but, well, the concentration and memory things make that difficult for me. And, I’ve always had some issues sleeping, more so since having had cancer back in 2007. But, I work at all that, as well as trying to cultivate and maintain a positive mental attitude, which is frustratingly difficult. Though, thanks to this article on Boing Boing about positive thinking, at least I know why I still struggle with it, and, again, I find it comforting that I’m mostly doing the things suggested in the article and video to reinforce positive thinking rather than the negative. It sure is a process though, as the arty types are fond of saying.
And, just a quick note before I share some of the more fun links. COVID-19 is still super serious and the experts all seem to agree that there are more illnesses and, unfortunately, deaths coming from this. I know initially, it looked like it was going to be no more serious than the regular flu, but at the time I write this, the deaths from COVID-19 in roughly two months already have surpassed the number of deaths from the flu in all of the 2017-2018 flu season. And, not only do many people think those deaths are under-reported, even outside of China, but we’re just getting started here. If you’re having a hard time with visualizing how serious this really is, this article from Stat+ has some good visualizations for the potential death toll. That’s not counting, of course, the people who may suffer from long-term health issues after actually recovering from the disease. So, these numbers are why we’re being asked to wear a mask in public. That and the fact that symptoms take up to two weeks to appear and during that time an asymptomatic COVID-19 patient breathing out on someone could be infecting them. In other words, when I wear a mask, it’s as much about protecting those around me as it is protecting myself. Keep that in mind before you rant too much about your civil rights being infringed by a mask. Of course, some of my strong feelings about this may come from the fact that I just recently finished reading The Great Influenza, about the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic. It’s a little terrifying how similar the entire situation is to what we’re facing today. (And, if you’re a glutton for punishment, you can follow the daily stats in the US via Google. Again, the numbers are a little terrifying.)

Okay, now that I’ve got you good and worked up over something or other, here is the gentle, distracting content you actually came here for!
Just to start you off with something mellow, via Boing Boing, Muzak for Airplanes. Believe it or not, this offering from the same people who brought you soothing elevator music dates back to the 60’s and is so chill I can absolutely see it keeping uneasy airline passengers calm. We aren’t flying much these days, but the calm music is pretty nice background sound.
And, while you’re at it, check out Isle of Calm; 6 hours of calm, soothing music from NPR.
One of the ways I generally escape the world is through books. And, regular readers, if I haven’t frightened you away by now, know that I love free or cheap ebooks. It’s how I roll. So, in an effort to encourage more of the world to read, here’s a Lifehacker article/video on where to get free ebooks. And, if you can’t find what you’re looking for there, try one of the sources in this list of free ebook sites from MakeUseOf. Hopefully, between the two of them, you’ll find something to take your mind of all this.

And, for the kids of all ages, there’s NASA at Home, daily offerings from NASA to bring space into your home with books, videos, activities and more. There’s surely something here to enlighten or entertain, all brought to you thanks to your tax dollars, so enjoy it!
For the geeks that need to do something with their hands, there’s Rocky Bergen’s computer papercraft models. All free to download and share. You just need to print them, score and fold them, then glue them to recreate classic computers from paper in your home. Seriously, they’re pretty cool and I may have to try one, just for something different to do.

Finally, something for homeowners that are thinking about all that toilet paper we’re flushing at home, via Boing Boing; the Drain Addict. A YouTube channel of a professional drain cleaner. Trust me when I tell you that if the idea of 450 videos about cleaning out blocked drains doesn’t interest you, you’ve never had a major plumbing problem in your home. It’s weirdly fascinating. (And, if you want to go right to the YouTube channel, it’s here.)

So, there you go. Enjoy! See you next week with… Really, I have no idea. But there’ll be something here.

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