Poetry in the Time of the Pandemic

I used to write, and read, poetry, before I stopped fearing death.

That sounds a bit contradictory, but, yes, I’m actually not afraid of death. I am afraid of the pain and discomfort that generally precede death, but not the actual eventuality of my death. Somehow, that seems connected to my ability to write, poetry or other things, but whatever the reason, I haven’t written more than a blog post or a single haiku, since I was diagnosed with and survived cancer. Sure, it must be related. By the way, that single haiku is:
Cars; a river of
steel and light, flowing to school.
Spring Break is over!

In 2003, when I was just getting into a year’s worth of unemployment, I shared this haiku on my other blog:
Snow blinks on my screen,
red lights on the router say,
“The end is here… Now.”

I’d written that when I was working a bankruptcy and had a little too much time on my hands to think about the end of that job. It was inspired by a book titled 101 Corporate Haiku. I loved that book, and the discipline of writing haiku, even under difficult circumstances, so, it’s strange to me that now, of all times, I find myself having trouble writing. I’m pleased to share, though, that others are making hay while the Sun shines, so I’m sharing with you, by way of Boing Boing, Someone made Found Poetry out of all the emails they’ve received about COVID-19. It’s not quite corporate haiku, but, well, it’s pretty good. And, since it’s also National Poetry Month, and I have a dark and twisted mind, I’ll also share with you H.P. Lovecraft’s Poetry, and, in particular, his dark, strange poem Nemesis. It’s about the strangest choice I could find to celebrate the month.
If you’d like to try writing your own poetry to celebrate, I’d definitely suggest trying haiku. A haiku is a poem of 17 syllables in three lines, usually divided into a line of 5 syllables, then a line of 7 syllables and finally a line of 5 syllables, with a seasonal word to ground the poem to nature and a “conceptual break” at the 5th or 12th syllable. A more modern variation of that is called the “lune” and is just 13 syllables, divided 5/3/5. Or if you want something with a little more elbow room to be creative, you can try the “tanka”, which is 31 syllables divided into 5 lines of 5 syllables then a line of 7 syllables then a line of 5 syllables then a line of 7 syllables with a final line of 7 syllables. Personally, I find a haiku in English challenge enough!

And, of course, I have your weekly COVID-19 related content, too.
I’m not sure about anyone else, but I’ve been feeling the long-term stress of an event unlike any we’ve had in living memory. Among other things, my sleep patterns, which haven’t been great the past couple years, have gotten worse. According to Slate, I’m not the only one with Coronavirus Anxiety Insomnia. If you get to the bottom of the article, there are some tips to help with it. Honestly, I think about the time I get a new schedule working and all that ironed out, we’ll be back to work as normal, whatever that means any more.
Finally, if you’re struggling with cooking, and are tired of the same old peanut butter and jelly sandwich, let me suggest you try some alternatives. Much to my wife’s horror, one of my favorite sandwiches is peanut butter and sweet relish. Something about the sweetly sour tang of relish just really compliments the savory sweet flavor of the peanut butter. Honest. Also, peanut butter and bacon or turkey, traditionally left over from Thanksgiving, but, hey, strange times and all, have been pretty good sandwiches, too. Don’t judge until you try it!

Until next week, hang in there and know that we’ll get through all this together.

And, Now, A Distraction

posted in: Art, Fun, Fun and Games, Movies | 1

I could stand to think about something else for a bit.

For the past several weeks, all we’ve talked about is COVID-19. Not just here on this blog, but, well pretty much everywhere. I mean, every interaction I’ve had with anyone for the past month to six weeks has had something to do with the novel coronavirus. So, if you’re like me, you’re about done talking about it for a bit. Outside of taking some pretty reasonable precautions, like washing your hands more frequently and limiting contact with others as much as possible and wearing a face mask of some kind when you absolutely have to be out with others, there’s really not much that’s in our control here. It’s frustrating, at least for me.
So, to help deal with that frustration, this week, I’m sharing nothing but fun links to amuse and distract. I hope you enjoy them!
Let’s start with Astartes – the Warhammer 40,000 fan film! It’s all fan made, and broken into small parts, but it’s brilliant, lovely work. If you’re a sci-fi fan at all, it’s worth a look.
If you’re looking for something a bit longer, but maybe not a full-length movie, IO9 has five short sci-fi, fantasy, and horror films that will fit the bill. And, yes, they may be a little intense for younger viewers, but they’re basically safe for work from home. And, all have high-production value and are really, really well done. Definitely worth the 12-15 minutes away from your virtual office for a break.
Next up is a somewhat more light-hearted film REBOOTED – a short film about an out of work special effect. It’s cute and, again, amazingly well done. A lovely story told entirely without dialog.
And, speaking of special effects, this next film, BOX, is an art piece about the intersection of video, virtual reality and physical space. Actually, it’s a little hard to explain, but it’s beautiful to watch, so, please, go take a little bit and experience it.
And, to wrap things up, a YouTube channel that gives you things to actually do; PPO Papercraft videos. There are papercraft tutorials here for just about every interest. Everything from paper airplanes to origami flowers and everything in between. As a kid I was given a couple of origami books one time when I was sick and I totally fell in love with paper folding. To this day, I can make a flying crane from memory with nothing more than a gum wrapper. A lot of time inside and away from other people sounds like just the opportunity to learn some new origami forms. I encourage you to try it! It’s fun!

So, there you go, some things to watch and some things to do during the quarantine. I’m not sure how many more weeks of this we’re going to have, but I am sure the longer this goes on the stranger the links are I’ll share.

Apocalypse Cooking and Entertainment

posted in: Art, Fun, Red Herrings | 1

Or, dinner and a show in the time of the great pandemic.

While things are getting better, it still seems like it’s going to be a little bit before the supply chain evens out. I made a grocery run earlier this week and, while it seemed like a lot of stuff was in stock, there were still a surprising number of things that were not. And, honestly, I expect that the food supply chain is going to have a hiccup or two here before we’re done. All that adds up to getting a little extra creative with our meal planning and cooking.
Last week, I mentioned SuperCook, a free website that will help you find recipes from the most popular cooking websites that use whatever ingredients you select. I still hold that out as probably the best source for working with what you have on hand.
But, this week, for a bit of fun, I’m sharing some other options. First, again via Boing Boing, there’s the Alton Brown Saltine Cracker Hack, that really does look surprisingly delicious. And on that same page, there’s a video of someone making “prison pizza”. That got me thinking a bit. You know who has lots of time to get creative and super limited resources, but also a lot of motivation to make delicious food? Yeah, prisoners. From what I understand, prison food is, at best, not great. At worst, it’s barely actual food. The thing is, though, they have a commissary where you can get the kind of convenience store food we generally take for granted on the “outside”. And, believe it or not, they use that to make some pretty amazing substitutes for fancier food. For some ideas, check out The Art of Gourmet Cooking in Prison on VICE or The Fine Art of Cooking In Prison on Thrillist. You can get several prison cookbooks, but here are the two I recommend; The Prison Gourmet: Written by an inmate for inmates and Commissary Kitchen: My Infamous Prison Cookbook. If you want to get an idea of the kinds of recipes you’ll find, though, check out 7 Gourmet Prison-Food Recipes for Bootstrapped Entrepreneurs. Stay away from the pruno, though. The liquor stores are all considered “essential businesses” right now and their cheapest sale wine is better than pruno. Honest.

Oh, and the show to go with all this fine dining? G.I. Joe Animated Series on YouTube. Not sure how that could possibly be related to strange food and cooking? Then you’ve forgotten about GI Joe – Pork Chop Sandwiches (Warning language may not be safe for work or small children!) If you’re not familiar with that particular cultural phenomena, you can find out more at Porkchop Sandwiches! The History of the GI Joe PSA Parodies.

So, like I warned you a couple weeks ago, the longer this goes on, the stranger my links are likely to get. Come back next week to see just how strange!

Random Stay-At-Home Resources

This may become a theme while we all wait out this COVID-19 virus.

This week, I finally got everyone else at work all set to work from home, if at all possible, and started working from home myself. I was surprised how much of my work is often determined by people in the office having problems. I shouldn’t be, though, considering how many times I tell fellow techs that the only reason we have jobs is because other people have problems.
In any case, I have a couple of links that I hope will help you solve some of the unusual problems you may be running into at home these days, thanks to the quarantine. Some may be more fun than others!
First, if you’re like us, you’ve been eating a little differently than normal. My wife is pretty incredible about coming up with meals that use whatever she happens to have on the shelf or in the freezer, but thinking of delicious meals with limited resources can be a huge challenger right now. Thankfully, BoingBoing pointed me to SuperCook! It’s a free website that will help you find recipes from the most popular cooking websites that use whatever ingredients you select. It’s pretty amazing, and it’s got some great suggestions that, I hope, will break up the monotony of cooking at home, when it’s a challenge to eat out. There’s also an iPhone and an Android app for you, if that’s what you prefer. (Links are on the website.)
But, if you’re willing to risk the delivery schedules, and want to add something more interesting, or exotic, or just plain fancy, you can try one of these mail-order food sites, reviewed by Esquire. They might get a little pricey, but you’ll definitely be getting unique and interesting ingredients to, if you’ll pardon the pun, “spice up” your regular, day-to-day meal and flavor options.

On a somewhat lighter note, while we’re talking about groceries, you may have had some “experiences” trying to get things at grocery stores recently. In particular, for some reason, people have been panic buying toilet paper. Well, I can’t help you get any of the desperately desired commodity, but, thanks to BoingBoing, I can share a video that explains the phenomena of panic buying. It’s actually a pretty good look at why, of all things, toilet paper, is in short supply lately.

And, this week, I’ve got two links for the grown-ups who have gotten bored and want to finally get some use out of that expensive camera they got for Christmas. The first of these two links is geared toward the potential professional photographer; Professional Photographers of America more than 1100 online photo classes for free. Of course, we don’t know how long they’ll offer these free, but if you’ve got a camera and internet access, you can take some classes and either develop a “side hustle”, or maybe even a new career, if you’re afraid of being laid off. And, that’s assuming you haven’t been already due to either the economic fall out of COVID-19 or the disastrously low price of oil.
The other link for photographers is a little more fun. 7 Photo Challenges for Photographers Who Are Stuck at Home. Amateur or pro, there’s nothing like a good challenge to keep the skills sharp.

So, there you have it. Some links to help you get through the next week. No telling how long we’ll all be locked down, so there’s no telling what I’ll post for you next week. The longer I’m home, though, the stranger things are likely to get.
Stay safe! Stay home! Wash your hands!

Miscellaneous Fun Links

Look, it’s been a crazy, chaotic week, which means you’re getting a crazy, chaotic post.
So, like all the rest of the IT pros in small shops all over the world this week, I’ve been scrambling to get as many people in my office able to work from home as possible. It’s been a long, frustrating week and basically nothing has gone the way I’d planned. Granted, that does mean that some things are actually better than I planned, but, honestly, most aren’t. Either way, it’s left me precious little time and focus to give you anything coherent. But, it is still a Friday and I feel compelled to share something. So, random fun links it shall be!
A lot of folks are stuck at home with their kids, who are out of school because it’s been closed while the academic year has been delayed. So, to help parents keep kids engaged, I have two links for you. First, there are Free NASA Space Projects via Space.com. I’m in the greater Houston area and we all get a little into NASA, because they’re such a big employer here and we have so much amazing history with the space program. These projects are all things you can do at home and keep learning while the schools figure things out. The second link is to a downloadable Cthulhu coloring book from Chaosium. Yes, it may warp their little minds, but it’s coloring! And, coloring is good, clean fun, as well as a known way to reduce stress and anxiety. Though, I’m not responsible if you all summon an Elder God!
The next two links are for book lovers. Specifically for book lovers who love science fiction and fantasy. First, or third, depending on how you’re counting, there’s the Tor eBook Club, which regularly offers free ebooks from popular authors. Through the end of the day of this posting, you can join and download Redshirts by John Scalzi! Or, you can check out the fourth link, the Baen Books Free Library! Again, ebooks, but free and from some very well known, award-winning authors. Both are just the thing if you’re looking for something new to read without spending a lot of money.
And, finally, a slightly stranger than normal link, specifically for our most current concerns, How Much Toilet Paper!?, a website that will help you calculate just how far your stash of toilet paper will last during this most current, or any future, pandemics! A fun, and hopefully funny, website about an increasingly serious topic. And, I know that first hand as I actually ordered toilet paper for my older parents online and had it sent to them. And, that’s no joke.

So, seriously, take care of yourselves and each other. Don’t go out more than you need to. Wash your hands. Stop panic-buying essentials that we all need. And, stay safe.

Escape Vehicles

posted in: Art, Fun, Speculation | 1

And, by that I mean escapism by way of space vehicles.

At this point it shouldn’t be a surprise that I love science fiction. Whether it’s literature, movies, television or even comic books, I pretty much love it all. What’s more, I often find myself theorizing about it. Frankly, at this point I would imagine that my poor wife is tired of me comparing modern military submarines to the future of military spacecraft. I mean, it’s logical when you look at it, but it seems like so few have!
In any case, when I hear about other geeks like me who speculate on the ins and outs of scifi spacecraft, I get excited. And, that’s what I’m bringing you this week, via Boing Boing, Spacedock, the YouTube channel that looks at the “…specifications, history and lore of fictional spacecraft from science fiction. Any Spacecraft, any Sci-Fi.” Yes, it’s as geeky and fun as it sounds. Seriously, their “How To Land on the Battlestar Galactica is an amazing exploration of what we saw in the show and an excellent extrapolation of what we didn’t see, but had to have been there to make the rest work. It’s definitely worth a look for fans.

Besides, it’s Friday and if you’ve been stuck at home out of COVID-19 fear, you deserve a little escapism.
Enjoy! And stay well.

Occupational Training Failure

posted in: Fun, Fun and Games | 0

For dogs.

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks with threats of global pandemics and the primary elections here in the US, not to mention all the other insanity we all deal with on a daily basis these days. I don’t even want to go into my own work insanity, because; a) they might be reading and b) it’s mostly technical IT geekery that normal readers like yourselves really don’t care about. But, trust me when I tell you, if you’re feeling a little nuts this week, you’re not alone.
So, with that in mind, I bring you an uplifting link directly from Boing Boing; Dog Fails Service Animal Test. And, trust me when I say that not only did he fail, but he epically failed. If you don’t find yourself laughing along with his trainer, who ultimately adopted him, then I can turn your week around for you. You’ll need expert help. Either way, seriously, you have to see the videos to believe it. Not every dog is meant to be a service animal and this video is proof. To be fair, Ryker is a happy dog that clearly wants to please his trainer, but just can’t quite figure out the whole service dog thing no matter how enthusiastically he tries. Watch the videos and you’ll see what I mean.

Enjoy! And, have a good weekend!

Martial Arts Fakers

posted in: Fun | 1

Mystic martial arts hoaxers.

To be fair, I think these people do at least partially believe that this is real.
If you’re my age, you probably remember the ads in the back of comic books promising martial arts skills and near magic powers via correspondence courses, or even a single book or pamphlet. As a kid, a skinny kid who was often bullied in one way or another, I wished those things were true. As a slightly older kid and an adult, I knew they weren’t really true. I think a part of me still wanted to believe them, but, by the time I was in college, I knew they weren’t anything more than wishful thinking. Or, maybe, at best, a metaphor for a way of looking at how the martial arts fit into a larger world. And, don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of things about martial arts I really love. But, like anything that’s popular and been around for a long time, there are plenty of people looking to take advantage.
So, today, in that spirit, I bring you The Bizarre World of Fake Martial Arts. It’s about 30 minutes and worth every second. It starts by looking at some of the stranger, and funnier, fake martial artists from the 70’s and goes all the way to the Chinese MMA fighter showing that all too many of the modern Chinese martial arts masters are, well, not quite able to deliver on some of their promises to potential students. There’s a lot packed into a 30 minute video and I’m grateful to Boing Boing for bringing it to my attention. And, now yours.

Enjoy!

Legit Free Airport Wifi

A little aid for the travellers.

Back in the days that I was one of those “road warriors” who spent countless hours in airports waiting for flights, wifi wasn’t even really a thing. Certainly not free wifi in the airports. Now, of course, not only is free wifi something that has come and, mostly, gone again, but it’s become such a normal part of life that it’s almost an expected amenity. Still for those of us who fly peasant class these days, and have to suffer through the interminable waits at security check-points, only to wait longer at a gate for our flight, having wifi can be a soothing balm. Sadly, all too many places charge for it now. And, that means, that your cheapskate Uncle Jim has brought you a set of free, or nearly free, things to circumvent the wifi misers.
This all comes to us via Lifehacker, naturally, as so many of my best and useful links do. Still, not all of you read Lifehacker, so I feel like I’m still doing a service here. And, of course, it’s easier to search my own site than theirs!
The map with all the info is a Google maps called Wireless Passwords from Airports and Lounges Around the World and it’s just what the name says. The map has airports marked on it with notes that have free wifi passwords and, as needed for clarity, the name of the wifi networks available. The developer, a travel enthusiast named Anil Polat, aka foXnoMad, started this project back in 2016 and updates the map with information from helpful travelers regularly. He’s also got two apps for “off-line” access available on the Apple AppStore and Google Play. The apps are NOT free, but the iOS version is only $1.99 which, I think, more than makes up for getting free wifi in airports.

So, there you have it. It’s a little late for the holiday travel season, but still, a pretty useful set of links, I think, for the regular traveler.

Happy St. Valentine’s Day

Today is St. Valentine’s Day.

Today, we are told, is the one day we should openly display our love for a partner. I used to be quite bitter about this holiday both as a very single person and as a divorced person, because I found the heavy emphasis on something I thought I didn’t have frustrating and shameful. After all, what was wrong with me that no one “loved” me enough to want to be with me? I admit, I feel less strongly about it now that I’m married. It’s easy to relax about a holiday created by greeting card companies and confectioners to generate revenue when you’ve actually made a lasting commitment to someone truly wonderful. (If you read this and are friends with my blushing bride, please, for me, tell her I said she was wonderful!)
In church, Sunday, they’re likely to read First Corinthians, Chapter 13, verses 4-7, which are “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”
I don’t know what Paul had in mind when he wrote that bit, but, from what I know about my least favorite Apostle, he probably didn’t intend for it to be a guide to long-term, romantic-relationship success. Regardless, it functions as that pretty well. It is what I strive for with my wife, for sure. I think she’d agree that I do better at that ideal with each passing year, even if I am far from perfect in that regard. (And, my apologies to anyone I was involved with previously. Rest assured, I’m still a mostly terrible person and you’re not missing out on a thing and I’m also sincerely sorry for whatever I may have put you through when we were together. Honest.)

And, if all of that is just too much to bear, you can always celebrate this day as the anniversary of when a fellow Chicagoan, Al Capone, rounded up seven of his closest buddies and gunned them down in the back alleys of the South Side of Chicago. Yes, that’s right, I’m talking about the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre! It was on this day, in 1929, that the rivalry between Bugs Moran and Al Capone reached its violent and bloody peak, leaving seven, bloody corpses in its wake, along with damaging both Moran’s North Side Gang and, ultimately, bringing so much attention to Capone from the FBI that it effectively ended his criminal career, as well.
Truly, a turning point in the criminal history of Chicago.

So, whatever your feelings about this particular holiday, try to cut yourself a little slack. We’re all feeling the pressure to be more these days. Try to love the ones close to you a little more and a little more consciously. And, most of all, remember, your relationship isn’t measured by how well or poorly things go today, but how you treat each other the other 364 days of the year.

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