Shit’s gettin’ real

This weekend has brought some fearful, discouraging developments.

  1. Coronavirus has made its way into our family circle. I won’t say who to protect their privacy, but…it’s no longer an abstract fear. It’s here.
  2. An old friend has suffered a serious drug overdose due to depression and hopelessness. I’ll call this a second-order COVID effect related to isolation and loss of normalcy.
  3. The US has passed 12M known cases, 260,000 deaths and accelerating. The holidays are just going to add fuel to the fire.
  4. My dad is still in lockdown in his assisted living facility – it’s been about eight months since he’s been outside! He’s OK for now, but all these months of inactivity are weakening him and those with him, quickly. You can hear it in his voice.

It’s hard to stay optimistic in the face of all this. My natural tendency (personality plus training as an engineer) is to want to immediately fix things that are a problem. But some things can’t be fixed. I can make all the plans I want and it isn’t going to change anything on that list.

There *are* things to be thankful for, and I run them through my head fairly often now like a mantra. Our friends and family. Financial security. My successful knee surgery. A sound mind and reasonably-sound body. The beautiful grandkids. Plenty of books to read.

Here’s to focusing on the positives, even as it gets tougher to do so.


I should be writing. Like, actual writing, not just throwing stuff out on the blog. But instead I’m:

  • Listening to Kruangbin, semi-obsessively. And watching them, in fact. My current favorite live set is a gorgeously video’d performance from 2018 at Villain / Pitchfork, whatever that is. They are my new definition of chill. Picture above from Guitarworld.
  • Reading book four of The Expanse, Cibola Burn. Huge books, characters I’ve come to love, and wildly imaginative. (Though I still don’t know what the title “Cibola Burn” means or refers to. WTF?)
  • Pinging my family back east to make sure everyone’s OK. The Rona is burning through the Midwest at a scary rate.
  • Catching up on a few little work/consulting items.

In other words, anything but the novel. Good thing I’m not under contract for the book. I gotta work on my resolve.

Sunday evening, technology edition

Watching the SpaceX/NASA launch of a four-man four-person crew to the International Space Station today was…wonderful. Inspirational. A bit of joy and triumph in this damnable year 2020. Bless our nation’s crazy Elon Musk for creating SpaceX and getting us back to the point where we’re exploring space.

On a more personal technology note, I ordered a whole new home audio suite today. Used gear, but new for me. My current system is:

  • A Furman 15i power conditioner
  • A Marantz 6006 single-disk CD player (just installed this month)
  • A Marantz SR5009 AV receiver, acquired from my brother Mark last year
  • An Elac Discovery music server with 2TB external SSD and a lifetime subscription to Tidal (my favorite high-quality audio streaming service)
  • My fantastic Spatial Audio M3 Turbo-S speakers
  • Anticable interconnects and speaker wire

The components I’ve just purchased will replace the SR5009. It was never really the right amp for the M3s. The 5009 is a state-of-the-art home theater system, and that’s where I’ll move it – into the TV room, replacing a Denon that’s about eight years old. The 5009 has a ton of audio decoding, wireless and streaming features that the Denon doesn’t have and that I don’t need in the main stereo system. The new (used) components are:

The Marantz receiver drove about 140 watts/channel into the M3s. The Wyred Class D monoblocs will drive about 430 watts/channel (!) into the M3s at their nominal four ohm impedance. I’ll never drive them at max rating, but the headroom should give the M3s plenty of power to shine.

I’m really looking forward to the Dared, combining the warm sound of a tube front end with the responsiveness of digital Class D amplification. That combo has always made sense to me, and now I get to try it. Buying these on the used market makes trying things out reasonable – when new, these units would have been quite expensive, by my standards. (I should note that some audiophiles think nothing of spending $20K on a preamp-amp combination, and another $20K on speakers. I’m an enthusiast, but not crazy.)

And the Dared is a classic. An old design, proven, hand assembled and a real beauty (see photo above). Some people dig classic cars; I’m a sucker for classic audio gear. Dared USA is no longer in business, and a Chinese company in Shenzen has taken over the brand. So you’ve got to go back a decade or so for the MC-7P to be considered audiophile gear.

The new system should be in place within 7-10 days. Countdown has begun…

Some dreary numbers

Well, we seem to have survived the 11/13/20 numerological curse.

At least most of us survived. Yesterday’s COVID-19 numbers were 183,000 new cases and 1397 deaths, according to World ‘o Meter. It’s tragic, and it didn’t have to be this way. Trump and his cronies led us to this point. Tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people have needlessly died because of the lack of any plan, logic or empathy on the part of the federal government. We’re all kind of numb to this news now, but…it’s 100% criminal and history will judge us harshly. Especially Trump.

Only 67 days until the 2021 inauguration, and that includes three big holidays. So it’s survivable. In the meantime, as the Brits did in 1939, Keep Calm and Carry On.

Two years after “retirement”

Internet service was restored yesterday. Turns out the problem was a malfunctioning cable amp in the attic; took about a minute to fix once the technician found it.

What’s really on my mind this morning is how wrong I was about retirement. After working for 40 years, I couldn’t imagine much beyond the daily commute and meeting-filled corporate life. Work hard for five days, then try to pack some combination of rest and fun in for two days. Repeat 50 times per year.

As I left the full-time workforce in late 2018 I imagined all my time taken by golf, travel, reading and maybe writing. For the first year or so that was mostly true – we traveled HARD in 2019. I managed to fit a lot of other things in, but travel was the focus.

And then 2020 hit. I suppose what has happened since then is a bit of a regression back toward employment, but it’s been useful given the difficulty in traveling. Combining my part-time gigs of 2019 and 2020, it seems that filling one’s time after full employment hasn’t been a challenge at all. I’ve stayed busy with a diverse set of projects, including:

  • Paid phone consultations with companies in the US, India and Europe, typically on how IT works in energy companies. these are typically 1-2 hours and pay quite well.
  • A multi-month consulting gig advising a German company on software for bioreactors.
  • Growing Board responsibilities at 211 San Diego. We’re leading a great nonprofit organization, one that is very needed in this shitshow of a year.
  • Publishing one or two technology analyst reports for an advisory services company. My most recent one from 2019 was on artificial intelligence and automation.
  • Filling a part-time role as COO for a growing company. That one is very recent, and it remains to be seen how long that gig will last. But it’s challenging.
  • Writing my first real novel, a work still in progress but getting closer to complete.
  • Serving as a Board member for a rapidly-growing for-profit technology services company.

So when I look back at that list, I’m amazed at all that’s happened, all that I’ve been able to do post-retirement. I conclude that being semi-employed, self-directed and self-employed is much better than the full-time corporate life I had adopted. Who knew?

It’s always something

Yesterday our Internet and TV service went dark. It’s happened before, but it always got fixed in a reasonable amount of time (4-5 hours is my definition of reasonable for something like this).

Eight hours into the outage I managed to reach someone from Spectrum, our so-called service provider. Their automated system kept telling me that my area was “experiencing intermittent outages, and our technicians are working hard to restore your service”, but I could find no evidence of that online. (Using my weak T-mobile phone service as a mobile access point, the same thing I’m doing to post this). When I reached their human, she said no, there was no outage in my area so they would have to schedule a technician to come by and check things out. The first appointment they had to offer was Friday, four days out. No amount of outrage on my part would move her from that date, so I hung up the phone upset and determined to switch providers.

Today I still have a goal of switching, but I want to also fix the weakness in our data services. We need two providers, and I’m willing to pay for that. Turns out Internet service is now the #3 priority in our house, just after electricity and running water. It may become #2 after our Tesla battery bank goes in.

Without Internet, I can’t do video calls. There’s no Netflix or Amazon Prime via Roku. My music server won’t work. Doing basic research for writing is difficult. And on and on.

Living on a rural hilltop as we do puts me at a disadvantage here. Many of the advanced data services (like AT&T fiber) aren’t or may not be available at our address. The cell carrier’s coverage is also weak. Where’s Musk’s space-based Internet service when you need it?

Anyway, later today I’m off to a coffee shop somewhere to use their Internet service and do some research on what services I should sign up for. And Spectrum will be last on my list.

Don’t be a chump

Here’s a little screed from Dave Winer, a smart guy I’ve been listening to for 20 years. Among other things, Dave is the original blogger, the Blogfather. Here’s what he has to say about Biden’s speech last night and what he recommends. I agree.

But Biden’s speech was disturbing. Not because he said anything other than what he was saying through the campaign — he was totally consistent. But now we’re on the other side of the election, and I don’t think all the happy talk about working across the aisle will amount to anything, other than a sense by the Repubs and their voters, that yeah you can walk all over the Dems and there’s never a price to pay.

Another quote: I like what JFK said in his inaugural, to the Soviets.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

The equivalent from Biden to McConnell today would be…We noticed that Trump stopped getting his Cabinet officials approved by the Senate a couple of years ago, and McConnell never said a word about it. So the first round of my Cabinet appointments will be on the house, freebies, appointed without Senate approval. Then we can have a big bipartisan conference on how we want this to work in the future. And until then, the Senate is out of the advise-and-consent business. If you don’t like it, ask Nancy Pelosi if she’ll impeach me. Heh.”

Hopefully the Repubs will squawk, loudly, and take the Dems to court. And Biden, like Trump, will ignore what the court says, if they dare rule on this.

Same with oversight from the Senate. Cross that off the list too, until we come to some larger agreement about enforcing the norms that Trump and McConnell trashed over the last four years. Maybe the price is, dear Senate, that McConnell is censured and loses his party leadership. Or maybe we insist that he be sent back to Kentucky. I’m not kidding. What you all did is not excusable. We’re willing to let McConnell take the fall, and then we can move on from there.

But don’t tell me how we’re friends, we’re not friends. McConnell came within a hair of turning America into a fascist dictatorship. He must’ve thought he’d get away with it.

I wrote about this in We must be worse than the Repubs on Oct 27.

“The Repubs walk all over the Dems. But if you love America, you have to vote Democratic, because the Repubs are crazy fascists. We have to teach the Dems how to be hardass motherfuckers, and insist that they have a head-on collision with the Repubs so they respect them, and in doing so, respect us.”

It sure sounds like Biden is making the same insane mistake Obama did, believing that this election is somehow transformative, or that he is transformative, and all of a sudden, because the US is in dire trouble (as usual when the Dems take over), the Repubs will transform. They only respect you if you drive straight into a head-on collision with them without hitting the brakes. You are the president, Mr President-elect, you have to be the badass. I’m hoping you know that and this happy talk is just a veneer.

I agree 100%. Don’t be naive – the Republicans will not change, will not play fair in 2021. Have to recognize the game and play it better.

Saturday by the numbers

2020 remains the shittiest year ever, with very few exceptions.

The US has registered over 10 million COVID-19 cases so far. Informally, that’s more like 20-30M cases, given our deplorable testing program.

The US 7-day moving average for new COVID cases surpassed 100K for the first time, registering 101K yesterday. There’s really no end in sight right now – Americans have lost the will to control the disease.

It’s been 35 weeks (245 days) since we started taking pandemic precautions in our household. Sure seems longer.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have received 4 million more votes than Trump/Pence. That’s a solid victory in the popular vote.

On this day (Nov 7 in 1972), Richard M. Nixon was re-elected President in a landslide. I’m thankful the story will be different this year.

It rained approximately 0.1 inches in Fallbrook last night, the first rain in 8 months.

We also had the coldest temperature for the year last night, at 51 degrees F. That’s a balmy evening in the Midwest, but around here people will break out their down jackets and ski caps.

According to GoodReads, I’ve read 75 books this year. I’ve slowed down lately – my attention span is pretty short these days.

20 years ago this week I proposed to this wonderful person (below). Definitely one of my better decisions in adult life. Thanks for saying yes.

Weather in Socal?

Have to say, I’ve felt tired and unsettled all day. Can’t get comfortable, constantly hungry and irritable. Maybe it’s the lingering question of Trump. I don’t have Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS), but I may have a case of Trump Existential Dread (TED).

Or maybe it’s the weird weather moving through. The day started out sunny and cool, then it got hot, and now at 330pm there’s a windy, Bay-area-style fog/cloud front moving in. That’s a lot of weather in one day for Socal.

I’ll keep trying to find something to push me out of my funk. TGIF, right?