Roll the dice

We have two places we want to go in February – our annual week on the beach in Cabo, and to Louisville to see the family.

I’m tracking COVID stats in both places, and it’s not looking good. Louisville is reporting about 2000 new cases each day, and Cabo about 1500 per day. That’s as compared to about 30 per day when we visited Cabo in early December. A 50X increase!

While we’re vaxxed and boosted, it doesn’t make much sense to fly into a hot spot with that kind of positivity rate. The numbers I cite are only the positive tests recorded in each place – who knows how many people are sick but haven’t gotten tested or treated. Especially in Cabo.

Have to make the Cabo final decision in about a week, so there’s not much time for the trends to reverse. The case incident curves for both places went straight up at approximately Christmas 2021, and haven’t started to trend back down yet.

We’ve hunkered down here in Socal since that early December Cabo trip, and it’s getting old. I for one am anxious to start traveling again after a two month hiatus. But not yet anxious enough to say “fuck it, let’s roll the dice”. Maybe in another 30 days…

Online ads and privacy

I’m getting pretty tired of how pop-up and “personalized” ads are ruining the Internet browsing experience. If I shop for a chair on one website, I see ads for chairs on every other website for weeks afterward. And the fact that those ads are served more or less in real time means that websites take forever to load, particularly on a slower device like an iPad. Pages keep shifting around until the slowest ad server in the chain are finished, and it makes some sites impossible to read. Or at best irritating.

One solution for this is a VPN, or virtual private network. I know a bit about VPNs – I was the CTO for an SAIC-backed business VPN startup in the 2001-2002 timeframe. Back then VPNs were rare and mysterious, but now they’re everywhere.

A VPN uses cryptography to establish an encrypted connection between your device (the client) and a matching server elsewhere in the world. All your Internet traffic is then encrypted and routed to the VPN service provider’s network/server instead of your ISP’s server. Most VPN services today have multiple server sites (their network), so one day your apparent location is Stockholm, the next day it might be Kansas City, and another day it might be London. Your IP address and location (which is defined as the location of the server’s IP address) change depending on which physical site the VPN service chooses to decrypt and route your traffic. Ad servers can’t see who and where you are, so their “personalization” algorithms are defeated.

So I’m looking for the best VPN solution for home use. Right now I’m leaning toward Express VPN.

There are a few unknowns in adopting a VPN these days. One is what effect it will have on streaming – will my Roku devices streaming things like Netflix and Amazon still work. Another is video conferencing, previously a small issue, but post-pandemic, a big issue. MS Teams and Zoom need to work. And I wouldn’t put it past MS to intentionally muck up any non-MS VPN approach.

Uncertainties aside, I really think it’s time for people (that would be me) to push back against the Facebook-Amazon-Google unholy trinity of data and identity sharing that drives the online ad business.

Brand new week

This looks like something I’d want to attend. Smart people talking about the future and technology. Great speaker list…Carver Mead, Esther Dyson and Craig Ventner in particular. I’d listen to those three opine about anything.

I don’t watch much NFL football these days – in fact, almost zero – but I did tune in to the last quarter and the OT of the Kansas City v. Buffalo game last night. Pretty exciting stuff. If regular season games were played with that pace and energy, I’d watch more often. That game is already being talked about as one of the all-time greats, and I agree.

Between feeling crummy and dozens of hours spent on Board issues, last week was a total loss for creative writing. I intend to do better this week, road to hell notwithstanding.

I’m definitely getting hooked on Wordle. I’m not a fan of puzzles and crosswords, but Wordle hits the sweet spot in terms of difficulty and time to complete. So far I’m a solid 4.5 in terms of the number of words I need to solve. Pretty average, I would think. <Sixty minutes later.> Shit, I no sooner wrote that than I ran into the toughest Wordle yet. It was extra tough because I had the rules wrong. I thought each letter could be used once and only once, but noooo. RTFM.

Finally, I finished all 600+ pages of Surface Detail this morning. What a fantastic story. My writers group would *hate* Banks, with his excessive world-building and unconventional dialogues among machines, but I love it (perhaps a mismatch there). I can only hope that our world is being observed by The Culture at this very moment, and that Special Circumstances has agents here on Earth to help us through our problematic societal childhood.

Trampled by zebras

For yesterday’s game I wished that the team would be ready, play well and play hard. They did. I wished that the zebras would be neutral. They weren’t – Auburn shot three times (!) as many free throws as UK.

I forgot to wish that our team would stay healthy, stay uninjured. They didn’t, and those injuries plus the awful foul-calling was the difference.

I love college basketball, but when the refs let one team beat up the other, it’s not much fun. Auburn’s big guy would have fouled out twice in an objective forum. Tough to watch.

The only silver lining is it’s clear that when healthy, we can beat anyone. It was clear that we were the better team until Washington went down. Even after that, it was stalemate with UK playing five against eight.

But a loss is a loss. Auburn will now be number one in the SEC and the nation, and we’re trying to get everyone healthy. It’s a better season than last year, but not yet a return to glory.

Big day

Big game today. Auburn is favored over the Cats. Gotta get my emotional state ready for either outcome. All I ask is for our guys to play hard, play well. And for the zebras to be decent.

But I have to watch it DVR-delayed, because…big meeting today at the same time. Can’t go into any details, but we will set the course for a company after a brief period of instability.

Here’s my Zen photo for the day. I’ll just keep this scene in mind when things get rough. Taken in Malta, 2019.

Pro procrastinator

Bad, bad case of writer’s block right now. I should be working on the novel and I’m doing anything else. I’ve read political and technology news, edited my Storyworth book, read and edited Kathryn’s Storyworth volume, curated some more travel pictures, read about 200 pages of Ian M Banks’ amazing book Surface Detail and took a nap. And now I’m blogging.

I have a high intensity, soul-sucking Board meeting tomorrow morning (messy, murky people problems to discuss) that will likely insure that I get no writing done then either. Word deficits mount, relentless as the tide.

I’ve only two more hours until the sun goes down and I can distract myself with dinner, some TV and an early retreat to bed. Have to be rested for the damnable meeting.

Favorites

I’m putting some time in on organizing and sorting my 34,000-ish digital photos, including moving some new ones (not actually new, just rediscovered and enhanced) to my Favorites folder.

Here’s one I took in 2020 in western Colorado. I like it quite a bit.

Grand Mesa near Grand Junction

And here are a couple from the San Diego Zoo last year.

Mr. Hippo
Meerkat Staredown

It’s sure fun to sort back through these…lots of good memories.

A win is a win

Tonight’s UK vs. TX A&M game just about did me in. Way too close for comfort, and Kathryn thinks I’m insane for the angst/cheering/shouting on my part. Being a real fan is tough.

We didn’t lead until late in the second half. In 5-10 years, I probably won’t be able to watch a game like this without emergency intervention.

Favorite obsessions

One of the best things happening in my little life these days is the resurgence of a strong, winning and fun to watch UK basketball team. I love this analysis, found on A Sea of Blue, describing one of the big reasons for our recent success. Mr. Vinsel makes a strong case.

I’ll be watching the game tonight against TX A&M with my UK shirt and hat on.

Meanwhile, I’m still recovering from the last episode of The Expanse on Amazon. And by last, I mean “no more episodes”, hard withdrawal, full stop it’s over. Tragic. I started watching The Expanse in late 2019 with my buddy Jon Sessions, killing time in the evenings during our annual golf tournament. I was quickly hooked. Then it kept me occupied during that awful December and January in 2020 when we moved Dad and Phyllis into assisted living, after getting Dad out of the hospital and removing tons of clutter from their home. Since then I’ve read all the books (they’re spectacular), and watched the TV episodes as slowly as I could. The TV series is outstanding by itself – but if you’ve read the books, it’s 10X better. Back story, detail and context make a big difference. But it’s over for now, though I hold out hope that there will be a big-budget Expanse movie or two, picking up in Book 7 or so where the TV series left off. Call it nerd optimism.

Let’s visit Laguna Beach

I finished T. Jefferson Parker’s latest book today, A Thousand Steps, and wow, what a great read! A mystery, a history book, a time travelog, a coming-of-age story, and some unforgettable characters. He *is* the master. And to think he lives just down the road.

I’ve met him, listened to him lecture and even taken a few writing tips from him. And I’ve been to a few of the Laguna Beach places he writes about in this novel.