Sunday wrap-up

It’s the end of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Tomorrow it’s back to work for many people (back to part-time work for me), and time to eat something other than Thanksgiving leftovers. Then we have a short three “normal” weeks until the beginning of the Christmas holiday week. I’ve always loved that cadence of a few weeks of work, then a week or two of rest and celebration. Call me lazy.

Though this year has been anything but normal. This past week we worried about family members who recently tested positive for COVID (so far, so good – no descents into serious symptoms). My recovery from knee replacement surgery continues – getting used to all the strange little nuances of having an artificial knee. The existential drama of the 2020 election is playing out with a whimper from Trumpville, a good thing. The addition of a grandson in the midst of the pandemic was an amazing thing about 2020, the best thing that happened all year. Yay for Jessie!

The year began with what I believed at the time would be the biggest event of the year (so much for that), with my brothers and I moving my dad and stepmom out of their house and into assisted living. That was traumatic for everyone, but that experience is now lost in the chaos of the rest of 2020. And I’ve spent considerable time this week thinking about what the economy is going to be like in 2021 after 20-25% of all small businesses are gone.

Another 2020 thing – we have close friends who are leaving the state post-retirement, and that hurts extra because, well, making close friends after the age of 60 isn’t easy. Each person’s world shrinks a little every year we age, and their leaving shrinks both our worlds a bit. But I wish them the best of luck.

Thinking forward just a bit, I have a few short-term goals for the remainder of 2020.

  • Make some better progress on the novel.
  • Change my daily routine; bake some exercise into every day.
  • Get my slice(s) of pumpkin pie.

That’s a pretty ambition-free list (odd…it turns out that the only solid antonym for ambition is “lazy”, and that isn’t the right word here). So I think I can get ‘er done, as they day back home.

Pumpkin pie deficit disorder

I just woke up from a post-turkey-sandwich nap and realized I’ve made a terrible mistake. We didn’t have the usual crowd here for Thanksgiving, and Kathryn doesn’t like pumpkin pie, so…I decided we could go without pumpkin pie this time. What an idiot. It’s 48 hours after the Thanksgiving meal and my entire nervous system is sending a “where’s the pie?” urgent signal. Withdrawal is not gonna be pretty.

Thanksgiving trivia

For your entertainment on this fine Thanksgiving Day, I present the Trump Memorial Library. Someone spent a lot of time on this – the detail is excellent. I chuckle every time I take the tour.

I didn’t know this about Thanksgiving. From Heather Cox Richardson’s wonderful blog:

That first Thanksgiving celebration was not in Plymouth, Massachusetts. While the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags did indeed share a harvest feast in fall 1621, and while early colonial leaders periodically declared days of thanksgiving when settlers were supposed to give their thanks for continued life and– with luck—prosperity, neither of these gave rise to our national celebration of Thanksgiving.

We celebrate Thanksgiving because of the Civil War.

And Lincoln was the one who institutionalized the Thanksgiving holiday for Americans. Who knew? Follow the link above and read the whole thing.

One more weird and trivial item about Thanksgiving. It seems that raccoon was once viewed as a tasty Thanksgiving main course, and President Coolidge’s family adopted their raccoon rather than roasting it. Good for them.

Turkeyday Eve

I’ve always liked the Thanksgiving Holiday. It’s a day that Americans have decided is about eating in excess, so…that’s always worked for me. Though these days I have to take care and invoke portion control – in my mind I’m 25, but the reality is different.

There are always things to be thankful for, and 2020 is no different (though it’s trying with all its might). My wife, our families, the grandsons, our friends, better-than-deserved health…these are the big ones. In spite of COVID and politics and getting older by the day, these big items make life worth living.

Bright Eyes

I’m also thankful that our long American political nightmare seems to be over. Sure, there are other political fights and outrages on the way, but getting rid of the Trump crime family will be a blessing. I can’t even say that I wish them well on their way out of the White House – I’m not that good a person.

On a more trivial note, the new stereo components are in place and working. I’m very happy about the results – spectacular sound, and the Spatial M3 speakers finally have the electronic components necessary to show off their capability. Now I just have to avoid blowing out my remaining hearing with their massive (and clear) sound levels. Moderation…not my strong suit.

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.

Procrastination

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.