Falling behind

My writing schedule has gone to hell. First I lost at least a day to a COVID booster hangover. Now I’ve lost a couple of days to some craziness in one of the companies I’m associated with – craziness that is taking up a lot of my time and cognition. I may be able to make up the deficit, but…2000 words per day adds up. I need to clear my head and have some very productive days in a row.

We’re all in this together (whoopee)

So Dr. Anthony Fauci now concedes that pretty much everyone is going to get the Omicron version of COVID. I remember telling my Dad sometime in 2020 that “looks to me like everyone will get this before it’s through”. Sorry I was right.

So if that’s the case, is it finally time to get rid of the masks and the conflict / irritation they’ve produced? Unfortunately, no.

  • We have to do everything possible to slow the spread of Omicron and give hospitals and health care workers a chance to catch up. That’s our immediate problem – too much pressure on the whole health care system.
  • We still have two susceptible populations to worry about. Kids under 5, who haven’t been authorized for a vaccine dose. (Let’s make this a priority, please). And folks in assisted living homes – I can’t see us just giving up and saying “tough shit, you’re going to get the virus”, when we know their death rate from any illness is much, much higher than other segments of the population.

If we can get some kind of vaccine approved for the little ones, then maybe we could keep mask protocols in place for anyone in contact with nursing homes and assisted living facilities. And remove mask requirements for the general population. That would go a long way toward restoring normality.

And, if we can give the health care system some time to recover and retrench, we can get rid of the vaccine mandates. By now everyone in the US who is willing has had multiple chances to get vaccinated. Given universal spread, the only person they’re hurting by not being vaccinated is themselves.

So I think this is how 2022 could (should) shape up. One, we get the health care system back on its feet. Two, we find a way to protect children under 5 with a vaccine or therapy. Then we get rid of mask and vaccination mandates, with an exception for elder care facilities.

I don’t know why, but this whole situation made me think of the classic Country Joe and the Fish song “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag”. An edited verse from that Vietnam-era song:

“and it’s 1, 2, 3, what’re we fighting for?
don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn
next stop is vietnam Omicron
and it’s 5, 6, 7, open up the pearly gates
well there ain’t no time to wonder why
whoopee! we’re all gonna die”

Dark humor, which at times is the best.

Energy innovation

This is very cool. A great way to store energy without batteries, without firing up coal plants. We already have a large pumped hydro generation plant in Socal (the Lake Hodges complex), and this operates on the same principle. Charge the system at night when electrical rates are low, then discharge power into the grid when rates are high, typically starting at 2pm. It’s simple energy arbitrage on a huge scale. In Socal our peak rates are above $0.45 per Kwh, and lowest rates are around $0.18 per Kwh. That’s a big spread.

And with Goldman Sachs investing in this, you can bet it has some real positive ROI. Sweet.

Tuesday bits

We’re back in a dry cycle here in Socal. After getting some badly needed rain around Christmas, we’re back to dry, cool days. It’s great for outdoor activities, but not great for the trees here that need some more rain. We’re at 6.5 inches for the season (since July 1, 2021), and if that’s all we get it’ll be bad. We don’t want any more pictures like this from our back deck, taken in December 2017.

This morning I enjoyed reading about Masten Space Systems and their space infrastructure business. There are some obvious overlaps with SpaceX, but Masten seems to be carving out a niche in the extraterrestrial landing systems area. In fact, Masten’s first space landing mission, set for late 2023, will ride a SpaceX launch vehicle on its way to the Moon. Exciting stuff.

Also, saw this olive oil tribute on CNN today. Makes me happy to see the word getting out on EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) and its health benefits. Our modest grove of 250-ish trees produces some spectacular oil (with a LOT of work). I took a break from tree management and harvesting in 2021, but in 2022 I hope to get bumper crop. Here’s the tasty result at the end of the long process from a previous year.

Hot spot

My MD cousin Donnie alerted me to the fact that the COVID-related admissions in Louisville have never been higher, even at the beginning of all this two years ago. I took a look at the CDC’s county-by-county data, and whoa! Jefferson County has a 32% positivity rate and growing. Linear-scale maps show cases and positivity curves going straight up.

I hope all my family and friends in Louisville stay home for a while. That’s a bad situation. I worry so much about the grandsons, who aren’t able to get vaccinated.

Old friend

I took some photos yesterday with an old friend. Not a person, but a lens.

My first real camera was a Nikon EM SLR that my Dad bought me when I graduated from college in 1979. He tricked me by telling me he was interested in a good camera, and what would I buy on a modest budget. I gave him the specs for the EM, and added that if he wanted a really great lens that he should spring for the Nikkor 50mm f1.4 prime lens. It was then (and still is) a fabulous lens. When he gave it to me I was flabbergasted (guess I was pretty naive back then).

I used that lens for years until I switched camera bodies and technology moved us along. I switched to Canon cameras, then Olympus and who knows what during the point-and-shoot digital camera years. But now I’m back to real cameras, and they make adapters for modern cameras to any lens you can imagine.

I probably hadn’t used my little Nikkor lens in 25 years. I’ve carried it around in my collection of stuff for 42 years (interesting number, that) and now it’s resurrected as a bolt-on for the Fuji X-S10. I had forgotten how heavy it is for a little guy – Nikon made them like tanks. It’s way heavier than the camera body.

Setting the camera up for the non-native lens wasn’t too tough once I waded through the documentation. I had to tweak two internal settings, including one nonsense setting. It tells the camera to fire the shutter even when it can’t detect a lens (and it can’t when an adapter is used), and once that software switch is set, you never need to reset it. When I attached a lens directly to the mount, it detects the lens and works as designed. When I attach an adapter, then the shutter also works, just without extending camera features through the lens. So what in the world was the point in that switch?

I don’t know what my Dad paid for the thing, but after 42 years it’s still worth $300-400 as a used lens. So it was nice to get a $300 prime lens for the $25 adapter cost.

Now I have to learn to shoot with the hybrid old lens / new camera. Focus and depth of field gave me some real problems in yesterday’s shots – the hybrid combo is strictly manual focus with a slightly odd focal point due to the adapter. And drinking wine while shooting photos probably didnt help.

But here’s a shot of the crowd that came out well in terms of light and focus. Can’t say much for the composition.

I also liked the tone of this little still life, though that’s the camera sensor more than anything else. I think I got the focus solid.

There are a couple of others from yesterday that are publishable, but I need to work on them.

All told, it was great to have an old friend back at my side.

Chili day

Texas chili night in Socal tonight, inspired by a recent Yellowstone episode. Pretty tasty. I love chili but when I cook it I always forget the little extras for the top – cheese, cilantro, onions, cracker crumbles. Details that matter.

It helped that KY found their game again, besting Georgia handily. Seriously fun to watch – they shot about 70% from the field in the second half.

Been dealing with a (hopefully) brief version of writer’s block today. I’m getting further behind my schedule.

Today was the day we expected to board the ship in Buenos Aires, en route to Antarctica and beyond. That’s a weird feeling – in another reality we didn’t cancel. And in that reality we probably all got COVID and crashed into an iceberg.

Back to basics

I should be adding to the novel, but…a blog post is about all I can manage at the moment. I took advantage of a perfect day here in Fallbrook. 74 degrees F, sunny, just enough breeze to feel good. I moved my afternoon office down to the patio of the new winery just a mile away from the house, and after a glass of wine and some photography, getting my head around the next scene on the Moon isn’t working. Pictures of my lakefront winery office to be posted later.

January Day on Gird Road

This is the silver lining in not going to South America this month. January in Socal can be the best weather of the year. Days like today just don’t happen elsewhere in the US. It’s 25 degrees and snowing in KY – nice in its own way, but not outdoor wine drinking weather.

I spent a great lunch with my semi-pro photographer friend (he’s actually a pro and a good one, but he makes his living via other means), and we talked through high-end audio, photography, politics, etc. It was great. He confirmed some of the things I thought I was doing wrong with the new camera, and I’m anxious to try what I learned. Getting back to some basics – shoot manual, shoot RAW or RAW+JPEG, stay in the sweet spot of shutter speeds, ISO and aperture – and learn to do that without thinking. I know I used to do that with my ancient Nikon EM, my first real camera back in 1979. But over the years I’ve forgotten those basics. All the crazy software capabilities of modern cameras are cool, but they get in the way of a focus on composition. That’s what Robert confirmed for me. When I’m worried about 77 arcane software settings and what needs to be tweaked, I’m not thinking about the shot and its subject. So throw all that shit away and get back to basics.

Hunkered down with hobbies

In a different world, without COVID/Omicron, we would be on a flight from LAX to Buenos Aires today, being pampered in business class. But we live in this world, rapidly shutting down as we wearily weather another pandemic variant. So no South America for now.

As for plan B, which was to travel to see the grandkids after cancelling the international trip, also no bueno. My contacts in KY advise me that it’s not smart to drop in there anytime soon, as they have a massive Omicron surge. Very high local positivity rate, in the 20% range. Hospitals full, but infected patients not generally dying like they did in previous waves. So I think we’re hunkered down in Socal for the month. Not the way I hoped to start 2022.

On the positive side, writing is going well. Once I set aside the frustration at throwing away most of the 75,000 words I had written in first-second-third 2020-2021 drafts, I’m happy recreating the book in a new structure. I’m actually writing faster and with more purpose this time. On this pace and process I could see myself finishing two books per year, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Finish this one.

Also, I meet with a local semi-pro photographer today to learn a few things. I’m not happy with the pictures I’m getting from the new gear. For example, here’s one where the hummingbird colors should pop, but they’re subdued. Is it the lighting, or the camera sensor settings? Or does the colorful feeder somehow bias the sensor’s color pickup and make the bird’s colors less vivid?

I’m thinking the lighting, as the sun was bright and coming in from the top left. The front of the hummer was essentially in shadow.

I’m also having some focus issues. Lots to talk to the guru about.

One year later

Writing is going fine, in fits and starts. It really helps to have a structure guide. In the first several drafts last year, I made the mistake of wandering around with backstory and let whatever interested me determine what I wrote. I ended up with an interesting mess. With a structural outline, I can stay on track, develop the characters and plot, and end up with something publishable. Fingers crossed.

I did take some time this morning to read the news. Probably a mistake. This video from CNN, where the reporter interviews people at a recent Trump rally about the events of a year ago at the capital, is soooo depressing. I’ve never in my life seen such delusional denial. One woman’s response: “…I didn’t see any Trump supporters there. I saw people pretending to be Trump supporters.” Holy crap. What in the world makes these people hold on to their bizarre beliefs?

And then there’s this article from The Guardian, a British publication, that lays our situation out in stark detail:

“The United States today is, once again, headed for civil war, and, once again, it cannot bear to face it. The political problems are both structural and immediate, the crisis both longstanding and accelerating. The American political system has become so overwhelmed by anger that even the most basic tasks of government are increasingly impossible.

The legal system grows less legitimate by the day. Trust in government at all levels is in freefall, or, like Congress, with approval ratings hovering around 20%, cannot fall any lower. Right now, elected sheriffs openly promote resistance to federal authority. Right now, militias train and arm themselves in preparation for the fall of the Republic. Right now, doctrines of a radical, unachievable, messianic freedom spread across the internet, on talk radio, on cable television, in the malls.”

I don’t know about you, but the prospect of an actual civil war isn’t appealing. I’m too old for this shit.