Sunday morning

I’m not sure I should really be writing a blog post right now, but I might as well give it a shot. I didn’t sleep well last night, and I’m still a little groggy. But I want to post a few links and get some stuff out of my head, so here goes.

First topic: Biden’s inauguration. A lot has already been written about that, and I don’t really have much to add, but I’d like to note one item of interest: Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem. Here’s an article from the NY TImes and one from NPR, both of which include video. I think it’s worth watching her read the whole thing. I’m not really a fan of this particular style of poetry, but I really think this was the right poem (and poet) for this particular moment in time. Here’s an interview with Gorman, again from NPR, from the day before the inauguration. And here’s something from Literary Hub, with every inaugural poem, ever. (There aren’t that many.)

Next (and completely different) topic: robocalls. I’ve been getting a lot of them lately. I can’t do much about those that come in on my home phone line. I get so few calls on that number that nearly all the calls I do get are robocalls (or unsolicited calls from actual humans). I’ve thought about dropping the line entirely, but I don’t really want to lose that phone number. Porting it over to a VOIP provider that does robocall screening is possible, I guess, but I don’t really want to mess with that right now.

For my cell phone, I’ve started looking at iOS call screening apps. I already have Verizon’s Call Filter app enabled on my phone, but it doesn’t do much. And I sometimes turn on the iOS silence unknown callers feature, but I can’t leave that on all the time. Here’s a Washington Post article from 2019 that I used as a good starting point for third-party apps. I’m worried about the privacy implications of some of them. For now, I’ve installed and enabled Nomorobo. The Sweet Setup, in this 2017 article, named Nomorobo as the best app for blocking robocalls. The guy who wrote that article shares a lot of the same privacy concerns that I have, and Nomorobo is just about the only app that doesn’t have some privacy issues. I’m on a two-week trial subscription. So far, I don’t think it’s successfully blocked any robocalls, so it’s not looking good. Since robocallers can basically just randomize their phone numbers, I’m not sure any call blocking solution is going to be really effective.

I’ll probably give up on the whole idea and just stick with the “silence unknown callers” method. That does mean that I’ll have to continue toggling it on and off, whenever I’m expecting a call from someone that’s not in my contacts (like a mechanic or doctor’s office that might not be calling from their main number). Here’s a blog post from someone comparing the utility of SUC vs DND (do not disturb). My thoughts on it are pretty similar to his. I think SUC would be a lot more useful if Apple would put a toggle for it in control center.

Next topic (also completely different): Sátántangó. I mentioned about a month ago that I had pre-ordered the new Blu-ray release. It should have shown up this weekend, but apparently got lost somehow. So I guess I’m not going to spend the day watching a 7.5-hour, black & white, Hungarian film.

Last topic: Harold Budd. I was listening to a podcast this week and the host mentioned that Budd had passed away recently. I did a little searching and found obituaries from the Times and NPR. His death was apparently related to Covid-19, so that’s one more artist lost in 2020 to this pandemic. My favorite Harold Budd album is The Pearl, an album he recorded with Brian Eno in 1984. Today might actually be a good day to listen to some Harold Budd. Some nice slow ambient piano music might just help me get my brain back on track, after last night’s troubled sleep.

 

what a week

In my last post, on New Year’s Day, I said “I’m expecting the first couple of months of 2021 to be pretty rough.” It turns out, the first couple of weeks of 2021 have been pretty rough. So one week ago, we had an angry mob storm the Capitol building, and today, we saw Trump get impeached for the second time, at record speed.

I wanted to write a post about the whole insurrection thing over the weekend, but I just couldn’t get my thoughts together in any coherent way. I still probably can’t, but I feel like I need to get some stuff out of my head, regardless. It might not be that organized or coherent, so I apologize if it isn’t.

It’s been interesting to follow the reaction of some of our local NJ politicians to the Capitol incident. Here are a few links.

  • Andy Kim got some attention for picking up trash in the Capitol building after the incident. Here’s an article from the Post, and here’s one from NJ.com. It’s a small thing, but it was one of the only positive stories to come out of this, and really reflects the kind of values I want to see in my elected representatives.
  • Meanwhile, Bonnie Watson Coleman, another NJ rep, has now tested positive for COVID-19. Here’s an article on that from NJ Spotlight. While of course there’s no way to tell for sure, there’s a good chance she was exposed while locked up in the Capitol building with a bunch of other lawmakers, many of whom refused to put on a mask. So that’s infuriating. Here’s a Post opinion piece she wrote. (She’s not happy.)
  • Mikie Sherrill is alleging that some members of Congress led “reconnaissance” tours of the Capitol a day before the insurrection. If true, that’s… horrible. (But she could be wrong on that.)
  • Jeff Van Drew continues to disappoint, being the only NJ rep to vote against certifying Biden’s win. Here’s a USA Today article on that. A lot of people aren’t happy with Van Drew, but I’m not sure he cares. Here’s an NJ.com article about protests calling for him to resign.
  • Van Drew also, for some reason, decided to wear an extremely weird suit to work today. People have been making fun of him for it on Twitter. Here’s one from Sam Bee. And another from Matt Platkin. Not really a big deal, but I guess it’s yet another example of his generally poor judgement. (And it gave me a laugh today, which I sorely needed.)
  • Chris Smith, meanwhile, is keeping a low profile. Both he and Van Drew are quoted in this NJ.com article about today’s impeachment.
  • My own rep, Tom Malinowski, has been setting a good example. Today, he hosted two online meetings, one on vaccine distribution and one on the insurrection. I watched parts of each. He always comes across as calm, reasonable, and thoughtful in these things. I’m leery about putting too much faith in a politician, but he genuinely seems like a hard worker and good guy.

I’ve definitely been experiencing some information overload over this past week. I feel like I need to keep up with the news, but so much of it is just crazy. I want to talk to somebody about it, but I’ve hardly got anyone to talk to. (Hence this long, rambling, blog post, I guess.)

My Twitter feed often becomes quite surreal these days. I keep stumbling across stuff, and thinking it’s from The Onion, but it’s not. Or thinking that I must have misread something, but… nope. Here are a few examples:

  • Trump really was planning to give the Medal of Freedom to Bill Belichick. That was not an Onion article. (He declined, though I actually did first read about that in The Onion.)
  • Someone Wrote “Trump” on a Florida Manatee, from the NY Times.
  • From NPR: “Joint Chiefs Remind U.S. Forces That They Defend The Constitution” — because apparently that’s something we can’t take for granted anymore?
  • And I could probably add a few more links, related to some of the characters who romped around the Capitol building last week, from the weird guy with the viking hat to the scary guy with the zip ties. I’ll just add one: “Jamiroquai Singer Says Capitol Rioter In The Viking Helmet Isn’t Him.”

I had a few serious, high-level, articles about the insurrection that I wanted to link to, but I’m too tired to do that, and I’m not sure they’re necessarily the best ones to reference. Maybe I’ll revisit that later. For now, just one more link: I Recommend Eating Chips, from the NY Times. This is a pretty dumb article, but it does kinda sum up how I’m feeling lately. I’m trying very hard not to stress-eat, and I’m definitely not eating Doritos, but I’ll admit I had a small bag of potato chips with my lunch on Sunday, and it felt pretty good.

 

The second wave, and other bad news

We’re definitely seeing a big second wave of coronavirus cases here in NJ. I’m glad I’m still able to work from home, and I guess I’ll be doing that through to the end of the year, at least.

Meanwhile, my local House rep, Tom Malinowski, who seemed to have won reelection, has seen his lead shrink as more votes are counted. (No shenanigans here; it just seems like more Democrats voted early and more Republicans voted late.) I hope he hangs on to his lead; he seems like a good guy. (While his opponent seems like kind of a jerk, to be honest.)

And also meanwhile, there has been another wave of layoffs at DC Comics. I think I’m actually going to give up on buying new DC books in 2021. I opted out of ordering any of the Future State books on this month’s Westfield order form, so I only wound up ordering 3 books total (one DC and two Dark Horse). And that might be my last Westfield order, unless I can talk myself into adding some more books from smaller publishers, like Dark Horse and Image. It’s not worth paying the shipping charges for just 3 or 4 books a month. And I’m far enough behind in reading that I should probably take a break anyway. I’m a little worried about the health of the market for regular old monthly comic books at this point. (But I need to keep reminding myself that it’s not my job to prop it up by buying a bunch of books that I don’t have time to read or room to store.) I might sign up for Comixology Unlimited at some point next year, but I have enough books piled up to keep me busy for quite some time, even without that, so I should probably hold off until I’ve put a dent in the backlog.

So that’s my bad news overview for the day, I guess. Obviously, the coronavirus stuff is the most important of these three items. I’ve been trying to get my head straight and prepare myself for the rest of the year, assuming I’ll just be working from home, and celebrating Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year alone in my apartment. (I might have been doing that anyway this year, even without the pandemic, but it would have been nice to have some options.) I’m realizing now that 2020 is going to be a full year without an in-person comic con, a trip to the Met, or MoMA, or… anywhere, really. I have a week’s vacation scheduled for early in December, and I guess I’ll just be sitting around in my apartment for the week, catching up on my reading. That’s not such a bad thing, I guess. I’ve got a job, and an apartment, and my health isn’t too bad, and that’s more than a lot of folks can say.

A Weird Week

Well, that was a weird week, wasn’t it? In addition to the election, I was supposed to go back into the office last week, on Thursday. The plan was for normal employees to start coming back one day a week. But we had a couple of COVID cases at the office, plus with New Jersey’s increasing number of cases overall, that plan got altered, so now I can continue working from home for the foreseeable future. So that’s good, I guess. (I mean, it would better if we didn’t have any cases at the office, and if NJ overall was doing better, but given the circumstances, I’m glad the company adjusted the plan.)

The big news this week of course is Biden being declared the winner over Trump, finally, yesterday. A lot of people were very happy about that, judging by my Twitter and Facebook feeds, and also judging by some of the activity out on Main St yesterday. I’m glad, and relieved, but only just barely optimistic. (I could probably write at length about that, but I probably shouldn’t. Let’s just say that a lot can still go wrong, and that a lot needs to be done before we can get back to anything resembling normal.)

It was a beautiful day yesterday, which probably helped everyone’s mood. A lot of people were out on Main St., and there was a lot of music and noise on and off throughout the day. (The annoying guy who plays saxophone outside my apartment was back yesterday, and played until after 10 PM, so that kind of sucked, but I guess I can’t blame him for trying to make some money while the weather was nice and everyone was happy.)

My friend Paul stopped by yesterday, and we went out for dinner, eating outside at a Korean restaurant on Main St. That was the first time I’ve eaten at a restaurant since the pandemic began. It was pretty weird, but it felt really good to do it.

I also ordered a new Apple Watch this week, and picked it up at the Apple Store at the local mall yesterday. I’d been thinking about getting one, and finally talked myself into it. I bought a new Series 6, to replace my Series 3. I got the Series 3 a little less than two years ago, for Christmas in 2018. So I feel a little bad about replacing it when it’s less than two years old. But, still, I’ve skipped the 4 and 5, so it’s a big enough jump that I don’t feel too bad about it. I’ll probably post more about the Watch later, after I’ve had it on my wrist for long enough to form some opinions.

Overall, yesterday turned out to be a fairly hectic day, with much more time spent outside the apartment than usual, and a lot more human contact than usual. I’m hoping that doesn’t result in me getting another cold, or even worse. We’ll see. My plans for today are not terribly ambitious. It looks like it’ll be another nice day, so I will probably go for a walk after I’m done with this blog post. Then maybe I’ll just relax and do some reading, and maybe watch a movie.

The Morning After

I tried to be careful about how I was following election news last night. I watched the regular NJ Spotlight newscast at 5:30 PM, then some of their later election coverage, from about 9 to 9:30 PM. And I listened to a bit of WNYC, and checked Twitter a few times. I check Twitter only via Twitterrific, and I’m careful about who I follow, so my Twitter feed is relatively sane. So I managed to get a pretty good night’s sleep last night. (A little Yo-Yo Ma helped out too.)

This morning’s news is… pretty much what I expected. No conclusive winner in the presidential race. Cory Booker reelected to the Senate, and Tom Malinowski reelected to the House. The legal weed question passed, by a 2 to 1 margin. Overall, the Democrats will likely keep their House majority and probably won’t win a Senate majority.

The mainstream media (at least the sources I follow) seem to be dealing well with Trump’s FUD. The Washington Post has a headline that reads “Trump falsely asserts election fraud, claims a victory” and the NY Times has one that says “As America Awaits a Winner, Trump Falsely Claims He Prevailed.” So we’re getting that word “false” in there, at least.

I haven’t looked at Twitter or Facebook yet this morning, but I inevitably will at some point. I’m sure that a lot of people will have opinions about all this. Either way, I need to try to get through the rest of the work week without getting distracted by all this stuff too much. Hopefully, I can find some interesting work to occupy my mind.

NYCC, masks, and other stuff

It’s almost time for NYCC, though this year it’s going to be a virtual event called Metaverse. I’ve gone to NYCC a bunch of times, and have been on a roll recently, going in 2017, 2018, and 2019. Alas, I’ll just be watching from home this year. I really wish we could have gotten this COVID thing under control by now, but nope. I haven’t looked closely at the panel schedule yet, but I’m taking off Thursday and Friday next week so I’ll be able to watch some stuff and simulate the con experience a bit, like I did for the San Diego con a few months back. This whole “staying home all the time” thing is starting to wear on me.

I know I still need to take COVID-19 seriously though. Our president’s inability to do so may have been the start of a super-spreader event here in Somerset County. That’s probably an exaggeration, but it’s still not good.

It’s been really hard to process news this year. And the news of Trump’s infection is particularly hard to process. It’s not surprising news, really, given his disdain for mask-wearing and all that. But it’s hard to fit all this stuff in your head and figure out how to react to it and how to deal with it. This column from Politico has a pretty good take on it all. And Nick Kristof’s column in the Times is useful too. (Reminder: wear a mask!)

…and now I’m starting to go down a rabbit hole, reading stories on the Politico and NY Times sites about Trump’s condition. I need to stop doing that, and maybe go out for a nice walk. Maybe ending up at the coffee shop where I can get a nice cappuccino and a pastry. (Which I will bring back to the apartment, of course, because actually eating/drinking at the shop is still too scary. Sigh.)

COVID Alert NJ

I installed the new COVID Alert NJ app on my iPhone today. It’s been more than six months since the pandemic started, but hey, better late than never, I guess. NJ.com and NJTV have articles about the app, and ABC 7 has a write-up on New York’s app, which is basically the same as the NJ app, but with a different color scheme (purple vs. blue). The first state to release an app using the new Apple/Google API was apparently Virginia, which released their app in early August.

NJ’s app was apparently created by an Irish company, because I guess they couldn’t find any competent software developers in NJ. (I kid. There are plenty of competent developers in NJ, but we’re slow and expensive.) The company is called NearForm. They started with the app for Ireland, I think, then started rebranding and customizing it for other countries and for several US states.

I found a Guardian article from a few months ago indicating the the Ireland app had over a million installs at that time. NJ’s app is currently at just under 35,000 installs, according to the app itself. (I’m not sure if that’s just the iOS app or combined iOS/Android.)

The tech behind these apps is kind of interesting. Here’s a write-up on it, from Apple’s web site, and one from Google. This stuff is helpful, but only if they can get a lot of people to install the app and enable it. And, well, we know how much all the other stuff that only works if we all do it is working out here in the USA…

 

Weird Al on the presidential debate

I don’t usually post about politics, but I feel like I need to write something today, just to maybe mark a few odd items, for posterity:

  1. Weird Al’s reaction to last night’s presidential debate was silly and made me feel a little better about the whole thing. (Not a lot better, but a little.) The fact that it’s posted on the NY Times site makes it a little weirder, but somehow even better. It amuses me to think about the editorial process that led someone to decide that Weird Al was the right guy to go to for reaction to a presidential debate.
  2. In less amusing news, my House rep, Tom Malinowski, is getting death threats from QAnon, after a misleading press release and ad from Republicans. Here’s a Post story on the ad, and here’s an NJ.com opinion piece on his opponent’s refusal to address the issue at all. I’ve donated a few bucks to Malinowski’s campaign on a couple of occasions, and I really do think that he’s a good guy. I’m sure he’s not perfect, but he comes off as smart, serious, competent, and concerned about his constituents.

I thought I had an item #3 for that list, but I’m exhausted now, just thinking about the election.

NJ MVC, IFTTT, RSS, and other acronyms

This post may wind up covering a variety of barely-related topics. I have a bunch of stuff in my head today and I’m making connections between things that might not make much sense. Buy anyway…

I had to renew the registration for my car recently. I normally do that by mail, and I did that again this year, and got the registration card back, no problem. But then I got a letter saying that NJ MVC had undercharged me by $7 due to a computer glitch and I’d have to pay that. The letter didn’t really include any helpful information about how to submit that $7 to them. It wouldn’t let me do it online. And there was no indication that they’d accept it by mail. I definitely don’t want to go near an MVC office right now, since they’ve been mobbed ever since they reopened in July. (Apparently, the line at the Somerville MVC starts forming at 4 AM every day.) I really wasn’t sure what to do, but thankfully I found an article on nj.com today explaining the problem and indicating that it was OK to mail in the $7, and gave the address to send it to.

NJ.com has been reasonably useful throughout the pandemic. They’ve run a lot of good, useful, articles. (Mind you, they also run a lot of nonsense and clickbait.) They started asking people to pay $10/month to subscribe to the site at some point earlier this year, and I thought about doing it. But I couldn’t quite talk myself into it. First, there’s the aforementioned nonsense and clickbait. Then, there’s the worry that they won’t make it easy to cancel.

In the past, I’ve often used virtual credit card numbers when I’m subscribing to something that might be hard to cancel. Citi used to have a good program for virtual card numbers, including a Windows program that you could use to generate them on the fly and copy them into forms on web pages. But that program stopped working a while back. And the web-based version relied on Flash, and I don’t have any browsers left on any of machines that are still running Flash. So I kind of gave up on them.

I saw an announcement today from 1Password saying that they were going to start integrating with privacy.com to allow users to generate virtual card numbers right from 1Password. That sounded promising, but it draws from your bank account, and not from a real credit card. So it seems like there could be complications there. But that got me thinking about virtual card numbers again, so I checked Citi’s web site, and found that they’ve finally rewritten their virtual card functionality to work without Flash. (They’ve also eliminated the Windows program, which is a bummer, but I was expecting that.)

And I saw that NJ.com recently added an option to pay $100 for a full year, rather that $10/month. So I went ahead and paid for a year of NJ.com with a virtual card number. I figure their article explaining the $7 MVC mess was worth at least $20 to me. And somebody’s got to pay for all of their articles on pork roll sandwiches and ranked lists of 326 Bruce Springsteen songs, so it might as well be me. A year from now, I’ll figure out if I want to pay for another year.

Overall, I’ve been struggling with how to both consume and support local news during the pandemic. I generally watch NJTV News every night. Their newscast is pretty good and covers a lot of NJ news, but it’s mostly political state-level stuff. I don’t currently support NJTV or Thirteen, and I probably should. I watch enough stuff on PBS that I should toss them $5/month, at least.

I’ll also occasionally look at MyCentralJersey.com, which covers some local Somerset county news, but they’re hiding a lot of stuff behind a paywall now. They have a deal for $39 for one year, and I might go ahead and pay for that with a virtual card too.

I try to get a lot of my news through email and RSS. I use IFTTT to set up some email stuff, and The Old Reader to manage my RSS feeds (along with Reeder on iOS). IFTTT has recently introduced Pro subscriptions, and I would need to start paying for Pro to keep doing some of the stuff I’m currently doing with the service. I don’t really want to do that, so I’ve been looking at shifting more stuff into The Old Reader. But I hadn’t really looked too closely at IFTTT Pro. I just noticed a blog post from David Sparks that’s got me a little more interested in it. It sounds like they might be adding enough value to make it worth the minimum $2/month that you can pay for Pro under their current “set your own price” plan. It’s not quite clear, but maybe you can actually write code as part of Pro applets? That would be useful.

So, yeah, this is me going down a bunch of rabbit holes and thinking about spending a bunch of money. I should probably stop now.

Somerville news

I don’t have a lot to say about either of these news items, but I just wanted to note them on my blog for some reason.

First: There was a huge fire on Friday at a new apartment building here in town. (The building wasn’t yet complete, and no one was living there yet.) There’s been a lot of new construction in town over the last few years, including three or four big new apartment buildings/complexes. They’re all “luxury” apartments that go for around $2000 per month for a one-bedroom. Here’s the site for this development. Fancy. I couldn’t find any prices on the site, but I found a mention on another site that indicated that it was $1950. I really don’t know where they find people who can afford that. Maybe some of them are people who think it’s OK to spend a much higher percentage of their salary on rent than I do. I wonder if these high rents are going to hold up post-COVID, or if a lot of people are going to wind up in positions where they can work from home and don’t need to be so close to the train into NYC.

Second: There was another BLM protest in Somerville on Sunday. It wasn’t a big one, but it was still big enough to drown out the cartoon I was watching on Netflix at the time. I should probably feel bad about binge-watching cartoons while there’s so much bad stuff going on in the world, but honestly I’m exhausted. I need cartoons to keep me sane. And I’m still not sure it’s safe for me to be out in a crowd of strangers, even if they’re all wearing masks. Young healthy folks can go out and march. I’ll make a few charitable donations and do what I can in the voting booth. (Well, not actually in the voting booth this year, hopefully, but you know what I mean.)