more odds and ends

I’m kind of exhausted now, and I kind of want 2020 to just be over. But it’s not. I’m doing my best to stay positive and keep working and exercising and eating right (and I am doing all that), but I’m getting a little frayed around the edges. Anyway, here’s another round-up of (mostly) bad news. Writing helps me process things and clear my head. I don’t necessarily expect anything here to be useful to anyone else, but writing it down helps me.

More #MeToo

Well, the #MeToo stuff in comics is really starting to snowball. After Cam Stewart, Warren Ellis, and Charles Brownstein, now it’s Scott Allie’s turn. Allie was an editor and writer at Dark Horse. He was the editor on all the Hellboy and Hellboy-related books for a long time. And he’s written a few also. I’ve been a Hellboy and BPRD fan since Hellboy #1 from back in the 90s. I didn’t really know anything about Allie, other than just knowing his name from the credits and letter columns. So I can’t say much about him. I don’t think there’s any indication that Mike Mignola knew anything about this, so that at least is something. I’d hate to have to lose my respect for Mignola. (And I do have a good bit of respect for him.)

And back to Brownstein: He was apparently involved in another incident, about ten years ago, involving a CBLDF employee, who was then essentially forced to sign an NDA. So things are looking worse for them. I’m not quite ready to burn my CBLDF t-shirts, but I’m not going to be wearing them in public anytime soon either.

New Toys

I don’t think I’ve even turned on my new laptop yet this week. I’ve been doing a bunch of React stuff on my MacBook, and all of my actual work on my work machines, of course. So I haven’t had time to do any setup on the Lenovo.

I have had time to mess around with my Echo Dot a bit though. I’ve discovered that it’s pretty good as a speaker (given it’s small size), but not if you’re using it via Bluetooth. So if you’re playing stuff over it via the usual Alexa route, it sounds pretty good. But it’s not really worth trying to use it as a Bluetooth speaker. So I’ll yell “Alexa, play WQXR” if I want to hear some classical music while I’m working and that works out fine.


Speaking of React, I’ve been reading the second edition of Learning React via my ACM O’Reilly subscription. It’s an “early release” version, so it’s a little rough, but it’s more up-to-date than any other book on React that I’ve seen. I’m at a point now where I’m not sure if I should keep working my way through books and videos or if I should stop reading/watching and start actually working on a project. I think I might need to finish the Learning React book at least. I’m still having trouble getting at the big picture with React. I’m learning little bits and pieces, but they don’t all fit together in my head yet.

Reopening NJ

Somerville is really hopping this week, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. Mostly nervous, I guess. All the restaurants are doing outdoor dining, which means that they’ve annexed about 90% of the sidewalks. So a walk down Main St right now is kind of an obstacle course. And the obstacles are people sitting at outdoor tables, talking, eating, and not wearing masks. My early morning walks are still OK, since there are only one or two places open that early. But I’ve been avoiding Main St on my afternoon walks. Still, though, it’s kind of fun to see the outdoor dining. And it’s nice to hear people talking and laughing and all that. I just wish I could shake the idea that one of them is going to spray COVID-19 all over me.

Meanwhile, the Bridgewater Commons is going to reopen on Monday. I don’t think I’ll be going back there any time soon though. Maybe I’d risk a trip to the Apple Store if I really needed something, but only as a last resort. I just ordered two new pairs of shorts from the Macy’s web site, and I think that’s all the new clothes I’ll need between now and the end of the year. Macy’s and the Apple Store are really the only places at the mall that I frequent, so I don’t think I’ll be tempted to go over there.

And Yestercades is reopening too, on July 2. This seems like an even worse idea that reopening the mall. There’s no way they can keep all those arcade machines clean. And that place is really too cramped for social distancing. I don’t know, maybe they’ve figured out a way to make it work. I can definitely say that I’m not going back in there anytime soon either.

I may be more stressed now than when I started writing this post, which is not how I wanted this to turn out. Maybe I should spend the next hour listening to this public domain recording of the Goldberg Variations. That’ll help me calm down.


protests in Somerville

There were a few Black Lives Matter protests here in Somerville over the weekend. I didn’t go out much at all myself this weekend, so I was mostly aware of them only from the perspective of seeing them from my apartment window. I was sick on Saturday, so going out then seemed like a bad idea. On Sunday, I was feeling better, and did go out for a couple of walks, but going outside during the protests still seemed like a bad idea, just from the perspective of the possible COVID-19 exposure. Maybe I’m being paranoid, but I’m an old man with some health issues, so… maybe I’m not paranoid.

Anyway, judging purely from what I could see from my window, it seemed like there were just a handful of kids, mostly white, protesting on Saturday. I think that might have been just a group of well-meaning local high school students or something. That was a little amusing, but still nice to see.

Early afternoon on Sunday, there was a much larger group, still mostly young, but much more mixed, that marched up and down Main St several times. This group stuck to the sidewalks. I’d estimate 100 to 200 people total. They were probably marching for an hour or so, and I’m guessing they were going back and forth from the courthouse to town hall, based on the timing of when they were passing by outside.

A couple of hours later, a much larger group came by, this time marching right down the middle of the road, stopping traffic. There must have been hundreds of people, but I can’t say how many. They were quite loud and there were a lot of them. The group was definitely mixed: young and old, adults and children, white and black. Everything I saw was entirely peaceful, and I didn’t see any police presence at all.

This article from MyCentralJersey seems to be covering the earlier Sunday protest. It mentions “hundreds” of protestors, and has a bunch of photos, but they only show people on the sidewalks. This one from TapInto seems to be covering both the earlier and later protests. It mentions “1000+” protestors, and has some photos of people marching in the street. And here’s an article from Patch briefly covering protests in Somerville, Manville, and Franklin.

Apparently, there were some organized speeches and activity on the courthouse lawn prior to the marches on Sunday. It would have been cool to have been able to go down and check some of that out. But I didn’t know about any of this prior to seeing it pass by my window. And, if I did, I still would not have felt safe mixing with such a large crowd.

I don’t have anything really useful to add to any of the discussion on these issues, other than to say that it’s inspiring to see how many people seem to be engaged and concerned about this stuff now. I don’t know how many of these folks are going to vote in November. I don’t know how many of them are going to remain engaged, once this stuff fades from the news. I remember the shooting of Amadou Diallo in 1999. We all hoped things would change after that, and, well, that was twenty years ago. But I don’t remember anybody protesting in Somerville in 1999. So maybe there’s finally enough momentum now to change things. We’ll see.

SharePoint, Somerville, and so on

A little follow-up on some subjects from yesterday’s post:

I complained a bit yesterday about the “hundreds of files” pulled in on a new “Hello World” SharePoint Framework project. I checked today, and it’s actually more than 50,000 files, totaling up to about 500 MB. Scary. I’ve also been a little worried about all the security warnings issued by npm when scaffolding a SPFx project. Apparently that’s all fine though and I should just ignore them, according to this blog post. I guess none of the stuff that npm is checking is actually ever deployed to SharePoint, so it’s fine.

NJTV News tonight had a segment on restaurant and retail reopenings that spent some time talking about Somerville. I guess we’re likely to go ahead with the plan to close down Main Street to car traffic a few nights a week that I mentioned yesterday. I’ve still got some reservations about that, but nobody asked my opinion. (Yeah, I know, I could start attending town meetings. They’re virtual now, so I don’t even need to leave my couch. I’m still probably not going to do it though.)

One other benefit of having “attended” Microsoft Build this year: They’re letting attendees buy some stuff from the Microsoft company store. They’re only allowing purchases of digital goods, so no discounts on Surface hardware or anything like that. But I did pick up a few things at bargain prices. I got a Windows 10 Pro license for $40, and used it to upgrade my desktop PC from Home to Pro. And I got a one-year extension on my Microsoft 365 Family account for only $20. (That’s usually $100/year. I get the Home Use Program discount, which makes it $70/year. So $20 is really low.) And I got a two-year Xbox Live Gold sub for $50. (That’s usually $10/month or $60/year.)

I don’t know if I’ll actually get much use out of the Xbox Live Gold account. As I mentioned recently, I’ve had the Xbox for a year now, and I barely use it, except as a DVD/Blu-ray player. I’ll have to keep an eye on the Games with Gold stuff and see if they have anything I’m interested in. I really want to start playing video games again, but there’s so much other stuff to do too.

SharePoint, social distancing, civil unrest, and so on

I need to start a new SharePoint Online project at work soon. It’ll be an attempt to move an on-prem SharePoint 2013 site, with a fair amount of custom code, to SPO. I haven’t had time to learn much about SPO yet. I’ve taken a couple of pokes at it, but I’d been having trouble finding the right resources.

I “attended” Microsoft’s virtual Build conference this year, and had hoped for some useful SharePoint content, but there wasn’t much. About the only thing I could find was this session on the Microsoft 365 developer program. I already knew about that, and have an account, so that wasn’t too useful. It did, however, point me in the direction of a web page that (in turn) pointed me to this course on extending SharePoint. That seems to be what I need to get started.

I’m cautiously enthusiastic about learning this stuff, but I’m a little leery of the dev stack that they’re recommending. I have some limited experience with the tools they’re using (gulp, yeoman, node.js, and so on), but this stuff always seems like a house of cards to me. Too many different tools, all from different open source projects, pulling in possibly hundreds of different files, all just to get the scaffolding for a “Hello World” project up and running. Well, I need to remain positive and give it a try. I made it through the first “Hello World” example today, and I’m hoping I’ll have time to make some more progress tomorrow.

Since the dev stack includes node.js, I found myself visiting the node.js web site today. They’ve changed their home page to contain a Black Lives Matter message. (I’m not sure how long they’ll leave it up, so here’s a link to an snapshot.) We had a fairly small and very peaceful BLM march in Somerville over the weekend. And protests in NJ have mostly been peaceful, with some exceptions. I don’t have much to say about all this, other than that I hope something positive comes out of it all. I’m afraid that it’s going to get worse before it gets better though. (My own contribution to this situation was to start catching up on all the Black Lightning episodes on my TiVo. And to keep listening to the Invisible Man audiobook that I started a while back. So, not much, really.)

Meanwhile, NJ is starting to open back up a bit. Today actually marks three months since the first COVID-19 case in NJ, according to the newscast I just watched. I think that Murphy is acting with a reasonable level of caution, all things considered. I am worried about the “knuckleheads” who might push things a little too far and cause another spike in cases. I’ve actually been venturing out a bit more myself this week. I had a doctor’s appointment, then had to go to Quest for some blood work. And I’ve got a dentist’s appointment next week. It feels a little weird, going out and driving and stuff. I’m really wondering about how “armored up” the dentist and hygienist are going to be for my appointment. Dental work has got to  be pretty high-risk, given the level of contact necessary.

Here’s an article about the current state of things in downtown Somerville. And here’s one on a plan to close off Main Street to car traffic a few nights a week, and use the road for outdoor dining. It’s an interesting plan, though if it’s not implemented carefully, it could be a disaster. I want to see Somerville’s restaurants have a chance to do some business this summer, but not if it means that the whole street is crammed with people eating and drinking and spreading germs. If they can keep things reasonable and organized, maybe it’s not a bad idea. If things get crowded (like on a normal, pre-COVID-19, Friday night), then I’m going to be locking myself in my apartment and keeping the windows closed.

A Quiet Memorial Day

As I mentioned in my last post, there will be no bike race today, so it should be a pretty quiet Memorial Day here in Somerville. I went out on a relatively long walk this morning: two miles, thirty minutes. I don’t usually use my AirPods while I’m walking, but today I decided to try that, and listened to the new Vessels VIII compilation from Future Astronauts. I didn’t see too many other people out, and the weather was great. So it was a nice relaxing walk.

I’ve added some more photos to my May 2020 Flickr album, covering all of the random photos I’ve taken since I last uploaded any, on May 3. Nothing special, just random photos. I’ve been trying to maintain certain habits since this thing started, as a way to help myself stay sane. Doing a morning walk, and taking a photo or two, is one of those habits.

I’ve been looking back on past posts again, both here and in my Day One journal. I see that’s it’s been a year since I bought my Xbox One. As I predicted, I kind of lost interest in it at some point, and I’m mostly just using it as a DVD & Blu-ray player now. I canceled my EA Access subscription, which would otherwise have billed me for a second year this week. I’d really only been using it to play Bejeweled 3, which is kind of silly. Bejeweled is really more of an iPhone game, and certainly easy to play on an iPhone. I’ve considered trying to get back into some video games during this pandemic, but haven’t really managed to do that. I feel like doing something a bit more interactive than reading and watching TV would be a good idea, but can’t really work up too much enthusiasm for it. I guess I’m really just not a “video game guy” anymore.

I started working my way through the Resident Alien comic book series this weekend, and will probably read volume 5 today. That one was published in 2018, and is the most recent. There’s supposed to be one more mini-series coming, and I’m looking forward to buying that one when it comes out (hopefully soon). It’s a really good series, and has been a pleasant distraction this weekend.

One more habit that I’ve been trying to maintain during the pandemic is meditation. I’ve been working my way through a forty-day course called Mindfulness Daily At Work in the Insight Timer app on my iPhone. It’s pretty good. I’m still not sure that meditation helps me that much, but I guess it helps me enough to be worth the relatively minor time investment that I’m putting into it.

Memorial Day Weekend

I think this is the end of week ten since I started working from home. It’s probably time to stop keeping track of which week it is. This is just the way it is now. My employer is starting to talk about reopening our offices, slowly, but they haven’t officially announced anything yet. Right now, the official word is that we’re all still working from home through June 1. I’m fairly certain I’ll still be working from home through June. I might have to start going back into the office on a limited basis in July. We’ll see. It would be nice to have more certainty, but, as Nicholas Kristof points out in his column this week, “Let’s Remember That the Coronavirus Is Still a Mystery.” I’m trying to accept, with humility, the uncertainty that there is around this thing and take things day by day.

NJ’s COVID-19 dashboard shows that we’re now over 150,000 cases, 10,000 deaths, and 500,000 tests here in NJ. Gov. Murphy has been gradually loosening restrictions. The maximum size of a “gathering” has been increased from 10 to 25. Beaches are open this weekend, with some restrictions.

I’m definitely not going anywhere this weekend though. I’ll be staying in, reading comics, maybe playing some video games, and just generally puttering around the apartment. I generally spend Memorial Day at home, watching the Tour of Somerville. The tour has, of course, been canceled this year, for the first time since World War II. So it’ll be quiet in Somerville on Monday.

I had wanted to “attend” a number of the sessions from Microsoft Build this past week, but we had a bit of an emergency at work that took up most of my time, so I pretty much missed it all. I did have some time Friday afternoon, so I went back and watched some of the stuff that’s available on-demand. I have a few more sessions bookmarked, and I’d like to watch those this weekend.

I got an email from the Metropolitan Museum this week saying that my membership would be extended for however long the museum is closed. I was expecting that, and I suspect that MoMA will do the same. (MoMA had extended all memberships when they had closed for renovations last year, so they’ll probably do the same for this situation.) The Met is now tentatively planning to reopen in August. I think that may be a little optimistic, but it’ll be great if they can. I haven’t heard anything about MoMA or any other museums in NYC making plans to reopen yet. Museums elsewhere in the country are starting to reopen, but of course no other city has been as hard-hit as NYC. I don’t think I’ll feel comfortable going into New York for museum trips (or anything else) until we’ve got a vaccine and/or an effective treatment for COVID-19.

When this thing started, I, like many other people, started looking into the possibility of getting groceries delivered, or at least just doing grocery pickup. At that time, all of the various options for grocery delivery were overwhelmed, so I just kept making my weekly trips to ShopRite as usual. This morning, it was raining pretty hard and I decided to check and see if grocery delivery was possible. Surprisingly, it was. ShopRite had delivery slots open, but not until the middle of the week. Whole Foods, on the other hand, had same-day slots open. So I went ahead and placed an order. I put in the order at 8 AM, for delivery between 10 AM and noon. It’s 11 AM now, and the order just arrived. The process was pretty smooth. They were out of stock on one item, though, so I guess I’m going to run over to ShopRite today anyway, at least for a quick trip. I don’t think I’ll switch over to delivery on a regular basis, but it’s nice to know that it’s an option.

This was a pretty random post, but it’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve blogged, so I thought I should gather my thoughts and write something. I may write some more later this weekend, if I get bored and/or feel the urge.


Six weeks in

I think this is the end of the sixth week of social distancing / work from home / whatever this is. I’m starting to lose track. My last post was on Easter Sunday, two weeks ago, so I thought I should check in again. I don’t have much to report. I’m still employed and still healthy.

I’d mostly avoided take-out for the first four weeks of this thing, but I started getting more adventurous last week. After six weeks without pizza, I finally decided to just go ahead and order a whole 12″ pie last night. I only intended on eating half of it, but I wound up eating the whole thing. So I’m going to have to try to eat healthier today. I’ve been doing a pretty good job of sticking to routines, including staying with pretty much the same diet I was following before this started. But I’ve actually dropped a couple of pounds, so I think there’s room for an occasional pizza in there, as long as I don’t overdo it.

I’ve been going out for morning walks on most weekdays since this thing started. Generally, I go for a walk at the same time that I would normally leave for work. I try to take a photo or two on these walks. I’ve been writing short journal entries in Day One every day, and saving a photo with the entry. Today, I took a bunch of those photos and created an album on Flickr. You can find it here. They’re mostly just random photos of flowers and trees. But the routine of going for the walk, taking a photo or two, saving it to Day One, and writing a little journal entry is one of the things that’s helping me stay sane.

So, this hasn’t been much of an update. As usual, there’s a lot of news I could link to, but I’m not really in the mood to do that right now. I’ve gotten my laundry and grocery shopping done, and went for a nice walk, so now I just want to relax for a bit.

Somerset County changes

I don’t post a lot of political stuff on this blog, but here’s an article from the Courier News that contains a few items worth noting:

  • This is the first time since 1965 that Democrats have controlled the freeholder board in Somerset County.
  • “Since the Democrats last had control, Somerset County’s population has more than doubled and the non-white population has increased from 3.2 to 32 percent.”
  • “About 70 percent of the county’s population was not alive when the Democrats last held control.”

So that seems like a pretty big change. Somerset County has certainly changed quite a lot just in the last 25 years, which is about how long I’ve been living here. I don’t know if the change in the freeholder board will actually matter much, in the grand scheme of things. But it’s an interesting change and it’s worth noting.

On a national level, it’s also been interesting to keep an eye on our new local House rep, Tom Malinowski, over the last year. He’s the first Democratic House rep we’ve had since I moved to Somerset County. I’m trying to figure out when Somerville last had a Democratic House rep, and it’s a little confusing, since we switched districts at least once. We’ve been part of the 7th district since 2000, I think, and the 7th hasn’t had a Democratic rep since 1980. Prior to that, we were in the 11th, where Rodney Frelinghuysen was the rep from 1995-2018, and the last Democratic rep was a guy who served from 1963 to 1984.

Back when Frelinghuysen was our rep, it just seemed like a given that he’d get re-elected every two years, and that was never going to change. In 2000, Michael Moore ran a ficus against him in the primary, to make a point about how House incumbents often run unopposed in primaries and how often they get re-elected. Frelinghuysen was part of a political dynasty that stretched back to 1793. (Malinowski, in contrast, was born in Poland and came to the US as a child.)

Anyway, Malinowski has made national news a number of times since he was elected, and it’s mostly been for saying something reasonable or doing something useful, which is refreshing. This recent New Yorker article has a few quotes from him. And his Twitter feed is a breath of fresh air, compared to a lot of the political discourse that you see on Twitter.

This whole ramble started because I was curious to see if there was any mention in the news of an anti-war protest that happened yesterday here in Somerville. I didn’t find any, but I did find an article about a protest in Woodbridge related to the “SeaQuest petting zoo aquarium” in Woodbridge Center Mall. I have to admit that I had no idea that “petting zoo aquariums” were a thing, nor that there was one in Woodbridge Center Mall. I should really get off the internet now and start doing something useful with my Sunday.

hoping for a good Thanksgiving

I had some plans for Thanksgiving tomorrow, but they fell through, so now I’m looking at a nice unstructured day at home, maybe reading comics or binge-watching something or other on Netflix. I’m a little nervous tonight, though, remembering last year’s Christmas music debacle. They hadn’t started playing Christmas music on Main St this year, as of last night, so I was hopeful maybe they wouldn’t at all. But they’re playing something right now. Whatever it is, I hope they stop it by 10 PM.

A few random thoughts:

  • I mentioned back in September that I was a little sad that the Paris Theater in NYC was shutting down. Well, Netflix just signed a long-term lease for it, so I guess it will be sticking around for a while longer. It’s a little unclear as to whether or not they’ll keep operating it like a regular movie theater, full-time, or not. But it’s cool that it’s not going to get turned into a Starbucks or something.
  • I’ve been thinking a bit about what I might do for Christmas this year. I noticed today that Lincoln Center is showing Sátántangó on Christmas day, starting at noon. So now I’m giving some consideration to the idea of spending most of Christmas day watching a 7.5 hour black & white Hungarian film in NYC. I mean, I’m almost definitely not going to do that. But it’s an entertaining thought. And I really wonder what kind of people I’d see at that showing.
  • Following up on my music post from over the weekend, I still haven’t signed up for a new streaming service, but I did spend $20 at Bandcamp on twelve hours of music from Motion Sickness of Time Travel. I’ve been listening to it at work today and yesterday, and it’s good stuff.
  • I’m also kind of amused by Lifehacker’s article about Spotify being “the Best Life Hack of the Decade”. Seems kind of overblown, but I guess I could see where on-demand access to (almost) any music you’d ever want could be kind of a big thing for some folks.

Climate Strike, Batman Day, NYCC and more

Happy Batman Day! I’m a big Batman fan, but yesterday’s climate strike is probably a bigger deal than Batman Day. (Also bigger than Talk Like A Pirate Day, which was two days ago. Or the reopening of the Fifth Ave Apple Store, which was also yesterday. Or the reopening of my local Apple Store, which also reopened yesterday.)

Today in Somerville we have the Village Brewing Oktoberfest, not to be confused with the Tapastre-sponsored Oktoberfest, which is next Saturday.

It’s all very confusing, especially since I got no sleep last night, due to the music on Main St playing until 1 or 2 AM last night again. I have a bunch of stuff bookmarked that I’ve been meaning to write thoughtful and/or entertaining blog posts about, but I just haven’t gotten around to it, and now my brain is kind of fried, so… you get this post. Sorry.

New York Comic Con is just about two weeks away, so I’m looking forward to that. Warren Ellis is going to be there, which is kind of a big deal, since he doesn’t really do conventions anymore, and definitely not conventions in the US. He’s only coming to NYCC to promote the Castlevania Netflix show, so I probably won’t get to hear him talk about his comics work, but I will definitely go to that Castlevania panel. There’s also an Adam Savage talk that will probably be good, but costs $75 to attend. (He also has a regular panel during the con that doesn’t cost extra, so I’ll probably try to go to that one.)

There’s a lot of serious stuff going on in the world right now, and I’m trying to balance concern/involvement in the serious stuff vs. staying sane with Batman and NYCC and Castlevania and what-not.