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Archive for December, 2020

Dec. 31, 2020 — 184 right, 130 wrong

Today, I finished my Trivial Pursuit Master’s Edition Year-In-A-Box calendar, a calendar full of questions about everything from Texas to s’mores to poke bowls. It’s the last Master’s Edition as next year’s calendar is going to be from the Classic Edition which, according to some reviews, is easier than the Master’s or the original Genus edition.

We’ll see what happens with the questions on the 2021 calendar. But this year’s questions were about the same difficulty as in 2019, which reflects the fact that my percentage of correct answers was 58.6 percent, much lower than the last couple of years.

Yep, I still keep score.

Dec. 30, 2020 — Waiting for the next glass

Tomorrow, I undergo surgery in my abdomen to (hopefully) fix a problem which I wrote about here.

I’m used to the gnawing feeling of uncertainty when it comes to trying to occupy the hours before a medical procedure. The liquid diet that I’ve been prescribed is almost a relief from overthinking the future and engendering a sense of dread.

I have to keep telling myself that I have a good doctor. The surgeon has received more than 50 positive reviews on an internet site meant to judge these things, and almost all of them are five stars.

My interactions with the surgeon have been detailed and somewhat frank. But now that I’m being provided the opportunity to aggressively go at this problem, I have something positive to look forward to.

And that’s a good thing. We’ll know more tomorrow and in the next few weeks how the procedure came out.

Dec. 29, 2020 — Luddite Nation?

Luddite (n.) — a person opposed to new technology or ways of working.

Yesterday, police and FBI officials announced that a computer consultant named Anthony Warner was inside of a bomb-laden recreational vehicle that leveled a city block in Nashville, Tenn.

But it wasn’t any ordinary city block. On the block was a junction station that AT&T used to provide high-speed internet on the 5G level to not only cell phone customers, but home internet as well as to business customers including the air traffic control center at Nashville’s airport.

Too, the interdependence of this one facility meant that there were knockon effects in the form of cell and radar outages as far away as Louisville, Ky.; Birmingham, Ala; and Atlanta.

Early reports indicate that Warren was one of a growing segment of the U.S. population which has developed irrational paranoia and conspiracy theories about the introduction of 5G wireless technology. Indeed, the state of Tennessee was a hotbed of anti-5G activity a year ago, as four cell towers were destroyed by fire, causing more than a half-million dollars’ worth of damage.

Now, you might think it’s fine to have these kinds of conspiracy theories floating around your mind regarding any new technology. Heck, watch the old YouTube videos in which older cell phones emit enough microwaves to explode popcorn, and it does make you question the safety of constant usage of older mobile phones.

But to act on those conspiracy theories, to the point of wanton property destruction? That, friends, is terrorism.

And the quicker we realize this, the quicker we can move on from the ridiculous fantasy world of today’s anti-tech Luddites.

Dec. 28, 2020 — An anniversary of sorts

It was 71 years ago this week when my parents got married in Puerto Rico.

The day after their ceremony, they took their honeymoon in San Juan, the capital of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The central event of the honeymoon was, oddly enough, a baseball game.

Papa was a die-hard baseball fan not only as a teenager, but later in life. Having a minor-league team two miles from his house was a blessing for him, especially when major-leaguers would spend time in town doing injury rehabilitation. When major stars would come to town, the park would fill up.

One time, Derek Jeter came to the city for a short stint. Papa didn’t ask for an autograph, but he observed as the Yankee shortstop went about his business and greeted everyone who came to to the bleacher railing, making them feel as though they were the most important person in the facility.

The interesting thing is that baseball could have killed him in middle school. My father had gotten hit in the head with a ball (it’s lost to history whether it was a thrown or a batted ball) and it caused some neurological damage.

Fortunately, the effects were somewhat temporary: he didn’t speak for a year. But, knowing what we know now about concussions and impact injuries on the brain and skull, he was fortunate not to have worse damage.

For Papa, baseball was comfort in his waning years. Indeed, when a local cable outlet would rebroadcast full games during the offseason, that was, frankly, a godsend. Papa didn’t have to know that the games were repeats: with his dementia, he could process the fact that baseball was on the television. And that was good enough.

Mama, for her part, didn’t much care for live baseball. Sometimes she would take an interest in a World Series game or a Saturday broadcast, but that was pretty much it.

Still, it’s notable that they spent more than 60 years together. Their union was a blessing, allowing them to become professionals in their chosen fields — one in the ministry, one in medicine. They set a standard for the six of us offspring: it wasn’t enough to get a college degree; you needed a graduate degree to get by. Four of us have advanced degrees of some kind.

And, for the most part, our chosen vocations were those who help others: carpentry, academia, medicine, public service, journalism, science.

I think they did a good job.

Dec. 27, 2020 — The true meaning of the season

The COVID-19 contagion has affected our world, our economy, the games we play and watch, and our health.

One such person in the American field hockey community needs our help.

Dr. Robi Tamargo, a former All-American at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County before becoming the team’s head coach, was part of a group of field hockey folks who helped spread the gospel of the sport in the rapidly growing area of Loudoun County, Va. during the 2010s, resulting in not only the addition of a number of varsity teams in northern Virginia, but also the doubling of the size of the Virginia High School League championships.

Dr. Tamargo, a clinical psychologist, came down with the Coronavirus while treating a patient in June. Her severe symptoms have seen her become one of the “long-haul” patients whose symptoms have not waned since they became apparent. She and her husband have had to move from Point Vedra Beach, Fla. to New York in order to be near the Mount Sinai Medical Center.

The bills are piling up, and a friend of the couple has started a Go Fund Me page. Please visit it, and help out if you can.

Dec. 26, 2020 — Duke’s cessation is not a good sign for NCAA basketball in either gender

Yesterday, it was announced that the Duke women’s basketball team, a side which was expected to contend for ACC honors with new head coach Kara Lawson, would end its season after playing just four games.

It had been 10 days ago when Duke’s women put a pause on games and other activities when two members of the team’s travel party (the exact identities or roles remain a mystery) tested positive for COVID-19. The pause came five days after one of Duke’s opponents, Louisville University, had a positive test within its ranks.

After that game, Lawson came out and made a single devastating statement: “I don’t think we should be playing right now.” And according to numerous reports, players on the Duke women’s team were the thought leaders in closing down the season.

Duke is a prominent team, making the Final Four four times between 1999 and 2006. Too, the ACC is a prominent conference in both men’s and women’s basketball, as member teams have won the NCAA Division I tournament on numerous occasions.

The Duke women are the first team amongst the so-called Power Five conferences to opt out of playing basketball. But they are certainly not alone in not playing. A handful of schools on the men’s side, including Siena and Merrimack, have not even played a game yet because of Coronavirus. Virginia State, a historically-Black university, has cancelled both its men’s and women’s basketball seasons.

Too, a number of conferences in all three NCAA divisions, including the Ivy League, the North East Athletic Conference, the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, and the Midwest Conference have already decided not to play.

But what should give you pause are the words of the men’s basketball coach at Duke, Mike Krzyzewski. After a game this year, he offered his take on playing sports during the global pandemic: “I would just like for the safety, the mental and physical health of players and staff to assess where we’re at.”

This is a Naismith Hall-of-Famer who has taken the last three U.S. men’s Olympic basketball teams to gold medals, the first coach to do so. I have a feeling that, if the Duke men were to follow the lead of the women, it could have a ripple effect on not only Division I basketball, but all of college sports.

And all this less than a week before the start of the billion-dollar College Football Playoff begins.

Dec. 25, 2020 — A six-step expression of love, concern, and health

“(Wearing a mask) is truly a sacrifice for sure but in my mind it’s an expression of love.” — Lori Lightfoot, Mayor of Chicago

Ever since this whole Coronavirus business began in mid-March, the wearing of a mask has been, for me, non-negotiable. I knew long ago how successful masks have been in keeping down infectious diseases in densely-populated areas like Tokyo. Indeed, over the last 20 years or so, mask-wearing has become part of everyday life in Japan. In Japanese culture, wearing a mask isn’t a show of weakness or a show that you’re afraid of someone else, but as a courtesy to others.

The regrettable thing is that so many of our fellow Americans have failed to grasp this. Wearing masks can cut down the spread of airborne contagions up to 97 percent if the potential transmitter and potential transmittee are both wearing them properly. A number of other countries have been heavy on masks, such as New Zealand, and have done a great job of flattening the curve even before the wave of vaccines the last week and a half.

Friends, I believe that masks work. Even with my health problems over the last few months, I have not gotten Coronavirus, and don’t plan to. Here are the stories behind the masks I have been using:

The two masks above came from my sister in Maine relatively early during this pandemic. You’ll notice the extra elastic for some of the loops, because I needed to add some ear-room to allow the mask to fit properly. I especially like the distinctive one that resembles a Hawaiian shirt.

This pair of masks come from a discount clothing store hear my home, and both of them fit into the “bumper sticker” category of masks. And I’ll wear one or the other if I am going to be with people I don’t know. I think the upper one is a great social-distancing mask, telling others not to get too close.

These masks came to me in differing circumstances. The one on the right reminds me of the checkerboard patterns which were prevalent in the 1980s. The one on the left was purchased at a men’s store in York, Pa., and has distinctive and interesting motifs from both African and Central American culture. It’s become my favorite.

These six masks tell everyone around me that I neither want to catch anything from them, nor do I want to transmit anything I may have to them. It’s truly the meaning of the holiday season, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Bodhi, Yule, Kwanzaa, or any manner of festivals or observances which take place around the time of the Winter Solstice.

Whatever you celebrate, do it well. And wear a mask.

Dec. 24, 2020 — A streaming war, streaming dumbly?

Quick quiz: if you want to watch soccer games from the English Premier League, where do you turn? Well, a year ago, you could easily find matches on NBC, the NBC Sports Network, USA, and CNBC as well as an upgrade service called NBC Gold.

This year, the number of available outlets has been compressed, with the vast majority of content now being placed on the very buggy and troublesome Peacock Premium streaming service. For NBC Sports Network, there’s no more “Match of the Day” or “Manchester Mondays” highlights; everything is now on Peacock.

A number of sports properties have now been hidden almost exclusively behind video-streaming paywalls instead of being put on cable. I think a lot of it started a couple of years ago when Bleacher Report Live started hosting streams of UEFA Champions League and Europa League games, as well as pro indoor lacrosse and various other sports, including FIH field hockey events involving the United States.

BR Live, however, is now just a shadow of its former self, with just 10 different sports leagues being promoted.

ESPN Plus, Hulu, CBS All Access, and various other platforms have had more success in recent months, but the panoply of other streaming services like DaZN, Sling, and Fubo have led to much confusion and the seeming inability to find live matches even in a universe where hundreds of blank channels exist on many cable services.

Flip through your cable box sometime and count up the number of blank channels. That’s potential broadcast streaming that is not being used; it kind of reminds you of those pictures of empty or near-empty shopping malls which were gleaming commercial palaces years ago, but are now shadows of their former selves.

It’s now being reported that the NBC Sports Network, having broadcast everything from the Tour de France to the Stanley Cup Playoffs to the Premier League to NASCAR to Indycar, may be shutting down altogher by this time next year.

Now, we’ve seen some repurposing of sports channels in the past. There were the changes within Fox Sports, repurposing SPEED into Fox Sports 1 and Mav TV into Fox Sports 2, only to see FS2 remain largely unused for original content with the departure of the UFC to ESPN.

But with more and more people adopting streaming, how many more networks will go off the air? How many sports will go behind paywalls? And ultimately, will there be some sports destined to forever be kept from the public except for a select few viewers?

Dec. 23, 2020 — Of cufflinks and an inspiration for the iMac

Sometime in the early 1990s, my father, a man with a propensity for bringing home broken, unused, or discarded items to see what his smarter kids could do with them, brought home a Lear-Siegler computer terminal. It was a remarkable piece of machinery, painted blue with sleek, curved lines.

Oddly enough, it was the basis for what would be a very profitable and transformative home computer by the end of the decade: the iMac G3.

But I find my mind floating back to the terminal every once in a while because of a certain key which is unique in computer lore: the “HERE IS” key. It’s a key which was meant as a security key of sorts in the days of UNIX computing, as the use of the key asked a computer looking to connect with it (via a really slow modem plugged into a phone line) its identification.

I’ve always wanted to get a pair of “HERE IS” keys for cufflinks. This was an inspiration by an artisan friend of mine who usually peddles her wares at an outdoor flea market near my building. Today was supposed to have been the final day of the Christmastide marketplace, but she has not been working the circuit this year.

I’ve endeavored to try to find my own set of “Here Is” keys. But the problem, as is often found when it comes to vintage items of all sorts, is that there aren’t very many Lear-Siegler or Teletype terminals that you can get your hands on readily. Most all of them have already been thrown away or have had their innards recycled to make new consumer products.

And when you think about it, the smartphone you’re carrying around with you (if you’re not already reading this blog entry on one) has computing and throughput power which is of a magnitude of hundreds or millions above what was offered on either of the machines mentioned above.

Such is progress.

Dec. 22, 2020 — COVID, the great isolator?

Yesterday started that two-week-long cavalcade of athletic excess called the college bowl season. But if you’ll notice, there’s something missing this year. Actually, a lot of somethings.

A number of prominent schools, such as Boston College, have opted out of selection to bowl games. Too, a lot of bowl games are not going to be contested.

One of them was a given: the Bahamas Bowl was only one involving foreign travel. There were a lot of bowls slated for cold climates in the northeast U.S. which were also cancelled. These were in New York, Boston, and Annapolis, Md.

But the lead of the 2020-21 bowl story had to have been the fact that there are going to be no bowl games in California. Even the self-titled “Granddaddy of Them All,” the Rose Bowl, is being held outside of Pasadena for the first time since World War II, when Duke University volunteered to host the game to keep out of range of a feared Japanese air attack.

California leads the nation in Coronavirus cases, and many hospitals are already full to the gills with newly infected persons. Places like Santa Clara County have put the kibosh on professional sports, and there has been all number of changes to the California sports calendar because of it. Indeed, if the curve fails to flatten, the entire CIF fall season, already pushed back to late January, may be forfeit altogether.

The same can be said in Europe because of an outbreak of a deadlier COVID-19 strain in the United Kingdom. Travelers from the Host Nations are now being barred from travel to a number of countries. This situation is taking place right when the country is executing its “Brexit” from the European Union, and could have a lot of unfortunate implications down the road.

You see, the United Kingdom has not only been interconnected with the EU not only economically, but in terms of the sporting world. I think the popularity of competitions such as the UEFA Champions League in soccer and the Six Nations Tournament in rugby have been accentuated by the fact that travel was made relatively seamless.

Eight teams — seven from England and one from Scotland — are scheduled for knockout play starting next year in the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League. Under normal circumstances, travel from one place to another for these games is mere formality. But now, passports and visas are going to be required.

I, frankly, can’t wait until a lengthy delay at a border crossing has an effect on a UEFA game, especially if it is a smaller nation looking to make a political point at the expense of England, Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland.

It could happen.