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COVID-19 and Me, Part 1

I want to document a little bit of what it’s been like for me during the first part of the COVID-19 pandemic. Day-to-day life in America has changed pretty rapidly, and we’ve already adapted to most of it. So it’s not really news. But it’s different enough from the way things were before that I want to write it down. And maybe you’ve been curious what’s happening in my life. It’s a long post, so be prepared.

When I first heard about COVID-19, the news was reporting it as a big deal in some other countries, China in particular. But I didn’t think it was going to have a big impact on my own life. That was in February 2020. My work life was continuing on as it had been for the past year.

In particular, I was working on a project to develop (and test, in my case) a new online training platform. Some of us on the team were putting in lots of overtime. This job was a completely remote work environment. The team was distributed literally from coast to coast. Our boss was in Virginia, and our product manager was in California, and us chickens were everywhere in-between. So we were all very used to working from home, and did it reasonably well.

In early March, we had the first confirmed COVID-19 infections in Colorado, and then Governor Polis declared a state of emergency on March 10. That’s when I knew shit was getting real. Within a week, all ski areas, restaurants, bars, gyms, casinos, and movie theaters were ordered to close. Most school districts closed their schools, and we had our first deaths from the disease. People who had office type jobs started working from home en masse.

Sign at Benny’s Mexican restaurant in my neighborhood

Other states responded similarly, and work got a bit weird. My coworkers who were used to working from their home offices now had kids at home, out of school or day care. I remember my boss trying to have Zoom video meetings with us, and his young son literally crawling all over him and yelling at the top of his lungs. Some coworkers just went offline most of the time during the day, and then would try to catch up on work after their children went to sleep at night. Our team definitely wasn’t operating at 100% anymore, and it was right during the time that management wanted us to be in “crunch mode” to finish the initial release of this new product.

It’s not every day I get a postcard from President Trump. So you can be sure I read it.
President Trump’s guidelines turned out to be nothing new for me. But hopefully this postcard helped somebody.

For me personally, the biggest changes were that I could no longer go to restaurants or movies, the two things I most liked to do for entertainment. The city, state, and federal governments all encouraged us to start social distancing, though it wasn’t mandatory yet. My girlfriend Brooke and I got some cotton masks to wear in public, and started walking together a lot more. This was because the fitness studios where we both went were now closed. We still needed exercise, and didn’t want to just become more sedentary.

Brooke and I are wearing our first set of homemade cotton masks on a walk. We later made better ones, and later still bought even better ones.

Doctors said to try to keep 6 feet separation from other people. I don’t know why 6 and not 5 or 7. I guess probably because the real guidance was for 2 meters, and they had to convert to feet for Americans who don’t know a meter from a soufflé (thanks, Reagan). Figuring out how to do social distancing while out walking in the neighborhood was a challenge for us and for everyone else. Our sidewalks are 2.5 to 4 feet wide, and many pedestrians on the sidewalks are walking (aka pooping) their dogs. So we had to learn the discipline to either cross the street or at least walk in the street when coming up on another pedestrian on the sidewalk. At first, this was strange, but we got used to it.

Within hours of the emergency declarations, there were runs on the grocery stores. People bought up all the toilet paper, cleaning products, hand sanitizer, paper towels, and most of the non-perishable foods. I don’t know why anyone thought they suddenly needed 100 rolls of toilet paper. Maybe they thought the virus was going to kill all the people in the paper mills. Or maybe they thought they were somehow going to stay in their homes for months without venturing out and they would do lots of pooping. Eventually, stores started enforcing limits on how many of these products you could buy, to eliminate hoarding. And the government declared that all hand sanitizer would be sold only to health care agencies, not the general public.

The official dispatch sent to my mobile phone alerting me that the Stay At Home order was going into effect

Then, a week later, mandatory “stay at home” rules went into effect. This didn’t impact me much, because I had already been taking these precautions. Some Americans felt like it was an assault on their liberty, though, and there were a few protests in Denver. A lot of people totally missed the point that social distancing wasn’t meant to protect you personally from the virus, but to protect others from getting the virus from you if you were an asymptomatic carrier. Some people understood that, and still felt like it was still an unfair imposition. But in my neighborhood, most people generally obeyed the rules, and a month later the Colorado wide results showed that we did “flatten the curve” as we had hoped. So it paid off, at least for that first wave of infections.

With so many people out of work or working from home, traffic on city streets was way down. And people needed to get out more. So the city shut down a few streets to car traffic and turned them into pedestrian streets. That way, people could walk (or run or bike) for exercise, and have an easier time maintaining distance from other pedestrians. One of these people-oriented streets was just two blocks from home, and led all the way east to Cheesman Park, so it was perfect for me.

Brooke and I were out for a walk the day they first closed 11th Avenue to cars, so pedestrians would have more space. That was a great move, in my opinion.

In the second half of March, things were weird, between the hoarding behavior and general fear of the virus. But I was working so much that most of this didn’t affect me. I started cooking more, since I couldn’t go to restaurants. And I started ordering food to be delivered more. I signed up for GrubHub’s membership plan where you pay a flat annual fee and they waive individual order delivery fees. I figured this is going to last a while, and it’ll pay off, especially if I use GrubHub a lot.

I wasn’t the only one. Restaurant workers, especially front-of-house employees like servers, were out of work in droves. Some restaurants closed completely, and some quickly converted their businesses to work better with takeout and delivery. Argonaut Liquor, the large liquor store in my neighborhood, responded by starting their own liquor delivery service. For a flat fee of $10 you could get any size order delivered in the neighborhood. I only needed one thing, but decided I might as well stock up a little since the delivery cost would be the same. Maybe that’s why they had a flat fee in the first place. Smart move, Argonaut.

Was gonna just buy Richardo’s, and ended up getting 90 Shilling and two bottles of wine, too

Then, on April 2, I got furloughed from my job. I had been laid off before, way back in 2001, but never furloughed. In this case, it meant that I would still be an employee and the company would pay for my benefits, most importantly my health insurance. But I would not receive a paycheck. Basically, the way they left it was that they may ask me to come back and resume work at some point, or they may not. No promises. And if I take a job somewhere else, I’m supposed to let them know and return my equipment. So I boxed up my work laptop and peripherals, put them in the closet, and filed for unemployment.

Things have been much better financially than I expected. The state immediately approved my unemployment claim. By being furloughed, I was eligible to collect a weekly check from Colorado. Plus, the US Congress had passed the CARES Acts which added $600 per week on top of my unemployment check. Plus, my medical expenses were getting paid for! That added up to enough to cover my monthly mortgage payments, insurance, and HOA fees. So housing has been covered, and I’ve “only” had to dip into my savings for food, entertainment, utilities, and other expenses.

Since I had been getting burned out on work, I had already been fantasizing a little about quitting and taking a vacation to go camping and hiking in the canyon country of western Colorado and eastern Utah (and maybe northern New Mexico). The camping and hiking were not going to be possible now, due to the “stay at home” orders. But I looked forward to having some time to mentally decompress and catch up on some long-outstanding projects from my personal “to do” list. So I told myself I was going to ignore recruiters and not do anything resembling a job search for 6 weeks. Then, I’d start looking around, if my company hadn’t called me back before that.

April I tackled that huge backlog of tasks. I got my estate plan sorted out, I caught up on a deep stack of magazines, and I dusted off the Recycled Restaurants photo-essay project that I had started but never finished in 2016.

I also decided I might as well finally get the front bumper of my car fixed from that time over a year ago that I ran into the back of another car on the iciest street I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t a very big problem, so I delayed the repairs a long time. But since I wasn’t working and was supposed to be staying at home due to the pandemic, it seemed like I wouldn’t be needing my car much for the next week or two. So I might as well get it fixed.

Minor damage on my front bumper from a low speed collision in the winter of 2018/2019

I’ve been out of work for long periods of time before, usually by choice. So I knew that it takes me a while to mentally switch from work mode to self-actualization mode. That’s what happened in April.

My Pilates studio started doing online classes, which I signed up for. Everyone and their brother started putting more forms of live remote entertainment online – small music concerts, role playing game shows, Geeks Who Drink trivia contests, etc. So I have never had a chance to get bored.

The days from mid-April to mid-May sort of all blended together. Without a job to separate weekdays from weekends, my routine for both was a blur. Most of the time there was no routine. A few days a week I’d have online Pilates mat classes, and a couple days a week I’d plan long walks. I signed up for online Meetups on work-related topics, though I found my enthusiasm for them was low, since I had no idea when or even if I’d be able to put the ideas to practice in my work.

Through this whole time, I was doing Weight Watchers, which meant cutting way back on the amount of delicious food, and modifying my cooking a lot. Also, ordering meal deliveries is way more of a challenge when trying to eat extra healthy. With the pandemic, it was already tough to find restaurants that would deliver something I was in the mood for, with good quality. Add a restricted diet on top of that and it makes it extra hard. But it’s paid off, and I’ve lost about 30 pounds since February.

In the last couple weeks, some of the restrictions have started to be lifted. My massage therapist was able to start taking clients again, so I scheduled a massage. In fact, I was the first customer she contacted to get on the schedule. Why? Maybe she likes me. Maybe she sensed my back has been hurting. Maybe she appreciated that I continued to pay her for the two months she was not able to work on me. Or maybe all three.

Last Sunday, on May 10, I decided to drive over to Brooke’s place to stay the night. I wanted a change of scenery and also wanted to be gone while my housekeeper came to clean on Monday for the first time in two months. On the way, only about 5 blocks from home, I got in a car wreck. It was pretty low speed, and neither driver was hurt. I think the other driver ran a red light, and she thinks I ran a red light. Regardless, the end result was that the front end of my car got smashed again! In the month since I got the front bumper fixed from the accident last year, I literally only drove it 60 miles. And now it’s back in the shop.

It may not look like much, but the collision bent the frame. It’s going to cost $6700 to repair.

This past Thursday was the 6 week anniversary of getting furloughed. I still haven’t heard a peep from my employer, so I started putting out feelers about jobs, as I told myself I’d do. The CARES Act money doesn’t run out until the end of July, and I’m not burning through my savings too fast, so I’m in no huge rush. I’d rather take the time to find something fun and rewarding, rather than just the first job that I’m qualified for. Check back in a few weeks and see how that goes. Thanks for reading this far.

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HowWeFeel

I’m using #HowWeFeel to help track and fight COVID-19. For each new user HWF is donating a meal through @FeedingAmerica. 511,691 meals donated so far! Download it here: https://get.howwefeel.org/share

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Computers Drivel

what a day

April 2, 2020. It’s been a memorable and unusual day.

First, I got furloughed from my job. It’s essentially an unpaid and indefinite leave of absence. I’m still an employee, and still get my employee benefits. But I don’t get paid. This doesn’t surprise me too much. Obviously, the economy is in trouble right now, and there’s no way to tell when it’s going to improve. Maybe in a month, maybe in a year. So I suddenly have a lot of free time on my hands, which is great! I have a huge list of projects I’d like to work on – books to read, movies to watch, photo essays to finish, etc. I don’t know what I’ll do, but I do know I’m in no hurry to go find another job at the moment. I’ve got a CD that I’ve been paying into for a few years that I call my Layoff Insurance fund, just for this occasion. It may be time to break into that piggy bank.

Second, my other birthday gift to myself arrived today from China. It’s a brand spankin’ new MacBook Air. I’ve never had an Air before. I bought one with almost all the upgrades, and occupied myself for much of this afternoon getting it set up.

Yeah, if I knew I was gonna be furloughed, I wouldn’t have ordered a new computer. But oh well. It was time for a new laptop, and I wanted something smaller and lighter. So when they announced the new Air, I pounced on it.

Some other good news: Doing Weight Watchers is paying off. I started in mid-February and as of today have shrunk 17 pounds. I’m continuing to do Pilates as my main workout regimen, though classes are all virtual now. Somewhere under this belly fat, I’ve got some decent core muscles aching to be seen.

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Drivel

phone like a walkie talkie

When and why did people switch from using mobile phones like this…

…to like this…

…? Please answer in the comments below.

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Computers Consumer Experiences Drivel Politics

goodbye and good riddance, Facebook, Inc.

It’s done. I just deleted my Facebook and Instagram accounts. It was fun for a few years, but the relationship turned sour after one of us started lying to the other, then pretended to take steps to improve but just kept lying.

Top 18 Bollywood Celebrities to Follow on Snapchat - Brandsynario

Separation took a few months of planning and preparation. Here’s the blog post I wrote about this process several months ago:

And now here is the result:

For those who want to get in touch, here is my contact info:

So what am I doing now for social media? Over the past 9 months or so, I’ve gravitated to a mix of Reddit, Twitter, my blog, and MeWe.

  • Reddit is great for complex discussions – not perfect, but way better than Facebook
  • Twitter is great for sharing quick thoughts that I used to put in Facebook posts
  • My old WordPress blog is great for sharing longer essays, recipes, etc.
  • And MeWe is a good way to meet other people with shared interests
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Consumer Experiences Drivel Food Politics Uncategorized

mile high composting and voting

Since this past spring, I’ve been working to arrange composting at my condominium complex. And this week it starts to pay off.

Denver Compost Collective is an organization that collects food waste from apartment dwellers and takes it to their large scale composting facility. Then they give the resulting “black gold” to a local urban farm/food charity. The city has been encouraging composting the past few years, but if you don’t have a big garden, it’s tough to do. So this group fills that gap.

Here is me with my new bucket. I’ll fill it up throughout the week with food scraps (no meat or dairy) and then put it in my building’s parking garage for DCC to pick up Monday morning. They weigh each bucket, dump it into a bigger container on their truck, rinse the bucket out, and put it back in the garage.

In other news, I voted today. The ballot and issues were so easy this time I decided to do it while enjoying some quasi-legal recreational drugs. It’s great to live in Denver.

Saturday, maybe Casa Bonita. Seriously.

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Drivel

electric scooters are the Segways of 2019

A friend and former employee of mine bought one of the early Segway Personal Transporters back in 2002. Remember those? I got to ride it one time and thought it was fun. He used it to commute several miles daily, at least in the summer. The inventor, Dean Kamen, said they were going to change the world, and he started to do some urban design prototyping of the wider sidewalks that he thought all major cities would need to support the massive amount of Segway traffic, once they replace cars.

But they didn’t. The product was expensive. People laughed at the idea of riding around in the city standing upright on an electric wheeled contraption. Sales were nowhere near what Segway hoped, and they eventually sold the company to the Chinese. People kept driving.

Fast forward almost 20 years. Now, there’s someone on an electric scooter on every block in Denver, usually several of them. What one generation thought was stupid the next generation thinks is a great way to get around. Of course, the price has come down by a factor of 20, and you can now rent one with your smartphone for a dollar rather than plunking down several grand to buy your own. Maybe that’s the differentiator.

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Computers Consumer Experiences Drivel

credit card blues

Someone has made 12 fraudulent charges on one of my Visa credit cards since May 31, including buying 6 airline tickets on Allegiant Air, renting U-Haul trucks several times, and staying in a couple hotels.

Now, of course, the bank has canceled my card and are sending me a new one that’ll arrive Monday or so. What a hassle.

That reminds me – didn’t Apple announce some new Apple credit card thing with a rotating number to prevent fraud? I should go read about that sometime. Oh, here it is: https://www.apple.com/apple-card/privacy-security/

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Drivel Politics

my plan for breaking up with Facebook and Instagram

(originally posted 5/14/2019, updated 6/20/2019, updated again 12/29/2019)

I normally don’t make New Years resolutions. I figure if a change is worth making, why not start right now, instead of waiting until some arbitrary date on the calendar? Besides, most New Years resolutions are broken anyhow, and if I’m going to make a change in my life, why do it in a way that’s expected to fail? I guess I’m superstitious like that. But this year, I made one. I just didn’t tell many people. My resolution was to break up with Facebook and Instagram.

Anyone reading this probably already knows a dozen reasons to leave Facebook. For me personally, there are two main reasons. First, the company that owns Facebook and Instagram is dishonest, and I can’t justify being an enabler anymore. Second, I’m disappointed with how far they’ve let – and even encouraged – online communities to devolve. I’m not gonna go into the reasons in any more depth. The internet has a steady stream of news articles about why.

So, what next? Well, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what I get out of Facebook. When I first signed up in September 2007, the site didn’t do much. But now it serves a lot of purposes. The company’s key to success has been being the “one stop shop” for a lot of different features. It’s convenient to have these things all in one place, but it’s not really essential. Here are the different benefits I feel like I’ve gotten:

  • a way to stay in touch with friends and family
  • a way to share experiences and information with others online who have the same hobbies and interests – games, sports, travel, food, etc.
  • a way to read about important local, regional, national, and international news, and opinions from experts
  • a way to share my own opinions and experiences to whoever is interested
  • a way to schedule and plan events with friends and family

That’s a lot of benefits all under one roof. So how am I approaching getting rid of all that? Well, I’m learning about what other services exist that help with each of these things. In fact, I started reading about alternatives back in October 2018, and have been trying several of them since then. My hope is that by using other online services, I can fill each of those gaps to some degree. For example, there’s no need to rely on Facebook for the daily news, even though a lot of people use it for that. There are a dozen other ways to learn about important news from a variety of perspectives.

What do I expect to miss?

Facebook has spent billions of dollars refining their service to keep me and you engaged as long as possible. They have used every trick in the book and invented several news ones to get people to keep reading for longer and longer amounts of time. So I don’t expect that whatever set of replacement services I put together will “engage” me to the same degree. And actually, that’s a good thing. I spend too much time on social media as it is. So I’m hoping that this change increases the amount of free time I spend on more productive things.

I think I’ll make a new set of online acquaintances, most likely. And I’ll go back to getting news from better quality news sources. I hope to read books more and read Facebook less.

My check lists

As I said, I’ve already been working at this for several months. Here’s what I’ve accomplished so far:

  • Read a whole bunch about how to do this – see the bibliography below, if you’re curious
  • Unfriended about 200 Facebook “friends” who really weren’t friends
  • Deleted all my weird fun Facebook pages (I made up a fake band, a fake Russian fake US patriot site, and a few others)
  • Imported all my Facebook photos into Apple Photos, mirrored to Amazon Photos
  • Revamped and upgraded my blog site, Todd Bradley’s Galaxy: http://toddbradley.com
  • Set up accounts on MeWe and Mastodon social media networks
  • Became a paying subscriber to Medium and Reddit, sources of news and smart (as well as some dumb) essays
  • Changed my Facebook privacy so my posts are only visible by Friends instead of Public
  • Exported all my posts and media from Facebook and downloaded the files to my home computer for safe keeping
  • Signed up for Signal and Feedly

Coming up next:

  • DONE Tell my friends and family about this grand scheme
  • DONE Encourage people to subscribe to my blog if they want to stay in touch
  • DONE Consider Tumblr as a microblogging platform, since nobody uses it for porn anymore
  • ABANDONED Link WordPress to Facebook so when I publish a new WordPress post, Facebook friends see an excerpt
  • DONE Let all my friends and family know other ways to contact me – phone, text, email, etc.
  • DONE Delete Facebook, Instagram, and Facebook Messenger apps from my phone and iPad
  • ABANDONED Maybe write some software to import my 12 years of Facebook posts into my blog

Bibliography:

Tools:

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Drivel

My Dark Side of Pluto

Tonight I hung my biggest, most wonderful piece of art. And it’s got a story. The photo is of the back side of Pluto, which had never been seen by humans until the New Horizons spacecraft passed by on its way out of the solar system in 2015. Here’s the story behind the image.

In 2006, an Atlas rocket was launched from Cape Canaveral, carrying a small spacecraft called New Horizons. It was the fastest object ever launched from earth. New Horizons‘ mission was to fly to Pluto, gather photos, and then fly onward to the Kuiper Belt and hopefully get photos of one or more objects there, before leaving the solar system forever.

New Horizons quietly traveled through space for most of the next 8 years, being awakened for an annual checkup before going back to sleep to conserve power. On December 6, 2014, New Horizons was brought back online to start getting ready to visit Pluto.

In 2015, it passed close to Pluto, getting incredibly detailed photos of the surface of the dwarf planet that nobody had ever seen before. After it was done with Pluto, it went on to get close up photos of Ultima Thule in early January 2019. That got a lot of press, and was the main focus of an episode of my favorite TV show NOVA, called “Pluto and Beyond“. The episode was broadcast live on January 2, 2019, to coincide with the flyby of Ultima Thule.

A couple weeks later, I saw that NOVA episode. And though the Ultima Thule stuff was cool, it didn’t strike me like the closeup photos of Pluto itself did. The part of the show that left the most impact on me was three scientists talking about their final and favorite image of Pluto from the New Horizons mission.

Here’s the segment of the video I’m talking about:

Narrator:

As its historic flyby comes to an end, and the tiny spacecraft leaves Pluto, New Horizons looks back to take one last breathtaking image.

Joel Parker, Planetary Scientist, New Horizons Mission:

My real favorite, favorite picture is one after we flew by Pluto, and we’re looking back, and we see the horizon of Pluto with the Sun lighting the atmosphere from behind. You can see layers of haze and shadows of mountains streaming across the surface, and that is where you really understand that Pluto is a world.

Marc Buie, Planetary Scientist, New Horizons Mission:

Whenever I see that picture, it’s as if I’m sitting on the spacecraft looking out the window, as Pluto goes whizzing by. And it more than any other picture that we took puts me there.

Alan Stern, Principal Investigator, New Horizons Mission:

That photograph for me is the crowning achievement. We were really there, and we really did it. And we made our own little contribution not just to science, but actually to history.

So of course I searched for that actual image, and soon found it. And I decided I must have a print of it.

For me, like the scientists, it’s something special. This was almost certainly the only time in my lifetime that humanity will visit Pluto. When I was young, I was inspired by science fiction and wanted to be an astronaut. Then, when I realized that’s not likely, I switched directions to being an aerospace engineer. And that never really happened, either. But I still love the idea of space exploration. Having a faraway planet in my home makes me happy.

Looking back at the sun

I got a high resolution version of the photo from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and had a local Denver print shop called Infinite Editions make a print for me. It’s 36″ by 52″ and it’s gorgeous.

There’s only one place in my small condo for a piece this big. I had to rent a van to get it home, since it’s too big to fit in my car. Also, it’s my first piece of art that requires a French cleat to hang. So I don’t have to worry about it getting crooked or anyone bumping it off its hanger.

Me and Pluto

So that is what I spent my tax refund on this year.