Doctor Who, Season Twelve

Jodie Whittaker’s second season as the Doctor was an incremental improvement over her first, and while it introduced a big mystery into the Time Lord’s existence, the show seemed reluctant to go all in on that to craft a full story out of it, opting instead to have pieces at the beginning, middle, and end, and otherwise make the season another set of standalone episodes. Much like last season, the stories were enjoyable enough but kind of nondescript and thus forgettable.

And as for that big mystery, well, some of it was carried off quite well, and some of it was not so great. I enjoyed it overall, but it really should have been a lot more than it was, and ultimately while it sets up some interesting stuff for future seasons, if the series continues in this vein I think it’s going to feel more like an afterthought, possibly one thrown away by the next showrunner.

Anyway, if the last five seasons of Doctor Who are the kind of thing you like, then you probably liked this one too.

Spoilers after the cut:

Continue reading “Doctor Who, Season Twelve”

Keeping Occupied

It’s been four weeks since I started working from home due to physical distancing restrictions to mitigate COVID-19. It’s been three weeks for Debbi. This past week was a little easier for me, but I think Debbi’s still working through it.

I’ve hit our two nearby grocery stores since my last entry about the virus, and they’ve had most things in stock. I didn’t check cleaning supplies, but one of them did have toilet paper and paper towels. The only thing we’ve been interested in and unable to find are eggs, which is weird since many other friends in the valley say they can find eggs. It must just be a random fluctuation in our neighborhood.

We’ve done take-out from a few restaurants, especially QBB which is a favorite of ours. Last Saturday we did take out from Chef Chu’s House, which is a valley institution (and the son of the owner directed Crazy Rich Asians), and their parking lot was nuts. Debbi says some elderly customers would drive up and demand service immediately even though there were a dozen other cars ahead of them. Sheesh! I think they’re pretty good, but not amazing; certainly they don’t compare to the late, lamented Su Hong in Menlo Park. This experience convinced us to start targeting our take-out nights to less busy nights of the week.

Sadly, another favorite, Clarke’s Charcoal Broiler, is the first of our regular restaurants to announce permanent closure due to the virus. It seems they were – as best anyone could tell – Mountain View’s oldest restaurant.

I’ve continued to run 3-4 days per week, and walked 2-3 times per day on top of that – which is more walking than I did before, but I basically replaced my drive to work with a walk. Which is good since I’m horribly behind on listening to podcasts as it is.

Fortunately we’ve been having really nice weather here most of the time, and spring is my favorite time of year in California, with everything turning green, lots of things flowering, and everything smells wonderful. On the other hand it’s been raining most weekends. Why weekends? Because the weather gods hate me and want my lawn to be 9″ high. Good thing I love rain on principle.

I bought a new humidifier a few weeks ago, because I’d read that if we do get sick then it might help. It turns out we’ve been using it every night for the last week to help with run-of-the-mill throat issues we sometimes have at night.

We also put up a few of our holiday lights outside out house, to make things a little cheerier in the neighborhood. “Corona lights” I quipped. Debbi wanted to avoid Christmas colors, so we did light blue, pink and yellow, and then I added a strand of green along the base of the porch to look like grass. We leave them on overnight, and occasionally I see someone walk by in the dark and notice them. They make me happy when they come on, anyway. And I noticed another house in a cross street put up some lights too.

I worry about actually catching the virus, of course. I mean, it’s a lottery: 80% of the time it will be a pretty bad cold or maybe less than that. But one time in five maybe it’s a really serious illness, and maybe you end up in the hospital, on a ventilator, or… well, dead. For all I know maybe we’ve already had it – but there’s no way to know, right now. Because the federal government is run the incompetent crybaby and his inept cronies and so it’s months behind on rolling out testing. I’ve been doing my best to observe physical distancing when I go anywhere, which is pretty easy when exercising, but harder in stores – although there are some people who clearly don’t care or don’t think about it, so at least I’m doing better than those people.

(The Bay Area, by the way, seems to be doing pretty well overall. Despite a few gaffes, the number of new cases day-over-day has been approximately flat for about week. Even “approximately” flat is way better than exponential growth.)

I’ve stopped reading social media during the work day because it gave me too much anxiety. I also stopped listening to NPR as my wake-up alarm for the same reason – it’s all virus, all the time. I created a Twitter list for the few people I want to catch up on at the end of the day, and I skip everyone else. I’ve also been muting people on both Twitter and Facebook who are posting too much about the virus for my mental health. It’s helped – a lot. I think it’s a big part of why this last week was better than the one before.

Yesterday a friend of of mine organized an online poker tournament on PokerStars.net which was a lot of fun, with an audio channel for us to chat during the game. We had 14 people, and I managed to fold my way into the money, finishing third (top three paid). I felt card dead for long stretches of time, and then I got bailed out by some timely all-ins that went my way. Late in the tournament I doubled up on three consecutive hands. So, you know, plenty of luck. I coulda played better, but I coulda played worse. But it was great to do something with a group of friends.

So, you know, it’s been a week. Since we’re both working full time (and I’m keenly aware that there are lots of people who not working at all, and not at all by choice) I don’t find the days run together, and I appreciate the weekends as a time not to be ‘on the clock’ at work. But it’s still something of a struggle. Probably for everyone, to some degree or another.

Star Trek: Picard: Emotional Resonance

“Et in Arcadia Ego” part 2 brought the first season of Picard to a close, and overall I’m quite happy with how it turned out. I think the final episode was a little overstuffed so that not everything was as smooth as I’d hoped. In some cases I think they should have restructured the last three episodes a bit to have some threads get resolved earlier, and in others I think they made some poor storytelling decisions. But the most important thing is that I think they got the emotional resonance of the story right, as there was a lot to cheer about.

For convenience here are links to my earlier reviews of the season:

  1. Remembrance (episode 1)
  2. The End is the Beginning (episodes 2 & 3)
  3. Absolute Candor (episodes 4 & 5)
  4. The Impossible Box (episodes 6, 7 & 8)
  5. Et in Arcadia Ego (episode 9)

Now, on to the spoilers!

Continue reading “Star Trek: Picard: Emotional Resonance”

The Last Comic Book Night (for now)

A week ago my comics shop, Comics Conspiracy, was setting up to do curbside pickup of comic books during the COVID-19 shutdown (or “The Pause” as a few people have been calling it), but a wrench was thrown into their plans with the announcement that the main comics distributor, Diamond, was shutting down for the duration, and apparently the major printers have shut down too. As a result, yesterday was the last regular Wednesday for new comic books for the foreseeable future.

I’ve been buying comics regularly since, oh, the late 1970s. I think I used to go more-or-less monthly to The Million Year Picnic in Cambridge, MA when my Dad and I would go to Harvard Square for haircuts. But sometime – probably around 1983 – we discovered New England Comics, which had a store on Allston Street in Brighton. NEC was less bohemian than MYP and other stores of the previous decade, brightly lit and well-organized. It became my regular comics shop, and through most of high school I went there for new comics every Friday. I became friendly with a bunch of the staff, first a couple of women (girls? I honestly am not sure how old they were, but older than I was) named Jen and Delana, and later a couple of guys named Vijay and Matt. (Those two ended up founding Comicopia in Kenmore Square, which Matt still owns. It’s been at least a decade since I’ve visited, though.) A few of my high school friends would sometimes come with me for the train ride in and back to pick up the week’s haul.

During college I bought comics via mail order from Westfield Comics because there was not a good, accessible comics shop for much of my time in New Orleans. But when I lived in Madison, WI I went to Capital City Comics. During this time, new comics day got moved back to Thursday, and then to Wednesday, where it’s been ever since. Rather than moving even earlier, recent changes to the distribution system have made Wednesdays a much more reliable day, never getting pushed back for holidays on the Monday or Tuesday before.

Since I started going to NEC, I’ve had a subscription (or saver, or pull box, or whatever each store called it), which usually came with a discount, often 20%. The realities of the market have pushed discounts into history (unless your shop owner happens to grandfather you in), but they’ve also made it desirable to have a pull box and to pre-order comics because it’s the best way to ensure the store will get a book in at all.

Since we moved into our current house in 2011, comic book night has entailed coming home and sitting on the living room couch. Our cat Roulette would almost always sit with me, at first because she really liked the couch we had in that room, and later just because she liked some quiet time with me. The other two cats come in sometimes, especially if the fireplace is on, but mostly it’s just been some quiet reading time.

So last night I paid for my order online, then drove down and saw Brock, one of the owner Ryan’s employees, who was carrying the books out to people. Physical distancing! We chatted for about ten minutes, but of course no one knows what’s going to happen next. Maybe the comics companies will distribute online and provide a portal for retail stores to sell to their customers. We’ll see. But for now, the weekly trips to the comics shop have come to an end.

Ironically, my haul last night included the last issue of one mini-series, and the next-to-last issues of two others. Even more ironically, it included the new monthly catalog for upcoming releases.

So I’ll place my order from the catalog this weekend as I always do. And hope that in a few weeks or months there will be some new books for me to go pick up.

I hope, I hope.

Home can be Strange

I’ve wrapped up my second week of working from home, and my first with Debbi also home. We’ve both been struggling a bit, adjusting to being at home all the time, working at home, and of course the anxiety that the state of the world induces.

Monday came the announcement that the six Bay Area counties were going to shelter-in-place starting Tuesday. My work gave us a lot of slack to get things lined up to work from home for the duration, making sure we had appropriate resources at home. Debbi meanwhile went into her office and picked up a bunch of stuff, including her plants and those of some of her cow-orkers which we are now fostering. (I’m taking it as a special challenge to revive a sad-looking succulent she brought home.)

Tuesday was, for me, the hardest day. I’ve been keeping my regular running routine, and also going for at least one walk around our neighborhood. The stories of hoarding were very concerning, though I had been a couple of days ahead of the curve on most things. The biggest thing we’re missing at home right now is an oral thermometer, in case one of us does get sick. By mid-afternoon I was really struggling to focus.

Wednesday was new comic book day. It turned out my store provided pick-up for some of its subscribers (and since then they’ve gotten the county’s approval for curb-side pickup of online orders). Honestly it felt great just to get in the car and drive somewhere, and I picked up dinner on the way home.

Meanwhile, Lee’s Comics here in Mountain View abruptly announced on Wednesday that they’d be going out of business. Lee’s is one of the oldest comics shops in the Bay Area (maybe there’s an older one, but I can’t think of it), and their San Mateo store closed a few years ago. Some wonder if they were in worse financial shape than anyone knew, but my guess is that Lee was not really into the retail experience anymore – he’s always seems more into selling valuable back issues, which is much more of a niche market these days – and decided this was a good time to just pursue his passion.

Anyway, apparently a bunch of his regulars have been setting up subscriptions with my regular store. Hopefully this will help him get through this tough time.

Many restaurants around us have moved to a take-out only model. A few have just closed for the duration. I imagine the take-out model will stave off the end for some restaurants, but once the quarantine is lifted I think the restaurant landscape will look very different than it did last month. Think of your favorite restaurants, and I bet half of them will never come back. We’ve ordered take-out from a few of our favorites, and at least one of them seems to be doing okay so far.

We also made a run to the two Safeway restaurants near us on Thursday. Both were pretty quiet, as you’d expect. Chicken and prepackaged bread were in short supply, as I assume were toilet paper and cleaning products, though we didn’t check. Baked-in-house good were plentiful, though, as were other meats. Produce was hit-or-miss. But it’s clear that they are getting restocked. My guess is that first we have to get over the hump of panic buying, and then the supply chain needs to catch up to the increased demand.

I also called my Dad, which both of us enjoyed. I worry about him. There’s not much I can do if something happens to him, as it’s a 6-hour plane flight to get out to him.

On the bright side, Friday night we had virtual happy hour with some friends in Portland, over FaceTime. We had a good hour chatting with each other – not even entirely about the pandemic! Then on Saturday we ordered from our favorite BBQ place, QBB, which is now able to provide their yummy cocktails to call-in pick-up orders. And we ran into a friend while picking up. It sounds like they’re doing okay, all things considered.

We’ve both had a lot of anxiety about everything. Social media mostly doesn’t help, and the number of people who have just been sharing widely-available articles or doing their own analysis really doesn’t help. Maybe one post in a hundred is actually useful, and the rest just increase anxiety. I’m thinking I should start muting my friends who are mostly sharing stuff like this. I’ve been trying to do less of it myself, sharing more entertaining things – though I still blast Impeached President Trump and the Repugnicans for fucking everything up with their greed and incompetence. We’ve both had some trouble sleeping, though I think Debbi’s been worse than me.

Anyway, we had a quiet weekend. Yesterday we watched Doctor Who “The Day of the Doctor” and the original Star Wars trilogy. Today we lay on the couch together for a long time, and then put up a few of our Christmas lights on the front porch to hopefully bring a little more happiness to the neighborhood. And tonight I tried making Thai chicken yellow curry, which turned out really well, if a bit spicier than I’d intended. So it was a nice stretch of downtime.

But tomorrow it’s back to work. Hopefully this week will be better, both being able to focus at work, and being less stressed about how things are going. I’m not sanguine about the latter, but we can hope. I have read a few cautiously optimistic things, but I think there’s a long way to go.

I’m trying to decide what the cats think about all this. I think they’re kind of tired of us being around all the time. Well, get used to it, kids!

Star Trek: Picard: “Et in Arcadia Ego”

Wo-ow, “Et in Arcadia Ego” part one, the first half of the conclusion to this first season of Star Trek: Picard, was one great hour of television. Past Star Trek series had plenty of visits to idyllic worlds with a dark underbelly, but here we’ve had a season of build-up to visiting the planet of the synthetics, and it doesn’t disappoint.

Google Translate tells me that “Et in Arcadia Ego” means “And in Arcadia I am”, where Arcadia is a poetic term for a utopia, which is certainly appropriate here.

One thing to watch for in this episodes is the spectacular acting by much of the cast; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a virtuoso ensemble performance in any episode of Star Trek, where Patrick Stewart might not be delivering the best or even the second-best performance.

I’d originally planned to review the last two episodes together, but this one had enough stuff in it that I decided to cover it separately.

Onwards to the spoilers!

Continue reading “Star Trek: Picard: “Et in Arcadia Ego””

Star Trek: Picard: “The Impossible Box”

Three episodes of Picard this time around, and they’re an odd set to review together:

“The Impossible Box” finishes the second third of the season, as Picard and company make it to the Borg cube and find Soji. It’s the most exciting episode of the season to this point, and starts moving the story into high gear.

So, oddly, the next episode, “Nepenthe”, isn’t really part of any of the three parts of the season (beginning, middle and end). Rather, it’s a pause, a time for the characters (and viewers) to reflect on where we are. While the popular focus has been on the return of Will Riker and Deanne Troi, it also allows Soji and Picard to adjust to recent developments which have left them reeling, while the crew of La Sirena deal with some their own problems.

Finally, “Broken Pieces” resolves several plot points, in a way clearing the decks for the two-part finale, as well as giving us some insight – finally – into Captain Rios.

All three episodes are quite good, and quite different, and everything seems to be coming together. More after the cut:

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Virus Corona

Of course the big news of late is the coronavirus pandemic which has been spreading across the world. It’s hard to believe that we’ve been reading about it in the news since at least January, but since then it’s spread to South Korea, Italy, the United States, and many other countries.

Predictably, the incompetent administration of Impeached President Trump has been completely incapable of dealing with the pandemic, and as his lying, grifting nature dictates, Trump has been trying to suppress information to make himself look good so the pandemic doesn’t interfere with his reelection. This is a terrible thing for public safety, as we have no idea how widespread the virus is in the United States, and there’s no way for someone who gets sick to know if they have the flu or the COVID-19 illness that the virus causes – or maybe something else. Of course, Trump almost completely ignored the disaster that Hurricane Maria wreaked on Puerto Rico, so everyone with a couple of neurons to rub together saw this coming. (To be slightly fair to Trump, his ineptness in dealing with Maria was probably not just due to his incompetence, but also to his abject racism.)

For myself, it wasn’t until about 2 weeks ago that the pandemic really pushed into my mind as something that we should be concerned about and preparing for. Which maybe still puts me a bit ahead of most of the country. Apple (my employer) was perhaps a day behind other major tech companies in moving to a work-from-home policy, but honestly a day one way or the other won’t make any real difference. What will make a difference is that they’ve gone all in on reacting to events.

Last Friday, March 6, we were encouraged to work from home. I had some things to do which required I be in the office, but it was pretty quiet – maybe two-thirds of people were out. In the afternoon I walked to another building to get coffee. It was cool and partly cloudy, and I briefly reflected that this might be the last semi-normal day for a long time. I mean, I’ve read and seen plenty of disaster fiction, and if the pandemic really got bad who knows what things would be like on the other side – if I’m even among those who gets to the other side. It was a quiet, sad moment.

Friday night we ordered take-out from a pizza shop, and they were slammed. Saturday we went to one of our favorite restaurants, because we knew that small businesses would probably be hit hard by the coming changes and we wanted both to support them and to enjoy them while we could. They were pretty quiet when we arrived around 6, but by the time we left at 7:30 they were getting pretty full. We also picked up a bunch of extra stuff at the grocery store, but the run on toilet paper and cleaning supplies had already begun. We did, however, stock up on supplies for the cats – if things get bad, I don’t want them to be the ones that suffer, if we can help it.

By Monday, my work had a basically-mandatory work-from-home policy in place. There were some exceptions, but I didn’t really qualify. I had already gone into the office on Monday, so I stayed there until mid-afternoon to finish setting things up. There were maybe 8 people in my area all day.

So we’ve moved to teleconferencing for meetings, lots of chatting over Slack (though I’ve long been a big fan of chat apps for work), and the new buzzword “social distancing”. Debbi was still going in to her office, so I hung out with the cats, ate lunch by myself at home, and walked to Starbucks for coffee in the afternoon, or just around the neighborhood. The weather was beautiful last week – I wore shorts – so having the windows open was also nice as there are many trees and flowers in bloom. Wednesday I went to get comic books as usual.

By Friday, it seemed clear that work-from-home was going to be the norm for the foreseeable future. So I went into the office at the end of the day to pick up some things (especially my headphones, but some other items as well). I saw one person on my floor, and one of the janitorial staff, who I chatted with for a few minutes. I walked around the floor and took in the quiet, since I figure I won’t be there again for a few weeks. It was pretty strange.

Friday night we went to another favorite restaurant, and we’ll probably hit another one tonight. Is going to restaurants bad? Maybe. It’s hard to cut them out completely. We picked up some more items at Target today. I think this weekend is probably going to be the peak of the panicked-stocking-up around the country, mainly because most school districts have announced they’re closing for the next few weeks, so parents are trying to make sure they’re prepared for that. It remains to be seen whether the supply chains restock many of the items in the next couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, the Bay Area has finally ended its month and a half long drought with a heavy dose of rain today, and more in the forecast in the next week. So the past week feels like the calm before the storm figuratively and literally. We’ve both been feeling a lot of anxiety about this, and neither of us generally has trouble with anxiety. I haven’t really felt like this since the last few months of my mother’s life back in 2014-15, that tightness in the chest, a weakness in the legs where I have trouble pushing myself to keep moving forward. The preparation we’ve done in the last couple of days has helped a lot with that, but I’m sure it will come back.

I’ve always felt that the government has an important role to play in public health and safety, and in managing the economy wisely. The Impeached Trump administration and the last 40 years of mostly-conservative government has wrecked the federal government’s ability to do all of these things: Disaster response is indifferent and terrible, the country is running huge deficits in times of relative prosperity, which is exactly the opposite of what it should have been doing. All of this results in, well, a lot more anxiety. And I suspect most of the nation doesn’t understand just how bad it could get.

So, it’s been a stressful week. But this week might feel like a walk in the park a few weeks from now. I hope it won’t be that bad, but I fear that it might. And Impeached President Trump has a way of living down to everyone’s worst expectations.

Star Trek: Picard: “Absolute Candor”

The fourth and fifth episode of Star Trek: Picard operate as a pair of sorts. Where the first three episodes concerned Picard learning that he had something he needed to do and arranging to be able to do it, these episodes see him and his band leaving Earth and learning where they need to go. They’re more adventurous – in the literal plot sense – than the first three, but they’re also a little awkwardly dropped into the story: Whereas the second episode “Maps and Legends” felt like it was moving pieces into place for the purposes of the plot, these two have a similar purpose but to get to their goal they’re developed in the context of a pair of smaller stories.

(My review of episodes 2 & 3 is here.)

Onward to the spoilers!

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Star Trek: Picard: “The End is the Beginning”

After the first episode, “Remembrance”, I’d thought maybe I’d write a review for each episode of Star Trek: Picard, but the second episode, “Maps and Legends”, didn’t feel like it needed a review. It wasn’t a bad episode, and certainly I didn’t expect it to be as good as the first episode as it was a hard act to follow, but it was mostly a moving-the-pieces-into-place episode, without much of a narrative arc.

The third episode, “The End is the Beginning”, jumped the quality back up and made me decide to cover both of them at once.

I figure if you haven’t watched the first episode, or if it didn’t grab you, then you’re not likely to be reading this, so I’m just going to jump to spoilers after the cut:

Continue reading “Star Trek: Picard: “The End is the Beginning””