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!

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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:

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Star Trek: Picard: "Remembrance"

Why did I even watch Star Trek: Picard? I noped out of Star Trek: Discovery after the godawful first episode. I’ve been pretty consistently disappointed with Star Trek ever since The Voyage Home back in 1986. I went into The Next Generation with optimism, but was quickly disenchanted with its character-light, conflict-free, unimaginative storytelling, bailing in the second season. I came back to it late in the third season (the series’ modest high point) when I started participating in rec.arts.startrek, but bailed again in the sixth season. I ejected from Deep Space Nine in its second season, and other than a brief fling with the first season of Enterprise, that was it for me and Star Trek on television. I did enjoy the first J.J. Abrams film, but the other two were pretty meh.

(In the unlikely event you’re curious what twentysomething me thought of mid-series Next Generation, you can read a bunch of my reviews here.)

That said, I do enjoy Star Trek: Nemesis, and I enjoy it more now than my review at the time says I did at the time. Indeed, I think it’s the best NextGen film, though it’s not perfect, but it boiled down NextGen to its two best characters: Picard and Data. It struggles to fully develop its themes, but at least it has themes.

Star Trek: Picard seems to have highly variable word-of-mouth. Some people love it, some people hate it. I inferred from context that big fans of NextGen did not enjoy it. So maybe that meant I would? And the more I learned about it, the more appealing it seemed: Michael Chabon is involved. Picard is struggling with recriminations in his retirement involving Data’s death and the destruction of Romulus (a plot point in the Abrams reboot).

And, well, Jean-Luc Picard was the best thing about NextGen.

So tonight I signed up for CBS All Access, and watched the first episode.

And it was a fine hour of television.

My spoiler-free reaction to the first episode, “Remembrance”, is that Picard is a deep character who is indeed dealing with some of the traumas of his career, and the story overall moves Star Trek substantially forward from The Next Generation, rather than just rummaging around in the show’s past. There’s drama and action, and the promise of a lot of suspense and ratcheting up of the stakes to come. But – perhaps most importantly – it moves beyond the feel-good utopian-future nonsense of The Next Generation: Picard is fallible, the Federation is fallible, people make mistakes and have feelings about it. Like humans.

A more spoilers review after the cut:

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Birthday Week

Last Thursday was my birthday, and we had a heck of a busy week around it!

For starters, we went to to Disneyland last weekend, flying down Saturday and coming back Tuesday, spending 2-1/2 days in the park(s). Since SuperShuttle has gone under, we tried Wingz, which is like Uber and Lyft except that they vet their drivers more carefully (or so I’ve read), and they primarily do airport transportation, where you can request a ride weeks ahead of time. Our trip to and from the Anaheim airport both went really smoothly, with friendly drivers who were on time and flexible. It was probably a little more expensive than Lyft, but not a lot. Would definitely recommend. We learned the difference when we used Lyft to get home from the San Jose airport on Tuesday and got a driver with a messy car with way too much air freshener.

The big change at Disneyland since our last visit (two years ago!) is the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (or “Star Wars Land” as lots of people call it). It’s still kind of in its formative stages, but it was pretty populated while we were there. The main ride, “Smugger’s Run”, is okay, being kind of a guided video game you play with 6 people, with excellent graphics. But the scenery in the area is the main draw, with an elaborate settlement with a large reproduction of the Millennium Falcon, as well as a small Resistance base in some nearby ruins (with a ride which opened the weekend after we were there). And also the second place in Disneyland that sells alcohol, a cantina you should reserve a spot in ahead of time. They also have a build-a-droid experience, and a build-a-lightsaber experience, and Debbi bought me the latter as a birthday gift. The lightsaber seems like it’s really high quality, with nifty audio and visual details.

Oga's Cantina
The interior of Oga’s Cantina.

We rode a lot of the old favorites, including Big Thunder Mountain Railroad 3 times. The Indiana Jones ride is showing its age and broke down a lot, including twice when we had fastpasses to it. Space Mountain was slammed as usual, and Haunted Mansion has gotten very popular lately, typically with a wait time double that of Pirates of the Caribbean. We rode Star Tours twice, though its current Rise of Skywalker form is not as interesting as what it was after its overhaul a decade ago, when you could go to 3 different world on each ride. Hopefully once RoS leaves theaters they’ll put it back to mixing things up on each ride.

My favorite ride used to be the Californian Screamin’ coaster in California Adventure, but they’ve reskinned it using The Incredibles – a film I’m not much of a fan of – and we didn’t get to ride it because – you guessed it – it broke down when we had fastpasses. Oh well! Alas, the nifty “tour of California” theme of California Adventure has now been erased by the Disneyfication of the park over the last decade, so it’s lost a lot of its charm. The new Lamplight Lounge is pretty nice, although I don’t think it’s displaced the Hearthstone Lounge for me (the best kept secret on the property, I think). A Bug’s Land is being demolished for – I believe – a Marvel superhero area, presumably to integrate with the Guardians of the Galaxy ride behind it. We also road Soarin’ twice, which is also not as great as its previous Soarin’ Over California incarnation was.

Anyway, that and our tired feet aside, we had a good time and will try to go back sooner than another 2 years!

My actual birthday rolled around on Thursday and I treated myself to my free Starbucks drink in the morning to go with the scones Debbi baked for me. I had a pretty quiet day at work – lots of people were busy so I went to coffee by myself, and in the rain yet! (But, I love rain.) The original plan was for me to grill hamburgers for dinner, but instead we went downtown to Don Giovanni, which was yummy.

And Friday we went to Sundance the Steakhouse, which is what I always pick for my “official” birthday dinner. Their Moscow Mules are especially yummy for some reason, and birthday mud pie for dessert is also a nice bonus. Debbi noticed that some of the crew from Fox’s NFL broadcast show were eating there, including Jimmy Johnson and maybe Terry Bradshaw, but we didn’t want to stare so I’m not sure. They were in town of course because the 49ers were hosting the Green Bay Packers in The NFL championship on Sunday.

Saturday I went to Isle of Gamers for the Magic Theros: Beyond Death prerelease. I had a pretty good deck, I thought, although nothing obviously broken. My first match was a tie, but with 2 more turns I think I could have won it. I won my second match easily, and then tied my third match (and we barely started the third game). I think I played pretty well, bit a 1-0-2 record was just barely better than break-even. Well, it beats a sharp poke in the eye! I can confirm that the card Ashiok, Nightmare Muse is a house. It almost singlehandedly won 3 games for me.

The deck I ran was close to what’s shown here.

Sunday we finally took down our Christmas lights, a week later since we were away last weekend, and then we watched football for the afternoon. The Niners annihilated the Packers, as the Packers’ offense was sloppy and the defense had no answer for Raheem Mostert’s run game. It was kind of embarrassing, really. The Niners face the Chiefs in 2 weeks in the Super Bowl.

I had today off for Martin Luther King Day, and Debbi didn’t. I think in 2023 MLK Day will fall on my birthday and I’ll get it off work for that reason (something that sometimes happened when I was a kid, as MLK Day was a holiday for some of my childhood in Massachusetts). I took care of some long-standing chores and finished Charles Stross’ latest Laundry Files novel, which means I’m caught up on his books for the time being.

And that was about it. Not a bad, um, ten days of birthday celebration of various intensities. But I’m kinda ready for life to get back to normal for a few weeks, anyway. More rain in the forecast tomorrow, so that’ll make me happy.

Finished!

1000 pieces and somehow we didn’t lose a single one!

Somehow it wasn’t wrecked by the cats sitting out overnight! (We put a towel over it each night before we finished it.)

The green felt underneath allowed us to move it and even roll it up while we were working on it (it ended up getting worked on in three different spots). But I think it was more of a hindrance than a help, because it was really hard to shift the pieces over when they were a little bit out of alignment.

Melancholy New Year

Today is the last day of my almost-two-weeks-off from work (I decided not to take Monday, December 23 off, although almost everyone else seemed to). We had a mix of busy-and-lazy for most of it: We went to San Francisco one day, Half Moon Bay another day, walked downtown on Christmas Day and got Italian for lunch, watched Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, watched a bunch of TV and movies at home, and had people over to hang out and play some games on New Years Eve afternoon. We’ve also been working on a puzzle, something we haven’t done in many years.

Debbi went back to work on Thursday, but I took a couple more days off, mostly hanging around at home.

But I’ve been feeling kinda down since New Year’s. A little of it is watching “The Time of the Doctor” leading up to midnight on New Year’s Eve – it’s not a very good episode – manipulative and frustrating in various ways – but its manipulativeness certainly includes the obligatory sadness that’s accompanied most Doctor Who regeneration stories since “Logopolis”. But this was the least of it – it just set the tone heading into the new year. (We shoulda just turned on one of the generic New Years Eve shows, but we had inertia after watching the far superior “The Day of the Doctor” previously.)

I think some of it is my age. I’ve been trying to think and talk about my age less since my birthday last year, but it’s difficult sometimes. This year I started thinking that I’ve probably got less than 40 more New Years to experience myself. Realistically unless I get in much better shape, I probably won’t be around to see 2060. We also have our 16-year-old cat, Roulette, who is really in great shape for her age, but we probably won’t have her for many more New Years either, and if she declines like Newton did over his last two years, it won’t be an easy time. Stuff I think of when the calendar rolls over, I guess.

Or maybe it’s a touch of seasonal affective disorder. Or despair over Trump’s latest act of idiocy and its fallout. Or not being ready to go back to work. Or being more ready to go back to work and get back to my routine than I realize. I dunno.

Anyway, I’m sure I’ll get over it. I have a puzzle to complete.