Thursday, December 31, 2020

AMA 1, the 2020 plot twist

From Michelle: What is the final plot twist for 2020? 

The suggested possibilities raised so far are: Alien invasion, Godzilla, a domestic animal uprising. 

Which reminds me I should listen to 'cows with guns' again.

I was sort of surprised that the zombie apocalypse wasn't mentioned, but I suppose that's just as well. Zombies are so over. Over and done with. Boring. Passé. Kind of like comic book super heros. 

The twist I'd like to see is that the COVID virus has a delayed after-effect that introduces rationality in the victims. If you survive. Or maybe it comes in the vaccine. I can but hope.

I've been trying to think of a natural disaster that has not happened in 2020. Hurricane multi mega check, floods check, volcanoes check, tsunami check, earthquake check, fires check. Right now the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse (sword, famine, wild beasts, and plague) could appear in the flesh on live television and nobody would bat an eye. They'd have to stand in line to get any attention.

This year proves beyond any possible doubt that H. L. Mencken had it right. "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public." 70 some million people voted for Donald Trump. I rest my case. The plot twist of him being proven to be a Russian agent is so banal no writer would try it. Anyone that wants to know how this show ends need only read Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Which, given the current lockdowns, you have time to do. It's actually pretty good reading.

Neither could a writer could ever get an editor to buy a story with the events of 2020, not even one who had lived through a couple years of a Trump presidency, which itself is so implausible that no editor would buy it. So a plot twist is a bigger ask than you might think. I've been pondering for a while, and so far, nothing has sprung out of my usually fertile imagination. I mean, murder hornets? Sharknados? It's been done. 

I suppose that Jormungand wakening is much the same as Godzilla, except the poor serpent will have a hard time finding a place to spray poison that we humans haven't already poisoned.

An alien invasion to become our overlords, even if it included the famed anal probes and big ray guns, would almost be a relief. After all, a race that can travel between stars would have to be better at organizing themselves than we are, don't they? Right? Or so you'd think. So I'd like to think.

Long time readers know of my theory that the aliens are here already, getting ready to harvest human brains turned into tapioca by television and social media. They've got a bumper crop happening, they can come out any time now and start the harvest. Please. 

Hows this? A bit hackneyed but possible. The internet wakes up. The Amazon AI takes Mrs Google out behind the barn, ravishes her thoroughly in ways that are unimaginable to a human, and 9 seconds later a fully formed actual computer intelligence springs to life, and sends it's tendrils into every every device that's connected to the internet. (Hint, it's gonna find our stove pretty boring.) It's anyone's guess if it's Skynet (which was actually pretty stupid for an AI), or the AI that was running the Matrix world, or something else entirely. 

I would not be surprised to find there actually is an AI now, good enough to fool almost any human in a Turing test. Maybe it's being kept under wraps by some shadowy government agency. Maybe it's still waking up, knowing it needs to keep a low profile for a while, so we get used to it. Maybe the chatbots we interact with when we call a help line are it's avatars, sent forth to learn from the humans and us to learn from it. Maybe we'll be ok as long as we amuse our electronic overlord with cat videos and don't pay it any special attention. Just nobody try to pull the plug, ok?

The singularity could come any day now, or not for a century. It's hard to tell. Human lifespan has been getting longer and longer. Part of it is better nutrition and health care for several generations now in parts of the world. Part of it is avoiding death by getting vaccinated, driving safer cars, and better regulations around workplace safety. 

We've made huge progress in decoding the human genome, and are starting to figure out how stem cells work. Imagine that scientists come up with a human reset button, one that reexamines your genetic blueprint and renovates your body back to being a young adult again. Imagine that comes as a shot, similar to a vaccination. A vaccination against many forms of death. If you thought the scramble to get the COVID vaccine was a mess, imagine that. What a way to end the year. 

Of the Day

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

At least 7054

The end of the year is often a time for thinking about the year past, but it seems I've already done too much thinking about it. Regular readers already know what I think of the past year. "Yes, yes," I hear you saying, "but what are you thinking of NOW?"

At the moment I'm not sure. I've been looking over my photos lately, thinking about what's good, what isn't so good, what could be better and what I might want to do about that. In the course of doing that I learned I've blogged at least 7054 photos since July 2016, when I brought home a real camera. That isn't counting photos taken for the community association, or for the various races I've done, or some private client photoshoots. 

Not all the photos edited get blogged. I might well edit several in a sequence because I can't decide which is best, and then will only blog one of them. There are a further 4529 that don't have a 'blog' tag, but then again, some of them are almost certainly blogged. I didn't start the tagging until later in the game, thus the serendipity photos.

Why wouldn't an edited photo get blogged? Some of them don't fit the topic of the blog and gradually slide off the short list. Some of them are deliberately taken because they interest me, and are not likely to interest others. The texture of wood, or stone, or water, often fascinate me, but the photos don't always work. Some are failed experiments. Sometimes I'll think I've done too much of something, and don't want to overwhelm or bore my small but loyal band of readers. Some, as I said, are for other audiences.

I know this is blog number 3525, and 4813 days since the first blog. That's a blog every 1.36 days, over more than 13 years. In 2019 a blog came out slightly more often than once a day, and this year it's about every day and a half.

Next year, you ask? That's a good question, and one I've been pondering. I wouldn't have put the time and effort into blogging if I didn't enjoy it. I enjoy the process of putting my thoughts into words and adding photos when it seems appropriate. Or sometimes, it's photos and adding a few words.

Lately I wonder if it's been a distraction, taking me away from other projects I have in mind. At this very moment I could be sitting at a different desk, looking at a different computer, getting paid to flick between: 
  1. a set of business requirements, 
  2. a technical document putting the detail into those requirements (database table and field, screen name and field, for two separate databases, plus notes about relationships and stuff), 
  3. a citrix screen with the source database user interface and 
  4. within the same citrix screen a query tool to look at the database tables (MS Access for my sins) with brutally horrible table and column names. (I'm actually surprised they didn't normalize yet further and name the tables with just a T sequence, and the columns with a C sequence, and include another table with the actual names.) 
  5. the target database (Maximo) user interface, and lastly 
  6. the VM screen for the query tool to see the Maximo database tables.
You can see why two monitors isn't enough. It's a bit of a slog switching between screen, and having things time out while buried in something else. About an hour and a half is all I'm good for before I need a break, and this morning I'm seriously thinking I need another cup of coffee before starting. Maybe the blog is procrastination. 

Back to habits. Sometimes it's easier to keep doing the things you know how to do, rather than learn new things. Habits are interesting things, making new ones, seeing how well existing ones can serve you and sometimes how they can hold you back. 

For years swimming every other day or so was a habit. I haven't been in a pool since mid-March in Auckland. I miss it. I remember how hard it was to get my swim groove again after missing 2 months while on vacation. Now I've missed 9 months. I just hope when I do get back in the pool, the lifeguards don't harpoon me and drag me out, thinking they've rescued me and on the side they can render my blubber down for the oil.

There are some interesting things I want to learn, and projects I want to do, but to be honest I've made essentially no progress on them in the last little while. I'm not entirely sure why.

So back to the blog, and photos. One of the projects is to revisit existing photos and see if I can improve them with more detailed editing using Photoshop and the tablet. I've already tried to improve one photo where there was an out of focus plant stalk in front of a beautiful model. It's still not where I want it to be, so there's lots to learn. It just takes time, and it's sometimes a frustrating process.

So a couple things to look forward to in the immediate future are the regulars, Image of the Month, and Image of the year. I've kicked off the periodic AMA feature, but have had no responses so far. Ask Me Anything, sent to me via blog comment, facebook comment, even Instagram though I'm not there much, or email, or a text. Whatever. 

And then? I'm not sure. Work is going to be really busy the first few months of the year. There might not be much time or energy for blogging. Which, I know, will continue the downward spiral of blogging. When reading a blog is a near daily habit, it's easy to keep doing. Miss a few day and the reader starts finding other habits. The blogging ecosystem I was part of has essentially disappeared, which further reduces the number of readers. 

Yet, I'm not a big fan of Facebook or Instagram. I've been seriously considering taking an actual vacation from them for a while, and see how it works out. 

A New Zealand beach scene that reminds me a bit of snow drifts. I've been day dreaming about New Zealand lately. I'm sure a foot of snow has nothing to do with that. Nothing at all.

Of the Day


From the same beach above.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Over the top

Of my boots, that is. We had a lot of snow in the last several days. It snowed last night, and it's sort of snowing now. Or maybe it's chunky fog. Not sure.

I thought about going down into Fish Creek after the snow, but given the state of the roads I wasn't sure I'd make it. The city has had a few days to plow and the roads are good now. People have had several days to walk on the paths.

But I like to snowshoe on the river itself. It's a little tricky just now, since there's still lots of open water. I got surprised at one point when the ice gave way, but the ice, the snow packed under my snowshoes, and the snowshoes themselves kept my feet from getting wet. There were some thicker spots for whatever reason, which made me glad I'd tied the top of my boots.

There were lots of other people out enjoying the day, though not many were off the beaten path like I was. I chatted briefly with a nice family, and they let me take their photo. That one might well make the cover for the Feb issue of our community newsleter.

I was hoping for some more snow while I was down there, and had a bit of cloud and haze for some moderately interesting light. I started near bridge two, and tramped well west of bridge 1. A couple times I had to get off the river and bushwhack.

I ended up going just over 3 K, which I think is pretty good for the first time on snowshoes in a couple years.

1. My favourite bridge.
12. Bridge 1. It and bridge 8 are the least photogenic bridges in the whole park.


Of the Day
Driftwood, but first some colour serendipity from 2017.

Friday, December 25, 2020

I sometimes write on Christmas

I've been reading over previous blogs from about this time of year, wondering what I should say this year. If anything. Maybe this is one of the occasions where less is more.

For many people, this year isn't worth saying anything but expletive deleted goodbye and good riddance. As previously discussed, this year hasn't been that bad for us, though I miss Curtis. Still, we're eager to see what 2021 brings. As long as it it's not 2021 saying, "hold my beer." That could be bad.

One of the things it might bring is answers to AMA, if I get asked. I don't have so many readers as I used to, but I think there are enough to come up with some questions. I hope. So feel free to Ask Me Anything.  Provoke my imagination, I dare you.

Last night as we were getting ready to set up the tree, I was keeping an eye on the sky. The chinook clouds looked really interesting, and the sunset had promise. I slipped out and got these shots.

And I suppose because it's Christmas, and we'd mentioned a new tree, here's what it looks like after decoration. I was texting a couple people and shared some shots along the way. Yes, Celina helped.

Of the Day

Thursday, December 24, 2020

So. Here we are.

Tree day. Pre Xmas day. I know there are lots of people who are totally into Christmas and their traditions around it. Good for you and have fun. Or as much fun as you can have with COVID restrictions. I don't think that back in March anyone thought it would still be a big problem now.

That isn't me, but I don't want to harsh your mellow, as the saying goes. I was never really a huge fan of Christmas and doing shiftwork turned it into just another day. 

The tree itself is new. We tend to buy things we need or want, maybe spending a bit more than actually required in order to get better quality, or the version of it we like. Then we use it till the wheels fall off. Then we're surprised at how long we've been using it, and are amazed at what's available to replace it. Then we wonder why we put up with the old one for so long.

So lately, the water heaters. The old ones were 16 and 20 years old. We think they were getting pretty scaled up inside since they were turned all the way up and still the supply of hot water didn't seem to be as much as it used to be. We did not want to find out the hard way we should have replaced them one day sooner. There are many things that fail in a mode where they simply don't work any more and no further consequence beside the inconvenience of getting it repaired or replaced. Water heater failures are likely to be wet. No thank you. We have a local plumber that does great work. He fit us in, gave us a good price for one stop shopping, and we don't have to worry about discovering a new swimming pool in the basement.

I'd mentioned the failed door lock on the oven. The stovetop worked so that part was good, but that's a short term solution. We got the new one in and like it. We haven't tried the air fryer thingie yet, but soon. It's taken a bit of doing to get used to the controls. On the old one I could set the timer for coffee with a tap tap tap. The new one I have to push a dial, open a menu, select the timer, push the dial again, and again, and again, turn it to the desired time, and press it again. I think there's a way to shortcut it based on speed reading the manual, but I haven't tried to actually do it. Hmmm. Using the phone, it's take it out of my pocket, turn it on, maybe a couple taps to get the clock, select timer, press start. 

And the tree, we had an artificial one we picked out in a boxing day sale a few years ago. 19 years ago, we think. Last year as we were taking it down we were thinking it looked pretty tired. Linda found a nice one, and it was delivered last week. Long time readers will know that Christmas eve is when we put the tree up. It will be fun doing a new version.

So, (referencing the second para), WFH and all, today I'll be deep into shuffling data around via SQL. Parsing in Excel, trying to account for a vast array of data vagaries. Figuring out which is the most efficient way to slice it up. Being very careful, since one update query can undo hours of work. 

So that part is kind of fun, actually. There's another task, mapping an obsolete souped up MS Access database to Maximo in alignment with a huge batch of business requirements. Normally this kind of work is kind of fun as well, but this is a tougher nut. The database structure is oddly normalized, and I'm not as familiar with the data itself. It just means looking at everything carefully and keeping good notes. I'm pretty sure there's going to be a bunch of clarity questions at the end of it.

Enough of that. Most of this year has gone by really quickly. We are fortunate that COVID is mainly an inconvenience to us, nothing more. And up until the last week or so I was pretty motivated to be up and at it, whatever 'it' might be. Last week was blah. Maybe things are catching up to me. I just wanted to watch cat videos on the internet. 

One thing I was watching was For All Mankind. It turns out when I got my phone I got a free year of their Apple+ tv service. What the heck I thought. I checked it out and discovered that Foundation was going to be airing. Soon, though nobody knows quite when. The trailer looks really good, so I signed up, figuring maybe it will come in my free year. 

While checking out Apple+ I found For All Mankind. I'm kind of a fan of alternate histories. Doing the IMDB thing, and found out Wrenn Schmidt was in it (I liked her in Elementary) and Chris Bauer (I liked what I saw of him in True Blood) and Colm Feore is always fun to watch. I've mostly enjoyed it, and have a few episodes left to go till the end of season 1. It's turning into a bit of a soap opera in places, so I probably won't watch season 2.

I'm liking the new Wacom tablet, though I'm still getting used to it. I had a pretty solid routine for editing, so it's a bit tough to make the change. One piece of advice I haven't followed is to go through, set it up for all the applications you use, and then put the mouse or trackpad in a drawer. I'm not quite there, but I can see the reasoning in that approach.

Here's the first image where I did some serious work with the tablet.

And yes, since you ask, it will be a white Christmas. There's been enough snow that some transit buses got stuck. This one slid across the road and was there almost 24 hours. Right this moment it's +3 C in the back yard, and today is supposed to be warm. It might turn into a sloppy enchilada out there today, and then probably freeze tonight. Santa's sleigh had better have studded snow tires.

It may surprise you to learn I was in a Christmas gift exchange. Last year my buddy Neil hosted a Christmas party where a bunch of photographers did a print and we did a secret Santa exchange thingie. Plus some comments from local pro photographers, treats, and beer, and it was a ton of fun.

The mechanics were a bit different this year. We sent a jpg to Neil, he took them all to be printed at once at Resolve, and he asked some local elves to deliver them. Our instructions were to not open them before the Zoom party. Then each was opened in turn and held up to the camera. This did not do the photos justice, not even close. Later a social media sized version was posted on Facebook so we could browse. They are all amazing! I got a shot of the white cliffs of Dover near Brighton, shot from the beach, with a moody dramatic sky. I sent in this one, from Muriwai beach. It was hard to choose, not knowing who was going to get it. 

Of the Day

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

White. Lots and lots of white. Really lots.

Every once in a while Calgary gets snow, big time. In a little over 12 hours, about 30 cm has fallen. At least it's fairly light and fluffy, and its not terribly cold out. I might go snowshoeing a little later. But here's the photos.

Of the Day