Thursday, April 30, 2020

Day 3780

I've been interested in astronomy for a long time. I'm certainly no expert, but I do know the basics. That's why I've been completely baffled to keep seeing articles on the Internet saying that the Moon, Jupiter, and Venus will form a smiley face in the sky on May 16th. If you Google this event you will literally find dozens of articles, some from seemingly reputable sources, telling you how and when to view this rare celestial show. I've even started seeing Facebook friends telling each other to mark their calendars.

Have any of these people actually gone outside and looked at the sky? Jeez. There isn't going to be a smiley face in the sky. It's not going to happen. On May 16th, Venus shines brightly in the evening sky after sunset, but you won't see Jupiter unless you get up early the next morning and look toward the East a little before sunrise. These two planets are on the opposite sides of the sky. The Moon is a waning crescent at this time, but it isn't even thin enough to look like a smile. The only planet anywhere close to it is Mars.

So how could so many people be completely wrong? Do people actually believe what they see on the Internet more than what they can see with their own eyes? Sadly, the answer is yes. This isn't rocket science, people. Just go outside and look at the sky. I'm kind of amazed that none of the many "fact checker" websites have called out the "smiley face" story as a hoax. They probably believe the story too.

I think the reason this obviously false story persists is that people like a smiley face. A smiley face makes them feel good. They want to believe the story. A smiley face in the sky is an innocent little story but it illustrates perfectly why fake news is so prevalent today. People believe what they want to believe. Nobody questions anything in a clear, dispassionate way anymore. You find something that supports your preconceived opinion and then you tell your friends about it. If enough people agree with you, your opinion goes viral. I doubt that the bogus smiley face story is any sort of conspiracy. It's just laziness. There actually have been conjunctions of the Moon, Jupiter and Venus in the past. I think the last time this happened was in 2008. You can see almost anything in the sky if you wait long enough.

I don't know why the smiley face story bothers me so much. Perhaps it is because it illustrates human nature so well. If you can easily convince people to ignore the laws of physics, you can convince them of anything. Almost everything we see and hear in the media has been designed to influence you in one way or another. Ads try to influence you to buy something you may or may not need. It's pretty easy to do this because people are gullible and they have emotions. I spent my entire career trying to influence you and got pretty good at it. Today, what used to be called "hard news" has just become another form of advertising. These news sources feed you a steady diet of what you already believe so you will continue watching. Pick your poison. It's not that hard to to find something that appeals to you these days. Maybe you like OAN and Fox. Maybe you like CNN and MSNBC. Don't expect that what you are hearing is true however. You are being manipulated.

If you have your heart set on seeing something cool in the sky on May 16, just wait until the next morning. If you get up around 5 AM on May 17 you can see Jupiter and Saturn extremely close together in the Eastern sky. The two planets will only be a few degrees apart. No smiley face though. I have no idea when that will happen again.

Bea is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Day 3779

You know what I said yesterday. Yep. Same thing today. Even by my admittedly low standards, this quarantine life is getting monotonous. The weird thing is that unless you know someone personally who has gotten sick, the danger doesn't seem real. You hear these horrible things on the news, but it all seems distant, like the war in Syria or something.

Nobody I know well has gotten sick. Three people I've met at one point or another have been tested for the virus. One guy tested positive and the other two tested negative. All three showed exactly the same symptoms. To this day, the two people who tested negative remain convinced that they had the virus. They were never tested again though, because they weren't sick enough to be admitted to the ER and test kits were scarce.

Luckily, these three people all recovered without requiring hospitalization. The guy who actually tested positive spent fourteen days confined to his bedroom. The two who tested negative were free to go anywhere they wanted. Each of these experiences make me wonder about testing. Everybody admits that current tests frequently return false results, but still testing appears to be vitally important.

I'm sure that mass testing will greatly improve all the mathematical models and projections I keep seeing, but what does the test do for the individual being tested? If you test negative today, you could still test positive tomorrow. If you've actually had the virus and have acquired antibodies, nobody knows whether this means you are safe to reenter society. Some say that people with antibodies could still get sick again or even continue to infect others. So with this in mind, does a massive testing program remove any uncertainty at all? Not for me. I guess the best a testing program could do is find some of the asymptomatic people who actually have the virus and remove them from circulation.

If we do wind up with a massive tracking/surveillance program, I'd prefer the type of high-tech tracking being proposed by Apple and Google. I'm comfortable with my phone warning me that a sick person is nearby. I'm not very comfortable at all with an army of human trackers going door-to-door. Nobody in their right mind who lives in a city would open their door to a stranger who says "I'm from the government and I'm here to help." At best these people are probably Jehovah's Witnesses. At worst, they are planning a home invasion.

It will be interesting to see how all this develops. Right now it feels a lot like the blind leading the blind. When you read about the early day of polio or the Spanish Flu, the same thing happened. People were scared and many of the early remedies did nothing or even made matters worse. If you are unfamiliar with the history of polio, you should read about it. The first documented polio epidemic in the United States occurred in 1894. The disease wasn't eliminated in the Western Hemisphere until 1994. We live in an age of instant gratification. I don't think many of us are ready for a hundred year war on the coronavirus.

It's a safe bet that nobody is going to find a solution tomorrow. I'll continue walking and see how many days I can continue my 20,000 step streak. Last night's violent storms weren't as bad as everyone expected. I removed the water from the roof today and am ready for the next storm. I'm still thinking of upgrading all my computers to solid state drives. If I can't go out for breakfast on Friday morning anymore, it might take a fast computer to keep me happy.

Parker is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Day 3778

20,000 step days are normal now. What else is there to do? I just keep walking. My plans to clean out the office are on hold for a while, since there is no place to donate the stuff. I can't even throw the stuff away. There's not another bulky trash day until next month. It's not a problem though. It's amazingly easy to talk myself out of doing things I don't like to do anyway. I've waited a long time to clean out this room. I can certainly wait a little longer.

Since my computer repair went so smoothly, I did a little research on converting all my computers to solid state drives. It turns out I did the hardest computer first. Upgrading the laptops looks relatively easy. There's no hurry to do this either. I mostly use the laptop when I travel and it doesn't look like that's going to happen any time soon.

There's one other use for the laptop of course. It comes in handy when the power goes out. I hope that doesn't happen later tonight. We've had severe weather warnings all day now and I can see the storm system on the weather radar now. We still haven't gotten everything cleaned up from the last bad storm last June. We certainly don't need another tree to fall. I'm hoping that the storm will dissipate a bit before it rolls through town.

Janet is trying to get Dawn used to riding in the car. Every afternoon they take a short ride to another nearby park and have a little picnic with cheese. We've got so much time on our hands now that Dawn is going to be totally spoiled by the time this pandemic is over. That's OK I guess. Spoiling a dog seems a lot better way to spend the day than watching the news.

I still haven't heard anything from NASA. I'm growing less confident of getting press credentials for the Crew Dragon launch. Florida friends tell me that NASA plans to grant access to a bare minimum of journalists this time. I'm still hopeful though. The new normal seems to change from day to day.

You'd think I could continue writing about astronomy and space from my office here in Dallas, but it doesn't seem to work that sway. You really have to be there. I have no real desire to research things on Google and then repackage the information with my own personal slant. Been there, done that.  Advertising and technical writing is a lot like this. I spent years writing about watches that were never on my wrist and even longer writing about oil drilling equipment that was located at the bottom of the sea. I know I can throw words together. The fun thing about writing about rocket launches and astronomical observatories is the experience of actually being there. The trips I take are basically a big adventure for a very non-adventurous person.

They say we're going to run out of bacon soon because the food supply is being disrupted. This is getting to look more like a Steven King novel every day.

Lucky is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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Monday, April 27, 2020

Day 3777

I have a feeling that three years from now we'll look back at our current situation as the most colossal overreaction in human history. How did we get here? When British scientist Neil Ferguson published his widely cited Imperial College report predicting that 2.2 million Americans and more than half a million British citizens would die if life as we know it did not shut down for at least 18 months, it caught the attention of politicians around the world. Nobody wanted this kind of devastation on their watch. Even our own president did an about face and radically changed his tune. The country shut down. Ferguson predicted that the demand for ICU beds would be 30 times greater than the available supply and the entire hospital system would collapse. Overnight, convention centers were turned into field hospitals and all the other hospitals stopped doing everything from chemotherapy to brain surgery. The entire hospital system was turned upside down and mobilized to treat the coming surge of coronavirus patients.

A strange thing happened though. After tens of thousands of restaurants, bars, and small businesses shut their doors; after the world economy ground to a screeching halt, Neil Ferguson quietly retracted his predictions. Nevermind, he essentially said. He now feels that the hospital system is well equipped to handle the peak of the epidemic and that British deaths will be closer to 20,000 than the half million he originally predicted. Ferguson never apologized for his wildly inaccurate prediction, but he did say that “We’ll be paying for this year for decades to come.” At least he got that right.

I'm a university brat. I grew up around scientists. I think I learned around the dinner table at a very early age that scientists are not magicians. They are frequently wrong. The scientific method is based on trial and error. You experiment. You learn from your mistakes and eventually you might come up with a solution. Sometimes what you learn is that you started with a false premise.

Do people who are counting on a vaccine to fix this mess realize that the best scientists in the world have never managed to come up with a vaccine for an existing coronavirus? They were never able to come up with an effective vaccine for SARS. To this day there is not a vaccine for the common cold.

There have been some amazing success stories over the years. Polio has been eliminated. Measles has almost been eliminated as well. It took a massive effort to vaccinate the entire world before the polio vaccine was really effective though. Nobody shut down the world while this was happening either. A lot has changed since then. We didn't have a choice about taking the polio vaccine. We all ate the sugar cube. Do you think you could convince everybody to take an unproven vaccine these days? There would be a revolt. We forget that the whole reason for taking vaccines is to speed up the process of building herd immunity. It is not a magic bullet. If everybody doesn't take the vaccine, it doesn't work. It might not work anyway. Most seasonal flu vaccines are only about 50% effective.

We are getting close to the point where the cure is worse than the disease. I think the Chinese knew this all along. With a population of over four billion people, the Chinese government has always been more worried about social unrest than disease. The virus start peaking in China during Lunar New Year Celebrations. Chinese New Year is a huge cultural event that often involves traveling to visit relatives. Rather than forcibly curtailing these activities and risk massive social unrest, the Chinese government let hundreds of thousands of Wuhan residents travel freely around the world for at least a week before mentioning anything about the virus to the rest of us. Do you think this had anything to do with the mess we are facing now? I thought so.

We will never fix this unless we we rediscover honesty. Nobody is honest about anything these days. The Chinese were never honest about the virus in the first place. Our own politicians aren't honest either. Everyone is trying to use the pandemic to score political points. The media is far from honest. You have your truth and I have mine. We all listen to news that supports what we already think. Sadly, nobody believes the news media anyway. We just believe what our friends say on Facebook. It's all a giant clusterfuck. Personally, I don't think what we are doing now is going to work. Maybe three years from now some of you might agree with me.

Chance is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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Sunday, April 26, 2020

Day 3776

We walked five miles before breakfast this morning. The weather was beautiful and the park wasn't crowded yet. I kind of like this new routine. It sure helps build an appetite. Breakfast was delicious, but by 9 AM we both wondered what we were going to do next. We'd used up our day's activities too early.

I continued my house cleaning efforts today. I filled a large trash bag with clothing I knew I'd never wear again. Some of the clothes I'd never even worn once. I certainly threw away a lot of socks. I seem to have a habit of buying socks that don't fit. I'd buy a package of six, wear one pair, and after discovering that the socks didn't fit, never bother to wear the rest. From the number of unworn socks I found, I must have done this over and over again. I also threw away some short sleeve dress shirts. Whatever possessed me to buy these? They look ridiculous. All the clothes were clean and in good shape, so I bagged them up and drove them over to one of those little kiosks where you can donate clothing. There are lots of these places all over town and some of them benefit animal rescue groups. Much to my surprise the dropbox was closed and there was a sign saying that due to Covid-19 they could not accept clothing at this time. My guess is that someone thought people were sneezing on clothing before they donated it. Not me. My clothes were clean and had been safely stashed away in a dresser drawer for years.

Now that my computer is fixed and my upcoming trips are in limbo, I'm not sure what to do next. Cleaning is sort of a last resort. I really don't enjoy cleaning at all. I was so bored today that I took a second walk in the park. The place sure looked a lot different this afternoon. Early this morning there weren't many folks out and about. This afternoon, the place was filled with people. It looked exactly like any normal Spring Sunday afternoon. The city seems to have had a change of heart about closing the park. Basically the closure lasted one day and the place has been gradually reopening ever since. Today I didn't see any police at all. People were having barbecues, throwing frisbees, and hanging hammocks between trees. Even the ice cream truck was back. I think the city realized that people need an outlet during a lockdown and going to the park was a lot safer than having everyone turn up at Home Depot.

I've been noticing something kind of weird lately. You don't have to tell me to stay away from other people. I do this naturally. I'm really an expert at social distancing and know some tricks most of you won't learn until you take the advanced course. You'd think I'd be happy to see other people get on the social distancing bandwagon. Nope. When I hear someone preaching to me about staying indoors and accusing others of being selfish for wanting to walk their dog, it just pisses me off. Just shut up already. Moralistic preaching is not helping anything. It just further polarizes an already polarized population and brings out the "Badges? We don't need no stinkin' badges" in me. I'm going to lay low and mind my own business. If you want to have a party, it's fine by me. I'm pretty sure that Darwin will take care of things in the long run.

And don't you guys get all moralistic on me. If humans had a shred of morality, we wouldn't have been having pointless wars since the dawn of time. We wouldn't have bioweapons labs either, which is probably where this virus originated in the first place.

Brady is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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Saturday, April 25, 2020

Day 3775

We're having a nice Spring. So far we've avoided any of the severe weather that has caused so much damage in other parts of the South. It's hard to complain about sixty-five degree days and clear skies. We've started walking Dawn early in the morning to avoid the crowds at the park. The park is pretty busy because what else are you going to do during a lockdown? We see lots of families walking with their kids now. I'm glad that Dallas hasn't closed down their parks like some cities. Fresh air and sunlight are good for you. So is exercise. I'm convinced that the people I see walking in the park are going to be ahead of the game when the pandemic is over.

I was bragging about Sam's Club last week. This week there was a line to enter the store, just like many other grocery stores. I don't know what the line proved. They were letting people in as fast as they could grab a buggy and once inside there were no rules at all. Toilet paper was still in short supply, but the fresh fruit has never looked better. Evidently growers are having difficulty finding an outlet for all their fruit without institutional and restaurant customers. There was an abundance of really fresh looking strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries today. I can't believe people are stocking up on canned food when there is so much nice looking fresh fruit and vegetables available. If you're worried, just wash the stuff when you get home. We've been washing fruits and vegetables for years, mostly because of pesticides. I'm not much of a cook, but I do know that canned food is full of salt. Fresh food is just better in every way.

I'm rooting for Sweden to win the lockdown sweepstakes. I'm convinced that if everyone used a little common sense, you wouldn't need draconian rules. I'm really getting tired of people using the pandemic to score political points as well. Good grief. Trump didn't actually tell people to drink bleach. He was just wondering if there was a way to flush the virus out of the lungs the way you would clean a countertop. I've wondered the same thing. Doctors actually do wash people's lungs occasionally. Large volume pulmonary lavage has been used by physicians for quite some time when certain types of lung disease disease cause the lungs to fill with lipoproteinaceous fluid. Several quarts of saline solution are placed into the lungs through a breathing tube to wash the lungs while the patient is sedated and then the liquid is suctioned away. It's kind of a radical procedure but patients typically improve rapidly after this is done. And if you don't think doctors routinely inject poison into patients veins, you haven't had chemo or know someone who has. Chemotherapy drugs are extremely poisonous, You typically have to sign a waiver saying that you understand the treatment might kill you before chemotherapy can begin. Doctors just hope that the drugs kill the cancer before they kill you.

I'd hate to be a doctor right now. They are under tremendous pressure and they still don't know how this virus works. They are learning things quickly but treatment is still basically an experiment. We are learning that ventilators can do more harm than good. Blood clots are a much bigger problem than originally anticipated. Nothing is behaving in the way it should. So far, your best friend is a strong immune system and a healthy lifestyle. Hopefully people will learn this lesson when the current crisis has passed. Is it really that hard to eat healthy food, manage your weight, and only put air into your lungs?

I started cleaning my office today. I filled a large trash bag with old magazines, empty boxes, and other stuff I couldn't even identify. Sadly, the office still looks the same. I think I'll have to fill twenty large trash bags before I start making any real progress. Hey, if this plague lasts long enough I'll eventually have a clean office.

Pogo is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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Friday, April 24, 2020

Day 3774

We walked Dawn before breakfast this morning. The weather was cool and the walk was enjoyable. As we begin to enter the Summer months, I think our walks are going to get earlier and earlier. It's the only way to beat the heat. The walks will probably get shorter too. You got to be careful with dogs during Texas summers. Dogs can't sweat and can easily succumb to heatstroke. Dawn does pretty well now, but she's not a young dog. We don't want to push her too hard.

My computer upgrade went perfectly. All the data transferred to the new drive overnight and my applications seem to work. I did have to register Microsoft Office again, but I've done that so many times that it wasn't a big deal. Everything works now and I don't have to subscribe to Office 365. It's weird that the computer is silent. I've gotten used to the noise over the years. There is no whirring noise from the hard drive anymore and since the computer runs cooler with the solid state drive, I rarely hear the fan. I was pleased that I was able to complete this complicated repair. I saved over $200 as well. Replacing a hard drive is no big deal, but taking the entire computer apart to get to the hard drive is. Since I was able to do all this without breaking anything, I might try putting a solid state drive in my laptop too. These SSD drives are really fast.

The city is running behind on picking up bulky trash in our neighborhood, so I thought I'd add a little more to our pile on the curb while I had the chance. I resumed cleaning out the tool shed this afternoon and managed to find quite a few things I didn't need. I seem to have a terrible habit of buying supplies for repairs I never end up making. I found a lot of tile grout and sheetrock mud today along with about a dozen tubes of various kinds of caulking. All this stuff had gone bad from sitting on a shelf in the damp tool shed for many years. I must have been much more ambitious about fixing things back in the day. I wouldn't even bother buying this stuff today.

I found a canister of helium for blowing up party balloons and wondered why I bought it. We never have parties. It must have been for some Dalmatian adoption event. I thought about keeping the helium because it is a rare commodity these days. In the spirit of practicality, I threw it away. I have no need for helium.

I still haven't gotten my stimulus money. It's not a big deal, but I wonder who decides when the payments get made. 80 million people got their money on the first day, but it's crickets for a lot of the rest of us. I've heard that some people who are eligible might have to wait months. With my luck, the country will be up and running again before my turn comes and they'll just cancel the program. I'm never very optimistic about getting anything from the government.

It's time to get supplies again. I basically use the car just once a week now. The grocery trips aren't long now. We've basically got plenty of everything. I go to the store mostly for fresh fruits and vegetables now. We've got enough paper towels, toilet paper, bottled water, and soap to last us until next winter. I don't think I'll need gas this week either. A tank of gas lasts a long time now.

Sadie is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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Thursday, April 23, 2020

Day 3773

I did it. I successfully installed a new solid state drive in my main work computer. Not surprisingly, the upgrade process was a lot harder than I expected. I had practically memorized the install video, but when I removed the glass in front of the screen and started to remove the eight T-10 screws that held it in place, I could only find five. Did the last guy who serviced this computer lose three of the screws? Probably. They are pretty small and hard to reach. After I removed the remaining screws, I put on gloves and carefully extracted the delicate 27" screen from the case. That's when things really got strange. The computer logic board I was looking at was different from the pictures I"d been seeing on the install video. Where were the wires I was supposed to detach from the screen? Nothing looked familiar. I had a real sinking feeling at a this point. I got a bright light and a magnifying glass and finally found what looked like the appropriate connections. Here goes nothing, I thought.

The damaged hard drive wasn't attached to the logic board with the proper screws, so it was difficult to reattach the new solid state drive. This was supposed to be a plug and play installation, but nothing was fitting correctly. Why did I trust that install video? Luckily, after rummaging around in the office for a while I managed to find some longer Torx screws with the same pitch as the new drive adapter.

I was apprehensive when I put everything back together. Did I attach all the loose wires to the right connectors on the logic board? It was hard to tell. To get the wires to reach their connection points, I had to partially reinstall the screen and then reach my hand behind it to push each cord into its socket. I couldn't see what I was doing, but eventually I managed to get each cord connected. I was hoping that I didn't manage to attach any of the cords upside down. Some of the connectors were easy to install backwards.

I was actually amazed when I reassembled the computer and plugged it in that it still worked. I had to boot from an external drive and format the new solid state drive before I could begin restoring everything, but everything seemed to be working normally. The new drive showed up on the desktop and appeared ready to go. I just had to figure out how to add a system. I wanted to install a fresh copy of Sierra but Apple wouldn't let me download anything that old. My only other option was to chain my Time Machine drive to the external boot drive and restore everything that way. Restoring everything from two external Firewire drives to a blank internal drive is very slow. It looks like I've only got twelve hours to go.

I guess I'll find out in the morning if this marathon upgrade session worked. Since the computer is out of commission until the restore process is finished, I'm writing the blog on a laptop tonight. I don't think I"d want to do this again. Several times this afternoon I was convinced that I'd destroyed the computer. Everything ended well, but there were some stressful moments. I see a few dog hairs sandwiched between the screen and the protective cover glass. The dog hairs will have to stay. I'm not taking this thing apart again.

Basically, this extended exercise was my entire day. We did take Dawn on a nice walk early this morning before it got hot. The weather has turned warm again. That's fine by me. We managed to escape the storms that caused a lot of damage south of us. The roof has had a chance to dry again. All is well. I don't think Dawn is going to like Texas summers. Even today seemed a little hot for her.

Wyatt is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Day 3772

We walked really early this morning to avoid the rain. Although there were all sorts of severe weather warnings, it never rained. It's hard to predict anything these days. There was virtually nobody in the park this morning. I don't think overcrowding is going to be a problem until we get a warm, sunny weekend. Personally, I like the overcast days. Everything looks greener and it's easier to photograph things without hard shadows. I never understood sitting out in the sun anyway. It's terrible on your skin.

Another box of disposable masks arrived today. We're going to have plenty of masks. I'm learning not to sneeze in public. It's not an easy thing to do when you have terrible Spring allergies. Maybe mind over matter actually works. I still have hay fever and sneeze a lot in the house, but almost never do when I'm away. If things get much worse, I'm afraid they're going to start arresting people who sneeze. Definitely don't want that.

I read an interesting article today where a leading pulmonologist said that if everybody started measuring their oxygen saturation levels using one of those inexpensive Fingertip Pulse Oximeters at home, a lot of coronavirus complications could be avoided. Evidently blood oxygen levels start going down way before you develop pneumonia and he thought that a reduction in blood oxygen might be a reliable early sign that you have the virus. Sounds good to me. It makes sense that if you began treatment before you became deathly ill, you would have a lot better chance of recovering. Maybe I'll get one of these little things that fits on your fingertip. My doctor always uses one whenever I get an exam and they aren't expensive. Actually my Apple Watch is supposed to have this capability after the next system upgrade. Might not be a good idea to wait that long though. By the time this is over, I'll probably have a closet full of high-tech devices to keep me healthy.

I reviewed the installation video for the solid state drive this afternoon and I'm a little more confident that I can do the complicated computer upgrade myself. I pre-assembled a few of the components today and will be ready to take the computer apart tomorrow. I wish this computer was a traditional tower where it was easy to access the internal components directly. I've replace processors, hard drives, DVD drives, memory, and other things in computers many times before. This is different though. I've got to remove the glass front protecting the screen and then remove the entire screen itself to gain access to the broken hard drive inside. There are lots of tiny wires that have to be removed and replaced without breaking them. In theory, this repair should be easy if I'm slow and methodical. I'm kind of clumsy though. It's a miracle I haven't fallen off the roof yet.

I keep checking my e-mail to see if there is any news about media accreditation for the Crew Dragon launch at Kennedy Space Center or about the status of my McDonald Observatory article at Sky and Telescope. In my own little world these things are still important. I don't want to bother people because I know they have more important things on their mind. It's still hard to be patient though. Maybe I'll hear something soon.

Until then, I'll continue drinking my morning smoothie, taking Dawn on long walks, patching the roof, photographing Spring flowers, and writing the blog. It's amazing how quickly little things like this can fill up a day. I could write a book about sheltering in place. I doubt that you'd read it though. Most of you want to get back to normal. For me, this is normal.

Mindy is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Day 3771

I think I'm living in Bizarro World. High tech electronic suppliers who I've worked with for years are now sending me e-mails saying that they've got masks. What the hell. These guys sell computer networking equipment. I went ahead and bought some masks though. These guys are reliable and maybe they know something I don't.

Everybody is wearing a mask now, but nobody is wearing it right. When I went to the post office today I saw a guy pull a dirty mask out of his back pocket, put it on as he went inside and then put it back in his pocket again as soon as he left the building. I've seen people take their masks off to sneeze and then put them back on again. I saw two guys in a bass boat wearing masks while they were fishing alone out in the middle of the lake. WTF? Were the fish going to give them the virus? I don't think anyone's even heard of a sterile field. Does all this even matter? We probably won't know for another two years.

I always wear a mask when I'm out in public. I don't really think the Home Depot sanding masks I wear protect me or others from anything, but they help me blend in and be inconspicuous. Who ever thought that wearing a mask in broad daylight would make you look inconspicuous? These days you want to blend in and become invisible. Like I said, it's a Bizarro World out there. I've always been much more worried about social unrest than about the virus itself. The last thing I want is some stressed out mom rolling down the window of her Mercedes and accusing me of putting her grandma at risk.

I think it's OK to go without a mask when you're walking your dog in a huge wooded park. We don't wear masks when we walk Dawn. Don't you dare leave your mask behind when you go to the grocery store though. You're asking for trouble. I think the people I see who are wearing masks out in the park when they are at least three hundred yards away from another person are missing the point. Fresh air isn't going to kill you. Going to the grocery store every day because you keep running out of cookies might not be so smart though.

I'm not sure if I ever want to get in a crowded elevator again. A completely full Southwest Airlines flight might make me a little nervous too. If I make the cut and end up getting a press pass for the Crew Dragon launch at the end of May I won't worry about flying though. I imagine the planes that are still in the air will be pretty empty.

The parts to upgrade my computer came today. Usually this would be a signature required delivery but the FedEx guy didn't want to get anywhere near me. The package just appeared on my doorstep sometime during the day. Usually I don't like to leave packages out on the doorstep, but this was the only option. The FedEx offices are closed to the public now. It might take me several days to work up my nerve to take the computer apart and make the repairs. I think I need to watch the YouTube upgrade video again.

Janet walked Dawn by herself this morning because I had to stay home and wait for the FedEx guy. Of course, I could have gone anywhere today. The delivery didn't arrive until 7 PM. Dawn continues to do great. There is no real need to train her. If anything, she is training us. So far, Dawn is one of the few good things that has happened during the pandemic. You need a good dog nearby when the world is falling apart

Joe is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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Monday, April 20, 2020

Day 3770

It's a shame that it took a plague to get me to clean out the house. Janet likes to clean and I have absolutely no excuse not to help her now. We continued our efforts to clean out the tool shed today. There were so many things we had completely forgotten about. Most of the stuff was worthless. There were a few keepers though. I found a strange looking brass humidor that looked like it was made from an artillery shell. When I looked at the engraving on the side I realized it was my grandfather's. He was the commander of a tank company in Northern Africa during World War II and the humidor was presented to him by his men in 1943. It was made from a tank shell and hand engraved with an eagle on one side and my grandfather's name, rank and presentation date on the other. Pretty cool piece of history.

I decided it was finally time to throw away my original advertising portfolio from the 1970's. I've carried the big black art case around with me since I started my career, but I haven't taken good care of it in recent years. Actually, I completely forgot that I still had it. It's a shame I didn't put this in the storage warehouse decades ago. When I unzipped the case to take a look inside, the smell of mold and mildew was overwhelming. All the paper ad samples were ruined by moisture. I didn't even bother to sort through the mess. It was time for this part of my past to go.

Actually, throwing away the portfolio was a bit of a breakthrough. There is no need to hang on to this stuff. Nothing is permanent anyway. During the entire time I operated my own company, I never showed those samples to anyone. They were already old and obsolete when I started the company in 1990. Maybe now it will be a little easier for me to throw away a lot of other obsolete things that are gathering dust in my office. I need to start looking ahead instead of backwards. Hey, I'm not an ad guy anymore. I'm a space journalist.

The weather forecast looked good when I cleared the water off the roof again this morning. Unfortunately, later in the day the forecast changed and now it looks like rain tomorrow. Keeping the roof clear of water is an endless battle. I'm really thinking now that I need to find a contractor who can build a completely new roof with a pitch so water will drain quickly. This is beyond the scope of most roofing companies. They all just want to recover the flat roof. The only way to get rid of this problem forever is to totally eliminate the flat roof. Maybe if I can get rid of this troublesome roof along with the damaged, aging trees in the back yard, I can cover the new roof with solar panels and get rid of the power company as well.

Janet bought Dawn a big piece of astroturf so she can lie in the backyard and sun herself without getting muddy. Dawn loves to sit out in the back yard. Unfortunately, she also loves to roll on her back in the dirt and the run back into the house and hop on the bed. The experiment seemed to work. Dot likes the big astroturf rug and didn't get muddy at all today. I was surprised that Janet was able to get this big outdoor rug delivered. I guess you can get anything on Amazon these days.

I wish people would just admit that they know nothing about this virus yet. Opinions change wildly from day to day. Millions are going to die. Nevermind, we meant to say thousands are going to die. We desperately need ventilators. Everybody needs to make ventilators. Oops. Now we have too many ventilators. Maybe we can give them to Italy. You remain infectious for 14 days. No, that's 27 days or 35 days. Maybe you stay infectious forever. On and on it goes. Could everybody just shut up for a few days.

Life goes on. I certainly haven't changed much. If anything, I'm more optimistic and productive than I used to be. Go figure.

Wilson is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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Sunday, April 19, 2020

Day 3769

It's bulky trash removal time again. I've never seen such huge piles of trash in front of our neighbor's houses. Everyone appears to be using the lockdown to clean out their garage and tidy up their yards. We added our own pile on the curb today by cleaning out the tool shed next to our carport.

As the pile became larger I kept thinking "What is this stuff and why did I buy it in the first place?" I have a habit of buying supplies for repair projects and then never getting around to doing the project. When I finally get motivated to start working, I can't find the supplies I bought and go to Home Depot and buy them all over again. I found unopened boxes of tile grout that had become solid bricks after years of sitting on a shelf. There were dozens of tubes of caulk, glue, and paint that had turned solid as well. Some sheetrock I'd bought for repairs had turned into a crumbling, soggy mess after sitting in the leaky shed for way too many years. I found four large and very heavy steel bars that I had bought for something but couldn't remember why. Such a lot of unfinished projects! There were rusty tools that had to be thrown away because they simply didn't work anymore. I found two large boxes full of gimme caps with different corporate logos on them. Lord knows where I accumulated those. We made quite a pile for the trash truck to haul away, but we're far from finished. The other half of the tool shed remains untouched. Sorting through thirty years of accumulated junk felt a lot like clearing out my Dad's house after he died. We weren't trying to save this stuff. It just seemed to grow and multiply.

After today's initial cleanup effort, I'm really dreading cleaning out my office. Nothing is rusty or ruined in here, but a lot of things will never be used again. In my line of work, equipment become obsolete fairly quickly. It's hard to throw the stuff away though. I'll remember how something saved the day twenty five years ago and fool myself into thinking that maybe I'll use it again. Truthfully. I'll probably never use a film camera again. Modern digital cameras are so much better. I'll probably never use most of my audio gear either. I don't play in a band or produce commercials anymore and the equipment is woefully out of date anyway. All this stuff is hard to throw away because there are memories attached to everything. Eventually, the stuff in the office will be just like the stuff in the tool shed. I'll forget what it is and then it will be easy to throw away.

We miscalculated on our walk this morning and ended up getting caught in a thunderstorm. Luckily, we were close to a picnic pavilion when the heavy rain started so we didn't get very wet. It was nice to discover that Dawn wasn't scared of storms at all. She just sat calmly at our side until the storm passed. It's amazing what a calm, well behaved dog Dawn is. She still doesn't like to ride in a car, but other than that, very few things seem to bother her.

We got a lot of rain today but the roof still hasn't leaked. I'm not about to declare victory yet, but things are looking good. When normalcy returns to the world it might be time to make some serious improvements to the house. We need a lot more than a new roof. I think it's time to find a good general contractor who can fix everything. It's probably better to spend the money and have a nice place to live rather than watch it disappear in an investment account when the next pandemic arrives.

One hidden benefit of these crazy times is that we are eating very well. Janet is quite a good cook. I imagine we'll go back to take out meals when things get busy again, but for now life is good. Long walks and great meals are hard to beat.

Marley is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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Saturday, April 18, 2020

Day 3768

And just like that, everybody was wearing a mask. I'm amazed at how quickly we're all adapting to this new world. Life goes on. I made my weekly supply run today. Doggie poop bags are an easy way to avoid touching the pump handle when you get gas. It's been almost a month since I filled my tank. I still only added three gallons. I always bring a few Clorox wipes with me to wipe down the steering wheel and door handle after I finish touching grocery cart handles and all the packages I put into my cart. I'm adapting. So is everyone else.

I like the Sam's Club where I shop. The customers are mostly Hispanic small business owners. I'm a business member myself. There are no lines and almost 100% of the shoppers wear a mask. The store does a good job of resupplying all the essential things and customers do an equally good job of staying out of each other's way. If you use the shopping app on your phone like I do, you don't even have to stand in a check out line. You just quickly pick up your stuff and go home. Unlike some of the affluent suburbs where people are standing in long lines at trendy grocery stores and freaking out, things seem more or less normal here. It's almost as if everyone realizes that it's just another fucked-up day.

I got a letter from NASA today. It was addressed to members of the press and said that they were still working out the details for press coverage of the Crew Dragon launch on May 27. A limited number of photographers and reporters will be allowed at the launch site, but they will have to follow a strict set of social distancing rules that are still being developed. There were hundreds of reporters at the Solar Orbiter launch. I imagine that the list will be much smaller for this one. I probably won't know if I make the cut for several weeks but was very happy that NASA officially considers me a member of the press now. I'm just guessing but I actually might have a better chance of covering the launch than I think. The London magazine I represent probably won't be able to send anyone from the UK this time. I'm hoping they like my writing enough to assign me the lead story.

Believe it or not, I managed to sell one of my trains in the middle of a plague. My dealer in Kentucky said his store is closed like most small business and he is trying to sell his inventory on eBay now. He hoped I wasn't mad that the collectible train model sold for less than he thought it was worth. I'm just happy that the guy is still managing to stay in business. I told him that this wasn't the time to complain about prices and that I hoped his store will reopen soon. It's really a cool little store. I've been a small business owner for a long, long time and I really feel sorry for those who are trying everything they can to keep their dreams alive. The nationwide lockdown has decimated small business.

As many of you know, I could care less about politics. It makes me sad though that not even a plague of biblical proportions could bring our country together. The divide is bigger than it ever was. My Democratic friends would probably be dancing in the streets if the pandemic only killed Republicans. My Republican friends are all out buying guns and ammo. I'd like to think I'm more pragmatic. When this is all over I might go take an EMT course and get certified. It would be nice to be able to handle minor medical emergencies myself. When the trees in the backyard come down, I might consider putting solar panels on the roof. I need to build up my stock photo library to provide some sort of a passive income. You can't trust the stock market. I've always been resourceful and self-reliant but probably this experience will make me even more so in the future. I've seen nothing so far that increases my faith in government or makes me want to open the window and start singing "We are the World..."

Stay strong my friends. This is one fucked up mess, but at least we've still got dogs. Dogs rule.

Mattie is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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Friday, April 17, 2020

Day 3767

I woke up early this morning. The last thing I needed was an extra two hours in an already eventless day. I remembered that Jupiter, Saturn and Mars were all located very close to the moon this morning. and went outside to take a look. Sadly, it was cloudy and I saw nothing. I did notice a surprising amount of early morning traffic though. I think the natives are getting restless.

I was even more surprised to learn today that NASA has set a launch date of May 27 for the Crew Dragon mission. I was almost certain that this would get postponed because of the virus. I wonder if my press credentials will get approved. I've already passed the security verification stage of the approval process, but that's only half the battle. I bet that NASA is still trying to decide how many members of the press corps to invite since everything is still so restricted at Kennedy Space Center. Hopefully, I'll hear something soon. I'm definitely going to go to the launch if I get media accreditation.

I bit the bullet and ordered everything I need to upgrade my computer with a super fast two terabyte solid state drive. I've watched the installation video three times now and think I can do this upgrade myself. I'm a bit clumsy, but I'm also slow and methodical and follow directions well. At any rate, doing this myself seems a lot easier than dealing with a computer repair shop during the lockdown. I've called several repair shops and I got the impression that my computer might sit there for weeks. Things aren't running very smoothly in the retail world right now.

We have a new rule in Dallas that everyone must wear a mask when they are out in public. It was cold today, so when I went to the post office with a stack of bills and letters, I wore a black wool skull cap and leather gloves with my new black mask. I looked exactly like a bank robber. I think the city finally realized that if they were demanding us to wear masks when none were available, they would have to open the fabric stores they closed last week. I heard on the news this afternoon that fabric stores are back open again. Janet has some nice Dalmatian print fabric she was going to use to make dog scarves. All we need is some Pellon from the fabric store for the middle layer of the mask and we'll be sporting some spiffy Dalmatian themed masks next week.

I think seniors aren't getting their stimulus money until May. I guess that makes sense. There are a lot of people who need the money a lot faster than we do. I still really feel sorry for the restaurant owners. The really got screwed. All the yard maintenance crews, tree trimmers, and roofers in our part of town seem busier than ever. Restaurant are dead in the water though. They all have signs saying they still do take-out, but they aren't very busy. A lot of local restaurants aren't going to survive. I wonder who decides what is essential and what isn't. I'm still amazed at how many new television commercials I'm seeing. Advertising agencies must be adding a third shift.

I'm glad that Dawn enjoys our long walks. Walking is the high point in our day. There certainly isn't much else to do. Walking is healthy and is usually a solitary experience. I can't believe a number of states have banned taking walks outside. Some states won't even let you walk your dog. As far as I'm concerned this is a good time to be a Texan. We're doing a good job of containing the virus without going batshit crazy. I never realized all those years ago what a smart move it was to leave Seattle.

Bella is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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Thursday, April 16, 2020

Day 3766

It really is becoming difficult to remember what day it is. Every day is exactly the same. I'm finally getting enough sleep, but oddly it doesn't leave me feeling refreshed. I'm just as tired as I ever was. This would be the perfect time to embark on major projects, but it's hard to get motivated. I could use the time to finally clean out my office. I could clean up the back yard and put in some new grass. I could redesign my website or make a real effort to build my stock photo library. There are literally dozens of worthwhile home improvement projects that could use my attention. How to you get motivated when you know there is no urgency? I don't work well without a deadline. When time is suspended, everything can wait until tomorrow, or next week, or even next month.

Somewhere people are under tremendous pressure to save the world. It seems weird when the role you have been assigned in this effort is to stay home and do nothing. I'm actually very good at doing nothing. Should I give lessons? I could make a YouTube video but it would never get finished. When you are an expert at doing nothing, you rarely finish anything.

The fact that my daily routine hasn't changed one bit makes the pandemic seem like it's off in another universe somewhere. My own little neighborhood seems pretty normal. I'm glad that Texas hasn't imposed draconian rules like some other states. Stores are closed but the parks are still open. We walk Dawn every day and and wave at the neighbors who are out gardening in their yards or walking their own dogs. Until I turn on the television it's easy to forget than anything is wrong.

Today was beautiful. The sky was blue and the temperature was in the mid-sixties. Dalmatians love this type of weather. Janet and I walked Dawn five miles today and she didn't even seem that tired when we returned home. I was a little tired though. I need some new walking shoes. Shoes are one thing I hate to order online. I really need to try them on.

Since the weather was nice, I resumed my roof repairs. I think I've found all the bad areas, but the next time it rains, I'll find some more. There hasn't been a leak for quite a while now. I'm slowly working up my nerve to repair the sheetrock on the inside of the house. I'm superstitious though. As soon as I fix the ceiling, I'm convinced that the leak will appear again.

I'm also working up my nerve to repair my desktop computer myself. I watched some more YouTube repair videos today. The first video made the repair process look extraordinarily difficult. After watching for twenty minutes, I realized that I was looking at the wrong computer. This wasn't even the one I owned. When I found the correct video, the repair still seemed hard enough that I could easily screw things up. I still might give it a try. I learned today that it is possible to replace my hard drive with a super fast solid state drive. A customized computer always sounds appealing.

When I was exploring other repair options I learned that FedEx and UPS aren't delivering to non-essential companies. Apparently they are only delivering to residences during the pandemic. A repair shop told me that they could do the repairs but that I would have to get the parts myself and bring them with me. When the repair technician started coughing badly on the phone, I decided that it might be better to just do the repair myself.

The trash has been taken to the curb. Garbage pickup is still considered essential. There won't be any Friday morning breakfast outings for a while though. Some of my favorite restaurants will probably never reopen.

Becker is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Day 3765

This is an amazing time to be alive. I don't even think we realize the magnitude of the changes we are going through right now. I may be wrong, but I think the history books will record this moment kind of like the start of the Industrial Revolution, or the end of the Middle Ages. When was the last time the entire world was experiencing the same threat at the same time? I don't think it has ever happened before.

In an odd way I feel vindicated. I was aloof and kept my distance long before social distancing became a thing. I was way ahead of the curve in running a business out of my home as well. Ditto for bringing manufacturing home and not depending on China. I've been wary of globalism for as long as I can remember. My reluctance to embrace a global society had nothing to do with avoiding a plague. It just seemed to make sense. I watched the computer industry make the shift from centralized mainframes to distributed computing and the birth of the cloud. Having a multitude of nodes made systems failsafe.

Why didn't the entire world operate like the Internet? It is almost impossible to break the Internet. Nothing is centralized and nobody is in charge. If a server goes down, data is automatically rerouted on a different path. The network fixes itself. Having manufacturing countries like China send goods on a one way path to consuming countries like the United States seemed a lot like the old fashioned mainframe computing model to me. What we really needed was a lot of little countries, all making their own stuff and following their own rules. If one country fails, the others just keep chugging along.

So here we are. Everyone is clamoring to bring back essential industries to the United States. Virtually every country in the world is shutting their borders. Nobody feels comfortable getting too close to strangers. What is going to happen when none of this feels strange anymore? I think society has fundamentally changed. The longer the world remains in lockdown, the more permanent the changes will become.

I wouldn't want to be in the commercial real estate business right now. A lot of people aren't going to want to return to an office and a lot of companies aren't going to want the expense of a large office if they don't need it. I read recently that NASA is now operating the Curiosity Rover from team member's homes. Jeez. If you can drive a Mars rover from your bedroom, I'd say you don't really need to go to to the office for a status meeting.

Do you ever look down when you are flying across the United States? It's mostly empty. Why are we still living in cities? Cities are obsolete. The virus is proving that it's not that good to live all bunched together. We could spread out and all have nice homes with several acres of land. There's plenty of room. Little factories and research labs could provide jobs almost anywhere. Amazon drones could bring your stuff directly to your front door. Telemedicine could provide access to good doctors even if you lived in the middle of nowhere. Crime would diminish when there are no victims nearby. It all sounds pretty good to me. Some of you might be lonely, but not me.

Our new forehead thermometer arrived today. Now that taking your temperature has become a thing, we couldn't remember which of our thermometers had been up a dog's butt. This new toy will take care of that. Janet and I weeded a messy front garden this afternoon. Some of the weeds were the size of small trees. Oh, well. Better late than never. The cleanup effort was a lot of work but it was oddly satisfying. The area looks great now. I may add a layer of smooth river rocks to make the garden look a little more polished.

I'm not sure what we'll do tomorrow. Whatever it is, it's a safe bet that there'll be plenty of time.

Krissy is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Day 3764

I'm seeing more and more pictures of people baking bread, fixing elaborate meals, and even sewing from friends who used to spend most of their time in meetings. I guess we are part of this trend. Janet baked a pineapple upside-down cake in a large cast iron skillet today and it was delicious. It was much better than the pineapple upside-down cakes we used to get at Central Market. Actually everything we've been eating lately is much better that the take out meals that used to be our standard fare. I wonder how long we all need to remain quarantined before these newly acquired habits become permanent? Healthy, home-cooked meals are actually a good thing. Having the time to cook them is even better.

My life still hasn't changed much. Janet never used to spend much time at home, but it's been enjoyable having her around. We do more things together now. I have a feeling she'll be running marathons soon. She runs three miles every morning before coming home to take a long walk with Dawn and I. I'm still spending a lot of time puttering around on the computer, but I think I need a project. I enjoy writing, but don't really enjoy chronicling the spread of the coronavirus. I'm tired of talking about it. I'd much rather be writing about astronomy and space. I feel like I submitted my story to Sky and Telescope at the worst possible time. Boston, the home of the magazine is becoming a hotspot and I doubt that my story is the first thing on the editors minds these days. There's still a story in the works at SpaceFlight Magazine too, but I don't even want to ask about that one. London is in a world of hurt these days.

Dawn really enjoys her long daily walks, especially on cold mornings like we've had for the past several days. She enjoys the outdoors and often suns herself on a big rug we've placed in the back yard for her. She'd probably enjoy lying in the grass too if we actually had any grass in the back yard. Now there's a big project. I could re-sod the back yard without the help of the landscape guys. I've done it before when I was younger and had more energy. If I got the tree guy to come over and cut down the remaining damaged Oak tree, our grass would probably get enough sun to finally grow on its own. When I talk about mowing the grass, I'm only talking about the front yard. Until the trees started falling, the back yard was always covered by a thick tree canopy and the grass never got enough sun to grow.

I'm surprised that nobody noticed that my picture of a Buttonbush flower on Sunday's Easter post looked exactly like a coronavirus. I thought it was kind of clever. I have no idea what all the black moths were doing on the Queen Anne's Lace plants today, but they looked ominous. There were hundreds of them and they reminded me of tiny little vultures.

I not only forgot to mention the resemblance of Buttonbush plants to coronavirus illustrations, I also forgot to mention that the watch of the day on Saturday's post used to belong to Alice Cooper. Actually, every watch has a story but I can't be bothered to explain it. I've completely forgotten the backstory to many of the watches I used to collect. It seems so long ago. Collecting things was a waste of time and money. Of course if I had put that money in the stock market, it would all be gone by now anyway. Who knew the apocalypse was coming.

What day is it? Time has lost all meaning. We go to bed later and get up a lot later. When you turn on the television it feels a lot like Ground Hog Day. It's the same news over and over again. There are still chores to do, but it's easy to put them off until tomorrow. What's the rush.

Flash is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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