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Orange.

In the early 1980s, my hometown bought used street lamps from a horse track. We were excited to see these street lights installed because they emitted this new (to us) orange glow. Prior to the installation of these street lamps we had only known the white glow of mercury vapor lamps that had been around since the 1950s. These refurbished high-pressure sodium lamps were more energy efficient and would provide better visibility during the winter months in the Lake Ontario Snowbelt. I remember asking my mom to take us out in the 1978 Impala after dark so I could see what they looked like. It was quite exciting for a geek like me. High-pressure Sodium street lights have bene the norm across the United States for the past 30+ years. Looking down across the darkened landscape from an airplane, you see that now familiar orange glow everywhere. Looking out our living room this evening as I type this blog entry, the hazy sky is lit with an orange glow. This color is very prevalent in the city of Chicago. I find it comforting. There are efforts to now install LED smart lights; bulbs that report to some centralized location that they are not working properly. The lamps are even more efficient than their sodium predecessors, but unfortunately, they give us this bluish-white light that is downright invasive. When I go for my morning walk before work, I tend to avoid the streets that have been converted over to the LED lamps. They’re just too bright for my blurry morning vision. The light is harsh. We may be saving money but it feels like we’re inciting insanity with these bright, garish lights. As you walk down the street, houses are bathed in this very bright light. Someone must be making a ton of money on room darkening curtains and shades. As a private pilot, I prepare for a night flight by staying out of bright lights as much as possible. The cockpit is illuminated with red or very dim lighting to keep our eyes adjusted to the dark. It makes it easier to see things in the darkened sky when are eyes are using more rods than cones in the relatively darkened environment. Much of our technology is designed to change the color wavelengths displayed on the monitor or display as it gets closer to bedtime. This helps our brain adjust; too much bluish-white light keeps us awake. I have to think that animals living in the neighborhood must hate these new LED lights. Have you ever been driving along a country road and had an expensive car with crazy bright LED headlights come at you? How disorienting do you find that to be? I have to wonder how much of our safety is compromised as our eyes adjust back to a darkened environment. LED lights at night, especially these ultra-white/bluish lights are blinding. I’m hoping that the city of Chicago takes a long time rolling out these LED lamps and that the comfortable hue of high-pressure sodium lights stays around for many more years. While energy savings is always a good thing, light pollution and messed up circadian rhythms can not be good for a residential area.

Inspiration.

The best technology is the technology that allows us to connect to our chosen devices. I don’t believe that we are ever going to get anywhere as a technologically advanced society if we simply _use_ technology. When we use our gadgets to connect on a human level; this is when we can move forward together. I am sitting at the flagship Apple Store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. Earl and I have been here a couple of times, including opening day. I am sitting in a tier sitting area that is designed to allow folks to sit down, do what they want to do and connect with one another. Apple envisions their new stores as a Town Square or Community Center. I feel that vibe sitting here on Michigan Avenue. I’m looking around at all the folks using the technology around me. I see nothing but Apple devices, which is to be expected, though occasionally at an Apple store I’ll see someone using a Samsung smartphone or a Lenovo laptop, grabbing some of the free available Apple Wi-fi. They are not chased out of the store, nor are they told that their device is stupid and that they should switch to iOS or mac OS. Folks should have a technology experience that best suits their needs. There’s no pressure to switch to Apple products here; instead questions are answered. When Earl and I were visiting friends last weekend, I noticed that one of our friends was using one of the later iterations of a Samsung Galaxy smartphone. I don’t follow the Android space that much, but it was one of the phones where the display wrapped around the edges of the phone into the bezel area. I asked him how he liked it. I was surprised when he said that he wasn’t really a fan. The wrapped around edges of the phone made it difficult for him to do some things. That was an interesting thing to me; I wonder if that had been considered when Samsung designed the phone. There’s often discussion about how Apple is late to the party with some of the enhancements in their phones. I believe that Apple fully investigates, at least most of the time, how the changes they make to their hardware or software experience is going to be received by the user. There’s little to gain in being first to the market with a new feature; there’s a lot to be gained when you offer the best experience of a new feature. This is something that I think Apple full embraces and appreciates. The Amazon Alexa technology that we are using for our SmartHome set up works well, but it comes nowhere near to meeting a 100% human, confident, trustworthy experience. Last night I noticed that Alexa had stopped turning our lights on and off on command. It turns out that she had completely forgotten what devices we had and was pretty much brain dead on our setup. It took a few moments to convince her to get her wits about herself again (she had to rediscover all the devices in the house). While she was relearning our home alphabet, I asked Siri to turn off the lights in question. Now, we haven’t used Siri for this in quite a while but Siri happily obliged on the first try and surprisingly did it faster than Alexa has ever done the same task. While we have several Alexa devices scattered about the condo and we fully rely on Alexa to handle our smart home tasks, it doesn’t mean that she’s better at it. With Apple’s delay in the release of the HomePod, we went with available technology. I’m very interested to see what Apple does with Siri integration into HomePod. I’m confident that they will be cautious and won’t disappoint. There’s always a reason behind Apple’s methodical release of hardware, software, and assorted features. Sometimes this deliberate approach is frustrating. In a country where people like to rally into tribes and teams, it’s easy for “the other side” to bash Apple for not being first to the party. Many want a winning and a losing team at everything. This will be the eventual downfall of our society. Sitting here at the Apple Store, watching everyone use and embrace their technology, I feel inspired. I mostly feel inspired to do the Right Thing, in my professional career, as a private pilot and as a husband and a member of an awesome chosen family. Do The Right Thing, no matter how long it takes.

Exploration.

The ceiling (cloud layer) is too low for my planned flight this afternoon, so I’m taking the time to explore the Windy City by public transit today. Where will the train take me? Where will my imagination run to?

Stamp Your Feet.

You got game, baby, bring it on, bring it on. I can’t believe this song is 10 years old. Donna Summer always had an amazing voice. Cool footnote: This track was co-written with Danielle Brisebois, who played Stephanie on “All In The Family” and “Archie Bunker’s Place”.
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Friendly.

Earl and I went shopping on Lincoln Square this afternoon. I stopped in to Q-Brothers to use a gift certificate and when I came out Earl showed me his phone. He had dropped it and the screen shattered. This is the second screen in this phone. It has been showing signs of displeasure since it was dropped in some water a few weeks ago. “I’m buying your birthday present early.” Off we went to the Apple Store, where we bought Earl a brand new iPhone 8. He felt that the iPhone X was too much phone for him but the iPhone 8 felt familiar to his iPhone 6s, just faster. We also purchased a wireless charging mat for his nightstand. Matt and Alex helped with the purchase; Matt coordinated the transaction and Alex sat with Earl and me at the “setup desk” as we went through the motions of wiping out Earl’s old phone and setting up the new one. I had a great conversation with both guys about where Apple is headed, and I had the opportunity to watch a Today at Apple session is progress. As much as I complain about the quality of Apple’s offerings as of late, the fact of the matter is, I still believe they are giving us the best technological experience available to consumers today, especially when you look at connecting humans with technology. While any company can provide a product to use, Apple provides an experience. Today’s adventure at the Apple store was absolutely top-notch and I have no complaints with how things went. It was fun to watch others setup their devices at the setup desk; it helped me understand how folks out in the wild manage passwords and accounts and all of that stuff. It also helped me understand how much patience you have to have to work in an Apple store. Think Different. It’s something I do every day.
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Gray.

So I hadn’t shaved in 2018. It’s been a while since I really let my beard grow out and 18 days was enough for me to see that there is way too much gray in my beard right now. I could handle if my beard was all gray, but this cinnamon and sugar mix is making me feel like I look old. I’m turning 50 years old this year. I’d say that I’m 90% on board with this; I certainly don’t feel like I’m over halfway through this life, but the reality of the fact is this is the case. I told Earl that I’m concerned that I’m on the downslope. Like the smart, silver bear that he is, he told me that it just keeps getting better. I can handle being 50 years old but I can’t handle having a lot of gray in my beard right now. I’m not one to dye it so I’ll go back to clean shaven in the morning. My dad once said that a good, disciplined man, like a pilot, shaves every day. He might have been on to something with that, though I know a lot of great men that have beards.

Think, Part 2.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a big fan of “Madam Secretary”. The show is in its fourth season, and is on CBS on Sunday evenings. The show hit its stride early in its run and is continuing to offer up compelling storylines. This past Sunday featured the episode “Sound and Fury”. I’m not going to get too far into spoilers of this episode, but they may be sprinkled here and there in the rest of this blog entry, so let’s say you’ve been warned. Yes, you’ve been warned about potential spoilers. This particular episode of Madam Secretary should be required viewing for high school civics classes. It examines how the 25th Amendment works, why it would be considered and what is really involved with invoking the 25th Amendment of the Constitution. A temporary medical issue comes into play here, but the result of the medical concern feels very familiar if you’ve been paying attention to the news at all since the latest administration took office. Phrases like “overwhelming force and ferocity” are bandied about without consideration. Diplomacy is set aside in favor of ‘tough guy’ displays of strength. On the show this is very uncharacteristic for fictional President Dalton. I wish the same could be said about the man in the Oval Office today. The scenes around debating invoking the 25th Amendment are very honest. It all felt very believable. If anything, it made me think of how that debate would carry out in the real world today. Are there meetings taking place in D.C. to discuss this exact thing? I’m inclined to think so. The are two lines in particular that struck me rather hard (and I’m paraphrasing): 1. “We have the greatest system of government the world has ever known, but it’s only as strong as its people” and 2. “We took an oath to uphold the Constitution, not our political party”. If only the folks in Washington would get on the script. The tribalism, and the divisiveness behind the tribalism, is what’s deeply hurting our country, and I fully believe the news media continues to pour gasoline on this raging dumpster fire. Tribes saw one candidate as a movie villain and reacted as if they were watching a WWE tournament. The tribe continues to do this today. Trump purposely stirs up the tribe to keep a “villain” in the news. And the news outlets eat it up. It’s the tribalism that is killing objectivity. A good number of elected officials are putting party over country. I have little faith in most of our elected officials; the charade of “serving the people” died years ago. If you haven’t had the chance to see Madam Secretary or if you don’t even have the interest to follow the show, I still recommend that you watch the episode “Sound and Fury”. It works pretty well as a standalone episode and I think the mechanics are sound to help one understand how the 25th Amendment works. And how officials should always honor their oath to uphold the Constitution.

Think, Part 1.

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“Black Mirror”, Season 3 Episode 1, “Nosedive”. 2016 publicity photo.
Looking for inspiration to write software today, I did a search for “future technology”. Usually I watch Corning’s “Day of Glass” presentations or what Microsoft envisions 2020 will look like in the world of Surface and Office, but today some other suggestions were presented. One of those suggestions was the video from Korean Telecom featured in the blog entry earlier today. The other was a link to the first episode of the third season of “Black Mirror”. The episode is simply titled “Nosedive”. I’ve seen ads for “Black Mirror”; as I understand it, the episodes are standalone affairs, many based on future technology and how society reacts and implements it. Cursory research shows that the episodes can be quite dark. Some describe them as “nightmare inducing”. I have enough going on in my mind at any given time to fuel my own nightmares; I don’t need any exterior help to further the cause. However, the description of this episode was intriguing. Starring Bryce Dallas Howard (I remembered her from “The Help”) as Lacie Pound, the episode focused on a society that was completely dependent on Social Networking status. Everyone was rated on a score from one to five. Contact lenses allowed you to identify anyone around you and their current score or rating. People, strangers, co-workers, and friends alike, rated you on your interaction. Was that conversation worth five stars? Did the waitress deserve three stars? Perks in society were based on your ranking, for example, Lacie wanted to move into an apartment that required a certain ranking and she was only able to afford it if she ranked higher than a 4.5; the higher ranking would bring her a 20% discount on her weekly rent. Airline tickets and amenities were based on the same ranking system. Clubs were restricted to a minimum ranking. Your ranking was your collateral. The driver for this implementation was to keep society calm and friendly. If you swore or screamed or did not “behave as expected”, your peers would rank you down and you would be ostracized. The more stars you had, the more impact your opinion impacted another’s rating. They were the Social Influencers. They even had counseling services to help you find a way to boost your rating. How perilously close is our society to this scenario? I am too busy on Social Media. I often say I use Twitter to keep up with current events, follow friends, and share my opinion on the state of the world. Some of the third party apps I use show a graph of how much of an impact I am making through my Twitter account. How many “hearts” did I get? How many people retweeted me? How many followers do I have at any given moment? I will admit right here and now that I was elated when my follower count first went over 500 a few years ago. It recently climbed over a grand. That made me smile. It made me feel something. After watching this episode of “Black Mirror”, I can’t help but think a little hollow. For all my life I have wanted to be one of the cool kids. I remember sitting in Room 220 in Lura Sharp Elementary School in sixth grade. Are desks were arranged in clusters; my desk was part of a cluster of four of us. We had greasy hair, we talked about geeky stuff, and we sat together in the cafeteria. Near the door was a group of six desks. In later years they would be the popular kids; the senior class president, the star quarterback, the girl with the parents that could afford to buy her a miniature Pong game. I was invited to join their group when one of their peers left for another school. I moved my desk and was welcomed into their club. I felt like I had some sort of status. It was nearly 40 years ago but I can remember it like it was almost yesterday. It’s pretty much documented that “Likes” on Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc) triggers a bit of a Dopamine high. This past weekend I was telling my friend Jeff how I felt when Earl and I walked into a restaurant on the 70th floor of a skyscraper overlooking the city. Admittedly, and I know this is quite shallow of me, I feel a ping of acceptance when an Instagram photo is liked by one of the cool IGers. When I muster up the courage to “Friend” someone on Facebook that I haven’t met in person yet (but we obviously have same interests, like both belong to the National Gay Pilots Association or something), I feel like I’m climbing some sort of social ladder. Years ago, back in the heyday of personal blogging, Earl and I ran into a fellow blogger in Manhattan. He recognized us and was pleasant. That meant a lot to me. Not too long after that, I attended a happy hour where a man, a very hot man, introduced himself to me. I said, “um, we are friends on Facebook.” His reply? “We are? Wow, I don’t remember you.” I remember feeling a little crushed. I have to admit that I try to keep my social media feeds pretty honest. I don’t have an online persona, I’m pretty much “what you read is what you get”. And I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve sought out validation for nearly every one of the almost 50 years I’ve been on this planet. But how real is any sense of validation one would find on Social Media? How real are the timelines we see? How true are the photos we see? How good is the person with so many Facebook friends that they can’t accept any more requests? A few years ago, I was remarking to Jamie the drop in the number of “likes” I was getting on Instagram after I shaved off that enormous mustache I had. I’ve often said that Jamie is a very old soul because he said, “Fuck ’em”. Screen Shot 2018-01-16 at 8.38.57 PM My rating hasn’t been the same every since. And you know what? That’s OK. I love television shows that make us think. If you want to think about your Social Media existence and what it really means to you, I highly suggest you watch “Black Mirror” Season 3, Episode 1, “Nosedive”. It’s a solid 5 stars.