PixMob.

So last night the family went to Allstate Arena to see Shawn Mendes. He is touring on “The Tour” and puts on a good show. I’m not a huge fan of his music but he exhibits a decent amount of talent, has a good voice that doesn’t sound electronically modified too much, and puts a lot of energy into his performance.

When we were entering the arena we were all given white wrist bands with little LED lights in them. I thought these were to be used in place of lighters of the old days, but it turns out they didn’t turn on when we removed the battery protector. There were no switches.

Made by PixMob, these little bracelets lit up as Shawn took the stage and for the next 90+ minutes, our bracelets were part of the performance’s light show. They twinkled. They flashed. Waves of color danced over the crowd for the entire performance.

I was captivated by this technology.

According to Wikipedia, the bracelets are controlled by infrared signals, much like the remote control on your television.

It’s not the most productive use of technology in the world but it was impressive and it contributed to the positive energy of the show. And these days we need all the positive energy we can get.

Colors.

Do displays like this really give people fits? How it must suck to be cranky all the time.

Pride.

It’s Pride Month and Chicago’s official Pride Events are taking place this week. The celebration began last weekend with a street fair in Boystown and ends this coming week with the big Pride parade. I plan on walking in the parade again this year as part of the contingent for the National Gay Pilots’ Association. While the NGPA is more geared toward airline pilots, there are many of us General Aviation pilots who also represent and believe what the NGPA stands for.

I walked in my first Pride parade in 1989 in Boston. At that time I was part of a group called BGLAD, which I think stood for “Bisexual Gay Lesbian at Digital”, though it might have started out as “Being Gay or Lesbian At Digital”. BGLAD was part of another group called DECplus, or DEC People Like US. I found Digital (commonly known as DEC, though we always called it Digital when we worked there) to be a very supportive company in this regard.

One think that struck me about Boston Gay Pride in 1989 was that it felt like a “safe” space that at the time was usually confined to the likes of organizations like BGLAD or DECplus, or the interior of a gay bar. I was not quite 21 years old when I went to my first pride, and while the atmosphere was celebratory, there was a more militant feel to it. We were marching for so many reason: people dying of AIDS, acceptance or at the very least acknowledgement of our existence. We had to be loud and we had to be proud to get where we are today. I remember a religious contingent spitting on a few of us at the end of the parade in Boston in 1989. I remember spitting back. It wasn’t one of my proudest moments. It would be a few months before I decided to ACT UP.

Image from Harvard Magazine

Earl and I went for a walk through Boystown here in Chicago last Saturday night shortly before midnight. While the street fair had been over for the day for several hours, the streets were still hustling and bustling with partners and the like, all in celebration of Pride. So many sequins, and bright colors, and statements being made everywhere. Lines snaked down blocks waiting to get into the hottest clubs. The crowd was decidedly mixed; there were just as many bachelorette party types as there were seemingly gay people lining the streets. Honestly, I was a bit dismayed. Everywhere one looked there was people stumbling for the obvious effects of alcohol or other recreational drugs. As Earl and I made our way down the sidewalk, the atmosphere started to feel less like a safe space for gay people and more like a seedy dive bar. The smell of weed permeated the street. Young people were comparing their respective states of “rolling”. Some were coming down from it, others were at their high point, no one seemed particularly grounded. People that I sensed would have never showed any support to the gay community back in 1989 wanted to be part of the biggest party in the city in 2019.

Is this what we want Pride to become? Another excuse to get out of your mind drunk or stoned so one can stagger, scream, and puke all over Boystown?

I’m still such a country bumpkin’ living in the big city.

Back in late April I remarked to Earl that the department stores and the like were starting to put up Pride decorations like Christmas before Halloween. Pride has become a cash cow for so many outside of the “traditional” gay community. I’m old. I still interpret a gay flag on a business as a business owned by a member of the gay community. But it doesn’t really mean that anymore. The cynical side of me wonders if the pride flag really means, “hell yeah, we want your gay dollars”.

I wonder how many of partiers in the country’s first gayborhood would have been part of the rebellion back at the Stonewall in New York City in 1969. Would they have resisted police harassment? Or would they have fled the scene out the back door in search of a better party.

Perhaps we need a reminder as to why some of us Gen Xers and Baby Boomers had to spit back back in the day.

Relaxed.

It is an absolutely divine evening in The Windy City. It’s 77ºF after 10:00 p.m., perhaps the warmest it has been at this time of night in 2019. Impressive thunderstorms passed through earlier this afternoon; I was called from my office to the balcony when I heard hail banging against the windows. When I looked out I couldn’t see the clock you see in the snapshot I just took a moment ago.

The weather cam on our balcony caught a bit of the storm.

Mother Nature may throw us some more storms throughout the night. Looking at the forecast discussion in my aviation weather apps, there’s probably going to thunderstorms on and off through the weekend.

I might not get to fly much over the next few days but at least Mother Nature is strutting around impressively. For the moment, I shall sit on the balcony, enjoy the summer breeze, and relax. It’s a good way to wind down for the night.

Evolve.

In less than a month I will no longer be 50 years old. As we cross into my astrological sign, I can’t help but think about the first 50+ years of my life and reflect. I’ve been pensive lately. Am I where I wanted to be in my life?

I received a box of family photos in the mail today. My aunt and uncle, the keepers of the city side family heritage, came across a stack of photos from various decades and felt I should be the next keeper of these snapshots of memories. There’s quite a few that I don’t really remember, though I’m in the photos smiling. Happy times. A “Jetsons” themed t-shirt from 1992. A small red mustache dusted my lip. I’m smiling, standing in the back of the photo, taller than my mom but shorter than my dad. Looking like one with the coloring of the other. There’s no doubt where I came from.

When I was in my mid to late teens I had dreamed of living in a big city, though I didn’t know what big city it would be. My thoughts often gravitated toward London, because from what I had read in books and magazines and the like, London was much more open to ‘different’ folks like me. Plus, I really loved British pop music. In the late 80s and 1990 I spent a few years living in Boston and by 1992 had moved back to Central New York state. In 1992 I thought I had screwed up my opportunity to live in the big city and had kind of resigned myself to living in Central New York. I was happy but I didn’t feel like I was thriving. I was finding my way again.

And here I am 27 years later living in the third largest city in the United States. And Chicago has been very kind to me.

How we evolve.

As I looked at myself in this photo, with the cheesy mustache dusting my lip and the Jetsons dancing on my shirt, I couldn’t help but remember that while I felt a little resigned, I still felt quite happy. It would be five or so years before I got my first cell phone, we were nearly 10 years from the events of 9/11, and the subsequent after math.

People just seemed happier back then. Is it a sign of my age that I look back at the early 90s and think, “ah, the good old days”? I’m not so naive as to think that time was “the good old days”, as I was still attending too many funerals of friends dying of AIDS and honestly I would never dream of holding hands in public with anyone that I was dating at the time. Yet, there I was, smiling and looking genuinely happy with my dad, my mom, and my sister, who looked genuinely happy as well.

Happiness is such a good feeling.

I glance through the news and watch people on the street and read conversations online: Turmoil. Distraction. Addiction. Complication.

At first I thought, I need to find the happiness. But then I thought better of that, I need to bring the happiness. Pick up the mantle. Take the lead. Amass the troops. Be a positive, unstoppable force.

With less than a month of age 50 left in this life, I need to heed my own advice: don’t sweat the small stuff. Herd our evolution in the direction of a better world.

Sideways.

I notice things that many people don’t pay much attention to. I’ve always been this way; at age 8 I remarked to my mother as we were driving through town, that someone had taken down all the corner street signs throughout the village. As it turns out, the village had taken down the signs to have the cast iron signs repainted. Why they did this with all the signs at once was beyond my comprehension, but nevertheless, she said she would have never noticed that sort of thing and she felt I should become a scientist or something.

When we first started coming to Chicago to visit Jamie, I noticed that every electrical socket in his apartment was sideways. I thought this may have been just a quirk of the builder of the 1950s apartment building he was living in, but then I started looking at wall plugs everywhere we went in the city and aside from when the plug was sharing a box with a wall switch or something, the plug was always turned sideways.

By the way, by sideways I mean the “face” of a typical U.S. electrical outlet is on its side, rather than looking like two eyes and a mouth agape underneath.

A little research on this revealed that most Chicago-based contractors do this because they always have, and that’s how you can tell you had a quality electrician doing the work in your home. City codes also require conduit in the walls, and it’s easier to install wall boxes sideways when you’re working with conduit.

It is of little consequence as to which direction the plugs are oriented on our wall, except if you have a nightlight or something, because then the nightlight is pointing sideways. So if you’re particularly religious or something and have a nightlight featuring the Virgin Mary, she’s going to be laying on her side.

I talk about this today because I spent a few minutes replacing one of the outlets over the kitchen counter with a new receptacle that contains USB charging ports as well. Since I come from a family of building contractors, it seems that I am required to do this sort of thing on my own in lieu of hiring a handyman to do it, and of course I over-tightened the wall plate and cracked it, resulting in a trip to the local hardware store. Since this wall outlet shares a box with the switch for the garbage disposal, it’s one of the three plugs in the entire condo that is vertically oriented.

Regardless of the direction it’s facing, I’m pleased with the result of my work this afternoon. Now I’m going to take a few moments and lay on my side.

Chromed.

I’ve never really been a fan of Google’s Chrome browser. There’s just something odd of trusting all of your browsing activity to a browser made by a company that relies on user data and ad revenue as its primary revenue source. Here’s an excellent article that recently appeared in The Washington Post that explains many of my concerns without getting too lost in the technobabble.

What was a little surprising to me was that organizations like health insurance companies and school loan facilitators are also in on the tracking business.

My tests of Chrome vs. Firefox unearthed a personal data caper of absurd proportions. In a week of Web surfing on my desktop, I discovered 11,189 requests for tracker “cookies” that Chrome would have ushered right onto my computer but were automatically blocked by Firefox. These little files are the hooks that data firms, including Google itself, use to follow what websites you visit so they can build profiles of your interests, income and personality.

Chrome welcomed trackers even at websites you would think would be private. I watched Aetna and the Federal Student Aid website set cookies for Facebook and Google. They surreptitiously told the data giants every time I pulled up the insurance and loan service’s log-in pages

That’s just creepy.

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Cashless.

So this afternoon I stopped at a chain restaurant called Veggie Grill. This particular location is located on the Loop in Chicago. I’ve never been to one of these restaurants before, but the selection was good, I was able to make a healthy choice for my lunch, and the service staff was pleasant.

As I walked into the restaurant the first thing I noticed was all of the signs proclaiming that this particular location did not accept cash. They accept credit and debit cards only. The tech head in me assumed this also meant they accepted Apple Pay and the other contactless payment methods, but there were no payment terminals to be found; I had to pay with my credit card, and their point of sale system relied on the mag stripe on the back of the card.

A restaurant going cashless relying on 1950s technology seemed rather odd to me; especially when mag stripes have pretty much gone away everywhere else in the world and over the past few years the United States has been glacially moving forward to adopt better, more secure technology.

This cashless payment requirement got me wondering, why is this particular location cashless? The signs all over the store seem to indicate other locations in the chain accept cash. What made this store unique?

The location doesn’t seem to be in a particularly dangerous area of Chicago, after all, it’s on the Loop, and ultimately anything can happen anywhere, I can’t imagine that a restaurant proclaiming themselves as “Veggie Grill” would choose to locate in an undesired socioeconomic climate. Yeah, there’s always a chance someone is going to try to grab cash from the cash register, but it doesn’t seem to be anymore likely here versus other places I’ve been in Chicago.

Then I got to wondering if this was a way to keep homeless people out of the restaurant. A homeless person, if they’re able to purchase a meal to begin with, is most likely going to purchase a meal with cash. Those looking for handouts are going to look for handouts regardless of what the signs on the door say. Yet, I can’t help but think the cashless approach is a deterrent to receiving visits from homeless folks.

Maybe I should start handing out gift cards instead of packs of peanut butter crackers wrapped in dollar bills.

I’m the first person to want technology to take us forward in any way that it can, as long as for it’s for the good of the people, all the people. Technological advancements that are designed to segregate the haves from the have nots are rarely advancements in good faith.

I look forward to the day when we have replicators producing whatever we need for whomever needs it. In the meantime, let’s keep advancing technology to make it safe, secure, and convenient.

For everyone!