Open.

Raspberry Pi.

During the downtime of the pandemic I’ve been playing around with my Raspberry Pi setup. A few weeks ago I picked up a 7-inch touchscreen and case. The Raspberry Pi is mounted in the case with the touchscreen, so it’s all one compact unit. Eventually this will become a home automation control station and be mounted on the wall in our front hallway. The display will also provide the current weather and information on the nearby CTA ‘L’ Line. We’ll know if we have to run or walk downstairs to catch the train when it’s prudent to go outside again.

I’m able to do this because the CTA provides this data for developers to include in their applications if they so wish. I can also use data from Accuweather for my app. Because the data is open and available.

I believe most data should be open and available.

Now, while there’s a perverse side of me wouldn’t mind having a national database of who is attached to the license plate number of the person that just cut in front of me on the expressway, I understand there are limits and common sense barriers around many personal bits of information. I’m not saying I want all the data available to the world but I am saying I want data the furthers the common good.

Last week, popular weather app developer Dark Sky announced they were purchased by Apple and that Dark Sky and its data set were now property of Apple. With this change of ownership, Apple will be discontinuing the Android version of Dark Sky and then will discontinue the availability of Dark Sky’s API. This means that any other app dependent on the data collected and shared by Dark Sky, for example, the Weather Line app, now needs to find a new source of weather data if they wish to continue to power their application.

I have an issue with this.

While I have loved Apple hardware and most software experiences over the data decades, one thing I have never been completely comfortable with is the concept of a “walled garden”. Apple seems to be doing more and more of this approach as time goes on. FaceTime is only available to Apple users. iMessage is only available to Apple users. And now Dark Sky data will only be available to Apple users.

Apple touts this approach as part of their security measures. Live inside the walled garden and you’ll be safe from bad actors on the ever growing Internet. Ad companies will not bother you and your data won’t be mined.

This is only true if you have *only* Apple developed products on your device and Apple doesn’t decide to share data with any third parties. It’s a step in the right direction when it comes to data privacy, but at the same time it’s a step in the wrong direction. Because when you look at the price of Apple’s iDevices and compare them to similar devices from other companies, you’ll find that Apple’s devices can be quite pricey.

In today’s rapidly declining economic environment, who has time to drop a boat load of change just to live inside a “walled garden”?

When it doesn’t compromise privacy or personal safety, data should be free to flow between varying devices, different ecosystems, and distinct “walled gardens”. This is one aspect of Google and Microsoft’s applications I actually like, they’re ubiquitous. Google searches work just fine on any device and Microsoft has made strides to make Office available on just about everything. I can create a Word Document in a web browser on a Linux computer and open that document on a Windows computer and then share with a person using a Mac.

For the world to move forward we need to be cooperative with our data. I would love to see Apple change their mind about Dark Sky data but I don’t have a lot of hope.

In the meanwhile, my little Raspberry Pi setup, all told put together for less than $100, will display weather information from Accuweather.

And it will be awesome.

Idling.

In these unprecedented times my head is going in many directions at once. When the world gets noisy, I have a couple of ways to get things back in order: I fly an airplane, I go for a long drive, I lose myself in technological endeavors.

I can’t fly an airplane right now, we’re not suppose to be going for long drives, and I’m probably spending too much time losing myself in technological endeavors.

What to do?

Truman has the right idea: throw yourself down on the floor and look out the window to watch the clouds go by. I’m going to try doing that a bit more today. I tried a couple of days ago for a few moments and I immediately noticed the lack of city sounds and the lack of air traffic in and out of O’Hare and Midway. The trick to watching the clouds go by is to quiet the mind. I’ve never been one to really meditate because when everyone else in the room is concentrating on their breath all I hear is my tinnitus.

But watching clouds go by? That might work.

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Beginnings.

PACS High School computer lab, 1984.

The first time I sat down in front of a computer for any length of time I was a freshman in high school. It was 1982 and through a local foundation, the school district had purchased a bunch of Apple ][+ computers. Adding to the four that were in the high school computer “lab”.

At the time the computer lab was a makeshift affair in what used to the office of the Math Department chair. Computer education fell to the math teachers; the business department was still using adding machines and IBM Selectric or Wheelwriter typewriters.

Oddly, it was my French teacher that first introduced computer use to her curriculum. She would later publish software that we would use to reinforce what we were learning in French I class. (“Michel, Anne, vous travaillez? Non, nous regardons la television, pourquoi?”). We’d fire up a program on a 5 1/4″ floppy and type “RUN VERBS”. The prompt would say “TO WORK” and we’d type “TRAVAILLE”. It was during my first run of this exercise that I escaped out of the program and looked at the code. I had already been reading computer magazines so I was not lost when I saw things like “10 HOME”, etc.

The computer lab was to be used by the few select students that were taking Computer I as an elective for Math, and by the French students. A couple of months into my freshman year they opened up the lab to free time. You could sign up for 30 minutes after school and spend some time getting to write your own program. The school provided one 5 1/4″ floppy disk that we could use to store our programs; I should another student how to use a hole punch to make it so we could use both sides of the 5 1/4″ floppy disk. The computer lab teachers’ assistant, Mrs. LaPlante, said we weren’t suppose to do that because it turns out she didn’t know one could do that.

I signed up for my 30 minutes the following week and spent my free time going through the magazines about writing BASIC and coming up with my game plan to write something for my first floppy disk. I remember I could barely sleep the night before because I was so excited to actually be using a computer doing what I wanted for the first time.

I ended up writing a rudimentary program to emulate a cash register. I even had it printing an invoice; as you entered an item code and the amount, it would print a new line on the invoice. That’s how cash registers worked in 1982. Because we had only two printers in the entire computer lab (which was now up to a dozen Apple ][+ computers), Mrs. LaPlante was confused when the printer in the corner of the room would print just one line at a time. It took her a few moments to figure out who was printing and she thought I was printing out my program as I typed it in and told me I was doing it wrong. When went over and looked to see what I was doing she was confused to see a retail invoice printing and wanted to know where I had gotten the program to do that.

I showed her what I had written. This was shortly before my 30 minutes was up; luckily I’ve always been a very fast typist and remember, I had already planned what I was going to do and I was basically retyping what I had typed on my typewriter at home.

Mrs. LaPlante was impressed enough to have the math department leader of computers (that wasn’t her official title), Mrs. Coniski, come over and look at what I had written and the output on the printout. The monetary amounts were even lined up and right-justified. I was calculating tax. Mrs. Coniski was impressed and told me I could sign up for more time and I should consider taking computer at the next opportunity.

I did just that. By the time I was able to get into Computer I the school had converted Room 201 to a computer lab with over three dozen Apple ][+ and Apple //e computers, with a printer at the end of each row. Mrs. LaPlante and Mrs. Coniski had both moved on to greener pastures, so we had a new young new teacher teaching computer and “Course IV” Math. I had a huge crush on him at the time. He marked down one of my programming endeavors in Computer I for using a “GOTO” statement too early in the program and to this day I occasionally think about his comment scrawled in red pen across the green bar tractor feed print out: “write the cleanest code possible”.

The business department was doing their own thing, teaching word processing on an IBM DisplayWriter, which I also used in typing class. I was in typing class just to pass time, I could already type. The IBM equipment did little to grab my interest but I loved the Apple ][ series of computers. They felt more personal to me.

At home I had a Commodore VIC-20 as a Christmas gift and I put that computer through its paces. I saved some money to buy a 16K expansion cartridge to beef up the 2K of memory available. I also bought the data cassette for the VIC-20. I liked that computer and I was very appreciative of the present but I always wanted an Apple ][ of some sort, it was just not possible with the family budget.

I never did get my hands on an Apple ][ of any sort to call my own. I look on ebay from time to time to see what they’re going for; I still tinker with the idea of buying one, though my husband’s first question is always, what would you do with it and where would you put it?

I’ll figure out a logical answer someday.

Maude.

Many 50s-something men that grew up as a gay boy of the 80s were shunned and thrown out of the family. Both my parents supported me no matter who or what I was. I count my blessings every day.

I miss my dad a lot. I’m lucky to be able to still be able to call my mom. She hates being called Maude, but she hate being called “Ma” more.

Here’s to you, Mom. Here’s to you, Maude.

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Aye, Captain.

Wise words from the incomparable Kate Mulgrew. I adore this woman.

Letter to my fellow Pandemicites,

All of the words and phrases du jour have already become cliche: unprecedented, social distancing, mitigation, quarantine, isolation, sheltering in place. They are clear, arresting words that evoke any number of sensations, depending on the hour, the news of the moment, the behavior of your loved ones. They are new words, quickly aging. To me, it is both fascinating and absolutely astounding that we have been united globally by a virus that allegedly emanated from a wet market in Wuhan, China.

It could be called: a wee bat shat and it was felt around the world.

We are in this together and we will climb out of it together. There are choices to be made. Big ones: will I be philosophical about this, or will I be furious? Will I be patient, or will I be impossible? Will I grow or will I atrophy?

Small ones: will I make the bed every day? Will I plan and execute interesting meals? Will I take a walk in the early morning and watch the sun, unmoved by this pandemic, untouched by our despair, rise as it has done for the past 4.5 billion years?

We are, in ourselves, utterly insignificant – but what we do with that knowledge is what raises us above the rest of the animals.

So I say: in this time of extraordinary challenge, exercise your right to be deeply human. Be surprised by your own generosity of spirit. Don’t be afraid of fear, confusion or anxiety. We are living through an Unknown Pandemic, and we have every right to be unsettled.

I have a suggestion. It is something that has always worked for me and might work for you, but you need to give it a good shot. A few hours of uninterrupted quiet. Enforced discipline, if you will.

Read. Start big, too, because life is short, and once you start you will probably find that you cannot stop. The following books have led me through more catastrophes and heartache than I can possibly count, because their authors understood the essential drama of being flawed, of yearning for love, of courage, of being deeply human.

Here’s a partial list of my all-time favorites. Try them. If you don’t come out of this a better human being, you will certainly be a wiser one. Bring new meaning to ‘sheltering in’.

  • In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov
  • The Country Girls Trilogy by Edna O’Brien
  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  • That They May Face the Rising Sun by John McGahern
  • The Rachel Cusk Trilogy:
  • Outline
  • Transit
  • Kudos

I’m currently working on a novel, so that takes me temporarily off the hook. Which is to say, I’m reading Harlan Coben for my sins.

Stay in, stay horizontal, feed your ravenous brains.

xKate

Movement.

I found a video from 2009 here on the blog.jpnearl.com web server. Apparently I’ve grown a little more inhibited as I’ve aged. I must find my carefree ways again. It’s the only to get through this world with sanity intact.

Randomness.

We live in a world where The Happiest Place on Earth is closed.

We’re told to stay home and eat and watch TV while this virus passes, yet millions of Americans have no home, no food, no TV.

Americans are still forming sides as to which side of the aisle is the right and just side of the aisle.

We have an incredibly stupid, narcissistic man as the leader of this country. I won’t dignify him with the word “president”. That slot might as well be empty.

No one has travelled from the future to tell us it’s going to be fine.

No aliens have arrived to fix our woes.

We are headed into a period which will rival our history as being one of the worst financial eras of this country.

Where do we find hope?

My husband and I went for a socially distance walk in the neighborhood. Our favorite pub had one of its front windows open. They’re selling beer out the window. We stopped and said hello. No hugs were exchanged between friends. But warm words were said. Words of hope. A woman unknown to us stopped, maintaining her social distance, just to be near us. She wanted responsible companionship.

I should have taken her picture.

Drop the walls. Maintain the distance. Help each other out.

Thank You.

In the name of sanity, I thank the universe for not inflicting ridiculous April Fool’s pranks on us this year. It is one of my least favorite holidays to begin with, but throwing jokes and pranks at us during this catastrophe would have just been extra mean.

Either they were non-existent or I stayed clear of them by pure luck. Either way, thank you.