I’m a day late posting this blog. I’m giving myself a break and hoping my reader(s?) will forgive me. We’re all a little bit overwhelmed right now. I am amazed that I’m managing to be more productive at home than I had been at the office before social distancing started. Part of it is that I have learned to focus on the task at hand better in my office. Part of it is that I don’t want to be seen as a slacker by my coworkers. But the most important reason is that it is something constructive that I can do in response to this situation.

I’m afraid that most people don’t understand how long this campaign is going to take and how bad things are liable to get. I saw a video back on March 11th explaining the exponential nature of the growth of the COVID-19 spread. I’m not a doctor. I’m not even a mathematician. I’m a Computer Scientist and I understand the meaning of exponential growth. I went to work the 12th and told my boss that I needed to self isolate. On Friday the 13th (apropos, eh?) my company announced that everyone who could work from home, must work from home until further notice. I guess there are those in management that understand the meaning of exponential growth too.

I don’t plan to spend every blog talking about the pandemic. There are other more interesting topics to write about. It is, however, the elephant in the room right now. I want to take this opportunity to express my reaction to the way our nation and its leaders are failing to make responsible decisions about how to address it. The actions of our president is tantamount to manslaughter. He has no interest in anything other than how to secure a second term in November.

I’m considering the various possible outcomes from worst to best. In the worst case, Pam and I will both come down with the virus and die. Short of that, one or the other of us will die and leave the other to deal with life alone. Barring those dire circumstances, there will be more or fewer of our family and friends that don’t survive. This is the most likely outcome. We’ve already had deaths and will continue to have more deaths until we can stop the spread of this virus.

That is going to take discipline and sacrifice. I don’t think many people realize that. I know it has been slow dawning on me. I find myself going to the door and opening it when the delivery person brings a package. I need to start waiting until they get back to their truck before I open the door. We have ordered delivery more than I’d like to admit. It occurs to me that every time we do, we risk infection from some symptomless food preparation person. I’m not blaming them. They are just trying to make a living. I’m blaming me for taking unnecessary risks of infection.

In recent days, we have been cooking more. I have been eating more than I strictly need to. This is one of my reactions to anxious situations. There are several bad consequences of this. First, I’m diabetic and it tends to keep my blood sugar higher than it could be. It also tends to increase my weight. And it reduces the contents of our pantry faster than need be. We need to stretch the ingredients in our pantry as far as they can possibly go. There may come a time when replenishing the pantry is difficult if not practically impossible.

I doubt the worst cases I’ve described above will occur. But they are possible and I want to take steps now to prepare for the eventuality. I’ll be back with less bleak observations and topics in the future. It has helped me understand my current state of mind to write this post. I hope it has helped you consider your situation.

Take care of yourself and your loved ones. Wash your hands frequently. Maintain social distancing. And most importantly, stay home. Help save the lives of our medical professionals.

The New Normal

We’ve been hearing the phrase “the new normal” for quite sometime now, often in regard to the way politicians are ignoring the conventional protocols of government, not to mention blatantly ignoring the constitution of the United States and the laws thereof. But that isn’t the usage that I want to talk about. I want to talk about the impact of the pandemic on our grossly unprepared medical system. I want to talk about the lethal effect of the head-in-the-sand attitude of science deniers on a naive and trusting populace.

The truth of the matter is, we have been barreling toward another, different disaster for years now. The climate is changing. At this point it doesn’t matter if the change is due to man made abuses of the environment, we’ve got to do something about it if we expect to survive the global catastrophe that is coming.

In a way, the pandemic is a good thing. It is an immediate reminder that if we don’t make use of the advice that scientists give us, we are doomed to endure the consequences of that hubris. Scientists have been advocating the preparation for a global pandemic such as we now find ourselves in the middle of since the first Bush administration. There has been some attention given to the matter but not at a high enough priority.

And then when the current administration took office, one of the first things it did was reverse some of the meager progress that had been made. Science can help save us but only if we heed the warnings that our scientists give and allocate sufficient resources to counter the challenges that they warn of down the road.

One of the frustrating things about the situation is that if we heed the warnings and take the suggested steps we won’t see that the predictions were right. Only if we ignore the advice will we see first hand how bad the situation will get.

At present, the new normal is avoid public gatherings, wash your hands at every opportunity, don’t touch your face, and what ever you do, when it comes time to vote, vote the science deniers out of office. Humanity won’t survive many more administrations like the one we have endured for the past four years.

Isolated Thoughts

The combination of the rainy weather and the self isolation that we’re practicing to try to avoid the potentially deadly effects of COVID-19 has found me spending more time than usual at my computer. I started working from home on Thursday morning, well in advance of the beginning of the exponential growth of infection. I hope the measures that have been put in effect manage to help us avoid the potential devastation that the virus threatens. Only time will tell.

I have been thinking a bit about creativity in general and writing in particular. As I was writing an entry in my journal while listening to a livestream on the Reina del Cid channel, I recalled something that I’ve known for a long time but haven’t thought about recently. The best lyrics tell stories. They are more constrained by their form than prose stories are but the same principles that I’ve been studying to improve my short stories apply equally to writing songs.

Another thing that I’ve known for a while but keep forgetting, the more constraints you place on yourself, the more your creativity seems to be stimulated. Constraints come in all sorts of varieties. You may be constrained by the length of the piece or the audience. You may be constrained by the genre or the vocabulary. The list of possible constraints is virtually endless but the more constraints that you put on yourself, the better the results seem to be.

Even though my commute is only twenty minutes each way, I find those forty minutes give me time to play my guitar and other things that have been falling off my plate lately. I’m lucky in that I am working on a project that is already widely geographically distributed so that it is just as effective for me to work from home as it is to go in to the office. I expect after a week or two of this I may start to get cabin fever and miss seeing my other colleagues but being able to reduce my chances of getting sick are much appreciated.

I have a number of writing projects that I’m working on but I’m going to reward myself when I meet my writing milestones by spending time writing songs and recording them with Garage Band. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that. I’m looking forward to it.

I don’t usually think of myself as an introvert. I get lonely when I’m stuck for long periods of time alone on a project. But in this case, I’m looking for the silver lining. Spending time on my computer writing, composing, reading, and all the other things that I don’t usually have enough time for is going to be a good consolation prize for having to be isolated for a while.

This will give me an opportunity to get ahead of my publishing schedule and get a couple of blog posts ready for weeks when my schedule makes it difficult to write a post. That will help me meet my goal of posting a new post every Monday. I was going to say for a year but I don’t intend to stop then.

This pandemic is not the first that humanity has faced. We are better informed and in many ways better equipped to deal with this one. Maybe we don’t have enough resources to meet the challenge of the worse case scenario but if everyone keeps calm and avoids crowds and washes their hands frequently, perhaps we can curb its severity.

What is a Blog?

It’s a strange question to ask. The fact that you’re reading this implies that you have some kind of an idea of what a blog is. The problem is, a blog is whatever the owner of it wants it to be. This can vary widely from blog to blog and even between posts on the same blog. This post is going to explore the types of content I might post here and why.

There are two broad categories of blog. The first is the link blog. A link blog consists of short entries that identify an interesting topic and links to other sites on the web that deal with it in greater depth. Link blogs often have multiple posts per day.

The other category of blog is the essay blog. It typically has longer posts than a link blog. It may have links to other sites but it is itself a more in depth treatment of its topic than is typical of a link blog post.

It is probably obvious to those of you that have been reading this blog that I tend to write essay posts here. But that is only one dimension characterizing blog posts. Another way is by the unifying topic that the blog covers, sometimes referred to as “the beat” in newspapers and magazines.

The obvious unifying factor of most blogs is the perspective of the author. This isn’t necessarily the case though. Some blogs are written by multiple authors each giving their perspective on a common topic.

I have proceeded so far this year on the theory that publishing a post on a regular schedule was more important than trying to establish a theme beyond my personal interests. I’m trying to get a couple of posts ahead so that I don’t feel so much pressure to get something written and posted by Monday.

I used to write a lot about computer languages and application software that I liked. Lately I have become less focused on programming and more engaged in writing fiction. This changes the topics that I think about a little.

I am learning the structure of a short story and how it is similar to and different from a novel. I am learning how to get a reader engaged in your story and deliver a satisfying ending. I am learning how to build a fictional world and the people that inhabit it. It is so different from writing software and yet there are amazing similarities too.

I don’t plan to post much fiction here although you never can tell. I will definitely let you know if the piece is fiction. I suspect there are better places to share fiction. Perhaps I’ll build a home page for my writing and point to it from here.

A Small Change of Plan

What with the effect that the Corona virus has had on the stock market and the fact that I keep reading advice from established writers that says “keep your day job”, I think I’m going to push off retirement a couple of more years. Every year that I keep adding to my retirement fund makes the prospect of writing for a living seem more feasible. If I can ratchet my retirement fund up to the point where I can live comfortably on it, I can use my income from writing, such as it may be, to invest in promoting my writing. I’ve never gone to many conventions because I couldn’t afford to. I’d love to be able to go to them and take it off my taxes as a business expense.

Another benefit of postponing retirement is that I can spend my spare time getting better as a writer so that when I do get ready to write full time, I’ll have more experience and maybe a sale or two under my belt. I know. You can’t make any sales if you haven’t made any submissions. I’m getting there.

One challenge in putting off retirement is finding time to work full time and go to all my (and my wife’s) doctor appointments. I’m lucky there in that my employer is very liberal in their flexible work schedule policy. The other thing that I appreciate is that they have changed from having sick leave and vacation to having one combined paid time off (PTO) bucket. They are also letting us take PTO in tenth of an hour increments after the initial hour. That will help.

Another issue that I have is avoiding exposure to the pandemic du jour. It’s not that I’m that afraid of them but rather that by working with people that have children, I am routinely exposed to any illness that is going around. My wife has a number of autoimmune disorders and is often left with a compromised immune system. My employer is very understanding about telecommuting but there are certain things that can’t be done remotely. I will be glad when the bulk of my work can be accomplished from my home office.

The final issue that I’m struggling with is the fact that I’ve never been self employed. My ignorance of basic business operations is staggering. I’m scared of failing not because I’m not a good writer but because I’m a lousy businessman. I guess I’ll focus on becoming an excellent writer and do what I can to improve my business acumen along the way.

I understand you can hire business managers. You need to have a business in the first place for that to make sense though. Kind of like the reason I’m not looking for an agent yet is that I’m not producing product that an agent could sell yet. If I make a sale on my own, maybe I’ll look for an agent.

Then there is the other approach to the business. The dreaded self publishing. Publishers do a lot for a writer. If one decides to self publish, one takes on the responsibility of doing everything that the publisher normally does for an author, provide an editor, a copy editor, a development editor, book designer, produce the book, distribute the book, etc. You have to know a lot more about publishing and work a whole lot more on the aspects other than writing which in itself is hard enough.

To conclude, I am overthinking things (again). I need to let the problems arise before I worry too much about them. In the mean time, I intend to enjoy the process of becoming a better writer. If I didn’t enjoy writing to begin with, none of this would even be an issue.