Back To “Normal”

It’s been over a year since I last posted, and a lot has happened this year, especially in the last 6 (or so) months of it.

The biggest thing is maybe that I’ve flown on not one trip but two trips, and have managed to avoid COVID in doing so. (The last flight there might still be pending, since I just got home today.)

This summer we felt like we really needed to start doing something to get back to normal, since the world was clearly moving on without us, we clearly couldn’t go the rest of our lives without ever flying again, and the pandemic situation was clearly never changing significantly from its current state. So we decided that the safest thing to do was to book an international trip to the UK!

It sounds crazy, but it actually makes sense if you assume (like we did) that the riskiest part of travel is the airports (rather than the planes, which circulate air so rapidly and also filter it) and indoor spaces. London Heathrow is one of a single-digit number of international destinations that the Pittsburgh airport directly services so… London hiking trip it was!

Photos are here, here, and here, and ignoring the indoor breakfasts at small B&Bs (with like… two other groups at most) we had only one meal indoors at a restaurant. We also found that Heathrow immigration into the UK is totally automated and takes literally 30 seconds. From deplaning to heading to the train was less than 30 minutes.

The weirdest part of it (after the initial shock of “I haven’t been in an airport in three-and-a-half years”) was how basically no one wears a mask while flying. Like… COVID is still a huge thing? And airplanes and airports are great places to catch things? Maybe wear a mask just for this part?

The second weirdest (or maybe I just never noticed before) is how inconsiderate people are now when they cough. No covering of the mouth (with a hand or otherwise). No mask for people who are very clearly sick with some respiratory disease. Yeah, get on a plane and cough into the air for your neighbors to breathe thanks that’s a great idea we appreciate it.

In any case, despite all of that, the trip as a whole made me comfortable enough to travel in person to my teams’ release planning this past week, for the first time since summer 2019. And this trip really pushed a lot of my comfort zones.

Starting with… an airport transfer, so it wasn’t just the relative quiet of the Pittsburgh airport and the quick exit through SFO. We also had to deal with DFW (and, unexpectedly, ORD on the way back) which are extremely busy and have nary a mask in sight (although SFO seems to be better at this than anywhere else, which is maybe not surprising). Then also sitting in meeting rooms all day with dozens of other people for most of a week. And eating indoors at team dinners. And attending an (indoor) team event with over a hundred people in attendance.

I’d purchased an N100 mask specifically for the office, and while I’m sure I looked ridiculous in it, it apparently worked because I have successfully returned home without COVID (although we’ll find out about the return flight in a few days, so hopefully it’s not premature to make that statement). Photos from this trip will be on the photos site at some point. If the last set is any indication (Carnival 2023 photos posted in November) it might be next year. We’ll see.

There are so many other things I should probably write about, like how the elevators in Salesforce Tower in SF are the worst and made me literally 20 minutes late to a meeting waiting for them, or how I amusingly tried to meet my coworker Paul in the UK and couldn’t make it happen but ran into him (repeatedly) in SF during planning, or how I’m amazed that my team at work is now over a hundred people and I don’t know half of them and met a bunch of people I work with daily for the first time in person this trip, or how I’ve been playing a lot of roguelike deckbuilding (computer) games recently and really enjoyed Slay The Spire and Roguebook while not really being a fan of Banners of Ruin, or how I’ve started getting (somewhat) back into coding at work now that I can delegate more of my architect duties, or how we’ve watched through almost all of Picard and how I enjoy the series if you think of it as not being part of the Star Trek universe because the characters are just all completely out of character, or about how I was supposed to be home from the SF trip on Saturday except we hit a flock of birds on takeoff causing us to return to SFO and making us miss our connection and therefore continuing the trend of plane issues that has seemed to plague all our friends recently…

I could write a lot more things, but I think this trip has just made me tired and sad at the state of the “pandemic” (which is so clearly over to everyone else) because it’s just a reminder of how much I’m missing by trying to stay safe when the rest of the world refuses to do its part. So I think I’ll just stop here.

My World’s On Fire, How ‘Bout Yours?

I keep thinking I need to post, and then I don’t have anything to post about, and then suddenly I have everything to post about, and I have no idea how to articulate any of my thoughts on any of it.

I’m super behind on everything in life right now, from emails and photos and housework and personal projects to the day job and even this journal. And the world continues to sink deeper and deeper into despair every day, which doesn’t exactly give me any motivation to start making progress on any of it.

I guess instead (and in an attempt to make progress at least on the journal part) I’ll just say we did a cabin trip last week to the Adirondacks with friends, which marks the most serious indoor activity with others since the pandemic started (and, other than my mom visiting a few months ago, the first time indoors with others for longer than about a day). Five of us found a rather nice (and very well-equipped) cabin by a lake that made both an excellent home base for hiking/kayaking/outdoor activities, as well as a place for me and Mark to not do those things and instead spend our days playing board games. Assisted by nightly COVID testing, all of us seem to have gotten out of it without getting sick, so I continue my streak of avoiding getting COVID, even as more and more friends and coworkers are falling around me.

Given the way things continue to go, I’ve been having the nagging thought since then that that week might be the last time for the foreseeable future that I’m truly happy. And I really don’t know what to do about that.

Life and the Universe and Everything

Well, it’s 2022. That means that my photo journal and photo stats pages have been updated.

It’s been an odd year, with a summer of “things are starting to get normal again” promptly followed by a return to the usual pandemic mess, but with a few small changes: we’re allowing ourselves grocery store trips again, and trips to see the niblings and in-laws are facilitated by at-home COVID tests (and both being triple-vaxxed).

The end of the year was also marked by some new electronics, that are rare enough that they’re noteworthy. I bought a new laptop from Dell as a pre-Black Friday special for use when I eventually return to business travel (because our work laptops are now so locked down that we can’t run anything on them but work stuff) and was forced to buy a new phone because T-Mobile is phasing out 2G and my old flip phone would soon stop working. Both of these purchases are interesting for very different reasons.

As far as the laptop goes, I intentionally picked the slowest shipping possible (even though I qualified for free 2-day shipping) so it wouldn’t arrive while we were traveling for Thanksgiving. (I generally try not to buy things before we’ll be traveling, but in this case, the deal was limited in its time window.) And of course Dell promptly shipped the laptop the same day and it arrived exactly while we were gone, AND it didn’t require signature confirmation (for an $800 laptop!). I had to have a friend retrieve it for us.

I really wish that companies would have options for “don’t deliver before this date” delivery options, especially around holidays. This happened a few years back with my camera order for Black Friday as well, but Amazon support was much more helpful (mostly because they were actually working over the holidays and were able to tell the FedEx to hold off delivery for a few days… no such ability with Dell, who shipped the laptop late in the day and then had no support the next few days because of the holidays).

The phone was interesting mostly because I just wanted another flip phone… but the cheapest option they had was $126. The moto g pure was available for $186, and I figured the extra $60 was worth it just so I could have the camera and not have to carry my work iPhone around for photos all the time. So… I now have an Android phone, and it has been an adventure because its UI (and the entire OS’ general philosophy) is so different from Apple’s. I don’t think I like Android, but I’ll deal with it because, hey, $60 camera. :)

(It’s also interesting because the phone plan I’m on is so old it doesn’t have data, so I now have a smartphone with no data. But that’s really not much different than the iPod touch I used to carry around with me anyway, so that’s fine.)

Otherwise, that’s really been it? Here’s hoping that 2022 actually starts to represent a return to normalcy.

Adirondacks, Schitt’s Creek

We did another cabin trip! This one was a far one, to a little cottage in the town of Keene, New York in the Adirondacks.

There was the usual hiking and lounging around the place.

We also got to see Mark on our drive back, which was nice.

But I spent most of the week at the cottage bingeing Schitt’s Creek, which I think is my all-time favorite show now. It’s been sitting and simmering for a bit over half a week, and I think it’s pretty safe to say that it

  • Has some of the most consistent characters I’ve seen in any show… there’s very visible character growth through the seasons, but the characters never act in a way that seems “off”… every change makes sense and feels earned
  • Starts consistently good, instead of having a first few seasons that are easily skipped (such as Parks and Rec or Star Trek The Next Generation)… I think the cast is a large part of this, because it feels like they all come in the right way and changes are character growth rather than the actor growing into the role
  • Has the best pacing I think I’ve ever seen in a show… it never tries to do too much within an episode or season, and gives events the time they need to sit and simmer
  • Left me an emotional wreck starting in the fourth season, and especially into the later part of season 5 and season 6, but did an amazing job interspacing levity with its emotional moments so it didn’t get overwhelming
  • Doesn’t really feel like it has “filler” or bad episodes, because there’s always some important development or insight happening in every episode… I think the only one I can think of is “Roadkill”, and I wouldn’t even call that episode “bad”
  • Had I think the all-time best final episode of any show I’ve ever seen… it gives closure in the right ways and (as noted above) everything feels like it’s happening at the right time with no sudden unexpected storylines to tie up
  • Ends at the right time, instead of dragging on into bizarre later seasons like we see with House or much of Glee or getting cancelled prematurely like many other series, which overall makes for an extremely satisfying watch
  • Does such a good job of developing all of its characters and giving them important moments… for example, I think Maybe This Time is a great example of how to properly tie in music and performance into a show, because that entire scene is such a great epiphany for the character… it reminds me of how Glee actually did a good job tying its music into the plots in most of its first season
  • Is amazing because it gave us A Little Bit Alexis and the beautiful cover of The Best

I’m so glad I was able to consume the entire show in one go instead of having to wait for it week by week. At some point I’ll need to find some time to rewatch the entire thing again.

Life, Cabin, People, and thou

life‘s photo journal and stats have been updated. Given the lack of a trip in the past four months, we are of course the lowest photo count since 2002 with 300 photos, and the fourth lowest count for a four month period ever. It’s also the first period without Keith pictures since since 2009, which also makes sense because we’ve been meeting everyone virtually. We’re still about 400 photos off from the next 25k photos that would trigger another photo stats dump (including May photos so far), but I’m actually hopeful we’ll hit that in the next 4 months, because…

We’ve started the first stages of seeing people again. Rock band is scheduled in just over a week with the fully-vaccinated Max, and we’re looking at hosting a (very) small (and still outdoor) Memorial Day gathering with friends we know are vaccinated. Now that we’re two weeks after the second dose, I’ve also felt a serious sense of relief (or at least lack of anxiety) about going into buildings again — we’ve been to the bakery twice for donuts, I didn’t feel weird being in a fairly crowded car rental building, there was a Costco trip that felt fine to me, and we’re going to start going into the grocery store again. We’ll see if that sense keeps up given the ever-increasing threat of variants, but after a year of worrying, it’s really nice to be able to start letting down my guard a bit.

Speaking of doing things… we went on a trip to a cabin again, booked as a covid-safe vacation before we had any idea of when vaccination would be a thing. Whereas the last trip was to Blue Knob, this time we went to Cook Forest, and stayed at MacBeth’s Cabins right on the Clarion river. (And there are 200 photos from this trip alone, so the next four month period already has 2/3 the photo count of the previous four months.)

I must be getting old and curmudgeonly or something, because the biggest thing I was looking forward to was the lack of internet and cell service, and the cabin absolutely did not disappoint in that regard. I got to spend a week lounging around, reading and relaxing, without any of the modern obligationsdisruptions getting in the way. (Incidentally, the lack of internet might also be why I like cruise ships.)

Compared to the last cabin, this one was much better situated, but also less “nice”: the kitchen was smaller, the bathroom was less nice, and the heating and cooling situation was questionable, with a gas space heater (that said “do not use in bedrooms or bathrooms” on the side) between the beds. Still, it was definitely nice enough to return, especially with how great its location (and the hiking around it) was. Even if normal trips become a thing again later this year (or next year), a cabin feels like it’ll always be a good choice.