The Beatles to Beyoncé

I have no use whatsoever for the Beatles. Never have. I know I am in the minority here, but seriously, I have never understood their popularity. They have a few good songs, but that’s about it. What little I know of them individually and as a group just … annoys. What also annoys is the sort of hagiography with which they are routinely treated. They didn’t change the world, or at least, my world.

Another music persona who gets treated with awe and wonder by most people is Beyoncé. Here, I can understand some measure of adulation as she is clearly very hard working and talented. My favorite song she’s sung is “The Way We Were” in honor of someone else I really don’t care for: Barbara Streisand, who famously sang the song originally. This was for a Kennedy Center honors show. Beyoncé adapted her vocal style admirably. But this is the only song I enjoy. Everything else she sings is not my thing at all. I get the popularity and adulation, and I’m sure as a person, she is a decent human being. But her music and style are just not my thing.

There are many other music/stars whom the majority of the universe seems to think are superb and wonderful. Most of them, I just don’t get. I am glad other people enjoy them, and I can acknowledge such and such a song or performance is good, but I don’t seem to connect at all to the music.

My wife says I’m a very picky person — I guess she’s right. The main message, however, is to take all of this fame/fortune/reputation/adulation of music/stars with a healthy dose of skepticism. Just because the rest of the world seems to fall at their feet, doesn’t mean I have to.

Chicken and dumplings soup for the soul

Recently, my wife made a wonderful chicken and dumplings soup, which was quickly devoured by us all. Not only was it tasty, it was comforting and soothing. There are many kinds of food like that, wouldn’t you agree? Some that I can think of:

  • A well-made cup of tea (favorites include Irish or English breakfast teas)
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Beef stew
  • Eggs and bacon (I prefer fried, over easy)
  • Soft-boiled eggs with butter, salt, and pepper to taste
  • Quiche
  • Fresh-baked bread
  • Clam chowder
  • Split pea soup
  • Homemade macaroni and cheese
  • Grilled cheese sandwiches (I always have them with jam on top)
  • Green bean casserole

As I jotted those ideas down, I realized how many of these comfort foods are highly starchy and not very healthy — oh well.

What would you put on the list?

Strange(r) things

Strange(r) things have been happening lately. For example, did you know that such a thing as Green Bean Casserole Pizza exists? And that it is actually tasty? And that it comes from Aldi? Weird, but true.

Another example: a coworker asked me how I know for sure what I believe (referring to my faith). This is strange for me because I work in a faith-based environment and it is a question that I don’t often get asked. I found it deeply interesting even as I came away from our discussion wishing that I had a better, more well rounded explanation.

Then there is the seemingly ever-present organizational weirdness (remember the name of this blog? The OW (organizational weirdness) Factor) in my workplace. It flares up quite a lot and frankly I don’t have the energy to deal with that crap so much any more. It is exhausting, and I’m reminded of a post someone shared recently on social media that said something along the lines of: “It’s not the work itself that is problematic, it’s the culture.” Amen to that. One of the biggest causes of organizational weirdness, I think, is people’s insecurities.

Finally, there continues to be such widespread misinformation and disinformation about COVID vaccinations. I can’t even begin to wrap my already sore brain around the outrageous conspiracy theories that abound, let alone the thinking of public officials who threaten to sue anyone who adheres to federal vaccination requirements. I mean, wow, we really, really live in a cray cray world.

An on- and off-again love affair with Apple

Since they first came on the scene decades ago, I’ve had an on- and off-again love affair with Apple (the computer/device company). I can distinctly remember the fascination I felt when viewing their first mouse-controlled computer in the ‘80s, for example. I’ve owned many Apple computers and devices over the years, and still do.

But the problem with Apple devices is that they are so darn expensive. Too expensive, in my view. An example of this is AirPods and AirPods Pro. I was really excited to be given enough gift money to purchase my first AirPods about three years ago. At a cost of somewhere around $160, they seemed exorbitant and gift money was the only way I could hope to afford them. I enjoyed them for a while but became jaded over time with their reduced battery life. I’m still not sure the $160 was a worthwhile price to pay.

Fast forward to today, and my recent hankering to get AirPods Pro, at an even more eye-watering price of something like $230. Here again, gift money was a key factor, but there was just no way I could see to afford a new pair. Instead, I turned to Craigslist to look for a used pair. After some searching, I hit upon what I thought was an incredible deal to buy a new-in-the-box AirPods Pro for a negotiated price of $110. I was so excited at this “steal” but my excitement gradually turned to frustration when I could not get the devices to work consistently and properly, over and over again and especially in trying to pair them with multiple devices. I found it hard to believe that Apple could make such an expensive device that was so patently terrible.

Then I made an appointment to have these AirPods Pro looked at by an Apple technician at an Apple Store. Almost immediately, they spotted that the AirPods Pro I had purchased from someone on Craigslist were — you guessed it — fake. I was told that the pair I had purchased was a better fake than anything they had previously encountered, and I was shown real ones to compare to the fake ones. Honestly, I doubt that I could possibly have spotted this myself in the first place, but that didn’t stop me from feeling incredibly dumb at being so easily duped. Lesson learned.

Eventually I decided to go ahead and purchase the real thing and although the Apple Store offered them at a discount, I still paid over $200 for them. The bargain I made in my mind to justify this is that I’d sell other gear on eBay to make up for this cost. (I had wasted all of my gift money on the fake ones.) I’m still working on achieving enough eBay sales to pay off what I spent on the AirPods Pro.

However, I will say that in the case of the real AirPods Pro, Apple’s often repeated “it just works” mantra has proven correct. Although I am not an audiophile and have no pretense to special expectations for audio, I am greatly impressed with how well these function. Everything that Apple’s marketing claims project has been on target with them. They really are a joy to use, and I can easily switch from my iPhone to my iPad to my Mac Mini to whatever else, and they just work. I get noise reduction, I get spatial audio (pretty neat IRL), I get a great fit in my ears (a problem with my old AirPods). I have lots of video calls for work for which these just work so smoothly, effortlessly.

Bottom line: I’m still an Apple fan. And Apple things still are way too expensive. But I still pay, when I can afford it.

Witness

Yesterday, we attended a cross country race invitational in which one of our children participated. The weather was nearly perfect, about 70 degrees Fahrenheit with a cool breeze and lots of sunshine. Our child finished eighth with a best finish and personal best time. It was great.

What I really wanted to mention though is something that happened after the race to which I was a witness. I looked up and saw my child carrying a teammate in their arms who was obviously in severe pain. They went to their team’s gear area and immediately started caring for this teammate, trying to get them comfortable. They then went and found the mom of the hurt teammate and spent time together with her on massaging their legs. It turned out the problem was severe shin splints, and it took a long time to reduce the pain.

All of this was done with no fuss or fanfare. Our kid just took charge and did something to help another person, carrying them about 60 yards just after finishing the race themselves and throwing up due to exhaustion. Honestly, I was so impressed and proud of them, more so than whatever happened in the cross country race. To me, this incident showed their true character.

I’m a proud dad.

I am not a fan

Things, words, people, and more that I am not a fan of (an abbreviated list):

  • The Olympics. A horribly political and corrupt concoction wrapped in a veneer of happy media and sporting gluttony.
  • The words “future proof.” Just…dumb.
  • Billionaires pretending to space travel.
  • A long list of companies including Amazon, Wal-Mart, and Facebook.
  • I’m especially not a fan of Elon Musk and just about anything he does, including Tesla, a.k.a. the new BMW.
  • Apple News. About as terribly executed as it could possibly get.
  • iOS Apps (ahem, NYT) that do not support or allow Dark Mode.
  • Heat, humidity, and associated bugs.
  • Refusal to acknowledge wrongdoing.
  • Identity politics.

This and that

It is nice to enjoy a long weekend with extended family whom we haven’t seen in more than two years. No drama, no frenetic drive to do this and that, just a time to visit and relax.

Yesterday I downloaded the iOS 15 public beta as well as the watchOS 8 beta and began to use some of the new features. By and large, they are impressive. Things that I especially like:

  • Photo recognition of plants and animals, allowing me to take a photo of a wildflower, for example, and then have Photos automatically identify it for me. This was what I primarily used the separate iNaturalist app for, and now I am not sure I’ll need to any more.
  • The weather app is transformed and I’ll be using it from now on instead of Dark Sky.
  • Photos now does built-in text recognition and translation. Very nicely done.
  • Enhanced Spotlight search, which now includes photos that are identified using dynamically generated keywords. For example, input “bird,” and photos from my photo library of birds are now included in Spotlight search results.
  • Safari has many significant changes and I like them all including the ability to set up something like VPN, called iCloud Private Relay.
  • Maps, wow, very different in a good way.
  • The new Portrait watch face in watchOS 8.

There are many other new things in iOS 15 and watchOS 8, but that’s what I’ve noticed the most so far.

Yesterday, I went for a walk in a nearby state park and took these photos. It was nice to return to a place we’ve gone to since I was a child, and to see that it is still well-maintained. I also had a look at a new, nearby wind farm.

The vacation that wasn’t

My previous post was overly optimistic and positive. In reality, a week of vacation turned into a week of mostly work with a bit of vacation. Grump, grump, grump. In many ways this was because a controversy broke while I was away regarding copyright guidance I gave for the campus as a whole. (At the moment, in addition to my regular responsibilities, I’m serving as the de facto copyright officer for the school.)

I should have known better than to think I’d be able to truly enjoy a vacation.

What is interesting, however, is that I managed to do all kinds of work with only a cellular (LTE) connection. This included data heavy things like multiple Zoom meetings per day, the odd Teams meeting, and more. It even included recording an hour and a half lecture for the graduate course I’m teaching, and posting it successfully in the learning management system. I relied upon my iPhone’s cellular connectivity, using it as a personal hotspot for my laptop and iPad.

Previously, I would never have considered doing this because I did not have an unlimited data plan. I also would never have considered doing it because the cabin where we stayed does not have strong cellular connectivity. But things change over time, sometimes for the better. I do have unlimited data now, and although it wasn’t glitch-free, LTE coverage was just enough to help me get away with working entirely from our cabin.

The fact that this is what happened and that I was able to successfully work in those conditions is positive, but it is going to be rendered unnecessary fairly soon. The cabin where we often stay, as well as others in the place we visited, will soon be connected to the Internet via fiber. Once in place, that will probably be faster than the Internet connection we have at home, which is cable.

I am not advocating working remotely while supposedly on vacation. It was a pain and as the week went by, it became more and more stressful due to work controversies. But it is just an interesting thing to note that it was possible.

Vacation daze

With relatively short notice, we decided to head north for vacation for a week, and are now nicely installed in our favorite cabin on the shore of a large lake, enjoying mild temperatures in the daytime and cooler temperatures at night. I’m writing this with my iPad on my lap, sitting in a camping chair, gazing out onto the lake. Already I feel in some sort of vacation daze. That’s a good thing.

The bad thing is that I still need to work in spite of being on vacation. Yes, this is a very sensible and American thing to do. (Insert sarcasm.)

Turning back to the positive: we are here with our oldest son and our daughter-in-law, able to visit and be together for the first time in about 18 months, and it is great to have all of us together again. In addition, as previously noted, the weather is great and I have enjoyed seeing many things already, such as loons calling out on the lake, many deer, and more. There is a black bear somewhere nearby that we hope to get a glimpse of (although, not too close, please). I have already been able to do a bit of fishing as well.

Below are some initial photos, which I hope you’ll enjoy.

But there are bright spots

Life is hard, but there are bright spots. For example, yesterday when looking out my living room window, I noticed (not for the first time) a hummingbird flying around. It wasn’t looking for nectar at our window or anything; it was just in my peripheral view near the neighbor’s big oak tree, and for some reason, I decided to pay more attention. I’m glad I did, because fairly quickly I realized that the hummingbird was going to and fro and back…to its nest! For the first time in my life, I spotted a hummingbird’s nest. Gobsmacked. These things are at most a few inches wide, so for me to be able to spot it is quite exciting.

Today I looked again during the time when she (it is a female ruby-throated hummingbird) is most active, and set up my camera on a tripod and used the longest zoom I could possibly manage, at the lowest ISO in order to get a crisper image when cropped. The photo below is the best I can do and it isn’t very good. But it clearly shows this magical creature in her magical little nest, made up of many things including moss. Pretty amazing, and a welcome bright spot in an otherwise bleak time.