Monday, March 16, 2020

What do you do when a bear comes into your tent?

Hey Everybody,

I'm from Chicago, and a number of years ago, I dated a woman from a very rural western state; She was the durable frontierswoman type, and I was the urbane city-slicker. Thus, she thought my fear of lions and tigers and bears was hilarious, and she was kind enough to send me a book called "When Bears Attack". It had a picture of a very unhappy bear on the cover, and when I got that book, and read it, cover-to-cover, in one sitting, without blinking my eyes, fifteen years ago, one anecdote stands out to me right now:

If a bear comes into your tent, don't panic, but don't stay calm, either. 
We'll get to pens in a minute, but that's what I want to talk about first.
You may not have heard this, but the World Health Organization (self explanatory) has recently declared a global pandemic. What that means is there is a disease that's going all over the world making people ill. To the best of my understanding, this sort of thing doesn't happen overnight, but they avoided using the word "pandemic" until very recently because it's a word that can provoke fear in anyone who knows anything about the history of the use of that word. And again, to the best of my understanding, the leadership at the W.H.O. began using this word because countries were not taking serious enough action. 

For the duration of this email, I’m going to substitute the name we’ve given to this particular new disease–named for the crown-like spikes on its surface–with something a little less emotionally charged, but which hopefully conveys a similar undesirability: Fruitcake. 

#fruitcake #nobodywantsafruitcake

I’m not a public health expert, so I trust the people at the Center for Disease Control [and Prevention] to give me the best information available on how to deal with the fruitcake.

I’m not trying to navigate this myself.

This is a bit like when taking a standardized test; to succeed, you have to pick the best answer, not necessarily the one you imagine to be the “right” one, and then keep with that program. I put aside my ego and trust the program. In the United States, we’re lucky to have some of the best public health experts in the world on our side, and I’m going to listen to their guidance.  

I’m 34 and in decent health. I am not elderly, and I don’t have a pre-existing health condition. Based on the reports from the CDC, I’m not especially concerned about what the fruitcake can do to me directly. I am, however, greatly concerned about the effects the fruitcake can precipitateI’ll elaborate on that in a minute. 

What preventative measures are the experts at the CDC telling us? I will leave to you to go read the full story on their website, but at the top of the list is basic stuff: wash your hands, don’t touch your face, sneeze into your elbow, avoid close (social) contact, et cetera. Again, basic stuff. Nothing terribly revelatory. I'll be honest, a while ago, after reading that, my first impression was “well, if that’s all they’re telling us to do, then it must not be that serious”. That was an incorrect inference. Let me explain.
  • This fruitcake can come out in respiratory droplets that we produce, and those droplets can either be inhaled or they can fall on things. If you touch one of those things, and then touch your mucus membranes (eyes, nose, mouth) fruitcake shall have its way with you.
  • This is also why the experts recommend “social distancing”, or staying far away from other people; these droplets are heavier than air, so you give them time to fall to the ground before you can breath them in.
  • The experts believe this fruitcake can live long enough on surfaces to cause trouble, but the fruitcake also responds well (i.e. can be broken down, deactivated or removed) to soapy water and alcohol in concentrations higher than 70%. This is why disinfecting high-traffic surfaces (like your hands or doorknobs) is believed to work. I use pure denatured alcohol in a spray bottle to hose down surfaces. Cheap and easy to apply. 
  • We touch our faces more than any of us thinks. Watch any long video of any non-professional doing anything. We touch our faces all the time. Wash your hands. Feel free to watch this video on how the World Health Organization suggests you do it!
  • Right now, the experts don’t believe this lingers in the air for hours on recirculating dust particles like measles can. (Infectiousness of measles is incredible. Incredible.) So, that’s why they said what they said, and didn’t say anything more severe, like buying all the goddamn supplies.
  • When I first heard the CDC’s advice, I thought hand washing was a weak choice. As you know, I definitely don’t think so anymore.
Ironically, if you watch the video on hand washing I linked to above, or read the other measures the CDC recommends on their website, you might go the other way and feel like some of these steps seem like overkill! I may have thought so before, but I don’t think they are.

Now, it’s time to talk about what I meant when I said I was concerned about “the effects the fruitcake can precipitate”.
First, there’s the easy stuff:
  • If you catch the fruitcake, you can give it to someone else. Nobody likes that, shame on you.
  • At the time of this email, widely available testing is non-existant, so, in the US, very few people know if they have the fruitcake at all. 
  • There is also evidence that you can catch the fruitcake, feel perfectly healthy, AND THEN give the fruitcake to someone else without knowing it. 
  • Right now, for every person who gets the fruitcake, from what I’ve read, we believe they transmit it to 2.3 other people. This is a recipe for the spread of the fruitcake to grow exponentially. 
Then there’s the hard stuff:
  • We expect a LOT of people to get the fruitcake. Many of them will recover fine on their own. But some percentage of people, however, will need medical assistance. 
  • When you multiply that percentage by the vast number of people in the US, you get a number; There are simply not enough machines, staff and hospital beds to support that number.
That leads to the stuff that concerns me: 
  1. All the hospital beds could be full with people who need help breathing because the fruitcake can give some people pneumonia.
  2. In a situation where medical resources are limited, and you can breathe, you usually get pushed to the back of the line. But remember what I said earlier? There aren’t even enough spaces for the people who will all have the same problem. There are going to be some weird questions and some hard choices. Meanwhile, all the rest of us might just have to wait. 
    • Sorry ma’am, you’re going to have to give birth in a birthing center, not a hospital. No room. 
    • That transplant you’ve been waiting for? It can wait, you can breathe.
    • That chemo you need to fight your cancer? It can wait, you can breathe.
    • Left the chuck key in your lathe? Sorry, Mr. Cyclops, you'll have to wait.
    • Gosh, 55 broken bones and no internal bleeding? Impressive, but you better lock up your Harley, sir, you’re going to be waiting for a while.
Yeah, so right now, the measures we need to take are not necessarily aimed directly at protecting our own personal safety, or that of those we love, we’re trying to protect the medical system itself–from being smashed. So it's there when you need it. Not to get all political up in here, but if you've ever been one of those people who says they like "small government", you'd better damn well start defining your terms. 

In short, don't panic, but don't stay calm either: find the public health experts (CDC, W.H.O., National Institute of Health, etc.) and do what they tell you. You don't need anyone telling you how to feel. You need to know what to do.

Monday, December 24, 2018

The New Gmail layout is DANGEROUS and ILL-CONCEIVED

This is a bush league UI problem.

Imagine, you're working on email:

You have selected a bunch of emails, some or all, in your primary inbox. They may or may not scroll out of view, but they're selected. You realize there's an email you need that was in another folder, say Promotions. You go to the Promotions folder. You click on the new email.  You select it, then move it to inbox. While you're there, you want to delete the rest of the stuff in that same Promotions folder. So you select all, by hitting the button, and then, because you're a power user, you hit the keyboard shortcut for deleting it (shift 3). This takes a single second because you work quickly, but the button doesn't work. So you try again and again, wondering if there's an internet or Gmail lag, and eventually realize you're not hitting and never hit the "select all" checkbox, but you're hitting the "primary" folder ICON. So you go back to the promotions folder, remember the true location of the select all checkbox, and try to delete the contents of that folder. You're successful.

But little do you realize that you also just deleted everything you had earlier selected in the Primary folder, and your "undo" time window has long since expired.

If you need help with the UI design of Gmail, I'm just a piano teacher and a small business owner with a Bachelor's degree, but I'm sure I can help you do a better job of locating things in a more thoughtful way than has been done in this new "updated" form of the client.

If you didn't catch the shade I just threw, I'll make it plain for you:

This new layout is DANGEROUS and ILL-CONCEIVED.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Thursday, May 1, 2014

How to Write a Commencement Speech

In the spirit of the graduation season, I'd like to share what I've learned about commencement speeches and how they're done as I see them.

1. Cater to the audience's raison d'être for easy applause.
2. Reach down into the pants of the person who called you to make sure you get asked back for next year.
3. Profusely pat on the back the people you are here to speak for to help them try to forget how long they've all been sitting here, and how much of their time you're about to waste.
4. Preach about how much further we all have to go to humble your charges, and build credibility.
5. Cite Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for your inspiration to further build credibility.
6. Charge the graduates with upholding the sanctity of whatever it is they went to school for.
7. Quote an important historical document (Declaration of Independence, Magna Carta, etc.) and speak louder for some more easy applause.
8. Repeat as needed.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving/Black Friday!

It seems appropriate that on this Black Friday, on this day after the day of thanks and such, I should spell out my things for which I am thankful–in other words, the Christmas Wish List of things I hope I never lose.

In no particular order, here's what I'm thankful for:

  1. The ability to walk
  2. The ability to talk
  3. To think for myself
  4. Enough physical strength to manage my activities of daily living
  5. Not being submerged in suffocating debt
  6. Having a job that enables me to do work I enjoy and gives me the flexibility to pursue new things to amuse and improve myself
  7. An identity that isn't under constant threat of tearing itself apart 
  8. My wonderful girlfriend
  9. Having varied interests
  10. My freedom

Please comment on what you're thankful for.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Proposed Revision to the Online Dating Platform

A long while ago, an acquaintance and I, when we were both single and using a popular free online dating site, often discussed ways to improve the efficacy of the platform. (Disclaimer: This post has most to do with straight, male-female couplings, so forgive me if the language seems one sided.)

One of the topics we came across was a terrifically fun article simply titled, "Why You Should Never Pay For Online Dating." Well, as far as it concerned us, as single men, it accurately reflected our experiences and we didn't find any surprises.

As we saw it, the main issue of the article had to do with what they called a feedback loop. My understanding of the loop based on my experience with the site is thus:

1. Men are usually expected to make the first move when initiating contact with a woman, and we do.
2. The women get a lot of messages, more attractive women getting more messages, the more attractive they are. This is coupled with the fact that most women don't initiate messages. (We were pleasant, attractive guys, but we only got maybe–lifetime total–a handful of messages from women who contacted us first.)
3. Because the most attractive women are usually both busy and in high demand, and because there are only a finite number of available hours per day, many women can't or won't respond to every message they receive, even the pleasant, well thought out ones.
4. Men get discouraged after their pleasant, well thought out messages go ignored, and no one writes them first.
5. Seeing that they have to do all the work, and that hard work isn't paying off, men send messages that are less well thought out and start to look more like form letters.
6. Women see worse messages and respond even less often.
7. The cycle continues.

Well, I have a few ideas to help minimize these issues in the form of rules that sites might consider instituting to ensure a more pleasant experience to all users (not just men).

To both men and women but mostly men:
  • All initial messages have to be at least 150 words and spell checked
  • 10 message per day limit
  • Users get to flag messages that look like form letters, and if a user is accused too many times of sending form letters (on first contact or not), they get suspended.
To men and women, but mostly women:
  • The first time you communicate with someone, your message has to be at least 150 words and spell checked.
  • Respond to at least 50% of your unread initial messages first, every time you sign in with at least a 150 word response (as above), or you can't search, look at new profiles, or receive messages and your profile is made invisible.
  • For each qualified message you initiate (>150 words, non form letter) to a new person, for that sign in session, you're excused for one inbox message you have to respond to. And if you have no unreplied-to messages, it gets saved for when you do. 
This way, the super attractive women who get too many messages a day, but who only have time to respond to a few, are rendered invisible, and can't continue to receive messages until they've put a dent in their inboxes. This will free up the site to give more "air time" to the women who don't receive AS many messages, so they'll be more likely to respond (because they have fewer messages to respond to). This also encourages men because they'll know that the women who are being shown to them in searches are AVAILABLE and not so inundated with mail that they can't or won't respond. I like this platform because men who send messages will know that there is a stronger incentive to reply than just politeness since if a woman ignores too many messages, she'll lose privileges. It shows she's actively interested in finding someone. (By the way, this paragraph is 156 words.)

What happens if a person receives messages from someone they KNOW before responding they don't want to hear from? (Say they know the person already, and aren't interested, or the message was simple hate mail.) A few options: They can ignore the person for a little while, but probably not indefinitely, or, respond to the first message with a polite refusal, and if the person continues to message them unpleasantly, they can be blocked. Or, they can flag it as hate mail.

Note: Improper flagging, i.e. using it as a cheap means of avoiding politely declining good messages written by people they're not into, will result in reduced privileges.

In action: Say a person gets 10 messages on Monday, A-J, they can't do anything until they've responded to at least half of them. Suppose A-E are messages from people they're not interested in, the next time they log in, they have to reply to 5 of them, F-J for example. Let's say they do, and continue to use the site. Tuesday, they sign in and there are 10 new messages again: Still, A-E, but this time, K-O. They have 10 messages again, but suppose K-O aren't all winners either. To continue to use the site, they'll have to reply to at least 5. Most likely, they'll reply to a couple from A-E and a couple from K-O. Suppose message "E" was just abysmal, and he/she wants nothing to do with that person. As time goes on, it will be more and more difficult to ignore Writer E and other unpleasant writers to continue using the site, because they'll always have to have their inbox at least half responded to. In this model, due to the second restriction in the girl's category above, the more messages she gets, the less likely she is to remain visible. And when a person maintains an exchange with another user (or several users), that person will have to write an ever increasing amount of mail to remain visible.

This really forces a person to choose who they write to and respond to carefully based on their initial impressions from their profile. This is win-win for everyone.

NOTE: These restrictions on initial messages (length, etc.) don't apply to messages to people you've already contacted who have written you back, but since you have to reply to new messages from "new" writers before you can reply to new messages from "familiar" writers, if you've got a good thing going with someone familiar, and you keep receiving "new" messages, it gets harder and harder to keep your options open while maintaining that contact. This should help take out a lot of the BS that permeates online dating.

This is a system that I believe would make life quite a bit easier for people who receive a lot of messages. It would give more exposure to those who don't already receive a lot of mail. It also is a system that requires all messages have some thought and personality put into them, and incentivizes people to write better messages. It also makes it difficult (for a person who doesn't get many messages) to nearly impossible (for a person who gets a lot of messages) to ignore a person's message indefinitely.

What do you think of my plan?

Friday, November 1, 2013

Wael Farouk Review

Wael Farouk
Roosevelt University, Ganz Hall
October 26, 2013, 7:30pm

All Rachmaninoff program
  • Variations on a theme of Corelli, Op. 42
  • 10 Preludes, Op. 23
  • 13 Preludes, Op. 32
Two Encores:

  • Vivaldi-Bach-Volodos: "Siciliano"
  • Verdi-Liszt: Rigoletto Paraphrase

What's the most important instrument in classical music?

The room.

I have to preface this review with that because I think the room played a big part in the performance I heard last Saturday. Roosevelt University's Ganz Hall is a small recital hall with very resonant acoustics and a 9 foot Steinway. Those elements combine to give a listening experience of nearly seismic power. If you ever want rich, dark, romantic music to sound rich and dark and romantic, this is the room and piano combination you want to play it on. That is, if you are interested in playing delicate, or highly ornamented music, and you want everyone in the hall to hear you, though you could do it, this is probably not your first choice. (You'd probably want something a little less resonant, like the hall at Sherwood Conservatory, the old PianoForte Chicago recital hall, or if you can manage it, Pick-Staiger.)

That said, I first heard Wael Farouk during a doctorate recital (?) a few years ago where he played the Bach-Busoni Chaconne. His playing was rich and powerful and he had great speed. Wow. When I had a chance to hear him again, I went, and this time, three (?) years later, I can say that he didn't lose anything.

His program (the first of five recitals including the complete piano works of Rachmaninoff good man!) was exclusively the kind of dark romantic music for which this hall is perfect, and all evening (the concert started at 7:30 and blasted almost until 10) he let pour a torrent of highly colored passagework, lightning crisp octaves, thunderous chord playing and bravura–oh, the bravura.

A lot of musicians like their power. Pianists and organists in particular because they have some of the loudest instruments. (Brass players are also in this category, but they don't get to solo as much.) And I'll admit, playing big can be fun, so much so, that it can often be pretty hard for a musician to switch from extremely powerful playing to that which requires delicacy, and the poor or merely mediocre soloists just don't do it. They just don't play delicately. Now, some musicians play with delicacy, but when they do it's palpable that they're just biding their time until they can get back to playing loudly. Farouk was better than that fellow, but in my notes, here's how I put it:

"[The C minor prelude] had all the right colors and a huge amount of energy and momentum at the outset. Toward the end he demonstrates that he CAN do light, but that he wasn't really interested in showcasing that skill."

[A flat major prelude] "Following that thought, his volume 'swells' were very extreme and very often:  p<ff>p every five measures. (For example)"

[E flat minor prelude] "Good god, the speed! I can hardly tell what's happening! 90% speed and power, 10% delicacy. (At some point, someone will produce a ratio. It's probably 62/38.)"

[E minor prelude] "Great speed and power, but the clarity and articulation are lost on this room that only permits big strokes. Beautiful in the dark moments, but the climax might have benefited from a little less haste, more speed."

[G major prelude] "In his balance in the climax, I could hear his nurturing the multiple parts. Thank you."

[G sharp minor prelude] "A little rushy-thrusty, but the balance of tone makes up for it."

Interpretively, the preludes (in general) don't require a huge amount of intense analysis to bring them to life. If you've got a bright musical imagination like Mr. Farouk, all the better, but in general, besides strong technique and basic musicality, they don't take much to get off the ground. He sounded great here. That fire and oomph was well placed with the majority of the program. Unfortunately, during the first, biggest piece, the Corelli Variations, the overall architecture got a little lost. The inexorable drive toward the climaxes leading up to the climax, I didn't feel.

Shaky architecture in the first piece aside, he's an astonishing player with terrific power, imagination and occasional flights of delicacy. Are my musical values reflected in his playing? No. Would I see Mr. Farouk again? Absolutely. Sometimes you don't want to go to a concert and hear yourself. If I wanted to do that, I'd probably just stay at home. I have a piano. (But it ain't no 9 foot Steinway, though.)