Monday, December 28, 2020

Winter by the Water

I’m lucky to have a small beach house that I use as much as possible from May to November as home base for fishing and beaching. From time to time I visit in the off season just to maintain the place. We have to chase small critters (racoons, squirrels, rodents, even bees) away from time to time and deal with seasonal stuff and small repairs.


I had a short but fun visit late this month to take care of a few things. I managed my schedule so that I drove or walked near the water often as I did my errands. The weather was mild, the skies were clear, and the water looked great – though I’m sure it was very cold.


At this time of year all of the boats are out of the water and either stored for the winter at marinas or up on the lawns and driveways of my neighbors. We “shrink wrap” our boats in plastic to keep them clean and dry until spring when we can tear the shrink wrap off and start preparing for a new season. These first two pictures in white shrink wrap are my boats, on the driveway and lawn, and the two in blue shrink wrap are neighbors’ boats. 

The area was really quiet for these two days. None of my immediate neighbors were around, though I did see plenty of people out for walks when I was out for walks and bike rides of my own. During the season I probably see hundreds of boats every day. This time as I looked out over the water, I saw only two or three boats the entire time. The birds and fish have the waters to themselves. My favorite marina and restaurant was closed too, though I did get a great lobster roll and chowder, and some smoked fish to take home, at one of my favorite local markets.


Here are a few photos of what the beach is like in the winter – a beautiful reminder of what brings me back every spring. 

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Sunday, November 29, 2020

COVID-19 is the Common Enemy

Defeat the virus now, argue with each other later 

Let’s start off by seeing if we can agree that responding to COVID-19, the infectious disease caused by the coronavirus, really shouldn’t be anything we argue about, and it certainly shouldn’t be a political issue. Everyone I know, of every political persuasion, believes that the death of innocent people is a tragedy. Everyone wants people to stay healthy. Everyone I know also wants the economy to do well for ourselves and our friends and family. Nobody wants pandemic death to devastate families, and nobody wants the pandemic to crush the economy and the livelihood of hard-working people. We all want to be back to (something close to) normal as soon as we can, able to gather together, able to go to a restaurant, a concert, a school. Can we agree that those are fair statements? 


The fight is against the coronavirus, not against each other. We’re still in the middle of this fight, and we still need to cooperate and to fight together against the virus rather than against each other.


There is good news and there is bad news. The good news is that thanks to the amazing work of the scientific community, multiple highly effective vaccines are on their way. It has been inspiring to see how multiple teams worked incredibly fast in the interests of public health. Help is on the way. 


The bad news is that the coronavirus continues to spread very quickly right now, and that new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths continue to rapidly rise. With more holiday season gatherings taking place in indoor settings, there is a serious risk that the massive spike continues through December and January. The death toll is already well more than a quarter million American lives, rivaling the death toll of our most devastating wars and we are far from done. More Americans have died from COVID-19 than died in World War I, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War combined. Within a few weeks, the death toll of COVID-19 will surpass the death toll of World War II.


Now let’s get back to the part where we come together and fight effectively against the virus. If we can show some discipline now and for a few more months, we can limit the impacts.


With a good vaccine distribution plan and broad acceptance and willingness to be vaccinated, we can probably be in a much better place by mid 2021. We have to be realistic about the timeline, of course. It will probably take 5 or 6 months to get from where we are now to the point where we have achieved herd immunity through vaccines and natural immunity from those who have been infected and have recovered. So what do we do now?


I’m not suggesting shutdowns and giving up on the economy as part of fighting the coronavirus. We need a healthy economy, and the best thing for the economy is public confidence. People are showing that they are unlikely to spend and to hire in the middle of so much uncertainty. There’s a good case to be made that the best thing for public confidence is managing the impacts of the coronavirus now and defeating it in 2021 when the vaccines are broadly available.


I’m certainly not a public health expert, but I try to take the advice of those who are. There are plenty of well-credentialed researchers and public servants who have been studying viruses and advising governments on public health for decades, and they are broadly in agreement. Among the most visible of these are Dr. Deborah Birx, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, and Dr. Robert Redfield. They have been studying the spread and their advice is evolving as we learn.


Over these last 9 months, the experts have learned a lot. We understand the spread better now, and what measures help. Given the state of things today, we probably don’t have to “shut down everything” but instead we can be more surgical by restricting certain activities and certain business types and we can do it in the regions that we can see are most at risk by watching the trends in positive tests and hospitalizations. We can continue to look closely at effective practices, and yes, temporary restrictions if need be, for bars and restaurants while we try hard to keep schools open.


What we hear from the public health experts is that there are some straightforward approaches to limiting spread. Let’s all wear masks when outside our homes, practice social distancing, avoid crowds and family gatherings. When we have to be together, outdoors is better than indoors. When we have to be indoors, opening windows and improving ventilation can help. 


Again, everyone I know wants people to be healthy and wants the economy to do well, and nobody wants pandemic death to devastate families and crush the economy. The American people have always stepped up when times were tough. Let’s do it again. Let’s be strong and do the things within our power to get us through. The coronavirus is the enemy. All of us are on the same team and it is within our power to keep each other safe and to get through this together.


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Monday, October 26, 2020

Halloween at Home

Since March, most of us have been at home a lot more than in the past. We are working from home, 'going to school' from home, even doing doctor's visits from home. We eat at home more often, not going to restaurants, and when we don't want to cook, we stay home and have food sent.

And now, we're looking at a Halloween at home. Some kids will have a much more limited Halloween trick or treating plan, visiting a few trusted houses as carefully as possible. Some may stay home and skip trick or treating entirely. Most young adults who might have gone out to a costume party for Halloween may instead stay home.

Okay, we're staying home more. But why would that mean we cannot have Halloween? Here's Dr. Deke's Halloween prescription...

  1. Get a costume
  2. Buy some candy
  3. Have Halloween at home

I have dressed up for Halloween many times as an adult. When my kids were young, my wife stayed at home to hand out candy. She wore a costume. I dressed up as Darth Vader or Captain Kirk, or a pirate and took the kids out trick or treating. At many of the houses, the adults handing out candy were in costumes. 

If we work from home, attend school from home, see our doctor from home, do our grocery shopping from home, let's just have our Halloween at home. Dress up, get on some video calls with your friends and neighbors and show off your costumes while eating some of that candy. You can (safely, carefully) drop off a bag of candy at your neighbors house. They can do the same at your house. We can have a fun, if slightly different Halloween. We just have to allow ourselves to do it.

Who's in?

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Saturday, September 12, 2020

Labor Day

2020 is an unusual year, but some things are familiar

Labor Day weekend in the US is about a week in the past as I write this. Labor Day isn’t really the end of summer, which officially comes a few weeks later, but it’s a clear turning point. Summer is ending soon and fall is starting to push in. Students are heading back to school (though in very unusual ways this year), and mornings and evenings are noticeably cooler.

At my beach house we can see the changes in the surrounding wildlife. Over Labor Day weekend I was in my yard doing some work on fishing tackle when I saw large birds swimming toward me down the waterway. In the summer, it would have been swans but now it was Canadian Geese. In fact, from that point on they seemed to be all around, including flying south in V formation overhead. 

Canadian Goose

I also started seeing Monarch Butterflies, a sure sign of fall. We see lots of migrating Monarchs at the beach and even over the water as the fall starts.

Monarch Butterfly

The fish are changing with the season, too. We can see this in the water where the species and size changes are noticeable, and in the tackle shop where the baits and rigs for fall fish start to show up. The pods of bunker are larger, and they will soon be chased by Striped Bass moving into the area. The bottom fishing is seeing more and bigger Black Sea Bass as the water gets a little colder and clearer.

Black Sea Bass

At the farm market, the size and mix of fruit and vegetables has started to change. There are fewer strawberries, but larger corn, and more apples. And when pumpkins show up it’s really clear that fall is coming.

The night sky is changing, too. We always see more stars at our beach house in the fall, as the humidity drops. We have been enjoying finding constellations and planets, assisted by smartphone apps, while sitting around the evening fire.

Over the Labor Day weekend I watched as neighbors put away some of their summer toys for the season, including wave runners and standup paddle boards, while leaving bigger fishing boats in for a few weeks longer. Some are even beginning to close up their summer houses but my plan will be to leave the “summer house” open all winter this year as a getaway. COVID-19 isn't done with us yet and the availability of a second home to stay locked away will provide a welcome change from time to time.

I'm always a little sad when Labor Day comes, but I'll look forward to a pleasant fall and I'll start counting the months until summer returns.

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Sunday, August 30, 2020

Ideas, Creativity and Prior Art

Where do inventions come from? What’s at the root of innovation and creativity? Does it involve lightning bolts and divine inspiration? Do fully formed ideas pop into the heads of creative people? 


Erector Set

Probably, sometimes. My own experience has been less dramatic, usually involving incremental improvements and new ideas for tomorrow inspired by the things that have been successfully built for today. Thinking about this subject, a story from more than 50 years ago popped into my head.


When I was about 6 years old, my parents got me an erector set. Many people today might not be familiar with these, but they were once very popular. The set was a box full of little metal parts machined with holes the right size for a set of included bolts. Combined with the wheels and pullies and the nuts and washers, the erector set made it possible to build objects like buildings, windmills, and even vehicles like cars and helicopters.


I remember building simple shapes at first and, as a kid living close to New York City, I built little “skyscrapers.” The wheels, though, are what had me interested. I soon figured out how to build a basic car using axles and wheels attached to some basic shapes. With a few tries, the shapes started to get sportier and I soon had something like a racing car that really rolled smoothly. This was great! 


When I found out that it was possible to add a battery powered motor to the erector set, I was thrilled. I convinced my parents to let me send away to the company and buy the motor. I used some birthday money and they wrote the check and addressed the envelope. Several weeks later (we didn’t have Amazon Prime in 1969), my motor arrived. It was a small yellow motor that could fit in the palm of my hand. It had a 9V battery connector and the battery would drive a rotational drive shaft that could, when controlled with a 3-position switch, spin forward or reverse or that could be set in neutral, not spinning.


In my first attempt, I secured the motor to a car I had already built, put it on the floor, and was disappointed when the car didn’t drive away. I had done nothing to transfer energy from motor to car. As my 6-year-old self pondered this, I looked at a picture in the materials that came with the set and saw a motor connected to a windmill and immediately understood the idea. I needed to use the motor to turn another piece of hardware that could drive a belt (a rubber band) that could attach to another piece of hardware attached to the wheel. This was the concept being used on the windmill and I could translate the idea to a car. This was exciting! Within minutes I had a motorized car moving across the floor, having learned how to solve my challenge by studying a similar example and learning from it.


Echoes of my experience came up often over the years. I watched as good programmers studied the code of others, and adapted ideas originally used to solve one problem in order to solve a different one. Good musicians talked about their influences, having listened to the way a favorite guitar player or singer chose to play through the music and then integrating some of those choices into their own style.


The biggest example of all may be in the science disciplines. Science values prior art so much that a big part of the way that peer-reviewed journal papers are assessed is by looking at the quality and quantity of relevant references, as these are a sign that the existing body of knowledge has been considered in communicating something new.


There is a difference between on the one hand inspiration from prior art, and referencing the strong works of others, and on the other hand theft and plagiarism. Knowing the difference is very important, but failing to leverage and respect what went before is like intentionally leaving much of your toolkit at home every day.


There’s no one answer to the questions I asked at the top, of course, but in my experience the concept of prior art looms large in a very broad range of creative pursuits.


How do you think about creativity, innovation, and associated concepts? How have you created in your own life? Please leave a comment and let us know.


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Saturday, July 25, 2020

Playing Music Together – Separately

The age of the COVID-19 pandemic has changed so much about how we live our lives. Every one of us can describe the impact on our employment, ability to see family and friends, to travel, and even to get groceries. Sadly, some of us have been sick or have been taking care of those who are, and some have lost loved ones. We are living through a time unlike any in living memory.

One smaller but important impact of the pandemic is the loss of live entertainment. Broadway has gone dark, major musical acts have canceled their tours, and little hometown rock and roll bands like mine, The Lava Rocks, have abruptly halted gigging in the local bars.

The Lava Rocks are a classic rock cover band who started gigging in 2019 and by early 2020 had started to play steadily once or twice a month. Our March 7th gig was our last for a while, though, and we’ve missed a number of planned dates since. We have shows on our calendar through the rest of 2020 but don’t hold high hopes of playing many or even any of them under the circumstances.

In order to remain connected with each other, and to continue to have a musical outlet, we have done what many musicians have done - we’ve turned to the web. We looked back at some rough video we had of recent shows in the local bars (The Mermaid Inn, The Grape Room, The Red Stallion) and picked out some that suited our purposes, which means the audio and video had to show a complete song, be focused reasonably on the stage, with the stage reasonably well lit, and with reasonable quality audio. It was surprising how much of the video these basic criteria eliminated! But with a few clips picked out, we produced some “web shows” in which we made a few introductory remarks on camera and showed these videos. They can be found on our web site at the CONCERTS link ( We hope you’ll go check them out if you haven’t already seen them.

After releasing web shows on April 18th and May 16th, which were great fun for us to put together, we found that we’d used up most of the audio/video material that meets the criteria above, so we decided we needed to begin to create new content. 

The obvious approach turns out to be completely unworkable. People everywhere are spending lots of time on video collaboration applications like Zoom, so it seems like playing music together, separately, should be doable by joining a Zoom session and just playing as though all are in the same physical room. As anyone who has tried to sing Happy Birthday in a crowd assembled on Zoom has quickly found out, this doesn’t work well at all! The reason is that small variations in delay from each participating camera to the Zoom servers and then back to the other participants (an effect known as “jitter” to network engineers) makes it impossible to properly synchronize.

The Lava Rocks spent some time considering a few popular apps for recording piecemeal, one at a time, and handing off to the next person. None were quite what we wanted, and some made it hard for us to maintain complete control over the content. In the end we decided that a very simple approach might work best for us, using home recording computer applications such as Garage Band and Pro Tools. 

We begin by deciding on the tempo of the piece we want to record. Sometimes we lock this tempo in to match the original album recording of the song, sometimes we intentionally choose something a little slower or faster for our purposes. We then create a “click track” in the recording application, which is a simple click or drum beat at the tempo we selected. We export that simple track as a very basic quality audio file (usually an MP3) and distribute to all band members. The band members then listen to that click track on headphones while recording their part(s) on their computer or even their smartphone, trying to get the best quality audio they can with the least noise. They capture that as a sound file and send that sound file back to the band member engineering the song, who drops it into Pro Tools or Garage Band and aligns them. The tempo will already match because of the click track. The click track is then thrown away and the levels are adjusted for each track. A rough mix of the music is done and exported as a sound file, allowing the vocalist(s) to record their parts while listening to the audio in headphones. Now with the vocals, a re-mix of all tracks is done along with the addition of a little reverb to get a final product. This whole process takes about 2 weeks and about 3 hours of time on the part of the band member engineering the final product.

Once we have a complete and final song recording, we can release the audio. We know that for the web, though, a video is also desirable. With that in mind, we are recording video clips of us recording the audio at home and using the combined audio and video to create something like a music video.

This whole process takes a lot of work, and we are learning as we go. We hope to share some of our work product with all of you in the coming weeks. We hope you’ll give our songs and video a look and listen, and invite you to let us know what you think of the results. In the end, though, we’ve already achieved something really important to us – we’ve stayed connected as a band and continued to play music together, separately.

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Monday, June 29, 2020

Last One In is a Rotten Egg?

Launching Late

For the past several years, I’ve posted here about getting my boat into the water as early as possible in the year – sometimes as early as the end of April. My goal is to have the longest season possible with my boat and to fish for as many different species as I can, recognizing that some local fish species prefer the colder water of the early season and others stick around as the water temperatures rise. 

I generally start planning in February, looking through my records of what repairs might need to be done and what standard maintenance we “passed” on last year and so will certainly want to do this year. I contact my boat mechanic (who is also a friend of more than 40 years) and talk it through and I look at the calendar and pick a time frame to target. Meanwhile, I get the summer house opened up in March and April and make sure outside water is turned on and that my dock area is set and ready for the boats. If all works out, I get to launch my boat early in the season as planned. And that’s usually how this all goes.

I don’t need to explain to anyone reading this that 2020 has not been usual.

I started the process as described above in February, but when the time came to get parts for my boat in March, marinas and marine supply stores were all closed. My boat sat on stands in the driveway waiting for things to open up. When they did, parts that I needed were in short supply which added to delays.

As Memorial day approached, a full month later than I like to launch, neither of my boats were ready to go. I talked to my friend and mechanic and asked him whether we could prioritize the smaller boat my sons use, a really great 19’ Boston Whaler. We agreed that this would be a lot easier to prep and launch and so over Memorial Day weekend my family and I got to enjoy boating on the smaller boat.

Almost a full month later, just a few days ago, my boat, a 26’ EdgeWater center console sport fishing boat was finally ready. On the day before I launched, I looked up and down the lagoon where I keep my boat. Mine is usually one of the first 5 boats to be launched for the season. A few times, I was actually first. This year, I seemed to be last.

Once the boat was launched, all frustration was gone. The boat is and always has been a great pleasure for me. It’s set up the way I want in almost every regard. It handles beautifully and is comfortable at any speed. I caught several fish in these first few days and took a great friend of mine for a long ride through the waterways to the west of my house. I guess I'm off to a good (if late) start.

Kids sometimes say “last one in is a rotten egg” and it looks like my boat was last this year in my neighborhood, but it’s no rotten egg. Whether first or last, my boat Freedom is a joy and a pleasure that I will never take for granted. Maybe another common phrase is apt here: "Better late than never." 

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Saturday, May 30, 2020

A Slow (but good) Start to the Boating Season

the pandemic affects everything

As my friends know, I’m an avid boater and fisherman. Here in the northeastern US, and certainly in the neighborhood where I keep my boats, Memorial Day is when people launch and get started on their late-spring and early summer on-the-water activities.

My family and I use our boats (a 26’ Edgewater and a 19’ Boston Whaler, both center console open boats) for fishing, clamming, tubing, visiting waterfront restaurants at marinas, and taking day trips to other towns within a few hours ride. We are lucky to have a waterfront house and can keep our boats in the backyard waterway alongside our neighbors’ boats.

At the height of the season, there are about 32 boats docked in our waterway. Often, my larger boat, Freedom, is one of the first boats in for the season. Not this year, though. The COVID-19 pandemic kept the marinas and even the boat ramps closed for much of the spring. Once things began to open up a bit, just before Memorial Day, the boats that needed only minor prep for the spring could launch after a basic spring fitting (cleaning, bottom paint, checking safety gear, etc.). Any boats like mine that needed some parts and repairs, though, had to wait. 

My immediate family had been “sheltering at home” separately since April, with my two older sons at their own places separate from my wife, younger son, and me. Memorial Day would be our first chance to be together and to enjoy our boats. I spoke to my life-long friend and boat mechanic, Bill, and we decided together that the best move for the start of season would be to prep and launch our smaller boat, which normally plays second fiddle to my larger boat and gets launched later in June. My larger boat would have been more comfortable for our merry little band, but the change in plans was an easy decision to make under the circumstances.

Freedom, our 26 footer, not yet launched

Our 19 foot Whaler on the water
The weather last weekend in our area ended up being a bit cold and foggy, with a few overnight showers, but we got plenty of boating in when we could. We fished several times and caught an early season striped bass and an early season fluke - both on the short side so we carefully unhooked them, got a quick photo and released them to fight another day. We also went clamming twice and got plenty of clams and mussels to feed us all well for several meals - which was great since all our favorite restaurants were still closed.

young striped bass, released after this photo

young fluke, ready to be released

We also used the boat to cross the bay and dock at the ocean beach. It was a chilly and overcast day, and there were no lifeguards on duty. None of us swam, but we had a great time playing catch and bocce and we got some sun(burn) and drank some beer, all in good company and in a beautiful setting.

This was certainly a different Memorial Day. I missed my big boat, but I know I’ll have her in the water fairly soon. We caught up with our neighbors by shouting across the street or across the waterway instead of sitting together in each other’s backyards or talking up close near our boats. Still, no complaints at all here. My family was together and healthy, and we enjoyed our time on and around the water. 

All in all, another great Memorial Day and a summer to look forward to.

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Thursday, April 30, 2020

Living alongside the Coronavirus

smaller and simpler life

As I write this blog post, more than a million US citizens have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease that can result from exposure to the Coronavirus. More testing is likely to reveal that a much higher number are now or have been infected. Tragically, there are now 60,000 who have lost their lives as a result and families everywhere are mourning. The majority of us at this point are staying home and hoping to help “flatten the curve,” to help the health care system to manage and hopefully to buy time for the development of therapies. Most people haven’t been exposed as far as we know, but we really can’t say. The vast majority of us haven’t been tested. In an effort to limit the spread most of us have been living a much smaller and simpler life, quarantined in our homes or at least minimizing our time out. The rest of this post are some of my observations in living this smaller and simpler life these past 7 weeks.

I must admit right from the start that I’m exceptionally lucky. I haven’t gotten sick. I live in a comfortable house with two family members who are great company. The house is large enough that we can be together when we want to be, and we can each have space to ourselves when we prefer it. My wife and I are both still working full time, and the prospects are good for that to continue for the foreseeable future so we have a comfortable income to go with the comfortable house. We know that there are so many others who aren’t so lucky.

Managing the Household

Having more time in the house means more time to deal with the house. Things have been put away and gone through and straightened up. I’m not a very handy person but by now my wife and I have addressed most of the small problems around the house including things we’d been living with for months. Every burned-out lightbulb has been replaced, some broken fixtures in the bathroom have been fixed or replaced, etc.  A few things are waiting for more expert repairmen when that’s possible. 

We’ve done more than our usual share of yard work, too. With the yard in nice shape, we sit outside when the weather allows and enjoy seeing a variety of birds, including not just robins and wrens but also bluejays, cardinals, and a woodpecker. There’s even what looks like a red-tailed hawk that we see from time to time.

Being home all the time means cooking and eating meals together a lot, which is great. It does make for more cleanup than we had been having to do in the past and the garbage and recycling has to be taken out way more often. We’re also running the dishwasher every day (sometimes more than once) which is a real change from the way things were before the lockdown.

The Fridge

Continuing a thought from above, we’ve ended up treating food differently. We try to do takeout only about once a week so three people are eating a lot of home made meals each week and just a few from takeout. One take-out order gets us a dinner plus a few meals from leftovers. Some of these “home made” meals are PBJs or a yogurt, but many of them are a little more involved. I like to cook, and so do my fellow “quarantiners.”

Food shopping is very different. I used to do one very big shopping a month and then 2 or 3 times a week I’d stop at the store for fresh fruit, veggies, dairy, etc., and while there I could pick up anything we were out of. Now things are different. I tried online ordering and it didn’t really work out, so trips to the supermarket are necessary. I try to shop once every 10 days and try hard to get EVERYTHING all at once. Being out among the potentially-contagious is not something we want to do too often. Making the shopping list now takes a lot more thought. When I get home, packing everything into the fridge is a game of 3D Tetris. Then, over the next 9 or so days, we eat our way through the food until a mostly empty fridge tells us it’s time to shop again. Because some things go bad more quickly than others, we also have to be more thoughtful about meal planning. In the past, I could buy fresh fruit and veggies as often as I needed to. Now we buy what we can fit, eat it while it’s fresh, and resort to frozen veggies later in that 10-day cycle.

We are also better than we were in the past about eating leftovers as lunches rather than throwing them away and wasting them. Sometimes, like when I grill, we intentionally make a little too much and plan a leftover meal for the following day.

Health and Appearance

Earlier this year I had been going to the gym 4 mornings a week and had dropped a few pounds while building some muscle. These days, I find that I’m not only getting less exercise, but I’m also eating more. I’m stuck in the house and the food is always just a few steps away. And frankly, I think my own uneasiness about the state of the world is stressing me out and I’m eating (and drinking) more as a reaction. Not such a great coping mechanism, but it’s a reality for me. I’m clearly going to need to fight this tendency or I’ll be shopping for a new wardrobe in larger sizes.

Like everyone else, my hair is getting longer (and grayer) and I’m not sure it’s a very good look. But I’ll ride it out for now. My wife gave herself a haircut a few days ago. My bet was that that wasn’t going to go very well but thankfully I was wrong. It looks great and she loves it. Still, I’m not letting her cut my hair!

The Roads

Yet another way in which we are lucky is that we are mobile if we need to be. We have three people at home and three cars all in good working order, and we rarely go out. My car hasn’t been out of the driveway for weeks since both of the other cars are SUVs which are much more suited to big grocery store trips. 

When we are out on the roads, it’s strange how there’s so little traffic even at times of day that are usually busy. In fact, when we take our daily walk around the neighborhood (my primary exercise these days) wearing face masks when we pass other walkers, we often walk in the road because the sidewalks are busier than the roads in my neighborhood. On the subject of neighborhood walks, we’ve begun to notice that we are seeing some of the same neighbors almost daily. Seems they’ve made daily walks a part of their schedule too. I can’t help wondering whether we’d regularly see a different set of people if we walked an hour earlier or an hour later.

Life with Zoom

Zoom has become a general adjective. “Let’s have a Zoom meeting.” Or a Zoom dinner. Or Zoom cocktail hour. Or anything else we used to do in person. Sometimes it’s actually a WebEx or FaceTime or something else, but in my circles it’s more often Zoom and even when it’s not we might slip and say Zoom. My youngest son was part of a college commencement ceremony a few days ago over Zoom and it went really well. While in some ways it was sad to miss out on the in-person experience, in other ways it was wonderful. I had a great comfortable seat, could grab a snack or beverage when I wanted, could easily have a rest room break, and could make jokes out loud without seeming too rude to the strangers seated next to us, since there weren’t any. My wife has had Zoom happy hours with coworkers, and she and I had a really fun Zoom dinner club night with three other couples with whom we’d usually go to a restaurant. Video chat has been a surprisingly comforting way to stay connected when we’re all locked up at home.

My band, The Lava Rocks

I’ve been playing in a classic rock cover band for a little over a year. The Lava Rocks were just finding our groove, playing local bars and clubs once or twice a month. Now our upcoming dates are canceled for the forseeable future which is sad. On a happier note, we still connect via Zoom twice a week to talk about active projects like web concerts and to plan songs to add to our music catalog. By doing this, the members of the band hope to stay connected and to pick up where we left off when that becomes possible.

Having a Sense of Humor

I’ve seen on social media that others have shared some funny parts of being locked up at home. I think we all have examples in our lives. Here’s mine: My wife and I both work as consultants, mostly from home. We can work on our computers, and often on WebEx and Zoom. Our morning ritual has long been to have coffee together while we watch the morning news and then to move on to work. Now we are just going to different parts of the house to work. Every day, without fail, as one of us heads off to take the first Zoom or WebEx call of the day my wife says “Bye, have a nice day at work.” As if I won’t be seeing her in the kitchen or the hallway about five times throughout the day!

Closing thoughts

As one of the many people lucky enough to have not gotten sick yet, I can see that we’re all adjusting in some pretty noticeable ways. Does this phase of the new normal give way to a new phase of the new normal in June or July as we (hopefully) enter a stage where the number of new COVID-19 cases continues to drop and more effective therapies make the risk of going out into the public more reasonable? Hard to say. And if June is hard to see from here, it’s impossible to see out to September or October with any clarity from the here and now.

As a final thought, I’ve noted above how lucky I feel during this crisis to be healthy, to have a safe and comfortable place to live, to have an income and food for my family. Not everyone is so lucky. I feel strongly that as someone with this kind of luck that it’s only right for me to help those less fortunate. There are countless good causes that need our help. If you are in a position to help, as I am, I encourage you to give generously and often. Support our medical professionals and first responders. Keep food pantries full. Help in ways that you can. There are so many who need it.

Thanks for reading! A blog works best with active participation. If you enjoy this blog, leave a comment, and share it on your favorite social network. More readers will drive more discussion.

[RapidGroove blog posts are my own and are in no way 
intended to represent the views of my employer]

Saturday, March 28, 2020

The COVID-19 “Upshift”

A graphical way to think about coming changes

As I write this in late March of 2020, we are living through a global pandemic. It’s difficult to see our way past the terrible daily news of rapidly mounting cases of COVID-19 and loss of life. Here in the northeastern US, we are on a lockdown in our homes. Schools are closed, and only essential businesses are operating. More than 3 million new unemployment claims were filed in the last week. The loss of life and the impact on people trying to manage huge economic disruption is tragic, and all of this seems likely to get worse before it starts to get better. In the United States, a $2-Trillion aid and stimulus package, much larger than we’ve ever seen, was just written and agreed to rapidly in a bipartisan way by congress and signed by the president. In so many ways, these are extraordinary times.

All of this considered, though, I’m optimistic for the long term. I believe that we are in this for the long haul, but I think we will come through and when we do I think there will be some things about the way we live our lives that will change. Some things will become more common, and some things less. As I think about the changes that may come, there’s a graph shape that keeps popping into my head that I think of as the “upshift.”
Upshift Curve - D.Kassabian March 2020 -

The Upshift Curve charts a behavior or activity (the y-axis) over time (the x-axis). It’s not intended to be an actual graph of hard data, but rather a rough trend shape that real data could eventually be compared with. The shape describes a steady state, an inflection point causing a rise, another inflection point as the initial change conditions are relaxed, and then a new steady state prevailing that is different (in this case, higher) than the earlier steady state.

Let’s talk through an example.

When people were sent home from work and from school earlier this month, there was a sudden and massive growth in remote work and in online teaching and learning. Neither of these things are new, but we went from some lower steady state level to a temporary level involving the majority of workers and students. Eventually, when we get past the worst of the pandemic, students will go back to college campuses and district schools and workers will go back to the office, but I believe that attitudes about remote work and online education will be changed, possibly drastically and possibly for the long term.

Let’s talk about working from home, a practice that is possible for some jobs (such as office desk workers) and not for others (first responders, for example). Many companies allowed for the remote work concept in limited ways while some companies and some staff supervisors were not comfortable with the idea. Thrust into remote work at scale as a necessity, though, I think many companies will find that it can work, that their workers appreciate the flexibility and lack of onerous commute and are able to be productive. Additionally, over time the practice could be cost effective for many businesses through reduction of office costs. While remote work is clearly not suitable for every job, and while some people may prefer full time in-office work surrounded by co-workers, this recent emergency is demonstrating that remote work is viable for many businesses and has some benefits. With that considered, I think the practice of work from home will level off post-pandemic at a level that’s higher (and possibly much higher) than before the pandemic struck. So let’s look at the upshift curve again.
Upshift Curve - D.Kassabian March 2020 -

As we think about this idea, the upshift could well apply for a great many things. How many of the following things that were already done at low levels before the pandemic might level off at substantially higher levels after? Consider the following list:

  1. Remote-work and work from home (described above)
  2. Online schooling, both K-12 and Higher Education
  3. Telemedicine/Telehealth (rather than visiting doctors and hospitals)
  4. Online ordering of most household groceries
  5. Online commerce (already big, but perhaps now growing faster)
  6. Use of online apps and payment systems for goods and services
For each of the above, what is your own sense of the likelihood that they will be in more common use post-pandemic than before? What would you add to that list?

I think of most of the above as primary or first order effects, and that for many of them there are cascading second order effects. For example, if more people work from home then the upshift curve might also describe the frequency with which we see our neighbors or the amount of weekday business that local neighborhood shops and restaurants get. 

These secondary effects suggest that there might be another kind of secondary effect, a kind of inverse or Downshift. The downshift curve is just the Upshift flipped on its head. These are things that I think experience the same kind of change but from a higher steady state pre-pandemic to a lower steady state post-pandemic. One obvious example might be handshaking and hugging in business and social settings, which probably won’t disappear but may well become less common.  I would bet that contact among family and very close friends will not experience this same Downshift (I certainly hope not), but in settings where it was a mere social pleasantry before it may become less common.

The Downshift curve looks like this:
Downshift Curve - D.Kassabian March 2020 -

As with the upshift, there’s a drastic change at an inflection point and then eventually a return to something closer to normal, but now at a lower steady state. Here are some possibilities I’ve thought of.

  1. Handshaking at work
  2. Full-day 5-days-a-week, in-office work
  3. Rush hour traffic, subway ridership, and urban congestion
  4. Walk-in traffic to food establishments and retail shops near large offices

Even if only some of these changes take hold, what do you think the impact will be on personal interactions? How will these things play through in the economy?

The Upshift and Downshift Curves have been a useful way for me to frame my thinking about what might change in our world in the coming months and years and how. What do you think? Is this a useful framing, and why or why not? Where would you apply an idea like the Upshift Curve to things that you think will change?

Please leave a comment and share your thinking with all of us.

Thanks for reading! A blog works best with active participation. If you enjoy this blog, leave a comment, and share it on your favorite social network. More readers will drive more discussion.

[RapidGroove blog posts are my own and are in no way 
intended to represent the views of my employer]