Coronavirus UPDATE!

Well, not a news update; I’m only scanning the headlines of the stories of the virus as I don’t think I’ll get much information from the Internet about it now. I don’t even trust actual “authorities.” I have to assume I’ll get it at some point and will likely recover.

However, I did visit Sam’s Club this morning and laid in a couple extra boxes of frozen meals and whatnot for us if we’re under quarantine of some sort. I mean, I have beans and soup to last a little while, but about a week into it, I am sure my family will be very sick of beans and soup. So we’ve got frozen pizzas and chicken nuggets to supplement the pasta and jarred sauce.

I mentioned on Facebook:

Media coverage of the current coronavirus won’t hit its stride until it breathlessly reports people in quarantine eating each other.

I’ve seen a lot of people comparing media coverage of the current infection to the Swine Flu of 2009-2010 (see Lileks today) and making the point that the difference in political parties in power and presidents explain the difference in coverage, and this is probably true. However, consider that today’s journalist was in middle school and doesn’t really remember 2009-2010 except in terms of middle school concerns about what brands they’re wearing and whether Abby likes you.

So keep calm and carry on.

UPDATE:I guess I should have checked the New York Post first. I see we’re getting closer. People fighting over ‘rotten’ food on coronavirus-stricken Grand Princess cruise: passenger.

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Juuuuust A Little Outside The Best By Date

Look at this antique pasta I scored at the grocery store. It was in the very back of the product slot.

May 1822, brothers. I’m going to list in on eBay and see what I get.

Brian J., were you taking the last bundle of pasta because you’re stocking up for the coronavirus pandemic?

Ssssssh, gentle reader. Hopefully I am stocking up to donate these foodstuffs to the local food pantry in a couple of years.

Also, my locally owned grocery chain, feeling pressured from the new Walmart Neighborhood Markets and Hy-Vee, runs a little thin on the inventory at all times, so the stock on their stocked shelves doesn’t reach very deeply at the best of times and can look a little like panic buying has occurred on the day before the new load comes in. On Thursday, for example, they had vast empty space on the bread shelves where sandwich buns go, so it looked like there had been a run on them. But hotdog buns and sliced bread were solidly stocked. So maybe the weather last weekend lent itself to more grilled burgers than the ordering algorithms had anticipated.

So one doesn’t have to stock much up to clear them out of a product. I do it routinely in buying my beautiful wife’s favorite chocolate, which I ensure we have a good backlog of in case of emergency.

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Awaiting the Friar Verdict

Spenser Confidential review – Mark Wahlberg crash lands on Netflix:

caper called Spenser Confidential, is the kind of film that evaporates as it’s being watched, destined never to be thought of again. It’s regrettable given those involved, from director Peter Berg, who has worked with Wahlberg four times before, including on 2016’s criminally underseen Deepwater Horizon, to writer Brian Helgeland, who won an Oscar for his LA Confidential script before getting nominated for Mystic River. It’s also a story based around a much-loved private eye created by Robert B Parker, one who provided inspiration to crime authors such as Dennis Lehane and Harlan Coben. But it would take a master sleuth to detect any of that pedigree in the finished product.

Robert Urich is still my Spenser. I’ve seen the Joe Mantegna television movies and don’t remember hating them, but, as I mentioned, the Spenser: For Hire television series turned me onto the Spenser books in the first place.

Which means the progression for this IP was television series > books. And I liked both as their own things.

I don’t have Netflix, so I’ll have to wait for Friar to weigh in on it. It sounds like they’ve made some, erm, changes. But they’ve got a native Boston speaker to do it.

UPDATE: The wait is over.

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Spotting the Movie Mistake

GREAT SCOTT! Back To The Future stars Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd have heartwarming reunion for ‘poker night’:

BACK to the Future stars Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd first captured imaginations on screen in Back To The Future in 1985.

And the much-loved stars – who played Marty McFly and Doc Brown respectively – were reunited 35 years later on Wednesday.

Fox, 58, and 81-year-old Lloyd posed for a picture at the annual charity poker tournament organised by Fox.

Can someone tell me what might be misleading about this photo and caption?

Continue reading “Spotting the Movie Mistake”

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The Scientific Name for Brian J.’s Investment Strategery

The harbinger effect:

The study of harbingers emerged from a 2015 analysis of purchasing patterns at a national convenience store chain. (In exchange for the data, the researchers agreed not to reveal the identity of the chain.) Drawing on six years’ worth of data from the chain’s loyalty card program, a team of marketing professors led by Eric Anderson of Northwestern University classified customers according to their affinity for buying new products that were later pulled from the shelves because of weak demand. Of the roughly 130,000 customers whose purchases were logged, a sizable fraction (about 25 percent) consistently took home products that bombed.

“It was really an accident,” says the economist Catherine Tucker of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the study’s authors. “We looked in the data and saw there were some customers who were really good at picking out failures” — so good, in fact, that a newly introduced product was less likely to survive if it attracted these buyers. (And if they bought it repeatedly, its chances of survival were even worse.) Professor Tucker called these people harbingers of failure because, statistically speaking, their fondness for a product heralded its demise.

The harbinger effect has since been shown to apply not just to individuals but also to geographic locales.

Also to investment portfolios.

(Link via Instapundit.)

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Investment Tips from Brian J.

When I give you an investment tip, gentle reader, I’d recommend you short it.

As I mentioned, I bought Limited Brands (L) when it brought Victoria’s Secret (Intimate Brands, Incorporated / IBI) back in house (and I had bought IBI because it produced a product I like).

So when I learned that a new lingerie shop was opening in town:

The Battlefield Mall announced a new lifestyle apparel retailer is coming soon.

Aerie, owned by lifestyle clothing and accessories label American Eagle Outfitters, offers teens and young adult shoppers alike a wide variety of undergarments, active apparel, loungewear, swimsuits, accessories, sleepwear and more. Most recently, the brand has been applauded for promoting body positivity and female empowerment through its campaign #AerieREAL.

I bought a stake in AEO immediately.

And I’ve lost 10% on it already.

I am such a child of the 1980s that I keep pouring small amounts of money into traditional brick-and-mortar mall stores, but it’s not worked out well for us. For much of the last decade, I expected retail sales to take off when the economy rebounded. However, it has not been so good to most of my holdings.

I’ll have to take matters into my own hands and go to the shop to buys lots of product for my beautiful wife.

Although my efforts to bolster JC Penney’s by actually shopping there has not worked out so well. But, hey, I have bought some good shoes there.

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Today In Barsoom News

NASA photo reveals mysterious hole in Mars ‘that may contain alien life’:

Alien life may be lurking within a mysterious caver under the surface of Mars, scientists claim.

An eerie crater on the dusty slopes of Mars’ Pavonis Mons volcano was picked out by two space scientists as a prime spot for extraterrestrials.

* * * *

“Analysis and follow-up images revealed the opening to be about 35 meters across,” NASA scientists Robert Nemiroff and Jerry Bonnell wrote in the post.

“The interior shadow angle indicates that the underlying cavern is roughly 20 meters deep.”

Given the size of the ‘cavern,’ I expect that they’re expecting more microbes than Dejah Thoris.

Until they see the door.

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Book Report: Nietzsche by Hendrik van Riessen / Translated by Dirk Jellema (1973)

Book coverIf you read only one 1973 European Presbyterian summary survey / critique of the work of Friedrich Nietzsche this year, well, it’s probably this one.

Actually, I don’t know if van Riessen is actually Presbyterian (the publishing house is Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing), but he is a European Calvinist of some stripe, so as you can imagine, socialism is praised. As long as it’s democratic.

At any rate, this book explores a little of Nietzsche’s biography and then runs through his written work. van Riessen identifies an evolution in Nietzsche’s thought as he goes through rationalism, positivism, and pragmatism on his way to what he (Nietzsche) hopes is active nihilism.

From time to time, the book contrasts Nietzsche with Christian thought, but the Christian lines of thought are just presented briefly without much detail, so this guidebook probably works best if you’re already steeped in Reform theology. The author also presents Nietzsche as struggling with Christ and his message personally in a way that I’m not sure I would infer, but I have not read all that much of Nietzsche primary sources much less in the original German. So I’ll have to accept this with a raised eyebrow.

So it’s a pretty good summation of Nietzsche from the perspective of a mid-twentieth century academic philosopher and theologian. More approachable than primary source Tillich or whatnot, but, again, it’s an explanation and not the primary source.

I don’t have any other titles from this An International Library of Philosophy and Theology Modern Thinkers line, and they’re not necessarily something I’ll seek out as this volume is a pamphletesque paperback whose spine from time to time made sounds like it was going to turn into a pile of leaflets.

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Filling In The Blanks

Every time I’ve come around the corner from my office to the den this week, I’ve seen a cat lying on the sofa.

And then I am instantly weirded out because it’s not one of our cats. And then, milliseconds later, I remember what it is.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go right now and put that game controller away.

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How Faddish

The world’s first VR gym is opening in San Francisco. We tried it.

Lewis set me up with an account on the Black Box app, which tracks fitness stats like rep intensity and weight, then velcroed two hands-free controllers onto my forearms. The comfortable headset didn’t weigh down my neck or shoulders, but put some pressure on my cheeks and forehead. It connects to a cable from the ceiling, ostensibly to prevent exercisers from dropping and breaking the device — or stealing it.

With the headset on, I was transported to a virtual waiting room and then catapulted into the first of 10 virtual “battle arenas.” I started in the base-level arena, which looked like a warmer version of Planet Krypton.

The high-quality graphics made the environment appear as real as an animated game could hope to look, while the detail and vastness of my virtual surroundings helped distract from some of the discomfort of the headset — and the awareness of being alone in a room with a stranger, squatting and punching with no vision of my real-world surroundings.

The game dropped me onto a field with two pink crystals, placed on opposite ends, the goal being to destroy the opponent’s crystal before he destroys mine. Here’s where the exercise comes in. To fire off an attack or defense, I had to complete a series of traditional exercises. There are six to choose from — chest press, overhead press, row, lat pulldown, squat and deadlift — with each corresponding to a different weapon. A chest press, for example, shoots off a fire beam; a shoulder press emits a meteor strike. The more reps I completed, the more damage I inflicted on the enemy.

It sounds expensive and repetitive. I don’t expect this to be a viable gym model. I expect most gym models are predicated on selling memberships that go unused for a while before cancellation and on catering to a crowd who knows a good workout, and tarting the experience up with high-cost electronics and high-overhead processes will outstrip the money spent on the novelty of it, and the cost of a membership would be noticeable if you’re not using it even in San Francisco.

I don’t like the gym so much that I bought the company. And I would totally buy a Prop Cycle game for my home gym. So maybe VR gyms are the wave of the future, and I’m a Luddite.

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Book Report: The Postman by David Brin (1985, 1997)

Book coverHey, who’s in the mood for a post-apocalyptic book? And the apocalypse I’m talking about is not the middle 1990s collapse in Kevin Costner’s career after the twin post-apocalyptic Waterworld and The Postman (which I rented and watched on the same night in the 1990s, gentle reader).

Twenty years (roughly) after a series of calamities (EMPs, bio-warfare, nuclear winter, and insurrection by augmented former soldiers and survivalists), a traveling troubador performs remembered bits from pre-collapse plays, television shows, and commercials in scattered communities for food and shelter as he wanders westward from Montana seeking some semblance of civilization. After he’s robbed of his supplies, he tries to track the thieving band of survivalists but instead stumbles upon a mail truck with a decades-dead postal carrier inside.

Donning the uniform and coat, Gordon reaches a settlement, and they think he’s actually a postal worker, so he invents a story about the Restored United States of America based in St. Paul that is sending out emissaries to set up post offices. He uses this con to survive and delivers actual letters written by townspeople to other towns, eventually actually setting up a post office system. He settles in a prosperous community held together by the myth of an all-knowing supercomputer and tries to get them to train up before the augmented former soldiers march on their homeland and impose a brutal fuedalism on it.

The plot differs from the film quite a bit, as they couldn’t fit whole elements, subplots, and side quests from the book into a single two or three hour film. Although I don’t remember the film that well–I might have actually seen it in the last 20 years–I didn’t dislike it as much as the Clinton-era critics did.

The book was a pleasant enough read for the most part, but wandered a bit and then jumped into an ending that seemed a little rushed. But, overall, pretty good. Not as wide-open in possibilities as a pure mid-century science fiction novel like Project Pope, but that is to be expected.

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“Will I die of coronavirus?” the boy asked.

“It’s highly unlikely,” I responded. “Good night.” And I put out his light.

He might have been looking for certainty, an assurance from his father that everything was going to be all right. Perhaps some parents do that for their children, apply absolute answers where statistics indicate a small chance exists, but I’ve never been that parent, and he’s gotten similar answers whenever he’s asked about bad men breaking in, fires, or the various other real world concerns he’s expressed in his thirteen years.

When he was afraid of monsters, though, he got a certain answer: Monsters can’t get you because our cats eat monsters.

I wish I could have offered him more certainty than that, but he’s becoming an adult now, and he needs to learn risk assessment and how adults deal with something unknown, scary, and possible but unlikely.

A pandemic threat hits me right in the primal fear. Personally, I think it’s from reading The Andromeda Strain when I was young and getting the willies from it and later reading The Stand and being part of the nineties zeitgeist that had a bunch of films about pandemics (Outbreak, 12 Monkeys, Virus, and the miniseries version of The Stand). I’m not sure I’ve actually seen any of those films, but when I was twenty-something, diseases were breaking out all over.

So I have a tickle of fear when I start hearing about epidemics of deadly infectious diseases. We were scheduled to go to Disney World around time of the hyped 2014 Ebola outbreak, and I considered cancelling our plans because, hey, where are a lot of travelers who might be carrying an airborne version of Ebola going? Florida.

I did not cancel, of course, and I’ve gotten a little less jumpy (internally jumpy, gentle reader; I do so try for the stoic ideal in demonstration anyway). I have considered this month When is it too early to keep the children from going to school and to cancel our vacation plans?

The answer, of course, is now. Although if it ever gets to be too late, I will wish I had acted on my paranoia sooner. It’s a rough life, being paranoid and lazy.

But I do think that this “outbreak” is overhyped, that the novel nature of it make it more newsworthy than the flu but it doesn’t look now like it’s anything worse. Perhaps it is; perhaps I am just scanning the headlines with unwarranted skepticism and reserve.

So my message to my children about how an adult handles, erm, concerns about things outside of his control such as COVID-19:

  • You don’t know the number of your days, so live each one as best as you can and always say “I love you” to the people you love.
  • If you’re concerned about future events, lay up some supplies that you can later donate if and when you’re feeling comfortable. Of course, it’s always a good idea to lay up some supplies even when you’re not concerned.
  • Laugh at what you fear.

    Of course, this will come off as insensitive to people who are losing loved ones to the disease. As you know, I have some family members who are of an age to be at real risk for dying from coronavirus (or the seasonal flu). But I am the kind of unfeeling person who makes inappropriate jokes when his own mother lies in the ICU and the kind of guy who laughs at a funeral. So I can separate my laughter from my mourning. And, apparently, my fear of infectious disease.

So that’s the behavior I model for my children, anyway. I hope it comforts them in its consistency.

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Book Report: Trash to Treasure 1 (1996)

Book coverYou know, I read three volumes in this series (2, 6, and 8) about ten years ago when I was all hopped up on watching Creative Juice. Even then, I was not really impressed with them.

I mean, basically, you’re “recycling” some household by-product like coffee cans, plastic restaurant clamshell containers, spools/toilet paper cylinders, and so on into crafts by taking this piece of trash and bundling it with about $30 worth of supplies from a craft store to make something cheap and country-crafts looking. Kind of like things our great-grandparents had and we remember fondly. Although they made these kinds of crafts, minus the craft store expenditure, because it was the Depression and/or because they lived on a farm and had to make use of every little thing, for Pete’s sake.

I’d be embarrassed to give most of these projects as gifts or to put them around my house. Although perhaps I’ll change my opinion and will find these books as valuable resources after the apocalypse.

The best part about them is some of the furniture projects and in using the volume as a Look Book, but the step-by-step project text is a little compressed. So this is supposed to be mostly a photo book.

Which means I used it correctly.

At any rate, I don’t think I’ll bother with others in the series–I am pretty sure I checked the others out from the library, but this particular book was on my to-read shelves (purchased in 2017). I am pleased to see I only bought one.

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