Observations 4-1-20

  • Casey’s and my pact not to April Fools’ each other.

Observations 4-2-20

  • The construction crew sawing open the sidewalk concrete at 7AM.

Observations 4-3-20

  • Sammy’s genius culinary invention: “pizza horse,” ground horseradish on pizza.

Observations 4-4-20

  • How some particular event might be unprecedented, but that doesn’t mean unprecedented events are unprecedented. Trying to remember that while we cope with a bunch of unprecedented things.

Observations 4-5-20

  • The shocking scope of indigenous South American history, as described in Douglas Preston’s The Lost City of the Monkey God. Like: the Talgua Caves, where burials took place over the course of 1,000 years.
  • “Ain’t Got Me” by Paul Westerberg (via Sammy).
  • “I Just Want to Feel You” by R. Stevie Moore (via Sammy).

Observations 4-6-20

  • The viral video of two tiny Italian kids singing — maybe the most badass band of all time.

Observations 4-7-20

  • Singing John Prine songs, mourning him with strangers on our family’s livestream show.
  • The return of summer smells.

Observations 4-8-20

  • How N95 masks and similar are (primarily) for protecting oneself, while surgical and cloth masks are (primarily) for protecting others — and what that means for “mask ethics.” (Surgical/cloth masks protect you, too, in that you help institute a social norm of mask-wearing when you wear them.)
    • Maciej Cegłowski in his essay “Let’s All Wear A Mask”: “Wearing [N95 masks] in daily life is like wearing a fireman’s coat instead of suntan lotion — it doesn’t do much for you, and wastes an invaluable resource that could save the life of a first responder.”
  • Putting leftover lettuce from our Passover seder in the backyard for interloping rabbits to claim.

Observations 4-9-20

  • Ron Tutt’s drumming on Grievous Angel.

Observations 4-10-20

  • Hankering for a label maker.

Observations 4-11-20

  • “Bikini Bottom” by Electrocute from the SpongeBob SquarePants Movie soundtrack — still a great arrangement.
  • “Liquidation Totale” by Loose Fur — perfect driving (for essential business) music.

Observations 4-12-20

  • The smell of Mom’s caramel-chocolate matzah brittle in the house.

Observations 4-13-20

  • “Mothaland Bounce” by Nissim Black (and its video).

Observations 4-14-20

  • Rams, a film about legendary designer Dieter Rams by Gary Hustwit.
    • Rams’s amazing office at the home in which he’s lived since 1971. And his red Valentine typewriter.

Observations 4-15-20

  • The vacant Chicago Public School storefront with nothing inside except a nearly ceiling-height wooden playhouse.
  • RAW MUSIC by my friend Ridley (AKA Poor Ridley), an album of drawings programmatically converted into music.

Observations 4-16-20

  • Every day, waking up to find out how many nanometers by which my quarantine mustache has grown. The joy of it — even as the overall product remains shame-worthy.

Observations 4-17-20

  • My first Corona Cry.
    • Later, Basil licking salty tear residue off my face.

Observations 4-18-20

  • Learning about “human challenge” trials: medical experiments wherein people volunteer to be infected with coronavirus in order to help vaccine development.

Observations 4-19-20

  • Stephen Wolfram’s blog post “Finally We May Have a Path to the Fundamental Theory of Physics… and It’s Beautiful.” Almost all of the math and physics goes over my head, but the idea that super complex, world-like structures could arise from deceptively simple origins is exciting and pleasant to think about.
  • Donald Hall’s essay “Between Solitude and Loneliness.” Specifically how, amid all its somberness, he casually refers to his and his wife Jane Kenyon’s “daily fuck.”
  • Wondering how microscopes find their tiny targets. I can believe we have the tech to see tiny things; it’s harder to believe that, after the zoom has blown up the medium into a massive sea of nothingness, that the microscope can find what it’s actually looking for.

Observations 4-20-20

  • Steve Albini’s rice pudding.

Observations 4-21-20

  • The frustrating irony that conservative anchors and leaders, who otherwise exaggerate or even fabricate threats, would downplay a genuine crisis.

Observations 4-22-20

  • Ethan Marcotte’s blog post called “Let a website be a worry stone,” and how I’ve been doing just that, with this site, since quarantine began (and long before).

Observations 4-23-20

  • Seeing a Tr*mp bumper sticker in the city (Chicago) for the first time.

Observations 4-24-20

  • Contributing a mix to Maison Dufrene’s Radio L’envie series — 30 minutes of some of my favorite ’60s and ’70s songs.

Observations 4-25-20

  • This great opening line, from J.P. Grasser’s “Letter to My Great, Great Grandchild”: “Oh button, don’t go thinking we loved pianos / more than elephants, air conditioning more than air.”

Observations 4-26-20

  • The massive bulldog named Queenie running across the street, not looking both ways, trying to take a chomp out of Basil and, in the crossfire, my leg.
  • The CTA bus driver waving “hi” to a fellow bus driver across the street, who didn’t see it and so couldn’t reciprocate.

Observations 4-27-20

  • How, lately, every time I pass a local abandoned storefront where people experiencing homelessness have taken shelter, there are neighbors delivering food or otherwise checking up on them.

Observations 4-28-20

  • In the grocery store parking lot, a mini Ice Mountain water bottle — a vase — with tulips in it, on the ground in the cart return area.
  • The wooden pallet on top of a baby stroller repurposed by a person reselling pallets.
  • The spring-blooming tree in our front yard.

Observations 4-29-20

  • The package delivery person walking up to a disaster scene: Casey and me knee-deep in cardboard, trying to free a newly delivered couch from its sarcophagus, creating a mountain of cardboard and styrofoam rubble in the process that blocked anyone else from entering or exiting the building. And offering to help us.

Observations 4-30-20

  • The normalization feeling that seems to have set in, for some, about COVID. Crises can only stay urgent crises in people’s minds for so long. All our optimistic and energetic action at the beginning of shelter-in-place orders seems to have mostly subsided, and now we’re just… sad, or waiting for it to go away. Or preparing to forget that this happened, which would be a really disappointing waste of the opportunity to learn and change things.
  • Jaron Lanier and Glen Weyl’s WIRED op-ed, “AI is an Ideology, Not a Technology”:
    • “The term ‘artificial intelligence’ doesn’t delineate specific technological advances.… AI only references a subjective measure of tasks that we classify as intelligent. For instance, the adornment and ‘deepfake’ transformation of the human face, now common on social media platforms like Snapchat and Instagram, was … called image processing 15 years ago, but [is] routinely termed AI today. The reason is, in part, marketing.… If ‘AI’ is more than marketing, then it might be best understood as one of a number of competing philosophies that can direct our thinking about the nature and use of computation.
    • “A clear alternative to ‘AI’ is to focus on the people present in the system. If a program is able to distinguish cats from dogs, don’t talk about how a machine is learning to see. Instead talk about how people contributed examples in order to define the visual qualities distinguishing ‘cats’ from ‘dogs’ in a rigorous way for the first time. There’s always a second way to conceive of any situation in which AI is purported. This matters, because the AI way of thinking can distract from the responsibility of humans.…
    • “‘AI’ might be a threat to the human future, as is often imagined in science fiction, or it might be a way of thinking about technology that makes it harder to design technology so it can be used effectively and responsibly. The very idea of AI might create a diversion that makes it easier for a small group of technologists and investors to claim all rewards from a widely distributed effort.”