A Whole New World

The Magic Carpets Have Unraveled

I work in the travel industry. Or should I say worked? My company put all its staff on unpaid leave as the pandemic ramped up and murdered our business. The chances of its survival are slim to none; the company was a startup, and was looking to break even on cash flows in 2020. Our government does not bail out small companies, and the 300+ employees that lost their jobs are on their own. It’s disconcerting to suddenly be unemployed, without any income or healthcare insurance, just as a pandemic blankets the Earth.

Ours was the first industry to be sideswiped by the Covid-19 pandemic, and that roadside accident has turned into a 100-car pileup. Or in this case, a 10,000-airplane pileup in runways-turned-parking lots across the world. Hotels are empty. Resorts are silent. Travel offices are shuttered. Tour buses are parked. Beaches are closed. Airports are ghost towns. The current estimate is 75 million jobs in the global travel and tourism industry will disappear in the wake of Covid-19. Recovery will take years as the financial fallout from the cascade of defaults on financial obligations sweep through the banks.

I chose to stay in the travel industry because I enjoyed it. Seeing the world is one of the great joys of being alive. Being in new places every so often stimulates everything from passion to creativity to curiosity. But moving people across borders is a complex pursuit, especially through the air. It takes a lot of money, and a lot of people working around the clock to deliver the best travel experience with the necessary degree of safety. When the planes stop flying and the flow of people stops, the intricate web collapses. Putting it back together will be a thing for lawyers and bankers to clean up the financial mess. That includes the mess for us who worked in the industry. Our paychecks are gone, but our mortgages and car payments stay.

I’m fortunate in a way – my skill set allows me to try and find a job in a different industry. Many of my colleagues have skill sets that are specific to travel. For their sake I hope that the experts are wrong about how long it will take. Even then, it won’t be the same for a long time; perhaps even permanently. It’s sobering to think that the industry that made the world smaller, and put us all within reach of each other wherever we live, became the delivery system for the pandemic. That forces everything about it to change, and the people will be direct casualties of all the changes.

I’m going to miss travel. I hope to eventually return to moving people across the world.

The Joke is on You

We have met the enemy.

The enemy is us. You and me. An orange billionaire with false hair. A malevolent dictator with an iron fist. A cartoon bear gone bad that set the world on fire with a deadly disease. They are all us. We are them. The world is our responsibility. We have all failed.

Now Earth will clean herself up. The cleanup will include the ones that were slowly murdering her.

We can’t be the cure because we are the disease.

What a joke.

This post is a response to the Discover Prompt of April 1, 2020.

They Come in Twos

“Are you ok, Thomas?” My lungs were working hard. My palms were sweating, forcing me to adjust my grips on my pistols. Penance and Forgiveness I called them. They were both empty.

My twin brother wiped the blood from his eyes. Two gashes were opened on his forehead. Damage from the battle. “I’m fine Gerald. Are you sure it’s dead?” He got back to his feet, gripping the back of a chair with both hands to steady himself.

“Yeah it’s dead,” I replied. I’d made sure, plugging both the creature’s eyes with armor piercing rounds. The creature’s claws glinted in the weak light. Two claws to each of its arms. That was what caused Thomas’s injury. That and his feet slipping on the damp floor. The floor that was now coated with the creature’s pooling ichor.

Thomas picked up both his swords, Hack and Slash, off of the floor. They were caked with gunk. He proceeded to wipe the blades off with two-ply paper towels that he found in the lower drawer of the double-doored armoire. “I thought these things hunted in pairs. Where’s the other one?”

“Good question.” I lit two flares and tossed one to Thomas. Using the reddish light I scanned the room, making sure that all the nooks and crannies were clear. I listened at the door we came in through. Nothing but silence.

“Gerald.” My brother was standing beside the armoire, which has slid over to the right. There was a second door behind it. I double-bolted the first door and went over to join my twin. He’d moved the heavy furniture partway, but it took both of us straining to shift it all the way to reveal the hidden portal completely.

The wood had a symbol carved into it – “II”.

We looked at each other and nodded simultaneously. Thomas drew Hack and Slash while I shoved fresh clips into Penance and Forgiveness. Thomas would open the door. I would cover him.

“Time for the other shoe to drop,” I said. Thomas grinned. “Touché”.

He opened the door. We heard the scuffling of two clawed feet in the darkness. “Together,” my twin whispered, as we advanced into the second battle.

This post is a response to the Discover Prompt of April 9, 2020.

The New Normal

Invisible assassin. Silent killer. Stealthy thief. Zephyr of death.

Each one of us is either a victim, or an agent. Those who proclaim that recusing themselves from their normal lives is oppressive, even cruel, have never been grim reapers. They have never plunged a blade into another person’s heart. They have never burned someone else at the stake.

What is certain is that God’s Armorer is hell-bent on visiting every inhabitant of this planet and putting a deadly glaive into their hand. Once armed, there is potential. The phantom polearm swings its ethereal blade unbidden, striking out to all within reach.

The wounds inflicted may be fatal. We mourn the dead. But we do not discuss the murderers. We are the butchers. Callous, unrepentant and remorseless, people are the greatest danger to humanity. We will scour our species off the face of the planet.

And the rest of creation will rejoice.

Quarantine Diaries Week 3

So we’ve been confined to our home for three straight weeks now. I only venture out for ten to fifteen minutes daily, in the morning, to walk the dog so he can do his business. We come across one or two people at most, and we keep our distance and face away from them. They’re usually on bicycles, and sometimes wear face masks. We head home as soon as possible.

I ventured out once, on Monday, March 23rd, to the local grocery. The shop opened at 9am. I arrived at 8:30am and waited for an hour before I got to head in. It was orderly, and the waiting area had banquet chairs spaced properly, but you’d still pass people inside as you shopped. Some weren’t wearing masks. I did. It made sense to shop as quickly as possible, though bought as much food as made sense given that I needed to load it all in the car and drive home. Spent over $200 on groceries and medicines.

Since then, we’ve stayed home. When supplies dropped under our reorder point, we decided to try ordering out instead of me venturing back to the grocery physically. Any reduction in the chances of contracting the virus from an asymptomatic carrier that’s walking around and touching stuff in the supermarket is worth using alternative sourcing. So I made an order to an online butcher, who was able to deliver the meats in a couple of days. The online grocer was a little more involved, since you had to wait for delivery slots to open. I lucked into a slot two days after I loaded my online basket, scheduled for the middle of next week. The biggest challenge was finding the prescription pet food that our dog has eaten for the last eight years. Sourcing it was challenging. The two online retailers I found that stocked it listed our location as inaccessible to their couriers. Bullshit, but whatever. No use arguing with them, and the online platforms they used were spectacularly unhelpful. I finally got a response from our regular veterinary office, saying that they just got a box in and we could have it. I paid online and booked an express courier immediately. My dog is now relaxed knowing that he’s set for the next eight weeks, and won’t starve if the lockdown period is extended. This is a very likely scenario.

So, how did we use the last three weeks of house arrest? The person I’m related to by marriage decided to clean up the house. She went through every room, every closet, every bureau and every nook & cranny and tossed the things that no longer sparked joy. She even trashed some of the things that sparked joy for me, though a case could be made for each of those things that having them spark joy for me was very weird. Anyway, they’re all gone. We were fortunate that the garbage collectors continued to diligently collect everyone’s refuse throughout the quarantine, as we had many extra-large trash bags worth of flotsam.

I’ve “wasted” some of the days dealing with the psychological burden of the global pandemic by engaging with social media (very bad) and calling old friends to talk about it (better).

One friend lost his wife of 35 years to the virus. That was a sobering event, and it made the situation that much more real. The escalating death toll can look like just any old number when you’ve been seeing it ticking upward over three weeks. When you know someone whose life just got dimmer from a loss to the invisible enemy, you know that for each person represented by the counter there are dozens of others that were dealt a blow just like my friend and his family.

I finally reconnected with my first best friend from high school. We haven’t been in touch for over thirty years. The spousal unit found a bunch of old photo prints, and I took some pictures of them with my phone and posted them to our high school Facebook group. That led to a classmate getting an email address for me, and me sending an email and finally trading messages over Hangouts. He lives in a different country now, gone from here for over a decade. He has two kids. In some ways he’s still my old buddy, interested in retro tech, building hardware that’s been obsolete for three decades just because he can. We talked a bit about life, and the games we played when we were young, and how things have changes while in some ways still stayed the same.

I’ve also tried my hand at writing, which is funny because I’m ostensibly writing this blog post. Writing in this sense is novel(la) writing, in genres that I’m still very unsure about. I’m getting a clearer view now of what Gaiman means when he says that you become a writer by writing. Putting words down every day, even when you don’t feel like it or believe that everything that’s flowing from your brain is hot unadulterated rubbish. You write because it’s what you want to do. It’s a hard lesson, and I’m still not good at just doing it, but it’s a process and I’m giving myself some leeway because dealing with the reality of the global pandemic weighs on my mind. Even Neil admitted that he had trouble writing anything coherent for a while, since he’s stuck in New Zealand, a long way from either of his homes.

So. Let’s keep going one day at a time, surviving and seeing where this all leads.

Stay safe, world.

Quarantine Diaries Day Five

So. Coronavirus Global Quarantine. The government locked us down Monday evening. Fortunately we had anticipated that that might happen so we hit the grocery earlier that day. It was the sweet spot – the week before and through the weekend people were panic buying so the grocery was packed with people, many of whom weren’t wearing masks and no one was observing any kind of social distancing. The lines were mega long and the wait to check out was two to three hours. When we shopped, the grocery had implemented procedures for people to follow. The shoppers being let in were limited and you had to wait your turn so that the grocery wouldn’t be packed. Some things were unavailable (70% alcohol, various canned goods like sardines, tuna and Spam) but we got most of the stuff we wanted.

That evening the lockdown was announced. All public transport was shut down, all non-critical government offices were closed and travel between cities was restricted. Basic services remained open, including supermarkets, drug store and water stations, but it was some small comfort that we had provisions for at least a couple of weeks. We didn’t need to go out and would burn though our supplies as needed.

It was Thursday when the first critical item ran out – bottled water. Fortunately the place that provisioned us was right next door and was operating, so we blew a bit of cash and doubled our standby stock. Where we’d normally need a resupply in under a week, we could now hold out for ten days or so. We’d been cooking daily, using the fresh meats and vegetables from our supply run, and saving the less perishable stuff for later. It’s now Saturday. We’ve survived through the lockdown as well as we might have expected. The only lingering questions are all economic, but that’s what’s on everyone’s mind anyway.

The virus continues to spread through our county, and throughout the rest of the world, even if the Chinese and Koreans claim that they’ve gotten it under control. Until the test for the virus becomes unlimited, free and easily accessible, there’s no way to tell how many asymptomatic infected there are still walking around and spreading the contagion. Any vaccine is at least a year away, probably more.

There is going to be a new normal soon. What that looks like, and how life will be under that normal, remains to be seen.

The End of the Force

“Carrie Fisher was the original Star Wars princess, that was adept at both harnessing her appeal without a sex scene, as well as taking out the bad guys. She was succeeded by Natalie Portman’s Padme Amidala, Daisy Ridley’s Rey Skywalker (wink) and Felicity Jones’s Jyn Erso. I suppose it’s unfortunate that it all begins with the iconic golden bikini, but everything that follows is Carrie Fisher’s legacy.”

Me, December 28, 2016

I wrote the above paragraph two years ago after seeing Gareth Edwards’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and after the passing of Carrie Fisher. After seeing J.J. Abrams’s The Rise of Skywalker a second time, the final installment of the Star Wars Sequel not-Trilogy (it has less coherence than the popularly reviled Prequel Trilogy), I found it interesting that the final chapters of the star-crossed saga may have depended far too much on Carrie Fisher’s stalwart presence. (And yes, I ended up predicting the last two words of the Saga two years in advance. Not happily, though.)

Much has already been said about the mess that was the story arc of the sequels; I’m not going to rehash that here. All I’ll say is that there’s no point to making a sequel if all you’re going to do is rehash the story from the original trilogy, and bring back all of the characters. Even the dead ones. Especially the dead one that was already the antagonist for both the original AND the prequel trilogies.

This was especially disappointing because when Disney took over from Lucas, there was a sprawling and well-developed post-trilogy universe. They decanonized most of it to give the Mouse a free hand in crafting stories in the universe after the death of Palpatine in Return of the Jedi. Losing that massive trove of stories and characters to clear the way for the sequel trilogy now feels like swapping a dollar for two dimes. This is not to say that Rey, Kylo Ren, Poe Dameron, Rose Tico and the rest of the characters introduced in the sequel are unworthy, but to say that to lose Thrawn, Mara Jade, Kyle Katarn & Corran Horn, Jacen & Jaina Solo, Darth Revan & Bastila Shan and many others from the Canon leaves the overall Star Wars universe much, much poorer.

Ultimately the Star Wars narrative is lost to corporate interests and control. The decision-makers, in the absence of a knowledgeable unifying force, default to formula, because formula tends to print money regardless of its being bankrupt of originality or artistry. Where taking chances on new characters and stories and letting go of the myths while building on them is the direction that storytellers would opt for, the disappointing default to the same old same old is what we got.

My Cryptocurrency Chronicles, Part 2


So a few things changed in the cryptocurrency landscape over the three years that I’d ignored it. One was that Bitcoin was no longer alone. When I first looked into BTC, there were very few other cryptocurrencies. Litecoin was new and Dogecoin was what it was intended to be – a joke. Over 2016, while BTC was mired in the $200-800 trading range, myriad other cryptocurrencies were launched and began to take up space in the market. Bitcoin was no longer dominant after this revolution, dropping from being most of the market to being around half of the market in terms of volume. Foremost among these new cryptos was Ether, which was different. It wasn’t just a store of value, it was a platform for creating utility tokens on the blockchain. These tokens, called ETH20s, spawned an entire new class of cryptocurrencies. More on this later.

Another phenomenon came from Bitcoin itself. Since by design the Bitcoin mining network was made up of individual miners, they on occasion had disagreements about how the network and its technology would move forward. This led to “forks” in the Bitcoin blockchain, with the non-“main” fork becoming its own cryptocurrency and “gifting” all holders of BTC at the fork point in the blockchain with equivalent currency. This meant that when I opened my Bitcoin private key, I was also given access to two new digital assets “for free” – Bitcoin Cash (BCH) and Bitcoin Gold (BCG). Each was valued in the thousands of dollars, increasing the returns from that original $2,000 investment.

All of this has led to a proliferation of “wallets” (apps and sites) that store your cryptocurrency for you and allow you to send and receive cryptocurrency. The other service that has become indispensable is the “exchange”, apps and sites that allow you to trade your cryptocurrencies among each other. These function like cryptocurrency stock markets, providing pricing at which users buy and sell along established pairs of cryptos. This is usually altcoins paired against Bitcoin and Ether, and a few other options depending on the exchange. You can also withdraw funds, trading your crypto for real world cash of “fiat”, but this carries many restrictions depending on where the exchange is based and where the user (or his bank account) resides.

Finally, there is the wild, wild world of Initial Coin Offerings or ICOs. Everyone and his sister is coming up with new altcoins, based on all sorts of premises and even technologies. These coins, or tokens, are offered at first to a supposedly select number of people that sign up for the ICO, at what is characterized as a great deal. Similar to a mundane Initial Public Offering for real-world shares in companies, the hope is that you buy at the lowest price at the initial offering, and that the asset appreciates (quickly). Many choose to sell the asset after the initial appreciation, locking in gains and reinvesting in the next initial offering. The difference is that real world stock markets are regulated and overseen by both government regulators and private watchdogs. There is no such equivalent for cryptocurrencies. ICO whitepapers (when they exist) can be a mishmash of marketing speak and obfuscation, hiding the lack of utility of many tokens offered at ICOs. This has also given rise to the (unethical) “Pump and Dump” approach, where some people (who may be affiliated with the offering or merely speculators) convincing small groups of people to bid up an altcoin (pump) then selling their own stack of crypto at the peak (dump). There are a lot of gullible people on the internet, as I’m sure all of you know.

So. The first thing I did with my recovered BTC is join an ICO.

(To be continued…)