The pandemic: 1 year later

This month, we passed our pandemicversary, or as I like to think of it, our annivirusary. This occurs on a different day for different people. For me, it’s when March Meeting, the largest physics conference in the world, was cancelled on March 2nd. The pandemic caused major changes in many of our lives, often not for the better. But, I’d like to reflect back on the lighter and more positive aspects.

1. I started exercising. At first, it was because my husband could no longer use the gym, so he bought some home gym equipment. Later, my mother started teaching Zumba online.

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Blogging and ambition

When I started blogging in 2007, I had ambitions of being popular blogger with a certain amount of authority. Those ambitions burnt out within a year or two, as I realized I did not actually want to be a famous blogger, and would rather satisfy my own preferences in blogging. Why did I have such ambitions, and why did they burn out? More broadly, how do other creators experience ambition, and are there differences from my own experience?

Okay, so 2007. Towards the end of the Bush administration, when Bush reached peak disapproval. New atheism was just getting rolling, and blogs held a particularly important place in the conversation, much like lefttube or twitter hold an important place today. I was an undergrad, and had been reading blogs myself, starting with Phil Plait, Hemant Mehta, PZ Myers, and branching off into many smaller ones.

My ambition was to become as well-known as the big names, or perhaps at least one of the smaller ones. It’s hard to remember why I had this mentality, especially since I now see it as irrational. I suppose I had a lot of opinions to share, and believed my opinions were the Good Ones that would transform how we thought about stuff and resolve all the issues that bloggers argued about. I have always been very modest, and though nobody throughout my education would ever let me forget that I am “smart”, I have never felt that my opinions are super valuable just because they are my opinions. Nonetheless, in my experience reading blogs, there were countless places where I thought bloggers and other readers were missing something important, and I felt I could supply that something if only people would hear me.

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In which I program music

In my life I’ve tried many different art forms, and recently I’ve added a new one to the list. I’ve started making music, using programming. No music worth sharing for now, I’m just going to talk about the experience.

To create music, I use a tool called Csound. Csound has its own computer language, which I’ve been intermittently teaching myself over the past year. It’s not an easy tool to use, but it suits me because I’m comfortable with the programming and math, and because I want to full control over the creation of instruments.

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Wildfire pollution: a personal account

2020 is California’s worst fire season on historical record. Here in Berkeley, California, we were fortunate enough to never have evacuation warnings. What we got instead were unhealthy levels of pollution for a straight month. This happened all across the west coast.

There was one day–September 9th to be exact–when the sky turned a bright orange that people were comparing to Blade Runner 2049. Everyone and their mother took pictures of the sky that day–us included–and I imagine that these will be plastered everywhere as symbols of climate change for years to come.

The inside story is that September 9th was actually a brief reprieve, the pollution equivalent of the eye of the storm. I don’t understand the meteorology of it, but newspapers said that the sky was orange because the pollution was up there rather than down on the ground level. The worst was actually the next day, when the AQI reached the 300s.

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I dislike holidays

Special days (or weeks or months) make me feel burdened with the expectation that I can feel some sort of way on command. You tell me to celebrate, what I feel is bad. You tell me to feel grateful, what I feel is resentful. You tell me to be respectful, I am respectful enough to keep quiet about how I feel no different from before.

If I were to organize holidays into tiers, the top tier would consist of the major holidays: Thanksgiving and Christmas. While these holidays nominally are about feeling some particular way, they are more importantly, about doing something. They are designated times for family gatherings. Family gatherings are something we want to do anyway, but we can’t do it every day, thus the holiday serves a practical purpose.

The second tier is national holidays when we get off work. A work holiday is something you do, not something you feel. You can’t take work holidays every day, there’s some value in everyone taking off work on the same day, thus the holidays serve some practical purpose. Unfortunately, many of these holidays also ask us to feel respect or reverence for something, be it veterans or labor activists, Colombus or MLK, and that doesn’t really work on me.

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How my free time disappeared

This article was written for the Carnival of Aces, which this month had the theme of “quarantine”.

Back in February, I got a new job. I like my job, but my main complaint was the long commute–over an hour and a half in each direction. My husband had an even longer commute, so we were in the process of looking for a new apartment in a better location.

In March, my company told everyone to work from home. My husband’s company did the same. Suddenly we had all this extra free time, multiple hours every day that we would have spent commuting. But all that extra free time–and more–got immediately slurped up.

Although it could be said we’re all in this together, I’ve noticed some stark contrasts in the way that COVID-19 has impacted our personal lives. There are those who lost their jobs or were sent home from school, and there are those who kept their jobs and now have to take care of their kids at the same time.

In the ace community, you might expect that since few people have kids, people gain free time rather than losing it. But as someone who keeps track of ace community activity (for linkspam purposes), I’ve observed a precipitous decline in activity in March and April, followed by a slow recovery in May. Other people have noticed it too. I’d like to offer my own experience as a case study of why this might have happened.

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Hoarding is my ultimate boss in Animal Crossing

In early April Animal Crossing: New Horizons celebrated Bunny Day, a secular analogue to Easter. During this event, pastel-colored eggs could be found everywhere, and could be used to craft colored-egg-themed furniture and clothing. This was not entirely well-received by fans, because the eggs would replace other ordinary crafting items, and because the furniture is ugly.

For my part, I crafted every single Bunny Day item, and stuffed them all in a room.

Room filled with pastel-egg themed furniture

And then as soon as the event was over, I sold every single Bunny Day item, and whatever eggs I had remaining. As someone who grew up with a hoarder, I found it cathartic to take all that exclusive special-edition ugly junk, and throw it in the garbage.

Then, I redecorated the room to look like a landfill. [Read more…]