The truth is, I think we all know that everything isn’t just going to magically get better tomorrow with the turn of a calendar page.

Coronavirus doesn’t care about the date – all it knows is to spread.

And that spread has killed 354,215 Americans and 1.8 million people worldwide over the last year.

I think we’ve finally got some hope in the new vaccines that are now being distributed to those closest to the disease, but there’s still a long road ahead of us. The people who denied the virus in 2020 and refused to take basic precautions to protect the people around them are going to continue to fight those precautions in 2021 even as they undermine our battle to actually rid society of this terrible pandemic.

We can’t change those people, but we don’t have to let them change us.

Fatigue over restrictions and the general impact of the virus is likely to grow in 2021, and the numbers will probably get worse before they start getting better. But the reason for wearing a mask on Day #292 hasn’t changed from Day #1.

We don’t wear masks to protect ourselves – we wear our masks to protect the people around us.

And I have to believe that despite all of the ignorance and the politics and the greed and the apathy that has made this pandemic all the worse throughout 2020, it’s going to be our compassion for each other that puts an end to COVID-19 – whenever that actually happens.

Happy New Year, stay safe, and don’t lose that compassion. We’re still going to need it in 2021.

Patience is a Virtue That I Do Not Have…

December 30, 2020 3:04pm
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I feel like a kid anxiously waiting to open presents under the tree on Christmas morning … except in my case, I’m anxiously waiting to sign paperwork for a bunch of adult stuff that kids would find boring as all hell!

Specifically, I’m waiting for the final approvals to refinance our mortgage and also separate paperwork to transfer our home phone number to another provider. I know that neither of these are what you would consider quick and speedy processes, particularly at the end of the year when other people want to take time off to spend with their friends and family like I have… 😛

And in the defense of both the mortgage and cell phone companies I’ve been working with, they’ve actually both been pretty great. It took me a while to plan out each of the two processes and find companies that I felt comfortable working with, and I know that it’s really only a matter of time before everything will have worked itself out successfully and the waiting is all behind me.

That’s a concept that I’d like to work into my brain a bit more in 2021 because I think I spend a lot of time fretting over things that just require a lot of time, and maybe sometimes they get further delayed by other things that also take a lot of time!

Granted, I still need to stay on top of things so that I don’t get to the end of the year with half a dozen things almost done, but at some point you have to accept that an awful lot of the deadlines that we make up in our heads are just that. Which is silly when at the end of the day, we’re talking about priorities that I only have to answer to myself for in the first place…

Next year I want to put less focus on deadlines and more effort into just getting the work done. I think it will make me a lot more productive, and maybe also just a little bit more sane to boot.

Smart Home Talk, 2020 Edition

December 23, 2020 4:04pm
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I spent a good part of yesterday mulling about this and I think my efforts toward creating “a smart home” are coming along better than I would’ve expected.

There are still plenty of challenges – a lot of this stuff is expensive, and much of it exists in closed ecosystems that don’t like to integrate well with others, but we’re slowly getting there! 😉

Smart Lighting
I still can’t deny that Hue lighting is stupid expensive – frankly, if it weren’t for the cost, I’d have finished this part a long time ago, but I love the flexibility and the quality of their bulbs so I’ve been gradually changing over a room in our house at a time, going from boring, old CFLs to these full-color, albeit $50-a-bulb equivalents.

They work great in the kids’ rooms because they get to pick whatever colors they want and then we keep them on all night long as nightlights.

Earlier this year, I also replaced the sconces on our garage and our porch light, so it’s fun to be able to light those up with different colors for whatever holiday we’re celebrating at the moment!

After first toying around with these about two years ago, I’ve now switched over about 4 rooms in the house with a couple more to go, in addition to some outdoor lighting around the pool out back that I’m pretty excited about.

Smart Displays
Next to Hue, DAKboard is one of my favorite digital toys around the house. I think I’ve got a total of four boards running right now – the original calendar I setup in my office, a second one to display my to-do list and some other stuff, a daily calendar in our kitchen that helps us to keep track of school and therapy schedules for the kids (and displays family photos!), and fourth – another calendar at my desk at work where I haven’t been in like nine months now!

Side note – over the summer I even started tinkering with using DAKboard to create a dashboard for tracking COVID so I could have the stats handy that I think are the most important, however I got frustrated because the API block – while neat – isn’t quite there yet.

Still, I love these things and next year I want to try to work on upgrading the old hand me down monitors I’m using to some proper IPS displays that are a little better suited for casual viewing from any angle.

I can seriously see our home having a lot of these things between picture frames and other stuff by the time I’m done…

Digital Media
So apparently it’s been almost six years since I first started dabbling with Plex, and I’m happy to say that the whole household is definitely converted to digital now. I think the only place we still use physical DVDs is in our van because despite having the option to play media off a USB drive, the UI sucks! 

But other than that, all of our movies and TV shows are there and easily accessible from pretty much any device, and unlike Netflix and Disney+ and all of the rest, we don’t have to worry about our favorite movies or shows suddenly disappearing because a service didn’t feel like renewing their license for it.

One improvement I’d like to see here is now that 4K media is becoming more commonplace, we need newer TVs to handle the content because ours can’t natively decode X265/HEVC and it’s just way to cumbersome for Plex to transcode.

In the next couple of months, I also want to add a video card to the server for transcoding because Plex now supports hardware transcoding for Linux, as well as an NVME drive to speed up access to the rather large collection of metadata that supports our ever-growing Plex libraries! Admittedly these upgrades are mostly for other people because we also share our media out to a few friends and family, almost all of who transcode via Roku boxes, but it would be nice to not have to worry about a 5th or 6th stream maxing out the box.

Home Assistant
And last but not least, I’m giving Home Assistant another try at tying all of my smart home toys together after admittedly not getting very far with it last year because it felt clunky and not nearly as polished as the Hue app, for example, that I was falling in love with at the time!

I also had issues getting it installed in its own VM, however that was solved this time around by just using the virtual appliance image that they offer to skip fighting with Python and everything else OS-oriented.

So far, it looks like the UI has improved. I’m still going to have to get comfortable with most of it being code-driven instead of having a pretty UI, but frankly that’s also why I’m giving it another try because what I want to do now is apparently more complicated!

For starters, getting different ecosystems to work with one another and controlling them all in one place.

Also, I’ll soon be approaching the 50-device limit for a single Hue hub, and although I can still expand and add more hubs, from what I’ve read they don’t play nice with the app and we’d have to switch between hubs to control the lights associated with each one, which is dumb. Another option would be controlling them through Homekit, but I think that’s kind of ugly and already some of the smart plugs that I use aren’t compatible, whereas HA will see everything.

The Next Steps…
I think now that I’m starting to get a good base with a few of these systems, I’d like to move towards having them work together via Home Assistant and DAKboard or whatever else makes sense.

Part of this will be simply moving the handful of lighting schedules that I currently have setup on my Hue bridge over to HA to be ready for eventually adding a second bridge.

As I explore HA, I’d also like to add more sensors to track things like open doors and room temperatures. Already I’ve found that apparently my Hue Motion Sensor also captures temp and can confirm that my office gets as much as 10 degrees cooler than the rest of the house!

On this note, I’m already looking forward to adding a control to the thermostat to automatically switch over from air to heat when the outdoor temp falls below a certain threshold – an otherwise manual task that’s always been a pet peeve of mine since I moved to Florida!

I also want to build on my outdoor lightning scene by incorporating the pool lights into the mix – something that I think I finally figured out how to do by swapping the switch that they’re on out for one that’s controllable via wifi. It won’t give me the ability to change colors, but for only $14 it’s a start.

And one of the new features that I’m most excited about exploring is this support for interactive pictures to control the devices around your home – my favorite being a floor plan of the entire house with clickable icons representing lights and cameras and other devices that can all be controlled right from the picture!

I feel like one of the biggest challenges with creating a truly “smart home” is having all of these different devices be easily accessible to people who aren’t geeks. A lot of enthusiasts talk about having “wife approval” for these types of home improvements, but I also find myself faced with the “kid friction” that stems from things like light switches that are remote controls and end up getting lost because tiny hands don’t leave them on the wall where they belong!

Still, it’s a fun challenge to face and I’m happy to see the technology slowly improving – maybe not out of the box, but at least to make a handful of my newest ideas a reality. 😉

When Amazon Doesn’t Work Smoothly…

December 22, 2020 1:03pm
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Don’t get me wrong – I love Amazon.

We literally order from them a hundred times a year and if they had better access to groceries, I’d probably never leave the house. The extent to which they’ve streamlined the purchasing process means that for most items I honestly don’t even shop around anymore – I just hit the button and a day or two later, it’s here!

Unless … it isn’t.

I would say that 97% of our orders come through with no problems, and Amazon’s return process makes it super easy to exchange something that arrives damaged, shipping out replacements almost immediately and giving prepaid labels to return broken merchandise.

That said, one thing I’ve found that Amazon isn’t good at dealing with is replacing items when they sent the wrong item or if the description of an item is incorrect.

Two examples…

Sara ordered this set of Beyond123 learning books that was supposed to come with a cardboard slipcase to keep them all in – trouble is, apparently the sets on Amazon’s shelves just have the books loose, without the case. And I say set(s) because over the last two months we’ve received three of them trying to get one complete with the case, but every single one was missing it.

Next, and unfortunately a bit more timely, is this SmartGames train that Matthew was supposed to get for Christmas. Instead, we got this bunny game, so we very quickly processed a return and requested a replacement that arrived yesterday … in the form of another bunny because somebody mislabeled them when they arrived at Amazon’s warehouse so all of the bunnies are mislabeled as trains!

And the problem in both of these scenarios is that while Amazon is extraordinarily efficient at moving stuff around the world and even refunding your money when they mess up, they don’t seem to be equipped to deal with these problems when you don’t want a refund, you just want the correct item that you tried to order!

Back in my former life when I worked in an auto parts warehouse, occasionally we’d find ourselves hunting around for a part either because it got put in the wrong place on the shelf or somebody just wanted to make extra sure that they could actually get what they were looking for that day. Human errors happened from time to time because somebody was going to fast or maybe transposed some numbers, but we also audited our inventory pretty regularly to make sure that the computer matched what we had on our shelves and everything was nice and organized.

Amazon doesn’t have time for that because of their scale, so instead of having distinct sections for BOOKS and VIDEO GAMES and AIR CONDITIONER FILTERS, everything is just mixed together on the shelves in their massive warehouses by even more massive algorithms to maximize speed, and the people walking the floor are there strictly to pull items off the shelves or put them back, all using barcode scanners so instead of saying, “Grab this train game from the game section,” they’re told, “Grab the game from Shelf B, Bin 7” without having to pay attention to what game was actually ordered.

In theory, their scanner will buzz if they grab the wrong thing … unless the label itself is wrong!

There’s nobody to call to “go take a look at an item” to make sure it contains all of the pieces or to review the inventory to make sure that the items labeled as TRAINS are actually trains and not BUNNIES instead. And because the Customer Service rep that you’re chatting with isn’t even in the same country as the warehouses that your order came from, they’re limited with how they can help – either ship another item and hope for the best or offer a refund instead.

Unfortunately in both of these cases, we ultimately ended up just throwing in the towel. For the book set, they said they’d give a partial credit for the missing case but I didn’t feel like sitting through another 10 minute chat for a $5 credit; for the toy train, I took a refund and ordered from another site … that sadly won’t have it here now until after Christmas.

It’s too bad because in theory neither of these scenarios should be too difficult to solve. They’ve got to have leads or quality people at each warehouse at some level, so Amazon just needs to be able to flag an order for their review before it gets shipped. And granted, that would impact shipping times to some extent, but after receiving multiple incorrect items, I for one would be fine waiting an extra day or two at this point for these specific orders to try and get them right!

From afar, Amazon is an impressive monster of a fulfillment company and the vast majority of the time, the end result that they deliver for us has been pretty fantastic. Still, as customers I don’t think it’s too much to expect that they have better channels for fixing mistakes when they do arise, and the solutions they have in place today could still use some work.

Coronavirus, Day 266 – COVID Fatigue

December 6, 2020 4:12pm
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I get that everyone is really freaking tired of this pandemic by now, but what I don’t get is being so tired that they’re willing to put their friends and family and neighbors at risk by not following safety precautions – some of which are really pretty simple.

I mean, I get tired of parenting from time to time, and work, and all sorts of things, but that doesn’t mean I can just stop doing them because I don’t feel like it anymore!

You change things up and try to make it a little more pleasant. Maybe try to get some help. But you can’t just quit.

Especially when we’re just talking about wearing masks and avoiding gathering in large groups … because I can’t think of a more selfish reason to spread a disease that’s killed 1.5 million people globally than “I just had to go out because I miss my friends.”

You can call them. Text them. Email them. Zoom them. IM them. Share a socially distanced meal together.

What you can’t do is just pretend like this whole pandemic isn’t actually a thing, or something that “everybody’s going to get anyways” and so it’s not worth taking precautions over.

Tell that to the people who’ve lost someone this year, who will be wrapping one less Christmas gift or setting one less place at the table for dinner, and who maybe didn’t even get to say goodbye to their loved ones in person.

I have a lot of sympathy for people whose businesses are struggling right now – I really do. This is an unprecedented time and frankly, our government has really failed the American public by not making more of an effort to shore up our safety nets instead of focusing its efforts like usual on the super wealthy and protecting companies from liability for not taking COVID seriously. There’s absolutely no excuse for it.

But you can’t just slough off the rules that have been put in place because you’re angry or tired or frustrated or frozen in disbelief that COVID is a real thing. We’re not done yet. We will be – eventually – and then we can throw big parties and celebrate for everything that we missed out on in 2020, but now’s not the time for that – not when we’re in the middle of a third wave that makes the first two look like something out of the kiddie pool…

Coronavirus, Day 251 – The Long Haul

November 21, 2020 10:55am
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I’m not sure which is crazier – that we’ve been dealing with this thing for almost nine months now, or that we might only be at the halfway point.

Don’t get me wrong – the recent news of vaccines being almost ready are great to hear, but just like the real impact of people simply wearing masks, I’m not sure that many understand that we’re not out of the woods the moment that vaccine becomes available.

I saw a tweet the other day that I thought addressed it quite thoroughly…

And that doesn’t even include how long it will take the average American to get access to the shots! Not sure how that whole debacle will play out yet … I’d like to think that medical personnel on the frontline will be first, followed then by people’s level of risk, however we all know that “VIPs” are going to end up getting preferential treatment and people like Congressmen, executives, and others that can afford to pay a premium will still likely get it first.

Estimates put your average Joe getting vaccinated sometime mid to late next year, assuming that he’s willing to be vaccinated, which is a whole other issue that we won’t even get into!

I know that tensions are already high, and the holidays are coming, and people are getting tired of this thing and the sacrifices that we’re all making for it, big and small. Yet over the last week, we’ve seen the death toll hit an average of 2,000 people a day … that’s the equivalent of a 9/11 every day and a half…

As I type this, we’re at 260,000 deaths and if that trend continues, we’ll likely top 350,000 dead by the end of the year.

A terrible, dumpster fire of a year that sadly I don’t think is just going to stop when the proverbial ball drops and ushers in 2021. And that’s going to have its own psychological effects because plenty of people don’t want to see themselves “giving up” Thanksgiving and Christmas, so the idea of these terrible events continuing despite the change of calendar is going to be a tough one to bear.

But we owe it to the 1.38 MILLION people around the world who’ve died from COVID-19 keep doing our best to not let that death toll double or triple before we get to the end of this.

Goodbye, Cleo…

November 17, 2020 10:22pm
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At the height of our shared exercise regiment, Cleo and I used to go on walks together just about every night.

This was before the kids, so it wasn’t uncommon for us to be out wandering around our extended neighborhood for an hour or two, though our average trip settled in at right around 3.5 miles which we could usually knock out in a little over an hour.

Cleo would’ve been anywhere from about 9 months to 3 years old, so that puppy had all of the energy in the world! I would seriously try to get changed in secret because once she saw me lacing up my tennis shoes, she was beyond excited. 

I was in my early 30s, so I wasn’t as out of shape as I am now, yet she would still drag me all over the place! If she happened to see a rabbit or a squirrel before I had a chance to tighten up my grip on her leash … uh oh!

We walked for hundreds and hundreds of miles together over a couple of years, her just sniffing and pulling in her own little world while I listened to music and podcasts and admittedly spent a lot of time just talking to myself trying to work through whatever was going on in my life at the time.

So I didn’t really know what to expect in taking her for our last walk together last night.

Needless to say, she didn’t have nearly the energy that she used to. Most of her time is spent sleeping and she really doesn’t run anymore, yet I was surprised how she really seemed to perk up when we got outside and reverted to her nose to the ground, forever curious-self that I remember … just a lot slower.

There was no pulling on the leash and I often had to slow down to her pace like I do when I’m walking with one of the kids. But low and behold, we ended up putting in a whole mile around the neighborhood with a nice break in the middle to “chat” and take a few pictures…

It was such a nice, pure time that momentarily it made me wonder if maybe she still had a chance after all, but once we got back home instead of curling up for bed she spent the next two hours wandering around the house and eventually got herself “stuck” behind the toilet again, so I guess this would be a good time to talk about all of her symptoms next…

* * *

Earlier this spring, Cleo was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease, which is basically a small tumor in her adrenal gland. There was really nothing we could do – the vet had a couple of pretty invasive procedures that might’ve worked, and even the testing for them was prohibitively expensive. Ultimately we decided that we’d just try to enjoy the time we had left and make her as comfortable, as the vet mentioned that we’d start to see the signs when her time got closer, but in hindsight I never would’ve expected her to show all of the signs to the point where aside from a bit of snuggling and still responding to her name, she was barely the same dog that we’ve come to love all of these years…

  • She didn’t bark anymore. Ever.
  • She didn’t give kisses anymore.
  • She couldn’t jump up on the couch, and she hadn’t been able to jump up on our bed for a while.
  • She almost always fell coming back down, and she’d gotten some nasty bruises to show for it.
  • Sometimes she would just randomly wander around the house in circles, occasionally squeezing into small, dark places (like beside the toilet) where she couldn’t get out without help.
  • She even sometimes showed difficulty walking and would cross her paws and stumble from time to time.
  • And her incontinence had me washing towels almost as fast as we could use them to clean up her messes.
  • Plus, she’d been losing her hair for a while. Most recently, a small patch on her back that left behind this really awful looking scaly patch.

We knew that it was the right choice, but it didn’t mean that I was in any way ready to say goodbye.

This past weekend as I started putting my thoughts together for this post, I had more than a couple of breakdowns – one of which found me crying on the floor and hugging Cleo. I would’ve given anything for a nuzzle or a random kiss that she hadn’t given in weeks to comfort me, but instead she just stared off into space and eventually went back to her new routine of wandering back and forth across the house as if it was the first time she’d ever been here, yet without the energy of the dog that she had eight years ago when we all walked into this house for the first time together.

When took her to the vet one last time over the weekend, his best guess was that the tumor in her gland had likely spread into her brain, which supported her general state of confusion and all of her troubles walking, and it was only going to get worse until she basically was no longer able to function at all.

As much as I was clinging desperately to her, I knew the truth was that really she was already gone.

* * *

Taking Cleo to the vet to be put down is easily one of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to do.

Sara and I went together while the kids were at school, and we spent about 2.5 hours between saying goodbye and going over everything with the vet one last time.

Needless to say, there were a lot of tears.

Cleo wasn’t really with it for most of it, which is probably all for the best. I think she might’ve actually fallen asleep in our arms when we were going over the billing stuff, and when it finally came time for her IV she fought them to the point that they gave her some of the sedation drug early to help calm her down.

The drug to actually stop her heart was this bright pink, pepto bismol-looking stuff that I couldn’t bring myself to watch the vet injecting. I just helped Sara to hold her and kept my eyes shut until I heard her say that she’d checked for a heartbeat and confirmed that she had passed.

Thankfully, the staff was all super supportive during the whole ordeal. We had a private room just for us with its own entrance, so we didn’t have to pass by other people when we were finally ready to leave.

There were a couple unexpected moments of comedy … or at least I had forgotten that thing where dead animals tend to empty their bowels when they expire, so that amused us that she got in one last chance to pee all over us on her way to the afterlife!

I also found it a little bizarre how unlike they do with people in the movies, I couldn’t close her eyes after she’d died and eventually resorted to pulling the towel she was wrapped in over her head once we’d said our goodbyes and taken the footprints that Sara wanted to take for the kids to do crafts with later.

To their credit, the kids so far have taken it pretty well. We’ve really tried to do our best over the last couple of days, and even the last months as her sickness had gotten worse, to prepare them that Cleo wasn’t going to get better and how eventually she was going to die. We told them that she’d be going to live with Sara’s Grandma Shorty in heaven because she loved animals so much, although I’m not sure that they entirely get the permanence because so far we’ve had a couple of times where they’ve asked when she’s coming back.

But the breakdowns have been limited to the adults and as a parent, I’m grateful for that.

* * *

It’s the day after we put Cleo down and the crying has (mostly) stopped.

Instead, the house just feels … empty.

Life goes on – we take the kids to school, I try to get some work done, etc, etc…

…but something is missing.

I keep waiting for Cleo’s head to pop up out of the sheets on the bed while I’m at our bathroom sink.

Or I catch myself not wanting to leave food unattended so that she doesn’t steal it.

We put the door guard over her doggy door because I couldn’t bring myself to remove the panel altogether, and yet now every time I walk by that guard reminds me that she’s not here to use it anymore.

The same for her gate between the playroom and the kitchen.

There are so many little reminders around this house of our furry family member who has passed on, and I’m constantly fighting between remembering the good times and staving off tears.

It’s amazing how much food my kids really waste when there isn’t a dog to clean up after them.

God, I miss that little brat so much.

* * *

To round out this post on a somewhat happy note, I thought I’d share some of my favorite Cleo moments from over the years…

  1. By and far, our long walks at night as described earlier were absolutely my favorite times!
  2. It sounds funny, but just seeing her sleeping in the corner of my office on her big, fluffy cloud of a comforter always made me smile and love working from home.
  3. We didn’t go very often once we had kids, but taking Cleo to the dog beach where she could actually wade into the water was always a treat. (she wouldn’t swim in our pool because it was too hard to get out)
  4. It was after a very special episode of Puppy Dog Pals that the boys officially dubbed Cleo with the name Superdog, which soon became interchangeable with all of the other fun pet names we called her around the house.
  5. Considering how she wasn’t exactly a fan of strangers coming in our house, it was particularly comforting to watch her snuggling with each of our newborn kids as we brought them home. She guarded those kids like they were her own…
  6. It was obnoxious at times, but there was something special about her snuggling up in the bed when we went to sleep … it was nice if you got her back and not her feet, anyways! I kind of likened it to pack animals huddling up at night to stay warm, and we were her pack.
  7. Although she managed to “forget” most of the other commands we tried to teach her, Cleo used to love jumping for treats. I tried teaching the kids how to have her do it, but at the time they’d always end up overhanding it across the house instead of giving her a gentle lob that she actually had a chance of catching!
  8. Before the kids were born and our house was much, much cleaner, we would also play hide and seek for treats where she would get told to stay and then we’d walk around the house randomly throwing dog treats around for her to seek out once she’d been given the all clear. She was surprisingly good at it, too – I could scatter treats across several rooms of the house and she would systematically track them down one by one, chewing away as she scarfed them down as fast as she could find them!
  9. And of course, it wasn’t a holiday in our house until Cleo got her toy to tear apart … stuffed toys, particularly with squeakers, didn’t stand a chance with her. They were a mess to clean up and never lasted very long – one year for Christmas we got her one of these big, stuffed chairs shaped like a giraffe or something meant for kids to sit in, and she tore into that thing like a lion feasting on a gazelle!
  10. Two words – Cleo. Kisses. They were the most enthusiastic and full of energy kisses you’d ever had, to the point where it sometimes got hard to breathe with her tongue essentially probing the inside of your nose! That dog made no secret who she adored and no face was safe when she got into her affectionate mode… 😀

* * *

Cleo “Superdog” Sevener
(2011 – 2020)

Today we had to say goodbye to Cleo, known by the kids as Superdog. Before her Cushing’s began to take over, this dog had more energy than a lot of people could handle. She loved to bark and chase things, and she was like a kid on Christmas morning tearing into her latest stuffed toy … which lasted about 30 seconds at best around her!

We’ll always remember Cleo for her voracious kisses, and her adoring snuggles, and how protective she was of her family – particularly of the boys.

Enjoy your next adventure wherever the afterlife takes you, Superdog – there’s no doubt that you stole our hearts even more than you stole our food…

A Long-Awaited Calm…

November 8, 2020 2:11am
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The kids are in bed, and the house is quiet. Today is my wife’s 41st birthday and the boys and I made her a cake, which despite the challenges shopping for the ingredients with two kids actually ended up being a lot of fun.

Regardless, today the 2020 election was finally called for Joe Biden, and so now is the time for a bit of reflection…

What can I say? In a year like 2020 where each month has felt like a decade and it seems like we faced an even uglier challenge than before around every turn, today feels strange to be finally confronted with something we’ve craved for so long … calm.

This entire week has been a blur and every night that passed without any of the remaining states calling a result I know had so many of us nearly comatose as we watched America’s democracy dangling by a thread. As the week progressed and more and more mail-in ballots were counted for Biden, it felt like things were going to get better, but as the Trump propaganda machine churned up on schedule about rampant voter fraud, you couldn’t help but think that this asshole was still going to manage to pull it off somehow.

I mean, I suppose even now that could still technically happen, though I think it’s unlikely given that pretty much every allegation of potential fraud has been disproven by the local media in each of the states in question.

I know, I know – “Fake news! Blah blah blah!”

I can’t wait to relegate that term back to The Onion where it belongs.

Because Donald Trump’s presidency has just been, in a word, tedious, and I don’t even want to hear Republicans try to compare it to eight years under President Obama because we’re never going to agree that those two aren’t even in the same galaxy. One president fueled racism and sexism and bigotry and divided the country with anger and bitterness … while the other one tried to give everyone equal access to healthcare.

One of them spoke eloquently and was a friend to the international community while the other one picked fights every chance he could get and spent most of his time beating his own chest.

But tonight wasn’t about Donald Trump.

That’s one of the things that I enjoyed the most in listening to President-Elect Biden’s acceptance speech was that he didn’t resort to name-calling and bitter jabs and language meant to rile up the audience as he spoke. He was gracious, and humble, and also direct in the type of country that he believes America to be.

And I don’t know if him and Senator Harris can get us there, but I sure as hell have got a lot more faith in those two than I’ve ever had in the Trump family of con artists and hucksters.

I may not be as naive as I was 12 years ago when President Obama was first elected and everything felt like rainbows, but I’m not so cynical that I’m ready to be a Republican who just wants to burn the whole thing down while keeping a modest cut for myself. I understand that government can’t solve everything, however I do think that it’s reasonable for it to establish the rules and standards around which we live our lives in a modern society. So I’m looking forward to having a president once again who cares about climate change and accepts that systemic racism is a thing that we should work to eliminate and recognizes that capitalism has done a lot of great things, but it’s also created a tremendous wealth gap in which those at the top take advantage of those at the bottom.

More so, I think we can look to a President Biden to actually build on the policies of his predecessors and not simply strive to dismantle everything done by the guy who came before him.

They’ve got a lot of work ahead of them, and there’s going to be a lot of resistance. Of those 70 million people who voted for Trump, some of them – hopefully not many, but certainly some – will vehemently hate everything that they set out to do and will claw tooth and nail to hold onto their ugly, MAGA principles that have been enabled by our president for the last four years.

That said, my hope is that for the rest of the people – the ones who aren’t racist or sexist or generally horrible – my hope is that Biden/Harris can find a way to bridge the gap to those people help address some of their concerns with regards to the economy and government regulations and not becoming the socialist state that many fear Democrats want for the United States.

I hope that they can inspire positivity as opposed to hatred.

We’re going to have our very first female Vice President who’s also a person of color – think of what that says to younger generations who haven’t felt the full struggle that their parents and grandparents have felt due to their gender or skin color yet!

I feel comfortable letting my kids listen to these leaders speak as the biggest role models in politics – something I certainly haven’t felt from the Trump admin over the last four years.

I don’t expect them to solve all of our problems, but I do think that they’ve got a good shot and moving the ball forward again.

Congress is going to be a struggle, particularly if Republicans maintain control of the Senate.

Rich folks certainly aren’t going to be excited about paying more in taxes, and the business world in general might be worried about having a leader who doesn’t put economic growth above anything and everything else.

And lord knows that in his two months left in office, Trump is going to continue kicking and screaming and throwing his little tantrums, and he’s probably going to do a few more ugly things before he finally gets evicted in January. The most ardent of his base will likely continue to protest, and while I hope that it doesn’t come to it, it wouldn’t entirely surprise me if we see some more violence between both sides as his impending legal battles only prove the end of his presidency to be more certain.

My own personal goal, which starts with this blog post, is really to try and get all of the Trump trolling out of my system so that I can completely and utterly forget about him and instead focus my thoughts on the future without him.

I’m sure that even after he’s left the White House, we’ll continue to hear the Trump name for years to come because he’s going to rely on that enthusiastic base to feed both his bank account and his ego. I read a rumor the other day that he might start up his own television network, you know, because Fox News abandoned him and all! So we’ll probably continue seeing those stupid, red hats for the foreseeable future.

It’s not a perfect solution. In fact, it’s only the very start, but I do know this – electing Joe Biden to replace Donald Trump puts out the fire of having a crazy person in the most powerful position in the land. 

There’s so much more to do, but I think this is a really good start.

Faith in Our Voting Process…

November 6, 2020 11:17pm
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Amid all of the chaos that has come from this election, one thing that admittedly I find a bit intriguing are the scenarios that the Trump campaign and his party have used to drum up this mistrust in the electoral process that we’re now seeing play out particularly around the counting of mail-in ballots.

The most common, no doubt, is boxes of ballots showing up for the other party, which I suppose could be a possible concern if you have very little faith in our voting process to begin with … because really if you think about it, there’s a lot of faith that goes into voting even without mail-in ballots being part of the equation…

  • We trust that the person who checks IDs and voter registrations is actually doing their job.
  • We trust that ballots across the country are designed in a fashion that are easy to understand.
  • We trust that the machines used to tabulate our votes are free of bugs and malicious software.
  • We trust that the people loading boxes of ballots into trucks for the central tabulation that happens in some states doesn’t miss one.
  • We trust that the people loading boxes of ballots into bigger counting machines make sure that none stick to the bottoms of each and every box.
  • We trust that all of the websites aggregating and summarizing voting data once the results are made public manage all of that data accurately.
  • We trust the media to publish and report on those results fairly and accurately to the entire world, including calling winners in every state and eventually the election as a whole.
  • And after all is said and done, we trust the electors of the electoral college themselves to actually vote the will of the people and execute on the results of the election.

That’s a lot of trust just for the average American walking into a voting booth to cast their vote, so for people who are ok with all of that … what’s with the stretch to also trust ballots of the mail-in variety which are delivered through the USPS, which includes ballots from our troops overseas and people traveling who can’t make it to the polls in their home state … oddly enough including most of the people who work in Washington, D.C.!

The truth is, one of our voting process’s greatest strengths is also a weakness – the anonymity of a person’s ballot once it’s been cast. Because the way our system is purposefully designed, although taking a ballot to vote puts a check mark next to my name in the voter registration database that “I voted!” in the 2020 election, nowhere is it actually recorded how I voted.

Or how many ballots I fed into the machine after I left that little booth.

You just have to trust me, and the elderly lady standing by the machine who tells me to feed in one page at a time, that I only submitted one ballot. But there’s nothing on my ballot to tie my name to my vote so that someone could later review the results to say, “Hey, this guy submitted four different ballots at different locations!” or “How is this dude voting when he’s already dead?!”

Voting while dead is another common allegation for voter fraud, but the system isn’t really designed to thoroughly prevent it from happening outside of simply having the trust of a couple of random people along the chain.

And I’m not necessarily saying that this needs to change, mind you, although I think to some extent if we ever do move to some form of online voting we’re going to have to give up a little secrecy in exchange for security.

My point is simply this – voting, and democracy in general, requires some faith and it’s certainly not without its share of flaws, however mail-in ballots aren’t the villain in this story. Tens of millions of mail-in ballots are used in every election – this year we just had to lean on them more heavily due to COVID-19. If anything, we should be thankful that we had another option to extend the vote to 65 million Americans who otherwise might not have exercised their civic duty due to risk of the pandemic.

And the people who took advantage of mail-in ballots to cast their votes shouldn’t be used as a scapegoat when one party has lost its faith in the electoral process in general because it’s looking like it won’t produce the results that they were hoping for.

Coronavirus, Day 234 – A COVID Election

November 4, 2020 4:34pm
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Votes are still being counted as I type this, but it looks like Biden might’ve actually won.

Which is a relief, but I’ll write more about that later!

The delay, as we expected, is due to the huge spike in mail-in ballots thanks to the pandemic – almost 3x the number of mail-in ballots from 2016, which is kind of NUTS if you think about the sheer volumes…

Total Ballots

  • 2020 (so far) – 137 million
  • 2016 – 127 million

Mail-In Ballots

  • 2020 (so far) – 65 million
  • 2016 – 24 million

Early Voting – In-Person Ballots

  • 2020 – 36 million
  • 2016 – 23 million

Election Day – In-Person Ballots

  • 2020 – 36 million
  • 2016 – 82 million

In a way, it’s comforting to see that so many people took the COVID precautions seriously enough to vote via mail instead of in person on election day – at least 40 million extra people at the polls certainly would’ve increased the risk of exposure! I ended up voting early for my first time and it was super easy, so it’s likely something I’ll do again in the future just to avoid the crowds even after the pandemic has passed.

…which despite the unscientific argument of many politicians, is still definitely here even with Election Day itself behind us, as the US logged another 94,000 cases and almost 1,200 deaths just yesterday. I know that even if/when Biden does win, we’ve still got a couple of months of Trump policies to deal with before he takes over, but I can only hope that come January having a different voice in the White House changes the American perspective on this virus so that we can actually get in front of it and stave off more waves while we wait for a vaccine to be ready.

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