Alternate States of Reality (10/11/2008)

This blog is another email from times past – a trip back to a time long ago when I used to travel to Los Angeles very frequently on business trips. All of of this is now a distant memory, but a memory that will take a long time to completely fade away. Times have changed.
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The trips to Los Angeles are becoming second nature to me. I drive the streets of El Segundo as if I know them like the back of my hand. Then there are the regular drives that I make north of LA to Burbank, on the crowded expressways that dissect the concrete jungles of downtown LA. The expressways are really amazing, with metered entrances, several lanes in each direction, soaring flyovers, and even some elevated sections that let the people who are carpooling fly high over the regular lanes of backed up commuter traffic. Although I have never lived in California, names like Pasadena, Ventura Boulevard, Burbank, seem so familiar to me. (Maybe I listened to too much California music when I was growing up.) All over the world we find a way to live in our different states of reality, but at the end of the day it is all a human creation. My life as a commuter, traveling at least once a month to LA, has become my reality, and it would be hard to argue that it is not my own creation.

With my regular trips to different places these days comes the attempt to make some adjustments and allowances for my internal state of affairs. Actually, this could be more of a psychological issue than physical. I have no pain, perhaps a very slight physical ache once in a while (that could be more mental than real) that I can ignore for the most part. I do need to remember to carry around my innumerable medicines. I seem to have no problems with the endless walking that is involved in getting from place to place within the airports even though I am dragging my luggage around with me all the time. I have no troubles with the endless bus rides to and from parking lots and distant car rental places. I do not feel any particular weakness (although I still have not been able to get back to my more strenuous efforts on the trail during the weekends).

I have had to try to adjust my eating habits during these trips and that is still a work in progress. But I have also found certain places that I can visit again and again during my trips to LA. The Subway deli with its veggie patty sandwich is an old standby. The Japanese eat-out place looks promising, especially the Salmon on rice with teriyaki sauce, consumed with a green salad and cranberry juice. I have become a regular at “Thai Dishes”, a hole-in-the-wall joint on an inhospitable stretch of Aviation Boulevard next to an old military aircraft factory and a railroad line, not far from DIRECTV. The spicy chicken and vegetable combinations, washed down by some Singha beer is a delight after a long day at the office. I drink a lot of water. (I now have to sit in the aisle seat on a flight rather than the window seat.) During the last trip I ate just fruit for breakfast on my last day because fruits are supposed to be good for you. I am not convinced that everything that I am doing really makes sense. It is the conventional wisdom of the day that one follows, but it is quite possible that conventional wisdom changes with time and is not always correct. One lives according to today’s rules, whether they are right or wrong. Does anybody have any wisdom beyond that?

Yes, I am building up an alternate state of reality with my trips to Southern California, and perhaps I will be able to survive this reality long enough to enjoy a different and more fulfilling reality some time in the future, before time runs out. I have a feeling I am not the only one in this state of mind.

The “LAX from the Westin” Picture Gallery

This gallery is linked to the subject matter of my previous blog.

Some interesting observations came to mind when I was trying to pick pictures for this blog. One is that quite a few of the aircraft that I used to see in those days are no longer flying. This list includes the Boeing 747 (with the exception of the later B747-8), the Airbus 340, and the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 and McDonnell/Boeing MD-11. There is even a picture of a freighter DC-8 above! The Airbus 380 and Boeing 747-8 aircraft only arrived later, and soon they too will be no more.

Also of note is that a few of the airlines that were in existence at that time are no more, including Continental, Northwest, and US Airways.

The picture in the collage above of the small rolling suitcase taken in front of the door of my hotel room as I prepare to depart Los Angeles to come home is symbolic of the nature of my work-related travels in those days. The bag carried everything I needed for a short trip. It was small enough to fit into the overhead bins of the aircraft I flew on, so that I did not have to check-in any luggage. I could get through airports quickly without having to wait at luggage carousels or in check-in lines. I was constantly traveling – in and out of hotel rooms, arriving and departing at all possible hours of the day. The passageways, the concession stands, and even the restrooms, of the United and American Airlines terminals at LAX became very familiar to me.

A person can do it, especially at a younger age, but you may not really fully realize what the experience of constant long-distance travel is doing to your body and soul, especially as it is happening. Some of us simply had to do it.

Random Musings On The Flight From Los Angeles (1/29/2009)

I wrote this during one of the many trips that I used to take to Los Angeles when I was working. I have taken the liberty of making a few corrections/improvements, but not that many…..
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The American Airlines Boeing 757 lined up on Runway 25R at LAX airport, with its distinct and ugly snout pointed West towards the Pacific Ocean. Silverbird quickly accelerated down the runway, muscling its streamlined form with rapidly increasing speed hard against the wind. Barely halfway down its runway the aircraft rose up from the ground, nose pointed skyward, as if eager to break its connection with Mother Earth and get away from its clutches as quickly as possible. It quickly ascended at a steep angle and attacked the sky like an eager and angry fighter jet rising to meet the enemy, its engines screaming with a distinct shrill and high-pitched sound that sounded so unworldly, yet so sweet, gaining altitude by the second. Within moments the aircraft was over the Pacific Ocean and was banking sharply to the left, beginning its U-turn to head back east to the Washington, DC, area. The aircraft turned east in the area over the Port of Long Beach and quickly rose to its cruising altitude. The unusually swift prevailing winds that had originally delayed my arrival into LAX on Monday were now speeding me on my way back home for an unexpected early arrival.

The Westin Hotel near LAX is located due east of the airport. Century Boulevard, which runs in front of the hotel, takes you directly from the hotel to the airport terminals. The hotel is shaped somewhat (but not exactly) like a cross, with the base of the cross facing the airport. The aircraft flight paths leading into LAX happen to be on both sides of the hotel (and therefore on both sides of the airport terminals themselves). LAX’s four runways run in an east to west direction (or west to east, depending on your perspective), on either sides of Century Boulevard. The runways on the south side of the airport terminal begin not too far from the hotel itself. The runways on the north side begin further away from the hotel, closer to the airport terminal itself. Most of the time the planes come in to land from the east and takeoff to the west. There are very rare arrivals from the west, usually late in the night or in the early hours of the morning before the regular traffic has begun. Being a frequent traveler, I usually get a room on the highest floors of the hotel. My view from the hotel depends upon which section of the hotel my room is located on. If I am facing east, I can get a beautiful view of the sunrise over the hills, and of the aircraft, with their lights turned on, lining up to land on the runway that runs close to the hotel. If my room faces south, I can see the planes fly right by my window at a very low altitude. To the west, I can view aircraft taking off from the airport, and I can also enjoy the glorious colors of sunset (if I manage to get back from work at a decent time). The planes look very nice in the light of either the rising or setting sun. To the north, I can observe the planes approach the airport at a significant height (since the runways start further away from the hotel), framed by the hills to the north of LA and the skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles in the distance. The rays of the rising sun hitting the skyscrapers of downtown LA can create a unique and beautiful sight that lasts for just a few moments. I am usually awake well before dawn because of the difference in time zones, and I spend time looking for things to photograph in the distance. I sometimes wander down the hallways of the hotel to try to get a good spot to take a picture – to find the particular angle that, at the right time, offers a unique perspective. I have to admit that my pictures do not come out well since I am dealing with non-ideal conditions for photography, and a camera with limited capability. But I keep trying. And the hotel staff have not yet stopped me from doing what I am doing.
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American Airlines Boeing 757
American Airlines Boeing 757 through a dirty window

It has been many years since I last visited Los Angeles. I still have a lot of memories of my trips. The Westin Airport LAX is still in operation.

Sample pictures taken from the Westin during that period of time are in the next blog.

Water Colors

The image of a paintbox flashed through my mind one morning last week. I am not sure what triggered a memory of something from my childhood. I suddenly had a vivid remembrance/recollection of my leaning over a piece of paper with a wet paintbrush in hand, bringing my brush to a particular color in the tray that lay in front of me, moving the brush back and forth on the cake of color to allow the material to dissolve and be absorbed on to the brush, and then applying the brush to paper. For some reason the name Camel is associated in my mind with the brand of the paintbox that I would have used. I do not know if this was only in my imagination working overtime, but I do note that there still is a brand of watercolor called Camlin from a company based in India.

I used to really like painting as a kid. I think I even graduated to using tubes of paint at some point, but never beyond painting with water colors. I even got to the point of using brushes in different sizes to help fill in different spaces of the picture being painted more efficiently, and to try to achieve some degree of finesse.

I remember that we had to take drawing classes while in middle school. There was a separate classroom dedicated just to drawing. The person in charge of drawing (called the drawing master) was really good at painting. He also used to play volleyball well. But he was also a terror to the kids. He had a habit of breaking the rulers that he hit the kids on the hands with. I somehow managed to escape his wrath, and went on to appreciate what I got to indulge in while in his class. It is impossible to judge whether I had talent or not, but I did enjoy the process.

It was in 1969, the year when man landed on the moon for the first time, that the school decided to have a painting competition in commemoration of the event. I remember painting an astronaut on the surface of the moon. I remember that all the colors I used were dark. It makes sense, does it not? The other occasion I remember was when I took part in a competition organized by the college students in one of the hostels on campus. I do not know what the theme of the competition was, but I decided that I was going to paint an image of the Virgin Mary in what I pictured stained glass to look like. You see, I imagined this stained glass to consist simply of pieces of glass of different colors, stuck together to form a pattern. It was a brilliant move on my part. All I had to do was create random blocks in different shapes to fill in the space, and simply paint each block with a single color. Finesse did not matter in this regard. What mattered was how close the final result could be taken to represent the person I was trying to paint. It could be considered some form of abstract art. Best of all, I could fake out the details when drawing the face. Faces were my biggest challenge when it came to painting, especially the eyes and nose. (I had even avoided having to draw a face for the picture of the astronaut on the earlier occasion!) In any case, they decided to give me a prize in the category and age group that I was participating in. I do not remember any more details.

It is now years later, far removed from my days of middle school. I have not used a paintbrush since then other than for perhaps helping to paint the walls of a house. More recently, I have considered going to the local arts store to buy a the basic stuff needed to try out watercolor painting once again. But something is also stopping me. Basically, I think that I have become a wimp. I am cautious of even the process of getting started. I am concerned about consequences even if there probably aren’t any. I do not even want to buy something that I may not use after a period of experimentation. It could turn out to be a wasteful endeavor. I am concerned that this is only a temporary and foolish fancy that will eventually go away. (I have much experience with such things.) I am concerned that there are too many other things that I do that will distract me from putting in the effort that I feel is needed. I am lazy enough to not want to take classes. Essentially, I can no longer think like the innocent and carefree 10 year old I once was.

A Christmas Story

I had been ambivalent about the whole project. When she had first brought up the idea of delivering food to my parents in Chennai from a restaurant in town that her sister and her husband had ownership in (a first-class restaurant, may I add!), I had told her it probably was not a good idea. There were the logistical issues to consider. First of all, the restaurant was quite far from where my parents lived. Secondly, I had experienced issues when dealing with deliveries to the home while in Chennai. The problems started with something as basic as specifying the address for delivery. (The online maps that the vendors used with their GPS systems did not use the postal address as their basis for locating the house. We had to figure out an addressing scheme that worked with GPS. (My first attempt at placing an order in Chennai with an Amazon ended up with a cancellation – because the delivery person never arrived. That was when I recognized the issue with the “address”. All subsequent orders for delivery that I made involved my standing at the gate of the house and keeping my eyes peeled for the delivery person, sometimes keeping track of his progress on my smartphone.)) I should add that Dad and mom have no idea how to use any of the technology involved in managing a delivery to the home. There was nobody else in town to depend upon to help with this. Any delivery of the food had to be coordinated remotely.

Anyway, she was determined. She decided, on her own, to have a delivery of food made to our home for Christmas. It being a special occasion, I did not object completely in spite of my concerns, and I tried to help. She was going to rope in her sister to help make it happen. The process was going to be managed remotely from Bangalore. I noted my concerns, not the least of which was that I did not want to do anything that would stress out my parents in this whole process. I was told not to worry. I provided as much information as I could so that the house could be identified. I consulted with my brother who had faced similar issues during his own trips to Chennai. I even provided a link to a picture I had taken of the shops in front of our house to help with locating the home. I thought I had covered all the bases. The order was placed. Delivery was going to happen around noontime on Christmas day. I was not involved in any of the organization. I must have continued to express my reservations. I was told not to worry.

The next step was for me to inform my parents that the food was going to be delivered at a particular time, and for them to expect phone calls related to the delivery at around that time, the last phone call being made by the delivery person at the gate to the house. Alas, this is where the plan in its original form began to go awry. I attempted to make a phone call to Chennai the day before Christmas. The phone at home was not working.

My siblings and I were independently in touch with somebody who was planning to visit my parents for Christmas. When I asked, Venkat informed me that he was going to be at our home in Chennai about an hour or so before the food delivery. I asked him to please inform my parents about what was going to happen just in case I could not call home before that. The stage was set.

I continued to try to call Chennai but could not get through.

When we woke up on Christmas day, we retieved a message that had arrived overnight from Bangalore. It said that the person delivering the food in Chennai had not been able to get in touch with my parents after his arrival at the house. Of course, the phone was not working. Nobody was responding to him when he called out from the compound gate(s?). Strangely, he reported that one of the gates was locked from the outside. Suman was on the phone with the delivery person when all of this was happening. She gave him instructions to leave the food at the gate. That was the last thing we heard about the delivery. We had no idea what might have happened to the food. Nobody could get in touch with my parents. My worst fears had been confirmed. This had been Mission Impossible! Again, I was told not to worry. We had tried.

Christmas day went by. I could not get my mind completely off what I was now convinced was a complete disaster. I should have done more to prevent this kind of a situation from happening. So many people had put in so much effort to make this happen, and it had fallen apart. Food had also been wasted.

But, the good thing was that we also had the distractions of Christmas to keep us occupied. We were getting the treat of a dinner cooked by Angela. She had suggested the menu for Christmas dinner, and had offered to cook everything. It was going to be an Indian meal. She had no previous experience with the dishes she was planning to cook. She was going to make them for the first time using recipes from books. She was going to be adventurous. Others assisted in her efforts as needed, but she was in charge. She organized things very precisely leaving very little to chance. She even transcribed the detailed instructions from the recipe books to a notebook that she kept in front of her while cooking in order to make sure that things were done right. The result was amazing!

We also spoke to my siblings and their families in the afternoon on Christmas day. The topic of the attempted food delivery in Chennai came up. We were joking among ourselves that the food had probably ended up feeding some stray dogs, or the rats that hung around the place. I did not want to talk about it any more!

Teresa and I realized much later that evening that we had not passed along one critical piece of information about where the food was supposed to have been delivered in Chennai. There was a second house, newly built and unoccupied, next to the the house where the food was supposed to have been delivered, and we had not even thought about making a mention of this house when giving directions. Perhaps the person had attempted to deliver the food there. Anyway, it was too late to do anything about it. The dogs must have had a good time.

When I woke up the next day, I found a texted message awaiting me from my brother. He had finally gotten through to our parents on the phone. He mentioned that the food package had actually not been lost! The message I had passed on to Venkat had gotten through to my parents. Mom had gone over to the new house to see if there was anything that had been left there. She had done this in spite of the fact that they had not talked to anybody on the phone. The plan had actually worked out somehow!

It was already too late to call and wish my parents a Merry Christmas, but at least they received the Christmas gift on time. All’s well that ends well.

PS. FYI, from our personal experience, the food from Kappa Chakka Kandhari is exceptional and highly recommended!

Thanksgiving in The Time of Thanksgiving and COVID-19

I had told myself that I did not want to do the long drive to Massachusetts once again, so soon after the previous trip. But we ended up heading north for Thanksgiving anyway. The drive turned out OK since I had help with the driving in both directions this time.

Of course, coronavirus was on the mind. Ventilation, masks, physical distancing, etc.. were on the mind. The infection rate has skyrocketed in our country in recent weeks. We had to be careful. Our family group was small enough, and every person had to take responsibility for their own actions.

Conversations, games, daytime naps, walks in the park, including Lucy, cooking,bird watching, etc.., were all part of the informal routine during this vacation, with people free to participate as they desired. No pressure!

We did gather at the table for the significant meals. What you are seeing in the picture below are mostly the remains of the Thanksgiving meal the day after. I neglected to take pictures of the Thanksgiving meal itself, which included an Irish Soda Bread that was demolished in a single sitting.Even Lucy seemed to feel free to do whatever she felt like.



There have been a couple of very specific occasions during the last few weeks when I have strongly felt the spirit of community and sharing in a way that felt somewhat different and unique, yet familiar. When sharing of effort is done with a complete sense of openness, without holding back, without a feeling of being imposed upon, without any expectation of any kind of reward other than the generation of a somewhat vaguely defined feeling of happiness and satisfaction that cannot be quantified, then you are mentally and spiritually in a special place. One could ask, what more does one need other than to experience such a feeling, a feeling that immediately warms the cockles of your heart. The goal of the sharing in some instances is not perfection, but the outcome feels that way.

The first time I felt that way was when I assisted with the preparation of the Thanksgiving meal. I provided only a couple of the many hands that helped in the efforts to prepare the roasted chicken, and to cook the beans.Different people participated in the effort in barely organized fashion. It felt like nobody was specifically in charge of worrying about the outcomes. The sense of responsibility was shared and we stepped into roles organically. But the outcomes were good nevertheless. Somehow things all came together.

I had the same feeling back in Maryland when working at the food bank the week after Thanksgiving. I had an intense sense of commonality of purpose. We, the volunteers, just stepped in to do what was needed to prepare closed boxes of food for distribution – including piling the boxes on pallets for shipping, moving stuff, including the loaded pallets, around, recycling cardboard packaging, cleaning up waste, etc.., instinctively stepping in to help each other as needed. In the end, there was great satisfaction in the outcome, and the sense of a successful team effort. We all felt happy about what had been accomplished. We actually lost count of the number of pallets that we had piled up with boxes. It sounds repetitive, but perfection was not necessarily the goal of our effort, although it felt like this was the result that had been achieved. I have been volunteering for years at this point, and I have felt this way in the past when I am working with the regulars (now my friends) who come in on Tuesday. Perhaps I have even articulated this same thought already in the past, but I was so surprised at how similar it felt to the Thanksgiving experience.

As I might have indicated in earlier blogs, my personality lends itself to trying to plan things in detail in advance, sometimes with a degree of obsessiveness, trying to make sure that all the angles are covered, so that one can anticipate anything that can go amiss. That approach can lend itself well to the professional engineering environment where 100% solutions might be important, where you want to do everything you can to ensure that very little can go wrong. This thought process may not be that relevant in many situations in real life. When you are working with others with a genuine sense of community and commonality of purpose, your approach and goals can tend to be different, and the results can be much more fulfilling, and relevant to the human condition.

How I became friends with jimmy john (4/18/2008)

Inroduction – I have ended up digging deep into my past while creating this blog. It was supposed to be a simple re-post of an email I sent many years ago. Much water has flowed under the bridge since 2008. Life was very different at that time. This blog even takes me back to the early days of my career, before the email you are about to read was written. Here goes.

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There are two separate topics in this e-mail, and the second topic is more of a reflection on longer-term happenings in my life.  It would be perfectly understandable if you skipped this second part.
 
So here I was walking through the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show in the Convention Center in Las Vegas, when I heard a shout “Hello, Malayalee anoo”?  (Hello, are you a Malayalee?) I turned to see this guy walking up to me.  He started talking to me in Malayalam with a heavy accent.  I was totally taken aback at being accosted in this manner in the middle of a convention center in Las Vegas.  The gentleman mentioned that he had seen my badge and recognized that the name must belong to a person from Kerala.  Very quickly, before I could even recover, he asked me where I was from, whom I worked for, how long I was going to be in Las Vegas, etc..  I had no clue who this person was, and did not understand why he was talking to me with such familiarity and asking all these questions.  He must have noticed a bewildered look on my face because he paused for a moment.   “Am I asking too many questions?”, he enquired.  I did not know what to say.  He then noted that the way he was asking me questions was the manner in which people broke the ice and started conversations in Kerala.  He said that he was from Toronto, and in my confused state of mind I heard the word Trivandrum instead.  I looked at his badge and it said jimmy john (just the way I have written it!).  Anyway, jimmy soon realized that I was not too much of a Malayalee (even though my parents are from Kerala), but that did not deter him from continuing the conversation.  We continued to talk in English for a while about our backgrounds and I became more comfortable with the conversation.  I suppose he was a simble (inside Malayalee joke!) person, and perhaps we could continue talking because I am also simble (hmm, maybe not that humble).  Turns out that he produces a show in Toronto called Malayala Shabtham and his production company is called CKTV, Canadian Kerala TV Productions.  He seems to know people and politicians in Canada, and he sounds like an enterprising fellow.  For all I know, he is a well-known person in certain circles.  Perhaps one or more of you may have heard his name.  Anyway, we exchanged cards and then parted ways.
 
Now, changing topics:  Later the same evening I went out for a dinner organized by a gentleman from DIRECTV named Bob Plummer.  Bob had been at the David Sarnoff Research Center while I was there and had moved directly to DIRECTV after that. (He is one of the folks who encouraged me to move to DIRECTV.)  He is a very senior person, has a lot of friends in the industry, and will be retiring this year.  He apparently has been organizing this dinner during the NAB for several years for his friends in the industry.  This time he invited me to the dinner so that I could get to know some of the folks, and I also met an old friend from Sarnoff, Joel Zdepski, who has now gone on become a Senior VP in a company called OpenTV.  In any case, the food was very good (and very expensive) and there was plenty of wine to drink.  At a particular moment during this whole affair, Bob walked into a conversation that I was having with somebody else and turned to the person and said something along the lines of – Kuria is one of those people who can actually get things to work.  My goodness, what a complement!  It is quite possible that the number of drinks that had been consumed at that point inspired the comment.  But it got me thinking after I got back to my hotel room later in the night (and this is where the humble part goes out the window!).  In the early years of my career I had worked on some really unique and challenging problems that were cutting edge, without really realizing the magnitude of what I was doing.  At Sarnoff, we were trying to design the first digital high-definition broadcast TV system in the world, and were implementing certain concepts for the first time.  Without really thinking too much about it, I came up with a unique solution to a particular system problem that we had, and, although I did not have any hardware experience, I got into the thick of things and actually helped in implementing the concept and making the darned thing work.  I was working on something that I had minimum expertise in, and something far removed from the topic of my graduate studies.  I depended a lot on intuition. I was also quite naive and did not even realize the complex nature of the problem I was taking on and solving.  But others did notice and remember! And it is staggering to realize that the things that we worked on at Sarnoff have now become the foundation of a gigantic worldwide digital TV industry.  Wow!
 
I had a few other such “Eureka” moments during the early part of my career, some of them at Hughes Network Systems, but I think none matched the magnitude of the work at Sarnoff.  I think I had a real problem-solving mentality that is typical of an Engineer, and this ability compensated for a lot of my other personality issues.  But the years have gone by since then and the reality of life has caught up.  It is now more about shouldering responsibilities and trying to make sure that one does not screw things up.  I do not have to solve difficult technical problems.  I am more careful. Everything is more mundane.  And I have to find other less risky roads to follow to push myself and experience the excitement of learning new things and challenging myself.  And, although one accepts where one is in life without any regrets, one wonders once in a while about what might have been if other routes in life had been followed and if more time had been spent earlier in life on developing other talents. It is probably true that one can waste a lifetime simply asking questions and not doing anything else. But at least on that one magical evening in Las Vegas (under the influence of alcohol, of course) I felt like I had done something unique and special, something that not just anybody could have done.  Is it all about feeding the ego?
 
There used to be an advertising line having to do with the Las Vegas tourism scene that stated – Whatever happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas.  You can see that this is certainly not true with what has happened to me in Las Vegas during my last two trips.

Such is life.
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Today’s postscript – While looking for pictures of people who I worked with while at Sarnoff, I came upon this website with details about the project I was involved in at that time. You can even find pictures of me from my youth (at least four of them in the section about the “AD-HDTV System Integration at Sarnoff Field Lab”). My signature is on a document that we signed at the end of the project. I directly contributed to the specification document for this project. I was responsible for something called the priority processor.

I do not know how long this website will stay up, but I might as well make use of it while it lasts. This is certainly taking me down a memory lane.
https://www.glennreitmeier.tv/advanced-digital-hdtv-prototype
https://www.glennreitmeier.tv/advanced-digital-hdtv-prototype?lightbox=dataItem-jkrigr9z2

They’ve All Come To Look For America

Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike,
They’ve all come to look for America
Simon and Garfunkel……………….America

This song was playing in my head as we drove back to Maryland from Massachusetts last weekend – as we headed down the New Jersey Turnpike. Traffic on the roads was normal, not as bad as it can get on a crowded day, but enough to slow you down when you least expected it. You would think that this was a typical day in the USofA at the end of summer. Labor day is over and you get the feeling that autumn is around the corner.People like us are out and about, going about our lives, as if everything were normal.

But these are not really normal times here in the USA. Within a few short days, over 200,000 people would have perished in our country because of COVID-19. Who knows what the numbers will be by election time. About 20% of the global deaths due to the virus are in our country at this time. It is not a record to be proud of. The raw numbers are already much higher than the number of US soldiers killed in the Vietnam war, a war that left its painful mark on the American psyche. How will we remember this particular crisis?

And yet there are those who still believe that this is all a big hoax. No real effort is being made by the authorities, the people in power who know what is actually going on, to correct this mistaken belief. In fact, the misinformed are being encouraged by some to carry on living in their imaginary world. And we all carry on.

Back on the New Jersey Turnpike, at one of the rest stops, there are plenty of cars in the parking lots – but the lots are also not full. Thankfully, the indoor area, where the food court and the restrooms are located, is not completely packed with people – but there are enough of us that we have to keep our eyes peeled in order to maintain physical distancing. Some of us seem to have become somewhat used to performing this particular kind of dance by now. There are also only a few tables and chairs left in the open area of the building for people to dine at. The tables are clean, leading me to believe that they are being more careful in cleaning up after customers. The lines at the eateries for ordering food are long. Our food takes a long time to arrive.

Thankfully, most people are masked. Perhaps it is because New Jersey has already been through the worst of it during the first wave of the coronavirus earlier on, and they know how bad it can get if they are not careful. But the urge also exists to try to carry on as if everything is normal – that there is nothing that is wrong. Yet the virus remains in the air – unseen. We do not know who is carrying it. It could be anywhere.

But, you know, things could have been worse. The virus could have been more virulent. What if it had been able to survive in the open without a host for longer periods of time? What if it actually survived on certain surfaces and under certain conditions for a longer amount of time? What if a higher percentage of the people that caught the virus die? From a very different perspective, what if something like this had happened before we had a robust online system to keep at least some of the systems that maintain our infrastructure still operational, i.e., what if this had happened before we had a well-developed Internet?

These are strange and unique times. And they are not going to end any time soon.

Our Little Bubbles

I listened to a very interesting podcast episode recently. It was from a series called The Seen and The Unseen with Amit Varma. The particular episode was called Caste, Gender, Karnatik Music. The subject matter of the particular episode was actually broader than the title makes it sound. The whole episode made me think about various things, some even unrelated to the subject of the interview. The person being interviewed was a remarkable person – a thinker who was self-aware to an extreme. He was able to express this self-awareness in very clear manner.

One of the things I ended up thinking about is how most of us tend to get stuck in our own bubbles in various ways, and even in multiple contexts. This is nearly always counterproductive to our own growth, our true understanding of the world, and our own broad-mindedness. One aspect of the bubble is our inability to properly understand things from beyond our own circumstances, background, and perspectives, and to understand where other people are coming from. I am not sure if this is only about empathy. It is about smugness of those of us who are fortunate in our circumstances, and this can be true even when we think we are doing the right thing for other people who we may think of as less fortunate than us. It is about complacency. It is about a determination of fairness in society. It is about the ability for societies to exist and thrive from everybody’s perspective.

I am not sure that it is easy for us to break out of our bubbles, but I am sure that I would better off if I could break out of mine more effectively. Once you become complacent, you are lost.