LEDs Redux

There’s been an noticeable improvement in the quality of LED based Christmas lights this year, They still have the supersaturated blues that the first generation had, but while those had relatively dim yellow and red lights, the newer sets are coming with more and brighter warm colors. With brighter yellows, oranges and reds, I can tolerate the deeply saturated blues.

I went into Boston this evening for the First Night “Pipes and Pops” concert at the Old South Church. I decided to walk through the Common looking for ice sculptures. I found out after the fact that they’d been moved to City Hall Plaza, but I did get to see the city’s official Christmas tree. It was quite nice. It seemed to me that there were a lot more red and warm white lights, and fewer greens and blues. The effect was quite pleasant.

(The concert was really good too, starting with Copeland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and ending with the Radeztky March.)

Remembrances

I’d like to post a couple of items here that I created for Mum’s wake and funeral. The first is a video I made for the funeral home; it played during the wake.

I made it via Apple Photos; I have face recognition set up, and I went through the pictures it had tagged as having Mum in them. From there, I added in some slide scans, including a few taken when she was three or four years old. I chose the “Ken Burns Effect” for the transitions; it got me close out of the box, and then I viewed it, and edited the starting and ending zoom and pan for certain images to better suit them. I ended up keeping the default Ken Burns effect music; I’d been thinking I’d use “Firefly” by Over the Rhine, but found that (A), it didn’t match the movement of the slides well, and (B) it was too sad for my frame of mind right then.

The second is the eulogy I read at the funeral. I was fine while I was writing and rehearsing it beforehand, but as soon as we started wheeling the casket down the aisle, I broke down, and really couldn’t hold myself together while reading it. It contains a statement from her brother, who was unable to attend:

Hi. 

Mum would have loved to have seen you all here. She wasn’t morbid, but she did like funerals. 

I remember one time, she’d been to a funeral and was talking about the music she’d heard at dinnertime, and what kind of music she’d like to have for her own. 

It turned into one of those silly dinner-time conversations, and Karen wiped us all out — including Mum — with “How about ‘Ding Dong, The Witch is Dead?‘”

(She got a kick out of it, but for the record, sorry Mum, but we’re not gonna do it.)

The two things that first spring to mind when I think about my mother was her devotion to family, and her strength. 

Mum loved being surrounded by her kids and grandkids. When she went to the Cape, she always wanted to have the kids with her. 

One of Brian’s kids called her “the fun grandmother”, because she liked doing things with them. 

She liked to entertain, but it was almost always for family. Easter dinners, birthday parties, big birthday parties for the whole extended family, and of course, her Christmas Eve parties every year.

It’s appropriate that she died during the Christmas season. 

Mum loved Christmas. She loved riding around looking at the lights, the decorations, the hustle and bustle, the activity. 

She loved giving gifts. 

Every year, she would make dire predictions about how she had to cut back, and that she couldn’t believe how much she was spending on Christmas.

And every year, there was a big stack of presents. 

In hindsight, I don’t think she could help herself — she just loved gift giving, and doing for other people. Any time there was a new baby in the family, she’d send out a package for the baby.

Mum was always the disciplinarian of the family. I’m not sure she actually relished the role, but she never shirked it, and never wanted to dump any problems onto Dad. 

So she was the one who yelled at us, and Dad got to be the good guy… courtesy of Mum.

While she could be very critical of us, she didn’t have self pity. She was widowed young, but she never complained about that. And when she did talk about it, in retrospect, it was more along the lines of “I was widowed, and I had to raise five kids… but I did it.”

And while she could be critical, there was NEVER any doubt that she loved us and would support us. 

Mum liked being in the thick of things. If I was going for a ride up to Rockport, say, or the Seashore Trolley Museum or Nantasket, she’d want to tag along. 

(I never did get her to go along on the motorcycle, though). 

I need to tell you the My Dead Body story. 

Back in my Photo: Hour days, there came a point when I was the only person who could set up our new store in Medford. 

This was well before cell phones. So I couldn’t call to say I’d be late, and I ended up being later than I’d intended.

I’d taken the train in, and the owner promised to get me back to the station. Through a series of disasters, it was about 1:30 in the morning when we got back to the station. 

I was parked on a deserted road near the station, and I was walking back to the car, when I saw headlights. 

Uh-oh. Who was it? 

Was it some teenagers come to find a secluded place to mess around? Was it the police? 

No. It was Mum, with the dog in the back of the car, looking for my dead body. “Get in the car,” she snarled. 

Mum was accustomed to being the strong one.

She much preferred to help US than to have us help HER, and the last few years were galling to her. It embarrassed her to tears when I had to help her get dressed and into bed.

But if anything exemplifies her strong family feelings, it’s the fact that she (and Dad) managed to instill in all of us that family is important, and that we need to support each other. 

The one good thing about these nightmarish last four years, the ONE good thing, is the mutual support my siblings have given to her, and to me. 

People have complimented us about how we’ve taken care of her over these past four years. We had to. It’s what she taught us.

And so, while I’m impossibly sad right now, this is not a tragedy. It’s just time.

I’ve been looking at pictures of her from the past twenty years, and up until the last couple of years, she really did enjoy her life. 

She loved to laugh, and she loved being the center of her family.

Mum’s brother Kip was not able to come, and sent this message:


I’d like to share only a couple things about Darrell, though I could say a lot more and a lot slower in getting it out. 

Darrell was a special sister who was fierce about family. On two occasions she exemplified this. 

When my father remarried, she and Eddie did not hesitate in taking me under their roof so I could be more comfortable. 

Once again I needed their help. 

She and Eddie opened their doors to my family when we were displaced for months due to a fire in our house. Four adults and eight kids in that house on Ponkapoag Way. 

When she and Joanna were having kids, Eddie was working a lot of Sundays. 

So, I would go to Mass with either Joanna or Darrell and the 5, 6, 7, or 8 kids. A woman who often sat behind us eventually asked which lady I was married to and where all the kids came from. We were so close. 

I hope over time I showed that I followed her lead with my family and Darrell’s children who are a gift and for whom I’m forever grateful. 

For over 80 years you have been
more than a big sister to me; you’ve been a friend.

I love you dearly, Darrell, and I’ll miss you so much. 

Thank you all for coming, and thank you for being with us.

Mum, 1937 – 2023

Mum

My mother died this morning. She was one month past her eighty-sixth birthday.

The two things that first spring to mind when I think about my mother was her devotion to family, and her strength. Mum loved being surrounded by her kids and grandkids.

I remember once, one of her grandkids referred to her as “the fun grandmother” because she liked doing activities with them. She loved playing miniature golf with the kids. Any time she went to the Cape, at least a couple of the kids would go with her.

Family was super important to Mum. She liked to entertain, but it was always for family. Easter dinners, birthday parties, big birthday parties for the whole extended family, and of course, her Christmas Eve parties every year.

It’s appropriate that she died during the Christmas season. Mum loved Christmas. She loved riding around looking at the lights, the hustle and bustle, the activity. She loved giving gifts. Every year, she would make dire predictions about how she had to cut back, and that she couldn’t believe how much she was spending on Christmas, and every year, there was a big stack of presents. In hindsight, I don’t think she could help herself — she just loved gift giving, and doing for other people.

Vienna Teng wrote a song called “The Tower”, about one of her friends, “The one who survives by making the lives / Of others worthwhile”. Mum was the Tower. She was the one people came to for help. She was the one who provided a place to stay (and a hair cut for a job interview) when one of Dad’s brothers needed help. She was the one who took in one of my sister’s former roommates when she was doing an internship nearby. She became the family matriarch who was the center.

Mum loved spending time with her cousins Carol and Julie, and her sister Sandra. Later, she became close to her sisters-in-law, especially Diane, Dot, Anne and Phyllis. She and Dad would double date with Diane and George, and she would often get together with Dot for walks and tea, and several times a year, they would talk a trip out to western Massachusetts to see Phyllis.

Mum spent most of her life in this house, the one she grew up in, aside from a couple of years right after she married, and the last couple of years, when it became impossible for her to remain here. She much preferred to help us, than to have us help her, and the last few years were galling to her, to have us taking care of her, rather than having her take care of us. For some reason, it did not amuse her when I told her, “Payback’s a bitch, Mum”.

But if anything exemplifies her strong family feelings, it’s the fact that she (and Dad) managed to instill in all of their children that family is important, and that we need to support each other. The one good thing about these nightmarish last four years, the ONE thing, is the mutual support my siblings have given to her and to me.

Despite what she used to say (“I’m perfect, just ask me!”) Mum was not perfect. She had a sharp tongue and a quick temper, and did not suffer foolishness gladly. Patience was just something she never had. Never did, and she never developed it when she became ill. But her temper also blew over quickly, and she didn’t hold grudges. While she could be very critical, she never had self pity. No matter how angry she could get, I always felt I could come to her with my problems.

The past four years, and especially the past several months were hard on Mum. For someone who was used to being strong and in control and independent, losing the ability to walk, or rely on help for all the activities of daily life drove her to tears.

And so, while I’m impossibly sad right now, this is not a tragedy. It’s just time. I’ve been looking at pictures of her from the past twenty years, and up until the last couple of years, she really did enjoy her life. She loved to laugh, and she loved being the center of her family.

Updates

Ten year ago, in “Season of Lights” , I wrote:

Personally, at least for now, I prefer the old-fashioned incandescent types. They seem warmer, with a better distribution of color. The reds and oranges are brighter, the blues less prominent. The newer LED lights seem to be too heavy on the blues. Their blue lamps are quite bright, and  their oranges and reds less bright in comparison. I suspect that this is something that will get fixed in time–the manufacturers need to make light strings where the warmer colors are brighter.

I think the manufacturers are finally starting to get it. I have a couple of strings on my tree that seem a little more well-balanced, and I’m noticing as I drive around town that there are more lights that have the characteristic LED deeply saturated blues, but also have decently bright reds and ambers. And for the first time, it feels to me like old fashioned incandescent lights seem reddish.

I’m also noticing that there are warmer “white” LEDs — the trees in front of the police station are covered with them, though they still seem just a touch greenish.


A few months back I took a ride on the new Green Line extension to Union Square. The new branch to Medford/Tufts opened last week, and I took a ride late Sunday afternoon. Like the Union Square branch, it starts off elevated headed out of Lechmere, then runs at ground level. Unlike the Union Square branch, it goes quite a distance. It’s sort of like the Riverside Line in that it’s fully grade separated with decent spacing between stops; unlike the Riverside Line, there are sound barriers along most of it, which kind of feels like you’re riding in a canyon. And boy, have the walls already been heavily tagged. There seemed a fairly decent ridership for late afternoon on a Sunday.

Photo:Hour

I realized the other day that it’s been just over forty years since I started my first full time job, at a one hour photo lab called Photo:Hour.

I’d majored in Elementary Education, to be a teacher, right in the middle of the demographic ebb between the end of the Baby Boom and the Boomers starting to have their own children. This I knew going into it. And then, the November I graduated, Proposition 2 1/2 passed, cutting property taxes, and suddenly schools were laying off teachers.

I’d seen an ad for an assistant manager position for a photo lab in January of 1982, and interviewed in the basement office of the Winter Street store with the owner, Tom Giampapa, and then… heard nothing. And then six weeks later, they called. Turns out the guy they’d originally hired had quit. Still being unemployed, I took the job.

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New Apple Silicon Mac

Last fall, Apple replaced their Intel based MacBook Pros with new ones using Apple Silicon. This past November, I bought one, replacing my previous Intel 16″ MacBook Pro with the M1 Pro equivalent.

If I’m being honest, I really can’t justify the purchase, other than “I wanted it, and can afford it”. The old computer was only two years old; typically I’ve gotten at least three and sometimes four years out of a computer before getting a new one. But everything I’ve heard and read about these new computers said they were fantastic.

A couple of years ago, I wrote, “Apple has gotten to a place where each new product is just as notable for the things that have been removed as they are for their improvements.” This generation of computers reverses that, and makes just the set of trade-offs that I asked for — it has built in ports for SD cards, HDMI, and a MagSafe power adapter; instead of optimizing for being as thin as possible, it’s designed to provide the utility people need while being no thicker than necessary.

The other big change is the heart of the computer. My previous Mac used an Intel central processing unit (CPU). Now, Apple is transitioning to its own series of Systems On Chip (SOCs), the M1 series. They started in late 2020 with the low end, the M1. This year they extended the line with the M1 Pro and M1 Max, which have more high speed cores, more graphic processing units (GPUs) and more memory bandwidth for more demanding uses. The two chips have the same number of processing cores – 8 performance cores and 2 efficiency cores used to save power under light load. The difference is the memory bandwidth and number of GPUs — the M1 Pro has 16 GPUs; the M1 Max is available in either 24 or 32 GPU cores, and supports more memory.

As I said, I wanted this computer, but couldn’t honestly justify it. So I waffled a few weeks, and played with the configurator. There were two factors that decided me (besides the “I want it” factor).

The first is that this is a major change in Apple’s architecture for the Mac, and I wanted in on that. The current version of macOS does currently run on Intel Macs, but there are already a number of features that are only available on Apple Silicon. They’ve clearly decided that they’re not going to support Intel any more that they have to, and this will become even more pronounced as time goes by.

The second factor is that the trade in allowance for Intel Macs is dropping rapidly. Shortly after the new Macs came out, I ran through their trade in calculator, and got an estimate of around $1700. By the time November came, the trade in had dropped to $1300, and I knew that the price was going to continue to fall, and that I did want an Apple Silicon machine. I placed the order.

I went back and forth on it for a while, but I decided to go with the M1 Pro model rather than the M1 Max. For me, ample storage and memory are more important, and I was already spending a lot of money to match the memory and storage specs of my old machine — 32GB of memory and 2 TB of storage. One the one hand, going to the Max would have only added $200 – $400 to what was already a $3600 machine; and bragging rights would be nice, but I’m not a video producer and if I’m being honest, I’ll have a hard time pushing this machine to the limit.

It took about 3 weeks for them to build the machine and ship it; it arrived a couple of days before Christmas. I had one very bad moment when my mother’s home health aide said she’d found an empty box on the front steps; for a moment I had visions of my very expensive Christmas toy being stolen. Then I realized it was probably the trade in carton for my old machine. Heart attack averted.

Physically, it looks bigger than the Intel machine — the bottom shell of that machine was tapered beginning at about an inch and a half from all the edges, so edge-on, it looked thinner than it was. This machine has no taper, so it’s thickness is more apparent.

Transferring my data was simple; I just ran Migration Assistant on both machines and they transferred my data from the old machine to the new wirelessly overnight.

Both machines were running the same version of macOS, so there was no dramatic difference in the experience of using it. The first thing that struck me is that the screen is sharper and more brilliant; I was looking at some fall foliage pictures I’d taken, and was just blown away how sharp and detailed everything looked. There is a smidge more vertical space because there is less bezel at the top. The price of the increased space is that there is a notch at the top of the screen where the camera is. In practice, you just don’t notice it.

The next most noticeable thing for me is that Photos has become a lot more responsive. I’ve been re-adjusting old pictures and it’s pretty snappy.

On the downside, I’ve been finding a lot more software issues that I’m accustomed to in a Mac. I keep getting messages that “suggestd”, an internal daemon, has crashed, and it’s been having trouble completing its first Time Machine backup.

Overall, I feel a little guilty having spent a lot of money I really didn’t need to, but I’m happy to have it and look forward to seeing what kinds of things running Apple Silicon will allow.

The Tyranny of the Stupid

I think the single most upsetting thing about the pandemic is the sheer amount of stupid running rampant in the country. This country, that once sent men to the moon six times and out-fought and out-manufactured the Axis powers in World War II, has fallen prey to nitwits and charlatans who won’t take the science of the situation seriously.

These folks are so adamant about asserting their personal freedoms that they forget that with freedom comes responsibility, including the responsibility to choose to do the right thing, both to protect themselves, and others. You may have the right to be stupid, but you shouldn’t choose to be, and your right to be stupid ends where it affects my freedoms.

Last year, because we were stupid, we let let the pandemic get out of hand. Because the stupid would not refrain from gathering, and refused to wear masks, the virus spread further than it should have.

Last Thanksgiving and Christmas, because people were too stupid and too selfish to give up the gratification of holiday fun, the virus spiked, and people died. Needlessly.

Now we have vaccines that are highly effective, free, and widely available. And yet people still won’t take them. Because people are stupid, the virus is spiking again, and people are dying again. And for no good reason. While the vaccines are not completely risk-free, the odds of having a problem are exceedingly low. Millions of doses have been given out; the number of people who have had serious complications from the virus is around a couple hundred,

Because people are stupid, COVID restrictions will be coming back, even for those of us who have been vaccinated. Because people are stupid, there is more COVID around, and the odds of vaccinated people getting a breakthrough infection are higher. It won’t send us to the hospital or kill us like it would an unvaccinated person, but it’s still needlessly unpleasant. And of course, it can kill the unvaccinated. But because people are stupid, mask mandates will be coming back for sure, and if that doesn’t work, authorities will have to decide whether to implement further restrictions to protect people who are too stupid to protect themselves.

Because people are stupid, medical people, who have been dealing with crushing workloads and the emotional burden of dealing with comforting dying people, are dealing with a new load, this time, more or less self-inflicted,

Because people are stupid, we are having get used to there being a spike in cases in the two weeks following each holiday.

I’m not asking for the government to require vaccines. But I wish people would freely choose to do the smart thing.

Brown Paper Bags

I had to go grocery shopping in a different supermarket than I usually do the other night. For the first time in a long time, my groceries were in brown paper bags rather than plastic, and it took me back to my childhood.

Growing up, I was a big fan of both Lost In Space, and to a lesser extent, Star Trek. (Until it went into syndication, Star Trek was normally on too late for me). Inspired by these TV shows, we used to play “Space Ship”, where we would pretend to be on a futuristic space ship. Of course, a space ship needs control panels, and I would create them, drawing them on, you guessed it, brown paper grocery bags.

Grocery bags had the advantage of being free, were fairly large and, when folded, were relatively stiff. I did several iterations of control panels, as the panels would mysteriously disappear after a while. My panels were heavily inspired by Lost In Space — I distinctly remember drawing the panels of blinking lights — in reality, displays from a Burroughs B205 computer that 20th Century Fox was able to get ahold of — but as time went on, I started to use my own imagination and try to figure out what kind of functions I would want to control — environment for one, navigation for another and came up with UIs for them. I can’t say they were good UIs, but in a way, they helped foster in my interest in user interfaces.

Looking back, I also think it was a wonderful form of unstructured play, on several counts. First, of course, was the creative aspect of creating the control panels. While derived from what I saw on TV, I improvised on what I saw. There was a fair amount of lettering on them, and I think I tried to use something that looked like it belonged on a control panel, rather than simple printing, which helped foster my interest in typography.

Then there were the “Space ship” sessions themselves. I would typically be playing with my sister or sisters, and a couple of kids from the neighborhood. Totally unstructured, totally undirected, we made the rules ourselves, and as long as we didn’t fight with each other or get too loud, my mother really didn’t interfere, aside from sending the neighbors home when it was time.

It bothers me to see how structured the lives of kids are nowadays. They’re involved in many more activities that I was, and I assume at least some of them are fun, but they’re all scheduled, and they’re mostly directed by adults. They don’t get to have unstructured time in many cases, and when they do, some of them don’t know what to do with it. I think kids need to have unstructured, undirected time to create their own games.

They could do worse than grabbing some crayons, some recycled brown paper bags, and creating their own worlds to play in.

This is Why You Teach History

Back when we could get together, one of the things we would do as a family is play a game called “Salad Bowl”. It’s a group game; each person writes the names of 10 people, real or fictional, living or dead, onto slips of paper, folds them up, and drops them into a salad bowl. Then you divide into teams. Each round, one person from each team draws slips from the bowl, and try to provide clues to their teammates so they can guess each name. The team that’s able to guess the most names wins. If you know who the person is, it’s a lot easier to give clues than if you don’t. Part of the strategy of the game is picking names that your teammates will know, but will stump your opponents.

We were playing a few years back, and I decided to throw “George III” into the bowl. I frankly figured it would be a gimme – who doesn’t know the British king the American colonies rebelled against during the American Revolution?

My nephew, that’s who. At that point, he was a high school senior, and had no idea who George III, and wound up using my brother’s middle name as a clue. Apparently they teach social studies at his school, not history.


History does repeat itself. It repeats itself because we’re human, and human nature doesn’t change. And this is why I was leery of Donald Trump even in 2016. in “How Did We Get Here“, I wrote, “Trump really worries me. I do see the parallels to the rise of Nazism in Germany in his campaign.” The demonization of an outside group, in this case, Muslims and immigrants, the creation of a cult of personality, the appeal to nationalism; these are all parts of the Nazi playbook.

Right after the 2016 election, I was hopeful that Trump would tone things down, and recognize the rule of law. He didn’t. He doubled down on the incendiary rhetoric.

And finally, came the 2020 election. I don’t think everyone who voted against him disagreed with his more mainstream positions. I think there were a fair number of conservative people, like John McCain’s widow, who held their noses and voted against Trump, because they perceived that he was a threat to our democracy. If you had learned about the rise of the Nazis in 1930s Germany, it was pretty easy to see the parallels.

And so it proved to be. He continued to spout lies about the election, and I think a fair part of the populace, disarmed by a lack of historical knowledge, bought them. If you didn’t have the historical grounding to see through it, if your only grounding in civics is social media, it was easy to be duped. And this is how the assault on the Capitol happened.

I don’t know how this will play out. The night of the riot, there was clearly a sense of norms having been breached. Twitter has cut Trump off, as have other social media outlets. There were a lot of everyday people in postwar Germany who had to live with the fact that they had been casual Nazis, and were horrified once they saw what they ultimate conclusion of that was. I hope that’s what happens here – that the scales fall from the eyes of the Trump supporters, and they see what a petty, narcissistic, possibly even delusional man he is. But I’m not confident. We had a really close shave this time. Will our institutions withstand the next assault on them?

It’s up to us.

The Christmas That Isn’t

It’s Christmastime… but it isn’t. Not with COVID it isn’t.

Normally we would have a big family get-together Christmas Eve. Not this year. Last year, we weren’t able to, with Mum in rehab for her strokes. I was really hoping at the beginning of the year that we could have our get-together again this year. Nope. We’re going to have to content ourselves with video calls this year. Hopefully, we’ll be able to do it in 2021.

We’ve gone up to Rockport most years for the past several years, to shop the stores on Bearskin Neck, and see the decorations. Mum was very fond of the Christmas pageant, because it was a re-enactment of the Nativity. Even if we wanted to take the risk, it’s just not feasible this year.

I’ve gone Christmas shopping every year since I was in college. This year, I ordered a couple of things off Amazon, and that was it. (To be fair, most of this is due to the fact that none of the nephews and nieces are little anymore, and most of my siblings agreed long ago not to do packages.

I wasn’t sure I even wanted to do a tree this year. I’m frankly not feeling it much this year, and I was concerned about laying out the living room — Mum now spends most of the day in her chair in the living room, and whatever I did, I would need to ensure that there was room for the chair and room for her to maneuver with the walker.

Most years, I like to make an occasion of putting up the tree, but not this year. I was also aware that I’d be doing most of the work of putting it up and taking it down. In the end, Mum wanted one, and I realized I did too, so I picked up a relatively narrow tree.

As it happened, there was a gash in the bark about 4 inches from the bottom. We had this a couple of years ago, and ended up with a tree that dried out pretty rapidly, so this year, I made a new cut above the gash, and cut off the lower branches. This had the benefit of making the tree smaller overall — both narrower, and shorter. I was able to use two fewer strings of lights. This meant I was able to skip the older LED lights I’ve been using for the past couple of years. My first set of LED lights were too blue for my taste; eventually, I found a couple of strings of warmer colored LED lights that I like much better. With only the warm LEDs and one string of mini-incandescent lights, this year’s tree is much more pleasing to me. And I was able to fit the angel on the top easily for the first time this year.

Christmas tree and Mum
Christmas tree and Mum

Even though it’s smaller, it’s still a pretty nice tree. And there’s still room for Mum next to it.