The fear of missing out. I love the internet based short hands, but this one is a little different.

The general category of human fears has been well documented with little change over the years. The fear of snakes, spiders, heights, dark, broccoli, ….wait, the studies on broccoli are recent, and inconclusive. Basically it’s only been some recent media generated fears that have added to the list, like shark week or snakes on the plane.

So where did “the fear of missing out” come from? Clearly the net citizens resonant with this term, they type the acronym out fairly regularly. Sociologists have correctly labeled this as the Age of Information. That’s not only true because of the importance, but also because of the volume.

The amount of important information at your fingertips is multiplied a hundred times by the amount of useless data. Perhaps realizing that we don’t have adequate filters to select the important stuff from the unimportant, we have generated a new term, FOMO.

As with any fear, we see individuals respond in various ways to fear. We carefully look under seats and in loverheads for snakes, we keep a wary eye for shark fins. But how do we respond to FOMO?

I credit my wife with a new possibility. She thought that perhaps there is a “hoarding of experiences”, an over abundance of events in order to stave off the potential fear.

Hoarders of possessions are often addressing the fear of poverty. They don’t make a rational decision to invest in real estate or bonds, instead they collect multiple sugar bowls, or a half dozen ski parkas.

People with FOMO collect meetings, join book clubs, sign up with PTA, volunteer at church, attend political discussion groups, etc. None of these things are bad, and being active in several at a time should not cause alarm bells to ring. The question might arise when someone’s calendar is always full.

Are there days that are open? Is there down time when hobbies can allow relaxation? Or has even hobbies become somewhat manic?

So the question one should ask is “Have you become a HOE? A hoarder of experiences? Hmm, perhaps some further work is needed on the acronym.

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Smartphone Photography

One of the biggest improvements to photography is the development of smartphone cameras. This also has created tremendous challenges.

The first challenge may seem odd, but it is a hard problem to solve. There are well over 2 billion smartphones in the world. The goal of placing a camera within the immediate reach of individuals is almost achieved. The difficulty is that we generally forget that we have it.

Clearly, many folks are very aware of the camera function, but it is not the same as slinging a DSLR around your neck in order to take a photo. The phone connection is the primary tool, and the camera is a nice secondary option.

The first thing to learn in taking better photos is that you have a camera with you! It may seem like a silly exercise, but practice taking photos with your phone in the same way that you do when you break out your larger DSLR. Developing that sense of image making at your fingertips will lead your desire to improve the images.

What are the next few issues that smartphone photos have that need improving? Basically there are three general problems that I commonly see.

1. Fuzzy. Images are blurry.

2. Light. A better understanding of light is needed.

3. Framing. Too much sky, ceilings/wall, background.

The cameras are generally producing images that are remarkably good. Wait, change that, they are amazing! The automatic focusing and exposure issues are a thing of the past. So why are photos blurry?

The most common reason is answered by asking the question, “Where do you commonly keep your smartphone?” It is probably not in a lint-free container, carefully sealed from the greasy world. It may actually be in the same jacket pocket with yesterday’s half eaten snack!

We have gotten used to the idea of cleaning our camera’s lens, but recognizing that our smartphones have a lens is the issue. Swiping a greasy thumb across the surface is not the solution.

This is also one of the most difficult issues to resolve. In many cases the actual case is the culprit. In the attempt to weatherizing the smartphone the case manufacturers have placed a clear lens over the hole where the camera is located. This lens often is not optic quality. It also traps particles on the actual lens. Cleaning the lens by removing the case doesn’t clean the case.

I don’t recommend enclosed cases, and I also don’t recommend cases with a deep recess for the camera to look through. The best case has a very tight fit around the edge of the camera, and a beveled opening that would allow a cleaning tissue to access the lens.

Use a dry, soft cloth or tissue. Once the lens is clean that will solve most of the blurry images, but not all. Fuzzy or blurry images also occur when movement occurs while the image is being taken. Check the image carefully. If the subject is blurry but the background is crisp, then you have done your best, but the subject moved. If the background is also blurry then you moved.

The smartphone camera has an electronic shutter. It is similar to a standard camera shutter. If the subject is not well lit, then the shutter stays open to let in move light and you can’t move while that is happening. Learn to hold the smartphone steady!

Cleaning the lens, and holding steady, can remove nearly all the blurred images. The next issue is understanding light.

Light is either natural or artificial. In either case it comes from a direction. Try your best by having the light come from behind you, and slightly to one side or the other. It’s also good if it is a few feet above your head.

With natural light this can be an issue because you can’t adjust the light. It is the Sun and we are stuck with where it is. The biggest thing to remember is to avoid shooting into the sun, or have a brightly lit background, when your subject is in the shade. You will have to do your best to move people around. The great thing about digital is that you can immediately see if there is a light problem.

I love taking photos outside with cloud cover. It removes most of the harsh shadows. I also like “long light”, taken in the early morning or later in the afternoon. The worst light for me is noon on a bright sunny day. Time for a siesta!

If you are dealing with artificial light then you might have a chance of adjusting the light, or at least moving to an area that has better light.

Lastly, the camera flash is truly the worst option. The flash on a smartphone is not the same quality as a flash on a regular camera. It does not reach far, and is only good for close portraits, and even then has issues. I have found that turning the flash off is actually my best move in getting the image I want.

Finally, the framing problem comes from the lack of a standard lens. The smartphone is basically a wide angle lens. The zoom feature is not the same as a typical zoom lens with moving optics. Besides, we rarely pinch/spread to create the zoom when we take the shot.

Framing the photo takes an extra second but it is well worth the effort, and we have an extraordinary zoom feature that we don’t generally use. Walk closer!

If the framing with a wide angle gives too much background, then move closer to the subject. If you a taking a landscape, then drop the image to reduce the sky. If the foreground is too messy then you can crop it off later.

Addressing these three issues will vastly improve your images. I would also consider downloading several different camera apps that give you the ability to manually control your camera. You will learn about shutter speeds, aperture and even ISO sensitivity. Manual control can be lot of fun and will give you more control over your potential images.

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I am radioactive, or more accurately, my blood is radioactive. I suppose by now my blood has passed through every organ and bone in my body. For a time, the radioactive blood flowed through my eyes and I had x-ray vision. That’s gone now, I suppose my liver is trying its best to collect the harmful residue. Perhaps my finger nails will take some, that I will clip off in later weeks.

I did not feel like crawling the walls, or shoot webbing out of my spinnerets, probably because it wasn’t from a radioactive spider. I really don’t know the source of the radioactivity. It’s funny how we just accept foreign objects into our bodies based upon our doctors opinions.

It’s all part of a cost benefit analysis. A little bit of radiation (bad), in order to gain knowledge (good) that may extend life.

The problem with this type of mental bargaining is the buy-in that is necessary. What about my plans to rent a bush-plane in order to drop me off in the Alaskan wilderness? Another time, probably a few decades ago.

You have to follow up on the good knowledge, and the future procedures that it will suggest. But you have to be around and available.

I have a smart phone, a smart watch. Would it be too difficult to keep a calendar of the things that are running out of time? The bloody things have access to all my medical records, it would not take much to give me a heads up on the activities that are phasing out.

I am reminded of a recent conversation with a friend who is in Thailand. After I had gotten over the remarkable fact that it was a free call (what happened to long distance?), I asked what it was like there. He replied endless white beaches, no tourists, English speaking natives. When I said that it sounded like a young persons heaven, and that older people want to know about medical care! He replied that there were at least three hospitals nearby and one that even catered to Westerners.

Yep, once you get to the buy-in, you’re trapped. You can’t go to Alaska, but you can go to a deserted isle in Thailand.

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The Prostitute

Eric and I were barely speaking, not that we were angry with each other; it was just that we had no room for communication. We had shriveled up, lost our vital fluids in the heat of the desert. Spiritually shrunken, physically desiccated, yet still walking, still moving forward. The universe reduced to moving from one streetlamp to another. All I knew, all I could see, was contained in the bright circles of light, thirty feet across, illuminating a deserted street. To either side there were shadows of some other reality. Uncertain and unimportant, they faded in the distance. My goal was the next spot of light, and then the next beyond that.

Pressing forward, head down, glancing up, and sometimes back, checking to see if Eric was still there a few yards behind me. Then, suddenly, she was there. Up ahead, in the future, two spotlights away, I could see the figure of a woman standing, waiting. I slowed but continued walking forward, disappearing from the one light, moving forward, and reappearing in the next light, closer each time to the future woman. Then the future became the present, and we shared the same harsh halogen light.

She was wearing a black dress of sequins, light bouncing from her shoulders, breasts and thighs, sparkling… and fingering a long strand of turquoise beads. Her face, heavy in make-up, framed by black, teased, shoulder length hair- was smiling, but sadly. She was probably forty years old, maybe older, with tracks of the world on her face.

As I approached her, I instinctively nodded my head, and I could see her bright red lips forming words- words I couldn’t hear, although I should have been able. She blinked and smiled again; I noticed that she was holding a shoe by its strap. It was missing the heel.

Heel-less shoe swinging,

turquoise beads swinging,

thousands of bright micro lights flashing,

and wordless lips moving.

Then I left the light, and headed into the darkness between the spots. At the next streetlight I looked back, and there in my past, now captured by the halogen circle, I could see Eric sharing the spot with the sequins dress, and then he too, moved forward. For the next few minutes I looked back periodically, to see if I had really seen what I thought I had seen. Four streetlights back I saw a sparkling figure disappear from one spot, but then never appear in the next spot down. I waited, but nothing showed. Eric came next to me, and he looked back as well. We both waited. He managed to ask where she had gone, but I just shook my head and turned away.

Another few blocks there was an empty lot, covered in tall grass. I thought that if we went to the back wall, we could lay undiscovered, and maybe even fall asleep. There was a narrow trail in the tall grass, I lay my sleeping bag directly on it, well covered from the road. Eric placed his bag in the same trail, and we lay there head to head in a footpath, not speaking for some time. Then Eric asked a question.

“Did you hear what she said?”

I thought about it for some seconds. Remembering the lips forming words. Bright red, moving shapes, parting, closing, then opening again, but no sound. Why hadn’t I heard?

“She said, ‘I hope you have better luck than I.’”

I lay on my back, looking at the stars above me, I listened to Eric’s words, and I listened to the soundless words of a vanished spirit. I thought about events, and the meanings that we place upon them, and I finally thought about compassion and empathy.

I answered Eric, that yes, I had finally heard.

Edited from On The Road, Again. A journal of hitchhiking in the Western States, 1968

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The classic definition refers to either insect or amphibian and the process they go through from juvenile to adult. The remarkable thing is the complete change of the same creature. A crawling, multi-leg earthbound worm that turns into a winged flying beauty. The amphibian is less dramatic, from slimy fish, to slimy frog.

The word simply means transforming, it doesn’t calculate the amount.

I’ve been thinking about re-reading Kafka’s Die Verwandlung, published in 1915, and usually translated as The Metamorphosis.

Kafka is more widely known as an adjective. “That was so weird and Kafka-like”. “Right out of Kafka!”

The trouble is that most people have never read Kafka, although they are certain that either he, or his stories, were weird.

Unlike my usual practice of reading everything published by my favorite authors, I have only read one short story by Kafka. The story of a man who suddenly metamorphosed into a cockroach.

Well, the original German suggests “vermin”, but cockroach does pretty well, certainly not a charming cricket, or an industrious ant.

The story is short and centers around Gregor (cockroach), his father, his mother, and his sister. Initially, Gregor can’t communicate why he can’t go to work as usual. The family is concerned about how his economic contribution will cause great stress. They don’t yet know that he is an insect, just that he can’t be roused from his room.

Finally Gregor uses his disgusting mouth to open the door. Everyone either screams and runs away in fear, or they faint. Gregor retreats back into the room. His sister begins to periodically clean the room while Gregor hides under the sofa.

We still aren’t sure of Gregor’s size. He could be five feet tall, yet he can effectively hide under the sofa. He also can scurry up the walls while listening to the family discuss the situation.

Gregor is brought food, but he has no interest in some of his favorites. He is slowly dying. He trys once again to come out of the room. He scares the potential boarders that would have helped the finances of the family. The father throws a apple at Gregor which wounds him in the back. Again, Gregor retreats into his room, where he eventually dies.

The cleaning lady disposes of the body, the family now notices that the daughter has grown into a beautiful young lady. They now move into a smaller, but much more affordable place, and everybody is happy.

Yep, it was that weird.

And literally everyone who read it has taken the time to make an analysis and codify the symbology. Most see it as detailing “daddy issues”, or how does a young man grow to adulthood. Some see the sister as truly metamorphosing. Everyone has an opinion.

I have one too. I haven’t seen this as a detailed critique from anyone, but it was the first thing that came to me. Gregor doesn’t realize what has happened to him. He knows that when he speaks they don’t understand. He is aware that he can’t use his hands to open the door, but not because he is aware that he doesn’t have hands. For Gregor, he is still Gregor.

Instead, Gregor is defined by others. One morning everyone silently agreed that Gregor was a useless parasite, a vermin, that was if no use to the family, and even a detriment.

We are what we read, we are what we eat, we are what we do… well, in this case, we are what other people decide we are.

I was reflecting on this with a colleague in the world of academia. She had also just recently retired and was experiencing the transformation.

One obvious shared experience was the lack of involvement in students lives. We have no students. We are not we do, we are barely what we did!

I noted a brief summary of my career. I was once young an inexperienced staff member, I was a Young Turk who suggested actions that had been tried decades ago, but not by me! Then I matured into a team player who worked by consensus, that transformed into a “conscience” that reminded the Young Turks that we had already tried that, further transforming, I got into being the elder, but respected, statesman for a few short years. And finally into the funny, quaint, old guy with the beret. And the ever present question, “are going to retire?”

I was the same creature, in my room the mirror showed only a little age. The world I lived in transformed me into… well, not a cockroach, so I guess I’m thankful.

Note to self: read more Kafka!

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Knock, Knock!

I’ve been listening to a persistent knock for the last ten minutes. I check my Arlo alert and sure enough, there is a man dressed in a black business suit gently knocking on the door with his rather pale first knuckle joint.

What do I do now? If I didn’t have the camera, I wouldn’t know who was there. I might have even opened the door. Not now! No way could I do that with the evidence on video. I go down to the door, wrapped in my flu blanket.

“Go away”

“Special delivery. I have a special delivery for John.”

“Leave it on the table

“I can’t do that, you have to sign for the package.”

I’m looking at the live feed, he doesn’t have a package. He’s lying! Okay then, so this is the relationship that we have.

“Listen, I don’t believe you have a package, what is in the package that you don’t have?”

“Um, food. Some tasty food.”

“I have you on video, you do not have a package. I will not open the door to a liar.”

I see on the video that he pulls out an plain envelope. “Seeds, I have an envelope of seeds which can be planted to grow tasty food.”

“Nice try, but I’m not going to have the time to grow them if I open the door. I said before, Go Away!”

“Come on, John! Open the door. This flu thing has gone on long enough, it’s time.“

“I said go away!”

The knocking stopped briefly, then resumed at a faster rhythm, punctuated with the word “Johnny”. Apparently on Death’s off hours he watches TV. Another five minutes passes.

“Listen. Being irritating is not the best way to convince me to open the door. What works on television does not relate to the real world.”

The knocking stopped. I looked at my phone and the live feed, he was still there, and he appeared to be scrolling through his phone. Then the knocking started again.

“Open up, can you produce your drivers license and proof insurance” , then some more knuckle tapping.

This repeated for another few minutes. I was confused until I remembered a few YouTube videos. “I don’t have to show you any ID. I am a free sovereign citizen. Am I being detained? Or am I free to go?”

The knuckle tapping stopped. “John, can we just talk? I’m just trying to do my job, and here you are just messing with my timetable.”

I thought about this for a moment, and decided that perhaps I should take another tack.

“Okay, I see your point. I’m good with the whole timing thing, but there is something you don’t understand.”

“Okay then, what is the problem? I’ll work with you!”

“Well, if I open the door I imagine I’ll have a second or two before I collapse

“Okay, maybe less, but there is nothing I can do about that, it is what it is.”

“Okay, but my problem is the guest bathroom is right next to the front door. If I go down then there is better than a 50% chance I will fall into the bathroom. Then, my whole life will end with the “found dead in the bathroom” statement. If you check on my blog, I really don’t like the idea. How about you going to my back patio door? I’ll be found dead in the kitchen then!”

“Umm, a little unorthodox, but sure, I can do that. I will see you in a few.”

I checked on my security camera for the back patio, and there he was, gently knocking. I grabbed my keys, tightened my flu blanket around my shoulders and I headed for the Jeep.

I’m thinking I need some black tea at Starbucks, and no, I don’t feel bad about cheating death. He was a liar from the beginning.

(A repost, I accidentally deleted it.)

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Daniel Tiger Live

Katerina Kittycat

Today will be the last time where I see my daughter perform in the “Daniel Tiger Live” show. It’s not the last performance. She will continue on, singing/dancing as Katerina, working her way east, playing venues every few days. The tour is coming to an end though, she has done over eighty shows and has roughly twenty more to go. With today, I have seen nine of them.

It’s true, we are very supportive of our daughter, so naturally we would have traveled to see as many shows as possible. But there is something more going on beyond just the support. The show is a much needed booster shot to my soul.

Fred Rogers was a kind man, a very kind man. You should spend a few hours watching YouTube, and you will be amazed and grateful that he committed his life to children’s television. He wasn’t sophisticated, he was just an honest caring person. His show was straight from his imagination, and was unforced pure love and care.

The Daniel Tiger Live show continues into the second generation, with the same care and love. The entire ensemble is just magical. When I listen to the songs, they are not just lyrics. The words pierce my inner being, reconnect me to my childhood, instructing me in the way I should live, and encouraging me in my efforts for the future. I know this sounds a bit much, but it’s all true.

It’s rare when you realize that you are part of a gestalt experience. Something that is larger than the experience itself. Watching the children in the audience becoming enthralled when the characters they have grown to love are right there, out of the television screen, fully flesh and bone. The memories made this day are seared into their psyche, and they are forever changed. I get to witness that.

I get to witness my daughter’s hard work, her years of training, being used for such good. I know that this tour will end, and she will go on to other shows. But this one will always be special, and fondly remembered.

And I continue to be forever changed, and grateful.

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