Thursday, April 02, 2020

Day 14 stay home

It was 2 weeks ago today that we went out to Denny's for our Earlybird Toastmasters club and ended up bringing 2 people back to our house. Since that day it's been just Jim and me and occasionally Jim's son Devon would come over.
The alarm rang at 6:15 this morning to wake is up for our toastmasters meeting ... Online this time. We love our Earlybird toastmasters group. It's been going for over 30 years and Jim and I have been members for well over 20 of those. We always look forward to seeing each other while enjoying breakfast, and we are thrilled with how well they've all made the transition to the online world, using Zoom

We meet for an hour and a half. 3 people give prepared speeches. Several people give short, impromptu speeches and we all fill the room with camaraderie. In some ways it's better than meeting in person. For example, Pam moved away some time ago and we've missed her terribly. She was there this morning. Aleta was a member 30 years ago and has maintained her membership over all those years even though she lives in Pennsylvania. Jose is Ana's brother and he lives in Spain. He has visited our club whenever he is in town visiting his sister, but now he can be with us every week.
I don't like getting up at 6:15, but I love meeting with these people.
Ana always writes up a "recap" of the meeting and, if you haven't decided this is a great group after reading my paragraphs above, you will after reading her recap:
Dear Members and Guests,
TopicMaster Carmine zoomed us off with kitchen utensils.  It became real clear, real quick, that female members of EarlyBirds don’t even know where their kitchen is located in the home – let alone their kitchen utensils! Besides that, we learned that… 
• DTM Mary Helen wistfully misses the good ole days when instead of a fancy silicone baster, she resorted to used paintbrushes stored in her garage for basting the turkey.  As a result, her children developed second-to-none immune systems.  This comes in handy today… 
• Returning TM Mildred praised the versatility of the kitchen spoon, which included effective disciplinary action used against unruly children when she was growing up.• Former EarlyBird member Victoria lauded the multi-tasking features of the slotted spoon – doubling up as a toilet plunger and subsequently becoming a garden dirt mover (the virtual room virtually sighed with relief that it didn’t go back to hanging with the other kitchen utensils)…. Pfiuuuu…. 
• TM BeckyJo vividly described wildly waving a wooden fork during a passionate self-righteous argument with a spouse and breaking off its prongs, slowly, slowly and one-at- a-time for emphasis.  It truly gets your point across – try it!  She Won Best Table Topics Award. 
• Returning TM Lisa, for lack of the word “spatula” in her culinary vocabulary,  kept calling the utensil a “cake batter spoon”.  Everyone is invited to her home for a cake-battered-spoon cake when sequestration is over.And then we zoomed on to the prepared speeches…. 
• TM Tom recounted his virgin Court appearance representing a client who called her husband by her boyfriend’s name “in the spur of the moment” – or shall we say “in the sperm of the moment”?  He Won Most Improved Speaker Award. 
• TM Aleta – loyal member in good standing rejoining us for the first time since she left Florida in the 80s- told us about her lucky breaks in life, where she currently gardens a multi-acre property in Paradise and works as a Labor Mediator, a profession she absolutely adores.  As TM Marie said,  all these years (to some of us) you were only an enigmatic name in the Club Roster!!  And paradoxically, now you are virtually real!!  
• Former EarlyBird TM and lasting friend – my brother Jose– delighted us with a speech about his 60th birthday party – celebrated twice, in Madrid and also in Fort Lauderdale.  Picture slides from the occasion brought us all hope for good parties still to come.  He Won Best Speaker AwardAs for evaluations… 
• TM Lisa applauded TM Tom for his engaging speech which had humor, the element of surprise, and a good reminder that cheating doesn’t pay if you can’t get their names straight. 
• TM Joe applauded TM Aleta for her uplifting speech which exuded optimism and positivity in a spirit of gratitude. 
• TM Jeff praised Jose for his charisma and his ability to use technology to make his speech more vivid and descriptive.  He Won Best Evaluator Award. 
The Word of the Day wasSEQUESTER, noun1.      Isolate or hide away2.      General cut in government spending 
We had a delightfully varied attendance made up of former EarlyBirds who are freed from the rigors of commuting in traffic, friends of Jose, family of Jose, fans of Jose.  Let’s keep it going!  Guests, keep coming back, we love having you!Next Thursday, same time, same Zoom id.  And, once again, thank you to our Tech Wizards for making it all possible.Virtually yours,Ana
After our Toastmaster meeting, Jim and I ate our breakfast apple and went back to our computers with a last cup of coffee to answer emails and do a little browsing. When it came time for a break we took off our clothes and jumped in the hot tub ... aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh

Ok, back to work.
I am way behind on my computer work. The most pressing thing on my agenda is to finish the show notes for last Sunday's Episode 188 of our YouTube show "What Does This Button Do?" It takes me several hours to complete this task. Sometimes I breeze thru it and sometimes it's like pulling teeth. Today was somewhere in between, but I got it done. Episode 188 - How to get your slides into Google Photos  The notes are only available to our premium members.

Jim made me lunch - a tuna melt sandwich. He is the sandwich king! And I love toasted sandwiches.
OK, now I need to get the notes into .pdf format and send an email blast to all our members that it is ready. But first ... hey, we're sequestered right? We have lots of time on our hands right? We can binge watch any number of shows on Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or HBO. I've been watching Homeland and I think I deserve a break to watch a couple episodes this afternoon. Damn that show is intense!

Jim spent a little time with Devon today. He showed him the newly rearranged studio room and how it is now ready for carpeting. Maybe they can get some carpeting, watch a few YouTube how-to videos and we'd pay Devon to do the work. That would be great since Devon's work has all been cancelled for the foreseeable future.

Now Jim is looking up recipes for Chicken Marsala and my mouth is starting to water. I think I'll get that email blast to our members done and call it a day.

The bad news
Covid-19 cases today in the US: 240.120  Deaths: 5,794

The good news
People are walking and playing tennis! We have a wonderful circular walk around our neighborhood. At just over 1 mile, it's short enough to be easy and long enough to get some exercise. It was a spectacularly gorgeous day. We went for a walk just after an early dinner.

We have never seen anyone using these tennis courts before. This evening there were not one, but two, tennis games in process!

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

An April Fool's joke?

Today is day 13 of our home isolation. It was March 19 that we had a Toastmasters club meeting that we still hoped to be at Denny's. We got to Denny's and met with Kip and Tom but Denny's would not let us stay so we brought Kip and Tom back to our house and held the meeting remotely with Zoom. 
Since then, no one other than Jim and me, has been through our door. We do go out for walks around the neighborhood and, of course, to soak in the hot tub in the back yard. And Jim went to the grocery store on March 23. Here he is getting ready to go with plastic gloves (from the sewer dumping kit in the RV) and a face mask - actually a dive hood?

We've been rearranging things in the house. I cleaned out some file drawers in my office, and Jim completely rearranged his office - getting rid of lots of stuff and turning his desk around against a different wall. He really likes the new arrangement, but now it means we need to paint another green wall.
Chris' office with a stand-up desk and a file cabinet that can actually hold new files now.
Jim's newly rearranged office - the computer pit /video studio
My office even has enough room now that we could set up our slide projector and screen to get out all those old slides and look at them one last time. When we see a good one, I take its picture with my phone and, voila! it's in Google Photos. We think this is such a cool way to digitize photos, and a cool think to do with this isolation time, that we used it for the topic of our YouTube show, Episode 188: how to get your old slides into Google Photos.

Between walks around our beautiful neighborhood, time to rearrange and use our wonderful home, we're enjoying this #stayhome time. Jim decided he didn't even have to go to the grocery store anymore since Publix home delivery is working so well. Thank you Winston for your delivery service. Winston is the name of the young man who took on the gig of shopping for whatever you put on your online Publix shopping list, and driving it over to our house and dropping it off.  I even have my own private chef. Jim is such a good cook, and he actually enjoys it. So, all I have to do is sit back and tell him when I'm hungry - within the hour I have a delicious, healthy meal in front of me. I throw together an occasional salad, or cut up butternut squash to put in the air fryer.

Can life get any better?

Well, except for the people dying that is.

We watch the news and see field hospitals set up in New York's central park. I hear from my Italian friend, Paolo, that the local paper's obituaries take up over a dozen pages when the norm was less than one page. An assisted living facility just down the street has reported 4 deaths. This is the facility where Mom spent her first 5 years in an ALF. She's in another one now, and they are in lock-down mode. We hear from that a friend, a fellow seminar presenter, Gary Bunzer, is in critical condition with Covid-19 and is in a Seattle area ICU. Gary is a bit younger than us (I think) and has always look quite fit.

According to the CDC, COVID-19 cases in the USA on March 19 (when we started our lockdown) numbered 15,291. As of March 30, that number is 165,539. On March 19, the death toll was 150, today it is 4,079 according to Our World in Data.
This is catastrophe. The zombie apocalypse come to life. The world is experiencing the medical disaster envisioned in the movie "Outbreak." It is an unthinkable horror, the end of the world as we know it.

So, how is it possible that life can be so good for us? We are lucky indeed, but it feels like more than that. It is surreal. It's an episode of the Twilight Zone. How can the world be in such danger when the flowers are blooming and the sun is shining? Don't they know it's the end of the world? (thank-you BeckyJo for this reference)
Maybe it's the 2020 version of War of the Worlds? Maybe when we wake up tomorrow, April 2, we will discover that it's all been some cruel April Fool's joke? One can only hope.

Meanwhile we can't panic. The most important thing we can do is to follow the guidelines for "social distancing" so we don't get infected, and don't infect others. If possible, enjoy yourself, spread loving thoughts. My favorite meme from this has been:
Our parents were asked to go to war. We're being asked to stay home on the couch.
We got this. 

Friday, March 20, 2020

Travel in the time of Coronavirus

We got home from the Bimini trip for the last week of February. We had 4 weeks before our trip to the Maldives. We had booked a 10-day liveaboard dive trip on the Aggressor in the middle of the Indian ocean. Since it is such a long distance, we booked a 2 night stopover in Dubai, just for the experience.
We only had one 'gig' in the meantime. The Sarasota Technology User Group - STUG
We've presented several times over the years at STUG and they always have a large group of at least 100, so we were a little disappointed when it looked like there would only be 30-40 attending. We thought maybe the Coronavirus may have had an impact, even though there were no rules or directives in place yet. As it turned out, they kept trickling in and we ended up with about 80 people. 

We took our RV to Sarasota, since it was an evening meeting, we stayed overnight at an Elks lodge just around the corner from the meeting. We also went out for a beer after the meeting with some of the group from the club. Interesting place, dozens of beer taps on the wall - all craft specialty beers. You get an electronic wristband that unlocks the tap and you pour as little or as much as you want. The quantity is all being tracked thru the wristband. Cool.

So, we're back from that on March 5 and we leave for Dubai on the 23d, about 2 1/2 weeks. I have to get lots of work done on the 2020 edition of my Google Photos book, and we have to do a Button show or two. Lots of work to be done and then pack and go.
or not
The Coronavirus situation quickly deteriorated during those 2 weeks. Our dive club had already left on a trip to Fiji when the travel advisories started flowing in earnest. I understand they have cut the liveaboard time short and cancelled the last week on land. They're trying to get all flights rescheduled and hurry home. (update: they made it back home, here's their story)
Our friends, Alvin and Lisa, who we planned the Maldives trip with are also already en route. They planned a multi-month round-the-world trip and Maldives was somewhere in the middle. This week they are in Egypt diving in the Red Sea when they got word that they would not be allowed to fly out until they quarantined for 2 weeks. So they are staying in  Egypt past their schedule and have had to cancel all the rest of their trip.
We've been keeping a close watch but our destinations of Dubai and Maldives did not show up on any list. I emailed the dive boat and got back the response that the trip was still on and there would be no refunds if we backed out. Unbelievably, Pandemics are not a covered event on trip insurance either. yikes - that's an $8,000 trip - not counting airfare.
What to do?
As events continued to get canceled in the US, and more and more news came out about sickness and deaths from Coronavirus, it seemed ever more clear that we should not travel. Even if all went well for the trip - we may not be able to come home. But, as of March 18, all bookings were still a go. 
March 19 it changed, we got a notice from Emirates that one leg of the flight (Dubai to Ft Lauderdale had been cancelled). I called Chase Travel, who had made the flight and Dubai hotel bookings for us, and after I-kid-you-not FIVE hours on hold, they were successful in cancelling the flights and getting full refunds. I also got an email from the Dive boat that they were offering vouchers for rescheduling the trip within a year.
We have been very healthy. Except for a few days in early January - which I wonder now if that was a light case of Covid-19 since it wasn't really a cold, but it wasn't really the flu either. Jim was sick for 5-6 days, me just a couple. Anyway, we're very healthy now. Our work is all on the computer and remote. We have a wonderful place to live. And, I'm looking forward to the home-stay R&R. And, maybe I'll get more done on my book.
It really is beautiful here. Our neighborhood has no clue that it's the end of the world!
We're getting quite expert at Zoom online meetings

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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Diving with Sharks

We like Bimini. Both Jim and I have a history there from long before we met each other. Bimini is the Bahamian island that is closest to Florida. We went on a short dive trip there two years ago with our dive club, and this year we did it again. This time we took advantage of Neal Watson's Bimini Scuba Center and their special Hammerhead shark dive.

It's a 2 hour fast ferry ride from Fort Lauderdale to Bimini, then we checked into the Big Game Club and relaxed for the rest of the day, ready to dive in the morning. I just love the palm trees in the tropics! And the beautiful turquoise water.

On the first day, we dove the famous Sapona concrete shipwreck and a shark dive with the ever-present Caribbean reef sharks.
The weather turned a bit ugly on the second day, but we were able to get out and do the Hammerhead dive anyway - the most dangerous part of the dive was getting back up on the ladder in the 6 foot seas! There were 2 hammerheads in the water with us and, although the water was a bit murky, they came close enough for us to get a good look. Here's Jim's video:

The weather continued to get worse until our ferry home was cancelled. Darn! We're stuck in the Bahamas for another day :-) We're very good at making lemonade when we're handed lemons and found out about the Bimini Shark Lab where they study all the sharks in the area, especially the Hammerheads we had just seen.
We were able to get in on a tour and listened to one of the staff tell us all about it. Two very interesting tidbits.

  1. Their studies (using radio transmitters on the sharks) show that the shark-feeding tourism has not changed the Hammerheads migration pattern, or basic feeding habits. That is very good news.
  2. Sharks are not, as we've always believed, attracted to human blood. Fish blood, yes, absolutely, but human blood - no. They experimented with dropping a quart or more of human blood near the sharks and they paid no attention at all. Just a drop of fish blood made them come running.
They also had an enclosure with some baby sharks that she told us all about.

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Monday, January 20, 2020

I have learned a few things about teaching technology

We taught a 3 hour, hands on, class today. 12 people with a mixture of iPhones and Android devices learned how to take a good picture with their phone and then how to make it better by editing with Google photos and Snapseed.
It went great!
I was surprised.

I have specific sample photos to demonstrate editing features of Google Photo and Snapseed. It works great for showing off the features in the best light, and I figured a hands-on class needed to give them the sample photos, but it's hard to do. First you have to figure a way to transfer the photos to the students. Then you have to work with the dates so the photos show up at the top of their photos. I just decided to ignore the samples for this class and people used their own photos and had a great time. One person even said, "I think my photo is an award winner now - Snapseed is great!"

  • You can throw a lot at people, I've learned that building blocks are over-rated.
  • Just need simple, bullet style notes
  • Give them time to play/discover on their own, no need for detailed exercises
Here's the handout for this class. It took 3 hours with a 10-15 minute break.

Friday, January 17, 2020

My first RV Rally

I'm not talking about my first rally of the year, I'm talking about my first rally ever, where I was an attendee. I didn't come to the rally to work. 
Our very first RV rally ever was the Great North American RV Rally in Hutchinson, Kansas in the summer of 2004. We were there as employees of Coach Connect and we operated the WiFi hotspot for other RVers. We could do that because we had a Datastorm Internet Satellite dish. Since then we've worked at all the major RV rallies by FMCA, Escapees, Good Sam, and many others, plus small rallies as well. Well over 100 rallies over our 16 years of RVing.
We're slowing down our schedule a bit these days, so when we found that it had been over 2 months since our camper had been on the road, we signed up for a Roadtrek get together in O'Leno state park.
our Roadtrekothers' Roadtreks
Being sociable
Going for a walk in the woods.
So that's what a rally is all about. Who knew?