When I was four years old my parents asked me if I wanted to learn to play the violin. I didn’t have a lot going on at the time so I said yes.
I was accepted as a student by Mrs. Primrose, a Japanese teacher of the Suzuki violin method (and wife of famous violist William Primrose). I discovered that the violin is a difficult and awkward instrument. Learning it requires patient practice, and patience was not one of my early character traits. (A fellow student was Jenny Oaks, who has made a career as a violinist. Mrs. Primrose would often chastise me, “David: Why don’t you practice more, like Jenny?”)
What I lacked in patience I abounded with in obstinance. I was first born and my poor mother did not realize what a constant and pitched battle it would be to get me to practice. She was gifted with perseverance that somehow kept me on the violin for the years until I reached a level at which it became interesting enough for me to continue studying with minimal goading. (She did, however, learn from the process: My younger siblings were started on musical instruments at increasingly later ages, and the last three got to start with piano, which has an easier learning curve. You’re welcome guys.)
Beginning the Suzuki violin method is excruciating for a young western boy. The first few weeks consist of nothing but finger exercises with a pencil, before ever touching the bow. Then there were what seemed like months of bowing “taca-taca stop-stop” on open strings before I was allowed to try placing fingers on taped marks to play other notes. There is no “Karate Kid” moment when the student discovers that all of the detached exercises have laid the foundation for a rewarding performance. Just months of tedious practice and virtually nothing to show for it. That’s what learning the violin felt like.
In 2007 I envisioned a future in which building walls and windows are constructed from “sturdy modular panels capable of controlling every phase and frequency of electromagnetic radiation.” Recently I took a small real-world step in that direction by repurposing an old 60″ 1080p LED “smart” TV to fill a space that needed a large piece of art:
With no natural light available, the interior decorator was struggling to find something that made this windowless basement living room “work.” Unlike old-fashioned hanging pictures or mirrors, LED displays don’t depend on ambient light to showcase images. Since they are emissive they also add light to the space. And, of course, the image itself can be changed at the press of a button, or the display “retasked” to its original design function as a smart screen.
Presently mid-range LED panels cost about $25 per square foot, or roughly $3,000 to completely cover the wall in the photo above. So they’re not yet price-competitive with sheetrock and paint, or even high-end wallpaper, but they are on par with tile. Installation? Personally I would rather wire and anchor an array of LED panels to a wall frame than hang and finish sheetrock or wall tile.
Full-surface “SmartWalls” will make more sense in a few years when LED production has shifted from passive LEDs to OLEDs: Because each OLED pixel is itself emissive, OLED sheets don’t require side- or back-lighting and are therefore ultra-thin. Once large-scale OLED fabrication techniques have matured, the installed cost of smart walls will be similar to that of wallpapered drywall.
Last year I got a reasonably sharp photo of a full moon with a Nikon D7200 using the $500 Nikkor 18-300mm zoom lens at f/6.3, 1/160 second, ISO 160. This month I pulled out an old Nikon D3100 and a $100 catadioptric 500mm f/8 lens for a bigger challenge: The cheaper lens really falls short in terms of sharpness. Here is the best I could do with each lens (the more recent shot on the right is colored by atmospheric smoke from western wildfires):
I turned the camera on Jupiter, which is presently close to Saturn and very prominent in the night sky. With the same lens, shooting 1/2 second at ISO 800, I get the following photo showing all four Galilean moons:
The peak of Table Mountain is a prominent rock about 50 yards long that, from 11,100 feet above sea level, offers stunning views of the Grand Teton and surrounding canyons. I figured the 11-mile loop would be a great leg workout. But I grossly underestimated the effect that altitude would play on this excursion.
The trails start at 6,800 feet. I opted to ascend via the 4-mile-long Face Trail. The first mile covers over 2,000 feet in altitude, so it’s like climbing a mile-long flight of stairs. I could tell the air was thinning as the trail leveled out above 9,000 feet and I was still breathing heavily to maintain a decent walking pace along terrain that would normally constitute a light stroll.
The coronavirus pandemic has transformed America into a place I’ve wanted to live for a long time.
Urban living has lost some luster. Friends who used to be die hard city slickers and urban evangelists eventually got so sick of the government quarantine rules, the riots, and the prolonged inability to venture forth from their $4,000/month walk-in-closet “apartments” that they took extended leaves of absence to visit Free America. This was enabled by:
Telecommuting. I’ve been saying this for many years: Office workers rarely benefit from physical presence in an office. And now that companies were forced to test my assertion and see the benefits in increased productivity (and the prospect of reduced office costs) many are planning to encourage or even require “WFH” (work from home) permanently.
Business travel has seen a commensurate collapse. I am no longer alone in my disdain for the “one meeting business trip.”
There is a new respect for personal space. Casual handshaking is out.
Large in-person gatherings have been curtailed. Sporting events, theater, church. All of these barbaric and dangerous affairs have been replaced: Cramped pews gave way to in-person worship with close family and friends or larger teleconference gatherings. The unprecedented array of television entertainment has fully supplanted the olde tyme amusement of live theater. And professional sporting spectacles, thankfully, pretty much just went away.
In Free America restaurants that opened for seated service spaced their tables at comfortable distances. Food handlers wear face coverings. Serious attempts are made to sanitize high-touch surfaces, including menus.
You can wear a neck gaiter to cover your nose and mouth anytime, anywhere, and nobody assumes you’re a robber.
Last night after sundown I happened to be outside looking up at the waxing gibbous moon when I saw a satellite zipping near it in low earth orbit. And not far behind it another. And another – all spaced roughly 15 seconds (travel time, north to south) apart on the same orbit. They kept coming in what appeared to be an unbroken chain, and I could clearly see six to seven of them at a time. That’s an astonishingly dense satellite network, so it made me wonder if it was part of the astonishingly large LEO satellite network being built by Starlink.
Today I tried to confirm what satellites I could have been seeing, and it looks like there was indeed a Starlink train passing overhead at that time. The reason they were so close together is that Starlink satellites are launched 60 at a time in “trains” that gradually spread to the network’s operational altitude and separation. I must have spotted this one near the beginning of its transit of my location.
So that was very exciting, but I didn’t have equipment adequate to record it. Instead, here is a photo of a full moon I captured with a Nikon 7200 DX and 300mm lens last November:
I’d like to thank every organization with which I have ever had contact for emailing me in recent days with your Updates and Important Messages about the COVID-19 pandemic. I am glad that you made time to reach out to me while you are busy “closely monitoring developments with respect to COVID-19.“
I am inspired by the businesses that have “implemented plans to ensure that we can continue to serve our customers.” To list just a few:
A hotel I stayed at last year.
The mail-order company I ordered a pipe fitting from 3 years ago.
The law firm that I consulted while creating an LLC five years ago, but haven’t contacted since.
The company that represents said LLC in Delaware, whose only job is to forward me a tax bill once a year.
The self-storage facility I haven’t visited in six months.
Stores. Restaurants. Clubs, forums, online newsletters. Really, every organization – regardless of whether I have ever had any contact with you or even know what you do.
I can’t tell you how reassuring it is to read, over and over, that:
Our focus is always on the safety and well-being of our customers, employees, and suppliers. We will continue to share guidance and information as it becomes pertinent.
For those that have modified their functions, let me say that I could care less whether some of your employees are working from home. I am invariably rapt reading about the sanitation protocols you have implemented. Surely I am sleeping more soundly knowing how the college I attended twenty years ago has modified its services to current students; or knowing how a medical practice I haven’t visited in three years is handling scheduling of current patients.