Sunday, April 26, 2020

A Golden Encounter

I had a golden encounter this covidious afternoon. To wit, I was out in the front yard mowing the lawn with my hand reel mower - I roll that way. I was wearing the face mask The Wife had sewn for me out of my old Hanes undershirts. Mowing was going fine...

Sidenote: I was wearing my Presentation Pete t-shirt from my old Lotus Freelance days that I had found in the box in the garage that we were going to donate to Goodwill, but that, in our covidious era, I decided actually sparked joy. I wore the shirt proudly...

I. Presentation Pete (An Entertainment)

The Secret Life of Presentation Pete is quite the twisted tale

II. A Golden Encounter

Back to my golden encounter, where was I? Oh yes, there I was minding my business mowing my front lawn with my hand reel mower. I was wearing the face mask The Wife had sewn for me out of my old Hanes undershirts. Mowing was going fine...

The searing Austin sun meant that I was getting a good sweat going. I was a little worried that one of the bolts had come off the hand mower and so was treading gingerly with it. I didn't fancy making a trip to Home Depot - self isolation and all that, you know.

A white SUV passed on the other side of the street and made a hasty U-turn. Working as I now do at a car company, I was quite proud of myself for identifying the model, one of ours, a 2018 Chevy Tahoe LT. This guy essentially got me last year's bonus.

The car pulled up just by my mailbox and stopped. The driver rolled down his window. He beckoned to me. Intrigued but, well, observing social distancing I stopped mowing, took my gloves off, and took a step towards him. He beckoned to me almost impatiently again.

I noted that he wasn't wearing a mask. I took a step back, out of covidious practice. He was holding something in his hand.

"Yes... What is it?".

The thought crossed my mind that perhaps I shouldn't be talking to Johnny Random Driver Who Does a U turn When He Sees Your Black Ass Mowing the Lawn.

Whatever he was holding was shiny. I felt relief that it wasn't a gun. I haven't traveled all this way in life to die on my front lawn - and I knew The Wife would complain that I hadn't finished mowing (keeping up with the Joneses)

"Come. Come.", he was insistent, gruff even.

He was a middle eastern man, I could tell from the way he looked and the impatient accent. I know the type.

"What is it? How can I help you?"

"It's gold."


"Yes gold. I need money."

Phew. I took a closer look, and, yes, it did indeed look to be a gold coin that he was dangling towards me. Still, I shook my head.

"No thanks, sir."

He looked irritated, but I made to turn back to the house.

I had tagged him as Lebanese or Syrian, a heavy set man, mid-40s. He made that pshew sound with his cheeks.

Definitely Lebanese, I thought.

I turned towards him, remembering for some strange reason that it was Ramadan. 3 pm is getting to be hunger time. I remember trying to shop at the Halal butchers around that time in our Before Coronavirus life. Impatience reigns in those hours. I greeted him, "Assalamu Alaikum".

He paused in consternation, as if to reassess his interlocutor. He ventured almost reluctantly a soft response, "Alaykumu s-salām".

I gave him the customary toli head nod. He drove off and made a dangerous u-turn on the street (our street is still surprisingly full of cars despite the shelter-in-place mantras). I wished him well on his future golden transactions.

"I need money" indeed.

I returned to my lawn mowing - it's great exercise. The Wife thinks all this covidious yard work is doing wonders for my body (hint hint).

Hey, what do you know, the kids didn't hang handkerchiefs over the Nest cam as they normally do (they don't believe in our tech surveillance capitalism present) so it captured some footage

A golden encounter

I suspect that if he came back 6 months hence, I would trade him the yams I planted in the backyard for some of his gold.

I knew what was going on. The first of the month is less than a week away. Mortgage, rent and car payments are due. People are trying to liquidate gold on the streets of Austin. Ah this covidious life. After this golden encounter, I think I'll stick to my backyard.

A golden encounter playlist

Adapted from some pandemic toli

See also: The Mosquito Principle

6 weeks later, the bolts disappeared, it was back to basics for me. See Nuts and Bolts

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The Secret Life of Presentation Pete

I had a golden encounter this covidious afternoon. To wit, I was out in the front yard mowing the lawn with my hand reel mower - I roll that way. I was wearing the face mask The Wife had sewn for me out of my old Hanes undershirts. Mowing was going fine...

Sidenote: I was wearing my Presentation Pete t-shirt from my old Lotus Freelance days that I had found in the box in the garage that we were going to donate to Goodwill, but that, in our covidious era, I decided actually sparked joy. I wore the shirt proudly.

Here's Presentation Pete in his glory

Presentation Pete - Leaping Pete

Here's the t-shirt. Some of my old Lotus folks will remember. This was the kickoff to the Coltrane Release where Lotus went all out to embrace the "World Wide Web". We would implement "Publish to Web" well before Powerpoint got around to it.

Presentation Pete kicks of Lotus's Graphical Products Group 1997 effort

Digression upon a digression: I have a draft of a short story somewhere titled The Secret Life of Presentation Pete. The idea has been percolating for nigh 13 years now - a high concept joint about the inner life of stock photograph characters or something.

Arrgh, it deserved neglect, let's tweet instead.

The Secret Life of Presentation Pete

I wasn't there at his conception - I believe Joanne Meirovitz might have been the mother, however, Presentation Pete had a very inauspicious debut. The scandalous toli would be chronicled by Cringely in an aside in InfoWorld (June 1 1992). Our Bob titled it "Lotus Unenlightened". Call it a youthful indiscretion.

The Adventures of Presentation Pete - Lotus Unenlightend - Cringely Infoworld June 1992

As the story goes,

"Lotus CEO Jim Manzi et al will soon make a public apology for racist images printed on a Freelance demo disk called The Adventures of Presentation Pete. The animated demo was built on an African Safari theme complete with images of white hunters and black tribesmen."

Something along these lines perhaps?

Lions attack the modern traveller

Here's the detail that gets me:

"An African American employee in the Freelance group was offended by the racist image but waited to complain until the disks were already shipping. Lotus will eat 750,000 leftover copies"
The Adventures of Presentation Pete - Lotus Unenlightend - Cringely Infoworld June 1992 (2)

I believe I know who that African American employee was, although I can't remember the name - even as he gave me much shrewd career advice - there weren't many of us darker than blue at Lotus back then (or even now in software). I loved that he waited before pouncing. I still admire the nerve.

I can only imagine the contents of the safari themed disk of The Adventures of Presentation Pete that had to be pulped. I would pay good money for a bootleg of that disk. Surely one of those 750,000 leftover copies still exists? I demand especially to see those African tribesmen.

Scratch that. Here's my artist's rendition of the African safari themed disk of The Adventures of Presentation Pete that had to be pulped. A quarter century later, I still have a copy of Freelance on my laptop.

Presentation Pete - safari pete

Digression: was it a floppy disk or a cd-rom? Freelance's PRZ file format was quite famous for being more efficient than Powerpoint's PPT format and could fit on floppies.

I now understand why there was so much trepidation 6 years later when I brought up the issues I observed when integrating clip art in the Coltrane release. Lotus had been primed for Cultural Sensitivity in Technology

I first met Presentation Pete in his prime when I joined Lotus in 1995. As noted, he had already led a storied life by that young age. He was a natty dresser

Presentation Pete - Natty Dresser Pete

Presentation Pete was passionate about office life. The title in the Freelance clip art chooser read "Hardworking Pete"

Presentation Pete - Hardworking Pete

Still, office life could sometimes be overwhelming for Presentation Pete. Cue the clip art title "Scared Pete":

Presentation Pete - Scared Pete (Office Life)

Presentation Pete was a renaissance man.

Presentation Pete - Renaissance Man Pete

In his Christmas and Santa personas, Presentation Pete was full of zest. He was a fair referee also

Presentation Pete - Santa and Referee Pete

In short, Presentation Pete was a man for all seasons

Presentation Pete - Man for all Seasons Pete

Pete's co-workers loved him. I think one of them, his office wife perhaps, was modeled on Ruth Seltzer who hired me at Lotus. Or perhaps it was her sister. Whatcha think @iustinianus ?

Presentation Pete - Pete's co-workers

Presentation Pete was all about collaboration and groupware, what we now call social software.

Presentation Pete - Collaboration Pete

Pete was a pioneer of remote screen show. You say Zoom, I say Presentation Pete

Presentation Pete - Presenting Remotely

I learned heady lessons about work-life balance under Presentation Pete's tutelage

Presentation Pete - Work Life Balance Pete

The four years we spent together collaborating were the best years of my professional life.

Pete's job was offshored to India once IBM ceded the office suite market to Microsoft circa 1999. Lotus would stagger on as a brand for another decade but the thrill was gone. The remnants of a still-profitable Lotus were finally sold off by IBM in December 2018.

Presentation Pete - Information Superhighway Pete

I helped train Presentation Pete's replacements in India before switching to work on software for the ill-fated Network Computer. Lotus eSuite, remember that? For you young ones, a precursor to Google Suite.

Presentation Pete - Really Remote Presentation Pete

Surfer Pete was one cool cat. Presentation Pete had more than 9 lives.

Presentation Pete 15 - Surfer Pete

Presentation Pete was a man in full, his legend proved to be iconic in software history. Presentation Pete Lives.

Presentation Pete - Leaping Pete

Adapted from some covidious toli

Next in Part II: A Golden Encounter

Previously: The Mosquito Principle

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Monday, April 06, 2020

The Mosquito Principle

"As they say, mosquitos don't discriminate... We're all singing the West Nile Blues these days. Some call it globalization; I know it as the Mosquito Principle."

— extract from The Books of Nima

Honam mu nni nhanoa
(Humanity has no boundary)

— Akan proverb

Takes behaviour to get along.
Lots of behaviour to get along.
Do you really, really know that?
Social Living is the best

Do you know?
Social Living is the best

Burning Spear - Social Living

II. Insatiable Appetites

"...Some have insatiable appetites & are never satisfied (politics?)."

Donald Trump ostensibly complaining about the governors of certain states, but perhaps rather projecting his impulses onto others. (April 2 2020)

The U.S. allegedly snatched a planeload of 60 million Chinese-made medical masks that were initially intended for France, a French official said.

"A French order was bought out with cash by Americans on the tarmac, and the plane that was to fly to France took off for the U.S. instead".

Snatched from the tarmac. (April 2 2020)
Yinka Shonibare MBE at Brooklyn Museum

We need the masks. We don't want other people getting them.

— Donald Trump, April 3 2020

Insatiable Appetites

The German capital ordered 200,000 special FFP2 and FFP3 masks that are used to protect emergency staff and care workers from infection with coronavirus.

Andreas Geisel, Berlin's interior minister, confirmed that the consignment had been “confiscated” in Bangkok and never reached Berlin.

"We consider that an act of modern piracy," he said. "You don't treat your transatlantic partners like that."

US swoop sees 3M masks allegedly diverted from Berlin (April 3 2020)

Yinka Shonibare MBE at Brooklyn Museum

— Scenes from The Berlin Conference of 1894
Scramble for Africa by Yinka Shonibare at Brooklyn Museum (2005) - credit: DK

III. Manifest Destiny

cecil rhodes astride africa

From Cairo to Cape Town, The Rhodes Colossus (Punch 1892)

"I contend that we are the finest race in the world and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race. Just fancy those parts that are at present inhabited by the most despicable specimens of human beings what an alteration there would be if they were brought under Anglo-Saxon influence, look again at the extra employment a new country added to our dominions gives...

We know the size of the world we know the total extent. Africa is still lying ready for us it is our duty to take it. It is our duty to seize every opportunity of acquiring more territory and we should keep this one idea steadily before our eyes that more territory simply means more of the Anglo-Saxon race more of the best the most human, most honourable race the world possesses."

Confession of Faith by Cecil Rhodes (1877)

The Modern Traveller by Hilaire Belloc

Surely our simple duty here
Is both imperative and clear;
While they support us, we should lend
Our every effort to defend,
And from a higher point of view
To give the full direction due
To all the native races.
And I, throughout the expedition
Insisted upon

To give the full direction due to all the native races - the modern traveller

              this position.

The Modern Traveller by Hilaire Belloc (1898)

The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.

John Kenneth Galbraith (1963)

The modern Republican Party is the result of collusion between a movement to take U.S. jurisprudence to the pre-Depression era, and a movement to take culture back to the pre-Enlightenment era. It is doomed because the latter would like a theocratic state to regulate culture, and the former want to smoke dope and look at dirty pictures.

Maxspeak Maxim IX, Max Sawicky (2006)

IV. The Mosquito Principle (Redux)

"You don't make the timeline, the virus makes the timeline"

- Anthony Fauci on the novel coronavirus

Later: "There is no region in the country, in my mind, that's going to be exempt from an outbreak"

If you win mainly by convincing THEM that they are losers, and convincing them to give up fighting — and all of us, not just Trump, do this sort of adversarial reality distortion to a degree — what do you do when THEY is a virus? What do you do when there are no credible substitutes?

— taken from a discourse on our current global narrative collapse in Plot Economics

See also: You Can't Gaslight a Virus

In these days of insecticides and drained swamps, those of us who live in the rich, temperate world have become accustomed to the luxury of not thinking very much about mosquitoes and the risks they carry. But the insects are still killing more than eight hundred thousand people a year, primarily in Africa.

How Mosquitoes Changed Everything

Item: The exact origin, locations, and natural reservoir of the Ebola virus remain unknown. Current suspicions are founded on cynomolgous monkeys, civets or bats...

Dig: The pressure of marauding warlords roaming the bush has forced many to start eating animals that had previously been left alone in the bush.

Ebola and Marburg virus musings in Angola

Europe turned into a petri dish and travel from there impacted the world, with its most damaging effect in Africa and Latin America. “The colonial legacy lives in viral movements. I wasn’t surprised that Belgian travel preceded DRC’s first known case,”

Coronavirus Started in China, but Europe Became the Hub for Its Global Spread
Walking the pets

V. Pandemic Toli

Mosquitos don't discriminate

Previously: "You welcome the US to the fun of the Third World" - West Nile Blues

Virus lays bare the frailty of the social contract
— The Financial Times editorial page ostensibly advocating for social insurance and a rebalancing of modern economies. A Road to Damascus moment. (April 4 2020)

The mitigation strategies have varied throughout humanity's long shared history with malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases. There has been genetic adaptation (sickle cell disease), the observation that colder climates are less hospitable to mosquitos, quinine from the bark of a cinchona tree, good sanitation, (of late) artemesin, bed nets and an entire panoply of public health measures.

Only occasionally do we get a glimpse of the universality of the struggle (see the spread of Zika that threatened Rio's Olympics, outbreaks of chikungunya, Dengue fever and the like). That's when you'd read: "The mosquito is ubiquitous... You don’t need to travel to get the disease". Consider also the spread of West Nile Virus in California that resulted from Delinquent Mortgages and Neglected Swimming Pools in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Collateral damage of huhudious financial malpractice.

Rapacious vultures at the Berlin Conference by Yinka Shonibare

Still, to a large extent in the West, a sort of natural equilibrium has been established, even as we operate elsewhere under Mosquito Rules. Structurally, malaria and other mosquito-borne dieseases have been contained in the First World through strenuous public health efforts. In the third world, however, mosquitos remain a poverty tax.

Diseases like Ebola that jumped hosts and spread disastrously in repeated outbreaks in recent decades are thought to be confined, to the global, poorer south. The 3 years of Ebola epidemic that affected 10 countries and decimated 3 countries that could hardly afford it (recovering as they were from gruesome civil wars) didn't make a lasting impression. Similarly SARS and MERS were big scares in recent memory but, at length, they too were largely contained. The West was largely unscathed fron the calculus of contagion.

Hilaire Belloc had keen insight about the complacency in the face of a common enemy, and the almost liquidationist impulse that drives the Social Darwinist attitudes, and Empire writ large. Think about the past several months squandered in the face of clear and present danger. The following panel perhaps captures the insouciance, and the attempts to deny, or cage, the dangers of the predator. Call it the herd immunity strategy.
Lions attack the modern traveller - p.50
The Lion never will attack
A White, if he can get a Black
And there were such a lot of these
We could afford with perfect ease
To spare one here and there.

It made us more compact - and then -
It's right to spare one's fellow men.

If COVID-19 is the pandemic disease of the moment, the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, is just a virus; it is not a parable or extended metaphor. Like the plasmodium falciparum, and the mosquito that transmits it through its bite, this coronavirus doesn't discriminate. Whether spread by symptomatic or asymptomatic carriers, it is no respector of princes or prime ministers. It is oblivious to all boundaries, navigating between its unknown primary host (bats?), its intermediate hosts (say that initial pangolin or civet in the Wuhan wild animal market or that tiger at the Bronx zoo), and the human prey that it afflicts with COVID-19. It merely reproduces, evolves, and occasionally mutates its RNA as it navigates between hosts.

The current flight to safety in this covidious depression may be to US bonds - that, after all, is the financial norm that befits the US having the world's reserve currency. The literal airplane flights, and the longer-term larger scramble, however, may now be to China. The evidence is already there: if that Cairo to Cape Town railway is indeed ever built, it will be financed by China's belt and road initiative. In just a few more weeks, Wuhan province may well prove to be safer than New Orleans and Catalonia. Just weeks ago, African elites were precipitously withdrawing their children from European boarding schools. Thousands of Chinese students are yearning to be repatriated from the US rather than take their chances, uninsured in America where bad faith actors keep beaches open against all sense.

Rapacious vultures at the Berlin Conference by Yinka Shonibare

We are all passengers on cruise ships (operated by soon-to-be bankrupt Princess Lines, flying their Liberian flags of convenience). The underpaid crew (essential workers with compromised immune systems) labor to find a port of respite working with creaking infrastructure, hollowed by austerity policies, offshoring and deferred maintenance. We pray that we are being piloted by sensible Captains (no Ahabs or Blighs). Some of us, however, have been dealt the mayor from Jaws preaching herd immunity and necessary sacrifice, hucksters touting quack remedies, or contrarian chancers with no naval experience save navel gazing.

We are all rather wishing we were being steered by no-nonsense Taiwanese or Singaporeans crisis managers. At this stage, locked down and self isolating in windowless interior cabins, we'd gladly accept plane shipments of personal protective equipment from China or South Korea. We worry and look askance at Italian or Spanish tourists, and especially the quiet Americans (quiet, perhaps, in dismay at the observed competence of their political leaders measured in the mounting, grim body count). Africans facing the pandemic would gladly substitute the gunboat diplomacy of yore for Asian supply chain competence, German engineering efficiency, and a Danish social safety net. Such is life in a state of narrative collapse this season of coronavirus. Our lifeboats are soap and running water, face masks, social distancing and, in extremis, ventilators. We can't breathe.

By all rights, solidarity should overcome rapacious hoarding or looting. There are tensions between the demands of capital, labour and now public health. If power is never given up willingly, it is clear the costs of the pandemic we are facing are human lives, thousands already, and perhaps millions of them. There is a marketplace of ideas and cooperation, human ingenuity, and the systematic application of science and operational excellence ought to be our guiding posts, acknowledging our common humanity

There is an emergency on planet earth. As far as coping strategies go in dealing with the Mosquito Principle, I suggest we revisit The Great Game, eschew the insatiable appetites of Manifest Destiny, and embrace Social Living.

Soundtrack for this note

I give you fifty songs on the theme starting out with Burning Spear's take. He had it right: Social Living is the best. I'm also quite fond of Amel Larrieux's injunction to "tap into your magic" and D'Angelo's ecological lament, 'Til it's done.

Bonus playlists:
  • Manifest Destiny (liner notes)
    A soundtrack of irony
  • Insatiable
    You can't go wrong between Prince and Omar
  • Contagious
    From Taja Sevelle's infectious pop confection, Love is Contagious, to The Isley Brothers and Chanté Moore's soap opera (the record's producer is currently muted and worried about the coronavirus in federal jails), and The Whispers' shiny 80s electro-funk.

And the band played on...

This note is part of the Things Fall Apart series under the banner of Social Living.

Previously: Ode to Betty Brown

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