Isolation day 49

Being together online. Sounds paradoxical, doesn’t it? The article in The Age about Facebook groups “Social discord” reminded me of why I cancelled my Facebook membership a few years ago. I recognise that Facebook is useful to keep in touch with people with whom, for whatever reason, it’s difficult to stay in contact. This capability can be a big deal for those who grew up or worked in other countries. But, just as one can be lonely in a physical crowd, there’s the well known paradox that  even those with many social media “friends” can feel isolated and vulnerable.

Trolling and aggressive behaviour in general on social media, which was the main focus of the article, is obviously a very real phenomenon. I remember seeing a British TV show which tracked down a serial troll to the small village in Britain where she lived. When confronted by the TV presenter with her trolling behaviour, her reply was “I’m entitled to do that”. Jon Ronson’s book So you’ve been publicly shamed, is a fascinating-but-horrifying series of accounts from people to whom this happened. (The link points to the WorldCat record for this title.) Many of those he spoke to felt as if it had changed their lives forever, and for the worse. Anyone who has been verbally abused or ridiculed knows that words can hurt. Having large numbers of strangers do this must indeed be difficult to deal with. The messages are all to do with the recipient — You’re such a terrible person! You’re being too sensitive! You’re letting it get to you! It is always easier to blame the victim than, as the accuser, to look at one’s own motives or values. It is a pity that people who do these things do not have a degree of empathy that matches their verbal skills.

So why do people bother with social media, if it can be such a traumatic experience? My recent experience with Zoom has given me some idea about this. For those who crave interaction — and I think most of us are social animals — half a loaf is better than none. Seeing a face on the screen, and hearing the person’s voice, is a much more powerful substitute for the real thing than one might think.  Zoom and the other videoconferencing platforms have staked out some territory, not just for social contact, but as a business tool as well. Many people will continue to use these platforms after social isolation comes to an end. (Obviously the companies involved are encouraging wide use of the free version in the hope that, later on, some brand preference transfers to the business version.)

The power of an image on a screen, and a voice on a speaker or headphones, is surprising. Rationally we know we are not interacting with a person, but if feels as if we are. I was interested to read an article about Zoom etiquette in this morning’s Age. People do not want not to create the wrong impression, or be inadvertently rude, in how they behave during a Zoom call. (When trying to find this article, I discovered quite a few others in similar vein — even an Emily Post parody article. Obviously people are trying to figure this new thing out.)

Incidentally, videoconferencing software comes with a bit of platform apartheid, as well. A friend suggested that he and I use Facetime. When I did a brief search on this, I found it was a software package unique to the Apple environment. There is a number of equivalents such as Google Hangouts or Duo which have been developed for Android, as well as old faithfuls like Skype. Whichever package becomes the de facto standard, it will likely be a cross-platform one.

Isolation day 45

No-one plans to fail — they only fail to plan! Apologies for the old chestnut, but it serves to introduce something I’ve been meaning to put up here. This is our little system for listing and marking off stuff that we want to get done. I am particularly vague at present, so having a way to capture these things is something I find helpful. Otherwise projects just tend to get away from me — I think of things, then forget them, only to remember them later on, and so on. Anyway, here is our little “whiteboard”.


It is a simple idea that I came across somewhere or other. There are three categories, in columns:

  1. Tasks; 
  2. In progress; and
  3. Done.

With the Tasks category, you will see there are two sub-headings: Courtyard and Front Garden/Driveway. This category is where everything we want to get done is listed. Projects are written up on post-it notes. (I find the small ones work the best.) As one works through them, the projects move across the board from left to right. If projects stay In Process for too long, they may need a final push to get them done. 

The idea of using post-it notes to record the projects was my idea. This saves writing and erasing things between the columns as tasks progress. (One could colour-code the notes — if one could remember what the colours meant.) Why list completed tasks under Done? I think it’s encouraging to see things that one has actually finished. Otherwise it can feel discouraging to have tasks hanging around for ever. This way one can see what projects have been accomplished, and can be marked off. Some projects, like “Sweep”, are never ending. This one will return to Tasks the next time it needs doing.

These things are recorded on a giant fridge magnet that I got from a newsagent in Camberwell Junction. I used to keep this on the side of the fridge. This was just a bit out of the way, however, so I put it on the front. I need a reminder that is hard to ignore.

Isolation day 41

  • Wow, that number of days is creeping up!
  • It is odd how easy it feels to lose touch with the outside world. We haven’t, of course. My beloved continues with her job, we shop for groceries, exercise (by video in my case), and buy stuff on the internet. We read news services and stay in contact with people by phone and videoconferencing. We went for a walk this morning, as we do most days.
  • In spite of all this, my sense of what is normal has been reset. My beloved got some cash out when buying our last lot of groceries, and gave me $10. I thought fleetingly “What use is money to me?”. At that moment the thought of going out and buying things the way I used to, without even thinking about it, seemed foreign. Of course I expect I will get used to it again pretty quickly.
  • I spent an hour or so fiddling around with our NBN modem to see if putting it up on a box made a difference to our wifi coverage and download speed. It didn’t affect either of these things. Neither did taking the modem off the box and moving  it so that it sits inside the window, instead of hidden away in the corner. (Moving the modem closer to a window is one of the things our telco recommends to speed things up.) I did a coverage map and a speed test before and after doing both these things. Both are pretty well identical.
  • Moving the modem is quite a business. There is a curtain which opens into that corner of the bedroom, which has to be pushed out of the way.  There is also an unbelievable number of wires and electrical leads in that corner:
    • telephone jack
    • modem
    • NBN box
    • cordless phone
    • telephone cable
    • electric blanket
    • bedside light
    • power board into which all these plug.
  • However, while browsing on our telco web site, I discovered we can get a wifi booster at a reduced cost using our accrued points through the their loyalty scheme. It becomes a toss-up whether to do this, or put that value towards about nine months’ worth of a plan with a greater download allowance and a faster maximum speed. If we get either of these, will we end up having to get the other as well? No-one is going to be able to tell us in advance. The wifi is working OK at present, fortunately, with very occasional dropouts.
  • I discovered a good ebook through our local library: Conclave, by Robert Harris.  (The link points to a New York Times review.) It seems very well researched, as is usual for his novels. The book is helping me get back into reading, something that I feel I have lacked much concentration for just recently.
  • The setting of the book reminded me of a terrific movie we saw a few years ago on SBS, We have a Pope (Wikipedia entry). Unfortunately this film doesn’t seem to be available on any of the streaming services listed on JustWatch. Keep an eye out for it, though. In the old days I could say: look for it at your local video store, or public library. Of course the former are almost all gone — I think there is one left in Melbourne — and the latter aren’t lending physical media.
  • I get the feeling that services like public libraries will reopen reasonably soon — along with all the usual stuff. We will have to start thinking about due dates again!


Isolation day 37

  • I have been reflecting along the lines of how our lives in isolation are resembling those of our parents. We are having to do without things which, although we are used to, are turn out to be pleasant, but unnecessary. I am thinking of things like having coffee (and occasionally lunch) out in a cafe, going to shopping centres for an outing — things like that. Our parents didn’t habitually do things like that because, in general, these activities were not on the menu in those days. (Shopping centres came along in the seventies, in Sydney anyway, but my parents weren’t habitues.)
  • Other things that we are getting used to doing without were activities our parents routinely did — getting their hair done, going to the movies and to concerts, socialising with friends, neighbours and family, and going to the library. (I am leaving travelling to and from work as that will be in a separate point.) There are digital alternatives for a few of these. I am thinking of Zoom and other videoconferencing platforms, borrowing e-books, and watching TV shows and movies from streaming services. There is no substitute for getting a physical haircut, though!
    • Although streaming technology is fairly new, in a general way, our activities in isolation are resembling those of an even earlier generation. In the Victorian period, entertainment used to be conducted more in the home. More people played an instrument or sang; most homes of any means had a piano or pianola. Others told funny stories or recited poems. The advent of electronic entertainment services like radio meant that people were able to devolve these things to professional performers. (Before these technologies, one had to leave the home to see or hear these performers.)
  • The world of paid work is another that won’t be the same even after all the restrictions are lifted. It will be like electronic commerce over again. Remember how difficult and insecure this was at the beginning? But the advantages of being able to make a secure payment at a web site were so huge, the problems were overcome. It will be same with working from home.
    • From what I have observed and heard, most of those working from home enjoy it — most of the time. They can get more sleep, without having to get up early to battle congested public transport or roads. Maintaining social interaction with colleagues takes some work, of course. Ditto with keeping the work and home spaces distinct. (We were just sitting down to lunch yesterday when my beloved’s work phone rang. She excused herself and said she had to take the call. It was a simple matter to resolve, but it illustrated the pitfalls of being in the “always available” workforce.)
    • From the other point of view, being able to devolve some of the costs of maintaining workplaces onto employees will be in the employers’ favour. The current cirumstances have forced employers to authorise working from home. This is something that many of them were reluctant to investigate because of a prejudice that, if employees were not under constant oversight, they would slack off. Studies have shown, however, that people working from home have better morale and commitment. Absenteeism because of having to let in a tradesman or deal with a school crisis must be less. So that will be another win/win.
  • Other things have become a priority that weren’t so in our parents’ day. My father took up jogging briefly in the eighties. Other than this, though, I don’t remember either of them exercising either in the home, or out of it. They gardened, did housework, or handyman-type jobs. (Their last home in Sydney had a pool, but domestic pools aren’t really large enough to exercise in.)
    • So exercise has become part of people’s lives in a way in which it wasn’t then. Of course exercise, and selling the equipment needed to do it, has become a huge industry.  This notwithstanding, the greater priority of exercise in people’s lives nowadays is, I feel, an improvement.


Suddenly a new dimension
the past a fairground where
the machines only play
one tune -- yours won’t be
    the same.
While the coin plays
its way through, wander
the sideshows of things 
you know used to matter
   just not now
   or why.

Lights dazzle
organ polka peals
receding as the carousel 
revolves, the horses dreaming  
of their next ride
knowing where the rider will 
dismount, only a little changed.

Isolation day 34

  • Glad we did all the work in the courtyard yesterday (including a couple of loads of washing); lots of rain overnight. By the time we got up this had eased, just leaving a typical overcast Melbourne autumn day. Perfect! Having not been beyond the gates yesterday, I ventured out for a walk mid-morning.
  • Home for a second coffee, a look at the rest of The Age, and attending to some business. A friend is trying to learn Zoom; she has the disadvantage in this of not having a webcam. Is it even possible to use Zoom without one? Apparently it is; people lacking this bit of kit (or a camera built into their device) can view video from other participants, just not transmit it themselves. So they can be heard but not seen. Anyway, I sent her an invitation to a Zoom meeting with this information appended to it.
    • Of course it is possible to use Zoom on a smart phone, and transmit video via its built-in “selfie” (front facing) camera. However, that has the drawback of only giving the phone user a fairly small screen to look at. I imagine this is more of a drawback the more participants there are in a meeting.
  • I joined up for my next lot of exercise physiology classes. I could have just done this over the phone with a credit card. The practice, however, had sent me an invoice at my request. (I like to have a bit of an audit trail in case a payment doesn’t come through, goes to the wrong account, etc.) So I paid the invoice via bank transfer, and sent the practice a notice of the payment via email. This is not a remarkable thing to do at all, of course, but I still marvel at how technology enables transactions like this.
  • On the subject of everyday technology, one device that has been getting a bit of a workout recently is our Epson inkjet printer. This has been invaluable just recently for printing invoices, drafts of things I am working on, transcripts of chat sessions, and so on. My beloved had to print out a 10 page document (or so) for her work recently. Like all such things, the device is pretty cheap, the cartridges outrageously expensive. Third party ones work perfectly well, in spite of the nagging screens they generate, reminding you that you’re not using genuine Epson products, and so on. It is also a scanner, which has also come in handy recently.
  • Some of the things this technology can do are pretty nifty. I had heard some excerpts from Tosca a while ago, which I had enjoyed. So I found a recording of excerpts from this opera on Google Play Music, started playing this in the living room, then was able to send this audio stream to the kitchen when I had to go out there to make dinner. It just picked up where I had left off. All via the magic of the Chromecast.
  • The same device casts video to the TV from Stan in a particularly seamless way. Of course it works also with the ABC iView, Kanopy, and SBS On Demand apps, to name but a few — just not quite as elegantly as with Stan. (I’m not getting any commission for these various endorsements, unfortunately.) We are nearly at the end of Deutschland 86.

Isolation day 33

Just in case anyone has forgotten what is the point of social isolation, I just read an account in Limelight by Australia soprano Helena Dix on surviving coronvirus. (Apologies for cross posting.) This story was of particular interest to me as we heard Helena in 2017 singing Elsa in Lohengrin, for Melbourne Opera. The story has a wider potential interest, however, in that there just haven’t been that many accounts I have read recently by coronavirus survivors. Anyway, I post this FWIW.

We had a pleasant morning fiddling around outside. Our gardenia bed is starting to flower rather reluctantly. I am generally a bit late to get this going really well, and this year is no exception. Nevertheless, the sight of a few blooms stirred me to give the bed a light prune. After I get out there again, I will give it a good feed and a layer of compost. I also dug out the hedge clippers and gave the azalea hedge a haircut. We have a couple of rather ancient Confidor tablets left. (This seemed a brilliant thing when I first bought it, a combination of plant food and insecticide specifically designed for azaleas — one of the more difficult plants to keep away from scale and other diseases. Unfortunately, the last time I looked for Confidor, I was told they it been withdrawn from sale due to its containing neonicotinoids — substances found to be harmful to bees. This piece in The Conversation explains that background.)

With libraries being closed, like most people, I have been relying on the ebook collections of our local libraries. We live just outside the boundary of our former municipal area, which I will call Area A. The library branches in A are better located for us, so we rather cheekily have kept our library memberships going in that service, although we no are longer ratepayers in that council area. (I don’t believe Area A has reciprocal memberships with library services from other council areas.) When we moved five years ago, I also joined the service of our present council area, Area B. The library branches here are far less convenient for us to get to, so we hardly use it, but it is is handy for books not stocked in Area A. This works also for e-book offerings. Although they both use the Libby software, each offers e-books not available from the other library service. Fortunately, once one has logged in to Libby, it is pretty simple to switch between the two libraries and read books from both. I even managed to reset my password for the Area B service online!

One e-book I read recently was Nothing to be frightened of, by Julian Barnes. (This link points to the Penguin Random House blurb.) This is a series of reflections and literary excerpts about mortality. These are interspersed with anecdotes about his parents, brother, and other family members; these transform it into a kind of memoir. Partly under the influence of his father, who had been a French teacher, the book has a very French orientation; Barnes is particularly interested in Jules Renard. In researching this author, I stumbled across some excerpts from his journal here.)  I really enjoyed Julian Barnes’ book at first; it darts about in a way that is quite quirky, but always personal and elegant. Toward the end, I felt both his style and the argument of the book became more busy and difficult to follow. Recommended nevertheless, if the topic is not off-putting.

My beloved has headed off to have a walk with a friend in our local park. It has been very mild over the last couple of days, handy for getting towels (mostly) dry. I must head back outside to do the feeding, then come back inside to ready for lunch. (We did a big shop yesterday, so fortunately there is lentil soup and other things ready to go.) I might even get out for a walk myself later on, as I have most days — if I don’t manage this, a slight feeling of cabin fever can creep in.