Our Pandemic Experience, Year One

It was about a year ago that the first case of COVID-19 was discovered in Wuhan, China. The virus has been and is still affecting the world massively, and in this post I’m going to recount how it has affected my family and me.

On February 2020, I found and bought the single remaining bottle of hand sanitizer spray, in a supermarket in a neighboring city. My own city did not seem to have them in stock anywhere, it felt at that time. We were on a vacation to celebrate our second child’s birthday. There has been no official announcements, but everyone seemed to instinctually know that something terrible was about to unfold.

Also on February I was scheduled to talk at a conference in Bangkok, Thailand. The conference was cancelled. At that time the decision to cancel was rather controversial. After a few more weeks, it would then prove to be the exact right thing to do. Anyhow, we also had to cancel our personal trip that would have happened afterward. There were no refunds, because at that time our destination had not been declared to be in emergency.

Back at home, at the beginning, an inflatable pool was our main tool to entertain children, especially since schools were closed. As it turns out, inflating the pool was easy. It was draining the water once everyone was done that’s tiring. The excess water also wasn’t great to the grass on the backyard.

I told my wife on my birthday in March that that was the worst birthday I’ve ever had. Anxiety level was high, everything was unpredictable, and our government did not seem to treat the situation with the right level of urgency. Masks and sanitizers were hard to find, local information even more so. We had to fend for ourselves by doing what we thought was best: not leaving the house, getting a lot of vitamins, and pretending to be cheerful to our kids as if nothing had happened.

I had a few scheduled work travels that had to be cancelled. Team meetings were replaced by multiple-day Zoom calls. They didn’t feel great, like having instant noodle for lunch instead of a proper meal. It felt great as an idea, but left me with regrets.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons for Nintendo Switch deserves its own paragraph here because it definitely has been the video game of the pandemic. It soothed not just our family, but seemingly the whole world. Even just the opening song was enough to give us a warm, fuzzy feeling. Our daughter played hours and hours of it. Her reading skill spiked up from reading conversations in the game. She memorized a lot of songs from it. One of the songs she turned into her nightly lullaby. She was not the best decorator, so our island in the game was an ocean of trash, but at least she’s happy.

Other games that get a lot of play time: Goat Simulator, Lego World.

Oh, Eid was cancelled. If there is a single holiday that’s uncancellable in Indonesia, it’s Eid. Yet it was, indeed, cancelled. Instead of visiting families, we had Zoom calls in the early morning.

We found that my wife was pregnant some time at the end of last year. I was so anxious I wasn’t able to sleep or eat for a whole day, something that never happened to me before.

Pregnancy during pandemic required many changes from what we’ve known from previous experiences. We had to avoid our usual hospital for doing regular check-ups, because the hospital was used to treat COVID-19 patients. We found another doctor who was good, had a practice at her own house, and the place had proper health measures in place. Masks required, outdoors waiting area, good airflow.

A few days ago I heard the news that the doctor and her husband got the virus, despite all that. I suppose it’s inevitable if you’re a doctor and meeting a lot of different people every single day. When we were there sometimes we’d see patients who were clearly coughing but still brought themselves there.

When it was time for my wife to give birth, we had to pick a different hospital also. It was a place that’s not familiar to us. We were asked to arrive the night before the operation, and the hospital was eerily quiet. Visitors were generally not allowed, but still it felt very unusual to be in an almost empty place. That night it felt like we were the only persons in there.

At the beginning of the year, I had thought that by the pregnancy’s due date on August, the virus situation would have already died down. I was so, so wrong.

Anyway we picked a room and stayed. Right away the level of service did not seem to reach the previous hospital that helped us with our two previous children. But overall it was comfortable.

The operation went smoothly, and we stayed for a few days after. It was the three of us there for those few days, with pretty much no visitors, which is something completely unusual if you’re a family with newborn in Java. The culture here dictates that pretty much everyone goes to visit a new baby at the hospital. The stark quietness gave us a great opportunity to relax and recover. During lulls I was able to play quite a bit of video games, watch Netflix, and rediscover the joy of Starbucks’s cafe latte. We also particularly enjoyed the hot tea that the hospital provided. It was the perfect amount of sweetness and warmth to help counter our stress.

Overall, our kids have been doing relatively fine, thankfully. Our youngest are growing healthily. For our first two it’s been a lot more games and videos than I’m comfortable with, but those are also important moments of rest for us parents. It’s a tricky thing to balance.

Online school has been particularly difficult for our first child. Even at the beginning it was obvious to us that the kindergarten we picked for her wasn’t particularly tech-savvy, but we thought it won’t be a big problem since our main goal was for her to gain new friends and socialize at the school. Who would have thought that school would suddenly move to Zoom? The hardest part for us has been to figure out what’s essential for her to learn during these lost school months, and what’s okay to let go. I don’t think we have it completely right. We’re trying.

And finally here we are, a year later. Like the constant hum of air conditioners, the presence of the virus and the uncertainty it brings keep on playing in the back of my head. It remains a factor to consider on top of all the things happening in our live. I see that things are getting worse in many parts of the world, especially those entering winter season. In my part of the world people have relaxed by a lot, even though testing is still low and there’s a lot of unknowns.

At the beginning I tried to keep myself updated with news, hoping that one day a glimmer of hope will appear. It was very tiring emotionally, and eventually I had to tune them out. Recently there were news about two vaccines, of Pfizer and of Moderna, that have over 90% success rate. These are actual, backed-by-science, glimmer of hope. Especially since there are also other promising vaccines in development with a timeline to share their findings in the near future.

A year from now, there’s a good chance things will be back to relative normalcy. Before that, with vaccinations, things will get easier and easier. Hopefully this writing will be it, and there will be no “Year Two” post. Hopefully, soon it will be a comfortable and relieving descent after this whole year of exhausting, foggy climb.

Real Life Forrest Gump

This is without a doubt the most fascinating article I’ve read this year. Part bike investigation (it’s on bicycling.com after all), and part profile about one Tom Pritchard:

He had so many stories. He’d tried to smuggle hash into Spain in a size 13 cowboy boot box, got spooked, and dumped it. After serving in Vietnam, he’d worked as a mercenary on top-secret missions to undisclosed locations. At the Jamaica Inn on Key Biscayne, he personally thanked Richard Nixon for working out a trade deal with Mexico that allowed the free flow of tequila across the border. He once served heavyweight legend Sonny Liston seven pounds of carp.

“Every story he’s told me is beyond convincing,” a financial advisor named Howard Sachs told me back then. “He’s as close to Forrest Gump as anybody I’ve ever met.”

How To Tell If Meditation Is Working

The simple answer is that your meditation is working if your mind is more calm and more positive outside of meditation. You can catch yourself in mid thoughts and correct it if necessary. You can access the kind and patient side of yourself more easily. You are no longer surprised by how you got to this train of thought, but you can direct your thoughts and chose your thoughts rather than them choosing you. You’re aware of how you are thinking & feeling during the day. In short, you are more aware of the contents of your mind.

St. Peepsburg at Ask Metafilter

I used to meditate regularly after the birth of our second child, and I did notice my mind being more calm and positive. As I then found also, meditation seems to be like a physical exercise where you want to be consistent with it, to keep enjoying the benefit. Things happen and I am not doing it anymore. And I can tell the difference.

With strength training, it’s possible to regain muscles that were grown, but are then lost after periods of no exercises. Now that our third child is here, I am hoping that those lost mental muscles, so to speak, are easier to grow back as well.

Jobs People Like

There’s a recent Reddit thread searching for people who like their job. I find it to be quite eye-opening, and it’s also quite uplifting reading about people finding their right place, so to speak. The whole thread is worth reading, but here’s some highlights:

  • Librarian: I get to help people who want to be helped, or provide and environment where they can chill and relax.
  • Waste management:  I drive a garbage truck. […] I am in the AC all day and left alone. It’s wonderful.
  • Zoo worker: I have worked in zoos my entire career (mostly as a zookeeper) and now get to travel and work in conservation. Incredibly gratifying and truly feel I have never worked a day in my life with this career.
  • College teacher: I teach college and I love it so much. I get paid well to conduct daily ted talks on topics I love discussing. I also love public speaking and these students pay thousands to listen to me tell stories.
  • Attorney: Well you said like, not love.
  • Oyster farmer:  Lifting lines you can see the oysters opening and closing and you’re reminded that your helping millions of these little guys grow. Some days the harbour is like glass. Ive seen a pod of dolphins swimming along the boat just under the surface of the water less than 20 centimeters from my hand.
  • Park ranger: I work for the national park service. I started off seasonal and got to visit 6 different national parks, getting paid to live peoples vacation and be in most beautiful places.
  • Shelves stocker: I stock shelves at Walmart. I know, it doesn’t seem like a great job, but I love it. I work with so many interesting and special people with all sorts of stories, and new people get hired everyday and share their stories.
  • Milk tank driver: I drive a milk tanker collecting milk from farms. It’s good being out in the countryside all day (I’m in UK 🇬🇧), meeting the farmers and having a chat. […] The real bonus is all the dogs I get to play with at the farms, I have to keep a stash of treats in my pocket and they know when the milk truck arrives It’s treat time

Coach Phil’s Book Recommendation

During the 1992-1993 NBA season, Chicago Bulls had already won the past two championships. Boredom, according to coach Phil Jackson, was the team’s biggest challenge. That was especially true since they would be on long trips to get to matches. During these times, he would recommend specific books to specific players, based on what he knew about them. Here’s the list:

  1. Beavis & Butt-Head: This Book Sucks — Stacey King
  2. On The Road — Bill Perdue
  3. Way of the Peaceful Warrior — Craig Hodges
  4. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance — John Paxson
  5. Things Fall Apart — Bill Cartwright
  6. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind — B.J. Armstrong
  7. Joshua: A Parable for Today — Horace Grant
  8. The Ways of White Folks — Scottie Pippen
  9. Song of Solomon — Michael Jordan

(From Phil Jackson’s book, Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success)

What Goes In…

As I grow older, the more I find that a lot of my life’s balance and sanity depend on how I consume:

It’s how I consume oxygen.

It’s how I consume food.

It’s how I consume time.

It’s how I consume other people’s thoughts and updates.

It’s how I consume my own thoughts.

It’s how I consume news.

It’s how I consume what I need and what I want.

What goes in, reshapes me.

Homework vs Repeated Practice

From Reddit ELI5: How is it possible that homework has no correlation with academic success, when repeated practice is important to so many other activities?

Lots of interesting nuggets of information there. For example this, about the benefits of metacognition:

Teacher in my 7th year here! Lots of people hit the bigger points; you get the feedback too late. Kids also have a tendency to just toss out graded work once they glance at the grade. BUT, last year and this year, I’ve started something new, which is putting up the answer key and having my students grade themselves AND write a short paragraph on what they missed/how they can improve (I teach environmental science to juniors). The reflective piece is what gets graded; I don’t care what you got wrong, I just care that you KNOW what you got wrong.

It took a WHILE to convince my students this wasn’t a trick, “I got everything wrong last night….is it a zero?” “No.” “…..are you sure?” And had to elaborate over and over again that it is NOT in their best interest to just look at the answer key, since I pick difficult problems on purpose that even my high-fliers couldn’t get full points on

Also, the practice can’t just be any form of doing something:

As someone who teaches without homework, here is my answer :

when you practice something, your heart must be into it. By that, I mean “focus”. If you “practice” a sport or a musical instrument by just going through the moves, you don’t progress at all, because it’s the little adjustments you do when focusing that make you improve.

Now, let’s take mathematics, for instance. The problem with the old teaching is that the teacher says something and nobody gives a fuck if you’ve understood or not, you’ll figure that stuff at home by doing homeworks. Guess how efficient it is… Mathematics is most and foremost UNDERSTANDING principles. Did you ever learn multiplications by rote until 15×15 ? I doubt it. Can you DO 15 x 15 ? Probably. Why ? Because you understand the CONCEPT of multiplication, so whatever numbers I’m throwing at you, you know how to multiply them.

Finally there’s also this bit that under-emphasize the famous “10,000 hours” rule:

The 10,000 hours “rule” originally came from the paper, “the role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance”.

Gladwell just over-emphasized the importance of the 10,000 hours portion of the study and not the actual takeaway about the value of practice. He decided to make the 10,000 hour rule a causation, when it was really just a correlation.

The original goal of the paper was to determine how much of elite performance was nature vs nurture. The 10,000 hours was a bit of a throwaway that is generally regarded as unimportant to the overall takeaway.

Dark Mode on Photography Posts

Just a quick announcement that posts under the Photos category on this blog are now shown in a simple dark mode style. This applies both on single post view, and on the category view itself. It makes photos in the post pop up more, and I rather enjoy it that way. Check here for an example post.

If you’re interested in the technical aspect of it, have a look at my studio blog’s post (it’s CSS with a little help from SASS).

Fixing Anterior Pelvic Tilt

Anterior pelvic tilt is a condition where one’s pelvic bones are tilting to the back. This commonly happens because of prolonged sitting and general inactivity, especially when done in improper posture.

I think I have it on some degree. I’ve been mostly sitting down working with computers for more than a decade and a half. I’ve been trying to mix it up with standing up while working the past few years, but it doesn’t seem like that’s enough to fix things.

The most noticeable effect, that I think is related to this condition, is that nowadays my lower back feel uncomfortable pretty quick if I sit down either on a chair or on the floor without a backrest.

Example of anterior pelvic tilt (right) compared to normal pelvic positioning
Example of anterior pelvic tilt (right) compared to normal pelvic positioning. Source

I did some research on this and found several articles with information and recommended exercises. The best I could find so far is this one from Built with Science. I like it because it goes through the details of what is causing it, what it affects, and finally it proposes some exercises that I feel make sense. It can be boiled down to weakened muscles on certain areas due to prolonged sitting. The exercises are aimed to improve those muscles which can end up improving the tilt as well.

The list of anterior pelvic tilt exercises recommended by bultwithscience.com
The list of exercises recommended by article. It’s pretty concise.

The exercises take only about 10 minutes a day, and they’re easy to remember too. I’ve done it for a few days and now I notice when my hip’s doing the tilt. It helps me recognize muscles I didn’t know I have around the hip area, and with this newfound awareness I can use those muscles to fix the tilt. It still feels odd when I’m on the right posture, and my body still wants to revert to the tilting posture where it is still more comfortable with. However, with consistent exercise and more awareness, I hope things will feel better.

If you feel you’ve been sitting down for a long time every day for work or other reasons, I’d recommend checking out that article as well.

The Blessed Childhood of the Confident

I was reading “On Confidence” where it discussed about why some people don’t have the confidence to face others who might judge or oppose them, something I am certainly still struggling with. The discussion moved, interestingly, toward some thoughts about proper parenting, which I copied below as something I’d like to keep strongly in mind:

The judgement of others have been given a free pass to enter all the rooms of our minds. There is no one manning the border between them and us: the enemies are freely in us, wandering wildly and destructively through the caverns of our inner selves, ripping items off the shelves and mocking everything we are. […]

Where does such underconfidence around enemies come from? We should, as ever, begin with parents and sketch an imaginary portrait of types who could unwittingly create such tortured mindsets. However ostensibly loving these parents might have been, they are also likely to have felt a high degree of trust in the system. If the police were investigating one of their friends, their guess would be that the authorities were correct in their suspicions. […]

When it came to their own children, these underconfidence-generating parents would have applied a similar method of judgement: the issue of how much and where to love would have been to a large extent determined externally. if the world felt the baby was adorable, they probably were (and if not, then not so much). Later, if the child won a maths prize, it was a sign not just of competence at algebra but of being, far more broadly, a love-worthy person. Conversely, if the school report described the child as an easily distracted dreamer, who looked as if he would flunk his exams, that might mean the offspirng didn’t quite deserve to exist. The lovability of the child in the eyes of the parents rose and fell in accordance with the respect, interest and approval of the world.

To be on the receiving end of such parenting is a heavy burden. We, the recipients of condiitional love, have no option but to work manically to fulfil the conditions set up by parental and worldly expectations. Success isn’t simply a pleasant prize to stumble upon when we enjoy a subject or a task interests us; it is a psychological necessity, something we must secure in order to feel we have the right to be alive. We don’t have any memories of success-independent affection and therefore constantly need to recharge our batteries from the external power source of the world’s flickering and wilful interest. Unsurprisingly, when enemies come on the horizon, we are quickly in deep trouble, for we have no ability to hold in our minds the concept that they might be wrong a we right; that our achievements are not our being, and that the failure of our actions does not presuppose failure of our entire selves. Rendered defenceless by our upbringing, we have no border post between inside and out. We are at the mercy of pretty much anyone who might decide to hate us.

Contrast this with the blessed childhood of the confident. Their parents would have maintained a vigorously sceptical relationship to the system. The world might sometimes be right, but then again, on key occasions, it could be gravely and outrageously wrong. Everyone was, in their eyes, endowed with their own capacity to judge. It is not because the crowd is jeering that the accused is guilty, or vice versa. The chief of police, the lead reviewer of the Times, or the head of the Pritzker Architecture Prize might well be idiotic; these things happen. In their role as parents, the messages of the confidence-inducing were no less generous in their scepticism: ‘You are loved in and of yourself because of what you are, not what you do.

You aren’t always admirable or even likeable, but you are always deserving of affection and charity of interpretation. It doesn’t matter to me if you end up the president or the street cleaner. You will always be something more important: my child. If they don’t have the wisdom to be kind, fuck them!’. Without necessarily intending this, the parents set up a soothing voice that still plays on a loop in the recesses of the mind, especially at moments of greatest challenge. It is the voice of love.