Monthly Archives: October 2020

A Scary Story with a Happy Ending

Happy Halloween! My quest to vote almost had a ghoulish outcome, but I’m happy to report that Treat has triumphed over Trick this week.

(I dare you to stop me from voting, you creeps!)

I’ve voted in every presidential election since I was 18 and I wasn’t about to miss this crucial one. But it wasn’t easy, thanks to some post office shenanigans I can’t believe were “coincidental”. Here’s what happened:

Back in May, when we had no clue what the pandammit might look like in 6 months, my husband and I applied to vote by mail. We expected to be out of state but it wasn’t 100% definite, so we put down our regular address, knowing that our mail would be forwarded weekly.

Hah. Wouldn’t you know, our expensive premium mail forwarding service worked perfectly throughout July, August and September. But ballots were sent out on Sept. 24 and guess what, the weekly mail which should have arrived by October 3 never showed up. MIA with no explanation.

When I checked online, my account showed a “change in processing” that I’d never initiated. WTF?!? Several calls to the postal service and all I could find out was that I wasn’t the only one suddenly not getting their mail.

Week Two. Mail is collected, arrives on time … no ballots.

Week Three. Mail is sent, arrives Oct. 17… still no ballots.

Week Four (last chance hurrah). Same story. ARRGGHHH.

On to Plan B. I e-mail and then call the voter organization back in our home state, which says I need to write a letter canceling the original ballots, download new applications, and send all this to them by both regular and e-mail before the deadline (in 4 days) so they can send new ballots to us in Oregon ASAP. Done.

But the saga isn’t over yet. GUESS what shows up last Friday (only a month late)…. the MISSING BOX, which has clearly been bouncing around the country: bruised, battered, and containing a bunch of bills (which luckily I’ve paid online) and two bedraggled ballots!

Now a frantic call to the voter folks to ask if we can void the cancellations and use these. They say, “Well, we probably shouldn’t, but ok”, and suggest we send them in by UPS instead of the post office– they warn me that the post office is “unreliable” — gee, ‘ya think? — so we quickly fill in our ballots, race to UPS and pay for rush delivery, and hold our breaths.

Yesterday, the NEW ballots arrive. Luckily, a quick phone call assures me that the voter group indeed received and processed our original ones and I can throw these away. Whew.

BUT I keep wondering how many other people have simply given up.

If you’re in the US, stamp out the bad guys and vote in person this Tuesday! Consider it Victory.Over.True.Evil!!!

Photo by Sharefaith on

Billionaires Behaving Badly

Think your neighbor’s a pain in the butt? Check out this story!

Billionaire Bill Gross accused of blaring ‘Gilligan’s Island’ theme song on loop at his neighbor

By Jazmin Goodwin, CNN Business

Updated 2:35 PM ET, Tue October 27, 2020

bill gross pimco settlement cnnmoney_00002019

New York (CNN Business) Bond billionaire Bill Gross is involved in a legal battle with his tech entrepreneur neighbor over a $1 million sculpture and allegations that Gross blasted the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song on a loop from his house.

Gross, the co-founder of investment firm PIMCO, and his partner Amy Schwartz installed a large lighted glass art installation on their Laguna Beach property along the property line shared with their neighbors, Mark Towfiq, CEO of data center development company Nextfort Ventures, and his wife Carol Nakahara, according to a lawsuit filed by Towfiq and Nakahra. Gross and Schwartz then installed larger poles and a protective net above the installation, and Towfiq and his wife allege the art installation partially blocked their ocean views.

After several months of unsuccessful attempts to discuss the matter with Gross, according to Towfiq and Nakahara, they filed a complaint with the city of Laguna Beach in June. The complaint prompted an investigation by the city that determined the installation, netting and lights were a violation of city code and did not have the proper permits, according to the lawsuit.

Shortly after, Towfiq and Nakahara allege Gross began retaliating against them by harassing and disturbing them with “loud music and bizarre audio recordings at excessive levels” during various hours of the day and night — including pop or rap music, and often a series of television theme songs, according to the lawsuit, including the “Gilligan’s Island” theme on a loop.

Gross and Schwartz sued Towfiq first — on October 13. Towfiq and Nakahara filed their own suit the next day, on October 14. Gross accused Towfiq of “peeping” on him and Schwartz, and Gross’s lawsuit asks for a temporary restraining order, according to court documents. Towfiq and Nakahara’s lawsuit alleges Gross and Schwartz executed a “targeted campaign of harassment and abuse” that ensued after a dispute over an art sculpture installation in Gross’ property.”Mr. Towfiq has harassed and invaded the privacy of Mr. Gross and his life partner Amy Schwartz,” said Jill Basinger, the attorney who represents Gross, in a statement to CNN Business. “We reluctantly brought a complaint against the defendant because of his unneighborly behavior, which goes back many years within this community and with other neighbors.”Basinger called Towfiq “bullying” and “vindictive,” and said he has “been the aggressor toward Mr. Gross and Ms. Schwartz.”

But Towfiq and Nakahara’s lawyer said the opposite.”Mr. Gross is an entitled billionaire who is used to getting his way by bullying coworkers, family and neighbors,” said Jennifer Keller, the attorney who represents Towfiq, in a statement to CNN Business. “Gross filed his own complaint merely as a preemptive strike after learning my clients intended to seek relief from the court.”The couple alleged Gross and Schwartz’s actions were attempts to get them to drop their complaint with the city. During one incident, when Towfiq “respectfully requested” the music be turned down, Gross responded, “Peace on all fronts or well [sic] just have nightly concerts big boy,” Towfiq’s complaint alleges.Towfiq’s complaint says the alleged abuse was so distressing that it forced Towfiq and Nakahara to leave their home and stay elsewhere. The two were granted a temporary restraining order on October 16.

Gross and Schwartz have lived at their Laguna Beach property since 2018 and typically stay at their home during the weekends, Towfiq’s lawsuit states. Towfiq and his wife have lived at their home since 2009. A hearing is scheduled for November 2, representatives for both Gross and Towfiq said. The hearing is to determine if civil harassment restraining orders will be issued.Gross has been given an extension until November 16 to obtain the proper permits. He is “in the process of getting it permitted,” according to Gross’ lawyers.

In 2014, Gross said he was fired from PIMCO, the firm he co-founded in 1971. He filed a lawsuit against the company in 2015 for wrongfully removing him, in which both parties reached an $81 million settlement in 2017.Gross has an estimated net worth of $1.5 billion, according to Forbes.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated when the restraining order against Gross took effect. It took effect on October 16.

Reflections on Loss, Love and Loathing

How do you mourn someone when you don’t grieve? I’ve been grappling with this question since my mother’s death a week ago.

It was a good death by any measure. At age 95, she was frail but still living in her own house, with a fulltime caregiver who found her unresponsive and got her to the hospital. She never regained consciousness and slipped away painlessly and peacefully.

The thing is: my mother was not a particularly nice person. We’d been estranged for some years, and despite my efforts at reconciliation my sister reported that she “cared about [me] but was too stubborn” to acknowledge it. We’ve agreed that our mother taught us a great deal about how to be a good parent… by doing the opposite of what had been modeled for us.

One of my cousins wrote, possibly struggling himself to find something to say, that he had admired her “biting wit.” Maybe it was amusing if you weren’t on the receiving end of it.

Another suggested we all remember happier times rather than more recent events. This one’s a puzzler, too, because although I had a generally happy childhood it was more to do with friends, locations, and activities than specific parental memories. I keep trying to dredge them up, but the more unpleasant ones surge to the foreground. Such as the time my mother, sister and I were chatting on the porch and within the space of about a minute she’d chastised my sister for being a stay-at-home mom and “wasting her education” and me for having a demanding career and presumably neglecting my kids. Lose-lose.

This was a person who wouldn’t come to any of her grandchildren’s birthday parties because she and my dad found them “boring.” Likewise, any sports the kids played. She simply wasn’t interested, and couldn’t fathom why these things might be important to them, or why she should pretend to care.

Another memory comes to mind: When her friend of many years was dying of cancer, I asked my mother if she’d visited or called the woman. The reply: “No, (because) I wouldn’t know what to say.”

It helps a little to understand that she was a victim of her own upbringing: a brilliant, intellectual, and aloof mother who found her silly and frivolous, a sweet but depressive father, and a brother who suffered from extreme bipolar disorder that alternated between mania (such as the time he got arrested on the subway for pushing a young woman into the seat he’d vacated for her, not understanding that her polite refusals were most likely terror at the crazy man who kept insisting she sit down) and catatonia.

The other night my husband and I had dinner with some dear friends who told us that three generations of a family they know had contracted COVID and were not expected to survive.

That’s a tragedy.

Photo by Pixabay on

Good News Monday: The Eyes Have It

Sharing a cool article today on a major scientic advance for the blind.

Doctors Are Preparing to Implant the World’s First Human Bionic Eye

Photo by Eternal Happiness on

The same implants could potentially treat paralysis as well.


A team of researchers at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, has built a bionic device that they say can restore vision to the blind through a brain implant.

The team is now preparing for what they claim will be the world’s first human clinical trials of a bionic eye — and are asking for additional funding to eventually manufacture it on a global scale.

It’s essentially the guts of a smartphone combined with brain-implanted micro electrodes, as TechCrunch reports. The “Gennaris bionic vision system,” a project that’s more than ten years in the making, bypasses damaged optic nerves to allow signals to be transmitted from the retina to the vision center of the brain.

The system is made up of a custom-designed headgear, which includes a camera and a wireless transmitter. A processor unit takes care of data crunching, while a set of tiles implanted inside the brain deliver the signals.

“Our design creates a visual pattern from combinations of up to 172 spots of light (phosphenes) which provides information for the individual to navigate indoor and outdoor environments, and recognize the presence of people and objects around them,” Arthur Lowery, professor at Monash University’s Department of Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering, said in a statement.

The researchers are also hoping to adapt the system to help those with untreatable neurological conditions, such as limb paralysis, to regain movement.

“If successful, the MVG [Monash Vision Group] team will look to create a new commercial enterprise focused on providing vision to people with untreatable blindness and movement to the arms of people paralyzed by quadriplegia, transforming their health care,” Lewis said.

trial in July showed that the Gennaris array was able to be transplanted safely into the brains of three sheep using a pneumatic insertor, with a cumulative 2,700 hours of stimulation not causing any adverse health effects.

It’s still unclear when the first human trials will take place.

“With extra investment, we’ll be able to manufacture these cortical implants here in Australia at the scale needed to progress to human trials,” Marcello Rosa, professor of physiology at Monash and MVG member, said in the statement.

The news comes after Elon Musk’s brain computer interface company Neuralink announced it’s testing its coin-sized interface prototype in live pigs. The end goals are similar: to treat brain issues including blindness and paralysis.

Whether the Monash device is technically the first bionic eye, though, may come down to semantics.

A separate brain implant, a “visual prosthetic” device, developed by scientists at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, recently allowed both blind and sighted participants to “see” the shape of letters, as detailed in a paper published in May.

Good News Monday: Kitchen Magic

With all the cooking at home we’re doing, I was excited to pick up some great tips this week. It may not make sheltering in place any less stressful, but at least the kitchen will be cleaner!

First up, some dishwasher tricks:

  • For dishes that still look cloudy even after a full cycle, pour some white vinegar into a dishwasher-safe bowl and place it on the top rack. The vinegar cuts through hard water to help reduce stubborn residue.
  • Another dishwasher hint: To keep plastic containers from flipping over and filling with water, put them on the top rack and cover them with your plastic or metal dish drainer to weigh them down. (Odds are, it could use a good clean, too.)
  • The dishwasher’s also useful for cleaning your microwave’s turntable. Just put it in the bottom section with the plates and goodbye, anything sticky.
Photo by cottonbro on

Finally — here’s my favorite hack to keep your eyes from tearing when you slice onions: Simply sprinkle some lemon juice on your cutting board as well as the onion. I have no idea why this works, but it’s kind of amazing!

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

Save Your Skin

Today, I’m sharing a heads-up from The Enlightened Mind’s excellent blog.

[Reprinted from The Guardian]

Screen burn: why the glare from your computer could be ageing your skin

Researchers have suggested a week in front of a screen is the same as 25 minutes in the sun. So should you be slapping on the sunblock every morning before sitting down to work?

‘Blue light’ may cause premature ageing, although it is unclear what dose may be required.

‘Blue light’ may cause premature ageing, although it is unclear what dose may be required. Photograph: Westend61/Getty Images

Name: Screen burn.

Age: Me? I’m 17.

No, you never are, you liar! Seventy-one, more like. Look at your skin, all old and leathery like a turtle’s. Seriously, I’m 17.

Then you’ve been spending way too much time out in the midday sun without any factor 50 on. Nope. Spent the whole summer indoors looking into a phone or a laptop, like any normal well-behaved teenager in lockdown. It’s screen burn.

Screen burn! Seriously, is that a thing? Well, that’s what researchers at the consumer-goods multinational Unilever are saying: that a week in front of a digital screen can have the same effect on the skin as 25 minutes in the sun.

A week against 25 minutes … that’s quite a difference. It all adds up as we spend more and more time staring into screens. By “a week” they mean five working days in front of a digital device for more than six hours. It’s the artificial “blue light” these devices emit, apparently – it’s the highest-energy light on the visible spectrum. It does occur naturally, but people often get more from a screen.

And what does this “blue light” do? Penetrates deep into the skin, through the epidermis and dermis, to the subcutis layer, destroying collagen. It can cause premature ageing, although it’s still unclear what dose is required to do this or what the effects of long-term exposure are. There are also effects on melatonin levels and sleeping patterns.

Sounds as if more research is needed. Are you sure this is good science? Well, Samantha Tucker-Samaras said: “Long-term exposure to blue light has the potential to have significant negative impact on people’s wellbeing.”

And she is? Global vice-president, science and technology, beauty and personal care at Unilever. That’s science and technology.

What does ST-S suggest we do about it? “People should be looking for skincare products loaded with antioxidants, as well as niacinamide and zinc oxide.”

Such as those made by Unilever brands? Others are available.

Hang on, is this why Donald Trump has an orange face? Because he spends the majority of his waking hours staring at – shouting at – his phone? That could be it, yes.

But you don’t really look like that, do you, from spending a few hours at a laptop? No, I did it on a face-ageing app. Just hope I can figure out how to undo it.

Do say: “Time for a screen break. And to engage with three-dimensional living people for a while.”

Don’t say: “And I get a tan as well! My own little portable sunbed! Yay!”

Autocorrect For Life

Have you ever made a simple cooking mistake that rendered your masterpiece totally inedible? I did this yesterday.

I’d decided to make a mixed-grain bread using bread flour, whole wheat, and rye, adding caraway, chia and hemp seeds for texture and interest.

Except I grabbed fennel seeds instead of caraway, which is almost as bad as mixing up salt and sugar. YUCK.

Which got me thinking… wouldn’t it be great to have Universal Autocorrect every time we were about to do something dumb? Like a booming voice from above yelling “Stop!” when we’re walking down the aisle towards the wrong person. (TMI? Am I the only one who’s done this??) Or a quick rewind after we inadvertently send “reply all” bitching about a colleague. How about a time freeze before we sign the contract for a house that will prove to be a money pit?

Unlike my iPhone autocorrect, which turns typos into gibberish, our Life Autocorrect would be unfailingly wise and judicious, knowing what we meant to do, not what we actually did, and fixing it pronto.

Sigh. Back to the drawing board, a.k.a bread board. And like love, the results were lovelier — and tastier — the second time around.