Digital Pandemic

(Note: In this alternate-reality tale, it is not my intent to minimize the human suffering caused by Covid-19,  on the world, though am trying to call attention to out how ludicrous it is that the negligence of selected leaders is  given a pass by many media vehicles and voters.

I’ve used Jeff Bezos and Amazon in this example solely because of their name recognition.  I am not a customer of Amazon Prime or Amazon Web Services, though I  have no intent to malign either. )

I suspect that I am not alone in that I am dumbfounded a lot lately by  the disregard given to the elephant in the room which, ironically, is and infinitesimally tiny virus.

I can’t go into every aspect, but it’s especially perplexing that people in a  country that has not been able to safely manage Covid-19 (or novel coronavirus, or (SARS-CoV-2) for the past seven months (despite advanced notice of its severity) are blaming other countries.

I pondered this for a few minutes and thought of a few possible possible analogous scenarios before settling on an example of a digital pandemic and reactions by a computer industry titan.

This is meant as a thought exercise. It is unlikely that anything of this scale would happen in real life. Though it not out of the realm of possibility.

(As Rod Serling used to say)
You’r Next Stop, The Twilight Zone:

  • That in late 2019, a computer  virus, that had begun to wreak havoc on digital infrastructure around the world, was determined to have originated in China.
  • And that by April of 2020, many of  the major players in the cloud-service space—Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Amazon… were to be infected and suffered data losses.
  • And by May of 2020, that Microsoft, Apple and Google were  able to contain the virus and to restore most their customers’ lost data. Furthermore they tightened their security and disaster-mitigation plans.
  • And throughout the summer of 2020, Amazon continued to experience daily infections of its own infrastructure that were passed on to tens of thousands of Amazon Prime, and Amazon Web Services (AWS)  customers every day.
  • And every day, several hundred to several thousand Prime customers had their profiles wiped, or worse yet, their personal information stolen.
  • And AWS customers such as Disney, Samsung, Adobe, Dow Jones, had all of their AWS data deleted, or were subject to ransomware attacks…resulting in US job losses in the tens of millions, and substantial damage the US gross domestic product.
  • And beginning in March 2020, and frequently throughout the year, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos heaped praise on himself at the “amazing job” he had done in addressing the “China virus”, while each day hundreds-to-thousands of customers learn that their  data is lost forever.

Now ask yourself:

  • Would Jeff Bezos have any credibility if, after a year of failing to publicly acknowledge the risk of the virus,  he referred to the malware as the “China virus?”
  • How many  consumers, or large businesses would  remain a Prime, or AWS customer, respectively?
  • Would Amazon win any new customers?
  • Would the Amazon’s board allow Bezos to remain in the CEO position?



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Woke Barber

The Old Redhead

Red Barber was a legendary baseball announcer for radio and television, who worked for three major league teams: the Reds, Dodgers and Yankees.

Some years after his sports broadcast career, Barber enjoyed renewed fame as a regular public radio contributor. For 12 years, he conversed, every Friday,  with Bob Edwards longtime host of NPR’s Morning Edition on an array of topics, which included sports, gardening  and nearly everything else.

During that period,  I moved to Tallahassee, Florida, where Barber lived at the time. Shortly afterward, I was surprised to learn that he and I had gone to the same high school (many, many,  many, many ….weeks apart).

High School Baseball Team Photo (circa 2020)

Barber Top Row, 2nd from left
(Photo from University of Florida Smathers Libraries)

For real, the team nickname in his day was The Celery Feds.

It was peculiar that I didn’t know that Barber and I shared an alma mater. I was really into baseball when I was young; therefore it seems unlikely that I’d never heard, or read this, information before. Rather, I suspect that it never registered with me. Unlike with players, they don’t keep stats on the play-by-play  broadcasters.

Barber was the Dodgers announcer when Jackie Robinson made his Major League debut in 1947. Until fairly recently, I’d never considered what Barber thought of the decision by Dodgers’ owner, Branch Rickey to sign a Black player.

It turns out, that he wasn’t a fan of the idea.


In  Barber’s book 1947 When All Hell Broke Loose in Baseball,  he described his reaction to Robinson’s signing. Barber recalled life in the segregated South  which included  seeing Black men, who had been tarred and feathered, forced to walk the streets of Sanford, Florida,  by Ku Klux Klansmen.

Barber also wrote that one his youthful aspirations was to perform in minstrel shows. Tarring and feathering black men, minstrel shows, segregated schools and businesses… was the normal that Barber knew.

Months before Rickey signed Jackie Robinson, he informed Barber of his intent break baseball’s color line. Barber would write later: “I believe he  (Rickey) told me about it so far in advance so that I could have time to wrestle with the problem, live with it, solve it.”

Upon hearing the news, Barber’s solution was to quit. He told his wife, Lyla that day, a Friday, that he would resign Monday.  Her response was “You don’t have to quit today, let’s have a Martini.”

Here is a short video in which Barber explains the decision.

As the video points out  Barber realized that the news Rickey gave him required Barber to examine himself. In the video he recalls remarkably empathetic thoughts (about that it was chance that he was born white).  Barber said that he admired Robinson’s athleticism,  and spirituality.

Barber also  mentions hearing the voice  of  (Baseball’s first commissioner )  Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis echo from the grave with a simple directive  “Report.”

Barber was able to compartmentalize;  separating his professional obligations as an announcer from his biases that were due to his  upbringing in the Jim Crow South.

During the course of their time together with the Dodgers (Barber left the team for the Yankees after the 1953 season), Barber and Robinson became friends.

In modern times, people might claim Barber “got woke”  Perhaps. I didn’t know Barber, so I can’t say how he’d feel about that.

It is impressive howBarber’s life changed for the better, when  Rickey put him in an uncomfortable situation and he was thus forced into some deep self-examination. I suspect he  would have made the right decision, even without a Martini.

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Scaling Mount Dora

In the Navy

My friend’s father, was a retired Naval aviator who had been stationed in, and later retired to  the Central Florida town where I spent my high school years.

Naval Air Station Sanford, Fl circa 1968
(Photo by: Lt. Wade USN)

The military base was later decommissioned and now known as the Orlando-Sanford International Airport.

At my friend’s house one evening, The Commander told me a story of a Navy buddy  who in his first post-military interview was asked this question:

“Do you have experience flying over mountainous terrain?”

The man’s  response was this: “I have flown numerous missions over Mount Dora.”

He told the truth.

“Mount” Dora

Mount Dora is a small town, about 30 miles NW of Orlando. If you’d like, you can become acquainted with Mount Dora in this 3-minute video:

If you’re perplexed by the absence of mountainous terrain, there is a very simple reason for that: there is none. Central Florida is pancake-flat.

Mount Dora’s peak elevation is 182 ft. It wouldn’t be that hard for a toddler to reach Mount Dora’s peak on a tricycle.

However, the candidate had given a truthful response, even if it didn’t address the question.

And it sounded great.

The man was offered the job shortly after the  interview.

Is Truth Enough?

I don’t know anything the man’s skill in flying a plane, or the job’s responsibilities or experience requirements.

Nor do I know anything about the context of the question, the “Mount Dora” line might have been a joke.  I wasn’t there.

Though I’ve occasionally thought of being in a similar interview scenario and wondered how I might answer.

If somebody were to ask if I’d ever scaled a high-altitude peak? I could say  “I climbed  Mount Dora.” and that would be true. If pressed further, I could provide a vivid, truthful account:

“I was 16. We set up a  base camp–in a municipal parking garage where we left my brother-in-law’s Volaré–and reached the peak 2 minutes later. The view of gift shops, bakeries and shuffleboard courts was absolutely stunning.”

Except it wouldn’t answer the interviewer’s question. I’d likely  just say no.

Though it’s probably  a moot point in modern times. A hiring manager might react with “Whoa, if true.” but could see how flimsy my answer was in a few seconds after a damn good Googling.


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I Don’t Care If I Never Get Back

Just Passing Through

I first arrived in Chicago in late summer of 1992. I intended to only stay about two weeks before returning to the East Coast.

As I neared the end of that two-week  period, the temperatures had cooled a bit, and I enjoyed the pleasant weather for running, biking, or exploring. There was much of the city I hadn’t seen.

And there was still a helluva lot of time left in the baseball season.

At that point in my life, I had been to one Red Sox game (a glorious old park) with my Little League team, and earlier in 1992, I’d driven up from DC area to a game at Oriole Park at Camden Yard in Baltimore (a gob-smacking, brand-new stadium).

I felt as though I needed to see more live baseball. Hell, I deserved it. And a city with two teams was a great place to do it.

Thus, I decided to prolong my stay and I began to seek freelance projects. And go to baseball games on weekends. I was particularly interested in going to a Cubs game on a weekday afternoon. That seemed  like a totally-Chicago thing to do.

Soon, I received a call from an  educational publisher in the suburbs. The caller, George, informed me they were in Glenview, Illinois, I didn’t know exactly where Glenview was, but I was fairly confident that the CTA trains didn’t go there. Which meant driving, and being stuck in traffic. I was slightly less interested in the job.

He described their location and it didn’t sound far away–not that much car time.  Still, I was momentarily disappointed. Since I was in elementary school, I’d envisioned myself working in downtown Chicago, largely because of  this TV intro:

However, the project was with a company I was interested in. I was pretty excited about a chance to work with  an academic publisher, on an elementary and middle school math textbook revision.

I thought ahead: if I were to be offered to this position, I could get to an afternoon Cubs game that week, and start the position the week after. Therefore, I agreed to come out for an interview.

The next day, a Tuesday,  I met with three different design managers. It went well. The interview ended with George  who was leading the math textbook project asking,  “Can you start tomorrow?”

This was good news! Or was it? Starting the next day would disrupt my game plan (literally because I planned to go to a game.)

I thought for a few moments. The project was due to end in November. Well past baseball season. The project was  rather  behind schedule, so I thought it might be hard to get a day off.

I paused, then thanked them for the offer and said,  “I really need to do some work on my car, can I start Thursday?”

They agreed. I felt like I’d hit a home run.

Play Ball!

The next day, I hopped on  the Brown Line for a short ride, then walked a mile, east on Addison Street and held  up one finger outside of Wrigley Field, where the Cubs would be playing the Dodgers.

I hadn’t expected that they would be sold out. I talked to a few scalpers and settled for a standing room only ticket.

After a few innings, the crowd thinned out, and I took a seat in the left field bleachers, and had  my first taste of Old Style.

When I got home, I went to my car, that was parked a few blocks from my apartment, and checked the oil. I could honestly say I worked on my car.

What the Hell is a Blueline?

I started the freelance job, the next day. The project was hectic from the get-go. The pace was quick and I was a bit out of my element. Though I had deep experience with desktop publishing, this was my first exposure to ‘traditional’ publishing.  Production managers kept asking me about status of  “blue lines” and I thought they were referring to the train that went to O’hare, for crying out loud.

It seemed borderline barbaric, a waste of time  that revisions to a textbook would still be done with  pencils and ink. The horror.

All of this would have been  manageable except for the fact that I was pushed out the door at 4:30 every day. My undone work deficit grew larger every day. Stress invaded my sleep.

One thing was clear, I would absolutely not have time to get to another Cubs game on a weekday.  Delaying my first day for this project  now seemed like a genius move.

Soul Cleansing

We wrapped up the textbook revisions just before Christmas. I received several contract extensions for  post-project cleanup, and some additional work that had been on the department’s to-do list.

On my last day, nearing February, I went to say goodbye to George and he invited me into his office. We talked about the project, their coming  move to digital publishing, my future plans, and of course, comic books and baseball.

About 20 minutes in,  I said that I  didn’t want to keep George from his family, but I had a quick confession.

His eyes widened a bit, and his head tipped back.  He looked like a smaller, a non-intimidating  edition of Ernest  Hemingway, with a voice that resembled comedian, Jackie Vernon’s . I revealed that I had kicked off my tenure with the company by playing hooky.

“….and since I didn’t know I was going to stay in Chicago, I thought that might be my only chance….”

He put up his hand to stop me.

He sat back in his chair, with his hands on his belly, chuckled a bit and said, “I don’t blame you. In September, it’s too nice to work. Though I wish you had told me your plans,  I’d have met you there.”

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