This Seems Reasonable

I occasionally get spam voice mails to my Google phone. It’s not a number I answer so the i only hear the message when I play the recording. I got one the other day. Here’s the transcript:

“I’m charged $1,499. We noticed some suspicious activity on your account. So we have put on hold to this transaction, please press one now. And to report please press two.”

That’s quite an accurate transcript of the message. But it seems like something was left out at the beginning before the recording kicked in. But to get the full effect of how ludicrous and bumbling this attempt is, you should really listen to the audio.

I really don’t get it. Is anyone ever fooled by this kind of thing? I surely hope now.

“Old Age Ain’t No Place for Sissies”

This quote, often attributed to the great actress Bette Davis came up in conversation today with a friend I have known for over 50 years. He was going through the litany of miseries he is suffering from cancer and the various treatments for it. The most radical treatment, surgery, will probably end up costing him his bladder in a few months. He’s already lost a kidney.

I have another friend in similar circumstances. Both are undergoing chemotherapy which in itself sounds like no fun at all.

I realize that as we get older we are more likely to encounter serious health issues. In spite of that, I cling to the belief that if I live right, and make good choices, I will live a healthy life to 110 and then pass away peacefully in my sleep.

Ray Kurzweil, the noted inventor and futurist posited in his mid-fifties that if he can live for 20 years, in that time, science and medicine will have advanced far enough to keep him alive and healthy for 20 more years, and so on, and on.

I don’t know how realistic that is. But even if it were, should we continue to take up space and resources for indefinite life spans? Seems pretty selfish. It also would further exacerbate the gulf between the privileged and the underprivileged.

I’m reconsidering my quest to prolong my life indefinitely, and will, instead, try to fully engage with every moment as it comes. What could be better than that?

Alternative Meat

Except for a brief period in my idealistic youth when I became a vegetarian, I’ve enjoyed eating meat. I enjoy the taste, the texture, the smell of meat of all kinds. I’ve eaten game I’ve shot when I used to hunt. Dove, pigeon, quail, deer, rabbit, squirrel.

For most of my existence, I have lived with the knowledge of the problems this practice presents: health, environmental, and moral problems. Most of the time I’ve been able to push these issues into the background so that I could continue to enjoy eating animals without conflict. I think we all live with some level of cognitive dissonance in order to get by in the world because it’s more convenient.

We drive cars that pollute. Even electric cars use power that is still mostly derived from coal and other horrible sources. We kill bugs and plants and animals we consider to be pests. I once read a fable about a monk who tried to live without harming another living thing. He only at fruits, vegetables, and nuts picked from plants and trees. He was careful where he walked so as not to crush bugs. He never bathed so as to avoid killing the mites that lived in his hair. He was devastated to learn that just by breathing his body killed bacteria.

I don’t have an answer or a path to living a more pure life. Do you?

Joy Sorrow Fear Anger

 

3 weeks and 1 day ago, our first grandchild was brought into the world. This made us gloriously happy. But it was accompanied by a deep sadness. Because of the pandemic we have had to put off indefinitely flying out to visit our grandson, daughter, and son-in-law. Zoom is just not an adequate substitute for holding and helping care for a newborn.

We fear picking up the virus and bringing it to them. We fear, as people in the more vulnerable age range, getting the thing ourselves. The descriptions of the suffering and death that many have faced with the virus are truly harrowing.

And I worry about what kind of world we are leaving Giovanni Dawson. The pandemic, the looming economic meltdown, a chaotic and nasty public sphere of politics, the climate catastrophe all feel like crushing pressures to face. I am angry about the state of the world. 

And yet, there he is and he makes my heart melt.

I have to remind myself that in the span of time, new people have been born into equally, often far more troubling times. Most of human history has been brutally harsh. Much of the world still faces hardships I can’t imagine surviving. But children manage. Children thrive.

So, on balance, I am comforted to know that Gio will be loved and cared for. And sometime soon we will find a way to hold him. Until then, I have to be satisfied by watching over him like some kind of digital guardian angel.

Sleep tight baby Gio.

Giovanni Dawson
Gio asleep in his crib.

Reviews of Free Zoom Alternatives

Video conferencingBrief Reviews of Free Video Conferencing Platforms

After using a licensed version of Zoom for a month, I began casting about for free alternatives that would satisfy the basic needs of a couple group meetings that we participate in regularly. Don’t get me wrong. I like, Zoom. I just didn’t want to spend the money right now for something I could get by on for free. I’m cheap that way.

Our needs are pretty minimal: Allow for at least 10 participants, have screen sharing and offer meetings lasting up to 2 hours.

I subscribe to several tech-oriented newsletters and so have received links to a bunch of articles that point to Zoom alternatives. But none seem to have all the services I have found, each only pointing to a few. Here’s my offering of listing all the options I have found so far. I’m not trying to review them all as I haven’t had time to thoroughly test each service. And the services keep evolving faster than I can keep track.

I will list my top two free services and then the rest I’ve at least looked at.

Jitsi – So far this is my favorite. It’s dead simple to use from their website, and has apps for mobile devices (iOS, Android). At the time I checked the limit was set to 75 participants if you are using their server. There are no time limits. It touts end to end encryption and screen sharing. For large groups it has the hand raising feature so a moderator can have some control of the conversation. Most interesting of all. it’s an open source project which means anyone can download it and build apps on top of the code or modify the code. You can also run your own Jitsi server if you have the chops and want to go beyond their server limits. There are additional features like recording your calls that make this pretty robust for a free service.

Google Hangouts –  This was the first free video conferencing system I’d tried and, though it seems to be in constant flux, it still holds its own. They’ve opened up the number of participants to only 25 people per call (with the 10 most active participants shown at the bottom of the screen). You can record your calls, but to store the calls in your account you would have to pay a small monthly fee. This post has a feature comparison between Zoom and Hangouts

Google Duo – Duo has a nice interface. However, I couldn’t find a screen sharing feature. Also, you connect with people using their phone number. So, that’s a different approach. There is a limit to 12 people and has end to end encryption.

Skype – Part of the Microsoft family, Skype has been around for quite a long time and it’s pretty robust. From their Fair Use Policy on Group Video: “Group video calls are subject to a fair usage limit of 100 hours per month with no more than 10 hours per day and a limit of 4 hours per individual video call. Once these limits have been reached, the video will switch off and the call will convert to an audio call. If a participant of a group video call is not on a version of Internet Communications Software that supports group video calls, then the call will be an audio call only for that participant. The number of permitted participants on a group video call varies from 3 to a maximum of 50, depending upon device and associated system requirements. You can find more details at www.skype.com/go/gvc.” I didn’t find a screen sharing feature, though, so this makes it not so great for my purposes.

Discord – This service was originally built for gamers to chat,  but is now used by a variety of groups. The video/screen sharing service is limited to 10 people. I have had limited experience with this service, but plan to give it a try just to learn its capabilities. Desktop and App versions. There’s even one for Linux! That’s unusual.

Spike – This is an interesting option that combines email and video conferencing. It’s also free if you are using a generic email account like @gmail.com or @yahoo.com. However, the free version is limited to 10 chat participants. But if you are using a custom domain email like @morsemedia.net then it’s $5.99/mo paid annually, and there are no limits.

Summary

That’s it for now. I’m sure more services will appear as video conferencing will not be going away, even as the pandemic fades. What did I miss? What are your favorites? Let me know in the comments.