Life with COVID as Life on Mars

How can we count the ways Covid-19 has changed our work and social lives, and the ways we cope? My partner and I started a haphazard Mars simulation at home, complete with indoor exercise rigors, decontamination area for groceries, etc, which has added some fun to the quarantine. With all that’s going on right now, and plenty of others to speak to it, I’ve decided to keep things light with this article, and talk about a few amusements that have sprouted during the isolation.  

It was an accident really, the path that sent some colleagues and me back to gaming. The journey began when we started sharing computing resources with the Folding@Home project. Folding@home (https://foldingathome.org) is a distributed computer cluster, made of up idle home computers belonging to whomever is signed up and has elected to contribute their idle CPU or graphics card time. Each node completes “work units” that run protein folding simulations with the goal of finding vaccines for the SARS-CoV-2 Corona virus (that causes Covid-19). One can choose to donate their computer’s time for various diseases including cancer, Covid19 or let Folding@home assign you to the highest priority project. At the time of this writing they show 98.67% progress on the current sprint to evaluate a batch of potential drugs, which began on Sunday July 26th at 06:31:13 UTC 2020.

To this end, I began folding back in March 2020 with my regular office grade CPU and video card. It took no time at all before I was curious about what a modern, more powerful gaming video card might be capable of. A friend kindly donated a not-so-new Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Super for the project – a reasonably powerful card. Following installation of that graphics card, my workstation produced 1.7 million work units per day, up from ~200,000! When I spoke about this with other engineers on my team, one, an avid gamer, spoke up. She suggested that I also try to have some fun with a nicer video card. Needless to say I’m grateful for her advice, which has led to some astonishing, educational and entertaining discoveries. 

There are some excellent space-themes games on Linux/Steam that fit our “living on Mars” pastime, which you can find here: https://store.steampowered.com/games/. (Linux is now a pretty decent gaming platform. Who knew? I’m using Linux Mint and Steam.)

Vector 26 – Racing pods on the Martian Surface, the artwork is brilliant and the game is engineering-based. You can build skimmers and must be cognizant of mass, power vector distribution, etc. It’s easy to build a skimmer that looks great, but won’t fly. One can spend hours adjusting and changing parts until it does. 

Eversspace – Released in 2016 and reasonably priced on Steam, this is pure eye candy. It offers a bit of action, resource strategy, and just looks really nice. There’s a new release of this one coming up “soon”. 

X-Plane –  This flight SIM is one of the games that’s stronger on Linux than Windows 10. I’ve been piloting the add-on P51-D Mustang from Skunkcrafts, generally around Kona HI. I’ll probably renew my pilot license after Covid because of this game. 

Stellaris – A detailed, 4X grand strategy game in which you build and rule a future galaxial society based on the policies you choose. There’s a lot going on in this game and it’ll take over your life if you’re into strategy and not careful.

Surviving Mars – A classic SIM based on exploring, building and terra-forming Mars, a nice distraction you can play in-window.

These five take up ample time, so I haven’t even begun to explore the many other games available for Linux/Steam. As a side note, I have a Windows 10 drive on this same desktop for comparison and one might even say that the games I’ve played so far do seem to play a little better on Linux.

In short, this project has been exceedingly valuable in providing some escape. I wonder what avenues everyone else is exploring for leisure and relief. 

Back IRL (in real life), I’m aware from my walks and in talking with folks that we have some areas of concern. I miss seeing you openly to talk about things, and I’m looking forward to the day we can visit safely again. For now we’ll have to settle for occasional passings-by at the grocery store, or out walking, and the virtual Zoom Safety and Livability and SNA board meetings. 

The next Safety and Livability Meeting is September 1st, 2020 at 6:30 p.m – 7:30 p.m., followed by a general board meeting September 10th, 2020 at 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. Both meetings are public.The information on how to join us via Zoom is on our website, https://sunnysideportland.org. Let’s keep talking. Please join us; if we’re going to discuss problems, please come with some ideas for solutions too. 

I just want to say, make sure you’re taking time for yourself, and finding avenues of relaxation and ways to decompress. Everyone be well and stay safe. Cheers!

COVID Times in a Three Generation House

I’ve been looking forward to 2020 for a long while.  It’s a year with great branding—what could be better than perfect vision?  This is also the year my only kid graduated from high school. Big changes were coming—the end of an era, surely, but also the start of an exciting new adventure for our family. Well, 2020 has certainly been the end of an era in many ways. Three generations comprise our family: Mom was born in 1944, I was born in 1974, and The Kid was born in 2003. We don’t agree on much, but we can all agree that the combination of COVID and the current president has resulted in the end of the future as we expected it. 

Remember my son, who was set to head off to college this fall?  When COVID hit in April, he was in the midst of deciding between U of O in Eugene and the U of A in Tucson and aiming to pursue interdisciplinary studies in business and psychology.  We were weighing pros and cons of cost, opportunity, and distance from family when it became clear that school might not even exist in the fall.  Best case, it would be primarily online.  Would it be worth the money and the risk to attend university in the first year of an untried and unproved approach to education?  In the end, we decided no.  So he is spending this next year at home self-educating and looking for ways to work.

My mom has had her own challenges.  In early April, she suffered a mild stroke and spent a week over at Providence Portland stabilizing and undergoing an endarterectomy.  She could only have one visitor during her stay, but we were grateful to have that!  Over the week, as I entered and exited the hospital each day, I watched the staff scramble to provide good care and good information with the protocols changing daily. In a chaotic and uncertain situation, they were amazing. In the months since, she has experienced ongoing health challenges made all the more so by the uncertainty around seeking care in a medical environment that could itself be life-threatening. While her recovery has taken much longer than anyone anticipated, recovering slowly is much better than the alternative.

And me, personally, I have ups and downs—over the weeks and during each day. I used to take the #14 bus or my bike downtown each morning and return with the flow of commuters in the evening. The commute time that used to be dedicated to enjoying the rising sun and a podcast is now dedicated once per week to The Trip to The Grocery Store.  This major production begins with suiting up in personal protective gear and ends with a decontaminating shower.  I’m no longer so sure that all of my commitment to not letting anything touch anything else until it’s been washed is rational, but I do know it calms my anxiety.  And I’m finally able to laugh at that anxiety when I’m watching a movie and see a crowd scene or two characters standing too close together.

Working Through the Pandemic

Hello Sunnyside Neighbors! My name is Lorraine Henriques, and I am the Secretary to the Board of the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association. I work as a Licensed Hearing Aid Specialist for HearingLife in Southeast Portland. I love my work; helping people hear better and improving communication between my patients and their loved ones is a privilege and an honor. For as long as I have been doing this work I have never been more challenged than I have been through this pandemic – to keep myself, my family and my patients safe is a serious responsibility I do not take lightly. I’d like to share with you some of the silver linings I have experienced in these challenging times.

I found out in late March I was the only Hearing Healthcare Provider who was seeing patients in Portland. I was very busy, but at the end of each day, I felt like I had played a part in relieving some of the stress people experienced.

My patients were grateful I was able to come to their vehicles and do “curbside” service on their hearing aids, dispense supplies or anything they needed. For those who ventured in, they found shields, barriers, spaced seating, and other precautions in place. But the enthusiasm for our services came front and center; people who had been resistant to getting help for their hearing realized how much they had been missing and how vital staying connected was for their happiness. Hearing is what keeps us truly connected to others. When those who have hearing loss cannot hear properly, they are truly isolated and cut off from their loved ones. The joy in a patient’s face when I give them their hearing aids back after service performed is priceless. The thanks I received from patients who heard well for the first time in many years was balm for my soul. People expressed appreciation that I was at work, and could help them.

To all the essential healthcare workers out there who worked through the pandemic, I am sure you feel how much you are needed and appreciated. I never realized quite how much I was needed or how “essential” my services were until this pandemic hit. It has brought a renewed sense of purpose to my profession. When we are all faced with fear and uncertainty, it is so healing to remember we are so important to one another, and we need to stay connected to one another. I’d love to hear your stories if you’d like to share them with me at henriqueslorraine@gmail.com. Stay safe and well!

Sunnyside Dog of the Month: Meet Archer!

Archer comes to us from Fort Worth, Texas by way of the Oregon Dog Rescue in Tualatin (If you ever make it out to there please send my regards to Gretchen the Cat, their Chief Temperament Tester.) He is a Silver Labrador and about six months old in these photos. A resident of Taylor Street, he’s been enjoying walks in Laurelhurst Park, playing at the Mt. Tabor dog park and generally sniffing around the neighborhood. He’s been with us well over a month now, is full of energy and prides himself on his perfect situational awareness.

Prior to meeting Archer I’d never heard of a Silver Lab. The distinctive coat color from which they derive the name is the expression of a recessive trait carried by Chocolate Labs. Referred to as a “dilute” coat, the effect is seen when mutations in the gene encoding melanophilin cause atypical distribution of melanin-containing cells affecting the dog’s skin, hair, eyes, nose and mouth.

Having lived with a lovely Black Lab for many years, we’ve known for some time that we were ready to bring another dog into the family, but finding Archer took time and patience. As with many things it seemed at times that we would never be fast enough or high enough on the list — until suddenly we were.