Alan Porter's minimal net presence

January 2020

We joined the YMCA a while back. I wanted an alternative to running during the cold months – and more importantly, during the DARK months. I have been using the weight machines, riding the stationary bikes, and running on the treadmills.

But this being NC, we have some pretty mild winters. So sometimes we can get out to the parks. Since I have made some progress on the unicycle, I decided to upgrade to a taller seat post to better fit my height. I also had to replace the pedals after one of the original ones broke. I am still only able to go about 100 feet at a time.

Foong got a dental crown… it only took six visits to get it right!

We’re planning a trip to Malaysia and China in July, and so we all needed to get renewed passports. While I was at it, I got a passport card (which is mostly useless, except that it counts as a “Real ID” for US travel. We know there is a nasty virus going around in parts of China, and so we hope they have that under control by then.

[Editorial note: later in the year, we would find that the Coronavirus is a Big Deal™, and so I have gone back and added quick notes about pandemic-related events.]

Coronavirus pandemic notes:

  • 1/30 WHO declares Public Health Emergency
  • 1/31 US declares Public Health Emergency

February 2020

I participated in the Krispy Kreme Challenge, a 5-mile running race through downtown Raleigh where you run 2.5 miles from NC State to Krispy Kreme, eat a dozen donuts, and then run 2.5 miles back, all in under an hour. I ran the race in 46m 3.5s – that’s PLENTY of time left over to choke down (and throw up) 2400 calories worth of fried dough, right? Rather, I chose to run in the “casual” category, which allowed me to just carry the donuts back home and share them with my family, who were still asleep when I got home. The race raised $175,000 for the UNC Children’s Hospital.

I went in to work one day to find that the office did not have power! I should have checked messages before I left home. So I returned home. Then I saw that the power was back on, and that I had to meet someone at the office for an interview! I should have checked my calendar before driving home! After I got home for the day, we met my brother for dinner… guess where? Just down the street from my office!

I continued practicing on the unicycle, this time on the greenway, with a few gentle hills and bumps. I could not get the hang of cresting a small hill, and I fell off every time. One time, I caught my shoe on the pedal and dove into the pavement. I skinned my knees pretty badly and ripped my jeans. From there, I decided to give my knees some time to heal before riding again.

I got a letter in the mail saying my “Delinquency Predictor Score is 492”, whatever that means!

Our little girls are growing up. They went to the Ritz to see a band called Saint Motel (I’ve never heard of ‘em). This was the first time we sent them off to a show like this on their own. But they can look after each other. They had a great time.

I attended a three-day strings music camp called “Scor!” (Strings Camp On the Road). There were 18 adult students that roughly fit into two groups: beginner and advanced. The main goal of our beginner group was to learn how to play together as a group. That meant that wrong notes are OK, as long as they are played at the right time. The instructors are a husband-and-wife team that travel the country in their RV, giving the camp in cities across the US.

I have been thinking that it’s time for a new violin, but I was really on the fence about what to get. I’ve had my eye on a Glasser carbon fiber model that is super cool looking. They’re really inexpensive, so I ordered one, and a nice case for it. So far, I can make it sound just as lousy as my cheap student violin!

In mid-February, my friends and I started an email thread about how the Coronavirus was disrupting China, and how that will affect the US economy. That, combined with the weak positions of many US companies with respect to borrowing money in cycles to pay previous debts, make us think the US stock market will sharply decline soon. I chose to liquidate most of my retirement accounts.

We got a dusting of snow in late February.

One night while we were warming some bread, our oven broke in a way that it was fully on whenever the power was on. We burned our bread and set off the smoke alarm and quickly decided to turn off the circuit breaker! Later, we removed the heating elements so we could at least use the stove top, and then we went shopping for a new oven/stove.

Coronavirus pandemic notes:

  • 2/13 Richard Burr sold $1.6M in stocks
  • 2/17 Greg’s initial financial worries email
  • 2/19 market high: S&P hit 3386
  • 2/26 I started selling investments

March 2020

Apex High School had their spring musical, “The Drowsy Chaperone”. On opening night, the female lead fell down some stairs during a dance number and sprained her ankle. So when we saw the show, she performed the entire play on crutches, including dance numbers. Some of the lines in the show seemed to almost foreshadow her accident – there was one song called “accident waiting to happen”, where the male lead dances on roller skates (with his partner on crutches – yikes).

In the beginning of March, the Coronavirus started popping up all over the US, including in Raleigh. Suddenly we all became hyper-sensitive to how much contact we have on a normal day. We stopped shaking hands, and the “elbow bump” was born. Our office tried an experimental work-from-home day, and the very next day that became our company policy. I returned to the office to fetch a big monitor, and to clean out my desk. I am guessing I won’t be back there for a long time.

Within a few days, events started being canceled one-by-one. It was almost funny how many emails we got saying events were postponed or canceled. When the major sports leagues called off their seasons, everyone realized how big this was. By the end of the month, Wake County issued a “stay-at-home” order, closely followed by the state of North Carolina.

Things unraveled quickly, and so at the end of each month, I will start listing interesting pandemic-related milestones.

My music lessons were switched from one-on-one in-person lessons to “virtual”, by FaceTime… from my closet. We did one which was basically a sound-check, and I basically dropped out after that. There’s enough stuff going on in my life right now that I do not need another daily thing I feel responsible for completing. Just as I got a nice nudge from the strings camp, this is a pretty big buzz-kill.

We had a lot of rain in March… enough to keep the green clouds of pollen under control.

Coronavirus pandemic notes:

  • 3/2 sold most investments
  • 3/3 primary elections
  • 3/6 $8B federal aid bill #1 (Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act)
  • 3/8 Russia/Saudi oil dispute, S&P dropped 7.6%
  • 3/8 my friends discuss inverse ETFs via email, I called the idea “reckless”
  • 3/9 UNC Spring Break started
  • 3/10 I bought iETFs
  • 3/10 NC state of emergency
  • 3/10 school events canceled, everything canceled all at once
  • 3/11 presidential “deer in the headlights” speech, banned passengers from Europe, S&P dropped 9.5%
  • 3/12 WFH experiment, then 3/13 policy
  • 3/13 WH “I don’t take responsibility at all” (for lag in testing)
  • 3/15 Fed cut rate to 0%, S&P dropped 12%
  • 3/16 S&P drops 11.98% after fed cut rate
  • 3/16 WCPSS schools closed
  • 3/16 UNC Spring Break extended one week, Audrey moved out of the dorm and into our bonus room
  • 3/17 music lessons start online
  • 3/18 $100B federal aid bill #2 (Families First Coronavirus Response Act)
  • 3/20 WCPSS “online learning resources” (a Google doc listing a few web sites like Khan Academy)
  • 3/23 UNC classes started back online
  • 3/23 Fed announced unlimited quantitative easing
  • 3/23 market low: S&P hit 2237
  • 3/24 president predicted we’d be open by Easter
  • 3/26 3.3M new unemployed
  • 3/27 $2T federal aid bill #3 (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act)
  • 3/27 Wake stay-at-home order (until April 16th)
  • 3/30 NC stay-at-home order (30 days)

April 2020

In April, we basically fell into routines. As an inside-dwelling computer nerd, I have found it fairly easy to adapt to a Covid-inspired hermit lifestyle. I eat three meals a day at home. I work at home. I entertain myself at home. The only time I leave the house is to run maybe 5 times a week and occasionally for shopping.

I noticed a general downward trend in my weight. I am going to attribute that entirely to Armadillo Grill, which I have not eaten at since I stopped going to work.

Our neighbors got some turkeys! Another neighbor got chickens!

Audrey was chained to her desk for most of April, as classes kept her busier than normal. Final exams were extra stressful. At least one test was made much harder to prevent remote cheating, and was spread over a longer time to account for at-home schedules – a combination that caused Audrey to spend almost an entire day on one test! She managed to end the semester with straight A’s!

It’s been interesting to see businesses who make the transition to pandemic mode, and those who fail. I had to go to a bank… in person… a rarity, I know, but they needed me to sign a form. Their app and their web site said the lobby would be closed but the drive-through windows would be open. But when I got there, the drive-through was closed, with an altered schedule posted on the glass. You know, if there were only a worldwide network of computers they could use to publish their schedule so people could avoid leaving their homes during a pandemic. Ugh.

Sydney mourned her chorus group’s canceled New York City trip by photoshopping images of herself and her friends onto scenes of the city and posting them to Instagram. Classic!

In general, I avoided all things on the internet on April 1st. April Fools Day is bad enough in a normal year. I don’t need any made-up nonsense to add to the already-bad-enough “new normal”.

April 1 is the beginning of most companies’ financial quarters, and this would be the time that they would report how dismal Q1 was and how gloomy their outlook is for Q2. My friends and I discussed a lot of companies before “earnings season” and we took a few market bets. I finally dipped my toes into the “options” pool, buying $90 worth of PUT options against Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-B) before their much-awaited earnings presentation. I later sold those options for $578. Perfect. Now, with a small dollar-amount “win” under my belt, I will be totally hooked on options… so if you see me living in a cardbox box some time next year, that’s why.

Coronavirus pandemic notes:

  • 4/2 1M cases worldwide
  • 4/2 6.9M new unemployed
  • 4/8 Bernie drops out
  • 4/9 6.6M new unemployed
  • 4/9 Fed: $2.3T in loans (inc junk bonds)
  • 4/9 S&P 500 logs best week since 1974
  • 4/10 WH : “very brilliant enemy”
  • 4/13 WH : absolute authority
  • 4/16 5.2M new unemployed
  • 4/17 FL opens beaches
  • 4/17 Wake stay-at-home order extended to 4/30
  • 4/18 I cut my own hair
  • 4/20 oil price negative
  • 4/23 4.4M new unemployed
  • 4/23 WH : inject disinfectants, or use UV light
  • 4/24 GA opens up
  • 4/24 relief bill #4 - Paycheck Protection Program, part 2
  • 4/25 visited a bank in person, only to find it closed
  • 4/29 NC stay-at-home order extended to May 8th
  • 4/30 3.8M new unemployed
  • 4/30 my first stock options: BRK-B (bought $90, sold $578, 542% profit)

May 2020

May in North Carolina means running heater at night and air conditioner in the daytime. Our thermostat is so stupid that is uses the same temperature banks for both settings. What I WANT is a simple range… 70F-80F. It is gets cold, turn on the heat. If it gets hot, turn on the A/C. I do NOT want something that checks to see what weather topics are trending on Twitter. So I opted for a semi-smart model that can be programmed with a range, and that has an app to make the programming easy, but nothing else!

My old Linux-based router, a Zotac Z-Box mini fanless PC, suddenly stopped powering on after many years of dedicated service. So I replaced it with a “Fitlet2” from CompuLab (I used to have an earlier model of “Fit-PC” from Compulab, and it served me well). The Fitlet2 is a very small box, and seems to be up to the task of being our home router and my personal electronic butler.

We spent Mother’s Day at home. I called my mom, only to find her hanging out with my brother and his extended family. It was then that realized how hard-core my immediate family is… we’ve stayed in our cave.

Audrey has finished school, but Sydney is in the middle of it, with three AP exams. It has been hard to take a college-level exam for either (A) a class that she completed back in January, long enough to forget everything or (B) a class where they stopped attending a few weeks in, and only made a perfunctory effort afterwards. She is glad the exams are over, and she might have actually done OK. But she was not happy with the process, and had a lot to say about how poorly the tests were handled.

I was shocked to see the “covidiots” in large crowds on Memorial Day. I guess we have a short attention span, and we’re tired of putting in the effort to stay safe. I expect a pretty nasty rise in cases all around us.

Like everyone, I am outraged that our country has been so inept at controlling this disease. But it fits with our core values of decentralized government, duplication of effort, rugged individualism (at the expense of the better good of society), our absolute refusal to pay for anything unless it personally benefits us right here and right now, and our general distrust of government. I don’t know. I just had this idea that America would have our collective shit together. Now the secret it out… we’re basically pooping our pants while some other countries like Korea, Singapore and New Zealand are the models of how to do it right.

Just when we thought May was over, we had the horrible news of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, followed by peaceful protests, then followed by non-peaceful protests and finally riots in the streets. Our very own Audrey attended the peaceful protests in downtown Raleigh, and left just minutes before the teargas came out. Stay safe, y’all.

Coronavirus pandemic notes:

  • 5/8 NC phase 1 reopening
  • 5/3 I cut my own hair
  • 5/7 3.2M new unemployed
  • 5/8 NC phase 1 reopening
  • 5/14 3.0M new unemployed
  • 5/21 2.4M new unemployed
  • 5/22 NC phase 2 “safer-at-home”
  • 5/23 received “CARES” stimulus payment
  • 5/25 Memorial Day covidiots
  • 5/26 I cut my own hair
  • 5/27 100,000 CV deaths
  • 5/27 NASA/SpaceX launch
  • 5/28 2.1M new unemployed
  • 5/28 Twitter annotates DT tweets
  • 5/29 DT threatens China
  • 5/30 George Floyd protests & riots
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