Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Quito’s Basílica Del Voto Nacional

As much time as I've spent in Quito, it's hard to believe that I've never visited this church:
The sight of Quito’s Basílica Del Voto Nacional is as threatening as it is beautiful.
 The neo-Gothic church can be seen from nearly any point in Ecuador’s capital, which sits high in the Andean mountains. From afar its three pointed towers reach up towards the peaks of the surrounding volcanoes, piercing clouds in the sky. At ground level, the structure looms over the city, appearing in clear sight in the gaping space at the end of el centro’s Venezuela Street.
Its harsh angles, towering height, and moody air make it an intimidating sight so much so that at any given time, hurried folks will pause to stare at the strapping structure for just a moment or two. Looking at this basilica from even a kilometer away, a tourist may feel a shiver creep up towards their scalp but if a gaze from a distance causes a shred of terror, know that there’s more to be anticipated once inside its walls. 
Basílica Del Voto Nacional is Spanish for Basilica of the National Vow. This is a monument iconic not only in the capital of Ecuador but for the country as a whole. Its original intentions were to honor the sacred heart of Jesus (the notion that the heart of the resurrected son of God is the symbol of his love). In a nation of devout Catholics, that holds ground but local legend has given the basilica another purpose. Even during a short visit to Quito a traveler from abroad may hear whisperings that this basilica has the power to end the world.
Source: Wikipedia - by Maros M r a z (Maros) - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8319779

 Unlike the ornate, centuries-old Spanish colonial churches in central Quito (e.g. the Metropolitan Cathedral of 1565, the Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco of 1604, or the Compañía de Jesus of 1765, all of which I've visited). The Basílica is fairly new. The neo-gothic church was begun in the 1890s and finally consecrated in 1988. That was my first summer in Quito, and although I caught occasional glimpses of it, I never went for a visit. Looks like I was missing out:
Most visitors to Quito will become aware of this religious Ecuadorian icon either through seeing it on a walk through the UNESCO world heritage site that is the old historic center or through exploring its interior for a two-dollar entry fee. For the full experience, those with courage could (and should) embark on the cold-sweat inducing climb to the back tower. That excursion is a must-do while in Quito.
The basilica stands at a height of 377 feet which makes for a lot of stairs to climb en route to the back tower. During that climb, winding steps bring curious wanderers past small, circular windows punched out of the walls offering a peek at stone carved sea turtles and birds from the Galapagos and then to the floor looking down on the long, narrow body of the building with rows upon rows of pews faced towards an altar outfitted with the burning candles, the sacred heart of Jesus, and the Ecuadorian flag.
Even though be Basílica opened in 1988, it was not "completed" in that year. In fact, it never will be:
For three decades, the basilica has been open to devout worshippers and tourists alike. It has been well over a century since Julio María Matovelle’s workers first broke ground. Still, no matter when a curious passerby wanders inside its walls, they will see a group of Ecuadorians hard at work in some corner of the basilica. It may seem that perhaps a traveler arrived during a time when, say, one of the front towers was in need of fixing. This is not the case.
If the recent work on one of the front towers created a bit of an eyesore, unluckily for your Instagram feed, it’s because construction will in fact never be finished. Local legend has it that once this basilica is completely done, the end of the world will come. The story goes that life as we know it could be doomed thanks to this eerie-looking building that stands close to the equator in the middle of the world. As such, no detail is overlooked. There’s always work to be done, updates to be made, a spot to be fixed. This has been the case for 130 years and the people of Quito will continue to find excuses for the work to continue. Simply put: the Gothic structure is never to be finished.
It's now been eighteen years since my list trip to Ecuador. To finally go see the never-to-be-completed Basílica is just another reason for me to go back.

The joys of writing on a 30-year old computer

The Atlantic’s Ian Bogost contemplates computing from an earlier time:
Everything about this computer is loud: The groan of the power supply is loud. The hum of the cooling fan is loud. The whir of the hard disk is loud. The clack of the mechanical keyboard is loud. It’s so loud I can barely think, the kind of noise I usually associate with an airline cabin: whoom, whoom, whoom, whoom.
This is the experience a computer user would have had every time she booted up her Macintosh SE, a popular all-in-one computer sold by Apple from 1987 to 1990. By today’s standards the machine is a dinosaur. It boasts a nine-inch black-and-white display. Mine came with a hard disk that offers 20 megabytes of storage, but some lacked even that luxury. And the computer still would have cost a fortune: The version I have retailed for $3,900, or about $8,400 in 2019 dollars. 
That’s a lot of money. It’s one of the reasons why computers weren’t as universal three decades ago as they are today, especially at home. In 1984, when the Macintosh first appeared, about 8 percent of U.S. homes had a computer; five years later, when the computer I’m writing on was sold, that figure had risen to a whopping 15 percent. 
That made for a totally different relationship to the machine than we have today. Nobody used one every hour—many people wouldn’t boot them up for days at a time if the need didn’t arise. They were modest in power and application, clunking and grinding their way through family-budget spreadsheets, school papers, and games.
My family's first home computer was a Macintosh, which we acquired in the spring of 1985. The machine wasn't nearly as powerful as Bogost's SE: our Mac had 512k of RAM and no hard drive; everything was run from 3.5” floppy disks with 400k of storage. It was ridiculously primitive by today's standards, but its mouse-operated graphical user interface was an amazing upgrade from the Apple IIs we used at school. Friends and classmates alike would come over to my house just to marvel at the machine; we drew pictures with the MacPaint graphics software that came with the computer, played games, and drew primitive animations and created musical compositions with MacroMind's VideoWorks/MusicWorks suite. The word processing program, MacWrite, was originally only used by my father to write letters; eventually, I would start to use it to complete school assignments; which would be printed from a loud and bulky dot matrix printer.
There aren’t many programs worth running on this old machine, anyway. I installed Pyro, a popular screen saver of the era, and Klondike solitaire, as if I couldn’t distract myself with my iPhone instead. Even within the programs that made people spend money on computers, simplicity reigns. I’m writing in Microsoft Word 4.0, which was released for this platform in 1990. More sophisticated than MacWrite, Apple’s word processor, the program is still extremely basic—the only reason I chose Word was so I could open the file on my modern Mac to edit and file it. 
There’s not much to report; it’s a word processor. A window displays the text I am typing, whose fonts and paragraphs I can style in a manner that was still novel in the 1980s. Footnotes, tables, and graphics are possible, but all I really need to do is produce words in order, a cruel reality that has plagued writers for millennia. Any program of this era would have afforded me the important changes computers added: moving an insertion point with the mouse, and seeing the text on-screen in a manner reasonably commensurate with how it would appear in print or online. 
In fact, the only feature that’s missing, from a contemporary writer’s perspective, is the capacity to add hyperlinks. That idea had been around for a couple of decades by the time the Macintosh SE came out, but Tim Berners-Lee wouldn’t develop the first web browser until 1989, a year after this computer was manufactured and a year before this copy of Word was released. Of course, it doesn’t matter much, since I can’t go online with this machine (at least, not without adding a modem, and software that wouldn’t become available for another half decade or so).
Next to the overall lack of computing power compared to today's technology, the biggest difference between using a computer three decades ago and using a computer today is the lack of internet connectivity. It may have been possible to access some internet-related functions back in the 1980s, such as email, usenet groups or ftp sites, if one had the proper dial-up modem and provider; we certainly had no such connection. There was, therefore, no World Wide Web to browse, no messages to send and receive, no social media to obsessively check. The ubiquitous time suck that is today's internet connectivity - through our desktops, our laptops and our phones - simply did not exist. Quite frankly we were probably better of for it!
Even bracketing the welcome absence of the internet, with its hurtling notices and demands, the speed of this machine’s operation changes the tenor of my work. Computers used to be slow as hell. When I first got a 386 PC in the early 1990s, I would switch it on and leave the room for a while, so it could load the BIOS, then DOS, then Windows 3.1 atop it—hard disk grinding the whole time—until finally it was ready to respond to my keystrokes and mouse clicks. 
The Macintosh SE I’m writing on now boots much faster than Windows ever did, but everything here is slow too. When I open a folder, the file icons all take shape like a color squad entering formation. Loading a program like Word issues a long pause, giving me enough time to view and read the splash screen—a lost software art that provided entertainment as much as feedback. Saving a file grinds the hard disk for noticeable moments, stopping me in my tracks while the cute watch icon spins.
Honestly, I had all but forgotten about the sound of the floppy disks grinding in their drives while I opened or saved a file until I read this passage. It was an omnipresent noise: the lack of available RAM mean that whatever program I was using oftentimes had to pause while it read operating instructions off the floppy disk. Using a computer definitely a more time-consuming undertaking back then, but I doubt I even noticed. Today's computing speeds were unthinkable back then, and the slower boot-ups and the constant grinding of the disks were just part of the experience.
The high-tech industry would characterize that act as an inconvenience, probably, imposed by the primitive technology of the past. Inevitably, in the hands of engineers and investors, the machines were bound to become faster, more powerful, more influential, more ubiquitous. And indeed they did, and now they are everywhere. My laptop is always on; my tablet is ever at the ready; my smartphone is literally in my actual hand except when I’m sleeping, if indeed I ever sleep instead of staring at it.
As I flick off the power switch on the back of the Macintosh, the whine retreats in a gentle diminuendo, until it finally gives way to silence. I have accomplished a feat that is no longer possible: My computing session has ended.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

US Women's World Cup defense begins with controversy

Yesterday the US Women's National Team began their quest to defend their 2015 FIFA Womens's World Cup title by obliterating Thailand, 13-0. Now, in addition to defending their crown, they're also having to defend their actions during that game; namely, that they humiliated a vastly inferior Thai side by running up the score against them as well as celebrating excessively and disrespectfully after each goal:
Thailand's players were in tears at the full-time whistle after suffering the heaviest defeat in World Cup history at the hands of the US. 
There were those on social media who criticized the defending champions for celebrating each goal, but Alex Morgan -- who became only the second American to score five in a World Cup match -- told reporters that "every goal counts." 
Morgan, who comforted Thailand player Miranda Nild after the match, said it was important for the team to "continue to go" and score as many as they could in case goal difference would ever prove to be a factor in the group stages. 
"We knew that every goal could matter in this group stage game and when it comes to celebrations this was a really good team performance and I think it was important for us to celebrate together," said the striker.
The Americans' performance incurred some derisive virtue signaling from their neighbors to the north:
Alex Morgan, who bagged five goals in the mauling, was seen counting her goals on her fingers as she rattled them in.
Megan Rapinoe, playing her 154th game for USWNT and scoring her 45th goal, sprinted to the sidelines and indulged in a pre-planned celebration set piece as she scored the USA's ninth against the Thai part-timers. 
Wilder celebrations followed — but so did accusations across the globe of classlessness, lack of sportsmanship and disrespect, most notably from USA's northern rivals, ex-Canadian national team stars Clare Rustad and Kaylyn Kyle. 
"This was disgraceful for the United States," Rustad said. "I would have hoped they could have won with humility and grace, but celebrating goals eight, nine, 10 like they were doing was really unnecessary." 
Kyle added: "I'm all about passion, but as a Canadian we would just never ever think of doing something like that. 
"For me it's disrespectful, it's disgraceful. Hats off to Thailand for holding their head high on their first time on a World Cup stage."
The overwrought condescension coming from Rustad and Kyle aside (hey, maybe you should place better than fourth in the Women's World Cup before criticizing, eh?), the American ladies' celebration after each goal was nevertheless a source of controversy, and even former US star Hope Solo expressed discomfort with the nature of the celebrations:
It was tough for me to watch some of the US goal celebrations – which have come under criticism – considering the scoreline. You do want the game to be celebrated and you do want to see players having fun but at the same time I thought some of the celebrations were a little overboard. A few seemed planned out and I do know some players spend a lot of time thinking about celebrations for the fans. It’s not always necessary.
To be fair to Solo, she was critiquing the celebrating but defending the score itself; "[w]hen you respect your opponent you don’t all of a sudden sit back and try not to score," she wrote. ESPN's Graham Hays, for his part, wasn't buying any of the criticism, whether related to the score or the celebrating:
But to put blame on the United States ignores two obvious points. First, the Americans didn't make the rules under which the number of goals scored is part of deciding the outcome of the tournament. Goal differential counts. The U.S. women want to win its group. Unlike just about any other sport, the Americans have a vested interest in running up the score.
And second, it isn't the United States' fault it can't clear its bench. It is allowed three subs. It used three subs.
"If this is 10-0 in a men's World Cup, are we getting the same questions?" U.S. coach Jill Ellis asked after receiving repeated queries about the score. "I think a World Cup, it is about competing, it is about peaking, it is about priming your players ready for the next game."
But beyond that, why is it the obligation of the U.S. team to act in the interest of creating a picture of a falsely level playing field? Why shouldn't FIFA or the Asian Confederation get blamed for not doing more to promote the women's game in places where it lags behind? 
Are we really going to blame players for celebrating a goal, in many cases in their first World Cup, instead of looking at the underlying reasons for the disparity in the first place?
This is a key point: at the international level, there isn't nearly as much parity for women's soccer as there is for the men's game. The Thai women have an interesting story, but the bottom line is that the nation of Thailand, like much of the world as a whole, fails to invest in, and develop, the women's game. Couple that with a Women's World Cup that only recently expanded from 16 teams to 24, thereby increasing the overall disparity of the teams participating, and results such as yesterday's shouldn't be especially surprising.

Therefore, I'm not particularly receptive to criticisms about the score itself. When you're playing in the World Cup, and you have an opportunity to score a goal... Well, you score a goal. Not only do the rules regarding goal differential essentially require it, but, in soccer, scoring opportunities are hard to come by and if you are to reach your full potential as a soccer player then you need to take advantage of those situations. Especially at the World Cup stage. Yesterday seven US players scored; for four of them, it was their first-ever goal at the World Cup. That's invaluable experience, and it creates confidence moving forward in the tournament. Furthermore, as somebody who has groused about the lack of offense in soccer in the past, I really can't get too upset about the rare instance wherein a team scores "too many" goals.

I'm a bit more sympathetic to criticisms regarding the way the women celebrated after each goal, if only because such behavior is generally frowned upon in sports as a whole. For example, in American Football there is no penalty for running up the score, but excessive celebration after a touchdown merits a 15-yard penalty (and, in the NFL, sometimes a fine). Did the USWNT need to celebrate their eleventh, twelfth or thirteenth goal against Thailand with as much enthusiasm as their first or second? Maybe not. Maybe a quick group high-five or half-raised fist pump would have been sufficient after goal eight or nine. But where do you draw that line? At what point is a team "required" to contain its excitement, especially at the World Cup stage?

Yahoo's Dan Wetzel argues that America's ladies have nothing to apologize for:
Finally, there were complaints the U.S. players shouldn’t have celebrated their goals because scoring was so easy. 
Except, scoring a goal in the World Cup is never easy.
It might not have been difficult against Thailand in the second half, but that was just a single moment of the play. Just getting here required years and even decades of sacrifice and work from each and every American player (and their families, coaches and teammates through the years).
To score in the World Cup is an accomplishment any serious player dreams about. For Pugh, Lavelle, Horan and Mewis, these were their first-ever World Cup goals. To say they shouldn’t celebrate the accomplishment or suggest it holds less value due to the opponent is to dismiss all the blood, sweat and tears it took to get here.
Yes, the game was a massacre, but that’s what happens sometimes in sports. These American women aren’t here to go easy on anyone. They aren't here to consider hurt feelings. That would be insulting to everyone involved.
They are here to win and they’ll inspire a generation of girls around the globe by playing exactly how they did on Tuesday: full-throttle, unapologetic and with both power and creativity.
They played the beautiful game, beautifully. It was something to behold, not condemn.
Next up for the US Women is Chile on Sunday.


I don't follow hockey very closely, but I do know that right now, a lot of Boston sports fans are rather unhappy.

And that makes me happy. Because Boston sports fans suck.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Twenty years in the real world

It's been exactly ten years since I wrote this post, which means that's it's been exactly twenty years since I began employment at the City of Denton and thus entered the "real world." At the time I wrote said post, I opined that things had generally gone well for me over my first decade as a productive member of society - I was married, with a kid, and a mortgage and a full-time job - I and expressed hope that "the next few decades are as interesting and fun as the last one has been."

Alas, not long after I wrote that post, the "real world" would smack me down in a big way. Within a year of that post, I would be divorced, I would no longer be a homeowner, and I would be virtually unemployed as a lack of billable work would require me to take a temporary leave of absence from my job. Shortly thereafter, cancer would unexpectedly claim the life of one of my best friends, and I myself would end up in the hospital for the first time in my life.

It was, all in all, a humbling experience.

In an attempt to get my life back on track, I would then make a few less-than-ideal decisions - jumping into a relationship with somebody who, while being a good-hearted person in general, would turn out to be simply not the right person for me in particular, and moving in with her to a rental in an expensive neighborhood that I really couldn't afford by myself after she moved out - that set me back even further. A subsequent attempt to forge a relationship with an old high school interest was also ill-advised; a reminder that one cannot live in the past.

To my credit, I made some better-considered decisions as well; most importantly, I changed employers at the beginning of 2013. This decision has worked out well for me, personally and professionally. I also, eventually, found somebody perfectly suited for me; Corinne and I have been together for almost four years and I'm excited to give the marriage thing another try with her next year. Buying a house is also in our future, once finances permit. To that end, I've paid off the debts I've incurred while living in Bellaire, and am gradually adding back to my savings.

The "real world" creates setbacks sometimes. But I've moved on.

None of this is to say the last decade has been "bad." In fact, it's been rather amazing in many respects. I've taken some amazing trips, (and, in doing so, gotten 1/5th of the way towards reaching my life's ultimate goal), participated in New Orleans Mardi Gras parades, watched the Astros win the World Series (and, in a total fluke, got to attend the most amazing game of that series) watched the Cougars win a major bowl gamesurvived a few floods, killed my awful web 1.0 website, and watched my son grow.

I figure that I am now roughly halfway through the productive, wage-earning phase of my life. I'd love to retire sooner rather than later, of course, and I do have various IRAs and 401ks that are slowly but surely accruing value. But with a house purchase hopefully! in Corinne and my future and a son who is four years away from college, retirement is something that is not happening anytime soon.

One thing I really need to do over the next decade is look after my health a bit better. I've really put on the pounds over the past decade. Corinne's going to be pretty pissed at me if I drop dead of a heart attack right after she marries me, so I should probably take some steps to ensure that doesn't happen!