Tag Archives: Pandemic

Day-And-Date Streaming Movie Releases: Did The Experiment Fail?

Movie Releases You Can Stream This Week: 'The Suicide Squad', 'Jungle  Cruise', and More | Entertainment Tonight

Last year, things literally could not have been worse for the movie industry. A once-in-a-generation pandemic had shut down the world. Every industry was affected, but few were hit harder than the movie industry. Suddenly, an industry that relies on people actually getting out of their houses and gathering in enclosed spaces was no longer viable. I personally wondered whether the industry would ever recover.

Then, as the world endured, the industry attempted to adapt. This led to Warner Brother’s landmark decision to release some of their biggest movies on their streaming platform, HBO Max, on the same date as their theatrical release. At the same time, Disney was releasing some of its biggest movies on Disney+, albeit for an extra fee.

I believed, for a time, that this could fundamentally change the industry for good, even after the pandemic was over. I even shared my experience in how this affected my own movie watching habits. I won’t deny that I’ve gotten a lot more out of my HBO Max service, knowing I can watch new movies the day they come out. I did it with both “Space Jam 2” and “The Suicide Squad.”

However, it now seems that this new experience that I’ve been enjoying is about to come to an end. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Warner Brothers is going back to a more traditional model, having its movies come out in theaters first for a 45-day window before going to a streaming service.

THR: Warner Bros., AMC Strike 45-Day Exclusive Theatrical Window Deal for 2022

In a new deal with mega-cinema chain AMC Theatres, Warner Bros. has agreed to return to an exclusive, 45-day theatrical window in 2022.

AMC CEO Adam Aron unveiled the pact Monday during an earnings call. “We’re especially pleased Warner Bros. has decided to move away from day-and-date,” Aron said. “We are in active dialogue with every major studio.”

WarnerMedia enraged cinema operators when deciding to open its 2021 slate simultaneously on HBO Max and in theaters. The company has since said that the move was in response to the ongoing pandemic, and not permanent. Insiders add that the AMC arrangement was agreed to in March.

For the most part, I’m not too surprised. It’s now abundantly clear that this release method has a significant impact on the box office returns of a movie. The recent release of “The Suicide Squadis proof enough of that, despite being loved by critics and fans alike. Having seen the movie and enjoyed it immensely, I feel like it definitely deserved a bigger box office than it got.

Given how much these movies cost to produce, it’s unreasonable to expect the studios and the actors involved to be comfortable with this arrangement. Pandemic or not, this is not the same success they’re used to. If movies released simultaneously on streaming make this little at the box office, then that’s just not sustainable. Something has to give.

At the same time, a part of me wonders whether this reversion to a more traditional movie-release schedule will lead to even more change. I get why movie theaters want to go back to the old model where a movie as bad as “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” could still make a billion dollars at the global box office. I just don’t know if we’ll ever see anything like that again.

It doesn’t help that the pandemic isn’t over. In fact, it may never truly be over if things keep going badly. That means things like packed movie theaters just might never come back entirely. We may very well never see another billion-dollar movie again.

In that sense, can we still say that WB’s streaming experiment failed? We don’t yet know how much or how little movies like “Space Jam 2” and “The Suicide Squad” impacted HBO Max subscriptions. We also don’t know how much or how little these types of movies affect the movie-making process or how those involved are compensated. The fact that Scarlett Johansson is suing Disney over releasing “Black Widow” on streaming hints the current system is very flawed.

Maybe there’s a sweet spot between day-and-date releases on streaming and theatrical runs. A part of me thinks that a 45-day release window is basically not too different from the old way of doing things. Personally, I think if studios like WB want to maximize both box office and streaming, they’d make that release window a lot more narrow. That would create a scarcity that could prompt more people to go to the movies.

Perhaps that window needs to be longer to allow bigger budget movies to turn a profit. Maybe a two-month window would accomplish that. I honestly don’t know. I think nobody knows at this point. The industry is just changing so much and chances are there will be more changes by the end of this year. Whether or not they’ll be good for the industry and those who work in it remains to be seen.

In the end, maybe this whole experiment will be just a first step in that change. It might not have worked as well as everyone would’ve liked, but few things ever do. It was something new and bold during a time of unprecedented upheaval. Plenty of good and bad can come out of that.

Also, I will miss turning my living room into my own personal movie theater. It was indeed nice while it lasted. However, for the good of the industry and the movies I love, I understand that the experiment was not a solution. Hopefully, more good comes out of this in the long run.

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Filed under Current Events, HBO Max, Marvel, Marvel Cinematic Universe, movies

A Perfect Cartoon To Highlight The Frustrating Absurdity Of Anti-Vaxxers

I know I’ve been giving those who refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccine a hard time in recent months. I won’t apologize for that because I don’t regret that in the slightest.

I’ll say it again. These people are being assholes. They’re the reason why this pandemic is still raging. They’re also the reason there’s a new variant that’s causing cases to spike in various parts of the country. I’m sorry, but I can only be so understanding when people are being assholes to a point that gets other people killed.

However, rather than bemoan these people for their dumb decisions and dumber politics, I thought I’d share something I found on Reddit that perfectly illustrates why the anti-vaxx crowd are so infuriating. It’s funny and it’s dumb, but it’s also painfully relevant.

Again, get vaccinated people. Quit being assholes.

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How Much Sympathy Should We Have For Anti-Vaxxers Who Get COVID-19?

Vietnam companies agree COVID-19 vaccine tech transfer with Japan's  Shionogi - media | Reuters

In general, I try to be a compassionate, understanding person. That’s how my parents raised me. That’s how most decent human beings are brought up in this world. It’s how we, as a species, learn to cooperate, co-exist, and work together to survive and thrive. It’s a beautiful thing, indeed.

However, it has limits.

Lately, the anti-vaxx crowd who refuse to get the COVID-19 vaccine are really testing it.

I’ve gone on my share of rants about the anti-vaxx crowd whose idiocy is bound to get people killed. With each passing day, those who resist or protest the vaccines become less and less sympathetic. We’re getting to a point where there’s no real excuse for concern or hesitation.

Not getting this vaccine to end this deadly plague is no longer a product of politics or protest. It’s just people being assholes.

With all that in mind, I’m honestly not sure how to feel about vocal anti-vaxx people who get seriously sick with COVID-19. These stories are becoming increasingly common. A few have even died because they refused to get the vaccine. Reckless behavior aside, they’re human beings. Their lives mattered and their death will be felt by family and loved ones.

At the same time, these people were fucking idiots. This is not a mild case of Chicken Pox. COVID-19 is a deadly pandemic. Before the vaccines came along, it was killing people by the thousands. It didn’t care about borders, ethnicity, political affiliation, or religion. People were suffering and dying. We all had to drastically change our lives just to contain it.

Then, a vaccine comes along and it works. It works incredibly well and promises to end this pandemic once and for all. We can have our lives back and save countless more.

Somehow, that’s not enough for these people. They still refuse to subject themselves to a simple shot, which could save their lives and the lives of those around them. We have the cure, but they refuse to take it.

How can we have sympathy for that?

Moreover, how can we be compassionate when these same people get horribly sick?

I honestly don’t have an answer. It’s an open question that I find myself struggling with each passing day. I tend to have a lot of faith in humanity. Even for people I despise, I try to be understanding and compassionate.

This time, however, I have a hard time mustering much sympathy. These people lived through the same horrors we all did. They saw all the death and suffering that this virus was causing. Then, when a vaccine comes along to stop all that, they choose not to take it.

At that point, they’re not victims anymore. They’re responsible for this state. They willingly jumped off a cliff without a parachute because they didn’t trust the parachute. I can sympathize with a lot of things, but I can’t sympathize with this.

Maybe I’ll feel differently as things play out. For now, I just don’t know.

I’ll pose this question to anyone who reads this. How much sympathy should we have for these people at this stage of the pandemic? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Also, and I know this might be a futile effort, please get vaccinated.

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ANOTHER COVID-19 Surge Among Unvaccinated: A Product Of Math, Science, Politics, And No More Excuses

More vaccinated than unvaccinated Britons are now dying from the coronavirus

I do not want to keep talking about the COVID-19 pandemic. I really don’t.

I don’t want to keep urging people to get vaccinated. I’ve already provided tools. I proudly announced when I got my dose of the vaccine. I even went so far as to tell the anti-vaxx crowd that they’re actively killing people. I even cited a video to help debunk the most common anti-vaxx claims.

Now, I understand that I am not a very influential figure. My audience is very small, compared to other voices on the internet. I’m completely aware of my limitations with respect to getting my message out there. At the same time, I can’t keep hiding my frustrations.

This pandemic should be over. We have multiple vaccines. They’re free, they’re widely available, and they work. Most of the restrictions that we lived under for over a year have been lifted. We are in a better place now compared to last year and we have these vaccines to thank for that.

Unfortunately, it’s still a problem. The crisis is not over yet, but it’s not because we lack the tools to resolve it. It’s because people are refusing to do what’s necessary to save lives and end this madness.

I still like to have faith in humanity, as a whole. I really do believe that most people are good. However, the people currently prolonging this pandemic are really challenging that faith. These are people who, for reasons that range from politics to ignorance to completely insane conspiracy theories, refuse to take this vaccine.

As a result, there’s another surge of COVID-19 cases across the country, including my area. However, this surge is different. This surge isn’t as widespread and indiscriminate as previous surges. This time around, the surge in cases is among the unvaccinated. That’s not too surprising, but it’s also a perfect manifestation of the current political land social divide.

NPR: U.S. COVID Deaths Are Rising Again. Experts Call It A ‘Pandemic Of The Unvaccinated’

The death rate from COVID-19 in the U.S. is rising steadily for the first time in months as the nation grapples with a renewed burst of cases in what’s become “a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

The seven-day average of new cases has increased by nearly 70% to almost 30,000 per day; hospitalizations are up 36%. And deaths from the virus have risen steadily in recent days, reversing a months-long downward trend that began in mid-January.

“There is a clear message that is coming through: This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC’s director, said at a Friday briefing of the White House COVID-19 Response Team. “Our biggest concern is we are going to continue to see preventable cases, hospitalizations and sadly deaths among the unvaccinated.”

The upward trend in national statistics is being driven almost entirely by outbreaks in places with low vaccination rates, such as the Ozarks, Florida and parts of the Mountain West. Some counties, especially in Missouri and Arkansas, are recording more cases now than they did during the winter.

“Unvaccinated Americans account for virtually all recent COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths,” said Jeff Zients, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator. “Each COVID-19 death is tragic, and those happening now are even more tragic because they are preventable.”

More than 99% of recent deaths were among the unvaccinated, infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said earlier this month on NBC’s Meet the Press, while Walensky noted on Friday that unvaccinated people accounted for over 97% of hospitalizations.

That bolded text is my doing because it makes an important point that I haven’t been able to make until now. A reasonable can have reasonable concerns about a vaccine that was approved in record time. A reasonable person can even be forgiven for waiting until a certain amount of the population took it before getting it themselves.

I understand that.

I really do.

Nobody likes getting shots. They’re uncomfortable, stressful, and leave your arm feeling sore for days.

However, there comes a point where reluctance becomes absurdity and that absurdity is causing more suffering. It doesn’t help that these vaccines have also become politically charged. There is a clear, but distressing correlation between how you identify politically and whether or not you’re getting vaccinated.

If you’re liberal or left leaning, chances are you already got vaccinated and this surge isn’t affecting you.

If you’re conservative or right leaning, chances are you haven’t been vaccinated and you’ll eagerly cite less-than-reputable sources to justify those choices.

While I don’t want to get into the politics of those pushing anti-vaccine messages, I do want to point one thing out to those who take them seriously. Please note that this is not a personal attack. This is not me talking down to you as someone who has been vaccinated and who probably gets his news from very different sources. This is just me making a sincere, honest observation.

At this point, we’re beyond politics and science. You can have different politics. You can even have certain attitudes towards science. At the very least, though, you have to undestand that simple, basic math cannot have an agenda.

I’ll restate what the NPR article said. This latest spike in COVID-19 cases is affecting the unvaccinated at a rate of 99 percent in terms of deaths and 97 percent in terms of hospitalizations.

That is not a trivial difference in terms of margin.

When something is 99 percent, it’s as close to definitive as you can get without god-like aliens coming down to Earth and affirming the results. Think of it in terms like this.

If a pill had a 99 percent chance of curing cancer, would you take it?

If a fruit had a 99 percent chance of killing you, would you eat it?

If a car had a 99 percent chance of exploding every time you turned the key, would you drive it?

If a slot machine had a 99 percent chance of winning the jackpot, would you play it?

I could go on, but I honestly don’t know how much more I can belabor this point. These vaccines work. They prevent COVID-19 from infecting and spreading. If enough people get it, the pandemic will end. The suffering will stop. That’s all there is to it.

The science says they work.

The doctors, experts, and medical authorities throughout the world who dedicate their lives to this sort of thing says they work.

Now, even the math says they work.

At this point, if you’re still skeptical or hesitant, you’re not just being unreasonable. You’re not just being absurd. You’re just being an asshole. We all want this pandemic to end and you’re preventing that. As a result, more people will suffer and die. Face it. You’re out of excuses and the damage this surge does is on you.

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It’s Official: I’m Going To New York Comic Con 2021!

New York Comic Con Essentials You Need to Know | Expedia Viewfinder

I’ve been sitting on this news for a while. In my defense, I needed some time to make sure it was real and make the necessary plans. I make no apologies because I’m just too excited to announce this.

I got my ticket to New York Comic Con 2021!

Just typing that put a big smile on my face. Words cannot do justice to the joy I felt once it sank in.

Now, I’ve been to New York Comic Con before. I’ve shared my experience on this site on multiple occasions. It has been my favorite annual tradition since I started going back in 2013. Being in that big convention hall, surrounded by so many spectacles and people who share my love of comics, is such a thrill. Every year, it seems, I find another reason to love it.

However, last year was nothing short of heartbreaking for reasons I don’t want to dwell on. Even though I expected it, the news that the New York Comic Con was cancelled was just devastating on so many levels. It felt weird in those first few weeks of October, not dressing up and spending time in New York City. I had serious concerns that I might go another year without going to a comic book convention.

Well, I can set most of those concerns aside for now. I have my ticket. I made my travel plans. I’m even making plans to wear a different costume this year. Again, I cannot overstate how excited I am for this.

It’s not just a sign that the world is healing and things are steadily returning to a sense of normalcy. It’s a chance to make up for what was lost last year. Every year I go to New York Comic Con is special, but I’m more determined than ever to make this year even more special.

I’ll be sure to share some of those plans as they materialize. I don’t want to confirm anything now, but you can be certain I won’t be able to contain my joy, more so than usual. Also, if anyone else is going to the New York Comic Con this year, I encourage them to follow that same spirit.

Last year sucked.

This year, more than most, is worth making extra awesome.

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Rethinking Homework For The Post-Pandemic World

Homework sucks. Nobody likes doing it. I think that’s an uncontroversial opinion, even in these contentious times. I may no longer be in school, but I vividly remember how much I hated it. From grade school to college, it was often the worst part of any class, course, or subject. I doubt I’m alone in that sentiment.

That said, I understand why it exists. Like taxes or colonoscopies, it’s a necessary evil. It’s a means by which we test and reinforce the knowledge we teach to young, curious minds. At the very least, it’s a mechanism for determining who is actually learning and who is not.

I bring this topic up not to start a crusade against homework, as some already have in the past. I’m not looking to uphold or expand it, either. I’m raising the issue because the current state of public education is in a precarious state, especially in America.

It’s already well-documented that America’s ranking in the world of education leaves a lot to be desired. There are many systematic issues for that, some of which I’ve ranted about before. Changing that system doesn’t come easy, but if ever there was a time to re-think our approach, it’s now.

A global pandemic has caused huge disruptions to a lot of things, our schooling system being just one of them. In the span of a year, we’ve upended decades of entrenched educational traditions. The whole ritual of getting on a bus, going to a big building, and shuffling kids through multiple classes every day has been tabled.

Yes, it’s distressing for students, parents, and teachers alike.

At the same time, it presents an opportunity. This is a chance to rethink how we go about education. Why not start with homework? Nobody likes it. If we’re going to change anything, let’s start with that.

As tempting as it is to claim homework doesn’t have a single benefit, I can’t overlook the research that has been done on this topic. People have actually studied it. While the conclusions aren’t clear-cut, the current body of evidence suggests some amount of homework is beneficial in terms of student achievement.

How much constitutes “some?” That depends on a lot, both in terms of the students and the subject matter. Some students can handle more homework than others. For others, it’s genuinely detrimental to a student’s achievement. When you look at the data, the only consistent result is inconsistency.

To me, a guy who despised homework as much as any other school-age kid, its impact varied. There were some subjects that I was naturally more interested in than others. Subjects like history, biology, and writing were already something I did in my free time. Homework in those subjects wasn’t too much of a burden.

In other subjects, like English, Spanish, and certain math classes, it was little more than a test in frustration. I never learned anything from it. I just did it to get it done so that I wouldn’t have to worry about it. I honestly can’t think of anything I actually learned from that kind of homework.

I know that’s just anecdotal on my part, but the research seems to bear that sentiment out. If a kid is interested in something, their natural curiosity will lead them to explore it. Homework can actually help with that effort. I can attest to that.

Back in high school, I took a world history course in my sophomore year. Around that same time, I developed a fondness for watching the History Channel, especially its many World War II documentaries. I wasn’t assigned to do it. I just did it because I was curious. It ended up paying off.

Later that year, we took an exam on the World War II period. I did not study at all for it, but I still got a perfect score. I just knew the material that well. The teacher even singled me out for my score, which was a nice bonus.

The same thing happened whenever I had to do an essay question for a test. I liked writing, so that was easy for me. I’m mediocre to awful at every other form of testing. I knew plenty of others who were the opposite. That’s kind of the point. Not everyone learns or tests the same way.

The same logic applies to homework. Since not everyone learns the same way, assigning the same kind of homework for everyone is bound to have mixed to negative results. It’s a blanket solution to a complex problem, which may ultimately hurt more students than it helps. It’s a reason why some jurisdictions have already experimented with eliminating it completely for certain grade levels.

I don’t think that solution is feasible, given how entrenched homework is within the current system. While I’m sure many students would celebrate its abolition, those same students may miss out on the benefits of learning outside school hours.

I know if there were no homework when I was going to school, I probably would’ve been more inclined to slack off. There’s a critical balance to strike when it comes to after-school learning. If school becomes too easy to brush off, then nobody benefits in the long run.

That’s why I’m more in favor of reforming it. One potential alternative is to switch from homework to retrieval practices. That practice emphasizes recalling what you learned rather than doing pre-made assignments. That may actually be easier in the current situation, given the growing prevalence of online schools and distance learning.

There are other alternatives that include a greater emphasis on projects, exploring basic life skills, or assigning certain educational games. Some may or may not be as effective, but like I said earlier. This might be the best possible time to consider those alternatives.

It has been year since I’ve been in school, but I remember enough to know that the system I went through had plenty of room for improvement. I also realize I was lucky. I went to public school in a relatively affluent area. I realize that my school had resources that others didn’t.

The current system for schooling hadn’t changed much since I graduated. Up until this year, public schools had clung to their tried and true traditions, which included their approach to homework. I think the time is right to rethink those traditions.

This past year has completely disrupted the schooling for an entire generation of kids. We don’t yet know the extent of that impact, but there’s still time to guide it. Reforming how we approach homework won’t fix everything, but it’ll definitely help the overall experience for the students. School is hard enough, even without a global pandemic. At the very least, let’s make this one arduous aspect of it a bit more bearable.

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COVID-19 Restrictions Lifted: Thoughts, Feelings, And (Unexpected) Implications

Mayo Expert: Fla. Will Suffer 'Unnecessary Deaths' As COVID-19 Restrictions  Are Lifted | WJCT NEWS

This past week marked a huge milestone for my home state. Like so many others, the COVID-19 restrictions that have pretty much defined our lives since late March of 2020 were finally lifted. At this very moment, we are no longer in a State of Emergency.

There are no more capacity restrictions on restaurants, bars, gyms, and movie theaters.

There are no more mask requirements that are enforced by the state.

There are no more social distancing requirements for outdoor or indoor events.

Just typing that out put a smile on my face. It also fills me with this strange array of emotions that I don’t quite know how to articulate. Like so many other fellow Americans, I watched this year-long horror show that was the COVID-19 pandemic unfold before my eyes.

I felt it affect me, my friends, my community, and my family in profound ways. I know people who got the disease. Some of them still don’t have their sense of taste and smell back entirely. I know people who have died from this disease. I also was unable to attend major family events, including a wedding, because of this damned disease.

I could go on, but I won’t. It’s just impossible to overstate how big an impact this disease had on our world. It’s going to leave scars that will last years. It’s going to define an entire generation and beyond. If I ever have kids, I’m going to struggle to explain to them what it was like, navigating this pandemic.

For a time, it felt truly apocalyptic. There was a long stretch last year where my dad and I were constantly making up dates for when things would get back to “normal.” At one point, it was May 15th, 2020. At another, we thought the 4th of July would be the end of it. Then, we started looking towards Labor Day.

At some point, we just came to realize that there was no use hoping anymore. We had no idea when this would end. For all we knew, this pandemic would draw out for years. Even after news about a vaccine emerged, we were still skeptical. A life without COVID-19 restrictions still seemed so far away.

Now, that day has come.

However, the effects are still there.

Recently, I went out to have breakfast with my parents at one of our favorite diners. There were no capacity restrictions. There were no mask requirements either. However, a number of people were still wearing masks, including most of the staff. My parents even wore masks when they first entered, even though they’re both fully vaccinated. I didn’t wear one, but I had one with me, just in case.

To some extent, it was downright jarring, not having to wear a mask. Yes, it was liberating in some ways, but it still felt so unusual after having spent over a year under these restrictions. You almost feel more vulnerable not wearing one, especially in an enclosed space like a crowded diner. I’m sure that’s a feeling we’ll have to get used to again, but it doesn’t change one inescapable truth.

This “normal” that we’ve been waiting for doesn’t feel “normal” to us anymore.

I don’t know if that’s temporary or if that’s something that will linger on for years to come. I know people who have stated outright that they’re going to keep wearing masks, even if the number of COVID-19 cases drops to zero. To them, the mask has become just another part of their lives. The see it like a seatbelt or hand soap. It’s not about avoiding a disease anymore. It’s about staying healthy.

That’s an implication that I don’t know that we’ve collectively processed. I certainly haven’t. I’ve no inclination to throw away my masks. I also have no plans to stop the frequent handwashing that I’ve come to embrace since last March. That does lead me to wonder whether this is truly our new “normal.”

I put that in quotes because, now that the state mandated restrictions are lifted, it’s on us to determine what form that normal takes. Will that mean always wearing a mask in certain settings? Just the other day, I went to the grocery store and I still wore a mask. The signs on the front doors saying they were required were still there. Until they come down, I’ll keep doing so.

At the same time, a part of me feels like I’m still adjusting. I’m almost reluctant to embrace a post-pandemic world because I saw how bad it got last year. Maybe that feeling will fade with time. Maybe within a few months, mask wearing will become a rarity and everyone will be eager to put the memories of the pandemic behind them.

I don’t claim to know what will happen. I just know that it’s going to take a while to get out of this mindset that a year of pandemic restrictions has wrought.

That’s just my experience, though. How do you feel? Have the restrictions in your state been lifted? If so, how have you and your family reacted? Please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

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Ode To Zoom And How It Helped Me Get Through The Pandemic

Zoom for beginners: how to best use the app for your video calls - The Verge

A year and a half ago, not many people knew what Zoom was. In fact, if you asked someone if you wanted to set up a Zoom call, they would probably just stare at you blankly and wonder if you had been watching too many cartoons. They were more likely to respond to Skype calls or FaceTime. That seemed to do the trick for most video conferencing needs.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Need I say more?

Suddenly, we couldn’t just wake up, meet up with friends or family, and interact like we’ve always done. We had to rely more and more on technology, especially video conferencing, to fill that gap. In doing so, we realized that Skype and FaceTime just weren’t enough.

That’s where Zoom came in. We all learned quickly that this software wasn’t just much more useful. It was a vital link between friends, family, teachers, students, and so much more. We all came to rely so heavily on Zoom that it has basically supplanted all other forms of video conferencing in the span of a year. That’s a hell of a accomplishment.

Most people don’t fully appreciate the story behind Zoom. It’s actually really sweet in that it has a romantic sub-plot. Being a lover of romance, I certainly appreciate that. The basics are that the company’s founder, Eric Yuan, was struggling to maintain a long-distance relationship with his then-girlfriend, now-wife. He was familiar with video conferencing technology, but quickly realized its limitations.

Rather than lament on the frustrations of long-distance relationships, he decided to actually do something about it. That’s what led him to create Zoom. It really is a beautiful story and I just gave the bare basics of it. If you want a more complete story, check out this video by the YouTube channel, Company Man. Seriously, you’ll appreciate Mr. Yuan and Zoom even more.

Beyond the story behind this software, I can attest to how vital it has been to keep me connected with friends and family. When the pandemic hit, we had no idea how long it was going to last. I had still made plans to visit friends and family over the course of the year. As those plans were crushed by the pandemic, just maintaining contact became a challenge.

At first, we tried to use FaceTime, but that proved unreliable. It was also a pain in the ass to get multiple people on the same call. Once we discovered Zoom, an entire world opened up. It started simply with my mother organizing this big group Zoom call between the family and a relative who was getting married. It proved so successful that many of us started finding other uses for Zoom.

One of the most important to me, personally, came from my dad. While he’s usually reluctant to adopt new technology, he came to enjoy scheduling video chats with me and my brother every Saturday morning. We would just sit in our kitchens, open up a chat, and sip coffee while talking about this or that. It felt very much like a normal meet-up. Even after we’ve all been vaccinated, we still do it. It’s a much better way to keep up than a typical phone all.

On top of that, Zoom has helped me strengthen ties with siblings who don’t live nearby anymore. One of my favorite daily rituals during the week is to join my oldest sister in a Zoom call while she and her friends watch Jeopardy. It has been a great way to both meet new people and grow closer to her, even though she doesn’t live nearby anymore.

Without Zoom, none of this would’ve happened. It wouldn’t have even been possible, given how cumbersome FaceTime and Skype has been. For that, I’m grateful. I’m sure I’m not the only one. I imagine Zoom has helped plenty of people stay connected with friends and family in ways they wouldn’t have been able to do with simple phone calls. It has also helped people who usually resist new technology to embrace it. I consider that a good thing.

Even after the pandemic is over, I still plan on using Zoom to keep up with friends and family, especially during times of the year when it’s harder to travel. I hope others do the same. Connecting with loved ones is critical during a crisis. Staying connected when times are good is every bit as important.

To Mr. Yuan, on behalf of everyone who has benefited so much from Zoom, I sincerely thank you.

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Filed under Current Events, human nature, Jack Fisher's Insights, technology, YouTube

Suicides (Surprisingly) Went Down During 2020: Possible Reasons And Insights

Every now and then, I go out of my way to highlight good or uplifting news. From brave priests who do defy the Vatican to wholesome comic strips involving Mr. Rogers, I try to use these stories to lift everyone’s spirits during difficult times.

Let’s face it. We’ve had a lot of that lately. Last year gave us plenty of difficulties, to say the least. It certainly doesn’t help that good stories rarely make the news, mostly because it doesn’t garner ratings or shock value. I tried to do my part, but I admit it wasn’t easy.

I managed to find some silver linings, by they hardly made up for all the soul-crushing hardship that year wrought. My spirit is still not fully intact after being so broken by last year.

Even so, I still want to make that effort to highlight good news, especially when it’s unexpected or surprising. One such story involves the less-than-uplifting topic of suicide, something that is both emotionally charged and incredibly devastating for a great many people and their families.

If ever there was a year during which people could be forgiven for thinking such morbid thoughts, it’s 2020. If a story came out that indicated suicides went up during 2020 as the pandemic raged, then I doubt anyone would be surprised. It probably wouldn’t even be news.

However, according to a story from CBS, that’s not what happened. In fact, the opposite occurred. Against all dire assumptions and understandable cynicism, the number of suicides in the US declined significantly during 2020. I’ll give everyone a minute to wrap their heads around that.

CBS News: U.S. suicides dropped last year, defying pandemic expectations

The number of U.S. suicides fell nearly 6% last year amid the coronavirus pandemic — the largest annual decline in at least four decades, according to preliminary government data.

Death certificates are still coming in and the count could rise. But officials expect a substantial decline will endure, despite worries that COVID-19 could lead to more suicides.

It is hard to say exactly why suicide deaths dropped so much, but one factor may be a phenomenon seen in the early stages of wars and national disasters, some experts suggested.

“There’s a heroism phase in every disaster period, where we’re banding together and expressing lots of messages of support that we’re in this together,” said Dr. Christine Moutier, chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “You saw that, at least in the early months of the pandemic.”

An increase in the availability of telehealth services and other efforts to turn around the nation’s suicide problem may have also contributed, she said.

I want to make one thing clear again before proceeding. Suicide is a serious issue that affects a lot of people. If at all you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts, please consider calling a help line or reaching out to someone. There are people out there who will listen.

Having said that, I also want to note that this news genuinely surprised me. Even as someone who tries to have more faith in humanity than most, this is pretty much the opposite of what I would’ve assumed and in the best possible way.

During a crisis, people tend to panic. We all saw that last year. Anyone who fought someone for access to toilet paper remembers that. When people panic, they get stressed out. When they get stressed, they tend to get depressed. How else are you supposed to feel when you see the death toll climbing every day?

Despite all that, fewer people fell beyond that darkest of dark points. More chose to endure. That bold part is something I highlighted because that is a real effect. Whenever a disaster strikes, people tend to come together. Things like political divisions, racial strife, and what not tend to fall to the wayside when we’re all at the mercy of something we can’t control.

It’s one of humanity’s greatest strengths. Our tribalism may divide us a lot during times of peace, but when the going gets tough, we come together for the sake of survival. That’s powerful sentiment and one that can bring out the best in people. During a global pandemic, we all have to come together to some extent to make it through.

In addition, some cite the rise of telemedicine and the ability to treat people with mental illness remotely as a contributing factor. I certainly think that played a part, but I suspect that the shared struggle and solidarity that often comes during a disaster was a larger factor.

That same shared sense of community and commonality directly counter some of the most powerful risk factors for suicide. Those who make that dire choice often feel alone and isolated. They feel they lack that core sense of community that’s so critical to any social species.

The fact it was strong enough to reduce suicide during a once-in-a-century pandemic is both revealing and encouraging. It shows that this shared sense of community has tangible benefits to large swaths of people. It also hints that the world we had prior to the pandemic wasn’t given enough people this sense of connection.

You can blame that on any number of things, from smartphones to outrage culture to politics. I certainly have my theories, but I’m not smart enough or informed enough to make them credible. I highlight this story because I think it offers and important perspective.

When things get really bad, people will come together. It’s only when they get bad enough that we realize how much more we can do as a community than we can as individuals. We shouldn’t forget that. Even after this pandemic is over and things revert to some semblance of normalcy, we can’t forget that we’re a social species.

We need each other.

We need friends, family, and neighbors. It doesn’t just make us all stronger during a crisis. It’s an integral part of being human.

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Filed under Current Events, health, human nature, politics, psychology

Finding Love During A Pandemic: A Love Story To Lift Your Spirits

I’m a long-time romance fan. I hope I’ve made that abundantly clear by now. I’m also still striving to become a romance writer. Between the books I’ve written and the sexy short stories I’ve told, the ideas are there, as well as the effort. This passion of mine has not changed, despite the deeply demoralizing impact of 2020.

I know things got quite bleak last year. I don’t deny all that bleakness got to me. There really was no guide to how to deal with a once-in-a-century pandemic. Once things started getting locked down and people I knew fell ill, it really hit me hard. This was bad. This was historically bad. Naturally, it seriously undermined my ability to enjoy romance.

Romance is about connection, hope, and intimacy. The events of the pandemic were the complete antithesis of all of that. It was not easy to navigate, to say the least. That’s coming from someone who was lucky enough to not get it.

However, now that vaccines are rolling out and I recently got mine, I find myself emerging from the soul-crushing feelings that plagued me last year. It has also inspired me to recapture my love of romance, both real and fictional.

To that end, I’d like to share a real life love story that captured all the right feels for romantics and non-romantics alike. On top of that, it’s a love story that played out during the worst parts of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s quite possibly the least romantic setting imaginable, but love still found a way.

This story comes courtesy of NJ.com and involves an elderly couple who’d known each other for years, but found love during the worst possible times. Check out the story for yourself. If it doesn’t warm your hardened heart, then I question your humanity.

NJ.com: N.J. sweethearts found love in their 90s — right at the start of the pandemic

This is a story on how it is never too late to find love, and how even the worst of times can serve as the catalyst.

Bill Biega is 98. Iris Ivers is 91.

Their longtime friendship was blossoming into romance by March 2020. That’s when the coronavirus pandemic prompted a stay-at-home order at the Applewood continuing care retirement community in Freehold, where they resided in separate apartments.

Bill and Iris quickly realized they couldn’t stay apart, resulting in an awkward encounter more befitting a college dorm.

“A security guard caught me sneaking back into my apartment,” explained Bill Biega, who will turn 99 in July.

The guard told him that everyone on the floor knew what was going on and gave the furtive couple a choice: Move in together, or stay apart indefinitely.

Iris packed up her belongings and joined Bill in his apartment the next day.

Just over a year later, both are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The stay-at-home order has been lifted but Bill and Iris are still living together, a choice prompted by a pandemic that neither could have imagined. A ray of light, amid so much loss.

Iris described Bill’s one-bedroom apartment as “cozy for two.”

“I can’t imagine us not being together, as long as we can be. We’re also realistic, and we know that we’re not getting any younger,” Iris said.

I’ll say it again. Love is a beautiful thing. It’s also powerful. Even the worst pandemic in a century can’t stop it. At a time when we’re all starting to emerge from this year-long nightmare, we need stories like this. We need to be reminded that love is real and people can find it, even during the worst situations.

Let’s take comfort in that as we build a new normal.

To Bill and Iris, thank you for sharing this story. We all needed it.

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Filed under Current Events, real stories, romance, Uplifting Stories