Finding things to do while stuck at home during the coronapocalypse

De Blasio was throwing around the idea that there might be a “shelter in place order”, basically restricting all movement except essential services I guess, but Cuomo said De Blasio was basically full of crap and there was no such plan. Apparently, shutting down New York City is off the table, probably more for logistical and enforcement reasons than anything. How do you shut down a city this size? Would the police even attempt to or be able to check everyone still out to see if what they’re doing is authorized?

Maybe? I imagine it’s easier to have the NYPD crack down on businesses that aren’t following the shutdown order than it would be to try to police millions of people out on the street.

That being said, I’m stuck at home anyway, because my work requires me to be in venues of 50 or more people and gatherings that size are currently banned. I could go out and screw around and hey, maybe I will, but today I was at home using the time to try to catch up on some things.

Basically, I was just cleaning and doing chores. Laundry, sweeping, mopping, sanitizing surfaces, dishes, cooking for my wife who is working remote. Digging out old Christmas hand sanitizers and Wet Wipes from the closet.

Small containers of holiday scented hand sanitizer from 2018. LOL. And some Wet Wipes. We ordered 4 of those when the pandemic was first getting started.

I spent time with my cats. I even stayed in bed for an hour this morning after waking up because my cat Dapper was resting on my arm. Why not? Not like I had anything that pressing to do and she always gets upset when I leave.

Dapper snuggled in next to me on the bed this morning

I updated my resume, Indeed, and LinkdIn. I transferred downloaded photos from my phone to my laptop.

I finished The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath and started reading East of Eden, by John Steinbeck.

I put a bunch of extra time into studying Japanese and Spanish on Memrise.

I want to do some more reading tonight. Maybe I’ll play a video game. I’ve been meaning to get back to The Witcher III on my Switch. But really I’ll probably wind up shitposting on Twitter, Pleroma, and Facebook.

Now what? I need to get out of the apartment for a while tomorrow to work out. While that’s still allowed. The gyms are closed. I guess I could do something here in the apartment and go for a bike ride.

I’m not sure how I’ll feel if this goes on for a few weeks, but right now, I’m set. If the chores run out (and with the tax deadline looming and plenty of other cleaning to catch up on, that’s not likely to happen) there’s always Netflix, video games, board games, and books.

A little more corona madness

C-Town Storefront on Avenue C

I was downtown in the East Village this afternoon. I was a little excited to see what was happening down there. I also had to get a power cable we need for a work monitor and I wanted to drop some stuff off at my Mom’s place.

I keep going outside with this expectation that the city is going to look completely deserted, like it did in downtown Manhattan after Hurricane Sandy. It was creepy as hell at night back then because there was no power downtown. We had to use flashlights to get around and one night, it looked like my wife and I were the only two people on 14th Street for two blocks in either direction.

Today, though, you wouldn’t think anything out of the ordinary was going on. It just looked like a typical afternoon. Maybe a Sunday afternoon instead of a Tuesday afternoon, though. And there was noticeably less traffic on the road for a weekday. But there were plenty of people out and about and only a few of them were wearing masks.

I wore an N95 mask while outside today. It was kind of nice because people gave me a lot of extra space on the train bench, platforms, buses and on the street, just in case I was sick I guess. I might keep wearing an N95 mask for a while after this thing dies down!

It’s hard to reconcile what I’m seeing on the street with what I’m hearing in the news about Italy. Who knows how bad this will all get here, though? I read that cases of corona virus more than doubled to over 1200 between last night and this morning. I doubt things have even come close to peaking in terms of the virus running its course.

I went with my Mom over to C-Town on Avenue C. I think she asked me to come with her just in case the crowds were more than she could handle on her own. It wasn’t too bad when we got there but it’s like the crowd followed us.

The near-empty bread shelves at C-Town

The shelves were just about wiped out of pasta, fresh cut meat, bread, tortillas, canned soup, and some varieties of cooking and olive oils.

The tortillas were wiped out at C-Town

I still can’t understand what the hell people are thinking down there. I didn’t bother to check to see if they had liquid hand soap or toilet paper. We don’t need any.

Toilet paper and paper towels at Key Foods in the Bronx
Hand soap at Key Foods in the Bronx

In the Bronx, by contrast, the stores are still relatively well stocked. The shelves at my two local groceries were empty of bottled water and some hand soaps, but there is plenty of toilet paper, paper towels, and more importantly fresh fruits and vegetables.

Plenty of tortillas available at Key Foods in the Bronx too

I’m a little curious to know how this is all going to play out. I mean, Trump is saying this corona virus situation is going to continue through July or August. New York City is limiting gatherings to 50 or less and pretty much all venues are closed. Restaurants are limited to take out and delivery. Gyms are closed.

Can businesses afford to be closed until August? Can people who work in the service industry afford to be out of a job for 5 months?

I saw on Twitter than the government is talking about dropping some cash on the masses, but the figure they’re throwing around is $1000.00. For a large portion of the country that might be ok if the situation only lasts 2 weeks. In New York City that isn’t even rent, even in the bad parts of town. It certainly isn’t going to do anything to help people who suffer from underemployment or unemployment for 5 months.

Not that I’m surprised, but with the economic situation this dire, most people are losing their minds because Trump referred to COVID-19 corona virus as the Chinese Flu. So what? No one cries that the 1918 flu is called Spanish Flu. And we all know it came from China. It doesn’t even matter what it’s called. If people want to be ignorant and abuse Chinese people, they’re going to do it regardless of what you call the virus.

People seem to like getting themselves bogged down in minor battles over ideological purity. They lose the forest for the trees. And I think Trump does this stuff just to troll people. I think he trolls people just like other trolls troll people and for the same reason. Imagine the rush you would get if you could make millions of people have fits over a word choice that isn’t even offensive because it might, maybe, possibly, cause someone to be mean to Chinese people.

I don’t even care. I’m going to ride this out and then I’m going to head to Chinatown and pig out.

BTW, here are some pro-tips for people out panic buying:

  1. You can wash your hands with bar soap
  2. You can wash your butt with water

Corona Virus Update – Bronx, New York City

I went outside today for the first time since Thursday. It was quiet. Unusually quiet. There wasn’t even much traffic on Jerome Avenue, which was strange for that time of day. It was just me, a guy in a mask and gloves in front of the liquor store, and two people begging for money by the train stairs.

I think the bubonic plague could hit New York City and that woman would still be sitting by the subway stairs asking if anyone has a quarter, though. She’s something special.

Antillana on Jerome Ave has toilet paper. It has paper towels. There are plenty of canned goods too. But there’s no bottled water, which I thought was weird because even in China, Italy, and Spain, the hardest hit areas of the world, they never cut off the water. At least, I never heard that they did. I don’t understand the obsession with buying toilet paper either. Toilet paper isn’t going to save anyone from the virus. And you can wash your butt in the shower if you run out of TP.

Antillana was pretty empty. It felt like an ordinary Sunday evening, though the customers seemed a bit edgy. They had everything I was looking for except bananas. Their bananas were there on display but they were all brown and rotten. Not sure why they left them out. I figure even people who are panic buying aren’t going to buy something that’s rotten. Probably.

Key Food up the hill was quite a bit busier than usual, but still not all that crowded. Not like how I expected it to be. I found some nice bananas there. They seemed to be low on red onions, which struck me as strange. I bought a sweet onion. Not because I was panic buying. We’re just low on onions.

I’m not sure what I expected. You’d think the world was ending based on the images of empty store shelves, fights over toilet paper, and all the closures. I got an update while I was out saying that the public schools are going to be closed through the end of April. The libraries are closed too. I had this feeling while I was on the street that at any moment, a zombie horde might show up and start chasing me. I’m not used to seeing the streets that empty.

I guess this is all about “flattening the curve”.

I saw a politician on Twitter saying that all the restaurants and bars in New York City should be ordered closed, but I don’t see that happening. Not unless the city agrees to discount every business a month’s property taxes or reimburse a month’s rent, plus lost income. And the city would have to agree to reimburse all of the employees for lost wages or something.

A lot of people in New York City and, I imagine, the rest of the country, live paycheck to paycheck. That’s probably especially true here where rent is about $1500 a month even in poor neighborhoods.

You close a business for a month and you make a bunch of people homeless or at risk of homelessness. You cause people to default on credit card payments and miss an electric payment or car payment.

Corona virus hasn’t even hit New York City that hard but it’s already emphasizing the wealth disparity that exists and how dangerous it is for the economy as a whole. You can’t hoard wealth at the top if you want to keep making money. Money has to flow through all segments of the society to keep the economy moving. That’s just how it is. Does it matter how many yachts you can buy if your actions tank the country’s economy and your money no longer has value?

Anyway, I’m going to be heading downtown tomorrow. I’m excited to see how things are in Manhattan.

Is Mint Mobile worth it? Yes!

A banner image showing the Mint Mobile Fox mascot holding a smartphone.

Contents:


The good old days…

I think I got my first mobile phone in 2001 or 2002 when I was 20-21 years old. It was a flip phone from Verizon that I bought in Hinesville, Georgia when I was stationed at Fort Stewart. It looked something like this:

Motorola Cingulare flip-style mobile phone

In fact, it may have been that model phone. It’s been 18-19 years, so I really can’t remember exactly. I also don’t remember what the thing was costing me every month, though I remember it being significant.

Fast forward almost 20 years and cell phone bills are out of control. For me and my wife to have the Verizon Go Unlimited plan together, we were paying about $180 per month. Imagine that! For just two lines. That’s more than our electric bill most months out of the year.

We wound up on Verizon for two main reasons:

  1. Our previous provider, Virgin Mobile, announced that it was going to stop supporting Android devices and switch to being an iPhone only service. (They later backtracked, but after I already left the service.)
  2. We wanted to upgrade to new phones because big jumps had been made in camera quality, which is an important feature for both of us. Also, we both needed more storage space.

And so, we found ourselves in a Best Buy signing onto a bundle that included Verizon service.

That was two years ago.

Getting smart about billing

When our phones were paid off we started thinking about how to save money on our phone bill. We’ve been getting into minimalism, essentialism, and other -isms that promote focus, stability, and de-cluttering, Marie Kondo style. And while Verizon’s service quality was excellent, that bill was definitely not sparking joy.

Check out Marie Kondo’s Netflix special, “Tidying Up“, or her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

But, what service should we replace Verizon with? We were used to unlimited talk, text, and data. I knew that MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators) worked pretty well from previous experience. MVNOs are basically prepaid services that run on the networks of major providers but under different names. So, I decided to start there and see what was available.

I went slogging through a bunch of different websites looking at different lists of the best value plans available. Most of those lists really suck, to be honest. It’s like they just looked at everything that’s available and then cut and paste some marketing material onto their sites so they could have a list of items and get clicks/pageviews for that sweet ad revenue. Apparently posts that are just lists of things do pretty well in terms of catching people’s attention.

I’m not going to bombard you with a list of services or make you check multiple pages to see content. Instead, I’ll just briefly go over what I personally looked at, what I went with (which was obviously Mint), and why.

Options

Google Fi

My first instinct was to go with Google Fi. I have a Google Pixel 2 XL. It’s a great phone. It takes great photos and has plenty of storage. It runs the latest version of Android and gets updates directly from Google. So, I figured why not get service from Google as well? Short answer is that they charge too much and offer extras that don’t really apply to the average consumer.

Google Fi seems to be more targeted to people who are going to travel internationally frequently. Plus, it was about the same price as post-paid plans so I wouldn’t really save anything. Some of the more interesting extras that Google Fi offers, like automatically connecting to trusted high speed WiFi networks, are things that my phone does already because it’s a Pixel.

So, hard pass.

Verizon Visible

Verizon Visible looks like a really good service. It’s $40 bucks a month for unlimited everything. They used to have a data speed cap, but that was removed for a promotional period and would have applied to the life of our account with the service. We were already using Verizon’s service and figured it would be a piece of cake to switch over, but we hit a roadblock.

Verizon Visible claims my Google Pixel 2 XL is not compatible with their service. The phone that I’m using on Verizon is not compatible with Verizon? More like, Verizon Visible wants to push me to buy a new phone through them and give them more money that I shouldn’t have to.

So, no thank you.

Mint Mobile

I considered stuff like to Boost Mobile and Metro, but I just didn’t like the plans. They didn’t seem to be offering much for the price. That was when I stumbled onto Mint Mobile.

I’m going to be honest. Mint Mobile sounded pretty flaky and weird when I first looked at the website. I think what really threw me off was the idea of paying for multiple months in advance because that locked you in right away to something that might suck. The buy-in for the first 3 months is heavily discounted, but what finally sold me on giving it a shot is that the company is owned by Ryan Reynolds.

Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool

Maybe that sounds kind of stupid, but I figured that even if the service sucked for 3 months, it would be kind of neat to use a phone service owned by Deadpool for a while.

Mint Mobile Costs & Performance

Costs

So, I spent $120 + (normal) regulatory fees for two lines for three months of service with unlimited talk, text, and 8 GB of 4G LTE data per month running on T-Mobile’s network. We received the SIM cards for Mint about 3 business days after ordering them. The shipping was free.

Yup! Basically $20 a month for talk, text, and 8 GB of data that isn’t speed capped. After the 8 GB you get slammed down to 2G but can use another 92 GB of data if you can suffer through 2G page loads. I’m not sure you could actually use 92 GB of 2G data in a month, actually, unless you were doing something nuts.

The price-point on the plan both delighted and terrified me. On the one hand, it’s a great price for what I was getting. On the other hand, what if the service was absolutely terrible because of the price I was paying?

Mint is able to keep their plans that cheap because they have themselves set up as a wholesaler. They sell multiple months of service at a time so they get a discount from T-Mobile and they pass those savings on to the consumer. They’re basically the Costco or Sam’s Club of MVNOs.

Passing on savings and helping consumers give a big middle finger to the major phone carriers is part of their marketing platform, though it’s a bit ironic since Mint runs on T-Mobile. The savings is real, though, and I’m enjoying it.

After the promotional period for the first three months, it’s $105 per line for another three months, or you can pay for a year up front and keep the promotional per month price. On my current plan it would wind up being $263.78 for a year of service, including regulatory fees and taxes. There’s also a $15 per month plan with 3 GB of data and a $25 per month plan with 12 GB of data.

Performance

I was a little concerned about the data cap, but I tweaked a few apps to not auto-play videos, stopped watching Netflix without the WiFi on at the gym, switched photo backups to WiFi-only, and started downloading my Spotify playlists while on WiFi. It only took a few minutes to run through updating app settings and I’m able to use the phone’s built in Settings menu to monitor each app’s data usage to see if I needed to make any additional changes.

Now, with 11 days left on my current 30-day cycle, I’ve only used 1.44 GB of data. That’s with regular use, including Google Maps, Waze Navigation, Transit, some Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Outlook, Memrise, and web browsing for news. I think the majority of my data usage before, which often hit 14+GB a month, was streaming Spotify with high-quality audio. So, the 8 GB 4G LTE data cap is really not a problem.

Caveat: I’m an Optimum Online customer and can automatically connect to Optimum Online hotspots around the Bronx. I also made use of LinkNYC free public WiFi and library/museum/business/transit free WiFi when available. Basically, I was more conscious about using free WiFi resources where before I didn’t give it any thought.

In terms of actual performance, I can see the difference between Mint and Verizon, but it’s not as severe as I expected. The calls are choppier in Midtown Manhattan, especially if we try to use Telegram data calling. If I try to play video over mobile, the quality isn’t as good and sometimes it buffers. At $20 per month, I feel like this is a fair trade-off. Almost everyone has some issues in Midtown and this is more of a T-Mobile coverage problem than a Mint problem.

The more serious issue I’ve noticed relates to data connectivity. If my phone has been connected to a WiFi network, mobile data often doesn’t automatically kick on when I lose the WiFi signal. I have to put my phone in Airplane Mode for a few seconds to force the data connection to activate.

I’ve seen this complaint repeated in a few forums and my wife’s phone has the same problem, so I know it’s not unique to my experience. On my wife’s iPhone, using the Airplane Mode trick sometimes works and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes she has to power-cycle the device, which is time consuming and disruptive.

Other than that, the service works as well as I would expect from any mobile service.

Summary

In short, there’s no reason to overpay for mobile service unless you really want to or you just have money to burn. We decided to stop and switched to an MVNO and we were able to do that without compromising our quality of life in any serious way by switching to Mint Mobile.

In the process, we saved $440 in the first 3 months of service. After the promotional period, we’ll still save $110 per month compared to what we were paying Verizon. If we do the one-year up-front renewal we’ll save about $1624 compared to what we would have paid Verizon.

It feels like we’re paying a fair price for the service we’re getting instead of feeling ripped off every month.

Performance-wise, the issue where the phone occasionally doesn’t start using mobile data after leaving a WiFi network is aggravating, but not a deal-breaker. Not for me, anyway. The issue seems to be a lot more annoying with an iPhone, so keep that in mind.

Long-story short: unless something changes drastically, when my three month promo period is up, I’m going to buy a year of Mint Mobile service up-front. I’m going to play with data usage to see what I can get away with comfortably without hitting my cap and maybe I’ll move to the 12 GB plan so I can stream more spur-of-the-moment music, but I’m pretty satisfied with Mint Mobile so far.

A word of caution

Before you commit to changing carriers (buy a SIM or remove your SIM from your phone) do yourself a favor and do these three things first:

  1. check to make sure that your phone is unlocked by calling your current carrier.
  2. make sure your phone is compatible by using the tool on the Mint Mobile website.
  3. make sure your phone hasn’t been IMEI blacklisted. You can find that out easily and for free by using the IMEI checker on T-Mobile’s website. If it has an issue it’ll let you know that your phone is blocked. I’ll write more about that in a follow-up post.

If you see that your phone is “blocked” or “blacklisted” using an IMEI checker, do not remove the SIM card from your phone until the issue is resolved. If you do, when you put any SIM card back into the phone (including the one you just took out), the service associated with the SIM card will check the IMEI blacklist and if your phone is on it, it will prevent your phone from activating and you won’t be able to use it again on any carrier.

Coronavirus in New York City

Image of old Independent Subway Downtown-East Side-Brooklyn tile sign at 6th Ave L/PATH station in Manhattan.

Reactions to the threat of coronavirus in New York City seem to vary by neighborhood. Out on the street where I live (the Bronx), you would hardly notice that anything different is going on.

No one is wearing masks. No one is keeping their distance. No one is doing the “wuhan shake”. No one is panic buying toilet paper or cleaning supplies. I don’t know if that has to do with ethnic background or socioeconomic class. Maybe just a culture of not panicking when it doesn’t seem like there’s a reason to panic yet. That’s an interesting idea. Are certain ethnic groups more likely to buy in to Armageddon panic buying than others?

Anyway, don’t take this the wrong way, but maybe coronavirus is doing some good too. Of course it’s horrible that people are dying, but it’s illuminating some issues and making people do things they should have been doing already. It lowered pollution in China. It’s got the MTA actually cleaning trains every 72 hours. God knows how long they were going between cleanings before that. The MTA is cleaning train stations more regularly too. The mall in Jersey City almost reeked of cleaning fluid. And now it’s got people apparently finally cleaning their homes and their hands, given the shortage of soap and hand sanitizer in stores.

Or at least they’re pretending to. I do see a lot of dudes not washing their hands in public bathrooms still. Or just wetting their fingers with water, then wiping their hands on their dirty pants and walking out, like that accomplishes anything. They probably went right out and started putting their dick-fingers on items on the shelves.

Anyway, I was in Jersey City earlier today and both there and on the way back to my Mom’s place in Manhattan I noticed a lot of people wearing masks. I saw some people wearing latex or other types of gloves too. No gas masks or full on respirators, though. It was mostly Asians. I think they’re used to wearing masks because it’s something that’s already common in Asian culture. But I did see a few white people wearing masks too.

I was pretty disappointed that I forgot my mask. I was around a lot of people today in buses and trains. With the number of diagnosed cases jumping so high so quickly in New York City and New York State, I’m going to be worried for a while now.

I wish coronavirus would make wearing masks to prevent getting or spreading illnesses more of a thing in the US. I know health professionals are saying that they don’t work and you shouldn’t wear them if you’re healthy, but I don’t believe that. If that were true, health professionals wouldn’t wear masks either. I’m certain they’re not foolproof, guaranteed protection, but at least they’re something. If viruses are traveling on moisture particles from someone’s nose or mouth, at least they help stop that.

Anyway, the stock market is crashing. The end is nigh. Or at least that’s how it seems from the news. Maybe they’re right. I’ve been wondering how the spread of coronavirus could be stopped in the US considering the political climate and actual limits of government here.

Is it even lawful in this country for the government to forcefully quarantine people? I don’t know. What would that look like? Quarantine camps? Are we going to see trucks spraying weird sanitizing chemicals rolling down Park Avenue? That would be interesting, but considering how poorly the government is doing in even distributing test kits, I can’t imagine them moving on to more aggressive measures like China is undertaking.

Guess I’ll just have to wait and see. If any part of the US turns into a complete disaster from coronavirus, I have complete confidence that it will be New York City. It’s just too dense and poorly managed. But probably nothing serious will happen. Americans have a weird tendency to predict and long for worst case scenarios, like the zombie apocalypse.