When the best video conferencing app fails

I’ve used a lot of different video conferencing software during the last nearly 12 years of working full time. I’ve used WebEx, Go-To Meeting, Join.me, Google Hangouts, Clearslide (truly the worst, and of course, predictably, the very worst company I worked at licensed their disgusting software), among others that I cannot even remember now. But until I joined my latest company, I had never experienced the beauty and glory that is Zoom. Zoom is truly everything amazing and everything one can ask for when it comes to video conferencing software. It is so intuitive that it pretty much defines “intuitive.”

You do not need to download any new software or apps; if you simply have the meeting link or dial-in number, you can click on the link, immediately be added to the conference, and listen in via your phone if you prefer phone audio. No stupid plug-ins or applications to install. The app is the most intuitive. Want to screen share? Click the big green “SHARE SCREEN” button on the bottom. Want to end the meeting? Click the red “LEAVE MEETING” on the bottom right. Want to raise your hand to ask a question and not seem rude to to the presenter? There’s that option, too! On top of that, you can even create a white-board, sub-conference rooms. Concerned about not getting enough sleep last night? Well, there’s a solution for that, too: enable airbrushing on your video! And the sugar on top for fun: you can change your video background (in the event you don’t want your colleagues to see what your bedroom looks like if that’s the only available room in your house to take a video call). Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time (or so it looks like) in Newfoundland in my work meetings.

So while it was great news to hear that Zoom decided to make their app free for non-businesses during the current COVID-19 pandemic and allow the world to easily connect with their loved ones while we all self-quarantine, it was frustrating this morning to find out that my meeting quality was not as high; the audio was failing. Other times, the video was not working. Screen-sharing was lagging. I ended up rescheduling a meeting today for another time because of this failure. I don’t think they had enough bandwidth to cover for their extreme generosity, and so now, even if only temporarily, people like me have to suffer a little.

Invisible Women

A friend of mine who normally isn’t particularly opinionated and has responded very passively to my comments around feminism has been chiming in more about this in the last couple of years. It’s likely because she’s finally noticing that she’s not getting treated fairly as a female person of color, so she’s feeling the pain directly. At her office, she participates in a book club where they read Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez. After she mentioned it, I put it on my NYPL Libby app request list and got to digitally borrow it this weekend.

Here’s an interesting fact that I learned from this book: For most of the 20th century, the New York Philharmonic was nearly 100% men. Then, in the 1970s, the numbers of female players started to go up… due to blind auditions. The hiring committee would not be able to see who was playing in the audition because there would be a screen between them and the player. The screens had an immediate impact: by the early 1980s, women began to make up 50% of the share of new hires. And today, the proportion of female musicians in the New York Philharmonic stands at over 45%.

So, wouldn’t it be amazing if we could do this for all job interviews?! It’s hard in practice given you cannot really give a presentation or even a phone call screen without hearing the person’s voice/seeing the person’s face, but it really brings into question all the biases, whether conscious or subconscious, that we have when evaluating candidates and defining “meritocracy.” The concept of meritocracy is a complete myth in the workplace no matter what any Human Resources team tells you, as anyone who has half a brain knows that women do not get treated the same way that men do at work. We get criticized for our behaviors, emotions, personality at a far higher rate than men do. And the situation only gets worse when it’s a female person of color, not a white woman.

I’m not completely sure this was the best time to be reading this book given that during the day, I’m angry about the failure of our federal government in acknowledging the gravity of the Coronavirus sooner, for de-funding the CDC, and for calling this “Chinese virus” a hoax; I’m also angry about the level of racism/violence against Asians as a result of this global pandemic (I do not recall anyone getting angry and having racist fits at white Americans when swine flu happened?!). So, in other words, during the day, I’m angry about politics and racism against my own kind, and during the evening, I’m angry while reading this book to think that something as basic as the design of restrooms and cars, office temperature settings, and even city infrastructure planning are biased against women (I actually once asked my driving instructor about the design of air bags and whether they would really protect women given that on average, they are smaller in stature than men, and therefore the airbags are not designed for that smaller sized person…), and that the ‘norm’ has and will always be considered “male” and women, as Aristotle once famously said, are just “mutilated men.” To this day, our medical communities across the world do not think there’s a reason to spend more money and time on research to ensure that both men AND women are included in clinical trials… because how on earth can women’s bodies respond differently to drugs and treatments than men’s?

Yep, women are screwed. And women of color are even more screwed in the world. And this is 2020.

Recent observations of what is currently in high demand

Some things are predictable when it comes to pandemics: you know before it descends upon us that citizens across the world will freak out and panic buy items such as canned and dried goods, shelf-stable items, and toilet paper/paper products, but what about all the random items that you don’t necessarily think are necessities, but somehow have increased in purchases and general demand/inquiry? Here is a list of items I’ve seen across multiple news sources that have been a little surprising to me:

  1. Thermometers (I guess we all think we have the virus now, huh?)
  2. Raw chicken (boneless chicken, particularly breasts, and mince make sense, but even whole! Whole chickens never sell out.. until now!)
  3. Dried beans (but even more peculiar are the heirloom varieties run by small family businesses across the country)
  4. Flour (the gluten-free fad totally bites the dust when a pandemic happens…)
  5. SOURDOUGH STARTER – bakeries and sourdough starter companies that have 50-100-year old starters are reaching their peak demand!! I guess I wasn’t that original in wanting to use this time to begin my sourdough journey)
  6. Live chicks / hens: People suddenly think they want to self-provide food by raising hens to lay eggs for them to eat, not to mention have their own mini farms. Do these people have ANY idea what they are getting into? Do they even have the proper space/conditions for this to not kill the chicks…?!)

Western Beef visit

When you are living a life of quarantine where everyone is staying indoors and non-essential businesses are closed, the weekends don’t really feel that exciting. The only better part about the weekend vs. the weekdays is that you don’t have official work or work calls and meetings, and that you don’t have to be in front of a computer throughout the day.

The most exciting thing we did today was leave the house to go to a grocery store that we’ve neglected to even enter for the last nearly three years of living here, Western Beef. It’s a nondescript grocery store with all its windows covered about three blocks away from us. I always thought it was a sketchy butcher shop until our handyman strongly suggested we go there to avoid the lines of Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, so we went. It had a decent selection of fresh meat and fruit/vegetables at reasonable price points, and they also had a good selection of Jamaican and Dominican products. I was pleasantly surprised to see produce being sold like yucca, plantains, and aloe vera leaves. This definitely was not like Trader Joe’s or Morton Williams.

And the most exciting thing I did at home? I finally checked off Peruvian roast chicken with spicy green sauce off my “to make” list. It came out really well with perfectly juicy white and dark meat, and the green sauce tasted just like at Pio Pio and other Peruvian restaurants I’ve been to in the city. This is definitely a keeper recipe.

Video chatting about… nothing?

We were on video chat with Chris’s cousins this evening, and we talked about everything from Coronavirus to Coronavirus to Coronavirus, and then about bananas, lack of flour, sugar, and basic pantry staples at the supermarkets, to the alcohol supplies in our respective apartments. His cousin exclaimed: “See! This is what our conversations are now about, going through each others’ pantries. This is what we have resorted to. In our usual catch ups, we would be discussing work, work travel, holidays… but there’s none of that now! No one is traveling! There’s no FOMO (fear of missing out) to be had!”

That actually is all at once comforting and depressing. We’re not alone, right? We’re all alone together, stuck in our apartments and homes to entertain ourselves however we can — no trips planned for business or pleasure, no outings to restaurants, theaters, or to catch up with friends anytime in the foreseeable future. Every single one of our lives is being restricted. But I suppose we are the lucky ones; none of us have the virus or are taking care of someone who does. None of us are on the front lines, taking care of patients and thus putting ourselves at risk for COVID-19. We are extremely fortunate in our locked up states.

I will say, though, that one area of potential FOMO is what each other is eating. I was recently looking over some Facebook posts from people I know, and their lunches and dinners, to be quite frank, looked quite depressing. I’m very fortunate and privileged to have so many grocery stores around me (well, they have their queues to get in, but what can you do?), plus an extremely well rounded stock of food across our pantry, fridge, and freezer. We have many interesting meals lined up with all my recipe testing going on. My kitchen, if it were a real person, would be overwhelmed with how much attention I’m currently lavishing on it.

Vegan lemon coconut loaf

After visiting Vancouver for the second time in August 2018 for a friend’s wedding, I was inspired by the plant-based food scene that Vancouver offers and was particularly impressed with a place near my hotel called the Juice Truck. It was a little cafe, and without even realizing it when I walked it, was 100 percent plant-based. I ordered a toasted chickpea Caesar salad (which I still think about to this day because it was that well put together and delicious) and a slice of their vegan lemon coconut loaf, made by a vegan food company owned by Erin Ireland, a vegan chef in the area. With one bite of that loaf, I was completely in love and shocked that there were zero eggs and no butter in it. It was packed with flavor, super moist, and just delicious all around.

Erin Ireland doesn’t make her recipes publicly known, so based on the ingredients list on the packet, I took a photo of it to remember what she used and was determined to recreate a version of this at home. Well, a year and a half later, I finally tried this out today, and I’m proud to say that I’ve come quite close to replicating it. The crumb is not as firm as I’d like, but I hope it will firm up overnight, but the flavor is almost what I remember it to be. Plant-based cooking and baking definitely requires a bit more thought, but it has lots of promise when you have fresh, vibrant ingredients like fresh lemons, coconut milk, coconut oil, millet, and poppy seeds.

Four year anniversary

Four years ago today, Chris and I vowed to spend our lives together in front of our closest family and friends at a museum atop a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The weather was perfect and warm, and the ocean was crystal clear. Four years later, we are on lockdown with no foreseeable end, helplessly watching a virus that is permeating and slowly infecting and killing our fellow humans, stuck in our one-bedroom apartment, taking turns between the living/dining area and the bedroom with our customer and internal work calls and meetings. We’re leaving the apartment only for runs and walks in the park and to buy groceries. This is as close as we are going to get to being “hip to hip” and inseparable.

You never really think that in your lifetime, when you vow “forever” with anyone that you would be stuck with this person for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without seeing pretty much anyone else. That’s not really what people sign up for when they agree to marry or coexist with a partner. But that’s what is happening. I am joining calls with customers and colleagues, complaining about their spouses, their children, being confined to a small space for who knows how long. This a trying time for many in that regard. But, I do hope we emerge stronger for this and more grateful as human beings for the literal luxuries in life that we seem to take for granted: the ability to see a friend for coffee or lunch freely, the ability to go to the gym and workout with tons of space, sitting down and enjoying a meal at a restaurant. We are not free to do any of those things right now. These luxuries are not part of our current reality. Who knows when we will get them back?

Life events postponed

The governor of Hawaii is requiring a 14-day mandatory quarantine for anyone from mainland U.S. who comes to their island state. I knew the news would be bad for my friends who were planning a wedding the first week of May, but it was so sad to get their official message stating that their wedding would be postponed until next year due to the Coronavirus. As someone who has gone through the major efforts of planning a wedding, I realize how heartbreaking and painful all of this could be. This was truly out of everyone’s control, and nothing could have been helped in this situation.

This lockdown is affecting so many people in other ways: weddings, funerals where no one can attend, family reunions, births where the partner cannot be there in the delivery room. And on an even more depressing note, it’s scary to think of all the children and spouses who live in abusive environments whose lives are even more endangered with these lockdowns. What about those who live alone and suffer from depression? This will be particularly trying for them. It’s sad to see the effect this is having on literally everyone.

Recipe backlog

As someone who spends most of her day about food – what to make and what to eat, I have had to keep things interesting in the kitchen to avoid becoming bored or depressed with our lockdown. I finally went through the dozens and dozens of recipe links that I had bookmarked over the years and pulled out ones that I had been procrastinating on but had always piqued my interest. Today’s was “Hua Juan” or Chinese scallion “flower twist” steamed buns. I’d always loved eating these from Chinese bakeries growing up, and I didn’t even realize how simple they were to make until I found an article about them on Food52 years ago. I took out my remaining three packets of dry-active yeast. I tested the first packet, and the yeast was unfortunately dead. The second packet was thankfully still alive, so I used that to make these delicious and simple bao as part of our dinner tonight. The dough is pillowy and soft. It felt like a little dream in my hands as I lightly kneaded it today. The glaze was simple and easy to make, and creating the “flower twist” part was so much fun. I let them rise twice, steamed them in 12 minutes, and the result was the softest, airiest, most pillowy little baos I’ve ever made.

As I photographed them this evening and ate them, I gloated in my success in making them so easily without any problems. I also regretted waiting this long to make them, but hey, at least this pandemic has spurred me into action in this bread making realm!

Queuing up to enter a grocery store

This is our new normal. We’re now going to grocery stores like Morton Williams, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s, but this time, in order to get in, we need to queue up to enter, as the stores are restricting the number of people inside at any one time. Seniors and those with disabilities have a special hour before the official opening hours to enter and shop, and then the rest of us can go in. The terrible part about the special treatment for seniors is… what if a senior is just physically unable to go to the store at all and needs someone to buy groceries and supplies for them? Well, their helper/grocery-fetcher has to wait in line with the rest of us. It’s sad but true.

We arrived at Whole Foods about 20 minutes after they opened, and we waited in a short line. People fought and got angry with each other for not maintaining the 6-feet social distance that is being recommended. Others were incredulous passing by, asking if this was “really” the line to enter Whole Foods. All of Time Warner Center is closed now given it’s all retail shops, with the exception of this grocery store.

We bought nearly $100 worth of groceries, which is far more than we’d spend in a typical week, and went home. We have a good amount of supplies and food at home, but it’s better to buy a little more than what we need to ensure we can lessen the number of trips out.

I’m wondering how long this will last. It was a bleak experience in the store today, far bleaker than any other grocery trip has ever been.