I couldn’t help but notice that Covid-19 is even worse than cancer for stoking our obsession with numbers. How many new cases? How many compared to yesterday? Compared to other places? How many recovered? How long does it last? When will it end?
Is this focus on numbers helpful? Is it healthy? Or is it a destructive addiction, adding stress to our lives?
We (admittedly meaning “I”) depend on and obsess over numbers 24/7/365. Can you imagine even just one day without being interested in, concerned about, or at least peripherally aware of them? Is there a way to live off the numbers grid for even just one 24-hour period?
Rather than exploring this intellectually, I will illustrate the concept by chronicling a typical exciting day at home in the life of a 70-year old retired I.T. guy and cancer survivor (me) … living by the numbers. I want to be complete, so this excruciatingly detailed play-by-play will include a bit of slightly techy stuff that only tech-nerds like me care about, so forgive me: I am indeed one of them.
So sit back, relax, grab a 12 ounce can of zero-calorie Coke, and let the day’s countdown begin.
The day begins
Still in bed, I wake up in the dark, glance at the clock, and see that it’s 4:07 a.m. Why did I wake up, my half-functioning brain wonders? Bladder full? I don’t think I really have to empty my bladder, but I could and maybe I should. What would be the point of going back to sleep, just to wake up again around 6:00 with a more urgent need just one hour before my alarm at 7:00? At that point it wouldn’t be worth going back to sleep for mere minutes more of shuteye. But then again, maybe I could fall back asleep now and make it all the way to 7:00, avoiding a needless inconvenient trip to the bathroom. It’s a complicated calculation.
Before reaching a decision, I do drift into some level of sleep after an unknown amount of time devoted to pondering the options. When I awaken again, I look at my cell phone acting as a bedside clock, and see that it’s 6:57a.m. A quick automatic computation determines that my internal clock has awakened me an efficient 3 minutes ahead of schedule, allowing me to get up now and avoid hearing my annoying alarm. Good for me!
It’s off to the races.
First things first, and it’s off to the bathroom where I’m pleasantly rewarded with a steady stream lasting easily over a minute, partly a result of forgoing the 4:07 optional pit stop. Hopefully, this was enough to drop at least a pound of body weight before I get on the scale. Preparing for bad news and hoping for good, I hop on my new Wyze digital scale to see my weight and body fat. I’ll keep the numbers to myself. Not thrilling, nor devastating.
“Now Ron,” the voice in my head says, “don’t forget to take your pills.” 180mg of this, 40mg of that, here a pill, there a pill, pills pills everywhere. Line them up, grab them all in one hand—and yes, I can still do this—down them all at once with one good gulp of water. I am a pill-taking machine.
Next, I fire up my Sonicare toothbrush for a 2-minute session of automated precision tooth-brushing time, 30 seconds per quadrant. While brushing, I glance at the wireless outdoor temperature gauge sitting on the bathroom counter. It’s already 75 degrees with a humidity of 95%. It’s going to be a hot, miserable mid-July cooker. Good thing I’m retired.
I throw on some clothes, pocket my cell phone, head to the kitchen, fill my digital kettle and set it for 212 degrees—boiling. While I wait, I give my almost 16-year old dog Baxter his 12-hour pill to prevent seizures, which thankfully works great. We then head outside for his first morning pee, which is a good one—about 30 seconds. He’ll have many more quick ones throughout the day, but who’s counting? The first one is the best and most important. We are alike in so many ways.
I glance at the kettle and see that it has reached 183 degrees. I pop a Thomas Cinnamon Raisin English muffin into the toaster at the maximum crispness setting of 8. Next, I grab my 22 ounce thermal coffee mug, place it on my el-cheapo digital scale, and fill it with 7 ounces of homemade cold brew coffee concentrate from the refrigerator. The kettle has now reached 212 and I add 14 ounces of boiling water to my mug for a total of 21 ounces, achieving my preferred water-to-cold brew ratio of 2 to 1. At that ratio, they combine to a perfect flavor and drinking temperature. Slap some Smucker’s Natural Peanut Butter with Honey (have you ever seen an un-natural peanut?) on the muffin, and carry my breakfast down the hall to my office.
Sitting at my desk with Baxter sideways in my lap draped over my left arm, I can use only my right hand. I can eat my muffin and drink my coffee, but I’m unable to type and can only use the mouse. So I click to speedtest.net to make sure the Internet and household WiFi are working well. Speedtest reveals a strong fiber signal over 900Mbps up/down, which still gives me a thrill after years of a barely usable 3Mbps DSL connection. WiFi is strong throughout the house, and my wife’s all-important laptop is reaching over 80Mbps up/down on the 5Ghz band. We are cooking with gas!
Then, feeling the need for more detailed weather information, I click to the Dark Sky website and learn that although the actual temperature has now reached 84 degrees, it feels like 91! I am suddenly concerned about whether the AC is keeping me cool at my desk. Better pick up my cell phone and check the thermostat app, which shows a comfortable and reassuring 74 degrees. Good. What about rain? Dark Sky gives a 30 percent chance of a thunderstorm around 2:00 p.m., but clear skies tomorrow. I’ll delay my Home Depot excursion until then.
Baxter reaches his self-imposed 3-minute laptime limit, jumps down, and I can now type. I check my email with two hands. There are a few dozen new messages in my inbox, including some daily news updates. The NY Times daily update enumerates that coronavirus cases are rising in 40 states, with more than 3,722,200 people in the U.S. infected and at least 139,955 deaths, and that our country has a seven-day average of 65,790 new cases a day. How about those chilling numbers! Fact-checking this is impossible, but even if the truth is half what they report, it’s still pretty bad.
Checking my email, I see several prostate cancer messages from some men I know and some I don’t. There is one from a newbie who found my email address and phone number on the proton ambassador list from University of Florida Health Proton Therapy Institute. He contacted me because I was diagnosed at age 60, and he is 62. He wonders how I’m doing 9 years post-proton and asks if I’d mind sharing my PSA and Gleason score at the time of diagnosis, and my current PSA level. I’m sure he also wants to know how many times a day I pee, but he’s too polite to ask.
His PSA question makes me wonder about mine, and how long it’ll be until my next semi-annual blood draw. Wow, just a couple months. Time flies! I don’t worry as much as I once did, but like nearly all of us, my stress level still increases as the day approaches. Such is life after prostate cancer.
In contrast, Baxter’s stress level seems under control. While I have been drowning in numbers of all kinds, he has been sleeping in his doggie bed in my doggie office, no doubt dreaming doggie dreams of younger days when he could outrun a deer. Ah, the good old days.
I finish responding to email and open my word processor to write … this. Microsoft Word says I have already written 1744 words in this article, as of this paragraph. According to hubspot.com, ” … the ideal blog post length should be 2,100-2,400 words.” Yikes. I’m not even close to the end of my chronicle, so I’ll either have to trim the fat from prior paragraphs or wrap it up faster.
In preparation for one of my favorite lunches, I begin preheating the oven to 450 degrees. Then I set my ancient Android tablet (still running Android
7.0) on the kitchen table, open the Kindle app to continue reading Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator (Gary Noesner). The author had his own numbers game, inherent in his job. How many hostages can we bring to safety, and how much time can I buy to save them? The Kindle app says I am in Chapter 10, on page 181 of 223, which is 80% of the way to the finish line. More importantly, it tells me to expect about 18 minutes of more reading to complete the chapter, and this is great news. I can finish eating just as I reach the end of the chapter. Perfect synchronization.
The oven beeps as it reaches 450, and I slide my TGI Fridays honey BBQ chicken wings and Green Giant cauliflower veggie tots into the oven. Fortunately, they require the same amount of cooking time at the same temperature, each with a flip at the halfway mark. How lucky! I tell my Google Nest Hub to set one timer for 9 minutes and another for 18 minutes.
With 9 minutes to kill before the flip, Baxter and I head outside for a romp around the house. Huh. It’s begun to drizzle, and it’s only around noon. This is disturbing because Dark Sky said it would rain at 2:00 p.m. Wondering if my eyes have deceived me, I grab my phone and check AccuWeather, which gives a near zero chance of rain today. I cross-check with a couple other weather apps and conclude none of them can predict the weather. Nevertheless, I will continue to use them regularly because I’m obsessed with the weather.
The 9-minute timer alerts me that it’s time to flip. I pause the 18-minute timer, now at the 9-minute mark, flip the food, and resume the remaining timer. I use the second half of the cooking time to concoct a splendid side salad of iceberg lettuce, Sugar Bomb tomatoes, a sprinkle of real bacon bits, and a drizzle of Kraft Thousand Island Dressing. Put a Diet Dr. Pepper in my favorite U. of Michigan koozie, put Baxter’s lunch in his bowl, and voila—the timer says it’s time to dig in. Life doesn’t get much better than this.
Movies and series
After lunch I’ll spend 50-60 minutes on the elliptical at an incline of 12 and resistance 11, hopefully burning away at least 500 calories of my decadent lunch. Then shower, make another trip outside with Baxter (the rain has stopped), and head back to my desk to do some writing and research, and to plan the rest of the day.
Lucy and I generally eat dinner in the living while watching a movie or an episode or two of our series du jour. While I am fairly forgiving of mediocre media, Lucy is not. She’ll give any movie just 15 minutes to engage her, and if it fails to do so she’s done with it. We therefore screen our viewing choices before giving them a chance. Prime Video’s 5-star system helps a little. Netflix doesn’t rate anything anymore. Instead, they give a personal percentage probability that Lucy and I will like it based on our thumbs up/down ratings of other stuff. Meh.
The real number nerds of media are IMDB.com and RottenTomatoes.com. If you’re feeling imprisoned by the current pandemic and think Shawshank Redemption might be relevant, remember to check those numbers first. Good news! IMDB gives it 9.3/10 star rating based on input from 2,265,597 users. Not too shabby. IMDB lets us dig deeper with a ratings breakdown (55.3% gave it 10 stars) and a dive into the demographics by age and gender. But Lucy relies more on RottenTomatoes, where we find an Audience Score of 98% based on 886,304 users, but only a 90% score from critics. Overall, this movie looks like a safe bet, but you can’t be too careful. The first 15 minutes better be good.
The rest of the day
Right after I take a look at how the Dow Jones average and NASDAQ index are doing midday I’ll …
Ah, never mind. I’ll spare you the details of the rest of the day because I’ve reached the optimal blog post word limit. Hopefully I’ve made my point because I’ve already removed some detail. For example, I failed to mention how many trips to the bathroom it took to process my 22 ounces of coffee. But who’s counting? Well, I am because I could get a call from a nurse at any time asking me for that very number.
Does our numbers neurosis add to our stress? Or does it provide calming reassurance?
Think about your day and ask yourself whether you are also drowning in numbers. They’re everywhere, and even when we don’t have specific numbers we resort to endless numeric comparisons. More/less, increasing/decreasing, bigger/smaller, higher/lower, etc. And fasten your seatbelt because when the next election is upon us—or any election—the numbers are going to start flying fast and furiously.
When all is said and done, what’s the verdict? Does our numbers neurosis add to our stress? Or does it provide calming reassurance? Perhaps it’s a little of each.
So I ask again: In today’s world Is it even possible to live a single digitless day? Maybe. I’d give it about a 2 out of 10 chance.
Whew. Exactly 2,301 words. Just under the wire.
Okay, your turn. Distract me from my numbers and tell me about yours.