Pandemic Journal, Day 624

For the past week or so, Facebook has not been letting me tag Diane in the postings I make there (especially those pointing to the blog), at least not from either Mac (it fails from Safari, Chrome, and Firefox, too!). She doesn’t even show up in the list of people it suggests, and neither she nor her namesake in England show up if I search for her. But I can tag her from my phone. Go figure.

We took another step towards induction-cooking bliss today; our new cookware arrived (Circulon from Costco, suggested by our friend Sam). We used a couple of pieces, both on our little induction cooker and on our conventional stovetop, and they seem fine so far. We spent a good part of the evening preparing the non-induction pots and pans for donation – I’m going to wait until we get the new cooktop to actually donate them, though.

Pandemic Journal, Day 623

I just finished chairing the Shir Hadash Ritual Committee meeting – it’s a collegial group and we stay focused and get through the agenda. But even with a good group and a solid agenda, a nearly two-hour meeting takes a lot of energy – and now I have to take my notes and turn them into comprehensible minutes.

Perhaps I’ll have more to write about tomorrow. Or more energy. Or both.

Pandemic Journal, Day 622

We saw Native Gardens at City Lights Theatre this afternoon. It’s a timely story about what happens when new neighbors with new ideas move into an old neighborhood; the cast was excellent and the set was amazing. If you’re in the South Bay, I recommend going; if you’re not ready to go to the theatre in person yet or aren’t local, they plan to make a recorded version available soon.

This evening was the first night of Hanukkah; we celebrated by having a Chicken Tikka pizza from Curry Pizza House. That wasn’t our original plan for dinner, but the chicken thighs I’d bought to make Sheet Pan Cilantro Chicken with Kale hadn’t defrosted enough to marinate by the time we left for the theatre, so we’ll have that tomorrow.

Because it was the first night of Hanukkah, we added the Shehecheyanu blessing to the candle-lighting. The Shehecheyanu is said in commemoration of something good which happens infrequently, such as the first night of a festival. I had another reason to say it tonight – I had my first piece of Trader Joe’s Peppermint Bark of the season. 😋

Happy Hanukkah!

Pandemic Journal, Day 621

We had a quiet Shabbat; I was surprised and pleased that we had 15 people at services on Zoom this morning.

This evening, I imported the photos and videos of the monarch butterflies that I’d taken with my big camera. Some of the still shots with the big camera were nice – being able to zoom in helps.

Many of the videos were unwatchable because of camera shake (I didn’t have a tripod). I am really impressed with how well the iPhone 13 Pro does image stabilization! I tried stabilizing one video with iMovie, and it helped, but it’s still a bit shaky.

It’s good to practice before going to Africa next year (I hope).

Pandemic Journal, Day 620

Lance Milbrand is one of the members of the Silver Tongued Cats Toastmasters Club. He’s also a very talented nature videographer; last week, he sent the club a short video he’d taken at the Pacific Grove Monarch Sanctuary. It was beautiful and inspired us go to there today.

Traffic was not kind; the trip took nearly two hours each way. But it was worth it to see the butterflies with our own eyes (and with binoculars, which I highly recommend), as well as to take some photos and video. My video isn’t as good as Lance’s, but here it is!

Pandemic Journal, Day 619

This morning, I got a text from an unknown number (always a bad sign), saying “For instructions:” and a URL that looked like (and was) a real Google Forms URL.

I was pretty sure that it was a scam, but I had just registered with a new health provider yesterday, so there was a small chance it was legit and the first message had gotten lost. I wasn’t going to visit the link on my phone, or even in a browser – instead, I opened a terminal session and used curl to get the actual contents of the form; doing it that way ensured that no JavaScript could execute.

The title of the form was “UNUSUAL LOGIN ATTEMPT FROM [IP:198.25.4.32] YOUR ACCOUNT IS LIMITED.” and the text was:

We need you to secure your account immediately to prevent any fraudulent activities for your safety. Please follow the steps indicated to verify your identity and gain back full access of your bank account.

Please continue here:

Security Department
CitiBank

I chose to stop my investigation there.

This evening, our friends Lindy and Daniel invited us for Thanksgiving dinner – it was a small gathering (6) with lots of delicious food. It gave me the excuse to make my chocolate pecan peppermint pie for the first time in quite a while. I usually make it with Mrs. Smith’s frozen pie crust, but Lunardi’s didn’t have any when I looked on Tuesday; fortunately, Whole Foods did have a non-larded frozen crust, and it worked just as well.

Pandemic Journal, Day 618

I’ve been a subscriber to The Economist for a long time, and I really enjoy their journalism and their writing. I looked forward to having the newspaper arrive every week, as well as being able to read the online edition if that was more convenient. But the last time I renewed, the price for digital-and-paper was substantially more than digital-only or paper-only, so I switched to digital-only.

And I almost stopped reading The Economist. Their iOS app blurred the distinction between issues, and it felt like just one more unending stream of information. I got several of their newsletters by email, and those often sent me to the app or the website to read a story, but that was about it.

Today, I finally got around to calling them to switch back to paper, only to discover that they no longer offer paper-only subscriptions; it’s pure digital or a combination. And the first person I spoke with told me that it would cost north of $300 to upgrade the remaining 2-1/2 years of my subscription to the combo.

Soon after that, I was talking to the cancellation department; the representative told me the same thing, but then said the magic words “let me see what I can do for you”. She came up with a deal that seemed to be too good to be true: go to the combo for three years starting today, use my existing subscription as credit, and I’d wind up with a $15 refund. Of course I said “yes”; she said I’d get an email confirming the change in a few minutes and we hung up.

By that time, it was warm enough for Diane and me to go on a long walk – 5K, in fact, so we could complete the virtual Turkey Trot for 2021. The T-shirts had arrived last week and we’d been waiting to wear them!

When we returned, I had an email from The Economist telling me that the price I’d been quoted was a mistake and telling me to call back if I wanted to do anything. So I called and went directly to the cancellation department – this time, the agent offered a more realistic deal: one year of the combo at the Black Friday sale price of $112.50 (50% of the normal price), paid for by my credit, with the remaining $100+ refunded. I said “yes”, and this time, the deal went through.

I should be getting the paper version again in time for the annual year-end double edition, which is always a delight to read.

Timing is everything. Happy Thanksgiving!

Pandemic Journal, Day 617

This morning, I awoke to the happy news that I’d been victorious in yesterday’s Learned League match, despite my best efforts to the contrary.

I knew three of the questions immediately (answers at the end of this post):

Q3: The “city” of Nuuk (technically an illoqarfik and formerly known as Godthåb) is the most populous city on what island?


Q4: Belfast-born physicist and mathematician William Thomson, who is widely credited with clarifying the thermodynamic concept of absolute zero and determining its correct value, was elevated to the peerage in 1892, becoming 1st Baron what?


Q5: What was the last name of the patriarch and self-made millionaire who was the first chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission in 1934, chair of the powerful US Maritime Commission in 1937, and the US Ambassador to the United Kingdom in 1938?


The other three were less obvious to me.

Q1: H.R.3684, a $1 trillion bill that was passed by the 117th Congress after a bipartisan vote in the US House of Representatives on November 5, 2021, is officially known as the [REDACTED] Investment and Jobs Act. What word has been redacted?

My thought process here was straightforward: that’s the infrastructure bill; it’s part of the recovery effort, so, of course, it’s going to be named the American Investment and Jobs Act, to match the American Rescue Plan Act.


Q2: One of 20th-century author Mohammad-Ali Jamalzadeh’s first successful short stories—a genre in which he is regarded as a master—was titled “Farsi shakar ast”, which translates to English as “_____ is Sugar” (fill in the blank).

I had no idea on this one at first; I knew “Farsi” was the language spoken in Iran (Persia), but that seemed too obvious. Then I noticed “regarded as a master” and used that as a springboard to my answer: Chess.


The last question puzzled me at first until the pattern jumped out at me:

Q6: Rebecca Rabbit, Suzy Sheep, and Danny Dog are among the close friends of what cheeky animated British ungulate? (Full name required.)

I was surprised that my opponent missed that one, since he lives in England. I’ve never seen the show in question, but I’d seen it mentioned online, and that was enough to give me the answer and the match. I’ve been near the bottom of my Rundle all season, flirting with the relegation line, so every victory is crucial. Thanks, Peppa Pig (and thanks to ChrisTheDude at English Wikipedia for the photo)!

Answers:

Q1: Infrastructure (duh!)
Q2: Persian (duh!)
Q3: Greenland
Q4: Kelvin
Q5: Kennedy (asked on November 22!)
Q6: Peppa Pig

Pandemic Journal, Day 616

I spent most of the day editing videos for the speech I gave tonight at the Silicon Valley Storytellers – I used excerpts from Galaxy Quest as the basis for a “humorous keynote speech” talking about some lessons on behavior one could learn from the movie.

The meeting started at 7, and I was still futzing with videos at 6 – I wanted to show multiple clips with just a few seconds of black screen between, but when I used QuickTime Player to put them together, I found that the audio vanished after the first inserted black segment. I didn’t have time to debug the problem; instead, I decided to go in and out of screen share mode in Zoom between clips – this was distracting to the audience, and made me spend far too much time looking down at the keyboard instead of at the camera.

My timing was off, too (partially because the transitions between segments and speaking took longer than I’d expected, but mostly because I hadn’t completely written the speech), so I didn’t have time to provide a proper summary at the end.

Despite all that, the speech got a pretty good reception – I was the only speaker, so everyone had a chance to give me a verbal evaluation, unlike the usual Toastmasters pattern of one verbal evaluator per speech.

Lessons learned: don’t let the tech take over; pay more attention to the actual speech objectives; never give up, never surrender!

Pandemic Journal, Day 615

I finally finished extracting all of the clips I need for my speech tomorrow. I wanted to avoid using the “Share Screen” option in Zoom, so I planned to use Open Broadcast Studio and set up a scene which would just show me, and another scene which would show a clip; I could fade between them and it would look professional.

I got the video to work easily, but I spent a long time trying to get the audio under control and failed; I even installed a virtual audio router but had no success – I couldn’t get the audio from the clip into Zoom, even though OBS showed that input as active.

I finally gave up, which is ironic since I’m using clips from Galaxy Quest!

Pandemic Journal, Day 614

A few days ago, I wrote about optimizing the process of extracting short segments from a video file to avoid having to copy the entire source video. My improvement was simple, elegant, and wrong – when I looked at the video I created, it didn’t start where I expected; it started and ended early every time. I “fixed” the problem by telling the program to add a little time at the end and by using QuickTime to trim the video by hand, but that seemed silly.

Today I figured out the problem. I’d assumed that when I told ffmpeg to extract a piece of video starting at a particular time, it would do that – but it can’t. It has to back up to the most recent “key frame” in the video, so the starting point will be a little earlier than specified, which threw off the rest of the calculations in the script and gave me a trimmed video that started and ended too early.

So in the end, I wound up writing unnecessary (and ugly) code that did more processing than necessary to extract a clip that I still had to edit manually anyway.

Premature optimization is the root of all evil.

Pandemic Journal, Day 613

I got a message from the Post Office around 8am, telling me that the coffee they didn’t deliver yesterday (“at customer request”) was out for delivery again – and it arrived around 2:30pm. I opened the box to make sure it was what I’d ordered and put it away; I won’t need it for at least a week.

I’d also ordered bagels from New Yorker Bagels for this weekend – they ship FedEx Priority Express, so they were supposed to arrive before 1pm. But at 1pm, they were still “at FedEx location” – but they arrived just before 4pm, in plenty of time for lunch tomorrow.

And I found that I can use QuickTime Player to trim video clips, which means I don’t have to specify precise timing when I run the script I talked about on Wednesday to clip a piece of video from a movie. Trimming a second or two from a 30-second clip is easy in QuickTime; using it to pull a short segment out of a longer video would be much more finicky.

613 days…that’s one per mitzvah. Hard to believe!

Shabbat Shalom!

Pandemic Journal, Day 612

I’ve been ordering coffee from Doka Estate in Costa Rica ever since we visited them last February. The coffee is fresh and good, the pricing is reasonable, and delivery is quick – usually about a week from order to receipt. And it brings back nice memories every time I drink it.

I sent them an order to replenish my supply when I got home from Boston. The first notice I got from the Post Office said it would arrive next Monday. Then I got another notice saying it was in San Jose and I’d get it tomorrow. This morning, the Post Office said it was “out for delivery” and I should expect it today. And this evening, they claimed it had been held at my Post Office “at customer request”, which surprised the customer!

I guess I have a trip to the Post Office in my near future.

Pandemic Journal, Day 611

I spent most of the day working on a talk for Toastmasters; I want to illustrate it with short clips from a movie. There must be an easy way to mark two points in a MP4 file while you’re watching it and copy what’s between them into a new file, but I couldn’t find one – what I did find was this page which had shell scripts that did some computation, then called ffmpeg to perform the actual extraction. The scripts worked as advertised, but I wanted to make two improvements.

The first was to be able to supply sub-second timestamps for clipping; Bash can’t do decimal arithmetic, but the bc command can, and that was an easy change to make.

The other improvement I wanted to make was to avoid having to make a full copy of the source file with “key frames” added at the exact points I wanted to start and end the clip with. The original author was working with short files, but I was working with a full movie that was nearly 2GB in size – making a copy of such a file takes a while, even on a fast machine with an SSD.

I thought about it and came up with a workaround. I extracted a few seconds more than I wanted (without having to add key frames); then I put key frames in at the right points in the extracted video (which required copying it, but only a 10-15MB file, not multiple gigabytes); finally, I extracted the exact part I wanted.

This was easy, but it required multiple calls to bc to do the calculations. And I needed logic in shell script, which is not my strong suit. But I eventually beat it into submission, and it seems to work.

I realized afterwards that it would have been easy to write a short Python program to do the calculations and write out the exact commands I’d need – and there’d be a much better chance of understanding it if I ever had to modify it. But unless I run into yet another problem, I’m going to leave the code alone.

Having elegant code is nice, but going to sleep is better.

Pandemic Journal, Day 610

I was walking to the doctor about three weeks ago, enjoying the beautiful weather and the scenery – until I tripped over a discontinuity in the sidewalk and fell down hard enough that my watch wanted to call 911. I was mostly OK (though my pants didn’t survive the experience), so I picked myself up and continued on my way.

While we were visiting our son Jeff in Boston last week, we saw a dead rat in the Public Garden. Jeff stopped and took a picture, then he fired up Boston’s 311 app and reported it – the rat was removed the same day (and they told him they’d done so). I was impressed.

Today, Diane had to go to the same doctor I visited three weeks ago. We had to be out of the house this morning, so we walked there together. She asked me to point out where I’d fallen so she could avoid it on future visits. When we got there, I saw that the sidewalk hadn’t been repaired and was still a danger; I thought about Jeff and looked for a San Jose 311 app. I installed it and reported the problem, complete with picture.

I got a response within hours, telling me that my request was being forwarded to the city Department of Transportation. Not quite what I was hoping for, but maybe it’s a first step.

Pandemic Journal, Day 609

If it weren’t for the honor of the thing, I’d skip writing anything today – it’s been busy and I’m exhausted.

The high point of the day was lunch with our friends at Eric’s Deli Cafe. The food was, well, it was Erik’s – we’ve been going there for more than 35 years, and it hasn’t changed much in that time. Good, filling, and simple. But seeing our friends in person instead of on-screen was a nice change!

I decided to resume ripping my DVDs to put them on my Plex server, so I spent a lot of the day fighting Handbrake. So far, even though I’ve installed libdvdcss according to the best instructions I’ve found, Handbrake doesn’t see it, so I have to use MakeMKV to actually rip the DVDs. And I haven’t been able to get subtitles properly included in the MP4 files that Handbrake creates. The good news is that using my M1 Mac mini to do the conversion to MP4 is fast – if I use “Super HQ” mode, it converts at 4x speed; if I use “Fast” mode, it converts at 12x speed. I’m hoping to figure out what’s up with the subtitles tomorrow when I’m awake!

Pandemic Journal, Day 608

We attended a Mensa event this afternoon: “An Afternoon of Language and Laughter with Richard Lederer”. I’ve been reading Lederer’s columns for years, mostly in the Mensa Bulletin, but I’ve also seen him in Toastmasters Magazine, the AARP Magazine, and probably elsewhere; this was the first time I’d had the chance to hear him live.

The session was a lot of fun (if a bit disorganized); he divided it into three acts, with Q&A between. It will be on San Francisco Mensa’s YouTube channel sometime soon. I found that he’d given a presentation on Fascinating Facts about Our Presidents last year, and I’m looking forward to watching it.

I had to dig through some of my files last week to figure out when we’d had the electrical and plumbing systems upgraded; it wasn’t easy. The drawers were stuffed, and the folders weren’t well-labeled. I did find what I needed, but I had to pull out all of the folders having to do with the house in the process.

Today, I spent the time to put those folders in better order; I also got rid of paperwork that I didn’t have to keep (like repair orders for the roof we replaced years ago). While I was at it, I looked through some of the other files in the same drawer and realized I didn’t really have to keep my Windows XP install disk any more!

Pandemic Journal, Day 607

The highlight of the day was visiting two of our favorite wineries to pick up the current releases. We started at Silver Mountain, where we picked up the 2015 and 2016 Sonnet Pinot Noir Black Ridge Vineyard as part of our shipment, and also took advantage of the trio special to acquire more Alloy, Spencer’s Choice, and Syrah.

After that, we went to Burrell School and picked up a Chardonnay, a Cabernet Sauvignon, and their top wine, Valedictorian.

We could have picked up our release at Silvertip, too, but they were still being extra-cautious due to Covid and were doing a no-contact pickup with no tasting; I decided it was the better part of valor to let FedEx deliver the wine later this week.

After we got home, we took a twilight walk and enjoyed the sunset.

Not a bad way to spend a Saturday, not at all!

Pandemic Journal, Day 606

We went to Costco today – I had a prescription to fill, and it was by far the cheapest place to do it. While I waited for them to confirm the price, of course we shopped; one of the things we were looking for was induction-compatible cookware, especially saucepans.

None of the cookware on the shelves was induction-compatible, but Hexclad was in the warehouse for a “special event.” Their cookware was clearly labeled as induction-compatible and non-stick, so we let the demonstrator show it to us. It looked good – he cooked an omelet with just a little oil and showed us how he could use a metal spatula without harm. But he didn’t have any saucepans (he’d sold out), and we didn’t really need any more skillets. So we left empty-handed, but with a link to their website to find out more.

Unsurprisingly, the website made the cookware look even better than the demonstrator did. But I did a little more research and found a Hexclad review from The Rational Kitchen. I’d run into The Rational Kitchen when we were deciding on a cooktop (which isn’t here yet!) and I liked the way they went into detail and explained things; they did the same thing here.

One of their observations was that you (we) probably don’t need non-stick saucepans. Considering we mostly make rice and pasta in ours, that’s probably true – and that means Hexclad isn’t a great fit for our needs, so I’m glad they didn’t have it in the warehouse today!

Pandemic Journal, Day 605

It was a typical Thursday, starting with Toastmasters and ending with our Trivial Zoom call.

That was about the extent of the excitement today – yes, we went shopping, and yes, I was able to do seat selection for our Portugal trip next year, but that’s pretty much it.

Oh, wait – the furnace turned on this morning for the first time this season – I knew there was something unusual about today!

Pandemic Journal, Day 604

Jet lag may have worked in our favor this morning – we had a training session at the JCC at 7:30am, but it was easy to get up early enough to make it! Being in bed by 10pm last night might have helped, too.

We think we booked our flights for our Douro River cruise next year – we’re booking the air through the cruise line, which means that there’s a lag between their offering us an itinerary and our being able to accept it. Normally, that’s not a problem, but lots of people seem to be planning travel – twice, we found out that the fare they were offering had sold out by the time we accepted it. The third time seems to have been the charm, though; the credit card got charged. Our Travel Agent is in Europe, so it’ll be tomorrow before we get the final confirmation from him, but it looks promising.

And Subaru sent me a “not a recall” notice today. Apparently, there’s a problem that can keep you from being able to remove the key from the lock in certain rare circumstances; they’ll fix it for free for eight years after buying the car. All well and good. Except that my car has keyless ignition, so there’s no chance of having the key stuck in the lock; it never leaves my pocket. The notice had the correct VIN for my car; you’d think their system would know that there isn’t a key to get stuck, right?

Pandemic Journal, Day 603

We flew home on United; it was the first time I’d flown them in quite a while (even pre-pandemic). We were in First Class, so we were in Boarding Group 1. I was amused that there were five “pre-boarding” groups called before Group 1! United has only recently started serving hot meals in domestic First Class; they had the same choices on both legs, a chicken breast meal or an vegetarian ragu. We tried one on each leg; I slightly preferred the chicken, but they were both acceptable.

The flights were unremarkable, uneventful, and arrived early. I even got a view of Mono Lake.

All in all, a good day, though it doesn’t make for a very interesting blog entry!

Pandemic Journal, Day 602

It’s nice having a Boston local as a guide. Today, Jeff suggested something that I thought was far too much of a tourist trap to consider when I saw it on business trips – no, not the “Cheers Pub”, but The Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum. It was a lot of fun; we started with a mini Town Meeting to discuss the Tea Problem, then threw cases of tea off the ship, watched a holographic history show, and finished at Abigail’s Tea Room, where we had scones and all the tea we could drink (five varieties, all of which had been thrown into the Harbor in 1773). Yes, it is touristy, but it’s done well – I’d go back in a couple of years.

After the tea and scones, we needed some exercise before lunch, so we walked back to the hotel; lunch was at Bon Me on Stuart Street. It was OK, but not thrilling.

We then went to the Mapparium; Diane and I had been there a few years ago, but they’d changed the narration. Of course, they hadn’t changed the globe itself – it still shows the world in 1935. Seeing the globe from the inside and at large scale is an interesting experience, too. The Mapparium is now part of a bigger exhibit, but we didn’t have time to see the rest of it on this trip.

Instead, we walked over to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and spent the rest of the afternoon there. None of us had been there before, and we barely had time to visit all of the rooms before the museum closed at 5pm. The place is crammed full of art – all acquired by Isabella herself (her will specified that no art should be acquired or disposed of after her death). She didn’t put labels on the artwork, and the trustees have continued that practice, which meant that I needed to look at my phone a lot if I wanted to know what I was seeing – on the other hand, it made it easier to concentrate on the art if I wanted to do that. The museum reminded me of the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia – quirky and a reflection of the founder.

Our friend Lindy had recommended we eat at Riccardo’s in the North End, so that was where we went for dinner – she was right. The food was good, the service friendly and well-paced, and Diane and I liked our martinis just fine.

We walked back to the Westin to drop off our coats, then we took a hike through Copley Place and Prudential Center to burn off some of dinner. We’ve been doing a lot of walking on this trip, but today was the high point; I have just under 30,000 steps and Diane is not far behind.

Jeff has headed back to his place; he’s working tomorrow and we have a morning flight, so we won’t see him again on this trip (unless something odd happens like it did in August). sigh

Pandemic Journal, Day 601

Jeff suggested we go to Taza Chocolate today for a tasting and tour – and wouldn’t you know it, they also sold chocolate there, too!

The tour started in the Cocoa Classroom with tastes of three of their discs (cinnamon, guajillo chili, and vanilla) and a presentation on how they source and process their chocolate. We were encouraged to take notes on the chocolates, too.

They showed us the production rooms, but nothing was happening because it was Sunday; I took photos of the equipment, but they’re not exciting. We got to taste cocoa nibs (small quantities suffice), 100% cocoa chocolate (small quantities suffice), and three varieties of 70% cocoa chocolate (disk, bar, and couverture chocolate) – it was interesting to see how different the three varieties were because of their texture.

That concluded the formal part of the tasting, but then we were encouraged to try whatever looked interesting (and to buy what we liked). I didn’t take careful notes of what I tried, but I did come away with a bagful of bars and discs for later.

After that, we wanted to go to the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the Senate at UMass. Jeff had looked on Google to check their hours and address; we weren’t near the T, so we took a Lyft. The driver dropped us at the address, which was just inside the campus – we had to walk another ¾ mile to get to the Institute itself. It was closed – they’re only offering group tours, and only on weekdays. Jeff took a picture of the sign, submitted it as a correction to Google, and they’d updated their entry within two minutes – the next people will benefit from his diligence.

Jeff had brought his Boston walks book with him, and it had a walking route around Columbia Point, which is the site of the Institute, the JFK Library (only open for pre-booked tours), the Commonwealth Archives (not open today), and UMass itself. We took the walk and enjoyed the scenery.

We had a late lunch at McKenna’s Cafe, getting in just before they stopped taking orders for the day. From there, we took an Uber to the Museum of Fine Arts for the rest of the afternoon – we only had time for the Egyptian galleries, but that was well worth the price of admission (especially since we got one free ticket through Bank of America’s “Museums on Us” program!).

There was even a little Hebrew in the Egyptian gallery – the text for this seal is inscribed in Hebrew: “Belonging to Elyaqin, servant of the king.” If I squint VERY hard, I can sort of see מלך (“king”) on the bottom row, but I could well be wrong.

That late lunch meant we didn’t want a real dinner, so we went to Amorino again for gelato and macarons. Chocolate played a part, of course.

We ended the day by watching a very Boston movie, Good Will Hunting, again at Jeff’s suggestion. It didn’t compare to Boston Accent, but it tried.

Pandemic Journal, Day 600

We tried something different today – we rode the Blue Line, which mostly serves East Boston. Jeff says he’d never ridden it deliberately since moving here at the beginning of 2016, and I don’t think I’d ever been on it in my many trips to Boston.

Jeff had a book with various Boston walks; there were two in East Boston, and we took the one starting in Maverick Square.

The walk took us from Maverick Square to Lo Presti Park, part of the Harborwalk. The park had very nice views of Boston Harbor, including the USS Constitution, which we’d been on just three months earlier.

We continued along the Harborwalk – some of the sights in Jeff’s book were gone, replaced by modern apartments and condos taking advantage of the views.

Piers Park was a nice stop along the way – we visited its central pavilion, which talked about the various cultures who had contributed to the East Boston population.

Lunch was at Seabiscuit in the Boston Shipyard; they specialize in Aussie meat pies, which I enjoyed.

After lunch, we were faced with a choice – follow the tour in the book, which would involve hiking another ¾ mile to the Hyatt Regency and turning around there, or just going back to Maverick Square and taking the T elsewhere.

We bid an early farewell to East Boston and took the Blue Line to the Orange Line to the Red Line to Harvard, where we explored the Harvard Art Museums for an hour or so (I’d spent half of the ride looking at a poster from them!) before going to Jeff’s house for a small pizza party he and his housemates were hosting.

And then it was back to our hotel – I didn’t think I’d walked enough, so we took a grand tour of Copley Place and Prudential Center before calling it a night. I was surprised to find that the stores in the malls mostly closed at 7 or 8 – fortunately, all we wanted was a walk, so it didn’t matter. I bet they stayed open longer 600 days ago!

Pandemic Journal, Day 599

When we were here in August, we went to Lexington to explore the start of the Revolutionary War. We had hoped to get to Concord, too, but without a car, it was infeasible. So today, we rented a car (an advantage of going off-season) and drove out to Concord.

Our first stop was the North Bridge, the site of the Shot Heard Round The World.

We had a much easier time crossing it than the British did in 1775.

We strolled around the area, enjoying the statuary and the fall foliage.

We drove back to Concord for lunch and a walking tour – we were the only ones on the tour (another advantage to going off-season). The guide told us about the very early days of Concord, its Revolutionary history, the literary lights who were there in the 19th century, and we ended with a tour of the Old Hill Burying Ground. I was too busy listening to take photos, except a couple of the Monument to the Fallen of the War of the Rebellion (Civil War).

After the tour, we walked over to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery to visit some famous authors, including Henry David Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. I was amused that people left pencils on the graves!

We wanted to visit Walden Pond, but when we got there, we discovered that we’d have to pay $30 to park (because our rental car had out-of-state plates) and we’d only be able to stay for 30 minutes before the park closed for the day. Instead, we got a tiny glimpse of the pond for free as we left to return to Boston – you can even see a little of the water in the circled area of the photo!

I wouldn’t mind going back to Concord again – there were lots of sites that had closed for the winter, and we didn’t really spend a lot of time looking at the town.

Dinner was back in Boston at Bocolo – it’s like Chipotle, but local. Dessert was more interesting – we went to Amorino Gelato on Newbury Street. Diane and I had visited their Cannes location in May of 2015 – this one was just as good, and we’re likelier to come back.

Pandemic Journal, Day 598

We arrived at the Westin Copley Square a little after midnight; as promised, we had been upgraded to a “Studio Suite”. I’m not sure that it’s a real upgrade – the room is nice and big, but there’s a tiny closet and NO drawer space, so you can’t really unpack! Luckily, we use packing cubes, so we won’t have to be digging through our suitcases every day, but I have to wonder what the designers were thinking.

Jeff met us at the hotel after a late breakfast and we spent the day filling in gaps on the Freedom Trail.

We started at the Old State House; the exhibits were well-done and informative – I especially liked Reflecting Attucks, which put the life of Crispus Attucks into perspective and looked at how his story has been used over the years. The view from the Old State House wasn’t bad, either.

We had a late lunch at Falafel King – recommended!

Our next stop was the Old South Meeting House; again, the exhibits were very informative and engaging. The space itself was more interesting than the Old State House – it’s survived better, with pews still in a traditional configuration, so it was easy to put events into place in my mind.

After that, we walked to the Granary Burying Ground to look for the Boston Massacre grave marker (which, of course, includes Attucks), as well as Sam Adams, John Hancock, and much of Benjamin Franklin’s family.

We walked back to the hotel by way of the Common, the Public Garden, and the Commonwealth Avenue Mall. There wasn’t much to see in the Public Garden, but we did find one tree along Commonwealth Avenue that was exuberantly celebrating Fall.

We also took advantage of the late Thursday hours at the Boston Public Library to take a quick look at the art and architecture – here’s one of the many murals in the Abbey Room (formerly the Book Delivery Room), just as a sample.

We’d had a late breakfast and a late lunch, so none of us wanted much for dinner, but it seemed like a good idea to eat SOMETHING. There was an obvious answer – walk to JP Licks and have ice cream cones for dinner; problem solved!

Pandemic Journal, Day 597

We’re at SFO to fly to Boston and visit Jeff.

One of my credit cards includes a Priority Pass membership, which is mostly useful for lounge access, but at SFO, it also gives us a credit at the Lark Creek Grill – which made it the obvious place to have lunch before our flight. We each had lox and bagels with a sorbet chaser and it cost $8.42 plus tip, a real bargain!

SFO also has art exhibitions; the one across from the restaurant was Mathematics: Vintage and Modern. We didn’t have a lot of time to look at it, but I enjoyed seeing some of Cliff Stoll’s Klein bottle sculptures.

I also liked the vintage math toys – my favorite was the “Think-A-Tron” from Hasbro. I didn’t have one as a kid, but I do remember playing with it. Computers have come a long way since then!

Onward to Boston!

Pandemic Journal, Day 596

Today was another pretty quiet day – and then we got busy with packing, so I have nothing of significance to write about.

The neighbors who used skeletons to create very interesting tableaux on their lawn during the first year of the pandemic let them come out and play for Halloween. It was good to see Bones and Skully again!

Pandemic Journal, Day 595

Our trainer was on vacation today, but we went to the JCC anyway – it was our first time on the cardio machines since…well, you know. I can’t speak for Diane, but I was definitely out of practice and didn’t get into my usual rhythm. It felt good to get back onto the bike, and I actually felt virtuous about not letting our trainer’s absence stop us from exercising.

When we got home, I found an unsurprising email from Best Buy – they can’t deliver the cooktop on November 22, as planned – they gave us a new date of December 7. I won’t be surprised if that date slips, too, but I can hope….

And I finally got back to working on some photo editing – I’m now finished with our Iceland/Boston trip, just in time to head off to visit Jeff in Boston later this week and, I hope, take more photos there!

Pandemic Journal, Day 594

Both Diane and I seem to be over the side effects of our booster shots, and the Mac I upgraded to Monterey appears to have survived the experience (though I’ll wait a bit before I update the other machines, since they run applications I depend on).

We didn’t decorate for Halloween again this year, but we still got a few trick-or-treaters early in the evening – well, actually it was late in the afternoon, a few minutes before 6. I had candy on hand to give them, of course. One little girl (I’d guess she was about 4 and a half) asked if the candy had nuts or sesame because she was allergic – luckily, I had York Peppermint Patties instead of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, so she should be OK.

In honor of the holiday, we’re going to watch the original Ghostbusters – happy Halloween!

Pandemic Journal, Day 593

Some of our friends are really into Halloween, and they’ve invited us to their Halloween party every year for as long as I can remember. Except 2020, of course.

But this year, they revived the tradition, and we joined in the fun. There were ample quantities of wine, cheese, and chocolate, and people to talk with who we hadn’t seen for a very long time. Vaccines were a common subject of discussion, of course – but so were travel, drum kits, and wine.

We dressed as explorers of this brave new world.

Thanks, Wendy and David!

Pandemic Journal, Day 592

Both of us have sore arms tonight – and we’re pretty happy about it.

We went back to Valley Med this morning for our boosters. I was a little worried, because we weren’t able to get an appointment, but I needn’t have been – no one even asked us if we had an appointment, and the process ran smoothly. They gave us the choice of Moderna, Pfizer, or J&J. We decided to stick with Moderna, since we hadn’t had significant side effects from the first two shots. So far, so good this time, too – we’re both a little sore at the injection site, but that’s not a surprise.

This afternoon, we attended a Silicon Valley Shakespeare online event where the company leaders talked about how things had gone during the pandemic (PPP and Zoom to the rescue!) and what plans were afoot for 2022 (Romeo and Juliet in Willow Street Park in June, followed later in the summer by Measure for Measure and Sense and Sensibility in rep at Sanborn Park). They’re also planning to continue some online programming to broaden their reach. SVS has been a favorite since we discovered them a few years ago, and I’m looking forward to seeing them in person again.

Tonight’s dinner was a pandemic-era favorite, Spiced Chickpea Salad with Tahini and Pita Chips. The tahini sauce was very, very clumpy and thick tonight; I tried adding more water, but it wouldn’t absorb it. I found these hints – too late for tonight, but I’m sure we’ll make this recipe again.

Pandemic Journal, Day 591

It was a quiet Thursday. I was Toastmaster this morning at the Silver Tongued Cats; my choice of meeting theme was seasonally inspired: “Sweet or Scary?”

We finished a bottle of Port during our Trivial Zoom call and opened a new one – I was a little surprised at the difference in color, which gave me something to photograph, even if I didn’t have much to say about either bottle.

As I said, it was a quiet Thursday!

Pandemic Journal, Day 590

I was Storytelling Tip Master for the Silicon Valley Storytellers meeting on October 11th. The meeting theme was “A Wrinkle in Time”, and I wanted the tip of the day to have something to do with the book. I’d read the book in elementary school, but by the time the second book in the series was published, I was in college and not interested in YA books.

Luckily, we had a copy of the book that we’d bought for Jeff when he was in elementary school. I used the opening line of the book (“It was a dark and stormy night”) as my inspiration and called on our members to start their stories in a way that drew the reader in.

It took a while, but that first line finally drew me back to the book, and I finished it today. I remembered much of what happened, but I’m pretty sure I got more out of it on this reading than I did the first time through.

We have the next three books in the series; I’m looking forward to catching up with the Murry family!