Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 106

Welcome to week 16!

We have friends who just drove from San Jose to Boston and then to Philadelphia – and in a day or two, they’re taking their son with them to Indiana where they have family. They said the trip was wonderful.

We’re still staying at home (and probably will be here the rest of the year), but we did book some travel today…for 2022, when we hope to go on a cruise with friends around New Zealand and thence to Australia. It will be lovely if it happens!

Other than that, I’ve been spending time in Windows Hell – Diane’s Windows machine suddenly won’t show some critical dialog boxes (most importantly, 1Password’s login dialog). I’ve tried to delete and restore the display driver with no success – deleting it crashes partway through, making me think something is corrupted. Time for research….

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 105

It was a big day – we went back to the JCC for personal fitness training!

Of course, there were a few changes since the last time we were there – instead of being in the gym, we were on the soccer field. And we and our trainer were almost the only ones there – there was one other group but they were at least 50 yards away. It felt quite safe.

I expect to feel it tomorrow – in fact, I hope I do!

I also spent an hour with Chase disputing the charge on the broken and deceptively-advertised webcam. I think I’m obsessed….

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 104

Today, I figured out how to read and write the memories on both my FT-817 and my Wouxun UV-9D Plus from my Mac using Chirp and the appropriate USB chip driver for the cable for each radio. I even made a contact on the W6PIY repeater while I was testing – someone got tired of hearing me get on and test every couple of minutes and asked if he could help. It was my first QSO in many years!

I got an offer for a full refund on the non-functional webcam – the only catch is that I have to ship it back to China, which would cost more than I paid in the first place. I may make one more attempt to get a refund through my credit card, but it sure looks like I got successfully scammed. And now I know how much PayPal’s buyer protection is worth.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 103

This morning, Diane got a text from a friend inviting us over for a socially-distanced afternoon in their pool. We knew there was enough space in their pool to stay well over 6 feet apart, so we said “yes” and headed over after lunch.

It was very strange, but pleasant, to see unmasked faces for more than a few seconds at a time. And it was a good day to spend in a shady, warm pool with friends.

Under normal circumstances, we would have gone to dinner with them; instead, we came home and made an old favorite, Chicken Breasts with Soy-Mustard Marinade. Don’t tell anyone, but we cooked the chicken on our Traeger pellet grill instead of a Weber BBQ as called for in the recipe.

I played with my FT-817 some more and was able to raise the local repeater (last night, I didn’t have it set to send out the sub-audible tone necessary for the repeater to respond). I even was able to listen to some of the Field Day activity on 40 meters, but I didn’t have enough power (or patience) to work anyone. Maybe tomorrow….

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 102

I’ve been interested in ham radio since I was in elementary school, but I didn’t get my license until 1988. I mostly spent time on local repeaters and amateur TCP/IP (you haven’t lived until you’ve tried sending email on a 1200-baud radio link), and I was active in the local Amateur Radio Emergency Service group for a few years, but over time, my activity decreased, even though I’ve always made sure to have at least one working transceiver in the house.

Almost all of my activity was on VHF/UHF, but in the early 2000s I bought a Yaesu FT-817 – it covers all of the HF (shortwave) bands as well as VHF/UHF, and has a maximum power output of 5 watts. It needs a good antenna – I never got one. And eventually, I put the FT-817 and all of its accessories away in a suitable carrying case and pretty much forgot about it.

But recently, my friend Sam has been talking about the contacts he’s been making using FT8, a low-powered digital mode ideal for the FT-817. And I have a computer connection for the radio, so I thought I would give it a try someday.

Tomorrow is ARRL Field Day, an annual event centered on emergency (or at least off-grid) communications. Normally, radio clubs and groups of amateurs get together and set up for Field Day – there’s food, cooking, publicity, and fun. This year, of course, everyone has to do Field Day from their home – and I thought I’d try it, so I found the bag, took out the FT-817 and accessories, and set to work.

I quickly discovered that I didn’t have a suitable power supply, just a small battery charger – but I was able to charge the batteries up just enough to get the rig to transmit for a few seconds. I found my antennas and set one up – I could actually hear things.

But then I made two discoveries. To run FT8 (or any digital mode), you need an external modem; I have one, but it connects to a computer through a 9-pin serial connector. I think it’s been ten years since I last had a computer with such a connector; I used to have a serial-to-USB converter, but I can’t find it.

And I can’t put out enough power to hit any repeater – I suspect my antennas are the problem. Or maybe the radio has deteriorated over the years. Or I don’t have enough voltage. Or….

So I won’t be getting on the air for this Field Day, at least not with the FT-817.

Maybe next year!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 101

Usually, when I open my mail first thing in the morning, I don’t have high expectations – half of it is spam, half of the rest is news, and two-thirds of the rest is marketing from companies I want to hear from (but not as often as they want to tell me things).

Today, though, there were two pieces of good news when I opened my mail.

The first was the results from Learned League for yesterday’s match – I won, and that means I won’t be relegated to a lower rundle for the next season (this has been a brutal season for me, and I was in relegation territory two days ago).

The second piece of good news was a note from British Airways telling me that our flight from London to Barcelona has been cancelled – I hope that will let me get a refund instead of a voucher, but I won’t know until I can call them (and I may have to call the London call center rather than the US toll-free number).

This afternoon, we ventured into the mountains to pick up wine from David Bruce Winery – they’re offering some nice cases at a discount, and going there gave us an opportunity to work through a small part of our backlog of podcasts (not driving has its consequences).

Most of the rest of the day was taken up by Toastmasters – two meetings and Club Officer training. I’m going to be VP Public Relations for the Silver Tongued Cats beginning July 1; this is my first time in that role, so it gives me a chance to do something different.

If you’re interested in improving your leadership and public speaking, we’d love to have you visit the Silver Tongued Cats on any Thursday morning at 7:30am Pacific (1430 UTC) – ask me for the Zoom link. We’re as close as your computer!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 100

The start of the new Toastmasters year is only a week away, which makes for a busy time in my role as District 101 Webmaster. Probably the most time-consuming task is getting photos from the incoming District leaders to publish on the District website – this year, I’m trying something different by using their candidate photos and cropping them to fit the space on the right page and just asking for their approval (in past years, I’ve gotten teeny-tiny thumbnail photos when I’ve asked for a full-size photo, or photos where the person was barely visible). I spent most of the morning on that task, and much of the afternoon culling yet more photos from 2005 (I’m half-way through my day at the Great Wall of China and the Summer Palace – I took a lot of photos, not all of which are necessary to tell the story).

No new recipes today; instead, we revisited two new favorites: Kay Chun’s Korean Barbecue-Style Meatballs from the New York Times and Gaby Dalkins’s Greek Chicken Trough from the Mercury News. Both make leftovers, which is a blessing – and the meatballs freeze well, so we can save them for a day when we’re in a hurry.

This evening was trivia courtesy of the Santa Clara City Library. They filled up the Zoom room with 36 teams; participants came from all over the world (mostly California, of course, but there were people from Scotland and Singapore). Our team, Bingo Slytherin, won – in the Before Times, that would have earned us a dessert pizza. Victory was sweet anyway.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Ninety-Nine

This morning, we took a docent-led virtual tour of the Levi Strauss: A History of American Style exhibition at the Contemporary Jewish Museum that was offered through Shir Hadash. I would like to go to the museum to see it in person, but that will be a while (they plan to keep the exhibit open through the rest of the year, so there may be time).

The big news today was a message from the Post Office: At long, long, long last, the webcam I bought from a random Facebook ad from a random seller in China was here! It had gone from Brisbane, CA (near here) to Des Moines, then slowly made its way back to Richmond, CA, and finally (finally!) to our Post Office and thence to me.

As soon as it arrived, I opened the package, plugged it into my Mac mini, fired up Zoom – and nothing. Zoom didn’t see the camera. Neither did the System Information report. And there was no indication in the system logs that anything happened when I plugged and unplugged the camera.

I tried another Mac – same lack of results.

Then I noticed that, while the ad I’d followed to buy the webcam and the outside of the box both talked about working with Mac, Windows, and Linux, the teeny-tiny instruction sheet inside the box only claimed Windows compatibility. So I plugged the webcam into Diane’s Windows laptop; Windows installed a driver, and seconds later, I was greeted with an incredibly blurry picture.

No worries – this camera advertises variable focus and the instruction sheet even shows the focus ring. I turned the focus ring and (you guessed it) nothing happened. The picture remained blurry.

Oh – did I mention that the ad claimed 1080p resolution but the box and the instruction sheet both said that the camera had VGA (640×480) resolution?

I’ve opened a complaint with PayPal.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Ninety-Eight

One of my Toastmasters clubs, Silicon Valley Storytellers, celebrated its seventh anniversary this evening with a story slam. Instead of the usual Toastmasters format of speeches, impromptu speaking, and evaluations, we had thirteen members give a five-minute (or less) story and voted on the best three. I volunteered to be timer.

The challenge for the timer is getting the storyteller to stop if they go over time. When we meet in a room, we use a bell and applause – the timer rings a bell starting at 5 minutes, and a few seconds later, everyone applauds. Even the most stubborn speaker takes the hint.

But on Zoom, things are not so easy. Zoom does a lot to keep feedback and noise from happening – one of those things is reducing the output volume for anyone who’s speaking (at least if they’re not using headphones). So when we did a dry run, we discovered that the speaker could not hear me applaud if they were speaking!

So we used the nuclear option. I used colored backgrounds to give the speaker time cues at 4, 4-1/2, and 5 minutes; if the speaker didn’t stop talking within a few seconds past the 5 minute mark, I muted them. I only had to mute one speaker (the first) – after that, people watched for the red signal and stopped quickly.

There were a couple of other technical issues (one person muted herself just as she was getting to her punchline, and someone had to call in because her computer microphone refused to cooperate), but things went relatively smoothly, and the stories were interesting. Some might even have been true!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Ninety-Seven

It was a happy Father’s Day for me – we had a Zoom call with Jeff, and got to see part of his new residence (he tried carrying his laptop around to give us a full tour, but technology did not cooperate).

Dinner was another attempt at Crispy Frico Chicken Breasts With Mushrooms and Thyme – I used my Lodge Logic cast-iron skillet because it’s oven-safe, but I am pretty sure it heated up too much on the stove. There was much smoke, but no smoke alarms sounded, and it tasted pretty good, even though the mushrooms were seriously charred.

Next time, though, we’re not going to make it in one pot – we’ll use Anolon on the stove and transfer it to something else for the oven. And I’ll try putting some oil on the chicken before putting on the cheese in hopes that more cheese will stick to the chicken. Maybe I’ll even get real Parmesan cheese instead of the stuff in a green plastic container!