Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 137

It’s wine season again; today, we drove up to Burrell School Winery to pick up the summer shipment. We usually go up on the Friday before the pick-up party to avoid the crowds; that might not have been necessary this time, but we did it anyway. Even though they always say the wines are ready to drink (and they are), I always put them away for a year or more (unless we run out, of course!). This shipment included their Merlot, which we always enjoy – the notes claim it’ll be good through 2037 (not a typo). I don’t plan to wait that long.

Dinner was a new recipe for the first time this week; we made Pasta with Mint, Basil, and Fresh Mozzarella from Melissa Clark at the New York Times. Sadly, we haven’t gotten any basil from our garden this year, so we used basil from Lundardi’s. Comments on the recipe (I read them in advance for a change) strongly suggested buffalo mozzarella from Italy, so we used that, too.

The hardest part of the recipe was digging out the blender and cleaning it; we don’t use it very often. This recipe might encourage us to keep it more accessible!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 136

Yesterday, I thought I’d gotten through Toastmasters’ transition to the new program year. This morning, they changed the headings on their CSV file and removed the columns that related to the old educational program – and to make things slightly more interesting, they also put commas in some of the headings. More boring program changes ensued – nothing difficult, just annoying.

And then a friend asked me why the values for “level 4s attained” and “level 5s attained” were identical for all 150 clubs in the District. It wasn’t a bug in my code, fortunately; instead, Toastmasters was putting the wrong data into their CSV file even though they had what I think is the right data on their webpage. So I sent them a complaint bug report and called it a day.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 135

Every morning at 7:12am, a server I control runs programs to fetch data from Toastmasters World Headquarters and load it into a database, then create various reports for my local Toastmasters District, District 101.

This morning, things didn’t work as expected. Toastmasters had finally closed out the 2019-20 program year and started reporting on 2020-21. Most years, my code doesn’t have any problem with the transition, but this isn’t “most years”.

When I finally got around to looking at the problem, it turned out that they’d changed the (undocumented) URL I had to use to get data from their website as a CSV; it was an easy fix once I found the new (undocumented) URL.

As long as I was making changes, I thought it was a good idea to upgrade to Python 3.8, which meant I had to build that version on the DreamHost server. DreamHost had changed the underlying Linux since the last time I’d had to build new version of Python, and now they had a reasonably current level of OpenSSL, so everything went smoothly.

Happy New Year!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 134

It’s been at least a month since I last opened Quicken, and I was beginning to feel a little guilty about it. So I sat down this afternoon to get caught up.

Quicken is one of those programs that I’ve used for years but never really liked. It’s only recently that they’ve offered a reasonably-competent Mac version, but the current edition does everything I need – if I can figure out how to get it to behave. It likes to associate my credit card automatic payments with the wrong account (sometimes it’s the wrong credit card account; sometimes it’s the wrong checking account; sometimes both) but I’ve learned to double-check them and get them to the right place.

My problems today, though, weren’t Quicken’s fault. I blame Apple and Goldman Sachs.

Both Diane and I got Apple Cards when we bought our most recent Apple products to get the 3% rebate, and there are other times when we choose to use them. At first, the only way to look at your card activity was on your iPhone, and there was no way to export the data to Quicken. Later, Apple started exporting to CSV, and people found a convoluted path to get it into a format that Quicken would accept.

Last month, Apple (or Goldman Sachs, but probably Apple) unbent a little and added a QFX format export – that’s Quicken’s native interchange format these days (replacing QIF, “Quicken Interchange Format”, which they’ve obsoleted). You still have to export the data from your phone, but it’s easy to move it to the Mac and then to Quicken – and I did that today for both of our accounts, current to the end of June (because you can’t download transactions for the current account for some reason).

When I tried to reconcile the accounts, neither of them balanced. I carefully examined each and every transaction to make sure nothing was duplicated or omitted from the time I’d had to manually enter the data – nope! I even looked at the QFX files in a text editor to see if anything had been omitted there – nope! I finally decided to skip reconciling, which bugged me no end.

”¨A couple of hours later, I had a brainstorm and went back to look at the QFX files. One of the fields in the file is the “Ledger Balance”, which Quicken shows as the “online balance”, and which is the target balance for reconciliation. Here’s what it looks like in my download of May transactions:


Or, in English: my balance was $123.45 as of 12:00:00 UTC on July 29, 2020.

There are at least two problems with this:

1) July 29, 2020 at 12:00:00 UTC is still in the future
2) The balance shown is my true current balance as of right now, but I have no way to download this month’s transactions (and I was looking at May, anyhow).

No wonder things didn’t balance! Thanks, Apple!

After I’d had enough of Quicken, I finally did get around to processing a couple of days’ worth of photos from 2005. I kept the last photo we took of our first Prius after it gave its all for Diane, and I found the first photo I took of RPI Reunion 2005 – the bed in our room at the Hotel Desmond. I’m not sure it was worth the effort of firing up Lightroom for those two photos – you be the judge.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 133

When we remodeled our kitchen in 1999, the last thing to be finished was the kitchen desk and bookshelves. Somehow, when the plans were drawn, the bookshelves came down all the way to the surface of the desk, and when everything was installed, the desk was basically useless. The contractor quickly redid the bookshelves to leave the surface of the desk free, but it took months (and our withholding the final payment) for them to come back and finish the trim around the desk.

Bookshelves that go all the way to the ceiling seemed like a good idea, but the top shelf is awkward to get to, so all we’ve ever used it for is storing our supply of Sunset books (most of which we only looked at once or twice).

When we’ve found a new recipe we like during the lockdown, I’ve printed it and put it in a page protector; the stack of recipes has gotten fairly unwieldy (and slippery) over the last few weeks, and we wanted to organize them before doing our meal planning for this week. We’ve got plenty of spare 3-ring binders (thanks, IBM!), so I grabbed one and put the recipes in – but then I had to find a place to put the binder.

The bookshelves over the desk were the obvious place – but none of the shelves were tall enough to hold the binder. So I had to take everything off the top three shelves so I could move them around and make room for an 11-inch binder.

”¨But to do that, I had to clear off the desk so I’d have somewhere to put the contents of the shelves. And that got me to look at what I had on the desk – did I really need the itinerary and tickets from our 2014 trip to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh? Probably not.

Nor did we need a 1978 edition of “The Complete Medical Guide”, or a copy of Consumers’ Checkbook from Spring 2011, or….

When all was said and done, I had a lot more surface area visible on the desk; our accumulation of postage stamps was in one place instead of scattered; and I’d finally sorted the address labels that charities and companies have sent us over the years into “his”, “hers”, and “ours”.

Maybe I’ll do some photo editing tomorrow.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 132

Another quiet day – we hit the Farmers’ Market in the morning and had very fresh salmon and corn for lunch.

The Shir Hadash Book Group (which Diane chairs) met over Zoom to discuss Philip Roth’s Nemesis; I’d read it when it first came out but didn’t reread it for the book group, so I was a little behind the curve for the discussion.

And the rest of the day went to High Holiday prep, Toastmasters work, and reading.

A quiet day, as I said.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 131

Shir Hadash has been live-streaming its services on Zoom; we also record them and make them available on the Temple’s website at Diane and I usually attend the live service on Saturday morning unless it’s a Bar Mitzvah. Today was actually a B’nai Mitzvah with two kids from different families officially becoming adults, but it was my week to tend to the recording today, so we attended anyway.

It was a lot more interesting than I expected it to be – both of the teenagers were articulate and had written thoughtful speeches, and the logistics weren’t nearly as bad as I feared they’d be. Not knowing the families meant that the parents’ speeches when they were presenting the tallitot to the kids were less than compelling, but I am sure that was the case for anyone who didn’t know us when Jeff had his Bar Mitzvah, too!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 130

It’s been another day packed with miscellaneous action and activity!

There was a letter from Chase Bank waiting for me this morning (well, it was really an email telling me to log into my account and look for a letter there – security, y’know) about my non-functioning webcam. They’ve given me preliminary credit for the purchase and, unless the merchant convinces them otherwise in the next two months, it’ll be a permanent credit. I look forward to putting the webcam onto the e-waste pile, whether I get the permanent credit or not.

We made another stab at Crispy Frico Chicken Breasts With Mushrooms and Thyme (see May 12 and June 21). The third time was the charm – I used the Anolon skillet for the stovetop work and the Lodge pan for the oven; I also used plenty of just-grated Locatelli Romano Pecorino cheese instead of a measured quarter-cup of Kraft Grated Parmesan. Nothing burned (though there was a little smoke), the mushrooms weren’t charred to death, and the cheese formed a nice (but not photogenic) crust on the chicken. And cleaning two pans with nothing burnt on is easier than cleaning one with a lot of residue.

I continued to work on the special High Holiday Honors processing for this year for Shir Hadash; some honors will be divided among two or more readers, so I have to make the code deal with that and create new cue sheets for the divided parts. I started out writing special-case code to handle the changes and quickly realized that I would be better off properly integrating things into my code and control files – now I have to undo the special-case code I wrote yesterday when I thought there were only a few exceptions for this year!

But I’m not working on any of that for the next 24 hours – Shabbat Shalom!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 27 (128)

They say that if you eat a frog first thing in the morning, the day can only get better from there. I didn’t eat a frog this morning, but I did have an early dentist’s appointment to have my permanent crown installed. It was quite uneventful and hardly uncomfortable. Traffic was very light, too – so light that I almost forgot to stop for the red metering light as I entered Highway 85! Fortunately, the drivers behind me stopped, too.

Last year, Diane and I decided we would skip ConZealand, the 2020 Worldcon. We’d been going to fewer and fewer events at the Worldcons we did attend, and we’d skipped 2019 in Dublin, and if we were going all the way to New Zealand we wanted to see more of the country than going to Worldcon would permit, especially given other travel we had planned for this year, and I forgot what else. So in February, we tried to sell our attending memberships – I was successful (closing the deal while on a bus in Costa Rica), but Diane still has her membership.

Today, we got a note from the Chicago in 2022 bid reminding us that, as Friends of the Bid, buying a supporting membership for 2022 and voting in Site Selection would get us free attending memberships and that the deadline was less than a week away. They also reminded us that it was going to be a contested election, since Jeddah, Saudi Arabia was also running.

We thought about it and decided that there was a fair chance we’d want to go, so I bought a new supporting membership in ConZealand (required to vote), and then we each bought memberships for 2022 and voted.

The Jeddah bid is interesting and the site is amusing, but I don’t think they have much of a chance (their bid questionnaire points out that “the sale of alcoholic beverages is prohibited in Saudi Arabia”, to name just one disadvantage). If they do win, we won’t get those free attending memberships, so our decision will be easy!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 127

No new recipes, international commerce, or email pruning to report on today, I’m afraid.

I made a trip to the dermatologist to look at some spots on my face that seemed to be getting a little larger and darker over time. They were benign, but she froze a couple of places that might have become problems later.

We did our weekly food shopping, I filled up my car, we had our weekly trivia social, and I attended a short officers’ meeting for my Toastmasters club.

Somehow, that filled the day – perhaps I’ll have something more interesting to talk about tomorrow.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 126

I think I’m hooked on deleting old mail; I spent a couple of hours doing it this afternoon while Diane was working on photos from our trip to Asia last January. I’m down to 12,550 conversations and 2.48 GB!

We tried another new recipe today, Mark Bittman’s Fast Tandoori Chicken from the New York Times. Two of the words in the title weren’t accurate, as I would have realized if I’d only read the comments on the recipe before making it.

The “tandoori” is something of an exaggeration; the chicken didn’t have the zip of real tandoori chicken. Of course, I made it in a broiler-oven, not a tandoor, so I didn’t expect quite the same results, but if I make it again, I’ll use a lot more spice and let it marinate longer (as quite a few commenters suggested).

The “fast” was the real problem. Putting together the marinade was quick enough, and the chicken marinated on the counter while we were doing other things. The recipe only called for broiling the chicken breast for four minutes on each side; this seemed a little short, but if you can’t trust the New York Times, who can you trust? When I took the chicken out of the oven, it looked OK – but I always check chicken to make sure the interior is up to 165F for safety. This one had gotten up to an awesome 70F – barely room temperature!

I put it back in the oven to bake for a few minutes. And a few more. And a few more. And then I cut into smaller pieces and put it back in again. All told, it took about 16 minutes of baking at 350F after the initial 8 minutes of broiling. Many commenters told similar stories; I wonder what kind of nuclear-powered oven Mark Bittman used to develop the recipe?

In the end, the chicken turned out OK, but next time I try a new recipe, I’ll listen to my suspicions!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 125

I decided to try a “new” email program yesterday – Thunderbird. It had to download my entire Gmail archive – and it ran into Gmail’s bandwidth limit, greatly reducing my access to my email account. New mail would come down to the computer, but anything I did to it (deleting mail, archiving it, moving it to a folder) didn’t go back to the server. I don’t understand why Google would stop me from deleting mail, but that’s the decision they made, and I have to live with it.

Fortunately, access to the mail through the Gmail webpage was unhindered, so I was able to deal with the little bit of mail that typically arrives on a Sunday.

And when we got home from the Farmers’ Market, I sat down at my laptop to clean up the mess. When I started, I had more than 28,000 emails, using 7.5 GB (three times the daily download limit).

I started by looking for emails with huge attachments – mostly photos I already had somewhere else, but there were lots of PowerPoint presentations, too.

Then I arbitrarily started looking at emails older than 1/1/2013 – when I saw one that didn’t look useful, I searched and deleted similar emails (by subject or correspondent). Goodbye, golf lessons! Farewell, ProMatch! Arrivederci, itineraries being forwarded to Tripit! Adieu, Toastmasters meeting agendas!

I still have a lot of mail that I could prune but I need to stop for the night. Google now tells me I have 14,600 emails (down by nearly 50%) and 2.52 GB (down by almost 2/3).

It was fun to visit the past, but it’s nice to say goodbye, too.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 124

Even by lockdown standards, today was a quiet and homebound day for us. We took a morning walk before Shabbat Services, but that was the only time we left our property (we did get out of the house itself to cook and tend to the garden). Other than that, it was reading and working on the computer all day.

Speaking of the computer, the computer glasses I’d ordered from Zenni Optical arrived today. They’re going to take some getting used to, but I can see the difference that having single-focal-distance lenses makes already. Now I almost wish I hadn’t bought the cheapest (thickest) frames – I’d forgotten I’d be wearing them for Zoom calls!

This evening, we watched “Much Improv About Nothing” – improvised Shakespeare with improvisers from ComedySportz in San Jose, Portland, Seattle, and Los Angeles. The event was in support of Silicon Valley Shakespeare and was a lot of fun. The play, “A Quarrel of Lovers”, turned out to be a comedy (by audience demand) although Angie Higgins, the Artistic Director of SVS, was trying to influence the vote towards tragedy. I’m pretty sure they plan to put it on their Facebook or YouTube page soon.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 123

We tried a new recipe for lunch today, Melissa Clark’s Pasta with Burst Cherry Tomatoes from the New York Times. I thought it called for too many tomatoes, so I only put in 1-1/2 cups instead of the 2 cups that the scaled recipe called for. It was a tasty meal, but having more tomatoes would have improved it! Sadly, our tomato plants are not being very productive this year (and our cucumber has hardly produced anything), so we’re dependent on what we find at the Farmers’ Market.

After lunch, we drove to Tony & Alba’s to pick up pizza for tomorrow. Al, the owner, has quite the bobblehead collection, and he added a new member very recently – Dr. Anthony Fauci.

I guess if he’s unable to appear on TV, visiting a restaurant is the next best thing!

We made Grilled Rosemary-Lemon Chicken for at least the second time during the lockdown. I’d probably made it previously, too, since I had a printed copy of the recipe (with a 2013 copyright date) from the late, somewhat lamented But as I was reading the recipe tonight, I noticed a curious omission. The recipe includes “lemon” in the title and lemon juice in the ingredient list – but it doesn’t tell you to do anything with the lemon juice! Clearly, you’re supposed to put it in the marinade, but neither the printed nor the online copy says so.

Perhaps I’m no longer a complete novice at cooking!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 122

We’ve been members of Tobin James Cellar’s wine club for several years. Their wines are tasty, priced well, and don’t need a lot of aging before being ready to drink, which fits our needs well. Their shipments always include a little gift with the Tobin James logo; we’ve gotten serving trays, bottle openers, mats, and, a couple of years ago, a throw pillow which turned out to be almost perfect for Diane to use at night. She’s taken it on many trips; it’s showing its age. We looked for a replacement the last time we were at the winery, but they didn’t have any on display.

On Sunday, we got a call from Tobin James – they weren’t trying to get us to order, just reaching out to members. During the call, I happened to mention the gifts we’d gotten, and Shawna, who’d called us, said that they had some pillows left over. So yesterday, we ordered two pillows (50% off! $13 for the pair!), and to ensure free shipping, we also ordered 14 bottles of wine. :-) It arrived today; that should hold us for a little while.

Dinner tonight was a new recipe, possibly the simplest new recipe we’ve tried recently: Seared Mahi-Mahi with Zesty Basil Butter from the Food Network. The only tricky part of the process was remembering to defrost the frozen mahi-mahi! Frankly, I’m not sure it would have been any better with fresh fish – zesty basil butter covers a lot of sins.

To make the day even better, British Airways came through with the refund for our cancelled trip to Spain and Portugal, much sooner than I’d expected. The only remaining pieces of the trip to deal with are the flights between Spain and Portugal; I’m waiting in hopes that the airlines will cancel them, but if not, at least they were inexpensive.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 121

Tonight was Library Trivia night at the Santa Clara City Library – our team (Bingo Slytherin) finished in second place, 1.5 points behind the Castronauts who only missed perfection by one song title (half a point). We had 13 people from four states on our team – not something that we could have done in the pre-Zoom era!

We didn’t cook anything new today. On the other hand, our shakers arrived this afternoon from Cocktail Kingdom and we felt compelled to use them before trivia, so I tried making Mai Tais. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a Mai Tai before, so I can’t compare what I made with a professional version, but it was tasty and made typing during trivia harder than usual, so I guess I met minimum requirements!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 120

It was an uneventful day for us (and I’ve been trying not to keep a close eye on the news). We did our week’s shopping, made favorite recipes that we’ve discovered since the lockdown, watched A Late Show with Stephen Colbert now that he’s back from hiatus, and had our weekly Zoom gathering with our trivia group.

After the group chats for a while, we do some trivia practice with slightly-used questions from our host at Khartoum. One question tonight asked us to name the element with a one-letter symbol that would earn the most points in Scrabble. I thought it was Tungsten (W), but that only earns four points; the correct answer is Potassium (K), which earns five. Diane was right, and I was wrong, and the team told me I should admit it publicly, which I am doing now.

Happy Bastille Day! (I’m not sure that’s precisely appropriate, but it’ll do until someone corrects me.)

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 119

It was back to the JCC for outdoor personal training this morning. The JCC was planning to reopen the gym for indoor, socially-distanced training on Wednesday, and our trainer asked us if we’d like to move inside next week. Both of us said “No” with our first available breath, and our trainer said that had been everyone’s reaction so far.

But it became a moot question anyway this afternoon, since the Governor ordered Santa Clara County (and 29 others) to keep gyms (among many other facilities) closed because of the recent upsurge in COVID-19 numbers.

Dinner tonight was another new recipe, Priya Krishna’s Garlic-Ginger Chicken Breasts With Cilantro and Mint from the New York Times. All of the preparation happened last night and the chicken marinated overnight; the actual cooking was pretty straightforward, or it would have been if I hadn’t dropped the chicken the last inch or two into the hot oil, making a splash. And even though I gave the chicken the maximum time called for in the recipe, it was still a little undercooked when I lifted the lid, so I had to finish it in the microwave. I’m willing to try this recipe again, but not for a while.

And I finally finished editing (or at least culling) the photos from my trip to Beijing in April, 2005!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 118

After our usual Sunday quick dash to the Farmers’ Market and walk through Los Gatos, we came home for two interesting sessions.

The first was hosted by Shir Hadash and was a panel discussion (well, three presentations) on “Medical Ethics: Rationing of Limited Resources During COVID-19 Pandemic”. The three panelists were all physician-members of Shir Hadash with well over a century of experience between them. The discussion touched on the history of dialysis (before it was added to Medicare in 1972), HIV/AIDS treatment, and, of course, COVID-19. The discussion was lively but sobering.

The second was much more fun – the Remote Shakespeare Company (two-thirds of the Reduced Shakespeare Company) took us on a quick and reduced tour of their material, including the first scene of “Hamlet’s Big Adventure (a prequel)”, which we were hoping was going to come to the Bay Area this year. Some day….

And speaking of “some day”, I got started on the first small bit of preparation for the High Holy Days. I do the data processing for the honors, but this year, we have a lot of changes to make because of COVID-19 – there will be far fewer honors (services will be online, not in person), but the Rabbi doesn’t want to lose track of what we normally would do (especially since we will have a new interim rabbi next year), so I had to figure out how to tell my programs to ignore honors we’re omitting.

That proved to be surprisingly easy – but what turned out to be hard was updating the master honors sheet to reflect what we did last year (I reworked most of my code last year, so this was the first time I’d needed to do this). I think it’s done, but I’m going to take another look tomorrow before I tell the Rabbi to go ahead.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 117

Betty, one of my college classmates, commented on Facebook about my blog posting of yesterday:

If I were writing a blog, it would be boring. I read, I did puzzles, I exercised, I went to the doctor, I cooked. Next day, ditto. Although I did make empanadas and samosas this week. 🙃

Well, Betty, today’s entry is for you!

The most useful thing I did today was to file our taxes – they were actually finished months ago, but I didn’t get around to filing them until today. I wasn’t in a hurry since we not only weren’t getting a refund but we had to make some hefty payments and I had to free up some cash to make that possible. When the SECURE Act was passed late last year, I realized that it made sense to move money from our traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs – but I hadn’t planned for that during the year, so the last-second move significantly increased our tax liability for 2019.

And we did another Roth conversion this year – I am pretty sure that tax rates are going to go up in a year or two to help pay for the (very necessary) deficits that the government incurred this year for pandemic aid, and I’d rather pay at today’s relatively low rates and avoid being taxed later. So we had to free up funds to pay 2020 estimated taxes, and again, I wasn’t in any hurry to do so.

But July 15 is looming, so today was the day to actually deal with the taxes instead of just dreading dealing with them. The process was fairly painless – the worst thing was discovering that I couldn’t get into EFTPS for some reason and having to find an alternate way to queue up our estimated tax payments.

But it’s done for another year…well, another 9 months. I suspect next year’s deadline will be back to April 15.

Other than that, it was a quiet day; no new recipes, not much culture (we did watch the first episode of Silicon Valley Shakespeare’s Bard Talk, but that was it), and only a quick trip to Manresa Bread to pick up a loaf of levain that I’d pre-ordered. I have done well at hacking away at my inbox, but I haven’t achieved Inbox Zero, so I have nothing to brag about on that front.

Life goes on!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 116

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an enormous number of things get done on the day before a vacation. Today was not a day before a vacation, but I did a lot of things anyway, very few of which were exceptionally interesting.

We continued to add to our bar, this time with dark rum and oregat syrup so that we can make Mai Tais sometime soon; I also ordered a cocktail shaker from Cocktail Kingdom at the recommendation of The Wirecutter – it should get here next week. And we got rid of a LOT of corks (thank you, BevMo)!

I spent a while working with the new Treasurer of the Silver Tongued Cats, explaining the spreadsheet I’d built to track our income and expenses; it’s a shame that I didn’t document it while I was building it because I’m not quite sure how parts of it work any more!

We tried another new recipe: Lynda Balslev’s Quinoa and Kale Tabbouleh from the Mercury News. It was good and not difficult to make, but it wasn’t sufficient as a main dish. If we make it again, I’d want to add some protein to it (or have it as a side).

And I was in charge of the live stream for Shir Hadash services tonight (taking the Zoom feed and sending it to BoxCast). There were many things I wish I’d known before starting the feed (such as what to do when the Rabbi sent us off to breakout rooms; I suspect the video of those few minutes is far from enthralling). But the service made me feel good, so I’m glad I was able to help make it available to others.

Shabbat Shalom!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 115

It was about 7:10am. I was getting ready for my weekly Silver Tongued Cats meeting – I was the second speaker and was going to talk about my webcam saga, complete with a PowerPoint presentation. Suddenly, the lights flickered and went out!

Our router is on a UPS and most of our computers are laptops, so we didn’t lose connectivity right away, and I reported the problem to PG&E (more than 3000 customers were affected). Then I logged into the Zoom session for the meeting and arranged to trade places with the first speaker.

My speech came off without incident – having only one screen might have actually been helpful, since I was forced to look at the screen with the PowerPoint and therefore was looking directly at the camera. And I stayed connected until just after I received my evaluation – but a few seconds into the second evaluation, my UPS gave up the ghost and I dropped off until I could get back in with my phone. Our power came back just before 9; some people didn’t get their power restored until almost 11.

I decided to ride my lucky streak and finally got around to calling British Airways about the London-Barcelona flight they’d cancelled. It was part of a trip in August which we’d decided not to take, but I hoped that having BA cancel part of the trip would give us a chance at a refund. Originally, I thought I’d have to call BA in London, but digging further into their website led me to believe that I could call the US toll-free number instead. I expected to be on hold forever, or possibly to have to call back during the UK business day – but a nice agent in New Delhi picked up the call on the first ring, and 5 minutes later, she’d cancelled the whole trip and processed a refund. It’ll take 4-6 weeks to show up on my card, but it’s a lot better than having a voucher with a time limit (which will probably be the best I can do for my Iberia and Vueling flights – but I’m going to wait and see if either of them get cancelled).

We tried two new-to-us recipes today: Colu Henry’s Lemony Pasta with Zucchini and Fresh Herbs from the New York Times and Stacie Dong and Simran Sing’s Asian Fish Parcels from the Mercury News. Both are worth making again (I want to get rice wine vinegar before I make the fish again; I had to substitute apple cider vinegar this time – I’m not sure I’d notice the difference but I try to be true to the recipe).

Dinner (Asian Fish Parcels) on the deck

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 114

1-1-3 was Information. 1-1-4 was Repair Service, so it’s appropriate that I spent this morning at the dentist’s office having some Repair Service: two fillings and a crown.

There had been some changes at the dentist since the last time I needed anything more than a cleaning – instead of taking wax impressions of the spot for the crown, they used a 3D camera/scanner to get the measurements and dispatched the order to the lab as I watched.

And of course there were new COVID-19 precautions – the dentist and assistant wore face shields and masks, and they put some sort of airway protection/suction device in my mouth covering everything but the teeth they were working on.

Two hours later, I left with fillings, a temporary crown, a sore mouth, and a lighter wallet. I’m scheduled to return in two weeks for the permanent crown. It’s supposed to be a shorter appointment. I hope they’re right.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 113

When I was a kid back in Richmond, “113” was the phone number for “Information” (not “Directory Assistance”, and it was free). Eventually, it was replaced by 411 and 555-1212 and stopped being free.

In the 1970s, I started going to SF conventions and reading fanzines, and I soon learned that “all knowledge is contained in fanzines” – because fans were interested in many things, not just SF, and wrote profusely. And in the late ”˜90s and early 2000s, all knowledge was contained in blogs for the same reason.

Today, of course, we have DuckDuckGo and Bing and Google and the entire Internet is filled with information, most of it free and some of it accurate. But sometimes searches still lead to blogs. Today, I got my monthly Google Search report for this blog and I was amused to see the pages that were found most often in June.

The page that got found the most was about building Python3.7 to use a specific version of encryption instead of the one the system gives you. It’s probably still accurate and useful, though at this point, I’d suggest building Python 3.8.

The other two top pages were a lot older and probably less useful – one, from 2006, documented my search for a refill for a giveaway pen (“The Refill Detective at Work”) and the other, from 2004, documented my frustration with Maytag (“Bite the Wax Motor”).

And the page that got the most growth in hits since last month is probably completely useless unless you’re researching the way PG&E handled rolling blackouts in 2001 (“Outage Block 50”) – it got 9 hits versus 2 in May.

There’s no limit to what people want to know.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 112

It was back to the JCC for outdoor personal training this morning – they’ve set up a mini-TRX and we used that for the first time in more than 112 days; I expect to feel it tomorrow.

After that, we made a bonus shopping trip to Safeway to refresh our white wine supply – and as long as we were there, we also picked up some milk and salad dressing and rice. And tequila. And blue curaçao. And Lindy’s Italian ice (which is no threat to Ralph’s, or even Rita’s). And we even found Clorox wipes and our preferred brand of toilet paper! Going early seems to be a win.

I ordered yet another webcam (Amcrest AWC2198) on Friday so we wouldn’t have to move the one we had between the family room and the office several times a week; it arrived today and seems to work fine – we’ll use it on our trivia team call tomorrow and see if anyone notices the difference. I also got an Echo Show for the kitchen to make it easier to have multiple timers running at once while we’re cooking – of course, dinner tonight didn’t need any timers other than the shutoff timer on the convection oven, but I’m sure it’ll be useful soon.

That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 111

The way we spend Sunday hasn’t changed much with the pandemic – we go to the Farmers’ Market and take a long walk in the morning, and spend most of the rest of the day at home. I read the Mercury News and as much of the Sunday New York Times as I can manage. If we bought fish at the Farmers’ Market, we make it (usually on the Traeger). We take another walk in the evening. And we often do something cultural in the afternoon.

Today was a typical Sunday – we had salmon and fresh corn from the Farmers’ Market for lunch, and I’m working on the Sunday Review section of the Times.

Our culture for the day came from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. If it hadn’t been for the pandemic, we would have spent a week late last month, and we would have seen eight plays during that time. One of them would have been the world premiere of The Copper Children which tells the true story of an orphan train to Arizona that ends in a town-wide custody battle. Luckily, OSF managed to record a performance of the play before their season was abruptly ended, and they’re making it available as a 48-hour rental until July 15 for $15. It was thought-provoking, far too relevant to today, and I recommend it.

OSF will be offering something lighter next – A Midsummer Night’s Dream, from July 9-22, and I’m sure we’ll watch it. They haven’t announced plans for the rest of the summer; I hope they’ll show all of the plays that opened before they got shutdown.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 110

This afternoon, we visited friends for a physically-distanced Fourth of July (four couples, four pairs of chairs with about 8-10 feet between the closest chairs) BBQ (skewers, so no one had to touch the food after it was cooked). We wore masks much of the time, too.

It was really nice to see friends in person instead of in Zoom squares, but it was unnerving, especially at first – eight people in one (large) front yard! And to think that last year on the Fourth, we were in the same place with the same friends – and many more – and we weren’t worried about being too close, or touching the wrong thing, or….

The new normal may be essential, but it isn’t very normal.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 109

As we’ve added more days to our timeline (how’s that for not saying “gotten older”?), Diane and I have both had to add some prescription medicines to our daily diet. Fortunately, most of them haven’t had significant side effects.

Diane had to renew one of those medicines, dicyclomine, today. It’s a generic; in the past, it’s been very inexpensive (in fact, there was no co-pay when she got her last batch in November). But when she went to pick up her order today, the price was well north of $250 for a 90-day supply!

Luckily, we’d just read an article about using discount cards to lower the price of prescriptions. I did a quick web search and found that if I used the free Singlecare card, the price dropped to $20 (still not free, but reasonable ); a few minutes later, we walked out of the store with the pills and most of our money.

The receipt that came with the pills showed a list price of $357.99. I wonder who pays full list?

The medical payment system in this country is completely insane.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 108

It’s been all-Toastmasters all-the-time here today.

I was Toastmaster this morning, and the meeting seemed to run fairly smoothly (the new agenda helped, I think).

After that, I worked on the spreadsheet with our VP Education and next week’s Toastmaster so that it’ll be easier for someone other than me to use – that required a bit of rework and refactoring, but it should be worth it.

Then I got back to District webmaster tasks; I’ve pretty much completed the yearly rollover. There’s still some minor cleanup to be done as I get more information, but the heavy lifting is complete.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 107

It was the first day of the Toastmasters year, so I had a lot to do for the District 101 website.

Naturally, I spent the morning and much of the afternoon getting ready for my Toastmasters club meeting tomorrow morning because I forgot to exclude myself from being the Toastmaster of the Day when the schedule was being built and I got chosen.

And because I’m not always good with priorities, I decided it was the perfect time to update the spreadsheet we use to manage meetings to make it reflect the end of the legacy educational program and the move to Zoom, which meant creating feedback forms for all the speakers and ensuring they can read the responses.

Oh, and I also thought I should automate building the list of members without assigned roles for the meeting to make the Table Topics Master’s life easier – and that meant that I had to learn how to write a GoogleScript (JavaScript) formula to reformat names coming from Toastmasters International to get rid of cruft like achievement levels and middle initials.

And I didn’t remember that July 1st was going to be a busy day when my dentist offered it as a rescheduled date for my long-delayed cleaning, so I had to go there after lunch; it took longer than it would have under pre-pandemic circumstances, but not much longer, and I was happy with their COVID-19 precautions.

However, they found two cavities, one of which is partially under a bridge, so now I have two more trips to their office happening this month. And a cleaning planned for October.

After dinner, though, I finally got to the work for District 101 – most of it, anyway. There are some parts of the site that will have to wait for tomorrow – after my club meeting.

Retirement is so restful!