Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 229

We decided not to offer candy this year because of the virus, so we didn’t decorate our house and we kept our outside lights off.

But we have neighbors a block away who spent several days building a candy delivery system from their balcony to their yard and we wanted to see it in action, so we decided to walk over to their house. As soon as we opened our door, we found a bag of persimmons waiting for us (I was afraid it was a bag of something else entirely at first!).

When we got to our neighbors’ house, there weren’t any kids around, but the neighbors were sitting on their balcony and invited us to come and ring the bell so we could see the candy delivery system in action. I did, and they obliged – the M&Ms got caught on exit, but the Dum-Dum flew across the yard as planned.

We had a pleasant chat and finally found out their names (not, as it happens, the same as their Instagram handles), then wandered onward.

There were quite a few houses with tables out front for kids to take candy, and it looked like kids were being respectful and not emptying the candy bowls (we tried that a few years ago, and the candy vanished within minutes). There were also a few houses with people waiting for kids to arrive; one person said he’d had about 30 kids through the course of the evening.

We returned home and tracked down the donor of the persimmons (our next-door neighbor, as we thought). Not too scary after all!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 228

On Tuesday, I took our Prius to Auto-Tec for its first service in over a year. I had tried to make an appointment a few months ago, but when I told Don how little we’d driven the car, he suggested waiting, so we waited.

As I was picking the car up, Don asked me whether we parked it overnight inside or outside – I said “inside” and he said “good, because Prius catalytic converters are being stolen at a furious pace.” Of course, parking the car inside overnight is all well and good, but I’ve been worried about taking it anywhere and leaving it for more than a few minutes because I keep reading stories about people stealing the converters in public parking lots.

Don said they could install a shield and suggested getting it from Cat Security in Sacramento; I ordered it as soon as I got home and had it shipped to him. They installed it today. I feel better.

We made another batch of pretzels today. This time, I weighed the water and the flour!

I followed the instructions in the recipe to make the dough, starting with 3 minutes on low speed to mix the ingredients. When I checked, there was still a good bit of flour that hadn’t combined, so I added a little water and mixed it up by hand. Then I turned on the mixer again and was surprised when the dough climbed up the dough hooks and onto the mixer itself (see the photo at the top of the page).

I scraped it back into the bowl and mixed some more – eventually, I declared victory and put the dough in the oven to rise (I’d warmed the oven a few degrees, thanks to suggestions here).

When I took the risen dough out to fold it, it was very sticky, and it stayed sticky through the entire process, much stickier than last time. I’m curious as to why it was so sticky and why it attacked the mixer – any suggestions?

I had to split the pretzels between two baking sheets, one on the top rack and one on the bottom. The batch on top browned evenly in 14 minutes; the batch on the bottom (closer to the heat source) was pale on its top side, so I moved it to the top rack and baked for another two minutes, and that darkened it appropriately.

The final product was tasty, despite the glitches along the way (including dumping too much salt on the pretzels as a topping), so I’m hoping to learn how to make the process run better for the next iteration in a couple of weeks.

Shabbat Shalom!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 227

We created the Pathways page on the District 101 Toastmasters website three years ago when Pathways was first made available, and it hasn’t been changed much since then. I was asked to update the page in time for this weekend’s Fall Fusion event – no problem, especially since I was given all of the information.

As I was in the middle editing the page, an email arrived from the system, telling me that WordPress had updated itself to version 5.5.2. That confused things; the work I was doing vanished and the site became unresponsive. Fortunately, I had copied some of what I was doing to a different environment and I was able to recover without having to start afresh, but I would have been much happier if the update hadn’t happened right that second.

All of my other WordPress installations also got updated today; I guess there must have been a serious security issue, because it’s not usually so aggressive in updating.

Software is a wonderful thing sometimes.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 226

By far the most exciting thing that happened today was getting two fillings replaced. My dentist was supposed to have sent me a “before-and-after” photo of one of them for the blog, but it hasn’t yet arrived, which may be just as well.

I am not the calmest dental patient on the planet. After they replaced my crown earlier this month, the assistant suggested I try “NuCalm” for today’s procedure. I guess it helped (I could tell that I didn’t tense up as much as I did for the crown), but I don’t see myself becoming a subscriber.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 225

One of my favorite co-workers at IBM was Brian Carpenter. He came to IBM from CERN (home of the Web), and one of his big interests (then and now) was the need to move from Internet Protocol Version 4 (which had a hard limit of 4.3 billion IP addresses) to IP Version 6 (which allows 340 undecillion addresses, or 79 octillion times as many as IPv4).

It’s been an uphill battle – people found many ways to extend the IPv4 address space (such as hiding entire internal networks behind one gateway address – if your computer has an address starting with 192.168, 172, or 10, it’s using that technique). But slowly but surely, IPv6 has been making its way into the world.

For some reason, our TiVo didn’t record last night’s Rachel Maddow Show. I knew I could get it on the computer or the Amazon Fire Stick – but when I tried to watch it, I couldn’t get past the “Select TV Provider” step for The browser would fail to connect to and the Fire Stick would just give up.

I tried pinging from several systems at home, and none of them could reach it. Just for fun, I logged into the system hosting my blog (which is on a Linode server) and tried pinging from there – lo and behold, it worked! But the messages from the ping command were odd – instead of showing the IPv4 address of the system I was pinging, it showed the IPv6 address (something I’d never encountered before). And if I forced a ping to the IPv4 address, the ping failed, just like it did from home.

I did some searching and found out how to enable IPv6 on my router; I rebooted it and the cable modem, and suddenly I was able to ping Xfinity’s server; even better, I could authorize the Fire Stick (and my computers) to watch NBC programs.

Thanks, Brian!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 224

I don’t know how the winds were in the hills, but they were pretty tame where we live. We probably won’t unpack for a couple of days, just in case, but I have retrieved some of the candy already!

It was a beautiful afternoon, so I decided to take a walk. I had a small balance left on my Starbucks card and I wanted something sweet, so I used their app to order a small Frappuccino and walked over there to pick it up. There were a LOT more people in the store than I expected – I grabbed mine and left as quickly as I could.

I’d made one mistake, though – I hadn’t checked to make sure that autoload was turned off on my card. So, instead of reducing my balance, I added to it!

Starbucks Customer Service said they couldn’t reverse the transaction, but they could send me a check for the amount of the autoload. I’ve turned autoload off for sure now, and I found out how to get the balance on the card refunded when I bring it below $10…which will require yet another trip to Starbucks. But it won’t be anytime soon.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 223

The National Weather Service issued a Red Flag Warning (extreme fire danger and very high winds) for tonight and tomorrow. PG&E has turned off power to tens of thousands of customers (mostly in the hills) around the Bay (not us). The news reports included suggestions that everyone have a go-bag packed and be ready to go – so we packed our bags this afternoon, just in case.

We also responded to the suggestions that everyone get their flu shots before the end of October – we went to Pharmaca in Downtown Los Gatos because it’s more pleasant than CVS or Safeway. It didn’t hurt that I had a $10 coupon for my birthday, that they gave us each a $5 coupon for getting vaccinated there, and they have a good selection of chocolate. I think we spent longer deciding on the chocolate than it took to get the vaccinations!

And in the interest of preparedness, Diane put the new chocolate in the go-bag. We’re ready!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 222

Diane read Torah and I led services for Shir Shabbat this morning. I wasn’t trying to be quick, but we were finished in just over an hour, which gave us plenty of time to relax for the rest of the day.

I hope your day was good, too!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 221

There’s an old joke about the lobbyist and the legislator. The lobbyist takes the legislator out for dinner and drinks and asks “if I made a million-dollar campaign contribution, would you back my bill?” The legislator says “Of course!” Then the lobbyist asks “what about if I only contributed a thousand bucks?” The legislator replies “What kind of public servant do you take me for?” and the lobbyist answers “We’ve already established that; now we’re just haggling over the price.”

I switched my cell service from Google Fi to T-Mobile a bit over a month ago because it was cheaper (Google Fi was $20/month plus $10/gigabyte plus tax; T-Mobile is $30/month flat rate). I didn’t consciously change my data usage, but now that I don’t pay by the gigabyte, I find that I am using a lot more data than I did on Google Fi – and I’ve started noticing that I’m pulling the phone out and looking at it while I’m out walking, which I wasn’t doing before the switch.

I used 2.45 GB during my last full month on Google Fi; I used 4.69 GB during my first month on T-Mobile, and I’ve used 1.88 GB in just 5 days so far during this billing cycle!

I guess my price is $10/gigabyte.

Shabbat Shalom!

  1. This is, of course, the clean and election-season-inspired version of the joke. For a discussion of the origin of the more common version, visit Quote Investigator.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 220

We were supposed to go to Berlin this morning – that is, we were supposed to go on a virtual tour of the Hannah Arendt exhibit at the German Historical Museum with a group from the Santa Ynez Valley Jewish Community. But a few minutes before the scheduled time, the guide had to cancel because of Internet problems in Berlin, so we had the morning off.

And if it weren’t for the pandemic, we would have been in Cape Town for a Wine Tour before our big Africa cruise and photo safari.

But with the world as it is, I did the most useful thing I could – I text-banked for MJ Hagar and Joe Biden in Texas. I was given three hundred names at a time to contact (this is all done through the computer and a system called ThruText – my own phone number was never exposed); generally, fewer than 10 responded in any way.

Most of those responses were “STOP” or words to that effect – at which point I entered the person into the system’s opt-out list to ensure they never heard from us again (sometimes with a polite apology, sometimes not, depending on the nature of their response).

There were lots of “wrong number” replies – those got the appropriate response. And there were a few “I’m with Trump” (or equivalent) answers; they got a polite “thanks, have a nice day” (one person responded to that with “you have a blessed day, too”, which I appreciated).

And then there were a few people who had already voted – our goal is to get them to tell their friends or even to volunteer. I don’t think I got any volunteers, but one response made me very happy:

I’ve got all my family registered & voting. 17 of them w only one lone trump supporter. Got my grandsons to change their voter registrations & DLs 2 months ago. My husband & I voted from out of state by mail in & express mailed our ballots a week ago. My daughters & I just raised $65k for Emily’s list. I appreciate your volunteer efforts.

There wasn’t a canned response for that, but I did manage to type “Thank YOU!” just before the texting window for the day closed.

It was pretty easy – with a lot of time waiting for responses or more names to become available. The campaign has a Slack site to help volunteers be more effective and to answer questions about how to reply to “unusual” responses from voters.

If you want to help out, signup here. You have to read through a short presentation and take a brief quiz before being given contacts – but it’s worth it.

12 days left until voting ends. Vote Biden/Harris!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 218

A couple of years ago, the readers of the San Jose Mercury News voted the interchange between I-880 and US-101 the worst interchange in the Bay Area. It has many horrible features, but the worst of all, in my humble opinion, is the entry from Old Bayshore Highway to I-880 Southbound, just a few hundred feet from the exit to US-101 Northbound. Getting onto the freeway there is daunting at best; I try to avoid it if at all possible.

But today, we braved that route joyfully – we were on our way home (via the library) from dropping our ballots at the Registrar of Voters’ office. We’ve done our civic duty – now to see how else we can make a difference!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 217

I made one more attempt to play the failing Looney Tunes Platinum Collection disc from the library – I cleaned the disc VERY carefully and even reset the Blu-Ray player to factory defaults. Still no dice. I’ve sent them a note saying there’s a problem and will return the set tomorrow.

I also expect to vote tomorrow – I did a lot of research today on the measures I was unsure of and have come to decisions on all of them. I want to sleep on it before filling out the ballot, though, because there were a couple of close decisions.

For those who are curious, I’m planning to vote Biden for President, Eshoo for Congress, Ravel for State Senate, Low for State House, Owens and Ristow for Town Council (4-year terms), and Stephenson for Town Council (2-year term). I’m planning to vote FOR Propositions 15, 16, 17, 18, and 25 and Measures A, B, L, and RR. I haven’t decided whether to vote in the election for Superior Court Office 24 – the judge currently in the seat is running unopposed, so it really doesn’t matter whether I vote or not! Ballotpedia has a link to his website, but when I go there, I see a “this domain for sale” page, so I don’t think he’s terribly worried about this election either.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 216

We spent a lot of time in front of the TV today! We attended a concert in the park in Westchester County and a shiva minyan for the mother of one of the auxiliary rabbis at Shir Hadash.

But the most important thing we saw was interviews with all of the candidates for Los Gatos Town Council, which helped us narrow the field. We still have to make final decisions on the state propositions, Town Council candidates, and local measures – but at least the top of the ballot is easy!

I also reworked the website for the Silver Tongued Cats to put more information on the site. I liked the theme I used there (Colinear) so much I’m using it here, too – did you notice?

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 215

It was the first day of Torah Study for 5781; we are studying the Haftarot this year. Rabbi Aron gave us an introduction to the Haftarot in general (for example, the large range of regional variations in the choice of Haftarah for a particular Shabbat), but we didn’t actually get to this week’s Haftarah! Maybe next week….

Yesterday, the Los Gatos Public Library told me that their copy of Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 3 had gone missing, so I turned to the San Jose Public Library. They didn’t have the Golden Collection, but they said they had the Platinum Collection: Volume 2, which had “Duck! Rabbit! Duck!”, and they emailed me today to come get it.

I inserted Disc 2, which had the cartoon I wanted to see. I was greeted with the unstoppable “this is culturally wrong but worth watching anyway” disclaimer and then the main menu. I selected a cartoon; the screen went black…and that was it.

I even upgraded the firmware in my Blu-Ray player – it didn’t help. I can play some of the features on Disc 2; I can play Disc 1 just fine. But not the cartoons on Disc 2.

A friend had offered to loan me his copy of the Golden Collection, but I thought I’d see if I could find the cartoon online. YouTube has excerpts, but not the whole thing – but a wider search paid off.

If I wanted to see it again, I’d buy the Blu-Ray from Amazon (it’s only $10), but the mandatory ads and disclaimers are awfully discouraging.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 214

I went back to the eye doctor for my 3-week followup for my vitreous detachment; nothing had changed, which made both of us happy.

We tried a new recipe for dinner for the first time in a while – Sheet-Pan Salmon and Broccoli With Sesame and Ginger from the New York Times. Fresh local wild king salmon season is over, but it would have been wasted in this recipe; we made it with wild coho from Lunardi’s. I was in a hurry and didn’t realize until I was typing this entry that I hadn’t rescaled the recipe for two portions instead of four, so I made twice as much glaze as I probably needed – I had enough that it puddled in the pan! Fortunately, I’d put parchment paper under the food, so clean up was easy anyway.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 213

I was booked for a speech at the Silver Tongued Cats Toastmasters club today; it had to be humorous, include stories, and have a message. I decided to talk about my baking experiences (especially last week’s pretzel production), and it went over well. We continue to consume the pretzels, too – we’re more than halfway through the batch. I guess they’re good!

We watched the West Wing not-a-reunion benefit for When We All Vote and really enjoyed it. The appearances by Michelle Obama, President Clinton, and others during the act breaks were good, too. You need to subscribe to HBO Max to watch it, but they offer a 7-day free trial.

Santa Clara County entered the Orange Tier on Tuesday, and indoor restaurant dining was officially allowed yesterday (with significant capacity restrictions, of course). Restaurants are emailing to let us know that they’re open again; I wish them well, but I don’t expect to be dining inside for at least the rest of the year (we haven’t even taken advantage of patio dining at restaurants, and I don’t feel the urge for that, either).

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 212

Today was Dentistry Day at Chez D2.

Diane went to her dentist this morning for her long-delayed cleaning – it was supposed to have been in April, but….

We go to different dentists for historical reasons – when we moved out here, we used the same dentist. He retired around 1995, and Diane just went to his successor; one of my co-workers’ long-time girlfriend was a dentist whose office was close to work, so I switched to her practice, and then followed her when she joined another dentist, and then I stayed in that practice when she retired, and then stayed on when that dentist sold her practice and retired. Diane’s dentist is a sole practitioner; mine is in a multi-site, multi-dentist operation.

I needed a crown to replace an old one that had deteriorated – when that’s happened previously, it’s required two visits. But my newest dentist said she could do the whole thing in one visit of 2-1/2 hours, which sounded good to me.

The first step was numbing, as usual, and then the removal of the old crown. Then the dentist put a camera in my mouth for a few minutes, moving it around until she was happy with what she saw on her screen. After that, she told me to relax for a few minutes and left; a whining sound started from an adjacent office, and the screen started a countdown.

I got up and found the whining sound – my crown was being milled on the spot in a CEREC machine.

A few minutes later, the dentist came in to do a fit test; the crown was purple because it hadn’t been fully baked yet.

She made a few adjustments and took the crown away to bake it, then came back and finished the installation. The purple was gone, and that was it (except for the most painful part – the bill). The whole process took about 2-1/2 hours, as promised. I was impressed. I’d rather not do it again, though.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 211

It was Prime Day today, and we were ready!

I’d had a cabin air filter for Diane’s car and a set of three OXO measuring cups in my cart for days, waiting for the right time. We even bought spaghetti and couscous from Whole Foods over the weekend to earn the $10 Prime Day credit they were offering.

As we got ready to order, the excitement was palpable. I checked Consumer Reports and The Wirecutter to see what other products they recommended – The Wirecutter told me about a very nice All-Clad stainless tri-clad frying pan that looked good.

I went out to Diane’s car and looked at the cabin air filter. It was clean (I guess we’d only driven the car a few thousand miles since I last changed it), so I took it out of the cart.

The All-Clad pan wasn’t available from Amazon (but I might get it from Williams-Sonoma, since it’s discounted there).

I even checked on LED “75-watt” bulbs, since the old incandescent over the kitchen table blew out this morning. The Wirecutter recommended the Cree bulb, and Amazon had it for $12; Home Depot has it for $6.

I pushed the button – one set of measuring cups is on its way at a $10 discount.

Oh, the excitement of it all!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 210

I had to give a speech at Silicon Valley Storytellers today. I’m on the “Engaging Humor” path, but not all of the speeches have to be funny; I decided to talk about the upcoming election.

No, not about the Presidential election, nor even about any elected office. I talked about the propositions on the ballot. And I didn’t even give my opinion of any of the propositions; instead, I gave a presentation about how to research the propositions instead of relying on the limited information in the Official Voter Guide and the even more limited information in ads.

People seemed to find it useful – in fact, I got requests for my slides, so I put them online here.

I did something different in preparing the presentation – normally, I just start creating slides, but this time, I made a mindmap with iThoughts. I reorganized it a few times as I was pulling the presentation together, which would have been difficult in PowerPoint! When I was happy with the mindmap, I exported it to PowerPoint. I still wound up reordering the slides to make more sense as a sequential presentation, but it was pretty easy to get the flow I wanted.

I also experimented with the “Design Ideas” feature of PowerPoint to get away from plain bullet lists – instead, I had pretty bullet lists and boxes. I added pictures to a couple of the slides, and my evaluator suggested I do more of that. I have to give a speech to my other club on Thursday, and I might just reuse this one…with more pictures.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 209

It was Sunday, so we began the day with a trip to the Farmers’ Market. Local King Salmon season has ended for the year, so we settled for lingcod and halibut. Tomatoes were still good, and we’re hopeful for the strawberries we bought, but the seasons are definitely changing.

After the market, we took our usual Sunday walk in town. We passed a very nice morning glory and both Diane and I took photos. Hers is on her Facebook page. Here’s mine:

When we got home, I looked at my photo and thought it would look better without the bright spot at the upper right of the flower. I’d been looking for a reason to try using my new Apple Pencil for something constructive – this seemed to fit the bill. I downloaded Photoshop for the iPad and started playing; the Pencil made it pretty easy to select the parts of the picture I wanted to deal with, and I wound up with this:

The bright spot is gone. If I knew what I was doing, I probably could have avoided creating the dark blotches, but considering this was my first use of Photoshop and I haven’t looked at the tutorials, I’m not disappointed.

I think I’m keeping the Pencil. I’ll have to find another excuse to go to the Apple Store!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 208

We watched last night’s Late Show with Stephen Colbert this afternoon so we could see the interview with the cast of The West Wing, which created a “not a reunion” show on HBO Max starting Thursday. We’re looking forward to it, even though we haven’t seen all of The West Wing (I’m not sure we’ve seen the episode they’re re-enacting, Hartsfield’s Landing, but we plan to fix that before Thursday).

I wanted to make sure our HBO Max subscription was properly set up, so I did the “authorize through Xfinity” dance and watched the trailer for Thursday’s episode. I was curious what else might be available, and scrolled down until I saw “Looney Tunes”, which made me think of some of my favorite cartoons, including What’s Opera, Doc?, so I clicked through and took a look.

I wanted to watch the cartoon with “pronoun trouble”, but I couldn’t quite remember its name, so I went to Wikipedia and searched there. It reminded me that the title was Rabbit Seasoning, but the article also mentioned that it was the second cartoon in a trilogy. The others are Rabbit Fire and Duck! Rabbit! Duck!, neither of which I’d seen.

So I went back to HBO Max and watched Rabbit Fire and Rabbit Seasoning and enjoyed them immensely – but Duck! Rabbit! Duck! was nowhere to be found.

Off to IMDB, which pointed me at the Amazon listing for Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 3, which could be mine for the low, low price of $25.96, or the Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2 for a mere $9.96 (note: affiliate links, in case you’re feeling generous).

I wanted to see the third cartoon, but not ten bucks’ worth of wanting. Instead, I looked at the Los Gatos Library’s catalog, and they have the Golden Collection on hand. The library isn’t actually open, but they fill holds on a daily basis, so I expect to pick up the DVDs next week.

Hope it’s worth watching!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 207

A couple of weeks ago, the Mercury News ran a recipe from King Arthur Flour for German-style Pretzels. It looked good. And when I found King Arthur Flour and instant dry yeast at Lunardi’s a couple of weeks ago, I decided to buy it and make the pretzels. But I delayed until the time was right – this morning, I decided the time was right, and followed the simple recipe.

Step 0: Discard old flour that was probably well past its peak.

Step 1: Find the mixer. We have a Sunbeam. I decided to use the dough hooks rather than the beaters.

Step 2: Measure the ingredients into the mixing bowl. Everything was easy except the flour, which was still in the bag. I dipped my half-cup measure right into the bag of flour – ten times in total. This may have been a mistake.

Step 3: Mix. The mixer complained, and not much seemed to happen. After the first three minutes, I noticed that a LOT of flour was still sitting, dry, at the bottom of the bowl; I kept mixing.

Step 4: Increase the speed of the mixer. Still a lot of flour sitting around.

Step 5: Call King Arthur’s help line. The agent suggested adding water, slowly, until the dough started to come together. She also suggested weighing the ingredients next time – the original recipe at King Arthur calls for 612 grams of flour, but I’d put in about 740 grams.

Step 6: Add water and mix, add water and mix, add water and mix. Eventually, we decided it looked like dough.

Dough, right?

Step 7: Let it rest for 45 minutes.

Step 8: Fold (per the recipe).

Step 9: Let it rest for 45 minutes (make and eat lunch during that time).

Step 10: Look at it and decide it hasn’t risen enough. Give it another 20 minutes and it looks like this:

I guess it rose

Step 11: Give it another 15 minutes, then continue.

Step 12: Try to deflate the dough – nothing seems to happen. The dough is incredibly sticky, but Diane suggests putting flour on my hands and the mat and I manage to get it divided into 100-gram pieces (I get 12, versus the 10 I should have according to the recipe) and shape them into “rough logs”.

Rough Logs

Step 13: Roll the logs into 18-to-22-inch ropes and shape into pretzels. Use lots of flour to keep things from sticking, but eventually, I have proto-pretzels:


Step 14: Put the proto-pretzels in the refrigerator for an hour. Go to Target and pick up a new electric toothbrush.

Step 15: Prepare a water bath with baking soda; boil the pretzels, two at a time, for a minute each, and put them onto parchment-paper-covered baking sheets. Sprinkle with salt.

Boiled Proto-Pretzels

Step 16: Bake the pretzels (finally!) for 14-16 minutes at 450°F. Put on a rack to cool. Make dinner.

Pretzels Cooling on the Rack

Step 17: Use the pretzels as the bread for Kiddush!

Pretzels on the Plate

Step 18: Freeze the other 10 pretzels for later.

Lessons Learned

  • Weigh ingredients rather than measuring by volume
  • Go to the source for the recipe rather than relying on the newspaper’s version
  • Don’t despair, ask for help
  • Stickiness can be overcome
  • Patience is a virtue

Questions for Experienced Bakers

  • Should the dough have risen visibly?
  • Should I have used the mixing blades instead of the dough hooks?
  • What should I make next with the three-plus pounds of flour I have left?

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 206

We had a case of wine delivered today, and I’m not sure it was entirely legal. The box was marked as “alcohol, adult signature required”. In the Before Times, the driver rang the bell and made me sign on their terminal; since the lockdown, they’ve rung the bell and looked at me to make sure I looked over 21, then the driver signed on the terminal. Today, the bell didn’t ring; there wasn’t a knock on the door. There was a quiet “thump” when the driver put the box on the porch, but by the time I got to the door, no one was there. But the wine was waiting for me, so I’m happy!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 205

I copied the Windows virtual machine I’d created on the MacBook Air to my substantially faster MacBook Pro and was shocked and appalled to find it unable to keep up with my typing. I’d created a fancy curved path in Artisan to hold text the text – but some of my keystrokes were being dropped, and others were being doubled or tripled.

I thought that something had gone wrong when I copied the virtual machine, so I rebuilt it from scratch on the Pro, and it didn’t work any better. In desperation, I tried Notepad, and it couldn’t keep up, either!

A little searching brought up this thread on the VirtualBox forum; I applied the fix (changing a property in a hidden sub-application of VirtualBox), and it seems to have fixed the problem – now any typos are my fault.

We had a schedule conflict tonight – we had to choose between watching the Vice-Presidential debate or playing a previously-scheduled online trivia game. We went with the trivia – everyone who participated was trying to give correct answers, which does not seem to have been the case at the debate. Our TiVo captured the debate for us, so we have the option of watching it, but we’ve already seen the fly, so the surprise is gone.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 204

Today has been an interesting day. We started with a blast from the past – a walk on the Los Gatos Creek Trail in Campbell. We used to go there once or twice a week when we went to the chiropractor; that fell by the way with the lockdown, but now that we’re going to the chiropractor again, we thought it was time to brave the trail.

It was a lot more pleasant than the Los Gatos Creek Trail on a Sunday in Los Gatos – it was easy to stay appropriately far away from others, and not a single crazed bicyclist tried to run us down. There weren’t even large clumps of walkers blocking the whole width of the trail!

As I mentioned on Friday, Diane’s Windows laptop is getting full; it’s suffering from other flaky behavior, too (the audio doesn’t work most of the time, for example). My MacBook Air has a 1TB SSD, so the idea of having her use it came to mind. So I installed VirtualBox, an evaluation copy of Windows 10 Enterprise and an evaluation copy of Forever Artisan on the Air to try it – it performs surprisingly well, although the fans run continuously. And if I gave her the Air, I could get an Apple Silicon machine when they announce it…oops, did I use my outside typing voice just now?

Tonight was also the night for the quarter-finals of the “Speaker Showcase” for Toastmasters District 101’s “Fall Fusion”, and I represented my club in the Evaluation Contest. I won (I was the last contestant, so I didn’t get to see any of the other evaluators), so I get to compete again in a couple of weeks.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 203

Over the weekend, the diverter in the spray head in our kitchen faucet gave up the ghost, so this morning, I took it to The Powder Room, where I’d bought it in 2008, in hopes that they could help me. They tried, but couldn’t fix it. A new one would cost $200, but they said that the manufacturer, Grohe, would send out a replacement under warranty if I called them.

Saving $200 sounded like a good idea, so I called as soon as I got home. After navigating the menu tree (only three keypresses required), I was greeted with the dreaded “wait times are longer than normal, please hold” recording. The hold music wasn’t too bad, and the announcements weren’t too annoying, but I was happy when the music stopped after about 4 minutes. And I was unhappy 2 seconds later when the recording restarted from the beginning.

An hour later, I had to hang up the phone to go to the dentist for a cleaning. And an examination. And the news that I had to have a filling redone (for free!), plus another filling and a new crown. I made the appointments and drove home to get back on the phone with Grohe.

An hour and another dozen repetitions of the recording later, an agent answered, and five minutes later, a new spray head was on its way to me. Well, not really – it’s out of stock but they expect to ship it around the 27th of this month.

We got our County Voter Information Guides and sample ballots today. Still to come: the State Voter Information Guide and the actual ballots. I can’t wait!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 202

I created yesterday’s entry entirely on the iPad (except for the photo of the iPad, of course, which I took on the iPhone); I even used the WordPress app to upload the photo and entry to my blog. It was a bit clunkier than doing the work on the Mac and using the web interface to WordPress, but it wasn’t bad at all.

Soon after I uploaded the entry, though, I realized that I hadn’t removed the GPS coordinates from the photo – and that meant our house’s location was out in the world for anyone to harvest! I’m sure it’s not all that difficult to find out where we live anyway, but there’s no sense in publishing it unnecessarily.

I was stubborn and still didn’t want to use the Mac, so I figured out how to create an iOS Shortcut to strip the metadata and reposted last night’s photo, but I had to delete all the metadata, and it was a manual process – both of which seemed like a mistake.

What I really wanted was a way to automatically strip the GPS data from photos as I uploaded them to WordPress, but only if they were taken fairly close to our house. I didn’t find any plugins that seemed to fit the bill, so I started writing one.

This, of course, meant that I’d have to do the job in PHP, a language I’ve never used. But PHP is close enough in spirit to Python that it wasn’t too hard to suss out what I needed to do; it helped that PHP has native support for reading EXIF data in images.

Click here to see what I’ve written so far:

#!/usr/bin/env php 
if ($argc >= 2) {
  $target = $argv[1];
else {
  $target = "IMG_6671.jpg";

function dist_between($lat1, $long1, $lat2, $long2) {
    // Computes distance in kilometers between two points using the haversine formula
    // Points are given in decimal degrees
    $l1 = $lat1 * M_PI / 180;
    $l2 = $lat2 * M_PI / 180;
    $deltaLat = ($lat2 - $lat1) * M_PI / 180;
    $deltaLong = ($long2 - $long1) * M_PI / 180;
    $a = (sin($deltaLat/2) ** 2) + cos($l1) * cos($l2) * (sin($deltaLong/2)**2);
    $c = 2 * atan2(sqrt($a), sqrt(1-$a));
    $d = 6371 * $c;

function evaluate_rational($rational) {
  $item = explode('/', $rational);
  return (float)$item[0] / (float)$item[1];

function convert_location($location, $ref) {
  $loc = evaluate_rational($location[0]) + 
         evaluate_rational($location[1]) / 60.0 +
         evaluate_rational($location[2]) / 3600.0;
  if ($ref == 'S' or $ref == 's' or $ref == 'W' or $ref == 'w') {
    $mult = -1;
  } else {
    $mult = 1;
  return $mult * $loc;

$exif = exif_read_data($target);
if ((array_key_exists('GPSLatitudeRef', $exif)) and
    (array_key_exists('GPSLongitudeRef', $exif)) and 
    (array_key_exists('GPSLatitude', $exif)) and
    (array_key_exists('GPSLongitude', $exif))) {

  // Let's pick up the information.
  $lat = convert_location($exif['GPSLatitude'], $exif['GPSLatitudeRef']);
  $long = convert_location($exif['GPSLongitude'], $exif['GPSLongitudeRef']);
  // Home is a constant here, though it shouldn't be.
  $hlat = 38.8976633;
  $hlong = -77.0365739;
  // and so is the critical distance: 0.5km;
  $cdist = 0.5;
  // get the distance between home and the photo, and if it's less than the critical distance, wipe GPS.
  $dist = dist_between($lat, $long, $hlat, $hlong);
  if ($dist <= $cdist) {
      echo $target, " delete ", $dist, " is less than ", $cdist, PHP_EOL; 

      $cmd = "exiftool '-gps*=' " . $target;
      echo $cmd, PHP_EOL;
      exec($cmd, $output);
      foreach($output as $row) {
          echo $row, PHP_EOL;
  } else {
      echo "Not deleting ", $dist, " is more than ", $cdist, PHP_EOL;


The observant among you will notice a few things about this code:

  • It is not a WordPress plug-in
  • It has hard-coded values for“home” and the radius of “nearby”
  • It is undoubtedly VERY VERY bad PHP

However, it worked – I was able to use it against my existing WordPress media directory to strip the coordinates from about 10 images that I’d taken at home or within 500 meters of home.

The next step is to turn the code into a plugin so that I don’t have to think about it any more. But that’s for later this week.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 201

Diane spent the whole day on Zoom in the office at her Pixels 2 Pages session; she’s created several pages for the book she’s going to make about our trip to Greece in 2018, and she’s been learning new tricks to make the book more interesting and vibrant.

I haven’t done any photo editing for the last two days because I haven’t been in the office. I guess I could have brought my computer into another room, but I didn’t; instead, I did something I’ve been considering for a while. I went to the Apple Store and picked up a Magic Keyboard and Pencil for my iPad. I had planned to go to Costco, but it turns out that the IBM discount is slightly better than Costco’s price, and there is a lot less crowding at the Apple Store. I ordered online and was able to pick it up a couple of hours later – I spent about four minutes in the store and it was, as promised, a touchless experience.

Getting used to the keyboard has been pretty easy (though I expect to swear at it a lot if I try to use it to do any text editing with Vim, since there’s no escape key), and having a trackpad has been nice when I’ve remembered it’s there. The keyboard is definitely crisper than the Logitech K380 I’ve been using, and that’s a point in its favor.

I’m not nearly as comfortable with the pencil; when I was considering getting it, it was mostly with the idea of using it for photo editing, and I haven’t tried that yet…until just now, when I realized I needed a photo to post with this blog entry. I used Pixelmator Photo to edit the photo and used the pencil to get rid of the wires on the desk; I need to learn how to do a better job, though, because the iPad doesn’t really have a jagged left edge. It was a lot easier using the pencil than it has been when I’ve tried doing fine editing with my fingers; I do wish I could use it on the Mac, too.

I have 14 days to decide what to keep and what to return. The return process is supposed to be touchless, too. We’ll see.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 200

I just discovered that, technically speaking, I’ve been using the wrong title for these blog entries since July 2, 2020 (Day 108), when Santa Clara County replaced its Shelter-in-Place Order with a Risk Reduction Order. “Risk Reduction Journal” just doesn’t have the right feeling, so I’m going to stick with “Shelter-in-Place Journal”, at least until we spend a night away from home.

If this had been a normal year, Diane would have been spending tonight away from home, at a multi-day “Pixels 2 Pages” session, probably at a hotel in Morgan Hill. But since it’s 2020, she’s attending from home – she’s been in the office on Zoom all day. At least we were able to have lunch and dinner together!

And it may be just as well that we were together – the software she’s using (Forever Artisan) is Windows-only. The SSD on her laptop filled up just before lunch, and we spent a while carving out enough space to let her continue working. We got rid of a lot of Windows cruft, and I discovered that I still had my Dropbox folder on her machine, along with Quicken backup files from two years ago and the like – after clearing that out, she’s got 23GB available, which should get her through the weekend. 256 GB seemed like a lot of storage when we bought the laptop, but it’s clearly insufficient – time for an external drive so she can move completed projects and resource kits off the SSD.

This marks 200 days in a row that I’ve written a blog entry. Not all of them have been gems, but I hope they’ve mostly been worth reading. My IBM colleague, Jessica Wu Ramirez, suggested I insert animated confetti to celebrate hitting this milestone, and I’m always eager to respond to reader requests (especially when the reader provides all the information needed!), so Jessica, this is for you!


Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 199

The air has been bad all day today, but it was just barely clean enough this morning to let us go out on walks (Diane went during my Toastmasters meeting, and I went afterwards). That would have been it for actual exercise if I hadn’t also had a stress echocardiogram scheduled – I think being put on a treadmill and told to walk as long as possible as they keep increasing the speed and elevation counts as exercise, don’t you? I even remembered to start a workout on my Apple Watch so I’d get credit!

My cardiologist was happy with the results, and I was happy to go get lunch afterwards. I don’t think she would have been happy with my choice – tri-tip sandwich and fries – but it sure tasted good! I thought about eating it on one of the outside tables at the restaurant, but the air discouraged me, so I brought it home.

No new progress on fixing my photo workflow issues, but they didn’t stop me from making a first editing pass on photos from Rhodes – here’s a photo of the Mosaic of Poseidon and the Giant Polybotes from the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta as proof.