Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 290

It was Diane’s birthday today – we celebrated by mostly staying at home (we did go grocery shopping and took a walk). We had a nice call with our son in Boston and a good Trivial Zoom this evening (alcohol was consumed), then we watched the CNN New Year’s Eve special and watched 2020 end on the East Coast.

Happy New Year!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 289

We made another new recipe from the Mercury News tonight, Pomegranate Chicken. I was afraid we were making far too much food, but it looks like we hit our goal of having just enough leftovers for one meal. We may try boneless, skinless thighs next time in the hope that the glaze will actually penetrate the meat.

Other than that, I spent the entire day working on the Toastmasters handover, in particular the scripts I mentioned yesterday to make it easy for people to build their own copy of the website and tooling. There were, of course, a few glitches along the way.

The biggest mistake I made was making the virtual machine’s disk too small and filling it up several hours into the process. I should have just deleted that virtual machine and started again, but I didn’t – instead, I enlarged the disk but somehow didn’t enlarge the filesystem, so it filled up again after several more hours of work. I learned my lesson and rebuilt the machine from scratch (it really didn’t take very long!).

I’m also having a strange problem with networking on the virtual machine – Ubuntu assigns a private IPv6 address to the machine, causing it to be unable to get to to install Python software. If I take the interface down and up, the private address goes away and all is well. I can’t figure out how to keep the private address from being created in the first place, but at least I’ve got an easy workaround.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 288

I spent a few hours working with the person who’s volunteering to take over the back end of the District 101 website; he is primarily a Windows user, so he has had to set up a Linux environment from scratch.

Today, we wanted to get the actual website and development environment onto his machine; fortunately, I’d written scripts to do that the last time I got some help, two years ago. Unfortunately, I hadn’t looked at the scripts since then, and Things Have Changed.

Most of the changes were easy to fix (I’d hard-coded “Python3.7” in several places, which was a bad idea), but one threw me for a loop. As part of the install, I clone the actual WordPress directory from; I decided that it was unnecessary and possibly harmful to bring over the cache directory, so I added –exclude ‘cache/‘ to the rsync command I use to do the cloning. That worked fine two years ago, but in the meantime, the theme we use on the site (Divi) added a cache directory to its codebase; when I cloned the site, that directory didn’t get brought over.

There’s more to be done…tomorrow.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 287

When I visited the ophthalmologist a few days ago, he strongly suggested I get new glasses because my prescription had changed more than 0.25 diopters in both eyes. I thought about going to Costco in the hopes it would save me some money, and I might have done that in a normal year – but this year, staying out of Costco is high on my priority list. I’ve gotten glasses online with fair success – but I’ve only been willing to do that for special-purpose glasses for golf or sitting at the computer. So this afternoon, I returned to the ophthalmologist to visit the optician there.

I was still interested in saving money, so I brought my current backup glasses to see if the frame could be reused. I never found the answer to that question – the optician explained that I could get a brand new frame for no co-pay with my VSP benefits; I ordered the new frame. The old frame (and lenses) will go to the Lions’ Club so someone will be able to use them – just not me.

Both Diane and I decided we like our new Macs, so we sent our old ones back to Apple for trade-in. For the first time in more than a decade, we don’t have any “Pro” Macs in the house – but we do have two Airs and two Minis.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 286

This blog runs on a Linux server on Linode (referral link). I use the server for a few other purposes, too; one of its tasks is to send us selected items from the paper every morning. It usually runs smoothly, but this morning, we didn’t get the email from the server, nor any error messages. I logged onto the server and ran the summary program at the console; it seemed to work but at the very end, I got a message: “Killed”.

I knew I hadn’t written any such message into my program, so I started digging. I didn’t have to dig far – as soon as I looked at the system log, I saw messages from the “oom-killer” program, followed by a message: “Out of memory: Killed process…”.

I ran top and found that my memory was almost all in use, as was my swapfile. I rebooted, and things seemed better – but I did some more web searching and found out how to check the size of the swapfile – it was only 256MB on a 1GB image, far less than recommended.

I stopped the machine and reallocated space to give me a 2GB swapfile; I hope that solves the problem. As of this minute, the system is using 416MB of the swapfile, but there’s also nearly 400MB free main memory – I hope it knows what it’s doing, because I don’t!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 285

This morning, Rabbi Aron led Shir Shabbat services. That’s not unusual, but today’s service marked the last Shabbat service she’ll lead as the Senior Rabbi at Shir Hadash – she retires on Thursday and becomes Rabbi Emerita on Friday.

She’s told the story of the first Shabbat service she led at Shir Hadash, which ended with her and the Temple secretary driving all over town trying to find a place for a homeless man to stay for the night. Her last service will come with its own story – it got Zoom-bombed by at least half-a-dozen vandals! She closed the room and reopened it and we were very careful about only letting known people into the service the second time around (a couple of us volunteered to co-host so she could actually lead the service) and there were no further incidents.

This evening, we watched City Lights’ production of Mark Anderson Philips’s one-man version of A Christmas Carol – it was very good (if you want to see it, go to before January 3). But I got distracted by a stuck pixel at the bottom of the TV screen – I wondered if it might have been an artifact in the recording, but it stayed on after the show. Then I wondered if the TV might be giving up the ghost (and providing me an excuse to upgrade), so I moved the cursor to bring up a browser…and the “stuck pixel” turned out to be the tip of the cursor that had been sitting at the bottom of the screen the whole time. So much for that reason to upgrade!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 284

I woke up today realizing that I had two problems that I could solve if I just spent a little time learning how to make images in Python:

  • Creating a graphic for the daily Pushover weather notification that I send to Diane and me; right now, it’s just plain text and it’s difficult to pick out the important information. Pushover doesn’t support HTML or formatted text, but it does allow adding an image to the notification.
  • Printing labels on the Brother PT-2730 on Big Sur, as I mentioned yesterday.

The second problem was smaller, so I attacked it first. It was easy to create a PNG file from the text for a label and print it; the hard part was figuring out how to print it to a label of the proper length, and the documentation is, shall we say, very limited. Trial-and-error was my friend.

A few dozen trials, and most of my tape supply, later, I have a working program that lets me print labels in any font on my machine (figuring out how to specify the font by name and variation instead of filename and index was not easy). It’s on GitHub in case it’s of use to anyone else.

Creating the graphic for the weather notification will happen some other time.

Shabbat Shalom!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 283

I hit my first significant incompatibility with Big Sur and my new Mac mini today. For many years, I’ve had a Brother PT-2730 label maker attached to a Mac in the office; by using Brother’s P-Touch Editor, I could create labels in any font I wanted. The software wasn’t the easiest thing in the world to use, but since I was only writing a few words at a time, it sufficed.

But when I migrated to Big Sur, the software crashed as soon as I tried to type anything. And Brother doesn’t seem to plan to support it on Big Sur; they have a new version of the editor on the Mac App Store, but it explicitly does not allow printing to older label makers like mine (I tried).

The obvious solution (at least from Brother’s viewpoint) would have me buy a new label maker that is supported – but that seems silly.

The next most obvious solution would be to install the Windows version of the editor on Diane’s Windows laptop, plug the printer into that machine, and declare victory. But that would require fiddling with Windows.

I was able to print directly to the label printer from Microsoft Word, but I haven’t found a way to print a label with an arbitrary length from Word. I’m looking for code that will do it from the command line, but haven’t found it yet.

Maybe using Windows for printing labels isn’t a totally horrible idea after all.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 282

We made cookies this morning according to the Doubletree recipe (except that we left out the walnuts – we were giving them away to neighbors and weren’t sure of nut allergies). It was messy, but the results were good!

We sent the ZVOX speaker I mentioned on December 13 back to ZVOX today. It definitely did clarify voices, but it was at the expense of stereo and a good bit of naturalness of the sound. I can get close to the same level of clarity by adjusting the graphic equalizer on the Denon receiver, and that means one fewer box and one fewer remote control to deal with, which seems like a fair trade for now.

This afternoon, I heard a “tink…tink…tink” sound from an external hard drive on Diane’s machine. Fortunately, it was only a backup/Time Machine drive, so there was no real loss of data, but I would like to get her machine up on Time Machine again real soon, so I think I’m in the market for another external drive (this one was at least five years old, so it’s not surprising that it failed).

After that, I decided to clean up the wiring around my computer in my office – that was several hours ago, and some things still don’t work. Maybe tomorrow will be better….

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 281

I set up the speaker system I mentioned yesterday; it’s a Cambridge Soundworks “Microworks”. I wouldn’t exactly call it “micro”, but it works. Unfortunately, it also uses a lot of power (85 watts) and suffers from a good bit of hum, so I’ll probably get some small desktop speakers instead, with a switch and volume control that I can reach easily instead of having to go under the desk.

I had my first meeting with the new District Web team this afternoon – I’d been trying to get a replacement as Webmaster for a couple of years, but I hadn’t ever set a date certain for my departure, so nothing happened. In October, I told the District Director that I needed to be replaced by the end of 2020, and it’s happening! I will be helping tie up loose ends for a month or two, I’m sure, but the direction is clear.