Pandemic Journal, Day 501

We were the last group off the ship this morning, which gave us the luxury of sleeping late and having a leisurely breakfast and time to wander around the ship before boarding the tender for Vigur Island. The island is family-owned and only a limited number of visitors are allowed on at any time.

The main attraction of Vigur Island is the wildlife – puffins, Arctic terns (which can be vicious – we had to carry sticks to avoid being attacked by them), and eider (ducks). The island produces about 50kg of eiderdown per year, of a world production of only 3500kg – the down is harvested from the nests of the ducks after they shed it.

We survived the terns and were treated to “happy marriage cake” before leaving the island.

After lunch, we sailed to Isafjördur and visited the Maritime and Folk Museum. There, we sampled some Icelandic delicacies – dried fish, preserved shark, and Black Death (Brennivín Icelandic schnapps). The schnapps was the best of the three offerings.

After that, we stopped at a waterfall where we drank water right from the glacier that fed it – untreated!

Then we drove through a six-kilometer long tunnel to Bolungarvik for a short concert in an old church and a visit to the Fisherman’s Museum.

And now we’re back on the ship, en route to Grimsey Island and the Arctic Circle. I expect to lose connectivity soon, so I’m posting now!

Pandemic Journal, Day 500

We said farewell to the Hotel Borg this morning and boarded our bus for the Golden Circle tour.

We drove past the geothermal power plant, nearly to Selfoss, through Geysir, and on to Gullfoss where we got off the bus and walked to the end of the trail over the falls. Along the way, we took photos of a big glacier and of fishermen in a river.

Back to Geysir for a walk to Strokker geyser, which erupts every few minutes. It wasn’t easy to capture it, but I finally got some video.

Lunch was at Geysir Restaurant – salmon with Icelandic barley, potatoes, and a vegetable soup. Also South African wine (Cape Heights Cabernet Sauvignon), though Icelandic beer was on offer, and I had an Icelandic orange soda, Applesin.

Next stop: Þingvellir, the original seat of the Icelandic Parliament, and the place where the European and North American plates touch. I took many photos, but bandwidth restrictions prevent me from sharing them now.

Boarding the ship was complicated because of Covid; we are their first passengers since Before, and things are still a bit uneven.

Connectivity is very slow out here, but I’ll do what I can!

Pandemic Journal, Day 499

This morning, we began our tour with a trip to the Perlan to get a preview of the wonders of Iceland, including a trip through their Ice Cave (kept at -5C, made with more than 350 tons of snow).

The Glacier exhibits were fascinating, and more than a little scary when they used time lapse photography to show how much glaciers like the Mendenhall in Alaska have shrunk during the 21st Century; there was also an obituary for the Okjökull Glacier, which was declared dead in 2014.

I also enjoyed going outside on the fourth level to take in a 360º panorama of Reykjavik – while we were out there, the guide told us that you could get a very nice 3-bedroom apartment in a very nice part of town for about 1 million US dollars – those of us from the Bay Area wondered why it was so cheap!

From the Perlan, we took a long bus ride through the outskirts of town, eventually winding up at the National Museum of Iceland. This was the last stop of the day; the bus left 30 minutes after we got there, but several of us stayed behind to explore more of the history of Iceland (the museum was a 15-minute walk from the hotel, so planning to miss the bus wasn’t a big deal).

Lunch was at an interesting Middle Eastern restaurant, Mandi, near the hotel. The food was good, the prices reasonable, and the atmosphere non-existent. Diane and I had a “mixed plate” with lamb, chicken, and cod, plus plenty of salad. We also tried basil seed drinks which were bottled in Thailand for a company with Jordanian and Swedish phone numbers – the label, of course, was entirely in English, and the size was given in US fluid ounces first, with metric as an afterthought.

We spent the afternoon roaming around the city (if you want total honesty, it was so I could buy candy – I had to use a self-service cash register with Icelandic prompts!) and returned, one more time, to Caruso for dinner.

Tomorrow morning, we leave the hotel for a Golden Circle tour and end up on the ship – it’s already in Reykjavik, where the crew has been serving a two-week quarantine before starting to sail with passengers; I guess we’re the beta testers!

Pandemic Journal, Day 498

Our pre-tour officially began this morning when we got into a mini-bus with a dozen other travelers for our excursion to the Blue Lagoon.

The trip included a buffet breakfast (in Iceland, such things still exist!), a swim in the lagoon, a drink, and their silica mud mask – we took advantage of all four.

After the lagoon, we got onto a bigger bus for the trip into town and a visit to the Hallgrímskirkja Church – since we’d been there already, we left the group and had lunch at 101 Reykjavik Street Food. I had the plokkfiskur (traditional Icelandic fish stew) and Diane had the lamb soup. I’d go back – even if they didn’t also give us free Prince Polo bars for dessert.

The rest of the day was “at leisure”, so we wandered around town, including paying a visit to the Sun Voyager sculpture on the waterfront.

The weather was beautiful – sunny and 66 degrees – and outside restaurant seating was packed!

Tomorrow, we take a city tour in the morning – it’ll hit places we haven’t been yet, so we expect to stay with the group all day.

Pandemic Journal, Day 497

I follow a jet-lag reduction routine that I found a long time ago in Jane Brody’s column in the New York Times (if you’re a subscriber, you can read the article here; if not, most of the info is here). It seems to work well. Last night, I took my melatonin at 10pm, as directed, and was out soon thereafter, waking around 7am today and staying awake and feeling good all day – well, until I took melatonin this evening and started to feel tired again!

We visited two of the Reykjavik city museums today. This morning, we went to the Settlement Exhibition, which tells the story of the earliest days of the city, based on a 10th Century longhouse they discovered while building a hotel nearby. It was dark inside, so we didn’t take photos inside, but the outside was somewhat interesting.

We lunched at Cafe Rosenberg, where we both had lox and bagels with honeyed cream cheese.

Somehow, we had room for dessert and went to Gaeta Gelato. Fortunately, they offered “little” cones (only $6!) that were just about the right size.

This afternoon, we went back to the Old Harbor to visit the Maritime Museum.

We saw both exhibits at the Maritime Museum – one on the recovery and exploration of the Melckmeyt, a 17th Century Dutch ship that sank while trading with Iceland, and the permanent exhibit about “Fish and Folk”, how fishing shaped Iceland and Icelanders. Both were worth seeing – we spent more time with the permanent exhibit, though.

After the Maritime Museum, we wanted fish; our friends had done some research and found Messinn, less than a five-minute walk from our hotel. It was a great catch – their specialty is “fish pans”. Diane had the Atlantic Wolffish and I had the cod with curry and chili – both were excellent. And somehow, we had room for dessert and split a piece of chocolate cake with pistachio ice cream!

Tomorrow will start early; we leave the hotel at 8am to join the rest of our group for breakfast and a swim at the Blue Lagoon, followed by a tour of the Hallgrímskirkja Church (I’m hoping they include a trip to the tower, since we’ve already seen the rest of the church). The rest of the day will be “at leisure” (which means we get to figure out our own meals – I don’t think that will be much of a hardship).

Pandemic Journal, Day 496

I had hoped to post yesterday’s blog yesterday, but there was no connectivity on the plane, nor on the bus into Reykjavik, and by the time I got to the Hotel Borg, it was already today.

Other than that, the trip was pretty uneventful – Diane and I slept a little bit, but not enough! I’m not sure if the gin

and the chocolate

made it easier or harder to sleep during the flight, but they were very interesting introductions to Icelandic cuisine.

I made a strategic error when packing – instead of one heavy suitcase, we checked two light ones. And we brought a roll-aboard for those things that we didn’t want to check. All very good, until we had to get everything onto the FlyBus and from the drop point to the hotel – then I realized that it’s hard to pull two suitcases at once, no matter how light they are.

Once we got to our hotel and unpacked a little, we headed out for a walk through Reykjavik. Our first stop was the Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat, not far from Reykjavik City Hall.

From there, we walked through the Old Harbor area to Aurora Reykjavik (Northern Lights Museum), passing ships being worked on and art along the way.

The museum itself was quite interesting – lots of information about the aurora (all of it in English), with good visuals. They had a long HD loop of aurora videos taken all over Iceland; it was beautiful and fascinating, but not the best choice for sleep-deprived travelers!

Lunch was nearby at Lamb Street Food – I found it through TripAdvisor, and the guy at the Aurora said it was good. They were right – it was delicious and apparently reasonably priced for Iceland.

We split up after lunch; our friends wanted to go to Fly Over Iceland (like Soaring Over California at Disney, but in Iceland); we wanted to see more of the city, so we did Rick Steves’ introductory Reykjavik walk. We retraced some of our steps from the morning, but soon found outselves in new territory, ending up at Hallgrímskirkja Church, maybe half a mile from our hotel.

Dinner this evening was at Restaurant Caruso, a five-minute walk from our hotel; it was quite good (Diane really liked her salmon risotto, and I thought the pasta bolognese was delicious (and so was the garlic bread that came with it).

Pandemic Journal, Day 495

It’s been a long time since we’ve gotten on an airplane – a very long time. But today, we flew twice – the first flight was from SJC to PDX, and as I write this, we’re on Iceland Air flight 664 from PDX to KEF, en route to our first cruise in 16 months.

So far, everything has gone smoothly – I was debating between Lyft and a taxi for our trip to the airport and finally went with Lyft; it was a good choice, possibly the best Lyft ride I’ve taken. We took advantage of the Priority Pass membership that com aes with the Chase Sapphire Reserve card to go to the Club at SJC – it was their new location, occupying the space that was the Admiral’s Club back when American had a significant presence in San Jose.

The flight to Portland was smooth, and we were on the side with nice views of Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams.

We took advantage of Priority Pass again to have lunch for free at Capers on the C Concourse – the food was good, and the Pretty Good Brownie was better, Portland Airport is under construction, so we had to go through security again to get to the International Terminal; we were able to use the Express Line and avoid most of the wait time, but couldn’t take advantage of TSA Pre-Check. Life is rough sometimes, and yes, I know I’m complaining about a trivial inconvenience.

As I type this, we’re on Iceland Air to Reykjavik, There were more volcano views to enjoy as we left Portland.

This is a short flight, just over 7 hours, which makes it difficult to really sleep, but we’re going to try – Diane already has her eyes closed, and I’m about to join her.

Next stop, Reykjavik!

Pandemic Journal, Day 494

We’re out of practice – it took us a lot longer to pack than it did when we were going places every month or two. I even had to make an emergency trip to REI for sunglasses (my old ones wouldn’t fit over my new glasses). But we’re finally packed and ready to fly!

The volcano put on quite a show earlier today – it’s calmer right now, but who knows what it’ll do when we’re in Iceland?

I look forward to finding out.

Pandemic Journal, Day 493

I spent much of today working on code – first for the Shir Hadash High Holy Day Honors process, and then much of this evening helping with code I’d written for Toastmasters.

The High Holy Day Honors process work was actually pretty easy – and in the end, I feel pretty good that the person picking up the load while I’m away will be ok – he talked me out of making any code changes before I left, which was a very good idea, even if those changes would have made the code much cleaner.

The Toastmasters fixes were in some of the ugliest code I’ve written. The code has to parse an HTML page because Toastmasters HQ doesn’t provide any way to download data about what officers have attended training – and they changed the HTML page this year, after leaving it alone for three years. They simplified it substantially, but it still broke my code.

I got my successor on a Zoom call and we set to work – which meant I figured out what was going on and fixed the code while he listened to me think out loud. I made some improvements to my code (I created a class with meaningful names instead of using a list, for example), but it’s still ugly and fragile code, and I’m not sure it’s significantly more understandable than it was before. But it produces the report they need, and that’s something.

Oh, well; everything is working for now on both fronts, and I can go on vacation with a clean conscience.

Pandemic Journal, Day 492

Today’s Toastmasters meeting went off surprisingly smoothly considering we lost one speaker in the middle of the meeting due to a family emergency. Our Table Topics Master had plenty of questions ready, and she used them all!

After the meeting, a few of us met in person at a nearby Panera Bread – we sat outside, and a good (and, I hope, Covid-free) time was had by all.

I visited my allergist today; both he and I were happy about my progress. He’s afraid that my polyps will return now that I’m off the prednisone, so he’s working on backup plans.

And I girded my loins to do battle with British Airways to get a refund for our flights to and from South Africa. I knew they’d try to steer me towards a voucher, and they did – with one button on the first screen of the refund menu. I clicked the button that said “refund my money” and I was done 20 seconds later – no hard sell, and really no problem at all. Of course, I don’t have my money back yet. They said it would take up to a week to be credited to the card, but I can wait.

Pandemic Journal, Day 491

A little over two weeks ago, I fractured a crown – I don’t know what caused it (I wasn’t eating anything particularly tough at the time), but my mouth felt funny and I kept feeling little pieces of something where they shouldn’t have been.

Today, I got the crown replaced – it took a bit longer than expected because it was hard for the dentist to get my mouth numb enough, but she finally succeeded. She discovered a little bit of a cavity under the old crown, so she had to drill that out, too – but the new crown made it unnecessary for her to fill the cavity. I guess that’s a good thing.

I also spent a lot of time doing things for our synagogue – I finally finished the High Holy Day Honors invitations program and sent out the initial batch of invitations. There will be further invitations to send when someone declines an honor, but that process should be easier this year than last year. Last year, I had to specify which invitations should be sent to a new person every time we had changes; this year, I made a simple database with the invitations that have been sent out, and the program knows not to send an invitation to a person if nothing has changed for that slot. Databases are wonderful things sometimes – using sqlite3 for this was easier than creating a flat file and searching it myself.

I finished the invitations just in time to go to the monthly synagogue Board meeting – which ran long. At least there were goodies!

Pandemic Journal, Day 490

When I awoke this morning, I found an email from British Airways telling me that our flight from London to Cape Town on September 12th had been cancelled. They didn’t offer any alternative flights, either.

I checked with other people on our tour, and everyone who was flying BA got the same message, even if they were flying on a different day.

So I reached out to our travel agent to see what was up – he said he was checking with Ama and the other suppliers, but that the trip was still officially on.

A few hours later, we got a note from him saying that Ama was still planning to operate their normal cruises in September, but that they were willing to move our charter to 2022 and what did we think of that? Our answer was “hell, yes, move it!”

And soon thereafter, we got the official notice that the charter will move to August, 2022 – we hope that Covid will be under control there and that the riots in Johannesburg will have ended, too!

I am relieved. I still have to cancel the BA itinerary and get a refund, but that should be straightforward.

We also found out that Iceland is putting their requirement for pre-travel Covid testing, even for vaccinated travelers, back into effect on July 27; our flight arrives in Reykjavik on the 26th, so we shouldn’t need to be tested – but we’re going to get a test anyway to be safe. The test has to happen within 72 hours of arrival, so we can’t do it before Friday; I’ve made an appointment for PCR tests.

And our friend Desi headed home today; her flight to Denver was delayed by 45 minutes, which was a problem, since she only had a 43 minute layover. But her flight from was also delayed, so she made her connection anyway – and so did her luggage.

Travel. It’s always an adventure!

Pandemic Journal, Day 489

Once more, I had a busy day, but not much of what happened is worth writing about. I spent most of the day working on the Shir Hadash High Holy Day Honors – the program will be much better when I finish breaking it! There were also things to fix up in the assignment of honors – but it’ll be done soon. Or else.

Our friend Desi went to the Verizon store to get a new phone, and she’s spent the rest of the day beating it into submission. I’ve been called in for tech support a couple of times (which is why she wanted to get the new phone on this trip), but it’s been fun – and now I know a lot more about Android than I did two days ago. I’m sticking with Apple.

And two of our friends lost their mothers overnight. No matter when it happens, it’s too soon. May their memories be a blessing.

Pandemic Journal, Day 488

Today was a busy, busy day, and it has almost gotten away from me!

We began at the Farmers’ Market, as usual; Desi explored Los Gatos while Diane and I walked.

This afternoon, our trivia team came over to our house to meet Desi – a good time was had by all, or so we were told.

And after that, I got back to work on the Shir Hadash High Holy Day Honors. I think I’ve pretty much beaten the process into submission, but there are still a few questions outstanding. I’ll deal with the tomorrow – it’s late!

Pandemic Journal, Day 487

Sadly, we had to leave Sonoma this morning. Our plan was to have breakfast at Creekside Cafe, go back to the Airbnb and clean up and check out, go to UPS and ship our friend’s wine back home to Illinois, and go home.

Three out of four isn’t bad. Our host told us he didn’t think we could ship wine at the UPS Store, and he was right – the franchise would need a wine shipper’s license, which apparently is expensive. They suggested Buffalo’s Shipping Post in Napa, so we drove over there (a pretty drive!), and they took care of everything. They even had menus on display for local restaurants, so we decided to go to Gott’s Roadside in Napa for lunch before heading home.

Gott’s was busy, but the line moved fairly well. After ordering, they said it’d be 25 minutes or so, and they were right. I had a very nice burger, sweet potato fries, and a small milkshake; Diane had the ahi burger, and our friend had the street corn. Everything was good, but the street corn smelled wonderful – I would think about going to the Palo Alto location to try it while it’s still in season!

After lunch and a brief walk in Napa, we hit the road; we weren’t in a hurry, so I did something I’ve always thought about but never had done in the 37 years we’ve lived here. We stopped at the Vista Point off the Lake Herman Road exit on 680 South and took a look at the ghost fleet. There’s not much of it left (when we first moved here, there were hundreds of ships; now there are fewer than ten), but I was able to get a photo of two of the ships (I didn’t realize there were two ships until I looked at the photo this evening – it looked like one ship with the naked eye).

And then we came home; it was nice to make dinner instead of going out!

Pandemic Journal, Day 486

We were up bright and early this morning so we could have breakfast before a long hard day of wine tasting. Breakfast was at Baker and Cook, very near our Airbnb. All three of us had the same thing – cinnamon french toast with apples, walnuts and pure maple syrup. The portions were generous, but I managed to finish mine!

Our wine tour was with Platypus Wine Tours; there were 10 customers on the bus, along with our guide, Luis. We visited three wineries, Roche, Mayo, and Bennett Valley Cellars, where the winemaker met us and gave us a private tour and tasting. We bought more than enough wine at each stop to have our tasting fees refunded – I think that’s a good investment, right?

Dinner this evening was at The Red Grape just off Sonoma Plaza. I wasn’t sure we’d be able to get in, since their reservations and waitlist had closed early this afternoon, but there was plenty of room when we got there just before 8pm. I wanted something sweet afterwards, so we stopped at La Michoacana and I got a guava paleta (frozen fruit bar).

It was a very nice way to spend Friday. Shabbat Shalom!

Pandemic Journal, Day 485

We drove to Sonoma (actually Boyes Hot Springs) this afternoon for a short stay surrounding a wine tasting tour tomorrow. We’re staying at a very nice Airbnb, Casita Nopal. Our host pointed us at a wonderful Mexican restaurant nearby, El Molino Central, which provided us a delicious dinner to take back to the Airbnb and enjoy with the wine our host put in the room.

After dinner, we drove into Sonoma and had ice cream at Sweet Scoops Homemade Ice Cream on the Plaza. It was excellent, but it was too dark to take a photo (that, and my hands were busy with the ice cream).

Tomorrow, we must rise early and prepare for a day of wineries. Life is rough sometimes.

Pandemic Journal, Day 484

It’s Day Two of our friend’s visit, and we did the Silicon Valley standards.

First, we went to the Winchester Mystery House – the tour was pretty much as I remember it from past visits – no need to stand 6 feet apart, masks optional, corny jokes included.

Then we crossed the street to show off Santana Row and get a snack; I was hoping to find something in the Farmers’ Market, but we settled for Smitten Ice Cream. Darn!

After that, we made a quick visit to Apple Park to see the Visitor Center and Apple Store; I had forgotten that the visitors’ entrance was off Homestead, so I made some unnecessarily daring maneuvers to avoid going into an employee-only entrance to the complex. Fortunately, the Sheriff’s deputy across the street wasn’t interested in correcting my ways. We left with wallets intact…for now.

This evening was my first meeting as Chair of the Shir Hadash Ritual Committee. We had much to talk about and decisions to make; it was a full two hours, but we got a lot done. The Cantor suggested I post the minutes as tonight’s blog entry, but I decided to save that for a day when I really have nothing to write about!

Pandemic Journal, Day 483

SJC Terminal A "Hands"

Our friend arrived today – it was her first air trip since last February, and our first time at SJC since then, too. We didn’t actually go into the terminal – she met us at curbside – but it’s a step closer to our upcoming trip.

We spent the rest of the day talking and eating.

Tomorrow, we’ll show her some actual touristic locations – Diane wants to go to the Winchester Mystery House, but I’m holding out for the Visitor Center and store at Apple Park.

Pandemic Journal, Day 482

It was a busy Monday.

The High Holy Days are nearly here, so I had to finish overhauling the programs I use to send invitations to congregants who are getting honors – not only did I have to undo some of the emergency changes I made last year, but I also had to adapt yet more programs to use openpyxl instead of xlrd.

I also had a dental appointment – it was supposed to be a routine cleaning, but I had a tooth which had felt funny (not painful, just weird) for a week, so I asked them to look at it. The crown on the tooth had fractured, so now I have an appointment to get a new crown next week – and a crown-sized hole in my wallet.

And I had a Toastmasters meeting this evening, where I was General Evaluator. At least it was a role that doesn’t require a lot of preparation.

After the meeting, I went out for a quick walk, but I only got as far as the driveway before going in and grabbing my camera in hopes of getting a decent picture of the sunset sky.

Pandemic Journal, Day 481

We don’t watch much sports on TV (or in person, for that matter), so Ted Lasso wasn’t an automatic “must-watch” for us. But I read so much about it that we gave it a chance last November and loved it.

We wanted to watch it again to refresh our memories before the new season starts in a couple of weeks; we finished it last night. I picked up more of the fine points of soccer than I had gotten on the first viewing (though I still don’t understand the offside rule) – and was just as disappointed by Richmond’s relegation as I was the first time around.

And because we’d just finished Ted Lasso yesterday, I wanted to watch the Euro 2020 final today while my soccer knowledge was at its peak. I didn’t follow the fine points of play, but I did enjoy the game, and really was focused on the penalty kicks at the end.

Maybe I should give American football another chance, too.

Pandemic Journal, Day 480

It was hot today. We tried not to move too much, and my watch tells me I was successful at staying put – I expect to miss my calorie goal for the first time in nearly two weeks.

I decided I was finished with the server rebuild I’ve been doing over the past few days, so, just for fun, I tried running the do-release-upgrade command on the old system. An hour or so after issuing the command, I had a mostly functional Ubuntu 20.04 system – but it was still cluttered with old versions of PHP and Python that I’d installed over the past three years. It also was running a different version of the Linux kernel and of Apache than the Ubuntu 20.04 system I’d installed from scratch. I’m glad I chose to start fresh.

Did I mention it was hot today? PG&E was looking at the possibility of rotating power outages. Our house is in an outage block that would be in the first batch of outages, so PG&E wanted to let me know of the possibility. They called and texted my cell, called the house, and sent email – and then they did it all again a couple of hours later when they decided they definitely wouldn’t need to turn off our power today.

I bet they call again tomorrow.

Pandemic Journal, Day 479

I’d been dreading today. It had been two years since I’d “renegotiated” my Comcast deal, and the special pricing was expiring, raising my Internet bill by $30/month.

It’s always possible to get a better deal, but it requires a call to Comcast and a threat to cancel. If you don’t get the right agent, it can take several calls. I decided today was the day and dialed 1-800-XFINITY.

The voice response system that answered wasn’t horrible, but it did insist on texting me a code so I could use their self-service webpage to navigate the menus to get to the right department. I wanted to deal with my Account; I wanted to Change or Cancel Service; I wanted to cancel ALL my service; yes, I was willing to talk to an agent before cancelling.

Ring, ring…”hi, it’s Kristen from Comcast. How can I help you?” Me: “My rate just jumped by $30 and I want to reduce it.” Her: “Ok, let me see what I can do.”

About two minutes later, “I can keep you on the same package at the same price; you’ll still have phone, TV, your premium channels, and gigabit Internet.” Me: “I didn’t think I had gigabit Internet.” Her: “Oh, you’re right – now you’ll have it. And your upstream speed will go from 15mbps to 40 or so.”

I said “yes, do it!” And it was done – for the next two years, when I’ll have to play agent roulette again.

Speedtest results

And I even finished my server migration today. Finally!

Shabbat Shalom!

Pandemic Journal, Day 478

I spoke this morning at my Toastmasters meeting – my speech was titled “The Nose Knows”, and I talked about my experience losing and (so far) regaining my sense of smell. This was the first of a pair of speeches in the project; the goal is to take the feedback I got and use it to improve the speech, then deliver the updated speech and see how well I incorporate the feedback. My evaluator gave me very clear feedback to work on, which I appreciated.

Strangely enough, the speech before mine was titled “Pick Your Nose For Better Health” (breathe through your nose, not your mouth).

Beyond that, I continued migrating the rest of the programs on my old server. Once more, I failed to complete the project because I started working on a problem that I didn’t need to solve!

The weather has turned hot, but we managed a late-evening walk to Safeway to pick up a pillow from the Amazon Locker there. The box was smaller than I expected, but that’s because the pillow was shipped compressed (duh!).

Pandemic Journal, Day 477

I enjoyed “A Prarie Home Companion” for many years. I especially liked the opening monologue and the commercials – one of my favorites was the one for Powdermilk Biscuits, which gave you the “strength to get up and do what needs to be done”.

Today, I had the strength to get up and do what didn’t need to be done. And I spent all day doing it.

Here’s what the first paragraph of yesterday’s blog entry looked like when I moved it to the new server – the text is garbled in places where I use special characters like a true apostrophe.

shows codepage problems
That’s not how you spell “hasn’t”!

It took a little research, but I found the problem (a change in MySQL’s default encoding, for those who care). I even found a tool to fix the problem – it had been written in 2011! I ran it, and now the start of yesterday’s post looks like it should:

Screenshot after the fix
*That’s* how you spell “hasn’t”!

When I ran the tool, it issued a few error messages. I, of course, wanted to fix the errors. And I spent the rest of the day hard at work on the problem, migrating the site over-and-over to keep fixing one more error.

During dinner, it occurred to me that I really didn’t need to fix any of those “one more things” – the site worked, after all! So I migrated it one last time, and you’re looking at the result.

Good enough, right?

Pandemic Journal, Day 476

Tapering off the prednisone hasn’t slowed the dreams yet – I had an interesting and detailed dream last night where I was in Rio de Janeiro for a work assignment that was long enough to need an apartment. But the locks on the door of the apartment they’d given me didn’t work properly so I was reluctant to leave my stuff there; my colleagues convinced me to go down to the market with them anyway, and we had a terrific time. I woke up before I learned whether I’d been robbed or not.

I’m in the process of upgrading this server to a newer version of Ubuntu Linux; the easy way to do it requires just one command, do-release-upgrade. I’m doing it the hard way, building a brand new system and installing all of the packages I need (as well as copying my data!). That’s taken most of the day, and I’m (of course) 80% complete – the latest glitch came up just after dinner when I discovered that MySQL had changed its default character encoding and all of my pages looked wrong. It should be an easy fix, but I’m not going to work on it any more this evening.

I really thought I was going to get the entire migration done in one day – I guess I was a silly goose!

Pandemic Journal, Day 475

I started tapering off of prednisone today, as planned. Unlike the first time I took it in 2016, I haven’t had any serious side effects so far (that time, I couldn’t sleep for days and took myself off before I went nuts).

The most interesting side effect has been that I’ve remembered many of my dreams – and they’ve been quite detailed. In one, I was at a carnival, waiting my turn to use a machine that painted certain parts of the body – it cost sixty cents to use, exact change only, and I can still sing the jingle it played! In another, I was very carefully cleaning a cast-iron skillet (I didn’t say the dreams were all interesting!).

The disk problems I wrote about yesterday were in my thoughts during the night last night – I’m not sure if I was awake or asleep, though. But this morning, I had a good idea about why I couldn’t copy between disks on my laptop: it was a power problem.

USB 3 Micro B plug

The portable disks I had (both the old and new) have “USB 3 Micro B” sockets and came with cables which plug into that port on the disk and into a regular old USB A port on the computer. But a modern Mac laptop only has USB C ports, so I have a hub attached to give me two USB A ports, and I plugged one disk into each port.

It Turns Out™ that my hub only provides 5 watts to be split between the two ports; neither Seagate nor Western Digital says how much power their disks need, but a little searching shows that each of them need about 2 watts when reading and 4 when writing. That’s more than the hub could supply, which explains why the disk that I was writing to clicked (as it lost and regained power) and wrote garbage to the disk.

When I plugged the disks into my Mac mini last night to try one more time, each disk could draw all the power it needed, and the copying went smoothly (and yes, I did verify the copy), so now I’m set.

If I’d had a USB Micro B to USB C cable, I would have plugged one of the disks directly into the laptop in the first place and had no problem. But Western Digital only supplies that cable with the Mac version of the drive; I bought the PC version and reformatted it, saving $15 in the process – it was a painful way to save $15!

Pandemic Journal, Day 474

And there was coffee! The old Hario grinder still works, and the new grinder works even better.

I wish I could say the same about other technology; after posting last night, I discovered that Time Machine had stopped working on my office computer – 10 days ago. And that the Time Machine partition couldn’t be repaired. The other two partitions on that disk seem OK, but it’s a 3-year-old disk, so I’m not terribly surprised that it needs replacing.

I’d had good luck with Western Digital My Passport drives of late, so we bought one at Office Depot. I hooked it up, reformatted it to APFS, and began to copy my first batch of files to it. It made clicking noises and the system complained about write errors. Lots of them.

OK, some drives are bad out-of-the-box; that’s one reason I prefer to buy them in person. Back to Office Depot for a no-hassle swap.

The copy process goes smoothly for 20 minutes. Then I think I hear a click. But there are no errors shown on the log, so I let it keep going. There were more clicks. And more errors – things like “could not stat file” (on new drive). This is not a good sign.

I thought I might have a bad cable, so I hooked the drive up to a known good cable and restarted the copy. More errors.

I moved the drive to the Mac I really want to use it on, connecting it directly to the system instead of through a USB hub. The drive shows up in Disk Utility as “USB External APFS Physical Store” and as an uninitialized “AppleAPFSMedia” volume. Which I can’t initialize.

I installed the Western Digital utilities, ran a complete drive scan, let it completely erase the disk, and I was then able to reformat it as APFS using the normal Mac Disk Utility program.

I’m trying the copy again; so far, no errors, but it’s going to take several hours – and then I have another partition to copy. And then I can set up Time Machine again.

In the middle of this whole process, we took our evening walk and saw this bird – I liked the way it was illuminated by the soon-to-set sun.

Pandemic Journal, Day 473

This morning got off to a good start – I could smell garlic coming from Gilroy when I went out to pick up the paper. I had breakfast and was ready to make coffee. But the grinder wasn’t working right – I couldn’t get the lid to sit properly, and it felt funny when I turned the handle.

I disassembled it and found that I’d broken a plastic washer (almost the only plastic part!) when I last cleaned it. There was no way to fix it that I could figure out (remember, I hadn’t had coffee yet!). But then Diane reminded me that I had an old Hario grinder that I’d kept when I bought this one four years ago, so I dug it out, only to discover that I hadn’t bothered to clean it before putting it away.

I had managed to get a little coffee ground before I gave up, so I brewed a VERY small cup, cleaned the Hario, and ordered a replacement grinder, which arrived right after dinner, so I’m all set for tomorrow morning.

After that, the rest of the day went swimmingly – we Zoomed to services and visited friends for a pool party with at least a dozen people! Our hosts have some beautiful roses in their yard which I couldn’t resist photographing.

All in all a good, relaxing day. And tomorrow, there WILL be coffee!

Pandemic Journal, Day 472

There are only 65 shopping days until Rosh Hashana, so we are starting to get serious about High Holiday preparation at Shir Hadash. My responsibility for the past few years has been to prepare the invitations for the people who are asked to give a reading or lead a prayer at the service – in a typical year, there are well over 100 slots, each of which requires a customized email, most with an attached cue sheet for the reading.

Naturally, I wrote code to simplify the process; it’s been changed a lot over the years to accommodate changes in membership management systems, but most of it has survived pretty well.

Until this year. I may be away during critical parts of the process, so I wanted to move the code from my laptop to a server so that other people can run it. I thought it would be easy to do – copying my code was trivial, but I needed to install a few Python packages that the code uses – easily done, of course.

When I ran the code, I got an error message from the package that reads Excel spreadsheets, xlrd. It said it couldn’t read a .XLSX spreadsheet, which was odd, because it always had read them before.

I did a bit of Googling and discovered that the author had removed support for .XLSX spreadsheets some time ago and that the package was now unsupported. I probably could have just installed an older version and continued, but I knew that was not a long-term solution.

The GitHub page for xlrd suggests using openpyxl, so I installed it. Its interface is very different from that of xlrd; it’s also easier to understand, but it still requires effort to make the necessary changes.

I wonder how many other programs I have that depend on xlrd?


Shabbat Shalom!

Pandemic Journal, Day 471

Today was my first day not being a Toastmasters officer in a decade, so of course I celebrated by going to two Toastmasters meetings: my own club’s, where I was Table Topics Master, and Toastrix, the club I used to mentor, where I was a guest.

At my club, the theme was “Immigration Dreams” and there was only one project, a panel discussion with the moderator (from the Czech Republic) and three other panelists (from Taiwan, India, and England). They told about their experiences coming to America and California (they all had DMV stories!) and adjusting to the US – it was a very interesting session and the time flew by.

The theme inspired my questions, like asking one of our US-born members what “immigrant-centric” food stores he liked (he picked two of my favorites, International Food Bazaar and India Cash and Carry), or asking one of our immigrants what he first thought of American food (that one didn’t work out quite as well – he’d come to the US at age 7!).

Toastrix also had only one speech at their meeting, about the opportunities the speaker had had when studied abroad for a year in college – the college wasn’t well-organized to help, and when she returned, they offered her a job helping other students go abroad! I was happy to see that the club has been doing well, despite the pandemic; I hope to visit them in person again.

And that was about it for today, other than continuing to excavate; there are flat surfaces visible that hadn’t seen the light of day for many moons, like much of the kitchen desk. Yesterday, it was piled high with newspapers and clipped-out recipes; today, there are several square feet that have nothing on them (the rest of the desk is covered with a computer, pads of paper, a handie-talkie, pens, and cables – but most of that belongs on the desk). Another step in the right direction; there are more to come, and I hope they’re equally uninteresting.