Pandemic Journal, Day 587

We had just started watching last night’s SNL when the power went out. Not surprising given the weather, but still annoying.

Our UPS made it through an hour, and then it gave up, but all was well because we had phones with 5G service, so we ordered dinner from Negeen Persian Restaurant through DoorDash. It was delicious, as always, but as I started to post the photo of our mandatory candlelight dinner, we lost cell service – I guess the tower’s battery gave up.

I took the phone out of automatic carrier selection and it found a T-Mobile signal – who knows how long it’ll stay up?

Not long enough – it failed before I could post this. So we got in the car and drove over to Shir Hadash, which has power, to camp on their network.

It’s like living in pioneer days!

Pandemic Journal, Day 586

This year, Shir Hadash’s Torah Study is looking at each week’s portion through the lens of Mussar (think of Benjamin Franklin’s plan for self-improvement, but with Hebrew added), using the Mussar Torah Commentary (affiliate link) as a jumping-off point.

This week’s portion is Vayera (Genesis 18:1-22:24); the Mussar attribute that goes with this portion is z’rizutalacrity. Our lay leader, David Bamberger, led a lively discussion about the portion and how Abraham demonstrated (and didn’t demonstrate) alacrity. I enjoyed it, though I was a little distracted by serving as the Zoom master.

After Torah study and services, we headed to Tony and Alba’s Pizza. There’s a Best Buy across the street; we wanted to see whether they had refrigerators that would fit our space. And, since we were still waiting for University Electric to tell us about availability of the cooktop we wanted, we didn’t ignore the salesperson who asked if she could help us. It turned out that she could help us more than we expected – twenty minutes later, we’d placed an order for the cooktop, with delivery scheduled for the Monday before Thanksgiving. Alacrity indeed!

Pandemic Journal, Day 584

It’s the off-season for Learned League, so almost every day brings four or five “One Day Specials” – single-topic trivia quizzes. I read all of them and usually submit my answers if I have good guesses (or better) for at least five questions (out of 12).

Yesterday’s One Day Specials were on Web Design, Time Inc., Math in Theatre, and David Foster Wallace. I’ve never read any David Foster Wallace, so I didn’t submit that one, but I did answer the others – and got all the questions right for Web Design.

I wasn’t alone in that – 38 players of the 1195 who submitted answers got them all right. Each correct answer earns 15 points. But there’s another factor besides correct answers on One Day Specials: moneying. You have to designate five of your answers as “money” answers – for each of those you get right, you earn a bonus, computed as the percentage of wrong answers for that question. So if 30% of the people answered wrong (or didn’t answer), you’d get 30 extra points. So you want to money the five questions that most people will miss.

I came close – I picked four of the hardest questions. But I thought that more people would know one of the frameworks powering today’s popular browsers (Blink, Gecko, or Webkit) than would know the name of the Weird Al Yankovic song which talks about HTML (White & Nerdy). I was wrong, and finished in 10th place – still by far my best finish ever in a One Day Special.

Pandemic Journal, Day 583

I’m writing this early tonight because I have a Shir Hadash Board meeting in a few minutes. Our new Transitional Rabbi will be there, and I’m looking forward to meeting him. I’d signed up to bring snacks this month; Diane graciously made pumpkin muffins for me to bring (we kept a few for ourselves, of course), and I’m also bringing grapes.

We finished watching Only Murders in the Building – I’m looking forward to the second series whenever it comes out.

Other than that, it’s been a quiet day here – there’s been a little rain on and off all day, with hopes of more in the next couple of days. No progress on the cooktop front. No photo editing. Just quiet. We didn’t even walk as much as usual, and the only wildlife I saw was birds on the high school lawn.

Two years ago was different – we were in Bulgaria, where we learned an old Bulgarian proverb: “To err is human; to blame it on someone else shows management potential”. That was an interesting trip, indeed!

Pandemic Journal, Day 582

We started seriously shopping for a replacement cooktop today – ours is probably still fixable, but if one switch failed for no particular reason, can the other three be far behind?

We’d taken a look at Best Buy and Home Depot over the weekend and were under-impressed with their selection. Two friends recommended University Electric so we went there this morning. You could look around on your own or request help – we were serious enough to ask for help, and our salesperson quickly took us to the right section of the store. Consumer Reports strongly recommends the Bosch induction cooktop, so that’s what we looked at. We got a good price quote ($50 lower than anything we found online), but availability is a question (of course). More to come….

After shopping, we took a walk on the San Tomas Aquino Creek trail, which we’d never been on before; it goes right through Santa Clara’s semiconductor heartland (we passed AMD, Nvidia, and Intel), but we did see a little wildlife while we were walking.


We had planned to go food shopping next, but we were too hungry to be trusted in a supermarket, so we went to Athena Grill for some tasty Greek food; the deep-fried pita bread was almost worth the trip by itself!

Pandemic Journal, Day 581

My main computer at home was a 15-inch MacBook Pro from 2010 until last year. Actually, I had two 15-inch MacBook Pros for most of that time – but I replaced them both last year, one with an M1 Mac mini and the other with a 13-inch MacBook Air.

I’m very happy with the Mini, but the Air is a bit underpowered, and the 13-inch screen is small. So I was looking forward to today’s Apple announcements.

As rumored, they came out with a 14-inch and a 16-inch MacBook Pro; the 14-inch is the same size as the Air but has a bigger screen; the 16-inch is the same size as my old 15-inch, but with a bigger screen. And even the base model of either of them is much much faster than this Air.

But I’m not sure the new machines are really what I need. The bigger screens are very attractive – but the new computers are heavier than this one (¾ pound for the 14-inch and nearly 2 pounds for the 16-inch). And, if I’m being honest, I rarely need more computing power than this Air gives me – and if I did, an M1 Air is the same weight as this one and quite a bit less expensive than the new Pros.

I may change my mind when I actually see one of the new machines in person – but so far, my wallet is safe.

Pandemic Journal, Day 580

Local salmon season has ended, and our fish market contact didn’t have any halibut this weekend, so we decided to try something unusual for us – Pacific sea bass. I didn’t have any recipes which specifically called for sea bass; the New York Times did, of course, and we tried Bass Fillets Baked With Ginger and Sesame Oil.

We weren’t terribly impressed – it was ok, but uninspiring. If we make it again, I’ll try doubling the amount of ginger-garlic paste and sesame oil. The recipe also only calls for cooking the fish for 7 minutes; fortunately, I read the comments before cooking the fish – they were unanimous in suggesting 15 minutes, and that was barely long enough.

On a brighter note, it’s raining! Not much rain, but it’s the first we’ve seen here for months and months!

Pandemic Journal, Day 579

The truly observant among you will have noticed that tonight’s “Pandemic Journal” number is two more than yesterday’s and might be wondering what happened.

I usually write these entries in Day One on my Mac, then I copy them into WordPress and publish them on the blog. Day One doesn’t have an automatic numbering feature, so I look at the previous day’s entry and add one when I write the new one. But I made a mistake on May 12th and just copied “Day 421” instead of incrementing it.

I might never have noticed if I hadn’t opened up the journal on the iPhone – the iPhone version of Day One shows the number of consecutive days you’ve created a journal entry, and today, instead of the 578 days I expected to see, I saw this:

Now I have to decide whether or not to fix the incorrect titles. Day One doesn’t have an API that would let me access the entries directly, but I can export the journal as JSON, figure out the fine details of the format, write code to fix the problems, re-import the journal, and do the same thing on WordPress so that the blog is consistent with the journal. Or I could just fix the numbering starting with today’s entry, which I’ve already done. Decisions, decisions….

Pandemic Journal, Day 577

I made pretzels again today – it was the easiest batch yet. I didn’t make a big mess around the mixer and almost all the flour was properly incorporated into the dough, which wasn’t very sticky (I didn’t even need to put extra flour on my hands or the paper when I rolled and shaped the pretzels!). I didn’t even have to fight the usual boil-overs for the last couple of pretzels.

That last improvement may have come with a price, though – I couldn’t use the double burner that I usually use for the pretzel bath. I couldn’t turn its knob – and when I looked more closely, I saw that the knob was sitting lower than its mates. I’m just glad that the switch failed in “off” position so I can use the other elements until we can get it fixed.

I found out that one of my classmates brought home bedbugs from Reunion; she stayed at the same hotel as we did (the Westin), so I guess we got lucky in our choice of rooms. Before the pandemic, I had started to use a hair dryer to heat up the bed and make sure nothing came out before unpacking – I think I’ll get back into that habit for future travels!

Pandemic Journal, Day 576

A typical Thursday – Toastmasters in the morning, then the chiropractor, then shopping, then the allergist, and finally Trivial Zoom in the evening. After we got off Zoom, I turned on the Giants-Dodgers game (it’s the first baseball I’ve watched this season); as I write this, it’s 2-1 Dodgers in the top of the 9th.

While we were on Zoom, a friend suggested going out to see the Moon with Jupiter and Saturn, so we did; I got a better photo with my iPhone than with my camera!

Pandemic Journal, Day 575

We went to “Beyond Van Gogh” today at the San Jose Convention Center. Well, actually it was in the South Hall, which is really a big permanent tent.

Parking was shockingly easy – I found free street parking a few blocks away (something that would have been unlikely in the Before Times). There wasn’t much traffic to contend with on our walk, either.

We got to the entrance a few minutes before our appointed time; they didn’t make us wait, even though we hadn’t sprung for the “Premium Flex Ticket”. We had to show copies of our Covid-19 vaccination cards, and then we were in.

The exhibit started with a room filled with signs telling about Van Gogh’s art and life. There were also a lot of empty frames, which I guess fits with the theme of letting the art escape the frame.

After that, we entered the main room – Van Gogh’s paintings, or parts of them, were projected on every available surface.

They kept changing and moving – you couldn’t really examine anything because it’d vanish a few seconds later. And, unfortunately, some of the projectors were having problems, so there were some blurry areas. The musical accompaniment was nice.

I don’t know how this show compares with “Immersive Van Gogh” – it’d be interesting to see both, but not interesting enough to drive up to San Francisco.

I was hoping to visit the San Jose Museum of Art after the show, but they’re still only open Friday-Sunday. So we wandered around San Jose for a while before going back to the car and going home.

Would I recommend the show? Yes, but set your expectations for show more than art.

Pandemic Journal, Day 574

It’s been a pretty quiet day. At one point, we were hoping the “Play a Sound on your AirPods” feature of Apple’s “Find My” app would make some noise, but it turns out that it does nothing if the AirPods are in their case and the case is closed! We eventually found the errant AirPods (in their closed case), but it took a while to track them down.

The highlight of the day was a virtual tour of Jewish New Orleans (part of Shir Hadash’s “Lunch and Learn” programming), led by Roni Bossin of The Wandering Krewe. He used a mix of Google Earth and PowerPoint to lead us through the city (mostly the French Quarter) and give us closeup views of the relevant sights. Being there in person would have been better (especially when we “visited” Cafe du Monde), but this tour was a pretty good substitute and a lot more convenient.

Pandemic Journal, Day 573

Going to Reunion was a lot of fun, but there was one unsettling aspect – we spent four hours in a room filled with people with naked faces. It was the most time either of us had spent with more than a few unmasked people in at least 573 days, so I picked up a BinaxNOW Covid test at CVS and we took it this evening.

I used the macro mode of the iPhone 13 Pro camera to be sure I was reading the test strip correctly (I knew I bought the Pro model for a reason!) and both of us tested negative. whew

Pandemic Journal, Day 572

Our flight from Richmond was scheduled to leave at 1:40pm; an appropriate degree of paranoia about airport security delays dictated that we be at the airport before noon, which meant eating lunch there. Yelp research didn’t offer much hope for the airport restaurants, but my niece and sister-in-law had suggestions for places to stop and pick up something to take with us.

My niece is a foodie – she suggested we take a short detour from the direct route and order takeout from Garnett’s Cafe in the Fan District. Their menu looked very good, and she assured us that if we ordered in advance, they’d have the order ready for us to pick up when we drove by.

My sister-in-law leans more on the practical side – she suggested we buy gas and pick up sandwiches at the Wawa station two minutes from the airport. Buying gas there was an obvious choice – but we were skeptical about gas station food. On the other hand, I’d heard a lot of good things about Wawa’s food on podcasts, and she assured us we’d like it.

In the end, the clock forced the decision on us – we left my brother’s house later than we planned, so Wawa was the only option. They offered a wide variety of sandwiches, but it wasn’t easy to go through them on their ordering system. The menu tree was deep and it wasn’t easy to navigate between types of sandwiches (let alone salads or other options), and we were short on time. I’d had a LOT of beef during the trip, so I didn’t want that; I went for a Turkey Vegetable sandwich figuring it would be a safe choice, and Diane did the same thing.

We picked up our food and drove to the airport, returning the car just a few minutes before we’d be charged for an extra day. We ate before going through security and, well, neither of us was impressed. There was nothing wrong with the sandwich, but it wasn’t great – in fact, it wasn’t even the best gas station sandwich I’ve had (there’s a deli in a Valero station near AutoTec where we have our cars serviced, and I liked their sandwich better; to be fair, I had that one hot, while Wawa’s was cold).

We needn’t have worried about security delays; I don’t think there were more than ten people in the regular TSA line at any time, and there was no one ahead of us in TSA precheck. I even accidentally smuggled a half-full bottle of water through security (it had been sitting in the outside pocket of my bag since our flights on Wednesday).

Our flight arrived in Atlanta at Gate A1 and our connection left from E5; we had more than an hour before the connecting flight boarded, so we walked – it was the longest walk we’d taken since Tuesday. The second-longest walk was at SFO tonight from our gate to the AirTrain to Long Term Parking.

I’m glad that the reunion happened despite Covid, and it was wonderful to see and talk with old friends and spend time with my family. But it’ll be great to sleep in our own bed tonight – I’m even looking forward to cooking again!

Pandemic Journal, Day 571

Reunion last night was a lot of fun, even if I wasn’t able to talk to all of my classmates who were there – maybe I’ll catch up with them in five years.

Today, we were treated to a tour of the NEW J. R. Tucker High School; the school I attended was built in 1962 as a campus-style school (no interior hallways). While I was there, they added an extra classroom building (this one did have hallways) and replaced the gym after it imploded (amazingly, no one was hurt!). After nearly 60 years, the school needed major renovation – and the county decided that it made more sense to replace the facility instead.

The new Tucker High School is a huge two-story multi-wing building designed for today’s environment. There’s one main entrance leading into the office area; the rest of the school is behind additional lockable doors. This is the third high school the county’s built with these plans; the other two were built a few years ago, so they made some modifications based on what they’d learned.

The interior has lots of open space and collaborative learning areas. The library has a “learning staircase” where people can sit during free time – it looked very inviting.

There’s a commercial kitchen for the culinary program – we were amazed.

The gym is huge (three full basketball courts), and the roof is guaranteed not to fall in.

They’re still putting the final touches on the school; it’d be a good place to have the next Reunion, but there might be a problem serving alcohol on school property. But I guess it wouldn’t be the first time people drank in the parking lot….

After the tour, we drove down Monument Avenue to see what it looked like after the statues were removed. The plinths are still there, which seems odd, especially since the text in praise of the Confederates is still fully visible.

The site of the Lee Monument was the center of the protests, and it’s still fenced off and the plinth is thoroughly covered with graffiti. I don’t know what they’re planning to do with the site – and I’m not sure what I would recommend.

Pandemic Journal, Day 570

The two most recent reunions of the J. R. Tucker Class of 1971 were at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, thanks to a classmate and member of the reunion committee who worked here. She retired since the last reunion, so this year‘s reunion is going to be at a hotel.

But that didn’t mean that Diane and I couldn’t come to the Gardens and enjoy the afternoon before going to the hotel. And that’s exactly what we did!

I’m going to post now so I don’t have to try to do it after the reunion – enjoy the garden! I wish I could capture the aromas, too – maybe the iPhone 14 will add that.

Pandemic Journal, Day 569

The rental car shortage is real. We’d reserved a car with Hertz at their location in the Marriott Crystal Gateway near National Airport for pickup at 10am. When I hadn’t picked it up by 10:30, they called me to find out if they could release it to another customer! I assured them I still wanted the car and we picked it up a few minutes later to drive to my brother’s house near Richmond.

Dinner this evening was outside at the Boathouse Restaurant at Sunday Park in Brandermill – it was our first experience at a “real” restaurant with DIY ordering. Some people hate it; I thought it was acceptable but I’d rather have a little more opportunity to ask questions. On the good side, no one interrupted us with questions like “how’s that tasting?”

The Boathouse overlooks Swift Creek Reservoir; it was a rather cloudy evening, but a little sunset peeked through.

Pandemic Journal, Day 568

The Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, is a very long day. Even when we had services in person, there was a break between roughly 1-3pm – that was even more necessary this year, with services on TV. But it’s not exactly a break – instead, there are always study sessions and opportunities to reflect. Or you can go home and take a nap, which we’ve been known to do!

This year, Rabbi Hugh Seid-Valencia from Jewish Silicon Valley led a session on Jewish mindfulness meditation, and both Diane and I attended. There was a short focusing meditation, then some discussion, then a 15-minute meditation, and that was it. Rabbi Hugh suggested meditating on the breath, since it’s always with you; I tried it, and the 15 minutes went by very quickly indeed. Thoughts came into my mind and left on their own; I felt refreshed afterwards.

I’ve been meditating almost every day since Yom Kippur. It’s a wonderful way to spend the time between getting a desensitizing shot and being allowed to leave (it’s certainly better than looking at Facebook and Twitter). And it’s a change of pace – a quiet time.

Today, we’re flying East for my 50th Reunion. We splurged and got seats at the front of the plane, so there’s a bit of room. They fed us soon after takeoff; we have several hours before landing, so we both meditated for part of the time. Noise-cancelling headphones helped – people are talking, but I’d have to try to hear them well enough to understand what they were saying, so I could ignore them (the same as when I meditate at the allergy clinic). When I opened my eyes, I discovered that a flight attendant had come by and taken away my empty cup, so I guess I was really focused on my breath and not the world around me!

When we arrived at Washington National, I was pleasantly surprised to find a comment on yesterday’s entry from the founder of RxGo explaining the price discrepancy I wrote about yesterday. It turns out that the list price of the toothpaste increases linearly with the number of tubes you get, but the discounted price doesn’t; I’d searched for the price of one tube ($10.56); the discounted price for three tubes is quoted at $16.67, which is more than I paid – a pleasant surprise indeed. You can read his entire reply here; thanks, Jeremy, for explaining what was going on and for providing a valuable service.

Pandemic Journal, Day 567

My ex-VP, John Patrick, sends out a weekly newsletter; last week’s edition was titled “How Big Is the Big Pharma Lobby?” and he covered some of the same territory I’d talked about at Toastmasters last week. He mentioned Amazon Pharmacy in that article; it looks good for long-term prescriptions when you have a few days of lead time. But if you need a prescription sooner, Amazon Pharmacy also offers a Prescription Discount Benefit card which works at CVS (and many other places).

We used the Amazon card at CVS a couple of days ago for a new prescription for Diane that wasn’t covered by her insurance; it cut the price by 70%.

Today, I needed to refill my prescription for high-strength fluoride toothpaste (not covered by my insurance). Amazon’s price, delivered, is $2.54 for a tube, but I didn’t have the time to wait for delivery, so I took the prescription to CVS. When I went to pick it up, the price on the bag was $47.99! Amazon’s card doesn’t cover this particular item, but others do – I picked RxGo which showed a price of $10.56 for one tube and gave the pharmacy the info. The clerk punched in the codes and told me that the new price was $14.71 – I decided that was ok (there are always weasel words on the cards saying that the prices are approximate) and paid.

When I got home, I discovered that there were three tubs in the bag, not one (the prescription was for a 90-day supply). So I wound up getting the toothpaste for a bit under $5/tube – less than half of the price that the discount card showed.

I’m very confused.

Pandemic Journal, Day 566

The moon was the barest of crescents high in the sky when I went out to get the paper this morning – I ran back in to get my big camera and took this picture:

Then I remembered that I’d just gotten a new iPhone with a spiffy new camera and ProRAW capability, so I got it and took this photo:

The sky had gotten significantly lighter in the few minutes between the pictures, but I tried to compensate in the editing.

After that, I finally had breakfast and got on with the day’s plans.

Pandemic Journal, Day 565

We were supposed to see Coded, a new play about women in the games industry, at City Lights Theatre last March. Oh, well.

But all was not lost – City Lights brought Coded back as the first show of this season, and we saw it this afternoon. Masks were required for everyone but the actors (there was a talk-back after the show, and the author/director, Kirsten Brandt, wore a mask although the actors didn’t). The ventilation was good; the theatre was far from crowded.

It was good to get back to the theatre; during the talk-back, the actors said that they got energy from the audience, even though we were few and masked. And I definitely got energy from being there.

It’s playing for the next two weeks, and they do plan to make a recording available for people who aren’t ready to go to the theatre in person. I recommend it and am looking forward to the next production at City Lights!

Pandemic Journal, Day 564

This afternoon I competed in the quarterfinal round of the Table Topics contest for the District 101 Toastmasters Fall Fusion event. All the speakers get the same question and have to reply immediately; everyone but the first contestant has to wait in a breakout room until it’s their turn. I was the first contestant, so I didn’t have to wait around; the question was “when you were a child, what was your dream job?”

One of my favorite books in elementary school was Starship Into Space by Lee Correy (a pseudonym for G. Harry Stein, SF author and real rocket man at White Sands). I can’t tell you how many times I read it. I even convinced other kids to help me act it out on the school playground – we’d run across the playground and pretend to go into hyperdrive. I hadn’t thought about the book in many years, but as I thought about the question, there was only one possible answer: “astronaut” – and not just the kind who goes into low Earth orbit, or even to the moon, but one who got to travel to the stars.

As it happened, I didn’t become an astronaut. I didn’t win today’s contest, either. Oh, well, there’s always next year!

Pandemic Journal, Day 563

This morning, I got two pieces of bad news from my high school class on Facebook – one of my classmates, Pat Vines, had a heart attack and died yesterday, and our class advisor won’t be able to attend the reunion because her husband has Alzheimer’s and she can’t leave him. We’re all getting older, but sometimes it really comes home.

And later today, we learned that the Sapporo Snow Festival has been canceled for 2022, which means our “Japan In Winter” trip for February has been postponed by a year. That trip was the replacement for a cruise to Sicily and Malta this past May, which was the replacement for a cruise to Japan and Korea in April 2020. I’m beginning to have my doubts about having taken credit for the first trip instead of getting a refund!

I was Board Representative at services tonight at Shir Hadash; we had more people watching the livestream than we had in the Sanctuary! I’m glad we were there in person – it felt good to be in the Sanctuary.

Shabbat Shalom!