Pandemic Journal, Day 619

This morning, I got a text from an unknown number (always a bad sign), saying “For instructions:” and a URL that looked like (and was) a real Google Forms URL.

I was pretty sure that it was a scam, but I had just registered with a new health provider yesterday, so there was a small chance it was legit and the first message had gotten lost. I wasn’t going to visit the link on my phone, or even in a browser – instead, I opened a terminal session and used curl to get the actual contents of the form; doing it that way ensured that no JavaScript could execute.

The title of the form was “UNUSUAL LOGIN ATTEMPT FROM [IP:] YOUR ACCOUNT IS LIMITED.” and the text was:

We need you to secure your account immediately to prevent any fraudulent activities for your safety. Please follow the steps indicated to verify your identity and gain back full access of your bank account.

Please continue here:

Security Department

I chose to stop my investigation there.

This evening, our friends Lindy and Daniel invited us for Thanksgiving dinner – it was a small gathering (6) with lots of delicious food. It gave me the excuse to make my chocolate pecan peppermint pie for the first time in quite a while. I usually make it with Mrs. Smith’s frozen pie crust, but Lunardi’s didn’t have any when I looked on Tuesday; fortunately, Whole Foods did have a non-larded frozen crust, and it worked just as well.

Pandemic Journal, Day 618

I’ve been a subscriber to The Economist for a long time, and I really enjoy their journalism and their writing. I looked forward to having the newspaper arrive every week, as well as being able to read the online edition if that was more convenient. But the last time I renewed, the price for digital-and-paper was substantially more than digital-only or paper-only, so I switched to digital-only.

And I almost stopped reading The Economist. Their iOS app blurred the distinction between issues, and it felt like just one more unending stream of information. I got several of their newsletters by email, and those often sent me to the app or the website to read a story, but that was about it.

Today, I finally got around to calling them to switch back to paper, only to discover that they no longer offer paper-only subscriptions; it’s pure digital or a combination. And the first person I spoke with told me that it would cost north of $300 to upgrade the remaining 2-1/2 years of my subscription to the combo.

Soon after that, I was talking to the cancellation department; the representative told me the same thing, but then said the magic words “let me see what I can do for you”. She came up with a deal that seemed to be too good to be true: go to the combo for three years starting today, use my existing subscription as credit, and I’d wind up with a $15 refund. Of course I said “yes”; she said I’d get an email confirming the change in a few minutes and we hung up.

By that time, it was warm enough for Diane and me to go on a long walk – 5K, in fact, so we could complete the virtual Turkey Trot for 2021. The T-shirts had arrived last week and we’d been waiting to wear them!

When we returned, I had an email from The Economist telling me that the price I’d been quoted was a mistake and telling me to call back if I wanted to do anything. So I called and went directly to the cancellation department – this time, the agent offered a more realistic deal: one year of the combo at the Black Friday sale price of $112.50 (50% of the normal price), paid for by my credit, with the remaining $100+ refunded. I said “yes”, and this time, the deal went through.

I should be getting the paper version again in time for the annual year-end double edition, which is always a delight to read.

Timing is everything. Happy Thanksgiving!

Pandemic Journal, Day 617

This morning, I awoke to the happy news that I’d been victorious in yesterday’s Learned League match, despite my best efforts to the contrary.

I knew three of the questions immediately (answers at the end of this post):

Q3: The “city” of Nuuk (technically an illoqarfik and formerly known as Godthåb) is the most populous city on what island?

Q4: Belfast-born physicist and mathematician William Thomson, who is widely credited with clarifying the thermodynamic concept of absolute zero and determining its correct value, was elevated to the peerage in 1892, becoming 1st Baron what?

Q5: What was the last name of the patriarch and self-made millionaire who was the first chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission in 1934, chair of the powerful US Maritime Commission in 1937, and the US Ambassador to the United Kingdom in 1938?

The other three were less obvious to me.

Q1: H.R.3684, a $1 trillion bill that was passed by the 117th Congress after a bipartisan vote in the US House of Representatives on November 5, 2021, is officially known as the [REDACTED] Investment and Jobs Act. What word has been redacted?

My thought process here was straightforward: that’s the infrastructure bill; it’s part of the recovery effort, so, of course, it’s going to be named the American Investment and Jobs Act, to match the American Rescue Plan Act.

Q2: One of 20th-century author Mohammad-Ali Jamalzadeh’s first successful short stories””a genre in which he is regarded as a master””was titled “Farsi shakar ast”, which translates to English as “_____ is Sugar” (fill in the blank).

I had no idea on this one at first; I knew “Farsi” was the language spoken in Iran (Persia), but that seemed too obvious. Then I noticed “regarded as a master” and used that as a springboard to my answer: Chess.

The last question puzzled me at first until the pattern jumped out at me:

Q6: Rebecca Rabbit, Suzy Sheep, and Danny Dog are among the close friends of what cheeky animated British ungulate? (Full name required.)

I was surprised that my opponent missed that one, since he lives in England. I’ve never seen the show in question, but I’d seen it mentioned online, and that was enough to give me the answer and the match. I’ve been near the bottom of my Rundle all season, flirting with the relegation line, so every victory is crucial. Thanks, Peppa Pig (and thanks to ChrisTheDude at English Wikipedia for the photo)!


Q1: Infrastructure (duh!)
Q2: Persian (duh!)
Q3: Greenland
Q4: Kelvin
Q5: Kennedy (asked on November 22!)
Q6: Peppa Pig

Pandemic Journal, Day 616

I spent most of the day editing videos for the speech I gave tonight at the Silicon Valley Storytellers – I used excerpts from Galaxy Quest as the basis for a “humorous keynote speech” talking about some lessons on behavior one could learn from the movie.

The meeting started at 7, and I was still futzing with videos at 6 – I wanted to show multiple clips with just a few seconds of black screen between, but when I used QuickTime Player to put them together, I found that the audio vanished after the first inserted black segment. I didn’t have time to debug the problem; instead, I decided to go in and out of screen share mode in Zoom between clips – this was distracting to the audience, and made me spend far too much time looking down at the keyboard instead of at the camera.

My timing was off, too (partially because the transitions between segments and speaking took longer than I’d expected, but mostly because I hadn’t completely written the speech), so I didn’t have time to provide a proper summary at the end.

Despite all that, the speech got a pretty good reception – I was the only speaker, so everyone had a chance to give me a verbal evaluation, unlike the usual Toastmasters pattern of one verbal evaluator per speech.

Lessons learned: don’t let the tech take over; pay more attention to the actual speech objectives; never give up, never surrender!

Pandemic Journal, Day 615

I finally finished extracting all of the clips I need for my speech tomorrow. I wanted to avoid using the “Share Screen” option in Zoom, so I planned to use Open Broadcast Studio and set up a scene which would just show me, and another scene which would show a clip; I could fade between them and it would look professional.

I got the video to work easily, but I spent a long time trying to get the audio under control and failed; I even installed a virtual audio router but had no success – I couldn’t get the audio from the clip into Zoom, even though OBS showed that input as active.

I finally gave up, which is ironic since I’m using clips from Galaxy Quest!