Pandemic Journal, Day 655

It was Diane’s birthday today. We went to the gym early this morning, came home, talked with Jeff, had lunch, and were almost ready to clean up when there was a knock at the door. It was our mail carrier – she’d just delivered the mail and happened to notice a leak near the porch, where the water line emerges from the ground and wanted me to know about it, which was a good thing because we hadn’t seen it when we got home an hour earlier.

She even gave me the name of a plumber who was on her route in case I needed one – and I did, because our usual plumber was on vacation. I called CMS Plumbing who told me they could have someone out in a few hours, which seemed pretty good for New Year’s Eve. And then a few minutes later, they called back and said the tech had finished his previous job early and he could be at our house in 20 minutes – and he was.

The problem turned out to be fairly simple – we’d had to have a new pressure regulator installed in January, and that plumber had put the Teflon tape at the joints on wrong, so it wore out over time and allowed water to start leaking. Today’s plumber (John) took everything apart, cleaned it, put on new tape, and put it back together – no leaks. From detection to repair was less than two hours, and we probably only lost a gallon or two of water during that time, so I think we got off easy.

I made one of Diane’s favorites for dinner tonight (it’s one of my favorites, too, so it wasn’t exactly a grand gesture :-)), Sesame Crusted Seared Ahi Tuna. And then we watched Don’t Look Up; it wasn’t the most romantic movie I could have suggested. Or the funniest. Or the most thought-provoking. But it was entertaining and interesting; it definitely reminded me of Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves and of the Golgafrinchan B Ark in Douglas Adams’s The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

Shabbat Shalom!

Pandemic Journal, Day 654

We made up for yesterday’s non-walk by doing the full 10K Year-Round Event in Los Gatos this morning. The route had changed in the two decades since the last time we did it – the second half of the route went along the Los Gatos Creek Trail instead of going through the residential areas west of Santa Cruz Avenue, so it was a good thing we took a map instead of relying on memory.

I didn’t get around to labeling and recabling the Mac mini, but I did ship its failed hard drive back to Western Digital for replacement. I wanted to erase it before shipping, but it was going to take the better part of a day to do so, so I settled for reformatting it as exFAT and writing junk to it, then re-reformating it as APFS. If I’d had an OS/2 machine around, I would have formatted it as HPFS and really confused anyone trying to extract data from it!

This evening, Diane and I split an experimental seasonal beer that we’d bought from Trader Joe’s. I finished my half; she gave up after a couple of sips, and I didn’t find it necessary to finish hers. It wasn’t unpleasant – in fact, it tasted quite a lot like a peppermint patty – but I’d rather have a beer that tastes like beer or a candy that tastes like candy than a combination of the two.

Pandemic Journal, Day 653

We’d planned to take a walk with the Striders this afternoon, but it was pouring down rain when the time came to leave our nice warm house – and even though we had the proper clothing, we didn’t have the proper attitude and stayed home.

I decided that it’d be a good idea to use that time to keep working on photos, but when I sat down at the computer (an M1 Mac mini) and started typing, nothing happened. I tried to log in remotely and failed at that, so I held the power button down to force a restart.

No chime. Nothing on the screen. But the white light was on at the front of the machine, so I knew it had power.

I tried a few times without success; I couldn’t get the computer to boot to the recovery system, either. It was time for a web search, which brought me to r/applehelp – and that took me to Apple’s instructions on reviving a Mac with Apple Silicon.

I had to install the Apple Configurator on my laptop (luckily, I have multiple machines!), and then I followed the instructions – it took several tries to get the Configurator to see the mini, but eventually, I got there and started the “revive”. Half an hour later, I got an error message: “The System cannot be restored on this device. The device is not connected.” And sure enough, it had vanished from the Configurator.

It was time for professional help – Apple’s chat support person set up a phone call with a tech, who very patiently worked with me to figure out what was happening. The first step was to disconnect everything I didn’t need from the computer and try to boot it – and it worked, though I had problems with the wireless keyboard and trackpad. I found a wired keyboard and mouse and kept going – she had me reconnect devices one at a time and reboot – more than an hour later, we found the culprit: my Time Machine drive, a Western Digital 4TB My Passport.

It probably would have taken less time to find the problem if my cabling were better organized and better labeled – I found cables which were plugged into the computer or the hub or the monitor which had nothing attached to the other end! Cleaning up the cables and labeling them is a project for tomorrow. As is returning the bad drive to Western Digital for replacement under warranty.

Maybe having backups is overrated.

Pandemic Journal, Day 652

Our non-induction cookware has been sitting for a while in the living room waiting for me to take it to Goodwill. I planned to take it after the holidays, or maybe after Omicron, or maybe the next time I was going to the Indian grocery across the street from Goodwill – but definitely RealSoonNow. Today, though, our house cleaner arrived before we’d left the house and asked why it was there (in her way 😄); when I explained my plan, she said that she knew people who could use it, so I took it out to her car – it’s nice to know that the cookware will be used again soon.

After that, we took a nice long walk on the Los Gatos Trail and stopped at Books, Inc. in The Pruneyard, where we picked up a 2022 calendar, some holiday cards, and a copy of Secret San Jose.

Last week, I’d opened a new jar of Laxmi Garlic Ginger paste and found some weird black stuff near the top and on the inside of the lid. I probably could have just scraped it off and used the rest of the jar, but it made me nervous, so I tossed it and sent a note to their customer service department. They asked for a photo of the lid and my address – today, a package arrived containing a BIG jar of Garlic Ginger paste and a jar of salted roasted Chana (which I think are chickpeas). It’s nice to have a company respond so well!

And the cooktop seems to be happy again – no error messages. Huzzah!

Pandemic Journal, Day 651

Tonight, I fell out of love – at least a little bit. Dinner tonight called for pasta, so I filled the pot with water, put it on the cooktop, hit “power” and “speed boost”, and then turned to weigh the pasta.

I expected to hear noises from the pot as the water bubbled and boiled – instead, I heard the cooktop beep as it turned itself off. And when I looked at it, there was an “E” on the display for the element I wanted to use. Trying it again didn’t help.

I brought up the “Home Control” app to see if it would tell me what was wrong – it said there was an error and that I should look for more information. Thanks!

Fortunately, the only thing I needed the cooktop for was the water, so I moved the pot to another element, which worked fine.

After dinner, I pulled out the manual and found the section about “fixing malfunctions”. It said that I should remove power for 30 seconds and try again – so I did, and everything seems to be working again, just as it had been at lunchtime.

Modern technology is wonderful until it isn’t.

Pandemic Journal, Day 650

This morning, Jeff was a guest on the “State of the States” show on SiriusXM Progress – if you’re a subscriber, you can hear the show on the SiriusXM app. He and the host talked about downballot races and redistricting – it was nice to hear him be referred to as an expert!

Pandemic Journal, Day 649

There was no Torah Study scheduled this morning, so Diane and I had time to take a longer walk than usual before services. The weather forecast called for rain off and on all day; we were lucky and took advantage of a mostly dry interval between 9 and 10am. We got sprinkled on a little bit, but we were also treated to a gorgeous rainbow.

The rain picked up soon after we got home – there were even some booms of thunder towards the end of the service, around 11:45am, which is unusual for this time of year. We had no plans to go anywhere, so we enjoyed the Shabbat quiet at home for the rest of the day.

Pandemic Journal, Day 648

I’ve always enjoyed seeing houses lit up with Christmas lights; my neighborhood doesn’t go overboard on decorations, but it’s still nice to see the lights go up after Thanksgiving, and I’m sorry to see them come down in January.

Shabbat Shalom! Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays!

Pandemic Journal, Day 647

My Toastmasters club doesn’t meet the last two weeks of the year, so I didn’t have a meeting this morning – instead, we went to the JCC and worked off the cookies we sampled yesterday to make sure they were OK to give to our neighbors.

We didn’t give all of the cookies to the neighbors, though; we had two left over. They didn’t survive the afternoon.

We also braved the crowds at the grocery store – we could have waited until tomorrow, I guess, but we found a parking spot and took our chances. We only had to wait behind one person to check out, so I think we won.

The weather forecast called for rain most of the day, but there was a nice long break during the late afternoon. We took advantage and got a walk in before things got messy again.

Happy Festivus!

Pandemic Journal, Day 646

I made chocolate chip cookies today, mostly to give to neighbors. I followed the official DoubleTree Cookie Recipe with two changes:

  • I omitted the walnuts in case of allergies
  • I only put in 2/3 of a cup of chocolate chips instead of 2-2/3 cups – after I added the first 2/3 cup, I somehow forgot the entire bag of chips I was planning to add next!

I had trouble getting the dough to cohere properly while I was mixing it – I’m not sure what was wrong. I’d left the butter out for several hours, so it should have been plenty soft, but the butter and sugars didn’t seem to combine well in the first mixing step (and the mixer kept ejecting sugar from the bowl even though I had it on low speed), and I had to mix longer than I expected to get everything combined at the end. I think that’s why I got distracted and forgot to add the rest of the chips.

In the end, the cookies came out fine (though light on chocolate), so we gave them to our neighbors with a clean conscience. I have plenty of chips to make another batch, too!

Pandemic Journal, Day 645

This morning, I listened to the most recent episode of the Automators podcast, where they were talking about Focus Modes on Macs and iPhones and how to use them. One of the topics was setting up a Shortcut to run automatically when you enter (or leave) a Focus Mode, and that was something I wanted to be able to do when I meditate.

So I spent the morning updating my iPhone, iPad, and my laptop. Now, when I enter “Mindfulness” mode, my watch face updates – but the rest of the process (setting a timer, mostly) doesn’t seem to be happening. Fortunately, I didn’t delete my old “Meditate” Shortcut, so I didn’t have to reconstruct it. And tonight, I’ll update my Apple Watch and I’m sure all will be well tomorrow, right?

I spent a good part of the rest of the day editing photos from our trips to Richmond and Boston; it had been a while since I sat down at Lightroom and I had to reconstruct some of that workflow. This time, I wrote it down – and even updated the script I use to extract photos from Apple Photos to get them ready for Lightroom so that it handles some infrequent oddities instead of requiring me to handle them manually.

No new photos today, but I edited this photo of a rose from Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond today, so I feel justified in including it.

Pandemic Journal, Day 644

Dinner tonight was an old favorite (or at least a dish we started making early in the pandemic), Slow Cooker Spiced Lentils with Veggies, but it didn’t taste right – it was dull, lacking something. This was the first time we’d used the induction cooktop for this recipe, and I don’t think I got the oil hot enough before putting the mustard seeds in (they didn’t pop), but that didn’t seem to be sufficient to explain the dullness.

Diane took out the recipe and asked me if I’d put in the chiles (yes), the chili powder (yes), the garlic (yes), the turmeric (yes) – finally, she asked about the salt and I realized I’d completely forgotten it (I got distracted because we nearly ran out of lentils and I had to put them on the right shopping list).

We are not big salt users – we don’t have a salt shaker on the table, and we usually reduce the amount of salt in a recipe by half (including this one) and omit the extra salt for “season to taste” (except for baking, because chemistry). But there’s a big difference between a little salt and no salt!

Pandemic Journal, Day 643

It was another quiet Sunday. We took our usual morning trip to the Farmers’ Market followed by a long walk. I decided to wear a mask on the first half of the walk because there was a cold wind blowing – I knew there was a reason I should always carry a mask!

This afternoon, we went to the test site at Union Middle School for a Covid test; even though the theatre yesterday was fairly empty, I felt like it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get tested. They did both a rapid test and a PCR test; we got the results (negative) from the rapid test before we left the school, and I felt happier.

Spaghetti Aglio E Olio

Tonight’s dinner was another new-to-us recipe, Spaghetti Aglio e Olio adapted from Ina Gartner’s recipe. It was easy to make, fairly quick, tasty, and filling – what more could we want?

Pandemic Journal, Day 642

We lost Internet connectivity this morning, sometime between 10 and 10:25am. I don’t know what was wrong, but I wound up rebooting the modem, router, and controller – and once I got some connectivity back, updating the firmware on everything. I wonder if the log4j bug had anything to do with the problem.

This afternoon, we saw Lyric Theatre’s H. M. S. Pinafore at the Hammer Theatre Center in downtown San Jose. Attendance was pretty light, almost certainly due to Covid – they mentioned that they were scattering groups throughout the theatre to maintain social distancing. It was a good production, and I left with the songs going through my head. Lyric Theatre has a tradition of having the cast, still in costume, greet the audience after the show – it’s a nice touch.

This evening, we tried a new recipe from the Times, Roasted Salmon and Brussels Sprouts With Citrus-Soy Sauce. It went together pretty easily; I might skip the jalapeño next time, though.

Pandemic Journal, Day 641

I made pretzels again today, and for the first time, I was able to roll them out to the 18-24” length that the directions suggest you need before making the twist. I wish I knew what I did right – was it:

  • Letting the butter soften for 90 minutes before starting things?
  • Adding an extra couple of tablespoons of water during the mixing process to incorporate all the flour?
  • Mixing longer than usual so that all of the dough wound up in one ball?
  • Letting the dough rest an extra five minutes before shaping it because we were finishing up lunch at the time?

Or was it some combination of the above? Or was I just lucky?

Boiling the pretzels on the induction cooktop was a real pleasure compared to the electric cooktop; at no point in the process did I worry that it was going to boil over (I usually had to move the pot off the burner a few times with the old top).

We wanted to watch the Worldcon Masquerade, but it was on at dinnertime. I thought it would be available for delayed streaming – and it will be, but not until after the con ends. Oh, well; at least I’ll know to plan time for the Hugos tomorrow.

After dinner, we did go to one panel: Science Talk 11: Space Exploration. We tuned in about 20 minutes into the first panelist’s talk – he had lots of slides with lots of words and he read them to us. The other two talks were much more interesting – Katie Mack’s “Mars or Bust?” went into problems with getting to Mars and living there (and possible solutions), and Geoffrey Landis took us through some possible uncrewed Titan missions.

Katie Mack finished her talk with a lovely photo of Earth, taken by the Curiosity rover. It’s not quite the same as seeing it first-hand, but it’s pretty amazing nonetheless!

Pandemic Journal, Day 640

I enjoy playing online trivia in Learned League. Season 91 ended last night, and I got the final results this morning. I already knew I was going to be relegated to B Rundle for next season, but I was still disappointed to learn that I’d finished in the cellar, with 5 wins, 5 ties, and 15 losses.

Some of that was due to luck – my opponents had 119 correct answers (out of 150), the most I’d ever encountered. But a lot of it was due to unforced errors on my part – times when I knew the correct answer to a question that would have given me a win or a tie and managed to blow it, like this one:

The October 1986 summit meeting between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, which defied expectations by nearly ending the Cold War arms race and bringing about nuclear disarmament, took place in what European capital city?

The answer, of course, is Reykjavik – and I’d been there just a few months ago and seen quite a few references to that summit meeting.

Wait till next year!

Pandemic Journal, Day 639

The last World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) we actually attended was in 2018: Worldcon 76 in San Jose. We had full attending memberships for Dublin 2019, An Irish Worldcon, but we decided to take a cruise instead. And we had full attending memberships for ConZealand last year, but we decided against going before Covid-19 hit.

This year, we had full attending memberships for Discon3 in Washington, DC. It was supposed to have happened in August, and we might have been able to go, but then they lost one of their hotels and Covid-19 hit, so they rescheduled for December 15-19, and we chose not to go. But they’re making all of the big events and some panels available online, so we attended the Opening Ceremonies this afternoon from the comfort of our couch.

The view and sound were excellent; I didn’t have to worry that a tall person would sit in front of me; there was a little chat going on, but it was easy to ignore. And I wasn’t in a room with hundreds if not thousands of other people, and I didn’t have to stand in a long registration line.

The ceremonies themselves were fairly entertaining; they gave out some honors that are traditionally presented at the Hugo Awards, such as the Big Heart award. There was an excellent choral group from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in DC (I wasn’t thrilled by the choice of music, but the artistry was great). And Sebastian Martorana, the designer of this year’s Hugo Awards base, spoke about his design – it’s a block of marble from a local quarry which got flooded decades ago. He salvages the stone from buildings being destroyed (like abandoned row houses in Baltimore) and makes artwork from it – it was a great presentation.

Next year’s Worldcon is Chicon 8 in Chicago, on Labor Day weekend. We have attending memberships, but if we’re lucky, we’ll be in Africa instead.

After watching the Opening Ceremonies, we joined some members of the South Bay Striders for an “Afternoon Amble” on the club’s San Jose Year-Round Walk at Almaden Lake Park. It was a pleasant walk, and we finished while the weather was still good. Diane even had a chance to take a nice photo.

Pandemic Journal, Day 638

The rain stopped this morning, so we were able to take our usual Tuesday morning walk on the Los Gatos Creek Trail. It wasn’t as crowded as it often is, but we did run across a few other walkers, including one wearing a jacket with a LOT of patches – one of which was for the South Bay Striders Volksmarching Club.

We were members of the Striders back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but things got busy and we dropped away, though we kept walking. I asked whether the club was still going, and it is; they have occasional one-day events and support quite a few Year Round walks. And they try to get people together on Wednesday afternoons to walk one of the local Year Round trails – we may join them on tomorrow’s walk.

Sometime in the summer of 1989 – Diane is pregnant with Jeff.

You never know what you’ll find on a walk!

Pandemic Journal, Day 637

It rained today – not nearly enough to break the drought, but enough to make it feel like a good day to stay inside, which is what we did for most of the day. We did keep our morning appointment at the JCC with our trainer, and we even managed a quick walk right afterwards – but then it was cocooning, cooking, watching TV, and reading until after dinner.

Tonight was the Limmud (teaching session) with our last Rabbinic candidate; the candidate took us through texts about the Sabbatical year (when we are commanded to let the land rest), and how we could apply “lying fallow” to our own lives. I found it very interesting and helpful.

Pandemic Journal, Day 636

This morning, we made a very quick trip to the Farmers’ Market before going to the Shir Hadash “Town Hall” meeting. There were about 40 of us in the Sanctuary (plenty of room for social distancing) and at least as many more joining via Zoom. There were no surprises (which, as a Board member, made me happy) and we finished on time (which made me even happier – the room was COLD!).

We managed to squeeze a walk in after lunch – the weather forecast called for rain all day, heavy at times, but it’s been pretty intermittent and light.

We probably could have walked after dinner, but we chose to stay home and watch Marin Theatre Company’s Rolling World Premiere production of Georgiana and Kitty: Christmas at Pemberley instead. We’d seen the two previous plays in the trilogy at City Lights, and I expect they’ll do this one in a year or two, but I was happy to have the chance to watch from home. Like the previous two plays, it’s a logical continuation of Pride and Prejudice; it’s light without being lightweight. The live production ends on the 19th of December; I’m not sure how long the online version will be available, but it’s a nice way to spend a couple of hours.

Pandemic Journal, Day 635

I was lay leader for Shir Shabbat today; I also was the Board rep, so I had to read the announcements; I was also the darshon, the person who talks about the Torah portion. Today’s portion was Vayigash (Genesis 44:18-47:27), the end of the Joseph story. It is full of material – Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and is reunited with his father, Jacob’s family (all 70 of them) come to Egypt, Jacob and Pharaoh meet, Jacob’s family are allowed to dwell in Goshen, Joseph institutes a 20% tax on all the land in Egypt, and more.

I couldn’t decide what to talk about. And I was running out of time. So I did some quick research on Sefaria and found a text study by Nicole Auerbach of the Central Synagogue which quoted an article by Rabbi Shai Held about “The Fourth Cardinal Sin of Judaism, Humiliation” which gave me material to read aloud and add my own spin to. Dayenu (it was enough).

This evening, there was Havdalah and Happy Hour at Shir Hadash to give some of us a chance to meet another Rabbinical candidate. It was a good event, with too much food and some good discussions. The candidate did a little teaching, too, but the bulk of the opportunity for that will come Monday evening.

And in between all of that, we took some nice (if chilly) walks before the rain that’s expected for the next couple of days.

Not a bad way to spend Saturday, not at all.

Pandemic Journal, Day 634

I started following a few lawyers on Twitter during the period between the election and the Inauguration – they would interpret the filings and rulings in the various cases that were being filed in an attempt to nullify the election. As the cases got nuttier, the interpretations got funnier.

One of the lawyers I’m still following is Akiva Cohen. He’s writing about topics other than the elections most of the time these days, but he still gives amusing disaster tours of goofy litigation. Yesterday, he wrote about a bonkers lawsuit against Wizards of the Coast (the owners of Dungeons and Dragons) by a new company, “TSR LLC”, which wanted D&D-related copyrights assigned to them on the grounds that Wizards wasn’t using them (which apparently is not possible).

His explanation ran for 40-50 tweets, going into the differences between trademarks and copyrights, and I laughed all the way through.

In discussing trademarks, he threw in a reference to “genericide” – when a company loses its trademark because they don’t defend it when it’s used to refer to an entire category of products (for example, “dry ice” was a trademark, owned by the DryIce Corporation of America).

Some companies go to extremes to defend their trademarks – both Coke and Pepsi used to send mystery shoppers to restaurants which didn’t carry their product to make sure that someone who asked for it was told it wasn’t available. A few years ago, the Velcro Company created a funny video begging people not to say “Velcro” when referring to hook and eye fastening cloth – I enjoyed it, as well as the “behind the scenes” video and the one with responses from viewers. Watch it here:

TSR LLC withdrew their complaint today, btw.

Pandemic Journal, Day 633

Fall came in a rush today – suddenly, there were fallen leaves everywhere, as well as cold breezes and even a little rain.

I gave my speech at Toastmasters this morning; it was the “Researching and Presenting” project, and the title was “Inductive Reasoning”. I talked about our route to the inductive cooktop and the research I’d done (mostly at The Rational Kitchen) in choosing it and the new cookware we had to buy to use it.

I ran out of time before I could show a photo of the cookware we’re planning to donate to Goodwill – there’s a lot of it, some almost new, so I hope someone else enjoys it.

I made two meals on the cooktop today; the first, Pan-Fried Trout with Rosemary, Lemon, and Capers, is not one I make regularly – we hadn’t planned to make it this week but the trout looked good when we were at Lunardi’s this morning. I was very much still getting used to the cooktop – getting the timing right so that the fish and the rice would be ready at the same time was challenging.

The second meal, Blistered Broccoli Pasta With Walnuts, Pecorino and Mint, is one of our favorites. I really liked being able to boil the water for the pasta in less than three minutes instead of needing 10 minutes or more, and the rest of the process went pretty smoothly.

Soon, I’ll forget how I had to adjust to using induction. I hope.

Pandemic Journal, Day 632

It was a busy and productive day today. We had our blinds cleaned and restrung; I booked a hotel in Porto for our trip next spring; Diane finished a photo album from our trip to Costa Rica and Panama in the Just Before Times and got it ordered in time to get a 50% discount; I wrote a speech for tomorrow’s Toastmasters meeting; and Diane had the honor of making the first meal on our new cooktop – omelettes. She said it was different than using the old cooktop but not too terrifying. :-)

It’ll be my turn to cook on the new cooktop tomorrow.

Pandemic Journal, Day 631

Our new cooktop arrived and was installed today! The installation went smoothly (I wasn’t in the kitchen when they were working, but I didn’t hear any unexpected noises or swearing), and it looks good. I tested it and made sure all the burners worked, but we haven’t used it to cook yet – we weren’t sure whether it would be installed before dinner, so we planned a meal that didn’t need the cooktop.

While we were waiting for the installers, I had to turn off “Block Unknown Callers” on my phone, so I wound up answering two spam callers this afternoon. Both were real people, not recordings. One was from “Pain Relief Center”, claiming to be a follow-up call; the other claimed to be from CVS and told me that Medicare had “short-listed me” for some kind of heart test for free. I almost miss the auto warranty calls!

Pandemic Journal, Day 630

We had another Limmud (learning session) with a candidate for Senior Rabbi at Shir Hadash this evening. Even though Hanukkah ended earlier today, the candidate talked about the lights of Hanukkah and their meaning and how they relate to the lights of Creation – it got rather Kabbalistic at times, but it was quite interesting and led to some good discussions.

Pandemic Journal, Day 629

Today was the Shir Hadash Board Retreat, an all-day event where the Board focuses on important issues for the synagogue. It’s usually held in the summer to help the new Board strengthen its ties, but that was infeasible this year for the obvious reason.

It was a productive day; we drafted a new mission statement for the synagogue and used that to establish goals to bring the statement to life. There is still a lot of work ahead (and a Board Work Day to come in January), of course – I’m looking forward to it.

After I got home, we lit the menorah for the last time this year. We were a little nervous having 9 candles burning without being in the room, but we didn’t want to stay there – so I set up the world’s most boring Zoom meeting so we could watch the candles while doing other things (mostly watching TV).

Happy Hanukkah!

Pandemic Journal, Day 628

It was Shabbat and I spent most of the day doing things with Shir Hadash. This morning we attended Torah Study and Shir Shabbat, on Zoom as usual; we’re getting deep into the Joseph story which always leads to interesting discussions.

This afternoon, we were physically on campus for a Limmud (learning session) led by one of the candidates for the Senior Rabbi position. The candidate took us through the evolution of the Hanukkah story, looking at texts from I and II Maccabees, Josephus, and the Babylonian Talmud and discussing the similarities and differences. I hadn’t realized that the “miracle of the oil” wasn’t part of the original story – it was added in Talmudic days (about 500 CE). It was a very interesting session, followed by wine, snacks, and Havdalah.

And I got the first paper issue of my revised Economist subscription today – fortunately, it’s one without bonus sections so there’s a chance I’ll finish it before the next one arrives!

Pandemic Journal, Day 627

Tonight was the Hanukkah Shabbat Service at Shir Hadash, and I was pressed into service as camera operator for our livestream. The service was outside because of Covid, so we couldn’t use the cameras and microphones in the sanctuary; instead, the whole thing was streamed from my iPhone (mounted, fortunately, on a tripod).

It worked surprisingly well – the audio was clear (thanks to the PA system), and the video was mostly acceptable. I had to back away fairly far to be able to fit everyone into the shot, and that meant people were in front of the camera at times. And I couldn’t resist the urge to try to zoom in or pan occasionally – luckily, the app we used (Switcher) limits the speed of the zoom, and having the phone on a tripod mount made it pretty easy to move slowly and steadily when I panned.

It was windy, so the candles in the various menorahs didn’t burn too well, but that’s probably the worst problem we had by being outside. They’d set up a tent over the chairs, and there were enough patio heaters to make it quite pleasantly warm in there.

Shabbat Shalom!

Pandemic Journal, Day 626

I was the Toastmaster of the Day today at the Cats; I chose “Food, Glorious Food” as my theme, and people seemed to enjoy it. We only had two speakers, but I’d warned the Table Topics Master and she had enough time to ask nine different food-related questions, ranging from “What is your favorite food?” to “What was your most disastrous cooking experience?” (the answer to that question won the “Best Table Topics” vote).

Yesterday, I mentioned that Facebook wasn’t letting me tag Diane (or Jeff, or quite a few others) on the computer, no matter what browser I used. Today, it decided to see if it could get me in trouble and offered me this new service:

I was especially impressed that there’s no way to tell them “no” – and the ad showed up at the top of the screen every time I opened the app or went to the site. Good thing I can’t keep a secret!

Pandemic Journal, Day 625

One of the things we really enjoyed before Covid was going on National Trust tours. We especially enjoyed them when John Meffert was the “Study Leader”, so we were awfully tempted when we got an offer from the Trust to join John next spring in his home town of Charleston, South Carolina for “An Insider’s View”. In fact, we were so tempted, we signed up! I hope they’ll have some flexibility on the food, though – a “Low Country Oyster Roast” is just not our cup of tea.

We’ve been rotating our menorahs this Hanukkah – tonight, we used the last one so we’ll have to start repeating them tomorrow.