Pandemic Journal, Day 686

I’m still trying to clean up the character encoding issues I created (or maybe I just uncovered them) last night. My brain hurts.

But today wasn’t totally without success – I achieved a goal that I thought was completely out of reach.

I use my Apple Watch to keep track of my activity. The watch tracks three dimensions of activity – standing, exercising, and burning calories, and there’s a goal for each dimension. Reaching the goal in all three dimensions gives you a perfect day; reaching the goal for every day from Monday through Sunday gives you a perfect week.

I’ve owned an Apple Watch since July, 2015 – six and a half years, 341 weeks, or 2391 days (not that I’m counting). In that time, I’ve only had 51 perfect weeks, even though I hit each of my daily goals at least two-thirds of the time – consistency is hard!

So I was happy to open up the Fitness app today and see the “Perfect Month” award on the screen. I wonder if there’s a “Perfect Year” award?

Pandemic Journal, Day 685

I upgraded this blog to WordPress 5.9 today, and all of my non-ASCII characters (such as typographical apostrophes or quotes or accented letters) got corrupted in the process. I’ve run into this before and I thought I’d fixed it, but clearly I still have an issue.

I tried to make a brute force “fix” and it made the blog look OK, but when I try to edit a page, I see the weird characters again.

So I shall write no more this evening and attack the problem again tomorrow.

Pandemic Journal, Day 684

I’ve been using CellarTracker to track our wine inventory and make comments on the wines we drink. I’ve been happy with it – it’s a lot easier to use than my previous technique, a spreadsheet. And it’s nice to see comments from other users when we’re considering a new wine.

We keep the “ready” wines in a little wine refrigerator that holds 25 bottles; everything else is in the wine closet. When the refrigerator is empty, I use CellarTracker’s “ready to drink” report to decide what to move to the refrigerator. Unfortunately, the report tells me which wines to move, but not where to find them – that requires following a link to another report for each and every bottle. That’s a pain.

Instead, I’ve been exporting the data about all the wines in inventory to a spreadsheet, then running a small Python program that sorts them and creates a moving list. It’s easy, but a little awkward, because I have to log into the site and do the export from a browser.

Today was wine-moving day, and I decided I could simplify the process. My first thought was to figure out how to read the cookies from the browser and use them with the Python Requests module to get the data. I even found a module that reads the cookies – but it doesn’t work with Safari. There is a program that takes Safari’s binary cookies and creates a plain-text version, but I’d have to parse its output and this way lies madness.

If there were an API to CellarTracker’s data, life would be easy. It’s on their roadmap, and it’s been there for at least ten years. I don’t think it’s their top priority.

But searching for “CellarTracker API Python” led me to the CellarTracker package on GitHub which lets me get the inventory into a Python list. I replaced the code I had to parse the CSV file that I manually downloaded with a call to the package, and I was done!

The wine refrigerator is full again. Life is good.

Pandemic Journal, Day 683

We didn’t take any exciting trips today; instead, I had an exciting upgrade experience. I’d upgraded two of my Macs to Monterey with no significant problems, so I decided to attack the one which runs all of our home automation next.

The upgrade ran smoothly, but then I saw a warning telling me that the Indigo Server would not run in future versions of Mac OS. This didn’t surprise me – it still uses Python 2.7, which reached end-of-life several years ago, and I know Apple plans to remove it from the system. And I know the Indigo people are going to convert to Python 3.

But then I discovered that I couldn’t connect to the server from my phone, and I started to wonder if the future had already arrived. I started trying to research downgrading to Big Sur – it’s possible, but not easy. So I looked on the Indigo Forums and found two pinned posts that I really should have read before I upgraded.

One said that they had a version of Indigo Server that would run under Monterey. I installed that version, and all was well. For now.

The second post says that whatever they did to make Indigo Server work on Monterey doesn’t work in the beta of the next point release (12.3). I turned off auto-upgrades for the system, so I should be safe. For now.

In honor of the sunset of Python 2, I offer this photo of sunset on the Mekong River in Cambodia, three years ago today.

Pandemic Journal, Day 682

Our friend Kevin is a docent at Año Nuevo State Park and offers occasional after-hours guided walks there. We joined his walk this afternoon and had a great time. The weather was wonderful, the company was good, the elephant seals were everywhere, and the rest of the scenery was delightful, too! Even the traffic cooperated; we got to the park more than half-an-hour early.

We started near the Marine Education Center – in this case, the birds were a good omen.

We caught our first glimpse of an elephant seal just a few minutes into the walk, near Cove Beach.

We could see Año Nuevo Island in the distance; it had been used as a lighthouse and had housing on it, but it was abandoned decades ago. Access is now limited to park rangers and researchers.

We walked almost a mile to the Staging Area, where our last two companions joined us, and then we were in the Nature Preserve. A few minutes later, we encountered our first harem of elephant seals.

One of the park rangers met us and showed us a “gift” he’d been left by some of the researchers – a square foot of elephant seal blubber!

Even though the sands were filled with seals, there were birds wandering around, minding their own business.

Also researchers, doing an in-person count of the seals (they’re more accurate than drones, according to the ranger).

There’s lots of bird life just offshore, too.

The seals spray themselves with sand to keep cool (it was about 65F).

It’s mating season – these two seem to have enjoyed some afternoon delight.

The seal pups need their mothers’ milk, like this one.

The males fight – sometimes they injure or kill one another, but sometimes it just seems to be to make sure everyone knows who’s boss. These two spent a while battling one another before eventually swimming away.

Our intrepid researcher had walked all the way around the point to get to this batch of seals.

It was nearly time to go, but we stayed to watch the sun go down.

There weren’t many flowers on our route, but I did find this one near the Staging Area as we headed back to the parking area.

A couple of last photos on our way back to the car, and we were off.

Thanks, Kevin!

Pandemic Journal, Day 681

As I wrote last Friday, I wanted a second opinion about the problems we’ve been having with our heating system. Our trainer suggested the company he’d used, A-1 Heating and Cooling, and they sent out a tech today, Steve.

He spent a long time in the attic, and when he came down, he had pictures and options for us. He showed video of the furnace lighting up and belching flames – it’s called “rollout,” caused by too much gas, and it’s not a good thing. There’s a rollout safety switch that senses it and turns off the gas; a bit later, the furnace tries to light again and there’s less gas, so it works. But it’s not safe. He reduced the gas pressure temporarily to avoid rollout, but that’s not a real fix.

He also found condensation that had leaked out of poorly sealed PVC pipes and was accumulating.

The good news is that he didn’t propose replacing the furnace, just the gas valve and resealing the pipes – it’ll cost about 15% of what it would cost to replace the furnace. So we said “yes”.

I didn’t get a chance to take a walk today, so I have no new photos; instead, I found a photo I took on this date in 2019, when we were at the Angkor Thom Temple in Siem Riep, Cambodia. Our guide posed us so we could hold up one of the faces carved into the walls of the temple.

Pandemic Journal, Day 680

I was putting stuff away before our house cleaner’s visit this morning when Diane called me over to the patio door and showed me a dead squirrel on the deck. When our house cleaner arrived, I told her about the squirrel so she wouldn’t be surprised if she went outside, and then we left to run our normal Tuesday errands.

While we were out, I called County Vector Control; they told me that they didn’t deal with dead animals and suggested I call the City of San Jose’s Animal Control department (they serve Los Gatos, too). After fighting my way through their voice menus, I was connected to a dispatcher who told me that they didn’t deal with squirrels, and that all I had to do was wrap up the corpse and put it in the garbage.

When we got home, we left our masks on and donned gloves; then I got out the long-handled shovel and some plastic bags. The squirrel’s corpse was quite stiff, so it was easy to pick it up and put it in a bag, which Diane put in two more layers of bags; we tossed the masks and gloves into the outer bag, and put the whole thing in the garbage bin.

The day got brighter after that – Diane got her second hepatitis A shot at Costco, and as long as we were there, I picked up a discounted Microsoft 365 renewal, eight bottles of wine, and quite a bit more.

There was yet more shopping to be done, so we walked to Safeway to pick up some yogurt in smaller-than-Costco quantities. On the way home, we walked past these roses – as I said, the day got brighter as it went on!

I also received a “Certificate of Proficiency” from Toastmasters International for completing the “Engaging Humor” path with the speech I gave last night, so now I’m officially a proficient humorist, or maybe just a proficient engager. I’d put it on my résumé but I don’t have one any more.

Pandemic Journal, Day 679

The place I go for my allergy desensitization shots closes on Mondays from noon to 2. That’s never been a problem for me – I usually go after they reopen, but today I wanted a bigger block of time to work on my speech for tonight’s Storytellers meeting, so Diane and I hurried through lunch so I could get there before they took their break. I was in the car at 11:41, and Google told me that I should arrive a couple of minutes before noon.

Google was wrong. I pulled into the parking lot right at 12, and by the time I walked up to the door, it was locked. I could see a nurse sitting at the desk and looked imploringly at her; she opened the door and said that I’d have to come back after 2. I thought about claiming that my watch was running slow and asking for leniency, but I didn’t think that argument would work anymore – especially since she could see I was wearing an Apple watch.
The drive home was a lot faster, of course.

Pandemic Journal, Day 678

The Fitness app on my phone offers a monthly challenge. I didn’t realize it was there until about a year ago, but now I make a point of looking at it and trying to win. This month’s challenge is to walk 196.7 miles during the month (an average of 6.35 miles per day), so I’ve been extra diligent about taking long walks instead of just burning calories at the gym. So far, I have 171.1 miles logged.

On Sunday, we normally take a 3-mile walk as part of our trip to the Farmers’ Market, and we usually try for at least one more long walk during the day. Today was no exception, and it was a great day to be outside.

Our second walk was in search of light miso paste. Our usual supermarket hasn’t had any for several weeks, so we tried Nob Hill, a little over a mile from home. I was unsurprised to discover that they didn’t have it either. As we walked home empty-handed, Diane suddenly pointed at something off to my right – she’d seen a monarch butterfly crossing the street. That got me to stop looking at my phone, but not for long.

I switched to the Camera app and started hunting – I took lots of useless photos, but eventually I caught the butterfly with its wings open.

And then it flew away.

Pandemic Journal, Day 677

It was a quiet Shabbat.

I was asked to make sure the Zoom room was open for Torah Study, but our transitional Rabbi had gotten the necessary information and had it open before I logged in (though I still helped a bit in admitting people).

Shir Shabbat services had a typical level of technology problems, but that didn’t stop them from being enjoyable and meaningful.

And we took a few walks and made meals, as usual.

I did try to get another HVAC company to look at the furnace, but he’s a one-man shop in Sunnyvale and Los Gatos is out of his service area. It’s a shame, because he gets wonderful reviews (and he did make a suggestion for a possible zero-cost DIY fix that I will look at). I’ve got another couple of calls out for Monday.

Pandemic Journal, Day 676

We replaced our furnace and ducting about 10 years ago – PG&E was offering a special program for “energy upgrades”. We also replaced our water heater, pipes, and air conditioning at the same time; it was a major project.

Recently, I noticed an odd behavior when the furnace cycled on – it would start, but after a few seconds, the fan would stop for about a minute, then it’d start up again and stay on long enough to bring up the temperature to the desired point. I called the company that had installed the furnace, but they’d vanished in the last 10 years, so I started looking for someone else.

My neighbor across the street had just had some emergency work done by American HVAC and was very pleased with the company and the tech, Rudy. So I called and asked if they could send Rudy to look at my furnace – no hurry. He was at the house in less than two hours!

I told him the problem and he went into the attic, returning with pictures and bad news.

We’d had a 95 AFUE single-stage furnace installed as part of the energy upgrade; high-efficiency furnaces like that need plumbing to get rid of the condensation the furnace produces, and ours had started leaking – into the heat exchanger, among other places. And there was corrosion and mold all over the place because of the leaks.

It’d be less expensive to replace the furnace with a mid-efficiency two-stage unit (80 AFUE) than to replace the heat exchanger, and having a two-stage system would even out the temperature swings. And there’d be no plumbing problems.

He also said that the static pressure in the system was high – adding another return would help that. And it would increase airflow, which is an issue in part of the house.

I was hoping for a simple repair, but it seems unlikely. I’m going get a second opinion before we do anything, of course.

Pandemic Journal, Day 675

I’m very glad my Toastmasters meeting this morning was on Zoom and not in person, even though it meant my speech for the “Effective Body Language” project was less effective than I’d’ve liked. We had sixteen attendees. Two of them had had the worst headaches of their lives this week. One of them was Covid-positive, and the other was waiting for PCR test results; we also had at least one member who was unable to attend due to a sudden health issue.

After the meeting, we took our usual walks, and then I tackled the Traeger grill. Replacing the fire pot was easy after I watched the videos on this page; the igniter looked like it was in good shape, so I plugged everything back in and fired it up. My infrared thermometer showed the igniter heating up well over 250F within just a couple of minutes, so I added pellets – and nothing happened.

So I took it apart again to replace the igniter. The official instructions tell you to remove the control panel and the pellet hopper, but the unofficial video I watched suggested taping the wires of the new rod to the old one and using the old one to fish the wires through the holes as you remove it. I couldn’t make that work, so I followed the official instructions and removed the hopper – it took less time than I’d spent trying the other method. And it let me vacuum out a ton of pellet dust from otherwise-inaccessible areas, too.

Finally, I buttoned it all up again and turned it on; this time, the igniter got up over 500F, so I put in the pellets and let it rip. A couple of minutes later, I had fire in the hole!

Not only did today have fire, it had ice. Well, Björk liqueur from Iceland – we’d bought a tiny bottle from the duty-free shop at the Reykjavik airport on our way home, and we decided to have it tonight. It’s made from birch syrup and sugar (and alcohol!); we were surprised to discover a little birch twig in the bottle, too.

It was odd and rather sweet. I’m glad we only bought a 5cl bottle. It’s not the last Icelandic delicacy left from the trip – we still have a few chocolate discs, which are pretty good (even if they are milk chocolate). And Cost Plus had some Icelandic chocolate bars the last time I looked, but that was a few months ago. We may just have to plan another trip!

Pandemic Journal, Day 674

I am pleased that I didn’t have to deal with any airlines or shipping companies today. Instead, we took a 5k walk on the Campbell segment of the Los Gatos Creek Trail with the South Bay Striders, enjoying the beautiful weather (though we need rain).

This part of the trail has a few pedestrian bridges over the creek as well as an underpass to get walkers and bikers beyond the bridge that carries the San Tomas Expressway over the creek. You can see some of the other walkers in the group and a reflection up ahead of one of the pedestrian bridges we crossed on the walk.

I was really surprised to see a poppy in full bloom already – they’re usually not out for another few weeks. There will be more poppies soon, but it was nice to see this one today!

Pandemic Journal, Day 673

The opportunity to reschedule our departure to Cape Town to get a better fare was going to expire today, so I screwed my courage to the sticking place, put on headphones, and called British Airways. Their voice menu was mercifully short (only two questions, each of which only had three options), but then they hit me with the dreaded statement that “wait times may be longer than usual” and began playing BA’s theme music, the Flower Duet from Lakmé by Léo Delibes.

After about 30 seconds, a voice interrupted the music to remind me that wait times may be long, and then the music resumed for another 30 seconds. After a few cycles, I took off my headphones and put the call on speaker so I could work on editing the minutes from last night’s Shir Hadash Ritual Committee meeting.

I was still working on the minutes when, a mere 75 minutes after calling BA, I was connected to an agent. I explained what I wanted to do (fly a day earlier and get a refund for the difference in price). She set off to work on my request, putting me on hold while she worked. I got to hear a lot more of the Flower Duet, occasionally broken up by her reporting on progress or asking me questions. I did more editing while I waited.

It took another hour, but she delivered most of what I wanted. Our flights have been rebooked but not yet re-ticketed (that will have to be done by the Reissue Department), and we’ll get a voucher for the difference in price – almost $1500. The voucher is good until the end of September 2023, so there’s a decent chance we’ll get to use it before it expires. And if not, we’ll be no worse off than if we’d stayed with our original flight schedule, so I’m fairly happy with the result.

After the call ended, I finished up the minutes and sent them out; it sure was a lot easier to concentrate on them then.

Pandemic Journal, Day 672

I’m beginning to have my doubts about Iberia Airlines. Their system recovered overnight from the attempts I made yesterday to book flights; when I looked today, the fare and seats I wanted were available again.

I proceeded through the booking process, entered my credit card data, and pressed “Purchase”. A screen popped up: “We are processing your payment. Please wait.”

10 minutes later, the site said I’d been idle too long and threw me out – when I went back, the seats and fare I wanted were locked up again.

A few hours later, today’s failed purchase had cleared. I tried again using a different browser with an empty cache. It made no difference – the process still froze after I entered my payment details.

I called Iberia for help; after 10 minutes of “our agents are busy”, their system hung up on me. I sent a DM to their Twitter account asking for help; it’s been seven hours with no reply.

But their Twitter account came to the rescue – by accident. I looked at some of their replies to other complaints; one reply asked “have you tried clearing your cache or using our app?” Clearing the cache hadn’t worked for me, so I downloaded their app and was able to actually book our tickets, pick our seats, and make the purchase with only the usual amount of hassle.

We’re set! Finally. I hope.

Pandemic Journal, Day 671

It has been a day of circular progress.

I tried to clean out my Traeger grill – 90 minutes later, I had a non-functioning igniter, but in the process I discovered the fire pot was nearly worn through (it’s five years old and sees rough service, so I’m not disappointed), and it’s easier to replace both of them at the same time than to do it separately.

Then I found out that I could have gotten a lower fare on our trip to Africa if I’d scheduled us to leave a day earlier – but the savings would mostly vanish if I tried to change the ticket now (allowing for the extra day of travel and the cancellation charge on our not-quite-fully-refundable tickets). I’m going to call BA tomorrow and see if they can help, but I’m not optimistic.

Finally, I tried booking our flights from Porto to Madrid; the price of the flight I wanted went up $15 when I backtracked to check an alternative time, and the seats I chose are blocked. I think I’ll wait until tomorrow.

I feel like Billy in the Family Circus!

Pandemic Journal, Day 670

I use Tripit to keep track of our trips – that means I have only one place to go if I want information about upcoming (or past) travels. But it’s nice to have some of the information on our calendars, too – not every little gory detail, but the big things, like start/end dates of a trip and flight info. So I wrote a program to extract selected info from Tripit and put it on the calendar.

And then I rewrote it in September to use a MySQL database to keep track of changes so that I could tell what was happening, especially when the airlines make changes to flights. All was well.

Until October 27, when the program stopped working – Tripit rejected my requests with a “403 – Not Authorized” HTTP error. I hadn’t made any changes to the program for weeks, so I filed a bug report and went on about my life. I wasn’t traveling (much) so not having the calendar get updated wasn’t a big deal.

But now that we’re starting to book travel again, I was getting seriously annoyed. So I spent some time tonight figuring out what was going on, and I eventually figured it out – there was an incompatibility between the Tripit server and the Python code they’d supplied to access it. In particular, the server was rejecting requests which included the default User-Agent set by the Python library. I modified Tripit’s code to explicitly set the User-Agent to match a typical browser, and everything worked again.

What a pain!

Pandemic Journal, Day 669

We were supposed to have gone to Africa in 2020; the trip got postponed to 2021, and then again to this year. We’re hoping that it’ll actually happen this time – so we’ll need flights.

I wanted to book the flights through the cruise line (AmaWaterways), but their best offer required flying through Qatar with very long layovers and flights at inconvenient hours, so I decided to do my own research.

Google Flights had some very attractive Business Class fares, but they were through consolidators with dicey reputations, which did not appeal. I kept playing with the site, and got it to offer flights on KLM – the interesting thing was that it quoted two prices: $16k for the two of us if we booked round-trip tickets, or $13k for exactly the same flights if we booked outbound with KLM and the return with Delta.

That inspired me to look further, and I eventually found an even better choice – outbound on BA through Heathrow (with an 8-hour layover, which should be long enough to make the connection) and returning on KLM (booked on Delta) through Amsterdam. Total price: $11k for refundable tickets.

The flights will still be long, but my wallet will hurt less, and we’re protected if we can’t make the trip. And if prices go down, we can cancel and rebook.

Pandemic Journal, Day 668

I was Toastmaster of the Day at the Cats this morning; I chose “Wrong!” as the theme of the meeting because it was on this day in 1920 that The New York Times editorialized that Robert Goddard was wasting his time working on rockets because a rocket in space wouldn’t have anything to push against. They eventually published a correction – on July 17, 1969, a day after Apollo 11 lifted off for the first human Moon landing.


People seemed to enjoy the theme, and the Table Topics Master picked questions to probe people about being wrong, so I think it was a good choice.

I’m not immune to being wrong, of course. Last night, I mentioned that I’d started a new Time Machine backup on my Mac mini. It started very very slowly – it took more than an hour to copy 1% of the disk, which would mean the first backup would take several days, and I wrote about that yesterday.

I was wrong – the backup finished just after midnight. I’d forgotten that I’d also started copying some media files to another partition on the disk as soon as I plugged it in, and the two processes were competing for the disk (and probably forcing the arm to seek a lot). Once the system had finished copying the media files, it could devote the full resources of the disk to Time Machine and the process sped up considerably.

People can’t multitask, even though we try – and sometimes, neither can computers.

Pandemic Journal, Day 667

We have an Alaska cruise and tour planned for this summer (moved, of course, from last summer). It felt like the right time to look at air arrangements, so I checked the flights available through the cruise line (Celebrity). Their price was more than $200/person cheaper than buying the same flights directly from the airline, and buying through Celebrity makes the tickets refundable – I’m hoping not to need to exercise that option again this year.

The replacement for my failed WD Time Machine drive arrived today (by UPS, not FedEx); I plugged it in and started the backup process. At the rate it’s going, it should complete the first backup in a week or two. Good thing I’m not in a hurry.

Pandemic Journal, Day 666

Diane suggested we take advantage of the time we gained from Covid-related cancellations and walk one of the South Bay Striders Year Round Events today. We’d just been to Santa Cruz on Sunday and didn’t want to drive to the Monterey area (much less do the walks around Los Angeles), so our choices were Los Gatos, Campbell, San Jose, or Union City.

We’d never been to Union City, so that was our decision. The event started at the Togo’s in Union Landing Shopping Center; we had lunch there to thank them for hosting the event, registered, and looked at the directions. We had a choice of a 5k or 10k course. It seemed like we should walk the longer course after having driven 30 miles to get there, so off we went.

The route started with a mile or so of back-and-forth along the busy roads near the shopping center to build up distance, but then it took us across Alvarado-Niles Road and into a residential area with a long linear park in its center – we walked the whole length of the park in one direction and came halfway back before the route took us out of the neighborhood.

After more walking, we were finally into the interesting part of the walk – Old Town Union City. We saw the Union City Historical Museum (closed due to Covid) and some interesting old buildings, like the one housing Hippies Brew Coffee, still advertising their soft opening in 2014.

We stopped briefly in the Old Alvarado Park to eat the cookie we’d gotten from Togo’s (tastier than the Mediterranean Salad but less healthy) and look at a bit more of Old Town before being directed to walk a kilometer along Union City Boulevard to the Kaiser campus and eventually to the Union City Trail which parallels Alameda Creek.

There wasn’t much wildlife to be seen along the trail, but the ducks seemed to enjoy being there. I was surprised to see a little art exhibit attached to the fence separating the trail from a business complex – there were no signs explaining its presence, and no one trying to sell the pictures.

We walked the trail until its end at Sugar Mill Landing Park, which also holds Union City’s Flight 93 Memorial. It was a surprisingly quiet place for being so close to busy roads.

And then it was back to the shopping center and the car and home.

This wasn’t the most picturesque volksmarch we’ve done, but it was enjoyable; I think it’d be more colorful in the spring, so we might try it again then (but maybe only the 5k course which omits most of the long stretches of busy road).

Pandemic Journal, Day 665

We usually visit our chiropractor twice a week – it helps counteract the wear and tear that our trainer inflicts on us. But last night, we got a note saying the office would be closed for at least the first half of this week because he’d been exposed to Covid (his tests have been negative, which is good). We went to the gym this morning and our trainer showed no mercy, so I hope the chiropractor is really back in action on Thursday!

And just now, I got a message from our house cleaner suggesting that she not come tomorrow because her son has Covid – we took the suggestion.

I’m lucky – as far as I know, my most recent infection is virtual. I’ve fallen victim to the Wordle virus, thanks to the New York Times article last week. Fortunately, there’s only one puzzle per day, and it’s easy to finish – so far, I’ve solved each day’s Wordle in three to five tries. It’s a nice way to take a short break.

On a brighter note, the Silicon Valley Storytellers had an enjoyable meeting this evening. One speaker was a visitor from a local club – she gave her Ice Breaker for her second Path and told us about her multiple identities. The other speaker is a tour guide in Japan who’s a club member thanks to Zoom – she told us about interesting things her clients did on trips to Italy. We’re having an Open House on January 24th, and I’ll be one of the speakers – we’re as close as your computer!

Pandemic Journal, Day 664

FedEx kept us busy this morning – they delivered our replacement Costco order and then called me to tell me they were SURE that the original order was somewhere in San Jose and they’re still trying to find it. We’ll see.

After lunch, we drove down to Santa Cruz to see monarchs and enjoy the weather. We started at the Butterfly Grove at Lighthouse Beach State Park – it took a few minutes before we started seeing butterflies, but there were plenty of them once we found the right place.

We also wanted to see the butterflies at the more famous grove in Natural Bridges State Park, about two miles away. We walked there along West Cliff Drive so we could enjoy the scenery. The first thing we found was a small surfing contest – I think it was for students, but I’m not sure.

The Surfing Museum was nearby; we’d visited it in pre-Covid days and might go back again, but not today.

I like the rock formations along West Cliff Drive.

So do the birds.

And other people.

We had to take at least one selfie, right?

Finally, we reached Natural Bridges State Park and the Monarch Trail. There was a naturalist at the viewing area on the boardwalk; he pointed out some of the bigger groups of monarchs that were still active this late in the day.

Many of the monarchs were settling in for the evening.

We walked back to our car – this time, we only took West Cliff part way, but it was still lovely.

We turned inland about a mile and a quarter from Natural Bridges; even though we were away from the beach, there were still lots of nice flowers to look at in people’s yards.

And then we drove home while it was still light. Not a bad way to spend Sunday!

Pandemic Journal, Day 663

Torah Study resumed at Shir Hadash today – we will be using A Year with Martin Buber: Wisdom on the Weekly Torah Portion to guide our study for the first half of 2022 (replacing Mussar, which wasn’t terribly popular amongst the group). Today, we were joined by the book’s author, Rabbi Dennis Ross – the discussions were lively, and Rabbi Ross summed things up at the end.

This week’s Torah portion is Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16), and the book and our discussion focused on one phrase in Exodus 12:38: “And there was also a mixed multitude who went up with them.” Was the “mixed multitude” just a random bunch of people following along, or was it a group of people who wanted freedom badly enough to convert to Judaism? And what is a “mixed multitude” today, and how would we view it through Buber’s “I-Thou” lens?

Yesterday, I’d listened to the first episode of Chutzpod!, a new podcast from Joshua Malina and Rabbi Shira Stuntman; it, too, focused on the “mixed multitude” in Parasha Bo, looking at how we can deal with the various beliefs in today’s society.

And Diane had chosen that section of the portion to chant today, too.

Much to think about, but I have no conclusions to offer.

No new developments on the FedEx shipment front, but Costco has shipped the replacement order – by FedEx. And they claim it’ll be delivered tomorrow. I can hope, right?

Pandemic Journal, Day 662

When I had problems with my Mac Mini last Wednesday, I realized that life would be better if I cleaned up the area around the computer and got the cables under better control. I was too tired to do it that day, though, so I said I’d do it “tomorrow”. I didn’t.

Today, I realized that I had a Best Buy coupon for $25 that was going to expire tomorrow. I’d been thinking about the setup in the office for a while, and I realized that a display riser would be a big help in clearing up the space around the computer. Best Buy had this one for $24.99 – and it was available for immediate pickup. I tried to order it, but the system wouldn’t accept my coupon because the item cost less than the coupon value!

So we drove to Best Buy – I was sure I could find something to buy there along with the riser. I mentioned my problem to the employee who showed me where the display risers were stocked. He mentioned that they sold candy next to the checkout – problem solved! We left the store with the riser and a KitKat bar and no coupon.

It took me a while to sort everything out – among other discoveries, I found a power brick for a USB hub plugged into the wall, but not plugged into its hub. And I found at least one cable that was only plugged in at one end. It’s all cleaned up now, and I have lots more room around the computer. The next step is to order some shorter Ethernet and USB-C cables to replace some overly-long ones I’m using, but that almost certainly won’t happen tomorrow.

My FedEx package didn’t show up today (no surprise). And Costco has run out of the paper towels I ordered, so they cancelled that part of the replacement order. Someday….

Shabbat Shalom!

Pandemic Journal, Day 661

The day started with the first 2022 meeting of the Silver Tongued Cats – the theme was “Restart”. It didn’t take long for everyone to get back into the rhythm of the meeting, and we ended on time.

The rest of the day passed quietly, unlike last year.

FedEx told me that my Costco package was out for delivery again this morning, and this evening, they said it was “delayed” again. I wasn’t surprised.

And I finally got back to editing photos from November – I finished the photos from our last day in Boston. The end of my 2021 photo work is in sight!

Pandemic Journal, Day 660

We took another walk with the Striders this afternoon – this one was through the Rose Garden area of San Jose. I’d driven through there many times, of course, but almost exclusively on the main streets – walking gave me a different perspective. The houses in the area reminded me a lot of those on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans or parts of Monument Avenue in Richmond – large, old, and well-maintained. Some people hadn’t yet taken down their Christmas decorations, though.

The walk did take us through the Municipal Rose Garden itself, unsurprisingly; it’s better when there are more roses blooming, but I did find one I liked enough to photograph despite the season.

Lunch was another new recipe for us – as usual, from The New York Times. This time, we made Broiled Salmon With Chile, Orange and Mint; it was easy, though it could have been a disaster. Diane noticed that there was a LOT of smoke coming out of the broiler, so I took a look – the top of the fish was fully cooked, but the inside was only 60ºF! I baked it for a few minutes and all was well; next time, I’ll put it farther from the elements when I broil it.

Last week, I ordered a few things from Costco using their “2-Day Delivery” option. They broke the order into two packages – one arrived promptly; the other one was “on vehicle for delivery” but didn’t get delivered. The next day, it was back “on vehicle for delivery” and didn’t get delivered. And the same thing has happened every day since (except New Year’s Day). I called FedEx yesterday and they told me they’d try to find it, but nothing’s happened so I called Costco for help. The nice agent there called FedEx and filed a “lost package” report and will send me a replacement shipment – she warned me it might take a week, though. Maybe the prospect of having to pay Costco for the merchandise will encourage FedEx to find the original package!

Pandemic Journal, Day 659

A day or two ago, Silicon Valley Shakespeare told us that they’d postponed their 48-Hour Play Festival from Sunday, January 9th until sometime in the spring “out of an abundance of caution”. And today, I got a call from City Lights telling us that they were delaying their production of The Hollow by two weeks “out of an abundance of caution” and asking us to reschedule our date.

I’m not unhappy with either of those decisions – in fact, we were more than a bit nervous about this weekend’s event, so I’m glad they postponed it. But I am getting tired of hearing the phrase “out of an abundance of caution” – how about something simpler, like “to keep everyone safe”?

Pandemic Journal, Day 658

One of our first dates was seeing the RPI Players’ production of Sweet Charity at the RPI Playhouse. Diane and I have seen many plays together since then, and have been back in the Playhouse for a few Reunion dinners, but tonight was the first time since 1976 that we’ve seen the Players perform, even if it was neither live nor in person.

Back in November, I happened to be looking at the Polytechnic and saw a story about the Players’ production of Clue on Stage; it was their first production since the pandemic began. They made it available online for a short time, so I downloaded it and we watched it tonight.

It’s not a very deep play, but it was a good choice for an evening’s entertainment. We’ll probably watch the movie sometime and see how the two productions compare. I’ll bet the actors in the movie weren’t wearing masks!

Pandemic Journal, Day 657

We’re retired, so I don’t know why I should feel like today’s the last day of vacation – but I do. So we enjoyed the day before things start getting back to normal tomorrow.

Of course we took our usual walks and made a couple of favorite dishes. We also watched last night’s Saturday Night Live, which was a rerun of the one that Betty White hosted in 2010 (thanks, NBC!). And we watched TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s production of It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, which might still be available to stream for another week or so – I really enjoyed it. Some day, I guess I should see the movie, too!

Pandemic Journal, Day 656

We kicked off the year with a short walk before Shir Shabbat services this morning. I was Lay Leader, assisting Cantor Felder-Levy who had done all of the service prep (I was there to give her a chance to rest her voice during readings and to run Zoom). It was a good service – we looked at our predictions from last year (some panned out; most didn’t) and made some predictions/wishes for this year (some are repeats of last year’s, like the end of Covid).

And beyond that, we had a relaxed day. Well, we took another walk so we could hit our goals for the day, but that was it. And I worked on photos from our November trip to Boston and we made Soy, Balsamic, and Sriracha Chicken Stir-Fry for dinner, which was the first time I’d used the wok on the induction cooktop. I put unprinted newsprint under the wok for easier cleanup of the cooktop, and it worked – but it’s a little unsettling to pick up the wok after cooking and see a brown ring scorched into the newsprint! The wok was harder to clean, but that gave me an excuse to use the Lodge Chainmail Scrubber I’d bought at REI a few months ago, which did the job nicely.

Happy New Year!