Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 183

The air was noticeably better this morning, so we took our usual walk. Then we did something we hadn’t done for at least 183 days – we visited our chiropractor.

Diane started going there after her first Prius got totaled back in 2005 (actually, it was a different chiropractor – but when he moved to the Central Valley and brought in a replacement we liked him, too). We’d stopped going at the beginning of the lockdown, but we’ve been noticing more aches and pains of late, so we decided to go in for a tune-up – it seems to have helped!

I spent most of the rest of the day in front of the computer processing photos from 2009 – I finished our Labo[u]r Day Weekend trip to Banff. Not only did I reduce the stash of photos from 347 to 110, but I labeled and geotagged them all and did some editing. And then I went back to my blog entries from that trip and restored all the photos that had gone missing when I closed my Flickr account – those days look a lot better now!

I have two days left 2009 to deal with – neither of which has a blog entry to help jog my memory. And one day was a wine country tour, so those memories may need a lot of jogging!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 182

I woke up this morning to an ominous text:

The FTB is the Franchise Tax Board, California’s version of the IRS. I couldn’t figure out why they’d be contacting me – I’d filed our taxes in time for the April July 15 deadline and they’d accepted my payment long ago.

I rushed to the computer, logged onto the ftb.ca.gov site (I did not click the link, thank you very much!), and found a notice of additional tax liability waiting for me. I’d underpaid our California estimated taxes for 2019, and now the state wanted its $37 in penalties and a horrifying 30 cents in interest. Fortunately, I had budgeted for this particular expense, so all should be well.

I was surprised when the paper copy of the notice arrived in today’s mail – I would have expected the text to beat the Post Office by several days, not just a few hours.

The Raspberry Pi, new RTL-SDR.COM dongle, and new antenna seem to be working reliably to capture the temperature from the outside thermomenter (in fact, it’s also getting the temperature from some neighbor’s thermometer, as well as occasional tire pressure readings from TPMS systems on passing cars), so I moved them off the kitchen desk and hid them behind the TV.

One project down, dozens to go!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 181

I was born in Milwaukee; we moved away when I was less than two years old, and as far as I know, I’ve never been back. Despite that, I feel connected to Wisconsin. I was a Milwaukee Braves fan as a kid (the fact that the Richmond Braves were the Milwaukee Braves’ AAA farm club might have had something to do with it, too). I enjoyed the day we spent in Wisconsin in 2016 (and I recommend visiting the Peshtigo Fire Museum if you have the chance). I’ve even drunk beer from Wisconsin once or twice.

Today, I got an email from a Wisconsin-based spice merchant, Penzeys, urging me to support the Wisconsin Democrats by contributing a few dollars and watching a table read of The Princess Bride this afternoon.

I’ve read the book many times, but I’ve only seen movie twice – once when it came out and last year, in preparation for a trivia event – but I liked it and was interested in seeing a table reading. And I definitely liked the cause – I would be very happy if Wisconsin was one of the deciding states this year – on the Democratic side.

I made a contribution and Diane and I watched the event this evening – it was superb. We stayed glued to the TV the entire tine, including the after-reading Q&A – dinner was quite late tonight.

Mandy Patinkin was probably my favorite – he brought as much fire to the role of Inigo Montoya as he had to the original film. But everyone was fabulous, and the after-reading Q&A was interesting, to say the least.

Yes, there were technical glitches (especially in the Q&A), but that’s what live events are all about – and even though everyone was in their own home, you could see the chemistry among the cast.

There are rumors that WisDems will be making a replay available; I hope it’s true. They have already announced a Parks and Recreation townhall and Q&A for September 17th, which could be interesting.

On Wisconsin!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 180

If COVID-19 is a circle, we’re halfway around it.

Today was Saturday, so there wasn’t much in my email this morning: the daily New York Times and Washington Post summaries and the Merriam-Webster Word of the Day; the weekly mailings from Road Scholar and the Great Courses, and the Daily Kos Elections Voting Rights Summary. And an ad from the Mercury News’ Promo Department with this enticing subject line:

Florida Man Added This To His Diet To Help Fix His Fatigue (It Really Worked)


I wonder if anyone in the Promo Department has heard of the Florida Man meme?

Tonight is S’lichot, marking the imminent arrival of the High Holy Days. Shir Hadash is having a Zoom service at 8pm; they had hoped to have an outdoor, socially-distanced service at 10pm but the horrible air quality changed those plans. We probably wouldn’t have gone to the outdoor service anyway, but I’d rather have been able to make the decision than have it forced on us by the pollution from the fires.

Shana Tova!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 179

We tried another new recipe tonight, Slow Cooker Spiced Lentils with Veggies from the Mercury News. It was good, but next time, we’ll add more spices.

The hardest part of the recipe was getting to the Crock-Pot; we hadn’t used it in a while, and it was at the back of the cabinet over the oven, which was also filled with many water bottles, an RPI Class of 1975 pitcher and mug, several rarely used appliances, and various serving pieces which we’d been given as wedding gifts (just like the Crock-Pot).

Some of the water bottles had given their all and made a final trip to the recycling bin; the others, along with the pitcher and mug, got put into storage in the garage in a Container Store bin that I bought last year. The serving pieces went back to the cabinet.

And I used one of my Mom’s gifts to us for the very first time – a Sunbeam Electric Bag Sealer. I don’t know when she gave it to us, but the copyright date on the manual was 1995, so I know it wasn’t a wedding gift. I used it to reseal the bag of dried chiles we bought for this recipe – it worked great!

Thanks, Mom!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 178

It was smoky and dark and cool all day, but there was a lot less orange to the light today; I guess that’s an improvement.

I played Raspberry Pi Roulette today trying to figure out what’s going on. My Pi Zero W ran all night and didn’t miss too many temperature updates, but the logs show it dropping off the network fairly frequently for a few seconds and then recovering. My other Pi Zero W (the one attached to the alarm system) doesn’t seem to drop off the network at all. I could swap the two units and see where the trouble goes, but I’d rather not mess up the alarm system.

I still have a couple of first-generation Raspberry Pi Bs. They’re slower than the Pi Zero W, and it makes a big difference – one of the old units crashed as soon as I plugged the radio dongle into it; the other ran, but kept losing packets under load, so it wasn’t a help, either.

I guess the next step is to make a new SD card with the same software I’m using for the alarm, plug it into the Pi Zero W I’m debugging, and see if it stays on the network.

Computers are such fun sometimes.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 177

It was dark when we got up this morning – not surprising, since it was before sunrise. But it’s been dark and eerie and orange all day because of smoke from the Bear Fire in the Plumas National Forest, about 180 miles away. The air quality at ground level here has actually been OK, but everything feels ominous.

I figured out a fairly easy way to restamp all of the photos I’d exported from Apple Photos but hadn’t yet put into Lightroom with their proper capture times by letting exiftool do the heavy lifting.

All I had to write was 33 lines of Python and 4 lines of Bash (see the repository if you’re curious). The Python generates a CSV file for each day in the Photos library with the information exiftool needs to modify each photo and a call to the Bash script for each day. The Bash script calls exiftool, telling it to use the CSV to set the capture time based on the CSV file (which is based on the Photos library), but only if the photo doesn’t already have a capture time.

It’s not elegant, but it worked. Now, when I import photos into Lightroom, they have the right time and date.

I also got my new RTL-SDR.COM dongle and new antennas; I put them on the Raspberry Pi and things seem to be working. I also discovered that the Pi was falling off the wifi and that there were error messages about not having the right firmware for the wifi on the Pi; I found the right firmware and installed it. We’ll see if things are better overnight.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 176

I’ve been remembering more of my dreams than usual for the past few months. This morning, I awoke to memories of a trip on a cruise ship which included lining up to buy a book – the book was in short supply, but they assured us that if we didn’t get one, they’d give us a copy of “Prior Immaturity” magazine instead. Sounds like my kind of magazine!

My heat sink helped with the RTL-SDR dongle, but it’s far from perfect. I didn’t miss a reading from 12:45am until 11:20am, but then the radio stopped hearing things for nearly three hours. After that, it was OK until dinnertime, when it missed most of two hours, and now it’s working reliably again. Maybe it doesn’t like to work while we’re in the kitchen!

I had to renew my driver’s license this month, and I thought I may as well get a RealID for whenever I can fly again. I used the DMV website to pre-submit copies of my documentation (passport, Social Security card, and two bills); the instruction sheet told me to go to the appointments line, even though the DMV isn’t offering appointments.

This morning, the DMV site said that there was no wait for people with appointments at the Los Gatos office, so I went there. There was a long line outside the building with a DMV employee checking temperatures; I got into the line and when she got to me, she looked at my paperwork and told me to go around to the back of the building for my appointment. I didn’t even know there was an entrance at the back of the building!

As promised, there was no line to be checked in, and I only had to wait about 15 minutes before being called to the counter. I was finished about 45 minutes after driving into the parking lot; now I just have to wait for the actual license to arrive. Thanks, DMV!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 175

It was slightly cooler today – the high temperature was only 109.22°F, compared to yesterday’s 109.94°F.

The cooler weather didn’t help much when we saw our trainer today – because of the holiday, the JCC opened an hour later than usual, and we could feel the difference (and the air wasn’t so great, either). Next week, we’ll be back to our usual schedule.

I decided to see if I could improve the stability of my current SDR.COM dongle by putting a heat sink on it. Many people have done that by opening the case and adding a thermal pad, or even by 3D-printing a cooler block for the unit – I went with a lower-tech solution.

It’s not perfect, but I’ve only missed about 15 readings since I put it on at 11am (I get a reading every minute if all goes well); I was missing about half of the readings overnight, and got no data for the three hours we were out of the house this morning with the A/C turned off. Not too bad for a few cents’ worth of aluminum foil!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 174

I finished integrating the outside thermometer (we have the Ambient Weather WS-04-2 package) into Indigo, and I set things up on the Raspberry Pi to automatically start the code that publishes readings to MQTT. I’m not doing anything with the data yet, but I’ll have it when I want to use it.

At least that’s what I thought until I noticed some significant gaps in the log; I saw 10-minute or longer gaps quite frequently. I could see the temperature being updated on the inside display even during the gap, so the thermometer wasn’t the problem. And when I did some research, it appears that older RTL-SDR.COM dongles (mine is a version 2 from 2016) have problems staying on frequency when they get warm. So I ordered a version 3 dongle with an improved heatsink in the hope that it works better.

I continued working on photos; one thing that’s been driving me nuts is that some photos have the wrong date when I import them into Lightroom; for some reason, the export process lost the DateCreated info, even though Apple Photos knows it. I think I’ve figured out a way to get the info out of Photos and into a format that exiftool can use – that’ll be a project for tomorrow. I’m already halfway through 2009’s photos!

And all of this kept me inside, off the streets, and out of the heat today, so it’s all good. The highest temperature logged by my thermometer was 109.94°F, and it was over 100 from 12:11 to 6:27 (it’s down to 85 as I type this at 9:20pm). I’m pretty sure this is the hottest day we’ve experienced since we moved here in 1984.