It was a Breeze

I drew heavily on my stock of travel karma this morning. When I called the bell desk to arrange airport transportation, they said it might take as much as 30 minutes to get someone, which didn’t thrill me. But I thought I’d give them a chance before calling for a Lyft, so we headed downstairs.

I expected to have to wait the usual several minutes for the elevator (the Francis Marion is a nice hotel but the elevators leave much to be desired), but there was one waiting for us – and we didn’t have to stop before reaching the lobby. We had to take the stairs the half-flight to the exit because that elevator was broken, but it wasn’t a big deal. And when I found the bellman, he said that the shuttle was ready – we were at the airport and checked in at least ten minutes earlier than I would have believed remotely possible.

This was our first flight on Breeze; we’d sprung for the “Nicer” fare, so we had lots of legroom and overhead bin space. There was even plenty of space under the seats in front of us – so much that I didn’t have to put my backpack in the overhead. The flight left on time and got to Richmond early, too.

And then I ran out of my day’s supply of karma. The first hint came at baggage claim – the belt started moving and then stopped with a loud bang. Twice. Then an agent came out and said they were having belt problems and to move to the next belt, which did work.

Hertz offers “Ultimate Choice” in Richmond, which means we didn’t have a pre-assigned car and could choose from any of the four cars in a certain area. I wanted the Mazda CX-30 until I discovered it didn’t have CarPlay (or at least it didn’t seem to have it), so I went with a Chevy Malibu, which seems to be OK. But when I drove to the exit booth to get my contract, no one was there – there was a hand-printed sign saying “Bathroom Break, back soon”. By the time someone came to the booth, there were eight cars stacked up behind me!

Jeff’s flights were delayed, so we had to kill an hour or so, and then we were off to my brother’s house for Seder. It was a full table with four generations present. They’d gotten a new set of Maxwell House Haggadot for this year – using the original translation, which was awfully dated and hard to follow. But we persevered; dinner was delicious and it was great to see everyone in person.

Passover always begins with the full moon; it was nicely visible from their backyard.

Chag Sameach Pesach!

Houses and Gardens

Today’s touring began with a short bus ride to downtown Charleston and a walk to the Nathaniel Russell House. On our way, John Meffert showed us Rainbow Row, which was one of the first areas successfully preserved by Susan Pringle Frost, who founded the Preservation Society of Charleston.

Our next stop was the First Presbyterian Church (aka the “Scots Kirk”) and its graveyard.

The church is right next to the Nathanial Russell House; Russell was a merchant and slave trader from Rhode Island who made a fortune in Charleston and stayed there; he built the house in 1808. It’s a large three-story “single” house, with an amazing free-flying three-story cantilevered spiral staircase (off limits to visitors).

The house is furnished appropriately to its period (though most of the pieces weren’t original to the house); I wish I could have the desk in the office!

We heard about all of the research that they did to ensure that the colors are faithful to the house’s history. The work continues – currently, they’re restoring the kitchen.

We spent a little time in the garden, but it was only a prelude to what came next.

Our next stop was across the street – we were invited into the garden of the Pruett House. It’s a small garden by Charleston standards, just 240 feet deep (and maybe 60 feet wide); the owner came out to greet us.

It was nearly the end of camellia season, but a few were still blooming.

The garden is divided into four rooms – two mostly grass and two with some hardscaping, ideal for parties.

It was a very nice place to visit.

Our final stop was another private home – it was furnished in beautiful antiques and had been updated with air conditioning and other modern conveniences. I didn’t take any photos because I was overwhelmed!

We returned to the hotel, had a quick lunch at a nearby pizza place, and walked down to Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim synagogue for a tour. The congregation has a long history, going back to 1749. Their first synagogue was built in 1792 and burned down during the Great Charleston Fire of 1838.

The current synagogue dates to 1842 and was done in Greek Revival (unusual for a synagogue!).

The tour included a video about the congregation’s history and a visit to the sanctuary, social hall, and museum. It was well worth the time.

This evening, we had our group farewell dinner at 39 Rue de Jean, just a couple of blocks from the hotel. It’s hard to believe that we all met just three days ago!

Mostly Plantations

We were on the bus at 8:30am so we could be the first guests at Drayton Hall, a plantation in the Low Country that was founded in 1738. It’s the only plantation house on the Ashley River to survive the Revolution and the Civil War, and was donated to the National Trust for Historic Preservation by the Drayton family in 1976 when a new generation inherited the property and decided they didn’t want to live there because it was lacking modern conveniences like indoor plumbing and electricity!

We were met at the visitor center by our guides for the morning, Carter Hudgins (the CEO) and Eric Becker, the Manager of Landscapes and Horticulture (our tour was sponsored by the National Trust, so we got VIP treatment). Eric gave us a quick tour of the garden at the visitor center and explained their philosophy on the landscape throughout the estate.

Carter then took us to the house itself, which is under active conservation – they’re currently repairing the staircases, so we could only visit the rooms on the first and second floors.

We looked at all of the rooms on the first floor, where most visitors would be received. Drayton Hall has the only hand-carved plaster ceiling in the country, as well as a Rumford fireplace in the rooms which served as the office and library.

He talked about the choices they made to conserve the property as they received it in 1976 versus restoring it to an earlier period; one big question about restoring is the choice of period – should it be 1738, when it was built, or the Victorian era, when it was painted white, or some other time or mixture of times?

After the house tour, I went down to the Ashley River to enjoy the view, both of the river and of the house.

And then it was time for a brief visit to the gift shop before getting back on the bus for our second plantation, Middleton Place. Middleton is the seat of the Middleton family; they made their fortune from rice cultivation. Rice is a labor-intensive crop, and that meant slave labor; there was a lot of discussion (not defense) of slavery during our visit, and it was evident in many of the exhibits.

Middleton was the first landscaped garden in the United States, patterned in some ways after Versailles, so it was only natural for our Study Leader, John Meffert, to lead us on a garden walk. We started at the Reflection Pool, which boasts fountains, alligators, and turtles.

The gardens have quite a bit of sculpture scattered about, mostly Italian (some donated by the Italian branch of the family, who chose not to return to South Carolina when they were in line to inherit the plantation), like this wood nymph.

After our garden walk, it was time for our tour of the House Museum. Originally, it was the “south flanker” of the three-building main complex; all three buildings were burned during the Civil War, but this was the least damaged, and the Middletons restored it and moved into it in 1870. The other two buildings collapsed completely during the Charleston earthquake of 1886.

The museum has been almost entirely furnished with authentic Middleton-owned furniture and clothing (some of which was buried during the war); some of it is on loan from other branches of the family, so photography wasn’t allowed – our docent was very thorough and informative. We were on a “Behind the Ropes” tour, so we were able to go into some of the normally off-limits rooms; the docent even showed us the actual clothing that Henry Middleton (the founder) wore for the Benjamin West portrait that was on display in the house.

After lunch, we had a little time to explore the outdoor exhibits, including Eliza’s House, a freedman’s cabin from the 1870s, where I met another Middleton – he was descended from people who the Middletons had enslaved and was looking at his own history.

And then it was back on the bus for a quick driving tour through The Citadel, South Carolina’s Military Academy. There was a competition of some sort happening on the field we drove around – but it was hard to see because the field was lined with military equipment like this jet!

The Charleston Holocaust Memorial is in Marion Square, about a block from the hotel; Diane and I walked over there after the bus tour. It’s very simple, based on the use of a tallit (prayer shawl) as a burial shroud. I thought it was very moving and far too relevant.


Today’s exploration was bookmarked by bus rides. We started with a trip to the Battery and a walk though the Edmondston-Alston House, which had an incredible collection of furnishings and artifacts. Photos aren’t allowed inside, but they took us out on the second floor piazza so we could enjoy the harbor view; this time, I actually did take a picture of Fort Sumter!

From there, we walked along the Battery before going inland to tour the Heyward Washington House (Washington actually slept there, so they added his name to improve its attractiveness to tourists).

Lunch was at Eli’s Table; we got to choose our own entrée, but the tour had pre-ordered appetizers (fried green tomatoes) and desserts (beignets) to save time. When I told the server that Diane and I couldn’t eat shellfish and I was actually allergic, he told me that he’d have to find alternative appetizers and desserts for us, because of possible cross-contamination. I think we won – the appetizer was a waffle with an amazing cinnamon spread, and dessert was a peanut-butter caramel cheesecake!

We didn’t get to walk off much of the lunch because our next stop was at the Gibbes Museum of Art, nearly 100 yards away. We got a quick tour of the permanent collection – I liked the painting of the Bombardment of Fort Sumter.

I was also amazed that someone could sculpt a very realistic veil in marble.

Then it was back to the bus and the hotel to rest up for our evening adventure. Except that we needed some insect repellant, so we walked to Walgreens across the street. And as long as we were out, we continued on to the first Reform synagogue in the US, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE).

The gate into the courtyard wasn’t locked, but it didn’t want to open easily, so we were just about to go back to the hotel when another couple walked up and levered the gate open. We walked in with them and took a couple of photos, one of the sign over the entrance to the Sanctuary building and one of a much newer sign.

We were interrupted by a guard. As he came out, I could hear him telling someone that “I guess I didn’t lock the gate”; he decided we looked harmless and told us we could enjoy the courtyard for a few minutes, but if we wanted to come back, we should book a tour. We’ll be back on Thursday.

Dinner tonight was different – the group went to Bowen’s Island for a Low Country Oyster Roast. We had a private dining area out on the dock so we didn’t have to wait in the line.

It was a beautiful evening – we’d been warned to bring mosquito repellent, but we didn’t need it.

Lots of people were enjoying the late afternoon sunshine on the water, too.

We took a walk and saw the oystermen hard at work steaming the oysters.

Soon enough, oysters were delivered to the table and our host, Austin, showed people how to shuck them.

Everyone seemed to get the idea and they made short work of the oysters and the Frogmore Stew which followed. Well, everyone but Diane and me – our dinner was salad and pasta (not photo-worthy, I’m afraid).

Sunset was almost too pretty to be true.

It had been a good evening, but we had to get back on the bus and return to Charleston.

Learning Charleston by Foot

Our flight from Dallas was delayed, so we didn’t get to the Frances Marion Hotel until well after midnight, and it was at least 1:30am before we were in bed.

This morning, we had breakfast at the Swamp Fox Cafe (the hotel restaurant) – omelettes, toast, grits, and fruit. There was too much food to finish, though we tried!

The first event on our tour was at 4:30pm, so we had the day to ourselves – we decided to walk the Year Round Volksmarch to get an overview of Historic Charleston. We had a choice of the 5km or 10km distance, and we decided to do the whole thing.

The start point was a few blocks from our hotel, and the first stretch of the walk took us right back to the hotel – actually, to Marion Square across King Street. We took the obligatory selfie and also photographed the remains of the Tabby Horn Work (part of the original Colonial defenses) and the Rotary Fountain.

Next, we explored the College of Charleston, which we’d return to with our Study Leader this evening.

Then we walked into downtown Charleston, stopping at Charleston City Hall to see the Trumbull portrait of Washington in the Council Chambers, along with a bust of Fulton and, of course, a painting of John C. Calhoun.

We continued to White Point Gardens (The Battery) on the waterfront to enjoy the breezes and the views, including Fort Sumter (though the photo below is of Castle Pinckney).

There were even flowers!

We continued on to Waterfront Park for a much-needed Italian ice and more views.

Charleston has recently started to confront the history of slavery, with markers and the Old Slave Market Museum.

We also saw other, happier, historical commerce continuing to the present day.

Our final stop on the walk was Emanuel AME Church, the site of the murder of the Emanuel 9.

And then we returned to the hotel to rest briefly until it was time to meet the others on our tour and get started with a short lecture and a tour of the College of Charleston, led by our Study Leader, John Meffert.

We saw the Porters Lodge (old entrance to the college), Randolph Hall, houses that had been in the community but now were part of the college (such as the yellow “show house” built by a merchant who was using it to advertise his ability to build a similar house for others), and more. John told us how the college had grown and changed over the years, and how it affected the city.

Tomorrow is supposed to be a busy day, too.

Delayed – what a surprise!

I’m writing this entry from “The Club at DFW”, which bears a very strong resemblance to “The Club at SJC”, though it is far more crowded. “The Club at SJC” took over the space of the old American Admirals’ Club where I’d spent far too many hours while traveling for IBM; we were there too early to want to take advantage of the open bar (something the Admirals’ Club didn’t offer), but we did have a nosh to prepare us for the flight.

American has been slowly improving their in-flight catering (not in Coach, of course) and we had a choice of Greek Salad or Turkey Sandwich on the flight from SJC to DFW. Diane had the salad and declared it to be “ok”, which is about what I’d say for the turkey sandwich – the accompaniments were better in both cases. We had Black Mountain Merlot to go with our meals; it was barely OK – afterwards, the flight attendant found some Malbec which was much better.

We got to DFW early, so of course our flight to Charleston has been delayed – so far, by an hour, which means we won’t get to the hotel until after midnight. Fortunately, our tour doesn’t start until 4pm EDT tomorrow, so we’re not terribly upset if we come in late – though I do hope we have enough time to see some of Charleston on our own! The Rabbi Educator at Shir Hadash went to school at the College of Charleston and gave us many suggestions; there’s also a year-round Volksmarch that starts near our hotel that we hope to do before we leave.


Getting Ready

The big task for today was packing; naturally, I interrupted myself by finding other things to do.

I finished (and mailed in) my answers to the Almaniac; I’ll find out how well I did in another month.

I visited the bank to get them to stop mailing me solicitations for additional credit cards.

I finished reading Station Eleven – now I want to watch the TV version.

I updated my phone, iPad, watch, and computers to the latest version of the system; I even cleaned the screens on everything!

Despite my best efforts, we’re packed and should be ready to go tomorrow.

Resisting Temptation

Today, I downloaded a few TV shows to my laptop for our upcoming trip. I have hopes of not actually taking the laptop, so I also want them on my iPad – that means copying them from system to system via WiFi.

Each episode of Benjamin Franklin is about 5.4GB – and that takes a while to transfer – 5-10 minutes each, longer than it took to download them from PBS initially!

I could upgrade to WiFi 6 – but I’m not sure it’s really worth it for the three or four times a year I download videos to the iPad or iPhone. I wonder when WiFi 7 will be available?

In which we say goodbye to a friend

One of Diane’s former co-workers has been a friend of ours for a long time. We went on volksmarches with him; he even helped put together an outdoor play structure for Jeff, and that was no small task.

His health hasn’t been good for the last few years, and he’s been in and out of convalescent facilities several times, so I wasn’t completely surprised when his caregiver called us a few weeks ago to let us know that John had passed away.

He’d married a Russian who already had a son; the marriage only lasted a few years, but the relationship with the son continued, even after the son’s career took him back to Russia (where he’s founded a couple of businesses).

Today, we attended John’s memorial – his son had flown in to arrange it and take care of all of the things that need to be done after a death. The service was short and meaningful – the pastor asked us to think about ways in which John had touched our lives. The attendees included John’s family, neighbors, and co-workers, and we all chatted for a while after the formal service ended.

It was sad to think that we won’t be able to talk with John any more, but it’s good that his suffering has ended.

Rest In Peace, John; your memory is a blessing.

In which I stop counting

I read a lot of science fiction when I was in school; my favorite authors were Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein, but I enjoyed many others, including James Blish. Blish’s “Cities in Flight” series was one of my favorites (the protagonist of the last three volumes was the Mayor of New York, which, of course, was a city flying through the Galaxy), but I read much of his shorter fiction, too.

One story that stuck with me was called “Common Time.” It’s the story of the first semi-successful faster-than-light trip; successful because the ship and pilot return to Earth, but only semi-successful because the pilot nearly went mad due to time desynchronization. He survived, in part, by setting up a subconscious process that counted seconds no matter what he was doing – for months on end. When he returned to the Solar System, he was compelled to figure out how long had elapsed here (versus his subjective time) before he could stop counting.

He finished the figures roughly, and that unheard moron deep inside his brain stopped counting at last. It had been pawing its abacus for twenty months now, and Garrard imagined that it was as glad to be retired as he was to feel it go.

I’ve been counting days on this blog for more than twenty months now, and it’s time to stop. I’ll blog when I have something to say or photos to share, but each entry will stand on its own.

Pandemic Journal, Day 750

I had big plans for tonight’s journal entry, but I worked on the Spring Almaniac instead. That, and trying to figure out what’s going on with the network – we keep losing connectivity, but the modem (and the phone) are working. I’ve rebooted all of the networking gear with no success – maybe it’ll recover overnight.

We harvested our orange crop this afternoon – all five of it. We used to get a lot more production from the tree, but it’s been pretty scant for the past few years. I’m not sure what the lifespan of an orange tree is, but I know this tree is at least 40 years old and might be as much as 60 if it was planted when the house was built.

And we got our second boosters today; we stayed with Moderna, since we’ve had fairly mild reactions with the earlier injections. After we got home, I saw an article in the New York Times reporting on an Israeli study of second Pfizer boosters saying that the added immunity waned quickly, so I’m glad I resisted the temptation to switch to Team Pfizer for this shot.

Pandemic Journal, Day 749

I finished doing our taxes this afternoon, and both California and the Feds have accepted them, so that’s one chore taken care of for this year. My estimates were close enough to avoid penalties, so I’m happy.

That was the most exciting thing I did today, so I’ll stop here!

Pandemic Journal, Day 748

The Ides of April are approaching quickly, so I finally started working on our taxes this afternoon. I didn’t have enough time to finish them because we had tickets for Silicon Valley Shakespeare’s 8th annual 48-Hour Play Festival – live and in-person at Foothill College!

This year’s theme was “Shakesbinge” – each team chose a Shakespeare play and a TV show and had to combine them, along with a required line of dialog (“That’s all, Folks!”), the use of a remote control as a prop, and some kind of commercial, producing a short (and generally funny) play. The process started at 7pm Friday; the script was due at noon on Saturday, and then the director and actors took over.

There were six plays this year:

StreamSpeare Pitch Meeting (The Merry Wives of Windsor + Friends)
Star Rich III: The Search for York (Richard III + Star Trek)
Slay All Day: A Midsummer Night’s Binge (A Midsummer Night’s Dream + Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Chapter VII: The Bounty (As You Like It + The Mandalorian)
Tempest/Battlestar Galactica (The Tempest + Battlestar Galactica)
Diced (Titus Andronicus + Chopped)

The audience votes for their two favorite plays – this year, Diane and I both voted the same way, and the audience agreed with us: Diced won, and Star Rich III was second.

It was a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to the three plays in Silicon Valley Shakespeare’s season: Romeo and Juliet, Measure for Measure, and Sense and Sensibility.

Pandemic Journal, Day 747

Another day, another hike.

We left Yosemite Blue Butterfly Inn for the last time (for now, anyway) this morning and drove into the park to go explore Mirror Lake. There was a lot more traffic today than yesterday, but we still had no problem finding a parking place in the main lot.

We took the shuttle to the Ahwahnee Hotel, then hiked the rest of the way to the lake; it was a pleasant walk, and not very crowded. The water at the near end of the lake didn’t live up to the “mirror” name, so I’m glad we went to the end to enjoy the prettier view there!

We walked back to the Ahwahnee for lunch (much better than Degnan’s Deli yesterday, and only slightly more expensive) and a little light shopping before hopping the shuttle to return to Yosemite Village and our car. But there was a TON of traffic on the road, so we got off at Yosemite Falls and walked back to the car.

Instead of coming home the way we drove up, we left on CA-41 and stopped at the Wawona Hotel; it was picturesque in a very different way than the parts of the park we’d spent most of our time in. We didn’t have the time or energy to walk to Mariposa Grove – perhaps next trip.

And we’re home again – it was a busy three days!

Pandemic Journal, Day 746

We must have been tired yesterday because we slept until 7am, even though one wall of our room is nearly entirely windows and sliding glass doors, without curtains or blinds (we’re on the third floor, facing the river, so there are no privacy concerns).

After breakfast, we left for Yosemite Valley; the park was a lot busier than it was last night, but still not very crowded. It was easy to find parking in the main Village lot, which is unlikely to be the case in a few weeks.

The Visitor Center is closed (they’re building a new one which should be open next year), but there was an outdoor “contact station” with Rangers, so we went there for suggestions and so Diane could get an official Yosemite pin from the store.

We walked down to Lower Yosemite Falls, then followed the Valley Loop trail to the cemetery.

After that, we visited the Ansel Adams Gallery and had lunch at Degnan’s Deli (not worth a special trip), then set out for Curry Village. We enjoyed views of Half Dome and the Merced River on our way.

It had gotten pretty warm, so after a brief stop at the Curry Village market to pick up T-shirts, we took the shuttle back to our car.

We planned to go to Hite Cove next, but on our way out of the park, we stopped near El Capitan for a closeup. There was a crowd just outside the parking lot passing along binoculars and marveling at the campers suspended halfway up the face (I circled them in the second photo).

We tore ourselves away and drove to the Hite Cove trailhead to enjoy the wildflowers there. I guess it’s still a bit early in the season, because the flowers were small and scattered, at least in the first half-mile of the trail, but we enjoyed the hike, the scenery, and the flowers anyway.

We returned to our B&B for dinner at the adjoining restaurant (real vegetables!), and then spent a little while on the deck meeting the other guests and watching hummingbirds. Oh, and eating more fresh-baked cookies. Can’t forget the cookies!

Pandemic Journal, Day 745

This morning, I was the first speaker at the Silver Tongued Cats and I decided to talk about my struggles with home automation over the years (and especially the past couple of weeks). Because I was using the speech for the “Understanding Vocal Variety” project, I chose “Home Automation Blues” as the title and exercised extreme vocal variety by literally singing the blues to start the speech – a capella and undoubtedly off-key. I wonder if a guitar would have helped?

After that, we took off for Yosemite (via Casa de Fruita), arriving at the Yosemite Blue Butterfly Inn just after 4pm. There’s a very nice view from the deck and lots of birds around – the owners told us that when the water isn’t flowing as briskly, you can see the fish swimming around.

We unpacked, got some advice, and headed off to the park to do a quick drive up to Yosemite Village before dinner. We stopped at several of the parking areas along the road and took lots of photos, mostly of waterfalls – but so far, I’ve only been able to get one of them uploaded.

Despite the technical difficulties, we’re off to a good start!

Pandemic Journal, Day 744

Tonight, the Shir Hadash Adult Education committee hosted “A Taste of Adult Ed”. Diane has been the leader of the Book Group, part of Adult Ed, for a few years, so she gave the attendees a chance to engage with a bit of a book (Rav Hisda’s Daughter by Maggie Anton).

I’m not on the committee, but I attended for four reasons: to learn, to support Diane, to look for synergy between Adult Ed and the committee I lead (Ritual), and to eat cheesecake (which is traditional to eat after studying on Shavuot – and Shavuot is only a couple of months away). I’m happy to report that the cheesecake wasn’t the best reason to have been there!

Pandemic Journal, Day 743

It won’t surprise anyone who knows us if I tell you that we like chocolate. And we usually have a few different kinds available so we don’t get tired of one particular variety.

Last year, we picked up a couple of bags of Dove Dark Chocolate Promises® at a post-Halloween sale. They’re not our absolute favorite chocolates, but they’ve always been good, if a little bit on the waxy side. I put them aside for later, and finally got around to opening one of the bags today.

It wasn’t worth the wait. The waxy mouthfeel dominated, and there wasn’t much chocolate flavor. It wasn’t just me – Diane had the same reaction. I tried a second piece just to make sure and couldn’t finish it.

The right thing to do probably was to unwrap each piece and put it in the compost bin – but I did the expedient thing and threw both bags in the trash.

Throwing chocolate away – what has the world come to?

Pandemic Journal, Day 742

I mentored Toastrix, the Toastmasters club at Citrix Systems, during the 2019-2020 Toastmasters year, which meant attending their weekly meetings in Santa Clara (until they had to move online).

I kept attending after my formal mentorship ended, but the frequency decreased significantly – meeting on Zoom wasn’t nearly as much fun as seeing them in person.

But today, I got to see many of the members in person – they held a get-together at DishDash in Sunnyvale and invited me. It was the first time I’d eaten with a group in a restaurant in a long time, and I don’t think I was the only one.

Over the last couple of years, the club became an open club – many of the members had moved out of the area, left Citrix, or both. One of the people who came today arrived with a suitcase – he’d flown into SFO and taken Caltrain to see us before going up to Palo Alto for a week of meetings at his new employer.

It was a lot of fun to see people and talk with them – and this makes two days in a row that I’ve had the opportunity to do that. I’m getting spoiled.

Pandemic Journal, Day 741

We went to a Shir Hadash “Gratitude Reception” today; one of the hosts is the person who got me started on the Indigo and Insteon home automation process. Their house is far more technologically sophisticated than ours; I don’t plan to emulate what they’ve done, nice as it is.

Perhaps it was appropriate that our house alarm went off while we were there. My watch told me that the alarm had gone off and that it was because the side door had opened – I figured it was because it was only closed by the latch, not the deadbolt, and the wind blew it open. And none of the motion detectors were complaining, so I ignored it – until my next-door neighbor called and said that the alarm was still sounding. I was able to turn it off, which I’m sure made her happier.

We made sure the door was well bolted when we got home.

Pandemic Journal, Day 740

We saw Vietgone tonight at City Lights Theatre. We’d originally planned on going to a matinée, but our schedule changed and tonight’s performance was the only one we’d be able to make. I didn’t know it was Opening Night until the Executive Artistic Director welcomed us just before the show began (I wondered why so many people were dressed up!).

I liked it – it’s funny, irreverent, and touching. There were a couple of moments where it was hard to hear one of the actors rapping because the background music was too loud, but enough came through to drive the story – and this was Opening Night, so there’s time for them to adjust the sound balance before the play closes in a month.

Go see it!

Pandemic Journal, Day 739

I went back to working on the home automation migration today – and made a little progress, despite my best efforts.

I’ve installed Home Assistant and Insteon-MQTT in Docker containers on my Raspberry Pi. Once I have everything operational, that’ll be great – it’s easy to update the software to a more recent version without messing up my configuration. But right now, it’s a pain because it’s not easy to see the actual code that’s running in the container.

Today, I wanted to check to see if the code that I was running had the most recent fixes applied – so I copied it into my configuration directory, which is shared with the actual computer so I can use an editor to look at it.

I didn’t want to keep the extra copy of the code around, so I issued the Unix delete-everything command: rm -rf *. Unfortunately, I was in the wrong directory, and I deleted my entire configuration. Which I hadn’t backed up.

Most of the files in the directory were created by the software, but there was one file that I had had to edit by hand to include information about all of my devices. I wasn’t looking forward to doing that, but I saw no alternative.

I opened my other text editor – it already had one window open, and I was delighted to see that the configuration file was there – so I saved it where it WILL be backed up, then got back to work and got another few automations converted.


Pandemic Journal, Day 738

I was Toastmaster of the Day at the Silver Tongued Cats today. During last week’s meeting, our President asked me what I’d like as a theme for today; since it’s our first meeting of Spring, I chose “Spring Cleaning” and put it out of my mind.

Until last night, when I had to assemble and email the agenda, and I suddenly realized I didn’t have anything in mind to say about the topic. And it was late enough that I didn’t want to do any more preparation, so I went to bed.

But not to sleep, at least not well – I kept thinking of things I could talk about if only I had some information. And I didn’t want to get out of bed and do any searching. So I tossed and turned and eventually fell asleep.

This morning, I raced over to the computer as soon as I got up so I could do my research. Did you know that 78% of Americans plan to do spring cleaning this year, up 10% from last year? The American Cleaning Institute does! And Fantastic Cleaning told me that there’s an official Spring Cleaning Week in the UK and that 2-5% of the UK population are compulsive hoarders. They also talked about the Chinese custom of cleaning for the Lunar New Year, and that you’re not supposed to sweep for the first few days of the year to avoid sweeping away good luck.

The meeting went smoothly; I had things to talk about, and we had excellent speakers and evaluators (none of whom talked about cleaning, though our Table Topics Master did ask about various aspects of cleaning). Next time, if I pick a topic out of the air, I think I’ll do a little research before going to bed the night before the meeting!

Cartoon Vectors by Vecteezy

Pandemic Journal, Day 737

When I spend money on insurance, I hope I won’t actually get that money back. Ideally, I’ll never talk to anyone at the insurer – I’ll just send them checks and never have to fight my way through their claims process.

Once in a long while, though, I’ve had an insurance company offer a service that improves my life (and reduces the odds of me having to make a claim). IBM’s Major Medical used to encourage (and pay for) some preventative care, for example.

Last November, our homeowners’ insurer, State Farm, made me an offer I didn’t want to refuse – they offered free electrical system monitoring through Ting to reduce the chances of an electrical fire. The device was free, and they’d pay for three years of monitoring – and if there was a problem, they’d even pay up to $1000 to correct it.

I jumped on the offer – a lot of other people must have done so, too, because I didn’t get the Ting device until today. I plugged it in and it’s “learning” our electrical environment. In the two hours it’s been installed, it’s learned that the line voltage in the house has been as low as 121.5 volts and as high as 123.5. I hope its other learnings are as uninteresting.

This afternoon, we took a walk with the South Bay Striders in South San Jose. The walk started at a park we’ve never visited before – Shady Oaks Park, which is on the Coyote Creek Trail. We did the 5k version of the walk, which was basically an out-and-back from Shady Oaks to the edge of Hellyer County Park. It wasn’t the most interesting walk we’ve done – the 10k version adds the Hellyer Velodrome and some equestrian areas, as well as a walk around Cottonwood Lake. But there were a few wildflowers to be seen, and it was quiet and peaceful for the most part.

Pandemic Journal, Day 736

I didn’t work on home automation at all today; instead, I spent the afternoon at the dentist’s office.

When I went there for a cleaning last week, the dentist noticed that the implant I’d had done last year was a little loose, so she had me come in today to get it fixed. She thought that she’d have to tighten the screw, which shouldn’t be necessary but happens occasionally. That wasn’t the problem, though – the crown had “de-bonded” and has to be replaced.

So she removed it and did a new scan of my mouth; then she put in a “healing cap” to cover the hole until the new crown arrives. Fortunately, the crown is still under warranty!

We did manage to take a walk this morning on the Los Gatos Trail in Campbell and enjoyed seeing the birds.

And it’s a good thing we walked early, because today’s high was well over 80 degrees – spring has sprung!

Pandemic Journal, Day 735

I took a break from working on home automation software to work on home automation hardware – in particular, I installed a new Ring Doorbell 4 to replace the old first-generation Ring Doorbell we’d had since 2016. The old one’s battery had deteriorated to the point that we were barely getting a month between recharges – and there are no replacements available.

Of course, the new doorbell has a different mounting system than the old one, which meant I had to drill more holes in the house. And that meant finding the drill and recharging its battery. And so on and so on.

Eventually, I got the new doorbell mounted and removed the mounting plate for the old one. And I think I’ve convinced all of the software to use the new doorbell.

We decided to celebrate Purim and Norooz tonight by ordering takeout from a favorite Persian restaurant, Negeen. When I got home with the goodies, Diane told me that UPS had just delivered a surprise package from Green’s Bakery in Brooklyn.

I hope it freezes well, because we may not be able to eat it all before Pesach!

Pandemic Journal, Day 734

We went to the Farmers’ Market and took our usual walk this morning – it was a good way to start the first day of spring.

I continued to work on Home Assistant and Insteon; I made a lot of progress, but ran into a bug in the documentation page I found yesterday – the examples that I wanted to copy had a small indentation error which was enough to keep the Insteon-MQTT server from starting. There were fairly clear error messages, but they were in a window that I’d covered and didn’t uncover until after I’d figured out what was wrong and fixed it.

After that, I got a couple of automations set up before I ran out of time – it’s looking hopeful!

I did fix the TiVo problem I mentioned on Friday – I restarted the TiVo and it was able to successfully play the recordings that were blank before. I have no idea what’s going wrong, but I guess I should start looking at alternatives; I don’t want to buy another TiVo.

Pandemic Journal, Day 733

It’s been a low energy day today. We took a walk after Torah Study and got home just as it started drizzling, and that was the last time I left the house today.

I spent a while trying (again) to figure out how to get Home Assistant properly integrated with my Insteon devices. I’ve got everything more-or-less functional, but the UI is wonky (wrong icons for devices, names that are less than friendly), and I still haven’t tried to define any automations. As I was writing this entry, I found this page that describes the interactions between Home Assistant and Insteon-MQTT and how to tame some of them, so there’s hope for progress tomorrow.

Pandemic Journal, Day 732

The day started in the usual Friday way with a trip to the gym, followed by a short walk, a shower, and lunch.

After lunch, we planned to watch last night’s Late Show, but failed. The TiVo had recorded an hour of black screen and no audio. So I logged into Paramount+ only to discover that last night’s Late Show was a rerun – the next new show will be March 28th.

We decided to take another walk, but as soon as we left the house, we smelled acrid smoke. The whole sky was smoky, too, so I didn’t think it was nearby; I checked NextDoor and actually got information – the smoke was coming from a four-alarm fire in a vacant commercial building a couple of miles away. Fortunately, we had brought masks with us, and they reduced the smell enough that we could keep walking.

After we got home, the rest of the day was consumed by travel planning and home automation.

And so it goes.

Pandemic Journal, Day 731

We celebrated the overlap of Purim and St. Patrick’s Day today.

We had some of the goodies in the Mishloach Manot package from Shir Hadash after lunch; this evening, we made a new recipe from The New York Times: Whiskey-Glazed Salmon With Salt-Crusted Potatoes. The recipe calls for whiskey, so we bought a bottle of Tullamore Dew – we have plenty left, so we’ll try it again.

The recipe is for four servings, and we were only feeding the two of us, so I cut everything in half; next time, I’ll make more glaze – it was quite tasty. And I’ll keep a closer eye on the potatoes – I didn’t shake them enough in the final few seconds before all the fluid evaporated, so they didn’t get properly crusted with salt (which may make my cardiologist happier).

I don’t think there are any holidays tomorrow, unlike the rest of the week (Pi Day, the Ides of March, Purim, and St. Patrick’s Day). I guess we’ll cope.

Pandemic Journal, Day 730

It’s been two years since the initial “Shelter-in-Place” order was issued for the Bay Area. While I can’t say we’re back to normal, we are doing a lot of normal things, including taking volksmarches with friends, as we did today in downtown Campbell.

The route included the Ainsley House, across the parking lot from the Campbell Library. I’ve been to the library many times, but I’d never bothered to look at the Ainsley House – it’s an interesting place, with a bit of a history. It was built by one of Campbell’s first industrialists (he owned the first local fruit cannery) and was saved from demolition and moved to the Civic Center/Library complex in 1990.

After the walk, we came home and I did a little more work on the Home Assistant migration, and then we made dinner and watched the Shir Hadash Purim Service and Shpiel.

Hag Sameach and Happy Purim!

Pandemic Journal, Day 729 (3⁶)

I got Home Assistant (HA) talking to the Insteon (which is what controls the lights and switches in the house) this afternoon. It was able to bring all of the devices into its database, and now I will put a human-friendly name on each one (recognizing “4C.13.AE” isn’t quite as easy as recognizing “Porch Light”). There should be some way to import all of the names I’ve already defined in Indigo, but with only 20 devices, it’s probably easiest to just do it through the menus in Home Assistant. Tedious, but easy.

I was even able to set up an automation to make pressing a button on a switch in the kitchen turn the Sonos in the living room on and off – just like I have in Indigo.

Despite spending too long on the computer, we did manage to take our usual walks; there are more flowers every day, like this sunflower.

Pandemic Journal, Day 728

Diane spent the afternoon working on a photo book for our 2019 Tulip Time trip with her brother and sister-in-law, and I spent the afternoon working on improving our home automation.

Today’s project was installing the latest version of Home Assistant on the new Raspberry Pi I bought last month. Yesterday, I’d tried installing the version that runs on the “Home Assistant Operating System”, which is their preferred Raspberry Pi setup. It’s based on Linux, but is locked down tightly; it was also painfully slow to boot up and shut down (to be fair, that might have something to do with running it from an SD card). So today, I tried installing Home Assistant in a Docker container; it was much faster.

I had a basic setup running with a few critical devices defined in just over an hour – and then I discovered I’d made a mistake in my Docker configuration. I wanted all of the Home Assistant configuration and log files to be in a directory on the host machine, but I hadn’t put that into the Docker file – so when I restarted the Docker container, all of that work vanished.

I fixed that mistake and started again; it was easier the second time. I still have to get the lights and switches into the system, expose everything to Alexa and HomeKit, and rebuild my automations, so there’s a lot of work ahead, but I’m hopeful.

I’m also motivated. Apple released Mac OS 12.3 today, which removes Python 2 from the system. That breaks Indigo completely – they’re working on an update to use Python 3 but it’s not ready yet. And then all of the user-contributed plugins will need to be updated, too, and not all of them still have owners. I suspect it’s not going to be smooth.

Pandemic Journal, Day 727

We went to Shir Hadash this morning to hear Mark Oppenheimer discuss the book he wrote about the effect of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting on the Squirrel Hill community in Pittsburgh; it was quite interesting, as were the questions afterwords. The session was recorded and is available on YouTube – be warned, it starts with a little over a minute of black screen!

After that, we had a quiet day with walks and travel planning. This morning’s Murky Nooz had a multi-page ad for Mariposa County and Yosemite, and we got inspired to plan a two-night stay there before tourist season really starts. The Ahwahnee Hotel was available for one of the nights we want to visit, but we’d have to move for the second night – and it’s pricey! So we’re casting a wider net and hope to hear from a nearby B&B when they open tomorrow.

Pandemic Journal, Day 726

We did something unusual this evening – we attended an in-person talk at Shir Hadash. The speaker was Mark Oppenheimer talking about the Newish Jewish Encyclopedia, which he’d edited along with the other two principals of the Unorthodox podcast – their goal was to touch on all aspects of being Jewish and to be funny in the process.

The entries he read during his talk certainly lived up to that goal; I’d hoped he’d have copies for sale, but I guess that would have been too much to schlep, so I’ve ordered a copy. And we’ve put Unorthodox on our podcast queue.

He’ll be giving another talk tomorrow on his most recent (and much less funny) book, Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood, and I’m looking forward to hearing him again.

Beyond that, it was a typical Saturday – Torah Study and Shir Shabbat in the morning and lots of walks. The weather was pleasantly warm, and flowers are blooming!