Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 298

Today, I learned that dough hooks are not interchangeable. We made pretzels again, and this time, I happened to notice that there was a little diagram above each hole on the mixer showing which hook went into which hole. I followed the diagram, and the dough behaved far better than it had on my last two attempts – it stayed in the bowl instead of climbing the hooks onto the mixer body!

I did have to add a bit more water than the recipe called for to get all of the flour incorporated into the dough, and the dough was very sticky, but other than that, it was a smooth process.

Tonight, there was a special Kabbalat Shabbat service at Shir Hadash. It was billed as “an early Shabbat gathering of prayers and ‘new songs’ of peace, holding each other virtually and bringing to a close this challenging week” and it really boosted my mood, although I nearly cried when we sang Gesher Tz’ar Me’od at the end – the country and all of us are all together on a very narrow bridge and the next 12 days are going to be tense.

Shabbat Shalom!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 297

I only spent half the day looking at Twitter, Facebook, and TV today, a great improvement over yesterday. And so I was able to actually accomplish one task on my to-do list – set up new accounts for Diane and me with our Medicare Part D (prescription drug) insurer, WellCare.

We’d become WellCare customers at the beginning of 2020 as part of the Aetna/CVS merger; I didn’t have any complaints about their plan or benefits last year, so we decided to stay with them this year. But, given our current prescription usage, we discovered that switching to “WellCare Value Script” from “WellCare Medicare Rx Select” would save us a few bucks a month – over the course of a year, it’d add up to a nice meal in a restaurant (remember those?). Making the switch during Open Enrollment was easy, too.

A few days later, we got payment coupon books in the mail, which would require mailing in checks every month – clearly unacceptable, especially since we had been able to set up recurring automatic payments for 2020. The instructions said we could set up recurring automatic payments for the new plans after January 1; I tried that day and found that our logins got us to our old accounts, with no way to make a change.

I thought that, perhaps, their systems hadn’t completely cycled yet, so I waited until today and got the same result. Their website offered “chat with an agent” – and I discovered that we had to set up brand new accounts with brand new usernames because we’d changed plans. At least they didn’t make us come up with new email addresses!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 296

I had high hopes for today. Warnock had already been declared the winner in his Senate race when I woke up, and I hoped that Ossoff would be declared the winner sometime today. And I expected that Congress would confirm the results of the election, especially after reading Mike Pence’s letter disavowing the theory that he could unilaterally discard electoral votes. I was even thinking of opening some champagne to celebrate.

Around 11 (Pacific), I turned on the TV to watch the joint session and listen to the speeches – but, of course, that didn’t last long. I wish I could say I was surprised that there was a riot and insurrection, but I wasn’t – it was clear from the rhetoric from the White House and allies what they were inciting, and they got it.

I was surprised that Congress was able to go back into session this evening to continue the process. I had hoped that today’s coup attempt would stop the specious objections, but I clearly underestimated Josh Hawley’s perfidy (as I write this, Congress is “debating” Pennsylvania based on Hawley’s objection).

On a brighter note, we tried making Delicata, Radicchio, and Black Rice Salad again. Unlike the previous attempt, we were able to find Delicata squash and that made a big difference. I remembered to cook the rice ahead of time – next time, I’ll make the squash early, too!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 295

I spent most of an hour working with the new District 101 Webmaster on turning over the website; he knows Divi and WordPress better than I do, which is terrific. We spent the time talking about why I’d set up some things the way they were so that he can make the appropriate changes. I’m looking forward to seeing the site get better and more useful!

Dinner tonight was another new recipe for us: Ayesha Curry’s Sweet Sambal Cod from Parade magazine, and it came out pretty good, despite using a fairly thick seabass filet instead of cod, putting the cornstarch into the sauce right at the beginning instead of after the liquid ingredients had combined, and putting far too much oil in the pan. We also substituted sriracha for the sambal oelek, which we’ve done in other recipes. Next time, I’ll try following the recipe more closely!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 294

We were supposed to go on a cruise to Japan and Korea last April. Needless to say, it got cancelled in early March. The travel provider (Criterion Travel) offered us a full refund or a 20% bonus if we transferred our payment to one of their 2021 programs. They were planning a trip to Sicily and Malta that looked interesting – it was at the end of May 2021, which seemed far enough away to be safe, so we took them up on their bonus offer.

Today, we found out that they are doing the responsible thing and cancelling the May 2021 trip, too. They’re still building their 2022 schedule – maybe they’ll offer Japan and Korea!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 293

We spent a quiet day today – a quick trip to the Farmers’ Market for fish this morning, Halibut with Rosemary Potatoes for lunch, Slow-Cooked Spiced Lentils with Veggies for dinner, and three walks to hit our goals for the day.

I’ve added yet another home repair project to the list – the faucet on the sink in the garage is leaking, so I ordered the parts to fix it and they should be here in a couple of days. It’s supposed to be an easy job. We’ll see.

I also discovered that my office setup is critically suboptimal – I was on a call about the District 101 website when I accidentally kicked the switch on the power strip under my desk and turned off my computer and monitor. I guess I should fix that.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 292

There are times that I realize that I don’t understand Facebook. No, I’m not talking about the Dreaded Algorithm that chooses what you see in your feed and often builds opinion bubbles; I’m confused about how Facebook chooses whether to put an image into a post that links to a website, such as my post yesterday to my blog.

I had put a photo of the zester I bought into yesterday’s blog entry, expecting Facebook to show it and add a little life to the Facebook post – but it didn’t. And I don’t know why. So I won’t go out of my way to find a photo for tonight’s entry.

After we watched City Lights’ version of A Christmas Carol last week, Diane said that she’d really enjoyed the version of the story on Topper. Somewhat to my surprise, it was easy to find that episode on YouTube; I downloaded it so we could use Plex to watch it on the big TV. As I was downloading it, I noticed that YouTube offered “automatically-generated subtitles”, so I downloaded them, too, in case the audio was bad.

Unfortunately, YouTube’s automatically-generated subtitles are in “Timed Text Markup Language” (TTML), which Plex doesn’t support – Plex supports SubRip Text (SRT) files. No problem – there are lots of converters on the web, and some converters written in Python on GitHub. I’d rather run the conversion on my own machine, so I downloaded alexwlchan/ttml2srt from GitHub and fed it the file I’d downloaded from YouTube. And I got an error message.

A little investigation showed me that the YouTube TTML file doesn’t come close to conforming to the standard. In particular, it doesn’t have a body element, and the timestamps are given as decimal seconds without a unit (10.3 instead of the correct 10.3s, for example). But it was easy to add support for the YouTube file to the program and generate the subtitle file I needed (and of course, I have offered my changes to the owner of the program).

I added the subtitle file to Plex and made sure it worked, then we sat down to watch the show; the audio was good enough that we didn’t need the subtitles – oh, and the automatically-generated subtitles weren’t all that accurate, anyway (the subtitle in the photo should say “Topper”, not “copper”).

But now I have a tool for the future – that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 291

There were more firsts today than just being the first day of the New Year.

It was the first day that I was no longer officially the District 101 Webmaster (though I’m still on the team); I spent a couple of hours going through my code with the person who’s picking up the back-end code. Explaining code I wrote five years ago is hard work! While we were reviewing the code, I got rid of some code that hadn’t ever been used in District 101 (we used it in District 4) and that wouldn’t have worked for the last couple of years anyway (because I didn’t update it for Pathways). There’s more code to explain and clean up, as well as updating anything that talks to Dropbox so that it’ll survive their new authentication model.

We used our new zester for the first time (I had been using a Microplane “fine” grater until now); it seemed to do a better job than the grater did, and it was much easier to get the zest off the zester and into the food than it was to get it off the grater.

And tonight at Shir Hadash was the first service with our new Interim Senior Rabbi, Ted Riter. His sermon was about transitions, which seems rather appropriate under the circumstances.

19 days left until a BIG transition….

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 290

It was Diane’s birthday today – we celebrated by mostly staying at home (we did go grocery shopping and took a walk). We had a nice call with our son in Boston and a good Trivial Zoom this evening (alcohol was consumed), then we watched the CNN New Year’s Eve special and watched 2020 end on the East Coast.

Happy New Year!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day 289

We made another new recipe from the Mercury News tonight, Pomegranate Chicken. I was afraid we were making far too much food, but it looks like we hit our goal of having just enough leftovers for one meal. We may try boneless, skinless thighs next time in the hope that the glaze will actually penetrate the meat.

Other than that, I spent the entire day working on the Toastmasters handover, in particular the scripts I mentioned yesterday to make it easy for people to build their own copy of the website and tooling. There were, of course, a few glitches along the way.

The biggest mistake I made was making the virtual machine’s disk too small and filling it up several hours into the process. I should have just deleted that virtual machine and started again, but I didn’t – instead, I enlarged the disk but somehow didn’t enlarge the filesystem, so it filled up again after several more hours of work. I learned my lesson and rebuilt the machine from scratch (it really didn’t take very long!).

I’m also having a strange problem with networking on the virtual machine – Ubuntu assigns a private IPv6 address to the machine, causing it to be unable to get to pypi.org to install Python software. If I take the interface down and up, the private address goes away and all is well. I can’t figure out how to keep the private address from being created in the first place, but at least I’ve got an easy workaround.