Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Ninety-Five

One of my lockdown projects has been to curate my digital photo collection – get rid of the bad and duplicate photos, identify people, and title and geotag everything I keep. It’s slow going – I started on March 18 with photos from 2000 and just finished 2004 today, including a day touring Richmond, Virginia back in August.

I grew up in Richmond; my mother was born there and lived there most of her life, and my brother still lives there. And growing up there in the late ‘50s and the ‘60s, I lived through the era of Massive Resistance to desegregation and the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Civil War (often called the “War Between The States”). The restrooms and drinking fountains in the downtown department stores still had “White” and “Colored” signs, though I don’t think that was still being enforced. And I remember being bothered by language in my 4th grade Virginia History textbook describing the slaves as “happy” and the adulation of Robert E. Lee (see this article from the Richmond Times-Dispatch). Of course, Monument Avenue was filled with monuments to Confederate leaders.

None of my family was in North America during the Civil War, so I don’t have any Confederate soldiers in my past, but it would have been difficult to avoid the Lost Cause glorification. And it was all around me, so I wasn’t really conscious of it.

When I worked on those photos today, though, it jumped out at me. Most of the photos I took of statues at Capitol Square were of Confederates (Washington being the notable exception) – there was a huge statue of Stonewall Jackson; there was a statue of Robert E. Lee in the Capitol building; there was even a statue (from 1906) of William “Extra Billy” Smith, who was the oldest Confederate General and was a two-time Governor of Virginia.

We also toured the White House of the Confederacy that day. Today, its web page features an exhibit on the development of the Lost Cause mythos and its effect on current culture; back then, the museum glorified the Lost Cause. The photo from the museum that I find most illustrative is not of anything from the Civil War era – it’s a fish from Richmond’s 2001 “Go Fish!” street sculpture project.

The text at the bottom of the plaque reads “Confederate History for All Virginians” – something to think about.

Happy Juneteenth!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Ninety-Four

Like everyone else, Diane and I have been doing a lot of video calls for the last three months. If we’re together on a call, it’s nice to put it on the big TV in the family room – but that means using a webcam, since the TV doesn’t have a built-in camera (go figure!). We’ve been using alternate firmware on a WyzeCam – it’s got a wide-angle lens, so the picture is a little distorted, and the sound is so muddy we had to use an external microphone. I wanted something better, but early in the lockdown, webcams were almost as hard to find as toilet paper.

On April 12, I saw an ad on Facebook for a webcam from a supplier in China. Their ad and their website led me to assume that it would arrive within a couple of weeks. “Assume” is, of course, a dangerous verb.

Two weeks later, I wrote the supplier and asked what was going on – they said they were in the burn-in process. A week later (April 30) I got a tracking number and thought “I’ll have it soon”. They even gave me a link to a tracking site which showed a status of “shipment authorized” in Shenzhen.

On May 8, I got a message from the USPS telling me that a shipping partner had picked up a package for me in Inglewood, CA (LAX) but that the USPS had not yet received the item. I thought “surely it will be here soon!”

On May 23, the status changed to “Warehouse Shipment, ready for flight” (still in Shenzhen). It made it to Shanghai on May 27, to Inchon (Korea) on May 30, to Tokyo on June 2, and to a US port on June 7.

It cleared customs on June 9, and on June 13, it arrived at a “shipping partner facility, awaiting last mile delivery”.

Activity really picked up late on June 16 – the package arrived at Brisbane, CA (near SFO, less than 50 miles from here) and in quick succession went through three status updates: “Arrived Shipping Partner Facility, USPS Awaiting Item”, “Shipping Partner: Pitney Bowes”, and at 3:15am June 17, it “Arrived at Shipping Facility”.

This morning, I was unsurprised to receive an update that it had been “Accepted at USPS Regional Facility”, but I was shocked to learn that the facility was in Des Moines, Iowa (1800 miles from here). On the other hand, the USPS is giving me an expected delivery date – one week from today, 74 days after I ordered the webcam. It’s the first expected delivery date I’ve had for this shipment, so I guess I should be happy, right?

In the meantime, Amcrest, who made the camera mounted on my garage, emailed me to say that they had webcams available and in stock on Amazon. I ordered this one on Sunday and it arrived today, as promised. It works.

We’ve got a place to use the other webcam if it ever gets here, but it may be a while before I order anything else from a Facebook ad.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Ninety-Three

Happy Medicare Birthday to my brother!

A few days ago, I decided I needed an app to track packages. The Mac podcasts I listened to have raved about an app called Deliveries (from JuneCloud) for years; it was $4.99 on the App Store, so I bought it. It works well for USPS, UPS, FedEx, and DHL tracking; you can even give it access to your Amazon account and it will track Amazon orders no matter how they’re shipped (and even before they’re shipped). It has an Apple Watch app; there’s also a Mac app, but it costs another $5. It’s attractive and makes good use of notifications.

But…it doesn’t support FEIA, the carrier that’s delivering my webcam. Instead, I wound up using parcelsapp.com to track that package – and after a while, I decided to try their iPhone app, Parcels (free, with optional in-app purchases).

Parcels is not as pretty as Deliveries, doesn’t have a Watch app as far as I can tell, and doesn’t have a Mac app. Notifications require a subscription ($3.49/year, which also turns off the ads, which are pretty annoying). But it tracks more carriers and goes into more detail. It imports orders from a few merchants (including Amazon and eBay), too.

If I’d realized how good Parcels was in its free mode, I would have tried it before buying Deliveries. But now I have both – I’m going to have to order more things!

If you’re looking for a package tracker, try Parcels first; it may be all you need.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Ninety-Two

We’re getting a little better at meal planning and shopping preparedness; this week, we had everything that we needed written down on one piece of paper and in a rational order for a short trip through the supermarket. And we almost stuck to our list – but at the end, we discovered that Diane’s cereal was on sale, so we bought a few boxes (we were standing in the cereal aisle waiting for the cashier anyway!). We have to pick up a couple of things at a different store tomorrow, but then I think we’ll be finished for the week.

We got our remaining airfare refunds for our cancelled trip to Iceland today. We also got a note from British Airways reminding us that if we want to cancel our flights to Portugal, they’d be happy to give us a voucher good through 2022. I plan to wait and see if they cancel the flight so we can get a real refund, but if all we can get is a voucher, it’ll be OK. I hope we can take a trans-Atlantic trip safely before 2022!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Ninety-One

I was thrilled and astonished by the Supreme Court ruling on LGBT employment discrimination this morning – and even more astonished to find Gorsuch writing the opinion. SCOTUSBlog’s report is worth reading. I was also pleased that the Court refused to take up the Trump administration’s challenge to California’s sanctuary laws – this is the most hopeful I’ve been about the state of the country in months.

On our most recent (I don’t want to say “last”) cruise, we made friends with quite a few people and have even stayed Facebook friends with some of them. Today, though, we actually talked with one of our “new” friends and toured the outside of each other’s houses – it was a lot of fun, and something we should do more often!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Ninety

The Los Gatos Farmers’ Market has “senior time” from 8-9am; we were there this morning during senior time to pick up our pre-ordered fish and see what else might look good – the answer was “strawberries, plums, apricots, tomatoes, and corn”. The answer nearly included cherries, but that farmer didn’t open until after 9, and we were long gone by then.

This afternoon, we indulged in a little culture and history, watching the National Theater’s broadcast of the Nottingham Playhouse’s production of The Madness of George III – it was excellent. I knew George III had suffered from mental illness after the Revolution, but I didn’t know the ramifications for English politics (I did some research after watching the play to find out more). It reminded me of the current situation in the US. The National Theatre’s stream is available through Wednesday, June 17th – I recommend watching if you can. We’ll also probably watch The Madness of King George sometime since it’s free on Amazon Prime.

There doesn’t seem to be any danger of running out of things to watch!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Eighty-Nine

At Torah Study this morning, Rabbi Aron mentioned that the Executive Director of the Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival would be hosting a discussion of Dough, which she described as a “silly movie”. Tonight, we watched the movie – “silly” is quite apt as a description. It’s a heartwarming and funny exploration of Islamic-Jewish relations, baking, real estate, and crime in Britain. I have watched SF and Fantasy movies which required less of a suspension of disbelief, but Diane and I both enjoyed it – if you have Amazon Prime, it’s free, and it’s only 95 minutes long.

We accompanied the movie with libations – back in the early ’90s, I brought back a liter of Bols from my first trip to Amsterdam. It has sat, unopened, from then until tonight (most of the time spent in the very back of a kitchen cabinet, forgotten from year to year). Tonight, I made an approximation of an Amsterdam Mule (I used ginger beer instead of the Bols Ginger) – it went well with the movie, though other substances easily available in Amsterdam would have fit the theme better.

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Eighty-Eight

We talked with our son today – he is in the middle of moving to a new apartment about a mile away from his old one. He’s schlepping most of his goods by walking them over to the new place – he said it was easier doing it this way than finding movers and he doesn’t have to worry about one of the movers having the virus. He is going to get help moving his bed, though. :-)

I’ve always been a fan of Anker cables and adapters – they’re reasonably priced, durable, and when I’ve had a problem, they’ve taken care of it immediately. But today, they sent me an advertisement which makes me wonder:

This is a 6-foot USB-to-Lightning cable – Anker sells the same cable without the gold-plating for about $35 and a previous-generation cable in white for $15. If you have the cash to waste on a cable decorated with a few cents’ worth of gold, may I suggest buying one of the less expensive models and donating the difference to a food bank?

I’m assuming Anker doesn’t really expect to sell many of these cables (they make Monster Cables look like price-performers), but there are a couple of “Verified Purchase” reviews on the product page, so I may be wrong!

Shabbat Shalom!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Eighty-Seven

As usual, Thursday brought two Toastmasters meetings. The morning meeting was the Silver Tongued Cats – I’ve been Treasurer for the last two years, but I’ll be switching to the VP Public Relations role for next year; it’s a role I’ve never had, so it should be interesting. We are having an Open House next Thursday at 7:30am Pacific – all are welcome, just register here to get the Zoom link.

The other meeting was the club I’ve been mentoring, Toastrix at Citrix. I was the only speaker today; I started Level 2 of the Engaging Humor path with a speech about Quarantine Cooking (though I think I spent slightly more than half the time talking about cooking experiences in the Before Times).

Other than that, it was a quiet day (it helps that I mostly stayed off Twitter and Facebook). Onward to the weekend!

Shelter-in-Place Journal, Day Eighty-Six

Yesterday, the world came to see us and we went out to see the world.

Today, we took a morning walk before it got too hot and UPS dropped off a couple of packages, but that was about it for physical interactions.

Diane and I both worked on wrangling our photos this afternoon – she was on a Zoom “virtual crop” with her friends, and I was on Lightroom removing duplicate and triplicate photos from an IBM meeting in Japan in 2004. And this evening was online trivia from the Santa Clara City Library.

Tomorrow, I have two Toastmasters meetings and I’m giving a speech at one – the title is “Quarantine Cooking”. With luck, it’ll be tasty.