Introducing Domino

So this happened:

Domino sitting in the kitchen

Domino is a black lab mix, about a year and a half old, maybe 50 pounds? (My guess is he’s 55-60.) (ETA: The vet says he’s 45 pounds!) He had a rough early life: He was abused as a puppy, was rescued and had at least one surgery (one rear leg is stunted and we think has a pin in it so he can’t bend the knee), then was sent to California where he was adopted and returned three times. Our friends Chad and Camille fostered him in between, so they got to see him grow up, and he became friends with their two dogs.

After he was returned the last time, Debbi decided to pursue us adopting him. He’s going to be more her dog than mine, because while I like dogs, I’ve never really wanted to responsibility of a dog (which is rather different from the responsibility for cats). I’m going to help, of course, but she’s primary.

He arrived with the name “Dominoes”, but we decided to drop the plural.

We brought him home a week ago, having picked up a couple of crates, beds, food, toys, bowls, and a leash. Understandably he was tentative at first, but he seemed to trust us, and he got more comfortable over the next few days. We even took him with us to pick up dinner!

Domino in the car

Integration with the cats has been… bumpy. Maybe because he doesn’t have much experience with cats, we’re not sure. He barks at them and sometimes lunges at them if they get too close. But sometimes he does the “I want to play” crouch. He’s slowly getting better but there’s a ways to go. We’ve been keeping him on a leash inside to control his lunges.

The cats’ reactions have been varied. Jackson pretty quickly decided the dog doesn’t impress him, and he quickly returned to his normal habits. He’s had a couple of close encounters with Domino, but no one’s gotten hurt yet. Simon by contrast has mostly kept his distance, and spent the first couple of days mostly under the bed. Edison is somewhere in between. All of them have been figuring out Domino’s habits (he sleeps in a covered crate, he spends most of the work day in the dining room with Debbi, etc.), which I think has helped them be more comfortable.

Domino gorked out on the couch

I think Domino has accepted us as his humans. Debbi has been taking him for a walk in the morning, though he is a low-endurance pupper and I doubt I’ll be taking him on my runs any time soon. He is enjoying the back yard, though, and his favorite game seems to be tug-of-war. Sometimes he just gleefully runs around the yard with a kong in his mouth.

So it’s an ongoing adjustment. I’m hoping he’ll eventually chill out enough that the cats will lie with him, or at least play a bit with him, but I’ll settle for him not going after them, even if there’s some barking. We’re doing some training with him on Saturday, and there will be more in the future.

In any event, we now have this big ol’ labradork in our family.

Domino lying on the lawn
(Just ignore the drought-browned grass)

Backyard Multiverse

Writing this at the end of a long weekend, one which was both productive and quite lazy.

We had a warm Saturday which prompted Debbi to take the covers off our patio furniture at last. It’s pretty durable stuff, but we were happy with the waterproof protection of the covers during the winter rainy season (such as it was – California is in another bad drought), and we didn’t get any critters nesting in the furniture when we removed it.

Consequently it was so warm that we spent most of Saturday afternoon sitting on the sofa outdoors under the umbrella and reading (in between wasting time on our iPads, of course). We left the doors to the family room open (with the retractable screen in place), so the cats got to have the full outdoor-smells experience. I don’t think the kittens are quite used to us being around but not indoors, but neither of them tries to go out (Simon definitely does not want to go out), so it’s fine.

In the evening we played Jackbox Games with friends and family – which we’ve been doing regularly throughout the pandemic – followed by me going out for a walk.

Sunday we also spent a bunch of time outside, but I also did some yard work since it cooled off to reasonable levels. I finally replaced the transformer for our low-power accent lights outside, which went really well, and I honestly probably spent more time practicing stripping the wires than anything else. I also re-staked a couple of the lights and replaced some bulbs, and it made me feel like a real homeowner.

Then I assembled my new extension pruner (the old one having seized up last summer) and filled up our yard waste bin with trimmings from the plum tree. Our yard is maybe 20% larger than I have the energy to take care of, and so it’s been slowly getting away from me over the 11 years we’ve lived here. I expect we’ll re-landscape sometime in the next couple of years.

I took today off and Debbi took the afternoon off. After lunch at nearby sandwich joint Specialty’s, we went to see our first movie in the cinemas in over 2 years – for which we were joined by exactly three other people, who all sat behind us. We saw Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. I’m not going to write a full review, but I enjoyed it overall. People who enjoyed Wanda’s (Elizabeth Olsen) character development in WandaVision will probably enjoy it here as well – I personally did not, though since it wasn’t her film, I can live with it. I enjoyed seeing Benedict Cumberbatch’s Strange as a more experienced sorcerer, yet I thought he had some good character development. They didn’t quite stick the landing on that character development, instead taking things in a suddenly-different direction, so that was disappointing. Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez and Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer were both great. There was a bunch of fan service nonsense in the middle which was fine as far as moving the story along and setting up a big set-piece, but honestly since I thought the Illuminati in the comics were stupid, I’m glad they didn’t make more of it than they did. The film’s sense of humor works sometimes but feels awkwardly bolted-on at other times. I sort of agree with Kurt Busiek’s take in this Twitter thread, though I think I liked it more than he did. But the script probably needed a couple more rewrites to completely work.

Anyway, it’s a dark and sometimes very grim film, and I think they really missed an opportunity for closure and optimism at the end by not having Strange more directly talk to the one person he really owed some emotional honesty to. A solid mid-range MCU film, sort of the dark version of Guardians of the Galaxy. If they’d clung more firmly to the theme of “learning to love yourself” (the flip side of Guardians’ found-family theme) and followed it through then I think it’d have worked better.

Hey, I guess I did write a review.

Anyway, I’m sitting on the back porch again writing this while Debbi plays (different) games with friends, and I think we’re going to QBB for drinks and barbecue afterwards. So it’s been a good weekend.

Back to the Office

Thursday was my first day back in the office since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic over 2 years ago. I’ve been in a few times (four?) to pick up stuff, or to clean out my space from the Apple Silicon project, but those have been brief visits. This was a full day of work.

Since I’d brought home almost all of my stuff from the office, I had to figure out what I’d need to bring back. Since I’m only there one or two days per week to start with, I knew I’d been working on my laptop and leaving my more powerful desktop at home for now. I couldn’t remember whether I had necessary cables and chargers left in my office, or even other stuff like Kleenex, so I drew up a list and packed everything on it up Thursday morning.

In fact I remembered almost everything I needed. The one exception is that I’d ordered a new monitor for my laptop to replace the very old Cinema Display I’d been using before, and I needed a new keyboard since the old USB-A one that connected to the Cinema Display couldn’t plug in to any port on the laptop or new monitor. Fortunately, accessories like that are easy enough to get hold of (especially since I’m happy with basic keyboards – none of those fancy split, recessed keyboards for me, thanks!).

There’s been a lot of controversy about tech companies requiring their employees to return to the office. I’m not going to address that controversy here, but I am going to articulate my own feelings about going back to the office. I think it’s a very complicated situation (and I know there are people who would disagree with that), and I don’t think my feelings or opinions are definitive, but I do think they’re just as valid as (almost) anyone else’s.

There are two major pieces to this: The COVID piece, and the if-COVID-didn’t-exist piece.

If COVID didn’t exist, then it’s a slam-dunk for me: I hate working from home. I’ve always preferred to keep my home life and my work life as separate as is practical. Home has too many distractions (starting with cats coming in to demand attention when I’m trying to focus on something). I also associate physical spaces with memories of what I do there, and it’s been increasingly difficult to enjoy being in our home office because I spend all my time there when I’m working.

I also like seeing and hanging out with my cow-orkers, and find interacting with them in person way easier, more convenient, and more comfortable than doing so over messaging apps or audio or video calls. Those other forms of communication are useful for certain things, but as secondary channels, not the primary one. I like going to lunch and coffee with them, and we’ve worked through many issues over the years by talking through them in person.

I recognize that I’m privileged to work in an office – even though I usually share it with someone else – rather than a cubicle or some worse open-office space (which I think are abominations, and companies that prefer such spaces should be ashamed of themselves). I’m also privileged to have a short commute to work with minimal traffic. Silicon Valley and many other places are terrible to commute in, and I wish housing prices were not so high so that my cow-orkers could afford to live here without feeling so much stress about it (stress I keenly remember back when I was not so privileged).

Anyway, I know lots of people disagree and/or have very different perspectives, but that’s how I feel about it.

COVID of course throws a big wrench into the whole equation. The office on Thursday was pretty similar to any other day in the office. I hadn’t been looking forward to wearing a mask all day, but when I got there most people were not wearing masks. (I decided to try to wear a mask whenever I was not in my own office.) This is of course a false sense of security, in that how the office experience feels has no bearing on whether I’m going to catch COVID from being there, even if case numbers are very low right now. I took my first-ever COVID test on Tuesday in order to go in (it was negative, of course), and for all I know I’ve had it previously (I bet not, though). I wondered whether we’ll get to the point that once someone in the department tests positive if we’ll have a cluster of people test positive shortly thereafter. We’ll find out, I guess.

I don’t want to catch COVID, and I really don’t want to bring it home to Debbi. But I don’t want to work at home anymore, either. I think it’s been bad for my mental health.

It’s still kind of inconceivable to me how much the world has been upended by this. Even more so that there are idiots out there who resist getting vaccinated.

Anyway.

The work day was close to normal for a “coming back after a break” day. Our department has been doing office reshuffling (part of me internally chuckles at the thought that it’s been driving management crazy that we’ve gone almost 3 years without moving offices around), I got to meet some cow-orkers whom I hadn’t met in person before, and saw some folks I hadn’t interacted with much during the pandemic. I introduced at least two people to The Sandman thanks to the PVC figurines I have on my desk. We went to coffee. I made a guess at the cause of a low-information bug report which turned out to be correct (I’m always kind of amazed when I do this). And then I drove home.

For now I’m planning to go into the office at the minimum required rate (1 day a week to start), to see how things go with COVID rates. I think there’s going to be a total disconnect in my brain between the COVID risk and the enjoyment of being around my cow-orkers again. That’s pretty weird. But maybe we’ll be lucky and it will never get worse than weird.

Maybe we’ll get really lucky and we’ll have better vaccines by fall. Because better vaccines and better treatments are likely the only thing that will save us, at this point.

Main entrance to City Center 2

March 2022 Staycation

It’s hard to come up with journal titles sometimes since we’re, well, not going anywhere or doing a whole lot.

I took last week off from work. Since we are, again, not going anywhere, I’ve been accumulating vacation time steadily without the usual trips to spend it on. Originally 2020 was going to be a big vacation year for us, but that didn’t happen. Instead I’ve been taking off about one week each quarter, plus the occasional day off here and there. That’s basically burning my vacation time just slightly faster than I earn it.

Since we’ve been, you know, in the middle of a global pandemic, I probably should be taking the occasional sick day as a mental health day, but I haven’t been. Once we start going back to the office – which may happen soon – I’ll see how that goes and how I feel. I expect being around people will be good for my mental health, but being around people potentially carrying COVID-19 will be bad for my mental health. (I’m sure they’ll feel the same about me.)

Anyway, I spent the first half of the week mostly hanging around at home and doing some chores. For example, ordering some new eyeglasses, which I’ve been meaning to do for a while. Going to get coffee and hang out at Philz, whose closest location to home has a nice outdoor patio. We also got a good rain shower on Monday, which we really needed, and where I was able to do some yard maintenance ahead of the rain, such as laying down some plant food for various things.

Wednesday Debbi also took the day off and we went to breakfast at Stacks in Campbell, and swung by Recycle Bookstore. Then we went to Santa Cruz, where we went to Bookshop Santa Cruz and the Penny Ice Creamery, before driving over to look at the ocean. It was warm downtown, but cold and windy by the water! So we didn’t stay long.

The Penny Ice Creamery

Thursday I decided to drive up to San Francisco. When I got there, I found my car had hit a milestone:

Odometer reading 40002
Yes, the inside of my car is rather dusty

I went by Borderlands Books, where I found a few things. They haven’t changed a lot – other than a staffer I hadn’t seen before – but I think they’re hoping to move into their new space later this year. Then I went by Amoeba Music, mainly because I’ve wanted to pick up a copy of the new Jethro Tull album The Zealot Gene on CD. They didn’t have it, although they did have the ridiculous $120 vinyl/CD deluxe set, but I passed on that.

Visiting Amoeba brought back memories. I went to it and Rasputin in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Campbell many times in the ten or so years after I moved to the Bay Area in 1999. That was when I really got into progressive rock, and it was sort of the golden age of the compact disc, where companies which had issued half-assed versions of vinyl albums on CD in the 80s were reissuing them nice editions with full liner notes and many bonus tracks and other goodies during that period. Those stores were excellent for finding many CDs, including of the increasingly-obscure bands I was getting into – bands which wouldn’t be available via download for quite a few years. (I knew the tide had turned around 2009 when there was an album I could not find on CD, but which was available from the iTunes Store. This was the eponymous album by Days Before Tomorrow.)

Haight Street in SF was still fairly quirky at that time (although I’m sure nothing like it had been 30 or even 10 years earlier). I particularly remember one used bookstore with tall bookcases and similarly tall stacks of books on top of those cases. I don’t generally worry about earthquakes, but I was worried about being caught in those stacks if one hit San Francisco. That store and many others are long gone, and the remnants of quirky Haight Street are not interesting to me – and honestly, even the tattoo parlors are looking pretty upscale.

Amoeba, however, seems to have not changed at all. They still want you to check your bags at the front. They still have extensive new and used CD sections, and a large side room with DVDs and blu-rays. If much has changed, it’s a larger selection of vinyl, as well as some record players. And actually they have substantially improved their organization of artists with large catalogs so you don’t have to go searching through three rows of unsorted discs to find the one you want. I hope they’re doing okay.

Amoeba Music interior

I had lunch at a nice nearby sandwich place called Bite Me Sandwiches, even if I did have to sit on the sidewalk to eat it. (Thanks COVID!) Then I drove over to Green Apple Books, which I haven’t been to in forever. Apple Maps claimed that all their locations were permanently closed, which I was pretty sure was wrong, but which made it hard to figure out which one to go to. When I got there I filed a report through the app with a photo of their open front door and hours, and it got fixed the next day. Fight entropy, everyone!

Green Apple Books is one of those old-style “we’ve crammed a bookcase into every square inch of space” bookstores, with wood floors and writing on the shelves indicating what used to be on those shelves back in the 80s. Still, they have a fine selection of used science fiction in excellent condition, and I picked up a few books here, too.

By this time it was time to head out to beat rush hour traffic, which I mostly did, and I came home and collapsed for the day.

The rest of the week and weekend involved more chores and more hanging around. I was pleased to win my first trophy in a Magic Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty draft. And Saturday night we got together with neighbors at the nearby Sport Page bar for drinks and dinner. They upgraded their patio during COVID and it seems to have paid off for them. The only downside was that we got there halfway through the Duke/UNC Final Four game, which none of us cared about, but once it ended everyone cleared out. We had a good time hanging out, including with a couple of former neighbors we hadn’t seen in a while.

So it was a pretty good week, though it went by fast, and wasn’t as good as, say, going to Hawaii. We know many people who have been travelling, so maybe our turn will come sometime this year, too. Otherwise, I’ll probably be writing another staycation entry in three months.

The Warmest Winter

After a near-record wet November and December, we’ve now had a near-record dry January and February. We got a little rain last week, mixed in with a sudden cold snap with frost on my car several mornings. This is not especially unusually – we always have a little near-freezing overnight weather in the middle of winter, but not sandwiched by days with highs in the 70s.

Today was another such day which cracked 70F, and Debbi and I took the day off and drove over to Half Moon Bay. It was bright and sunny for a coastal walk, and then we had lunch at the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company, which was an impressively tasty and good-value-for-the-money establishment. (Okay, people outside the Bay Area might flinch at their prices, but trust me they are good for here.)

We got a little too much sun, but otherwise a fine day out. Nonetheless I’d be happy to have weeks of pouring rain in March or April. We need it.

Fifty-Three

My birthday was Sunday, the middle day of a long weekend for me, as Apple gives us Martin Luther King Day off.

(Growing up in Massachusetts, we got MLK Day off every year starting – as far as I can find – in 1975. As a result I got my birthday off from school a few extra times. True to form I was completely oblivious about why we got it off. In hindsight it’s pretty spectacular that MA started observing it so early.)

We had a pretty quiet weekend, which frankly was fine with me. We had originally planned to go over to the coast on Saturday, but the volcanic eruption near Tonga triggered a tsunami warning across the west coast, and we decided to bail on that plan. For me, less due to worry about the tsunami – which wasn’t expected to present a danger unless you got too close to the water’s edge – as wanting to avoid idiots flooding (heh) the coast to see the tsunami.

We did watch a whole lot of football, seeing the Patriots and Raiders lose, but the 49ers improbably win against the Cowboys. My feeling about the 2021 Patriots is very similar to the 2021 Red Sox – rebuilding teams that surprisingly made the playoffs, and unsurprisingly lost in the early rounds. And Niners I are in the middle of a “still in contention, but kind of rebuilding too” phase, and I don’t expect them to beat the Packers this weekend.

We also went out to eat three nights in a row (Fri/Sat/Sun), which was nice. All outdoor dining – I think we’ve (still) eaten indoors exactly once since the start of the pandemic – but we hit a few of our favorite restaurants downtown. Sadly my traditional birthday restaurant has apparently suspended outdoor dining for the winter – perhaps a bit short-sighted as we’re in the middle of warm spell, with highs getting into the 60s most days in the last week, and likely to stay warm through the end of the month.

Debbi didn’t have Monday off, so I spent part of the day watching TV. I finished The Expanse, which as a series was okay. Started weak, got better, got exciting when they finally got out of the solar system, but ended with a fairly dull set of in-system politics and combat. (I’m not really into near-future in-system SF, so I was really hoping for a big ramping-up of the sense of wonder once the ring gate opened.) I thought most of the characters were pretty weak – especially nominal protagonist James Holden – so I wasn’t very invested in what happened to many of them. Overall, it was okay, but not something I’m likely to rewatch (unlike Babylon 5 and parts of Battlestar Galactica). I guess it only adapts the first six books, so there are three more they could do if someone else picks it up.

Anyway.

Three years in, my fifties feel like a blur. My face is getting those lines of middle age, with an annoying vertical one between my eyebrows. My knees are getting a little creaky, although they’ve been doing a good job lately where running is concerned. (A little weird to think that they’ve been holding up better through running than they did when I was biking regularly.) On the bright side, I still have all my hair, and most of it is still brown!

But time is starting to pass faster. The pandemic is obviously affecting all of this to a fairly large degree. I’m not a big traveler, but there are a few places I’d like to visit. I haven’t spent as much time with my friends lately as I’d like. It feels like everything is on hold, and is going to keep being on hold indefinitely.

Anyway, it was a good birthday, under the circumstances. I get a little less enthusiastic about my birthday each year, but I do look forward to the day that I can have people over to celebrate it again, someday.

2021 in the Rear View

Overall, 2021 was a step down from 2020 for me, which is saying something since 2020 featured the outbreak of a global pandemic, and living the whole year not knowing if you’d catch COVID and die or end up with lifelong health problems.

2021 did have a few good points. First, the U.S. government transitioned from being run by racist, fascist, corrupt, incompetent Republicans to being run by garden-variety politician Democrats, which has been a huge step up. Also, COVID vaccines got rolled out, considerably lowering worry for many people about getting seriously sick or dying from COVID.

On the other hand, COVID has continued to mutate (and will continue to do so, probably forever), so it’s unclear when or if the pandemic will ever end. And those same shit-for-brains Republicans have continued their efforts to topple American democracy, as well as spreading lies about the vaccines which have resulted in a third of the country not getting vaccinated – making it even less clear whether the pandemic will ever end.

And that’s just the big picture.

For me personally, 2021 was a rough year. As I’ve said before, I hate working from home, I hate not having my work and home lives separated, I hate not seeing my friends and cow-orkers regularly, I hate all of it. Vaccinations have helped, as we’ve been able to see some friends sometimes, but it’s a band-aid. It’s been a long slog, and it’s gradually getting harder for me to keep slogging. And we surely have at least another year of this to go.

Last year we lost our elderly cat Roulette, but also very suddenly lost our other girl kitty Sadie. Those were a couple of big blows to take in the space of just a few months. I still miss Sadie coming to tuck us in at night.

We’ve had a couple of unexpected big stressors, too. I don’t often mention our vacation house on the east coast, but the insurance company told us we need to replace the house’s siding to retain coverage. We decided to also replace the windows which were in bad condition, but once the siding was off we ended up in an ongoing cascade of additional things to fix (for example, the bathroom needed to be gutted for multiple reasons). Debbi has been handling most of this, and the contractor we’re working with has been great, but it’s still been an ongoing project with many decisions and no small expense. (And doing all of these remotely has been about as convenient as you’d expect.)

And then just before New Year’s my Dad fell, and while he didn’t sustain serious injury (for instance, he didn’t hit his head), he did end up going to the hospital. Coincidentally my sister was there and was able to help. But we’re still waiting to hear what the road forward looks like, and I imagine it will involve me flying back east during the winter or spring to help out, which is of course exactly what I want to do during a pandemic.

Last and probably least, we almost made it a whole calendar year without ants coming into the house. Fortunately the exterminator was able to come out and do a perimeter spray within just a few days, so the ants are gone. (I really, really hate ants inside my house. It’s not a phobia, but it makes my skin crawl.)

This past weekend we took down our Christmas tree and about half of our fairly ludicrous outdoor light display, marking the end of another holiday season. It’s always a melancholy moment for me, moreso these days since I take a lot of nighttime walks and now the lights I look at are coming down.

Another year of this. Maybe more.

It’s getting harder.

Christmas Munchies

Debbi’s eye was better yesterday, but still bothering her a fair bit. We had plans to have dinner with neighbors and were on the fence about going, since we didn’t know how many people would be there and it didn’t seem like a great idea to mingle with a group of people we didn’t know in these days of Omicron. Eventually Debbi decided to stay home since she didn’t feel up to socializing with a group of people, and I decided to go.

While this was arguably a poor choice, it turns out we had misunderstood the plans, and in fact we were the only people invited, so Debbi ended up coming after all, and we had a nice afternoon feast with the neighbors. They’re Swedish and their family celebrates Christmas on Christmas Eve, including a large meal followed by opening gifts. So we met their kids, and their dog and cats, and all had a good time. All of the humans are vaccinated, so it was probably about as safe as these things get these days.

In the evening we indulged our annual tradition of driving around to view Christmas lights. This was a lot of fun except for the one popular street in Palo Alto which is always overrun with cars and was as bad this year as ever. On the other hand a well-known street in Los Altos was nearly empty when we drove through.

This morning we got up in time for Debbi to take a video call from her parents, followed by her baking homemade cinnamon rolls she’d prepared the night before – one of our newer traditions. We opened gifts (the kittens were thrilled with the wrapping paper), I talked to my dad, and we spent a lot of time sitting on the couches. Then we went for our traditional midday walk, where we got rained on (which is also sort of a tradition).

I cooked my traditional dinner – meatloaf and potatoes gratin – and as also seems to have become a tradition, some of the meat I bought on Wednesday had spoiled and I had to run out and buy more ground chuck. It took longer to make than I’d expected, but it turned out yummy in the end.

I went for another walk after dinner, where I walked through a short but very windy rainstorm, and now we’re sitting on the couch (again!) watching Knives Out on television, with passed out cats around us. And happily Debbi’s eye is feeling much better today!

Holiday Update

Apple closes down its corporate operations between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. I added a couple of days to either end of the break to give myself just over 2 weeks off, starting yesterday. And just in time, because I was pretty much out of gas a week ago.

So what’s new?

Debbi and I got our COVID booster shots in early December, which was a relief. The sites around here to make reservations are all terrible, especially the ones for pharmacies which require you to answer a long list of questions before telling you there are no appointments available. We tried a drop-in clinic near our house but the wait was at least an hour. It’s been bad. A friend says that Stanford Health has been a good experience – it’s just about the only site I didn’t try.

I’ve actually had 7 vaccine shots this year: 3 COVID, 1 tetanus, 1 influenza, and two shingles shots. I had negligible effects from all of them, except for the shingles shots, each of which took me out of work for the next day. It wasn’t a horrible experience (I have friends who said they were flattened for several days, especially after the second shot), but it was a bit rough.

Meanwhile, Debbi has been having occasional eye problems, which came to a head this morning and turned out – after a trip to the ophthalmologist – to be a bad case of dry eye, essentially her eyelid chafing on her eyeball. She’s slowly getting better, but it’s been a rough day for her. We’re glad it turned out to be a common and easily treatable problem and not something exotic or chronic.

We put up our outdoor Christmas lights the weekend after Thanksgiving, over 3 days. It’s getting a bit harder to put up the lights each year – for me, anyway, as I go up and down the ladder – so spreading it out over 2-3 days is nice. We’ve been seeing more and more lights going up around the neighborhood each year, which is nice. We probably have one of the larger displays – especially since we don’t have any inflatables – but we don’t compete with anyone. We just do what we want to do.

But then we started to get rain last week – our first rain since the big storms back in late October – and the circuit breaker for our lights started tripping. Strange since that’s almost never happened in the 10 years we’ve been putting up lights here. I had figured I’d need to unplug things to systematically figure out where the problem is, but as it turns out I went out to rake along the boxwood yesterday afternoon, and decided to raise up the net lights on those bushes so they weren’t so low to the ground, and the breaker didn’t trip during the showers last night. So maybe that was it somehow. Who knows.

We also put up the (artificial) Christmas tree, which delighted the kittens, who have been happily playing under it (and one time in it) since then. Until.

So Debbi’s wanted to replace our laundry baskets for a while, but we haven’t been able to find stackable baskets which fit in the space we have for them in the stores we’ve checked in the area. So she finally ordered them from Amazon. And they arrived.

In. Four. Separate. Boxes.

Obviously Amazon’s packing machines don’t have the concept of stacking four laundry baskets in a single box, they just grabbed each one, packed it in its own box, filled the extra space with brown paper, and shipped it to it. (It’s entirely possible that humans did this but didn’t notice the full order – possibly because depending on how the system works, four different people might have packed the four baskets.)

Anyway, aside from four large boxes (promptly recycled), we also ended up with a huge amount of brown packing paper, which drove all three cats bonkers for a couple of days, even Jackson, which has been pretty hilarious. And it’s distracted them from the tree.

(I imagine the pandemic is really testing the efficacy of our recycling programs, since our household is generating at least 50% more paper recycling than before the pandemic. No doubt many households are generating even more.)

We are not going away for the holidays again, and wouldn’t be even if Omicron hadn’t reared its ugly head. (Omicron looks like it should substantially accelerate the endgame of every human on Earth contracting COVID in the next few years, so that’s fun.) Hopefully next summer we’ll feel safe enough to go visit our families for the first time in over two years, but we’ll see.

Anyway, over the next couple of weeks I plan to have some downtime, do some house chores, hang out with Debbi, and get some kitty snuggles. The rain is supposed to stick around through early next week, which is nice – not only do we need it (ho boy do we need it) but I love rain. In particular it looks like it’s going to be a Wet Christmas, just like the song says.

Memory Lane: Audio Equipment

Earlier this year I finally got rid of something I’d owned for over 30 years, an Aiwa AD-WX808 dual cassette deck.

Growing up my parents – well, really my dad – had a component stereo system with a record player, receiver, and speakers. At some point one of them bought me an all-in-one record player/radio/tape deck which I used through high school. I remember the first LP I bought was the Return of the Jedi soundtrack. And during high school I bought a lot of 45 RPM singles, and a few LPs. As I say occasionally, I wasn’t really into 80s music, so I was more likely to have MTV or a local radio station on in the background than listen to music that I owned. I also had a few Walkman and competing products for playing tapes and listening to the radio, which I used pretty regularly. And at some point we got a boombox which we mostly used downstairs.

All this largely changed in college, when I discovered 60s and 70s rock music. My gateway drug – oddly enough – was Styx, but I soon moved on to The Who and various progressive rock groups. A guy down the hall from me had a boom box with a compact disc player, and I bought a few CDs that year.

That summer – 1988 – I researched and bought my own component stereo system. If I recall correctly, I bought the four components at two now-defunct stores, Lechmere and Tweeter. Tweeter was an audiophile store and they recommended a receiver and speaker set, while at Lechmere I bought a CD player, and the Aiwa tape deck. I shlepped this set back and forth between home in Massachusetts and college in New Orleans every year, first by shipping everything (along with my Macintosh SE) – amazingly nothing ever got damaged – and in 1990 by driving them in my new (to me, it was a 1987 Honda Civic) car. The Aiwa tape deck was great for copying tapes that for some reason I didn’t have on CD, and its recording quality was quite good (or maybe my hearing is just bad, hard to say). The going rate for a component stereo at the time was around $300 per piece, so I probably spent $1,200 on the whole system. Seems kind of ridiculous today, when you can buy a powerful laptop computer for less.

Over the next ten years I bought hundreds of CDs – and custom-built cases to hold them. My car also had a tape deck, and I regularly put together mix tapes to listen to in the car, while I usually listened to whole albums at home. At some point I replaced the CD player with a 5-disc changer. I remember there were also 6-to-12 disc “magazine” models, which were supposedly less reliable. In hindsight I bet that was technically true, but probably not enough to matter.

(My vinyl records from high school didn’t make the transition to the new media era, but there wasn’t much there I missed. I’ve always thought vinyl was a cumbersome and mediocre media format anyway. CDs are a thousand times better.)

At some point I bought a Discman, and an adaptor to be able to use it through the tape player in my car, but portable CD players were pretty clunky and skipped easily (this got better over time, but was never great), so I didn’t use it a lot.

Of course, all this changed again between 2001 and 2003 with the advent of iTunes, iPods, and eventually iPhones. I ripped all my CDs into iTunes – several times as the encoding tech got better, actually. I kept the CD player for a long time, but it didn’t get much use after that. I did buy a new receiver and speakers since the old ones were nearing the end of their lives. Once I bought some Airport base stations for wi-fi in my house, I connected one of them to the receiver and then if I wanted to listen to my music library I would play it from my laptop to the receiver. I also played our television’s sound through the receiver.

In 2009 I bought a new LCD television with much better sound, and then using the receiver for the TV sound was just a pain in the ass. We still used it for the radio, until 2017 or so when Debbi got a Google Home and we started using that instead since it was so convenient. A few years later we bought a HomePod, and the Google Home took an accidental spill onto the floor and never recovered. The HomePod’s radio streaming capabilities were a bit iffy at first but they’ve gotten a lot better.

A few years ago I went through my CDs – which had been sitting in boxes since we moved to our current house in 2011 – and sold over two thirds of them to Rasputin Music, getting quite a bit more cash for them than I’d expected. I kept some by my favorite bands, and have bought a few more since – maybe three or four per year, many of them the spiffy remastered editions of Jethro Tull‘s albums. But usually I just rip them and put them in a bookcase. At time point if I do another purge I assume I’ll just throw them out unless it turns out some of them have significant resale value on eBay. I got rid of one of the custom-built cases, and the other is sitting in the garage holding random crap.

Anyway, I kept the Aiwa tape deck for years, planning to eventually digitize a number of old audiotapes I have, most of them bootleg concert recordings that I bought at the Cape Cod flea market in the late 1980s. In particular, a few Jethro Tull (that name again!) concerts which are quite good. But I never got around to it. I did loan the unit to a friend who wanted to digitize some cassettes that he owned, though. Otherwise it’s mostly sat in a closet, literally gathering dust from the pan of cat litter in the same closet.

Finally I decided that I was just never going to use that unit to perform the digitizing – who knows if it even works anymore? Instead I bought a handheld unit from Amazon which I’ll use sometime (if I can remember where I stored the cassettes), and dropped the Aiwa unit off at the e-waste center.

There’s always some old junk lying around to get rid of. We hang on to things because we think it might still be useful, or because we have fond memories of using it, or because we can’t be bothered to get rid of it. Or all three. But for most things, sooner or later its time comes.