Welcome Simon & Edison

Did you ever find yourself mostly stuck at home for months on end and think to yourself, “This would be an excellent time to adopt some kittens”?

Well, we are, and so we did. Meet Simon and Edison!

Simon is the brown tabby, while Edison is the black fellow.

We met them because one of my cow-orkers was fostering them, and we went over to visit a few weeks ago (pretty much the only people we’ve visited indoors since shelter-in-place started in March), and we thought they were pretty adorable. But, color-wise, they fit in with our three current cats, Roulette (calico), Jackson (gray tabby with white), and Sadie (white with orange tabby markings). And they had fun, playful personalities. So we decided to adopt them!

They are not brothers – Edison is about a week older than Simon according to their records, and they’re about two and a half months old. Simon has had a rough first couple of months, with some sort of bug that suppressed his appetite, and a foxtail or something in his right eye which left an ulcer. But he seems to have recovered from both, and is a little behind Edison in size and weight.

We brought them home two Mondays ago, and they’ve been mostly confined to a bedroom since then. And holy cow they are just about the most high-energy kittens we’ve ever had, other than maybe Blackjack. They zoom around their room and play and play and play. They’re changing practically every day, learning to jump higher, complaining that I’m not scooping their litter enough (we put a larger tray in the room after a couple of accidents), finding their meows, learning to snuggle, learning to clean themselves. Some switch flipped in Simon a couple of days ago and he’s become a lot more assertive, which has been adorable.

We’ve given them some supervised access to the rest of the upstairs, which they find delightful. They’re also very interested in the big cats, though only Jackson is interested in them so far, and somewhat cautiously, although we’ve played with all of them at the same time. Sadie will get a glimpse of them and then run away, while Roulette doesn’t like the cats we already had and I think is in denial that we have more.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t all been fun and games.

We took them in for their first appointment with our vet, for which they did very well. Both have put on a bunch of weight since they arrived (Simon is going to be a roly-poly guy, while Edison is going to be long and lean). That’s good, but less good is that they both have upper respiratory infections, and also conjunctivitis (or something like it). So we get to give them both meds for the next week and a half, and have to keep them separated from the other cats – and likely also change our clothes when we visit them – to keep the others from getting infected (especially Roulette, who will be 17 later this month; Jackson and Sadie are 7 and can probably deal with an infection if they contract it). Aside from the hassle for us and the disappointment for the kittens, it also means it will be a couple of weeks at least before we can start integrating the household.

Hopefully we’ll all come out the other side okay, but it wasn’t a great start to the long weekend.

As for the names? I’ve had “Edison” in my back pocket for decades waiting for the right cat, and I think this is the right one. We talked through a bunch of other names and both liked Simon. Of course, these are my fourth and fifth cats whose names end in “-on” (Jefferson, Newton, Jackson), so next time we’ll have to add a little more variety. But I think these names suit these kitties.

So despite the speed bumps, we’re very excited about these new additions. I’ve felt since they arrived like these are exactly the kittens we were meant to have.

COVID-19’s Darker Timeline

People sometimes joke (well, maybe they’re not joking) that this is “the darkest timeline”, between COVID-19, the idiots in the White House, the idiots in 10 Downing Street, etc. But it’s easy to imagine the development of COVID-19 taking even darker turns. I think about this sometimes, and wanted to write down some of my thoughts.

This is going to be a pretty dark post, so if this isn’t your thing, then you should skip it.

I have two what-ifs for you, one building on the other, and some thoughts on how they might go:

1) What if we never develop a vaccine?

This is possible. We’ve never developed a vaccine for the common cold, which can be caused by coronaviruses. We don’t yet know whether COVID-19 can be vaccinated against, and we probably won’t know for a year, if not several years.

What does it mean if we can’t develop a vaccine? Well, it means that almost everyone in the world will eventually contract the virus, which at a 1% fatality rate means that about 70 million people will die worldwide, 3.5 million in the United States, and many more will have serious health problems, probably for the rest of their lives. (I don’t know what percentage of infected survive but develop such problems.) I don’t think humans have the will to be able to go into the long-term total lockdown that would be necessary to prevent this.

It also seems likely that immunity to the virus provided by recovering from it won’t last forever – maybe it would last for 2-5 years. So if there’s no vaccine, then everyone who contracts it and recovers would contract it again a few years later. People who got seriously ill the first time around might not survive the second time, raising the fatality rate. And maybe people who came through fairly easily the first time would have a harder time the next time. Or the next. We might each of us end up living in fear of the day that the virus eventually hits us hard.

Moreover, we know that older people are more susceptible to the virus than younger ones, so as we age we may be aware that the next time we catch it could be the last time. People who before were expecting to live to age 70 or 80 might start thinking they’ll live 10 or 15 fewer years – and most of them might be right.

What might such a world look like? Well, we might just decide that since there’s nothing we can do, we’ll just go back to living the way we did before. Maybe we’d ramp up medical services to ameliorate the impact on individuals, but maybe not. (Many nations probably wouldn’t be able to. Some nations might not have the political will to do so.)

Alternately we might continue the lockdown for years, or forever, altering the way the economy works to accommodate. Office buildings would largely be a thing of the past, as would restaurants as we know them and many other social gatherings. Lots of things would move online further. We’d probably see a gradual reshaping of our cities and suburbs along lines it’s difficult to predict – more single-family homes? Fewer? No mass transit? As some have already predicted, people who work in jobs where they can telecommute would no longer be motivated to live near work, and housing prices in places like the Bay Area might plummet as people leave. On the other hand, jobs where people need to interact with other people might become less desirable – but no less critical. Maybe they’d start to pay better as a result.

Some people have already clamored for Internet to be classified as an essential service, regulated or free. That might be a necessity in such a world, but of course the need for medical care hasn’t prevented the U.S. from developing a for-profit health care system where people get raked over the financial coals for essential care. So Internet service might be no different. And even if it is, providing quality Internet service across as large a nation as the U.S. would take time, as many rural areas still have poor service.

If this were to continue into the future, one can imagine significant investments in robotic technology and other automation to serve people who are mostly living in their homes. Automated production, packaging, and delivery, overseen by a bare minimum of people. Restructuring of infrastructure around this sort of life, where cities have automated distribution centers and roads get narrower and mainly used by robots. At an extreme there’s the cheesy science-fictional idea where humanity becomes slaves to our machines, letting our physical bodies atrophy as we’re all living alone in our own homes without the interest in going anywhere. (Much like the “Seerons” in this comic book.)

But I digress. Maybe.

2) What if the virus mutates?

From what I’ve read, COVID-19 is not mutating very quickly. The reason we need to get a flu shot every year is because influenza mutates rapidly, so there are new strained every year. Fortunately we do a pretty good job creating influenza vaccines, though it’s not perfect. COVID-19 doesn’t seem to have this characteristic, and the strains we’re aware of seem to be closely related.

However, we could be wrong about how fast it’s mutating. Alternately, it might start to mutate faster. Either way, it might become more virulent, or more fatal, and mutations might also mean the temporary immunity gained from contracting one strain wouldn’t provide any immunity from another strain.

This isn’t necessarily game over for the human race. If the virus doesn’t become more fatal then it would just be a rougher form of the scenario above. If it does become more fatal, though, well… it probably means mass deaths, close to an extinction-level event. Our only hope as a species then is that it kills so many people that it kills off its ability to spread, and a few pockets of uninfected humans manage to survive long enough to restart the species, without being infected by the remnants of the virus left elsewhere. This is sort of how Europe survived the Black Death – exactly how things play out depends on how fatal the virus becomes.

A cheery picture, yes?

And so:

How likely is all this? Heck if I know. Probably not very likely. I choose to be optimistic that we will develop a vaccine, and that at worst we’ll all be getting an extra shot every year or two to stave off the virus. While it could take longer than the 18 month minimum, supposedly we were close to developing a vaccine for the 2012-13 MERS outbreak before it was determined to be much less virulent than feared and research funding petered out. If so, then hopefully we’ll be able to develop one for COVID-19.

Everyone keep your fingers crossed.

The Spread of the Virus

As I write this (and I say this mainly for posterity, not for anyone who reads this in the next few days), we’re about 5 months into the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, and over 3 months into the shelter-in-place measures which have closed down much of the economy.

Just under 110,000 Americans have died from the virus, with about 2 million having tested positive. However, testing in the U.S. has been woefully inadequate, due in large part to the inaction of the Racist Impeached President Trump administration – since usually government action and coordination is key in driving nationwide efforts to deal with an emergency – so its likely far more people have been infected. A case fatality rate of 1% means that about 11 million people – around 3% – of the population has been infected. Adjust accordingly if you believe the fatality rate is actually higher (which would be bad) or lower (which would be good, but still pretty bad even at 0.5%).

In other words, the pandemic is a long, long way from being over.

Despite this, the nation is starting to “open up”. It differs by state – some states never really entered full ‘lockdown’ – but even California is allowing outdoor dining at restaurants, retail is reopening, and I think we’re on the cusp of hair and nail and similar stores reopening. (I honestly haven’t been following the details that closely as there are some businesses I just don’t plan to visit any time soon.)

We’ve also had the Black Lives Matter protests – as well as some other, smaller (and in some cases far stupider) gatherings – over the last few weeks, where mask wearing has been haphazard and physical distancing difficult or impossible.

COVID-19 has a gestation time of about 2 weeks, which means right about now we’d expect to be seeing additional cases, but it’s difficult to be sure due to the poor testing. The number of new cases reported nationally has been going down very slowly, but it’s going up in some states such as California and Texas. It’s hard to know whether this is due to more cases, or more testing. This is one reason that I look to the death rate rather than the reported case rate. We’ll probably know a lot more by the end of July, unfortunately in the form of a spike in deaths (or not).


The question I keep coming back to is: How many people will get the virus before we develop immunity?

Some people have advocated letting the virus run its course through the population for us to develop herd immunity. But if it takes at least 70% of the country catching the virus to develop herd immunity, that means 230 million people. And that means between 1 million and 4 million deaths – maybe more, if the medical infrastructure gets overwhelmed. Sweden elected not to enact significant social changes and it hasn’t been going well for them. The other issue with this approach is that we don’t yet know whether people who catch and then recover from the virus end up with durable immunity, and many people who survive have significant health problems. So it’s a painful and risky approach.

(When I’ve occasionally butted heads with someone who thinks herd immunity is the way to go, I’ve noted that they should be prepared to say goodbye to between 1 and 5 of every hundred people they know. This goes over about as well as you’d expect.)

Most experts think we’ll need to develop a vaccine. Putting aside the question of whether we can develop a vaccine (which we don’t yet know one way or the other), experts agree that it will take at least 18 months to develop a vaccine which we know works and is safe (i.e., that won’t kill or injure the people who get it) and it could take 3-to-4 years.

So even if we continue to impose physical distancing and masks and other measures, how many people are going to end up catching the virus anyway in that time? If 11 million people have been infected so far, that probably means 33 million by the end of the year, and double that before a vaccine is developed, assuming it’s developed in the 18-month window and is rolled out more-or-less instantaneously. 66 million a lot less than 230 million, but still a lot of deaths.

But now the country is starting to re-open, which means more people may be infected, at a faster rate. Humans are social animals, and our economy and social structures are based around getting together in groups. And it’s just very, very hard for humans as a group to make significant sacrifices over a long period of time to combat an emergency. Historically – for example, during war – this behavior is reinforced through strong leadership at many levels, but especially driven from a unifying force at the top. The United States obviously doesn’t have that – we have the opposite of that – and the mid-level leaders such as the governors don’t have the social capital to maintain this level of sacrifice indefinitely.

I don’t think it’s necessarily impossible to find a way to start re-opening and country safely, but I don’t think the people motivating the re-opening are interested in “safely”, they’re just interested in “re-opening”. So I believe things are going to continue to open up, and then the virus will spread faster, people will get sick and die, medical facilities will be overwhelmed, and things will get worse.

I could be wrong. There are a lot of things we don’t know (for example, maybe face masks are a magic bulletif we can convince people to use them). But based on what we know so far, I think it’s going to be a long summer, possibly leading into a painful autumn.

We’re much closer to the beginning of this than the end.

Three Months Inside

A week or so ago marked three months since I started working from home, and just a little less than that since the Bay Area started its shelter-in-place policy. Debbi started working from home about a week after I did.

As I’ve chronicled, it was rough for the first few weeks, some better than others, but we’ve mostly gotten used to it.

We were doing “happy hour” video chats with friends for the first few weeks, but those have tailed off, though we did one with some neighbors and some former neighbors last weekend. We’ve also done some in-the-driveway evening drinks with other neighbors, using our six-foot folding table to separate us. Sadly, they’re going to be moving at the end of this month, as their landlords wanted to raise their rent, and they found a place closer to where they work. We’re going to miss them. I think their landlords may be in for a surprise, as there are a couple of vacant rental homes in our neighborhood.

The county has been gradually opening things up. Construction started up again a few weeks ago, and the house across the street from us has gone from little more than a foundation to the plywood exterior going up. Other new construction is moving along, too.

Over the last few days, retail businesses are opening up as well. Diamond comics distributors had closed for several weeks, which meant no comic books, but they’re ramping up again and I’ve driven down to pick up my books at the curb the last couple of weeks. Supposedly I’ll be able to go into the store tomorrow – with up to four other people so long as we distance ourselves. Restaurants and game stores and other retail are also opening up – we picked up lunch today and saw a few people eating at outdoor tables at downtown restaurants. Ditto when I picked up coffee today. Meanwhile, the city may close the main street downtown to allow restaurants to set up seating there. (By the time I publish this, the city council will probably already have voted.)

Is it too early? My gut says ‘yes’, but a lot depends on whether the measures to keep people separate work. I do most of the shopping for us – Debbi comes with me to the farmers market on Sunday, and not much else – and what I see is pretty iffy. Safeway supermarkets aren’t very diligent about enforcing masks, distancing, or the one-way arrows in their aisles. I encounter lots of clueless people. By contrast, I went to Costco this morning for the first time since shelter-in-place and it was smooth: Everyone was let in promptly at 10 am, everyone wore masks, almost everyone was keeping their distance. Granted, it was a Tuesday morning and not a Saturday afternoon, but it made me hopeful. I also went to the nursery to get some pots and plants and it was great too. (In case you’re wondering why I wasn’t at work, I took the day off.)

We’ve had a couple of heat waves in the last few weeks – it got over 90° today – and we’ve been glad of our air conditioning. On the other hand, it got cold over the weekend. Strange days in more ways than one.

We’ve been cleaning up our study, buying new furniture and making it a more usable space, and getting rid of a lot of stuff (like, two bankers’ boxes worth of paperwork from my late mother). I’ll likely do an entry about it when we’re all done, but progress has been going pretty well, just more work than I’d expected.

On another front, we’re thinking of getting kittens, since if we’re home all the time it seems like the perfect time to have kittens. And frankly, Jackson and Sadie (who turn 8 this fall) really need and deserve kittens. On the other hand, Roulette (who turns 17 next month) didn’t like these kittens, and has gradually been showing her age. Last night she peed on our bed, though it may have been because we’d closed the door to kick Jackson out so she couldn’t get to the litter. So, I don’t know. I don’t want to have her slowly decline and end up waiting 2 years, either.

So, it’s been a time. I know lots of people have had it a lot harder than we have, even people with jobs, and maybe we’re lucky we haven’t caught COVID-19 (or maybe we have – who knows?). In two weeks Apple has its developers conference, which ought to be an odd experience as an entirely-remote affair.

Now that summer is here we’re gently mourning our vacation plans for the year, which included visiting family, going to Hawaii, and maybe to Las Vegas. But I doubt there will be any non-essential travel in our future for at least a year (and, frankly, any essential travel probably won’t be for happy reasons, if it happens).

I imagine these entries start to sound like a broken record after a while, but so it goes when you’re mostly at home. I hope everyone reading this is doing as well, or even better.

Black Lives Matter

I was thinking that it was past time to provide a personal update about living during the pandemic, but something more important has obviously come up, the protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd.

Make no mistake, I support these protests. Like many, I worry that it will hasten the second wave of the COVID-19 outbreak, but I can’t in good conscience judge the protestors’ actions in this regard. Institutional racism has been holding down the country for centuries – literally centuries – and Racist Impeached President Trump has emboldened the plainer variety of racists for many years. The lives and well-being of millions of people are at stake, regardless of the pandemic.

The protests have been mixed with a dose of rioting as well, but it seems clear to me that the rioters were a combination of right-ring agitators trying to cast the protestors in a bad light, and opportunistic looters. In the last week peaceful protests have continued to grow – spreading across the world – while the rioting and looting has declined.

It’s been delightful seeing our Coward-in-Chief flailing around, talking tough while hiding behind ever-growing fencing between the White House and the rest of Washington, DC. And a smattering of his racist party showing their true colors, such as Boy Blunder Senator Tom Cotton’s New York Times op-ed calling for Trump to send in the troops against American citizens, which led to the Times editorial page editor resigning. (Honestly, what good is the Times these days? They seem like little more than apologists for the Trumpists.)

Far less delightful has been protests against police brutality being met with waves of police brutality. The latest news are people calling to “defund the police”. I don’t know what the answer is here, but the status quo clearly isn’t it.

I live in the suburbs and though a couple of neighboring cities have had some surprisingly-large protests, mine hasn’t. There were some curfews in nearby cities and a neighboring county, and there was at least one ugly incident in nearby San Jose. Across the country, though, science fiction & mystery bookstore Uncle Hugo’s & Uncle Edgar’s was burned to the ground in the Minneapolis riots, while fellow Twin Cities store Dreamhaven (which I’ve actually patronized) was vandalized. Moreover, the offices of one of my favorite Magic podcasts, Good Luck High Five, was damaged in a fire and I don’t think they’ve yet been able to access it to find out what state it’s in.

If this sounds like a “but” to my original statement of support, it’s not. It’s an accounting of some of the things that I’ve noted during the protests. There are many others, such as the arrests of the officers involved in the Floyd killing, and I hope we’ll see more people called to account for the attacks on the protesters.

But I do hope this leads to change. Fast change, slow change, durable and systemic change. I realize that I’m at the high end of the privilege scale in this country, but I recognize that this change needs to happen. I believe that we – individually and as a nation – are better off when we all are able to thrive.

And in order to get there, we need to understand, and act on the understanding, that black lives matter.

Star Trek: Discovery: Seasons 1 & 2

If Picard represented a brave new world of solid storytelling for Star Trek after more than 35 years, Discovery is, well, the same old thing, lightly refurbished to meet modern dramatic television sensibilities. Since I subscribed to CBS All Access to watch Picard, I decided to give Discovery another try, despite the first episode having been so bad that I mocked it live on Twitter.

Overall the show is, well, better than that first episode, but not very good. The first season is very hard going, partly focused around a war with the Klingons, but also spending several episodes in a strange digression. The second season is more coherent and generally improved, but still kind of disappointing. The general feel of the series is one of flamboyant and nonsensical plotting, without much of a message. The characters are generally pretty flat. Overall it feels very much of a piece with NextGen and the later series, albeit with a rougher edge, but that’s not really a good thing.

Lots more – with spoilers – after the cut:

Continue reading “Star Trek: Discovery: Seasons 1 & 2”

Trying the Official Twitter App

(This post is an adaptation of a Twitter thread I wrote on the subject last night.)

A few days ago I decided to try out the official Twitter app for macOS and iOS. Twitter has been slowly cutting back support for third party apps, so I was curious whether their app was any better than what I’m currently using.

For me, the answer is… a little yes, a lot of no.

For a while Twitter had dropped their macOS app entirely, but the Mac Catalyst technology prompted them to port their iOS app to the Mac. I probably wouldn’t have tried this experiment otherwise.

My current Twitter client on both platforms is Tweetbot, which is great, and would probably be even more great if Twitter weren’t slowly crippling it by cutting back on what third party clients can do with their APIs.

Here’s what I thought of the official clients, across both platforms:

The Good

  • Being able to see the count of responses and likes to a tweet (the “ratio”) is nice. Tweetbot shows like count but not retweet count, presumably because Twitter’s API doesn’t provide it.
  • Being able to see polls inline is very nice. I often see tweets where someone asks a question and I just respond, and sometime later realize it’s a poll.

    I believe Tweetbot can’t show polls due to Twitter’s API deficiency. I always have to open a poll in a browser to vote.
  • Pinned lists are very nice, probably the one feature I don’t think Tweetbot really has which I wasn’t expecting and immediately found useful.
  • The bookmarks system looks nice, but I haven’t really used it. I had no idea it exists. Presumably because Twitter’s API doesn’t vend it for third-party clients.

The Odd

  • The iOS client has a sidebar which is just the search field and “what’s happening”. Not very useful. I miss the responses sidebar from Tweetbot.(Which used to also show most notifications until Twitter’s API dropped support for that.)

    So I mostly hid the search bar in my trial. Which was weird because then the timeline doesn’t get any wider, it’s the same width with a whole bunch of whitespace on either side, and no way to adjust it. Seems like poor design.
  • Tweetbot has a nifty muting system where you can choose where people are muted (everywhere, only in lists, etc.). I use this a lot to manage my lists, following people and then muting them in my timeline but not elsewhere. I was concerned the Twitter wouldn’t give me that control, but muting only mutes from the main timeline, so it’s fine, but took some trial and error to figure out. I’m not sure whether more fine-grained control here is something I’d need.
  • It’s annoying that I can’t (AFAICT) mute individual accounts for limited periods of time like in Tweetbot – that functionality only seems to be available for keywords. I use this a fair bit (e.g., if someone is going on about some subject I don’t care about in volume I’ll mute them for a day), so I would probably miss it at some points.
  • Tweetbot seems to have its own separate mute list data, so I had to go through and re-mute dozens of people. I don’t know whether this is because of Tweetbot’s richer muting system, or a deficiency in Twitter’s API. But it was annoying.

The Bad

  • The client doesn’t show me the number of unread tweets for my main timeline or whatever list I’m viewing. I missed this a lot.
  • The client doesn’t keep my reading spot in lists. So at some point when I open a list it will scroll me to the top, no matter how many tweets in the list I haven’t read yet. This is extremely annoying and on its own almost enough to send me back to Tweetbot.
  • It seems my reading spot in lists and the main timeline are not synced among my various devices. This is also extremely annoying, as scrolling down to find where I’d last been reading is not really feasible.
  • Sometimes when I come back to Twitter after a while away (such as overnight), the client shows a “Show more tweets” prompt above my last spot in my timeline, but clicking it almost always shows me the newest tweet in the gap, not the oldest, so I have to scroll back down to get to where I was.
  • The threading in the client is nice in some scenarios, but pretty annoying when scrolling upwards, to see the most recent tweets in a thread first (i.e., at the bottom). This seems like a poorly-thought-out user experience. It would make sense if one scrolled down to get to the latest items in one’s timeline (which, TBH, is kind of what I want anyway, but they’re never going to do that).
  • The notification system is pretty annoying, as it supplies a lot of customizability but most of it I don’t want. I pretty quickly figured it would just be easier to deny it notification privileges at the system level. This needs some user-quality-of-life evaluation to simplify these settings, probably cutting about 75% of them.
  • Holy cow there are a lot of ads, excuse me, “sponsored tweets”. I felt like I saw 2x-5x more ads on Twitter than on Facebook. Tweetbot shows me none of this nonsense (which is presumably why Twitter doesn’t want you using third-party clients).

    Ads might be more bearable if I could assign them a different background color or something.
  • There’s no way in the app that I can find to set a show/hide keyboard shortcut on macOS, which I use all the time in Tweetbot. Maybe I could do it through a macOS system pref, though I did a short search and couldn’t figure it out. It would be a much more useful app pref than all the notification stuff.

I could probably live with a lot of the Twitter app deficiencies if it remembered my reading spot in all lists and synced across devices. But overall it needs a lot of polish, so I’m likely heading back to Tweetbot.

I’m not sorry I tried it out, but I am kind of surprised that the app – on both macOS and iOS – feels like it has a lot of maturing to do.

Quar Wars Day

Debbi’s birthday falls on Star Wars Day, which is convenient since she loves Star Wars, especially the original trilogy. In these days of shelter-in-place with no vacation plans for the foreseeable future, we decided to both take the day off.

The night before we re-watched Knives Out, which we saw in the theater in January and enjoyed tremendously. It holds up very well on re-watching, partly because it’s funny and lively, and partly because knowing what’s coming throws a different shade on some of the earlier scenes.

Debbi made pancakes for breakfast before our current set of eggs expired, and we turned on the original film, as some TV station was showing episodes 1-8. And, well, watching them is most of what we did for the day. We’d talked about driving to a nearby park or trail to go for a walk somewhere other than the neighborhood, but neither of us felt like it. So we each went for a local walk instead, and otherwise had a lot of couch time.

I picked up lunch from our local Hobee’s, which reopened for take-out a week or so ago, and for dinner we picked up from QBB. I puttered around doing a few chores, and Debbi got calls from friends and family, but otherwise we watched five Star Wars movies: The original trilogy, The Force Awakens, and The Rise of Skywalker, which other than Rogue One are the five best films in the series. (It’s ironic that we watched and enjoyed Knives Out, because its writer/director Rian Johnson also did The Last Jedi which is as joyless and glum as Knives Out is otherwise. Some people think it’s because it was produced by committee, but I also think it’s much worse than the two Abrams films. I’m perfectly happy to not see it again, as with the prequel trilogy.)

So, it was a low-key but pleasant day. If nothing else, we’re grateful that COVID-19 waited until this year to strike, so we still have the fond memories of Debbi’s awesome 50th birthday weekend from last year (which somehow I never did an entry about). Small favors, etc.

Anyway, happy birthday to Debbi! Hopefully we can do something more exciting for it next year.

Coffee Maker Follies

Yesterday morning we discovered our coffee maker had died. Which was annoying since we had bought this one just last summer. Doubly annoying because, you know, we’re in the middle of a global crisis and often it’s hard to get moving without coffee. Yesterday morning was a big rough. Plus it was Monday.

We’d had an 8-cup Black & Decker coffee maker with an insulated carafe for, oh, 8 years or maybe more before it started showing signs of the end last summer in that the coffee was not hot enough after brewing. I think it was the second of that model we’d owned, and they no longer made it anymore. But they did have a 12-cup model which looked very similar (this one seems to be its current iteration), so we bought that.

We liked the thermal carafe because it made it simpler not to have a heating element under it, and this model seemed to work well. But yesterday when we turned it on, the light for the button came on but nothing happened. There was no indication it was trying to push water through, or heat it, or anything. It could be that the water intake was blocked, but it felt more like some electronic problem so that the button just wasn’t triggering anything to happen. No help in the manual, of course, and Debbi said it had a bunch of negative reviews on Amazon.

So I headed to The Wirecutter to look at their recommendation for best drip coffee maker. But, not wanting to spend $200 on a coffee maker, I went instead to their recommendation for best cheap coffee maker. They recommend a Mister Coffee Easy Measure, but rather than waiting a few days to get it delivered from Amazon or Target, I instead drove over to Target (wearing a bandana) to buy one myself (along with a couple of other things I’ve built up on a list, including Neosporin for a nasty scrape I gave myself on Sunday). Their web site said they had two items in stock.

Target was pretty dead on a Monday morning in the middle of a pandemic, which was nice since it meant I could be in-and-out. Or, rather, I could have been except that I couldn’t find a model that looked just like the one on the web, nor did I see any models with 2 items in stock. Very puzzling! They did have plenty of Mister Coffee models available, so after looking at them for a bit I chose one that looked like basically the same thing – but of course I can’t find it on Amazon to link to it. Weird!

So I brought it home and set it up, and it seems… acceptable, if not great. A few observations:

  • The reusable filter seems nice in theory, but it’s one more item that needs to be washed. It appears to support using normal disposable filters, so which is better, using disposable filters, or using water to clean the reusable filter? Probably I’ll opt for the disposable.
  • The clock doesn’t work. It had lost almost an hour of time after sitting for about 12 hours. That’s not great. Fortunately we don’t need to program it while we’re home all the time.
  • The first pot of coffee tasted strong to me. The sparse manual says that it considers a cup to be 5 ounces, but I think our previous maker considered it to be 6 ounces? But its manual doesn’t say. But if so, then I am using a little more coffee than normal. I guess I can adjust that, but you’d think this would be a standard measurement! It also means this coffee maker is 16% smaller than expected (60 oz rather than 72 oz). Sheesh!

So anyway, first impression is three stars, probably fine if you need a coffee maker but don’t go crazy over it. I expect we’ll replace it again in the next year, and maybe actually spend more than $50 this time. I’m sure all my friends who are more coffee connoisseurs than I am are aghast that we didn’t do that in the first place.

Quarantine Days

Today is the start of my eighth week of shelter-in-place, and Debbi’s seventh. This entry might be a bit repetitive, but it’s helpful to write it out sometimes.

I realize that we’re both incredibly fortunate. Both of us have jobs, and we’re both able to work from home. We live in a nice neighborhood where we can get outside and enjoy the weather (which has been excellent lately, maybe even a little too warm). It’s not really “quarantine”, though that’s what we’ve been calling it, but we can still go out when we need to. We cook at home most of the time, but we’ve been getting take-out two or three times per week. I mostly run errands during the week when there are fewer people in the stores (yes, I wear a mask), but of course we order a lot through the mail, too.

Most of my friends seem to be in a similar fortunate place. I worry that as quarantine continues that this will change. Heck, it could change for us. But I try not to think about that much. I do have a few friends who are having a hard time of it, one in particular who’s been writing about his family’s struggles, and it can be pretty hard to read.

Working full time at home has been weird since I have typically tried to keep my work life and my home life very separate, and this blurring of the two has been a bit uncomfortable. On the other hand, it does keep every day from feeling the same, and it still makes weekends feel different since I have a chance to relax.

Or, I can get a bunch of stuff done. This past weekend, I plowed through a bunch of bills and other work in the study, then did a whole bunch of yard work. Pretty productive! But in reality I’ve been alternating productive weekends with lazy ones.

We’re rather bummed that our anniversary restaurant, Don Giovanni, is closed for quarantine, so we want to find something else to do for it. We have a few ideas, but it won’t really be the same.

Anyway.

We’ve also been watching a lot of TV and movies (Star Trek: Discovery! Mary Poppins! Lots of Harry Potter and Star Wars and a little James Bond!), and reading (John Scalzi‘s latest, The Last Emperox). I text with several friends as well as my sister, and I’ve been trying to call my dad every other weekend or so.

The cats seem to have adjusted to the new normal. Roulette, our old lady, hasn’t really changed her routine much, although she’s discovered the sunbeam in the guest bedroom has returned. Sadie mostly loves when one of us goes up to the library for a conference call, especially my morning meeting when the sun is coming in through the window. Jackson has learned that I have a ribbon by my computer in the dining room and comes in between 2 and 3 and agitates for play time. Once I tire him out he often curls up on the dining table and sleeps. Sadie also sleeps in the dining room, on the chair with the seating pad on it, which was my attempt to make those chairs more comfortable to work at. (It didn’t work, and I brought the chair down from the study instead.)

I’ve mostly been ahead of the curve in picking things up for quarantine (for example, we have flour and yeast that we haven’t even opened yet). But the one boat I missed was getting hair cutting supplies. I have an item on order which should arrive in about 2 weeks, by which time my hair should be about 2 feet long. Or maybe just feel that way.

So, life marches on. Shelter-in-place for our county has been extended through the end of May, and I think it will be mid-June at the very earliest before restrictions get significantly relaxed.

It’s of course a bummer that our vacation aspirations for the year are almost certainly washed out. No trip back east, no Hawaii or Portland, or Vegas trips. I’m glad we went to Disneyland when we did. My hope at this point is that there will be some occasional loosening so that we can go to the coast, and maybe even spend a long weekend in Half Moon Bay or Monterey, or even San Francisco. Just getting away from home for a little while would be nice.

But I don’t know. Until we have widespread testing available – and the Impeached President Trump administration seems to be in no hurry to arrange for that, and realistically there’s no one else who can – I think we’re all going to be stuck here for a long time.