Everyday Monsters

There are a couple of webcomics artists I’ve been enjoying tremendously, though both of them update only sporadically, presumably because this is a hobby for them and they both have lives which take most of their time. They have a common theme of what I’ve been calling “everyday monsters”, as they primarily feature nonhuman (or formerly human) beings in dark fantasy environments, but emphasizing the everyday lives and concerns of those beings

Both of them (coincidentally?) primarily post on Instagram and Twitter. Both of them post anonymously and have very little Internet presence beyond these sites as far as I can tell.


Pocketss (Instagram, Twitter) has “i like to draw fantasy nonsense” as their Twitter profile description. Their work has a running theme of people (or whatever) caring for other people. For example this strip about a swamp dweller who sees a passer-by carrying a lantern on a stock. Or this one about goblins looking out for each other.

There’s also a cute running story – starting here – about a witch who invites a harpy to a girls’ night party, throwing the harpy into confusion and anxiety. Poor harpy!

My favorite one, though, is this one about a vampire (?) who orders her thralls to leave her alone so she can… well, go see for yourself.

Vampire: "Begone, thralls! Leave me to my evil and sexy affairs..."

Pocketss also has a Patreon which I just signed up for.


Saint Monster (Instagram, Twitter) has “Monsters need love too” as their Twitter description. Ironically their work features far more actual humans than that of Pocketss, and a few more recurring characters. For example the halfling apprentice witch, who later appears here. Or the trio of human, elf (?) and goblin (?) travellers, who appear here, here, and have their best moment so far here.

But the strip that maybe best sums up their work is this one about a researcher who runs into a Sphinx.

Sphinx: If you wish to pass you must first answer my riddle, And should you fail, you will not leave here alive.

Researcher: I have studied the enigmas of Alatosh and Zanzibar's thousand mysteries. Ask your riddle, Sphinx.

Their Twitter account has some fan art and a few other pieces by them besides the full strips which are also on Instagram. No Patreon, though.


I love both of these artists and hope they both get to a place where they can produce work more regularly.

A Month of Maintenance

More like a month and a half of maintenance, to be frank.

Since we got back from Massachusetts in mid-July, I’ve spent sizable chunks of my weekends doing home maintenance and improvement.

The big thing we did was to buy a new dishwasher. Debbi never cared for our old GE dishwasher, and while I thought it was okay, I admit it was loud. And it didn’t always do the best job of cleaning things. Maybe it wasn’t so okay. But the forcing factor was that it started leaking: We’d occasionally find a bunch of water at the bottom of the machine, or worse, on the kitchen floor. And our cat sitter got to clean up a spill while we were away. So it was time. We replaced it with a Bosch SHP865ZP5N from Airport Home Appliance, which is where we bought our refrigerator two years ago. We’re pretty happy with the no-nonsense experience we’ve gotten there, as well as the ease of delivery and installation.

Installation did come with one little hiccup: The valve for the water at the wall was stuck and had to be replaced, which was not cheap. A little annoying since they basically had us as a captive audience for the installation. They said these valves break all the time because they’re all pretty cheap these days. Someone on Facebook suggested we should test them all every year, but it’s not like I want to replace them myself, or hire someone to come out and replace any ones which stick. Still, this valve lasted about 15 years, which doesn’t seem too bad.

Most of my other work has been in the yard. Our yard is pretty nice, but it’s about 15% larger than I have the time and energy to care for, so projects have built up over time. Consequently, I’ve spent a few hours each weekend cutting back the jasmine, trimming the rosemary, and pulling up tree seedlings and blackberry vines. The plum tree has suddenly decided to produce a whole bunch of plums this year, which caused many of its branches to start leaning to one side, so I gave it a good pruning, too. The plums are not great, and there was way more than we could eat even if they were great, so I’ve been raking them up occasionally, but they’re pretty messy. I’m also getting ready to start trimming back the fig tree which has been slowly growing over our fence since we moved in.

I also cleared out a space and bought six cubic feet of dirt to start a dirt pile for Domino to dig in. I probably need to buy another six-to-ten cubic feet to make it really satisfying, but it’s a start.

Then last weekend I give our bathrooms a good deep cleaning, mopped the floors, and scrubbed the floor of the master shower, which it really needed. So they’re just about as clean as they’ve been since we moved in. I also want to mop the kitchen floor.

Then I took my car in for its annual maintenance, where it needed its serpentine belt changed. It also has a leak which is likely around the seals for the convertible top (some might remember that I have a Volkswagen Eos), and is going to be expensive to fix. So I decided to defer that until we get closer to the rainy season.

Car ownership seems like it’s gotten a lot more expensive in the past decade! Or maybe it’s just the difference between Hondas and VWs.

We’re also coming out of a long stretch of warm weather, after a stretch of what seemed like cooler-than-normal weather. Globally, July was the hottest month on record. Here in my hometown:

  • In May, we had highs in the high 60s (°F) in the first third of the month, highs between 70 and 85 in the second third, and in the low 70s in the last third.
  • In June highs were in the 70s almost every day until a spike at the end of the month – which I was back east. These are what I recall were typical summer temperatures when I first moved here.
  • I was gone for the first third of July, but highs were consistently in the 80s for the rest of the month.
  • And August was more of the same, with several spikes in the low 90s, and a few days with highs in the high 70s. And the overnight lows were stubbornly above 60 for about half of the month. It was also unusually humid, with dew points in the low 60s a number of times, which is nothing for places where it gets genuinely yucky, but it’s unusually moist for here.

So July and August were both hot. Yard work on some of those days was no fun, I’ll tell you. And our electric bill was not much fun either, thanks to the air conditioner. (Someday we’ll put in solar panels!)

(My data comes from Weather Underground.)

Out of curiosity I checked June-to-August for my first 2 years here, and my recollections match the data: Highs mostly in the 70s, with a few spikes along the way (though the data for 2000 looks untrustworthy).

Anyway, that’s enough of that; I’ll leave the deeper dives on historical temperatures to J.D. Roth.

We’ve also been having some challenges with Domino, in particular that he hasn’t wanted to sleep in his crate at night, panting and whining when we put him in there. We suspect he had some unpleasant event in there – maybe even just a bad dream – but it’s meant that Debbi has been sleeping with him in our guest room until we can figure it out. They’re going to see the vet soon to see if there’s anything physically wrong, though he’s been about the same in all other ways. Hopefully he’s okay, but it’s been frustrating.

Speaking of frustrating, I’ve also been dealing with both (self-diagnosed) plantar fasciitis and achilles tendinitis in my right foot. It’s been gradually getting better – the new running sneakers I bought have helped a lot – but not as fast as I’d like. I should probably look into some exercises to help with them, too. (Also: For some reason New Balance running sneakers run smaller than their walking sneakers. Shrug.)

So that’s been my summer, not counting work, since I rarely blog about that. I have spent most of the past week at work working on improving some long-neglected but still-useful code I’d been thinking about for a while. It’s been fun.

Hopefully we can continue to dodge COVID until we can get new boosters this fall, and otherwise enjoy some cooler weather this month, starting with this long weekend.

Rainbow over Mountain View, August 13, 2023
Rainbow over Mountain View, August 13, 2023
Rainfall was negligible
This photo doesn’t really do it justice

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds: Seasons 1 & 2

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is a spin-off from Star Trek: Discovery, in the second season of which Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) takes command of the Discovery after the Enterprise has been damaged, and it wraps up with the two ships and their crews teaming up to save the day. This series takes place about 7 years before the original Star Trek series and chronicles the adventures adventures of the Enterprise under Pike, who is living with the knowledge that he is destined to be crippled saving several crewmen a few years in the future.

The Enterprise bridge in Strange New Worlds

The elevator pitch for this series is basically, “If you want more of the original series, with better effects and updated for modern social sensibilities, then this is the show for you.” It’s not nearly as good at this – or as good overall – as the Star Trek: Year Five comic book, but it’s enjoyable.

Early on in watching this show I decided to embrace something someone suggested on Twitter: That each Star Trek series takes place in its own continuity, even though it pretends to maintain continuity with the other series. SNW has this quality in spades, with lots of nods to the original series, which don’t stand up to even casual examination. After enough continuity-jarring moments involving Spock or some other character or alien race who appeared in the original series exhibiting very different behavior or characteristics in SNW, it just becomes easier to treat the two shows as being in different continuities.

But once you get there the show is an enjoyable episodic sci-fi romp with a few excellent episodes and a few poor ones. The acting is stronger than usual for a Star Trek show. It still contains all the pseudoscientific nonsense one expects from Star Trek, there’s not much of an ongoing storyline, so it’s hard to get too invested or too disappointed.

Spoilery thoughts after the cut:

Continue reading “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds: Seasons 1 & 2”

What Bluesky Needs

Back in January I wrote a post titled “What Mastodon Needs”, about what I felt were the most serious shortcomings of that social media platform after I’d been on it for a couple of months. (Some of those issues have been resolved by my settling on Ivory as my Mastodon client, but others remain stubbornly unresolved, joined by new ones such as a lack of quote-reposts.)

I thought it’s time to write one on the other would-by Twitter replacement platform I spend some time on, Bluesky.

Full transparency: I find Mastodon a lot more useful and enjoyable than Bluesky. But many people are the other way around. Indeed, when I see someone compare the two, it’s almost always in Bluesky’s favor. Last month I made the following observation:

Post by me on Bluesky: "There's no better testament to the fact that it's community rather than platforms that makes social media work than that the platform experience on
Bluesky - app, features, bugs - are pretty terrible (IMO) yet the community is vibrant."

There are also people who have found Mastodon to be a mixed-to-negative experience. I could pull a number of examples, but here’s a particularly prominent one from today:

Bluesky post by Neil Gaiman: "It's hard to explain why I don't enjoy Mastodon. But it's all encapsulated perfectly in this perfectly-normal-for-Mastodon conversation."

(see next image)
Neil Gaiman post about how he feels when his books are banned is replied to by an anonymous user with: "A pro library post with a quote about how I feel when my books are banned is replied to with
"Mmhhh... This unicorn mindset doesn't really fit with Mein Kampf, though."

All of this is fair enough. And Bluesky does have a few significant detractors, often people with problems with its ownership. Which is also fair enough. After all, I’m not on Threads because I don’t really want to get deeper into the Facebook ecosystem.

Anyway, my main goal here is to hit major points of usability where I feel Bluesky is lacking. And I should be clear that I realize that Bluesky is a platform which is still in beta (indeed, it feels like it’s not quite ready for beta and I suspect it opened up before it had planned to), is still invitation-only (only users with invite codes can invite new users), and reportedly has very small development team. So I expect progress will be slow, and it’s starting from a point of being much less mature than Mastodon.

So here we go:

1. Lists: I’ve been an avoid user of lists on both Twitter and Mastodon. I have a dozen or more lists which I use to divide up accounts I follow by category, saving my main timeline for accounts I either want to check in with whenever I check in on the platform, or which don’t fall into a category. But, for example, I put most Magic: The Gathering accounts, or audio drama accounts, into their own list. And I remove them from my main timeline. (This last point is something neither Twitter nor Mastodon supports natively, I think, but some apps like Tweetbot did and Ivory does.)

Not having lists is likely to impose a strong cap on how many accounts I follow. This isn’t an issue yet (I’m following only 39 accounts – Bluesky is still small, folks), but it will be if the site gets popular.

2. Remembering my reading position: This was a bullet point for Mastodon, and it’s a problem on Bluesky, too.

3. An iPad app which doesn’t suck: Presently the iPhone app runs on the iPad in compatibility mode, which is frankly pretty lousy – especially because it’s pretty buggy and its UX is not very polished. Instagram also has the problem of no native iPad app, but it’s not as much of an issue there because Instagram is image-centric.

4. Disabling reposts per-user: Some people repost a lot. Which is fine – people can do with their accounts what they want. But I find being able to disable reposts for a few users significantly improves my experience on social media, when I enjoy the personally-written posts by those users but mostly find their reposts to be a fire hose of things which are way more important to them than to me. Right now my only option is to mute them entirely (which I have done a couple of times).

Related to this is being able to mute a user (or a keyword!) for a day, a week, or a month, since sometimes people get focused on something which is time-bound which doesn’t interest me, but once that time is passed I want to resume following them.

These are little things that Twitter and/or its third party clients provided which turned out to be indispensable to enjoying it in the long run.

5. Bookmarks and a way to see your Likes: Mastodon has both Likes and Bookmarks. Bluesky has Likes but no Bookmarks, and as far as I can tell there’s no way to view a list of the posts you’ve Liked.

6. Hashtag support: This would be a more useful way to find like-minded people and posts than Bluesky’s feed system, which my experience with so far has found it to be pretty clunky.

The other big problem is one I think all social media sites going forward will have: Fragmentation of communities. The tech community is mostly on Mastodon, the science fiction and comic book communities are on Bluesky, and the Magic: The Gathering and audio drama communities are still very sticky on Twitter (or, as I like to call it after its X rebrand, Shitter). There probably isn’t a “solution” to this, it just means that people like me who follow multiple communities will need to be on multiple platforms.

Anyway, Bluesky does have a fair bit of fun stuff happening (and not all of it revolving around Neil Gaiman, John Scalzi and Popehat), it’s just that the platform itself makes it difficult for me to interact with. I hope it gets better, but I’m not going to hold my breath for that to happen.

Firmament

Earlier this summer I played Firmament, the new puzzle game from Cyan, the creators of Myst.

I love these sorts of games, and I wrote about what I like about them a few years ago in the context of Zed. I enjoy a mix of puzzles, setting, and story, which Cyan has historically been good at providing. I backed Firmament on Kickstarter as soon as they announced they’d be doing a Mac version, having also backed their previous game, Obduction, which I enjoyed a lot, though I thought it had a few flaws.

Firmament modifies the traditional point-and-click interface with a device the player uses called an Adjunct, which they use to connect to sockets throughout the game which provides some additional flexibility in how the player interacts with the world. It also both makes it clearer what you can interact with, but it feels somewhat limiting since everything has some small variation of the same interface. I’ve seen it theorized that the Adjunct mechanic was created to make the VR experience of the game better or more consistent or something. I guess it’s possible, I dunno. Maybe that was a concern 4 years ago when they started making the game?

A spoiler-free review first, and then some further thoughts:

The setting for Firmament is that you wake up from long-term sleep and are greeted by the Mentor, who appears to be a ghost of your predecessor. They’ve woken you up and advise you from time to time. The world consists of three settings, an ice zone, a botanical garden, and a sulphur-based power plant, along with a central structure1 called The Swan. You travel between them via conveyance pods, and have two waves of tasks to accomplish on each world to get to the conclusion.

There are basically three sorts of things in these games that I dislike: Puzzles that are too hard (this is obviously subjective), having to walk back and forth a lot to solve a puzzle, and things that are hard to see. Firmament has a few spots where there were things I just couldn’t see and I had to use a walkthrough – a video one in one case – to figure out what I was missing. This is frustrating because it feels like I just was never going to figure it out on my own. The game does pretty well on the other two points, although there was one puzzle I didn’t so much figure out as stumble into the answer for. Better lucky than good, I guess?

The game’s weakness, I think, was its story. Since Cyan’s games are solo endeavors with little capability for you to interact with anyone in the game, they all take place in environments where the people who used to be there are gone, and finding out what happened to them is part of the adventure. Firmament feels pretty thin, here, as the Mentor and one other character are the only ones you learn much about. There were clearly more people around, but we learn very little about them. I think they could have threaded more characters and more events into the game and provided a richer story to explore. As it was, it definitely felt less sophisticated than Obduction.

(I’m inclined to think that the use of AI to assist in generating parts of the game are not really at fault as this article thinks they might be. I think they just didn’t spend enough time coming up with enough story to make it satisfying.)

I think the game took me about 15 hours to complete. I did run into one bug, but it turned out not to affect me in that puzzle. Other people have run into more serious bugs, but they’ve been fixing them. If you enjoy games like these, give this one a try, but temper your expectations, especially if story is your main interest.

A few more spoilery comments after the cut:

Continue reading “Firmament”

What Next With COVID?

As I said last time, it seems like just about everyone has put COVID behind them in their behavior: Hardly anyone is masking or physically distancing anymore, and I don’t see many mentions of it other than on social media from the few people who are still taking those precautions.

I see close to zero reports these days of how many cases, hospitalizations or deaths there are from COVID. Since it’s been over 9 months since the last boosters were authorized, and previous evidence was that boosters lost most of their effectiveness after about 6 months, I was wondering what the numbers are.

Today the San Jose Mercury News published this article: New record lows for California COVID hospitalizations. Will it stick?

The number of patients with the virus at California hospitals reached a new low this month since the start of the pandemic, with just 611 reported on July 2.

Statewide, before this summer the previous low was 1,170 people hospitalized with COVID in June 2021. Now, totals have been less than that since early June.

In November 2021 I wrote a piece here titled “This is as Good as it’s Going to Get”. When I first drafted this post I thought it held up pretty well, and was maybe a bit optimistic. But based on the Mercury News article it’s looking a bit pessimistic, at least for the general population; the spectacular failures to support people such as the immunocompromised have been well documented.

I do find this a little surprising: The Omicron variant and its many sub-variants are the dominant strain of the virus, are massively transmissible, and haven’t gone away. But maybe they’ve been evolving to be less severe, and maybe the spotty vaccinations we’ve had have been good enough to gradually suppress the virus. I dunno.

Another thing I saw recently is this thread on Mastodon:

Mastodon post by Pavel A. Samsonov (1/2):

Techies perennially yearn for an org culture where their pure, intellectual work is cleanly separated from meetings and politics, where ideas win on their merit and "the work" is entirely solving technical problems.

Such an environment cannot exist, for 2 important reasons.
Mastodon post by Pavel A. Samsonov (2/2):

1 There can be no universal benchmark that defines "the best idea." When people get together to decide on the best thing to do - that's called politics. This goes for both solutions and problems. A brilliant solution to an irrelevant problem is bad.

2 The merit of a solution is 1% cleverness and 99% execution. Something that is out there and working suboptimally is "better" than an elegant idea that never got off the ground. Measuring on intellectual purity alone asks us to ignore actual impact

The first post is context, but the second post applies as much to our COVID response (as a society) as it does to the original topic:

People aren’t masking, they’re not physically distancing, and many people are not getting boosters and wouldn’t even if they were available. (And that’s just in the United States. I imagine it’s similar but more so in countries where those things are actively hard to do.) None of that is likely to change unless the current environment significantly changes. While encouraging people to do those things – especially getting vaccinated, which is a very low-intrusiveness part of the solution – is fine, any real solution is going to have to be implemented in the context of how people are behaving and are likely to behave. Because a solution which can’t be implemented is not a solution.

Personally, I’d like to see the FDA authorize twice-a-year boosters for everyone and encourage people to get them. And I’d like to see tests be made more widely available and covered by insurance so people don’t need to worry about access to them. (More info about how reliable they are would be nice, too. Last I heard tests were only about 60% accurate against Omicron.) I think those would be the most effective first steps, followed by covering wages for people who have to skip work because they get sick.

Alas even that seems like a stretch in the current political climate.

Tumultuous Trip

We’re back from a week and a half vacation to the east coast. It was… quite a ride, enough that I kinda feel like I need a vacation to recover from my vacation.

I don’t often talk about it here because it feels like not-so-humble bragging, but we have a vacation house in Massachusetts. It’s in a pretty great location, and we bought it to keep it in the (extended) family. We got a pretty good deal on it, but we learned a couple of years ago that part of the reason for that is that it needed some deferred maintenance. We hired a really excellent contractor, but the project kept getting bigger for various reasons, and ultimately it turned into a major remodel, which is just now finishing up.

Our trip back in May was partly to try to finish preparing the house for this trip. We found that there was more to buy than we’d expected, and so we’d planned to spend the first couple of days on this trip buying and assembling furniture, and unpacking the house.

The plan was to fly out on a 6 am flight on Tuesday, June 27. We were going with friends of ours and their kids, to spend about 2 weeks at the house.

Everything went sideways when Debbi and her friend found out around 11:30 pm that our flight had been cancelled due to extreme weather on the east coast. Worse, we weren’t able to rebook until Thursday. So we spent a couple of days kicking around home before we were able to leave. And even then our flight was over 2 hours delayed. We landed in Boston a bit before 11 pm. On the bright side, the rental car kicks are pretty quiet at that hour, so we were able to get our cars smoothly and get down to the house by 12:30 am. We spent an hour and a half looking around (and figuring out how to turn the lights off) before going to bed.

Unfortunately this meant we’d lost over 2 days of prep time, so we had to shuffle around and compress the work we’d planned to do. We went to IKEA and Target on Sunday, assembled furniture over the next few days as time permitted. Especially on July 3, which is when the area where our house is holds its Independence Day celebrations, presumably because people want to drink and then sleep in on the Fourth. (Because when people are shooting off fireworks, you definitely want those people to have been drinking.)

Among this I also mixed in a number of trips to visit my Dad. His story isn’t mine to tell – I don’t think he’s ever been very comfortable with me writing about him online – but he’s needed assistance from me and my sister Katy recently. So I made several trips up to visit. But I also got to see my sister and nephew, who came down one day to see our house. Seeing them all was nice, but it was a hectic time.

We also spent a lot of time with Debbi’s family, who all came over at various times to visit. I missed seeing a couple of them because I was off taking care of business. Maybe next time.

The weather was a little iffy, always warm but not too warm, but with humidity that came and went, and showers from time to time. We did get a few nice days to spend at the beach, though.

Our friends left us on the second Friday to spend the weekend in Boston, which they wanted to play tourist in. So Debbi and I had a quieter weekend. But it turned out my friend Karen and her beau were also visiting Boston this weekend, so they came down on Saturday to hang out. We hadn’t seen each other since before the pandemic, and it was great to see them.

Speaking of the pandemic, it’s clear that almost everyone has put it behind them at this point. Few people were masking anywhere we went, including in airports, and no one was physically distancing that I could tell. We wore masks a bit for the first few days and then ditched them. I’ll likely write something else about this in the near future. I am looking forward to getting another booster, though, and wish they’d make them available to everyone twice a year.

The trip ended, unfortunately, with another flight delay. We didn’t get back to San Francisco until nearly 11 pm on Monday night, and were totally exhausted by the time we got home and went to bed. The cats were really, really happy to see us, of course, and our friends who care for Domino when we’re away were happy to keep him a couple of extra days so the cats could have some dedicated time with us. But of course he was really happy to see us, too.

Anyway, it was a good, productive trip, but not very restful. Hopefully we can do something lower-key later this year. Once we recover from all this air travel.

It’s COVID!

We recently spent a week in Massachusetts visiting our families, taking care of some tasks around our vacation home back there, and helping my dad out with some stuff. It was my third trip back in the past year, and Debbi’s second. The flights were routine, we had some good meals, and got to experience a nice day of rainfall amidst the cool-but-not-cold temperatures. It was a pretty hectic time, so not exactly a relaxing vacation, and not quite as productive as we’d originally hoped, but I think we got enough done.

Our trip’s gift to us when we returned was COVID. Debbi had been feeling pretty blah for several days, and I started feeling it myself. We both tested – twice – and I tested pretty strongly positive, while Debbi tested negative.

Both of us are as fully vaccinated as we can be, given that the FDA hasn’t yet approved another booster for people our age; we had our latest booster – the bivalent variety – last September before our previous trip.

We’d both describe our symptoms as that of a cold. I’d call mine a moderate cold: It peaked Thursday evening with sneezing and congestion and a mild headache, but otherwise has mostly been some tiredness and coughing. I’d have stayed home from work for a couple of days if I’d had these symptoms before COVID. Debbi’s symptoms have been more severe and longer-lasting, but basically the same kinds.

By the time I tested positive, Debbi’s symptoms had been going on too long for her to qualify to take Paxlovid, but I contacted my doctor and got a prescription for myself. I’ve heard different things about its effects, the most common being that it gives you a bad taste in your mouth while you’re taking it. I’ve had this occasional sensation of something in the back of my mouth, like a bad-tasting chalky antacid coming back up, but it’s been pretty ignorable. Otherwise it seems to be doing its job, although it’s hard to be sure since my symptoms were not severe in the first place. If this had been a normal cold, this is basically the arc I’d have expected.

So we hunkered down for the long weekend. We did a pick-up order from Safeway, which went smoothly. I made Indian food for dinner, coffee chocolate chip ice cream for dessert, and scones for breakfast. I also mowed, and this morning went running for the first time since we got back. Debbi took Domino for morning walks. And we got plenty of sleep.

I spent a lot of the weekend playing Firmament, the new game from Cyan Worlds, the makers of MYST. It’s their first release since the excellent Obduction, and is very much in the same vein. I’m enjoying it, and will probably write it up once I finish it. It took me about 20 hours to finish Obduction so if Firmament is similar then I’m about 40% of the way through it.

I spent most of today sitting on our couch on the back porch, with Domino lying next to me, playing the game. It was pretty much perfect weather for it. Not bad for Memorial Day, all things considered.

We tested again this evening. Debbi tested very, very slightly positive, so faint we had to look closely. My line was still pretty clear, but not nearly as strong as last week. So it’s going to be at least a week of working from home. Hopefully by next weekend we’ll be clear.

As I’ve said before, I expect almost everyone on Earth is going to contract COVID multiple times in their life going forward (barring an unforeseen development), unless they are truly isolating from the rest of humanity. We’ve avoided it longer than most, but this starts our counter. Fingers crossed that neither of us have any long-term symptoms. No one I know who’s contracted it since the advent of the vaccines has any long-term effects that I know of. But check back in 5 or 10 years to see how everyone’s doing.

Dr. Marvin Morillo

This is Teacher Appreciation Week, with National Teacher Day being tomorrow, so I figured it’s time to finish this entry about a teacher of mine who’s been on my mind recently.

I wasn’t a very good fit for Tulane University. But no other college I applied to thought I was a good enough fit to accept me. So in the fall of 1987 off I went from Boston to New Orleans, the land of heat, humidity, booze, a high murder rate, conservative politics, and seafood, none of which agreed with me. (Okay, I came around on the booze, to some extent.)

Very much on-brand for me as a teenager, I had little idea how to get started in college. I took computer programming (they wouldn’t let me skip the intro class, even though I already knew everything in it and did well on the AP test), German (a year off from it in high school did nothing for my already shaky grasp of the language, and it was my last hurrah at trying to learn something other than English), studio art, and English.

Dr. Marvin Morillo was the teacher of that freshman English class. My recollection is that he was an older man of average height (which is to say, several inches shorter than I was), with white hair and a goatee. I now know that he turned 61 at the start of the semester.

My memories of college are at the point where they’re fading and merging together, and so are no longer very trustworthy. I recall the classrooms in the English department building were often small – holding maybe 16 people – arranged around a large table, with soft lighting and a lot of wood decor.I don’t really remember any of the other students in the class, and I don’t clearly remember the books we read anymore either, but I know there were four, of which two were Hiroshima by John Hersey, and Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. I thought one was called The Infinite Journey, but I can’t find a book with that title which matches my memory of it. I think the fourth had something to do with space. Only 4 books across 12ish weeks of classes, but that meant we could get into them in depth. I had been generally uninspired by my high school English classes, and I didn’t have the learning skills to know how to get value out of them. This started changing in this class.

In particular Hiroshima is an extremely powerful chronicle of the aftermath of the dropping of the atomic bomb on that city, and Dr. Morillo did a fine job of taking us through the events of the book, and reinforcing the book’s point that this must never be allowed to happen again. Honestly he started the class with the best stuff, and the later books felt weak by comparison.

I’d like to say that I have keen memories of lively debates about the books in the class, but I don’t. That’s what I’ve got left, 36 years later. But I felt like I connected strongly with Dr. Morillo, and I started swinging by his office from time to time over the next few years. He had a small office which I remember being lined by books in bookcases, with a desk at one end by the window, and a lounge chair for visitors. I don’t remember what we talked about any longer, but I know I always enjoyed visiting, and he was always open to my visits if he wasn’t busy.

In hindsight, in my late teens and twenties I befriended several older men who I learned from. Three of them were friends I met through Amateur Press Associations, and all of them were generalists, with a variety of interests, often with connections among those interests. The impression in my memory of Dr. Morillo is that he also had a breadth of interests, and that we’d end up talking about nothing in particular whenever I’d visit.

But he was also a Shakespeare professor as his main focus. By senior year I was deep in my major in computer science, and was looking at a year of nothing but programming and related topics. Figuring I should have a little bit of variety, I signed up for Dr. Morillo’s senior Shakespeare class in the fall, and enjoyed it so much that I signed up again in the spring.

In contrast to the freshman class, this was a lot of reading – more than a play a week (and it focused on the plays, with only a little time spent on the poems). This was more than I could get through, especially when we got to the long plays (Hamlet, King Lear and Richard III), so I concentrated on the ones I knew we’d be discussing in class or had to write a short paper on. Nonetheless, I had a great time. I had by this point been heavily involved in criticizing Star Trek: The Next Generation on the USENET newsgroups, which might have helped me hone my critical literary skills that I could deploy in these classes.

I have two enduring memories of these classes. The first was of being cornered by a group of women who asked me who I was having showed up in these senior English classes when they hadn’t seen me before as they’d been going through their major. I told them that I was a CS major and that I was taking these classes for fun, which I think annoyed them somewhat (I guess the classes had a reputation for being hard).

The second was of sitting outside the English department in mid-December (New Orleans, remember? I may have even been in shorts), when Dr. Morillo walked up and asked what I was doing. I said, “I’m trying to get through the plays I wasn’t able to read during the semester, before the final.” He replied, “Well, I’m not sure if I should applaud you for trying to finish all the reading, or upbraid you for not finishing it when it was assigned.” Chuckles all around at that one.

And yes, I got A’s both semesters. I’m pretty sure I didn’t get an A in the freshman class, but I’d learned a lot in three years. Mostly about how to study.

My favorite Shakespeare play is Richard II. “Don’t you mean Richard the Third?” people ask when I say this, but no, I actually think III is pretty tedious to read. I appreciate in Richard II the inevitable downfall of, well, everyone involved: Richard is a bad king, and he’s overthrown because he’s a bad king, but the Divine Right of Kings dictates that England will be in a bad way because of his overthrow, culminating in the detestable Richard III. So it’s a bad situation with no good solution (within the parameters of Shakespeare’s setting), and its events lead to 7 more plays of troubles until things are finally resolved. It appeals to both the structure wonk in me.

I’ve never seen the play performed, and maybe it’s just no good on stage, but it really captured me in class.

I think I went by to say goodbye to Dr. Morillo when I graduated. I have a dim memory of doing so, but at this point maybe it’s more of a memory of intending to do so. I hope that I did.

Recently I was curious to find out what happened to him. He retired just a couple of years after I graduated, in his mid-60s, and moved to Washington state, where he lived until he passed away in 2015. It sounds like he had a good life after Tulane (as, to be honest, have I). I regret not thinking of trying to reconnect when I had the chance, and that my memories of him aren’t clearer but I’m glad to have known him.

Rough Season For Local Coffee

One of my many habitual behaviors is that I drink coffee most weekday afternoons. When at the office we usually walk over to Philz Coffee, though occasionally we go to Starbucks or another independent store. I had a little victory there last fall when I complained through the Philz app that the store’s outside seating was in poor repair (mostly plastic chairs and tables which were falling apart), and within a couple of weeks they had replaced most of them with sturdy metal chairs and tables. I’m taking full credit for that one.

When working at home I’d drive to Philz Coffee on Middlefield Rd. in Palo Alto, which I discovered during the pandemic. One attraction for that location even in the pre-vaccination pandemic days was that they have two nice patios with ample seating, and even over the winter it can be a nice spot to hang for 10 minutes or so as long as it isn’t actively raining.

Sadly, in early February the building which housed that Philz had a major fire, which also destroyed the Bill’s Cafe location two doors over, which Debbi and I had started patronizing for lunch last fall. Reportedly the fire started in the dry cleaners, and also damaged the liquor store which was the fourth tenant. Sadly, I expect the building will be razed and replaced with something else, likely pushing all the tenants elsewhere. There aren’t really any other retail buildings in that area, so if any of them move and re-open, it will probably be at least half a mile in either direction on Middlefield, and probably in not-as-nice a spot.

So I’ve been really missing that Philz the last couple of months. I’ve been driving down to the Philz in Sunnyvale, which also has ample seating, but in a large and usually empty public plaza, which is neither as comfortable nor as interesting for people-watching. Plus it gets cold when the wind blows! I also go to the nearby Starbucks when I don’t feel like driving that distance. (It’s only a few minutes further than the Palo Alto Philz was, but somehow that makes a difference.)

On top of that, in mid-March Philz’ main roasting warehouse had part of a roof collapse in one of the intense wind storms the area experienced in late winter. (We had three sections of fence come down at home, and several extended power outages.) Worse, one person was killed by the falling ceiling. Consequently, all Philz locations have been gradually running out of beanz, until finally last week they only had one or two varieties left. Which made me even less motivated to drive there.

It sounds like the warehouse is ready to re-open, so things should improve. But it’s been a rough winter for my usual caffeination spots.

Now if Bill’s can just find a convenient spot near us to open a new restaurant.