Sweltering

A couple of weeks ago I decided to take the two days after Labor Day off to have some extra downtime and get a few things done around the house.

Little did I know that I’d be doing so during an historic heat wave.

We had some advance warning that it would be hot, but not how hot it world be. So we kicked off the weekend on Saturday by taking the doggo over to our friends’ house so he could play with their dogs and we could play in their pool. We got there on late morning and spent all day hanging out with them and their kids, having both lunch and dinner. It was great. I’d also been over there with the doggo the previous Monday to help teach their son Magic the Gathering. Domino had a great time, and he’s also learned that he comes home with us afterwards, as our friends fostered him several times before we adopted him. So I guess he knows we’re his humans now!

Sunday it got hotter, but we nonetheless hosted an outdoor gathering of a few neighbors, including a couple of new ones we hadn’t really met yet. (Their daughter got to come in to meet the cats.) It was planned to be a short event, and it was, because after a couple of hours we were all starting to melt. But it was a fun time despite this.

On Monday – Labor Day – the heat arrived in earnest, in time for us to have nothing planned. So we spent most of the day lazing around inside with Domino. Occasionally he wanted to go out, to almost immediately turn around and look inside with an expression that said “WTF is this?” Safe inside the air conditioning I did a bunch of small inside chores which made me feel accomplished. And around 9 pm I went out for my daily walk because it was down to 80°F/30°C and wasn’t going to get any cooler soon. It was okay, but still: Ugh.

It got up to 110°F/43°C on Monday and a little warmer on Tuesday, but maybe the most brutal thing was that it only got down to about 70/21 overnight, which meant things just never really cooled off. It also made me decided to take the week off from running, though I did walk in the morning instead. We also slept with the A/C on, which is no fun either.

Tuesday we both took the day off and drove over to Half Moon Bay, where we experienced what I’d read about the “heat dome” over the western U.S. which was (partly?) causing this heat wave: The high pressure zone has been compressing the marine air layer and keeping it from blowing over the hills to cool off the area, but the coast was still being cooled by the layer. And sure enough, it was 103°F/40°C as we went over the hills a little before 11 am, but had cooled to 70/21 by the time we got to the coast – only about 6 miles away. Pretty impressive!

We went to lunch at the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company, with a nice outdoor table, although we were disappointed that they didn’t have their roasted artichokes, which we found last time to be absolutely yummy. But as with last time this place has good food for good prices, a better value than your average brew pub. I also recommend their fries and Buffalo wings.

By the time we were done it was gotten up into the 80s even on the coast, so we had a short walk along the coast before driving back. (And noticed on the way that the Dunkin’ in HMB is closed – “temporarily” says Apple Maps, but all the signage is gone.) We treated ourselves to milkshakes at Rick’s on the way before getting home to release the doggo from his when-we’re-away room (also known as our guest room). It was brutally hot so that was about all we did.

The Pacific Ocean seen from the Half Moon Bay coastal trail.

Debbi went back to work today, while I did some chores around the house and then went and ran some errands in the Valley, including lunch at Falafel Stop. Took care of a couple things which had been on my list for quite a while, too, such as disposing of some medicines that have been bagged since we got the kittens in 2020. It was pretty ugly out, but the temps peaked at 100°F/38°C which did feel a little better than the last two days/

There was more I wanted to do this weekend, but between policing the dog (who is getting better but still lunges at the cats, and had an encounter with Jackson where Jackson gave him a good scratch on his nose) and recovering from the heat, I’ve just felt like sitting on the couch a lot.

The next two days are going to be a lot like today, and then it should finally cool off. Indeed, next week we should have highs in the 70s/20s, which is cooler than it was for most of August. Not quite fall weather, but then, it won’t be fall for another two weeks.

I am definitely ready for some fall weather, though.

Debbi and Michael in Half Moon Bay

Newspapers

I’ve been thinking about newspapers recently. My generation might be the last one to read newspapers in large numbers, and in fact I still get the newspaper delivered every day, which is probably rare even among my generation today.

I don’t think even my generation has a true understanding of how important and influential newspapers once were in the United States. They were effectively the only form of mass media in the 19th and early 20th century, and major newspaper publishers could be major figures in public life. But their influence waned as new mass media technologies were developed – radio, television, and of course the Internet.

When I was a kid, my parents subscribed to the Boston Globe daily, and the New York Times on Sunday. We’d walk up to the local newsstand to buy the latter. I, of course, bought comic books instead, and that’s where I started with newspapers: The comics page. I was a big fan of Garfield, and I also remember cutting out episodes of The Amazing Spider-Man and taping or pasting them to paper to gather whole stories to read. Later on I discovered Bloom County, Calvin and Hobbes, and others, though honestly the quality of strips dropped off pretty quickly after those two. (The heyday of newspaper strips was long before I started reading them.)

For three years in high school I had a history teacher – Dr. Paul Gottlieb – who every year said we should read the newspaper and that we could supersede the regular syllabus to discuss current events, so long as we actually talked about it. I never took him up on it, but a few other students would half-heartedly try, mainly to try to defer talking about the class materials, but it never worked. Obviously Dr. Gottlieb had been around this block a few times.

(Aside: While I was pretty much a C+ student in his class, Dr. Gottlieb was one of my favorite teachers in high school. He died – from a heart attack, I heard – a few years after I graduated. So I never got to hear his recitation of the history of the Hohenzollern-Sigmaringens. I think I’m now older than he was when he died.)

I also was a delivery boy for the (now defunct) Newton Graphic in high school, one of two weekly papers in my home town. I picked up the route from a friend of mine. It involved the papers being delivered to my house in a stack, and I’d have to fold and rubber-band them and then walk or bike around the route delivering them. And I’d get paid, thus supporting my comic book habit. I wasn’t very good at it, mostly in that I wasn’t able to carry a bag full of papers without really hurting my shoulder. So I’d wrap the bag around the handle of my bike and ride around, which worked great until the day I was booking back home with the empty bag flapping off the handle, and it flew right into the spokes of the front wheel, throwing me off the bike and leaving me with badly skinned hands and knees. But no permanent damage, fortunately.

I had to deliver in the rain, which led to a couple of complaints that I was being lazy and throwing the papers on the steps where they got wet. So I had to go up to each door and put the paper somewhere dry. I’m sure I saw it as an annoying inconvenience rather than learning a lesson from it. (Aside: Not that I don’t take responsibility for my, well, irresponsibility, it’s just that after over 35 years it feels like it was done by someone else, and that I’d do a better job and better react to the experience than I did then. Of course, maybe I’m fooling myself!)

I had a couple of routes during the years I delivered, for reasons I don’t remember. And I’m sure I got less out of it than I should have, but “I got less out of it then I should have” could be the tag line for my whole teenage years.

And now, a discontinuity: When I went off to college at Tulane, I started reading the paper every day. I don’t know why, I just did. The New Orleans paper of record was the Times-Picayune, which has since merged with another paper. I’d walk down from my sixth-floor dorm room and across the street to buy a paper from the vending machine. I imagine it cost about 50¢ an issue, but I don’t remember. But I don’t really remember clearly reading this paper. Maybe I read it all through college, maybe not. I suspect not, because I don’t think I was reading a paper when I went to grad school at Wisconsin in Madison.

That changed in the spring of 1993 when I started playing fantasy baseball. This was at the very leading edge of being able to compute the weekly results by computer, which our league commissioner handled, but it was really before the World Wide Web, so if you wanted to follow your team you had to buy a newspaper, read the box scores, and tally up the scores yourself. (Before this, league owners would compute their scores by hand from the box scores in the newspaper. I’m sure it was delightful.)

Madison had – and I think still has – two daily newspapers, the Wisconsin State Journal, published in the morning, and the Capital Times, published in the afternoon. (This was a weird holdover from the days when many papers would publish two – or more – editions per day, a practice which ended well before my time.) Since I wanted to see the box scores every morning, I subscribed to the State Journal. I think the Cap Times was a slightly more left-wing paper, but the State Journal had really good sports coverage, in particular they would publish every box score of every baseball game, even if a game ran late and they had to run it a day later. I learned how important this was to me when I became immersed in fantasy baseball when I went back to visit my parents that summer and found that the Boston Globe definitely did not do this, which was immensely frustrating.

To further feed my fantasy baseball habit, I bought USA Today once or twice a week, as it had detailed baseball transactions. I also bought USA Today’s Baseball Weekly, which featured in-depth coverage of the ongoing season combined with fun historical articles. It was a competitor of The Sporting News, which had been the preferred paper for fantasy baseball owners for years, but for whatever reason I picked and stuck with BW. I even cut out a stack of articles from it over the years, which I still have sitting in my office upstairs. While these papers are both still going, I suspect they lost much of their readership to fantasy web sites in the early 2000s. Both of these papers I picked up from the newsstand rather than subscribing – these were the days when convenience stores would have racks of papers, so it was easy to find them.

Madison had at least two other newspapers while I lived there, one being the weekly free local paper Isthmus, and the other being The Onion. Yes, that paper. I kind of regret not saving some of my copies of The Onion from when it was a local humor weekly, as keepsakes. Especially the one with my all-time favorite headline, “Chick Corea Falls to Communists”. Anyway, I think Madison may have had another local weekly – probably entertainment-focused, and maybe others I no longer remember, but those are the four I recall.

Another thing which was in vogue in the 90s were weekly newspapers which would collect political and other cartoons, as national syndication could be spotty for some artists. It was a great way to follow, for example, Tom Toles, or other favorite political cartoonists at the time. Once newspapers started going online, these papers largely went away.

I think initially I was buying the Wisconsin State Journal at a nearby convenience store, and only during baseball season, but once I finished school and got a real job I subscribed. This was a little exciting as I lived in a fancy (for Madison) apartment building with a locked front door, so everyone in the building who subscribed got their papers dumped in the atrium outside that door. The delivery person did write the apartment unit on each paper, though, so everyone knew if they’d gotten theirs or not.

In 1999 I moved to the Bay Area, and again I chose my paper based on its baseball coverage, going with the San Jose Mercury News, which like the Wisconsin State Journal had excellent daily baseball boxscores. What it also had was a muckraking sensibility which regularly exposed scandals in local and state politics. As the newspaper industry has contracted, the Merc has changed ownership a couple of times, but the paper is still pretty solid, with national, local, and sports/finance sections – plus comics pages, games pages, weather, and a pretty hefty Sunday edition. Between my recent visit to Boston where I bought a Globe exactly once, and accidentally receiving a copy of the San Francisco Chronicle last week, I have a new appreciation for the Merc‘s standing among daily newspapers.

My current home town of Mountain View also had a weekly local paper, the Voice, part of a network of local papers in the area. The Voice discontinued its print edition at the beginning of COVID in 2020, but continues to publish online. It’s not quite the same, and I miss picking up the Voice every weekend when we’d go downtown for dinner, but I still pitch 10 bucks per month to support them. They do good work.

The Merc is pretty expensive to subscribe to these days, but I still get it. One good thing – for me – about the decline of newspapers is that my paper hardly ever gets stolen out of my driveway anymore. Sure, I could read all this stuff online, but I enjoy reading it on paper. For now it’s worth it to me.

I don’t feel nostalgic for the eras of newspapers of the past, though I do think they served a valuable role in investigatory news which has been seriously degraded over the last 20 years. It would be nice if we could have that and what we get from the Internet, but it seems it isn’t to be. I wouldn’t be surprised if all but a few big national papers and some niche local papers like the Voice fold completely in my lifetime.

It’s strange to think that my life has been witness to the end stages of the newspaper as a business and social phenomenon.

Back to Boston

I’ve spent most of the last two weeks in the Boston area, my first airplane trip since COVID started. I’m not going to say “my first post-COVID trip”, because COVID is still with us and probably will be for the rest of my life. Nonetheless, this trip did feel like a landmark.

It wasn’t a vacation, as I had to head back to take care of some personal business, which I’m not going to go into here. Originally I’d planned to be there for two weeks – July 19 to August 2 – but some of that business got truncated, so I ended up moving my flight earlier, coming home on July 28.

I flew JetBlue, which I’ve been flying for over a decade as they consistently have direct flights between the Bay Area and Boston, and they’re usually on time. My flight out left at 8 am, and the day before a friend posted on Facebook that the line at security at SFO had been insane, so we got up at 4:30 am and Debbi drove me up early. It turns out whatever had been the problem the day before was fine for me, and I got to the gate two hours early, the flight took off on time, and landed half an hour early.

I had massive anxiety about the plane flight ahead of time, even though as far as I can tell there have been negligible COVID outbreaks traced to airplanes. Staying masked for a 5-1/2 hour flight (even longer on the return trip) seemed implausible at best to me, if for no other reason than because I’d need to drink water regularly on the flight. I wore an N95 mask, but less than half the people on my flight were wearing any mask at all (and that was probably a pretty good rate, since I bet San Francisco and Boston have higher mask-wearing rates than most cities). Most people took off their masks to eat or drink, and, well, it’s really, really hard not to follow the examples of others, even when you know it’s not the smartest thing to do, and especially since the mask was starting to drive me crazy after a couple of hours (cloth masks are fairly comfortable, N95s are definitely not). So I took off my mask to eat and drink as well.

So I have a lot of sympathy for people who have to wear masks all day, and a fair amount of understanding for people who object to having to do so, as well as a fair amount of annoyance at people who blithely say or imply (usually through their tone) that that level of mask wearing is easy or should be globally expected.

Anyway.

My sister Katy took the opportunity to drive up to visit as well, bringing my nephew Ivan along, and they picked me up at the airport. We all crammed into my Dad’s townhouse. Fortunately said house has excellent air conditioning, because the first week of my visit had highs in the 90s and awful humidity every day.

It was good to visit with them and my Dad. I haven’t seen Dad since he visited me the fall of 2019, and it had been even longer since I’d seen Katy and Ivan.

I might have mentioned that we’ve been doing some work on the beach house we own on the south shore. “Some work” undersells it considerably, as in a sense we’re making up for several decades of deferred maintenance. On the bright side we have an excellent general contractor managing the project, and I finally got to meet him and see the progress firsthand. The really large chunk of work has been finished and now we’re on to the large-but-smaller pieces. As big an effort as it’s been, it’s going to be awesome when it’s done.

One of my tasks was to help my Dad buy an iPhone, because his flip phone uses the 3G network which Verizon is discontinuing at the end of the year. That went reasonably smoothly, and he seems to be picking up the essentials of using it pretty quickly (though he might not entirely agree). But then, he’s been using an iPad off and on for a few years, so he had some familiarity with it.

Originally, Katy, Ivan and I had planned to go to the Red Sox game on Friday, but we all bailed because of the heat. We’d eaten dinner outside several times and I’d wilted after about an hour, and couldn’t see myself making it through a 3-hour game. It turns out we missed an historic game, as the Blue Jays won 28-5, which is tied for the 4th-largest run differential in the modern era (since 1900). How often does one get to see something like that? Oh well! Hopefully whoever bought our tickets we either a Jays fan, or really wanted to drink a lot of beer.

Over the weekend I drove down to visit my in-laws, whom I also haven’t seen since the Before Times. I got to see all three of my niephews, and all four of the dogs – three of whom are new since our last visit. It was a nice quiet weekend other than chasing the dogs around.

Katy and Ivan had left by the time I got back – and of course while I took a bunch of pictures with the in-laws, we completely spaced taking photos with the three of us. Oh well!

I had some more tasks to do during the week, and also hung out with my Dad a bunch. I was happy to see it rain Monday evening, which finally cleared out the humidity and took a bunch of the heat with it. I also drove back Tuesday night to meet our contractor for dinner, which we both enjoyed. I ate out a lot on this trip, but was able to eat outside almost all the time.

I took a late afternoon flight home on Thursday, because I just didn’t trust dealing with getting up early, catching the T, and getting through security in time for one of the morning flights. Fortunately everything went smoothly, except that the plane took off almost an hour late due to general weather issues across the country, and didn’t land until about 1:30 am east coast time, so I was basically dead by the time Debbi picked me up and we got home.

We took the next day off and went out for breakfast, and then had a pretty quiet day otherwise. Domino-the-labradork is slowly adjusting to living with us: His personality is coming out as he gets more comfortable, and he is slowly getting less aggressive or excited around the cats. Progress!

I took COVID tests on both Friday and Monday, and both were negative. I decided to just work from home all week out of an abundance of caution, and will take another test at the end of the week. Maybe I got away with it.

It was a good trip, although holy cow Boston you can keep your summer humidity. Hopefully next time I can go back for a proper vacation, and Debbi can come with me.

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.