The first time I used Consumer Reports was probably when I bought my first car. In 1990 I was moving off of campus at college, and having a car would be handy for running errands and buying groceries and such. My Mom had a big stack of Consumer Reports in a cabinet in the living room (along with many, many women’s glamour and housekeeping magazines, plus a fair number of New Yorkers). While I was technically online in 1990, this was before the World Wide Web, so there were few online resources for buying things. Consumer Reports was basically the gold standard of independent consumer review publications. Its information made me decide that the best car for me in my price range (well, my mother’s price range, as she was technically buying the car) was a Honda or Toyota, which were the two most reliable brands. I ended up buying a light blue 1987 Honda Civic hatchback from Acura of Boston (which is still there!) for a whopping $5,000. I kept that car for 9 years across four states before selling it for $500 and replacing it with… a 2000 Honda Civic.
Sometime in the 1990s I subscribed to Consumer Reports myself, thumbing through each issue. I kept 3-4 years of issues at a time, recycling the older issues at the end of each year. It came in handy, and sometime in the late 2000s I decided to take advantage of an offer of theirs and extended my subscription for ten years.
Consumer Reports has not had a great decade, though. Its reporting on computers and other high tech has always been iffy at best, but its reports about the iPhone 4 “Antennagate” controversy led me to completely disregard their reporting in tech. But more significantly, the proliferation of online review sites (The Wirecutter at the high end, but a dizzying assortment of specialized sites for almost everything you can want to buy is also out there) has reduced its value significantly.
My long-running subscription expired with the October 2020 issue, and I decided not to renew it. While I still flipped through it every month and sometimes found something interesting or useful, that was happening less and less. I imagine Generation X will be the last generation which reliably subscribes to Consumer Reports – and we’re a small generation. I have no idea how much revenue they get from their online presence – it could be a lot, for all I know! – but if they’re still primarily relying on their print arm for revenue, they’ve probably got 20-30 years of life left, unless something radically changes in the world.
Anyway, maybe it’s time for my fourth go-round of subscribing to The New Yorker. It’s much more of a time commitment to read, but I bet I’ll get more out of it.
While summer technically ended in September with the autumn equinox, for me it felt like this weekend marked the end of the season. A big reason for this is that we’ve had an unusually warm summer, which lasted with highs in the 90s well into October (The Weather Channel says the temperature here hit 93°F on Oct 17, and was in the 80s and high 70s for a week thereafter). Even with air conditioning, it was a long summer. But climate change will probably make this the new normal – perhaps for the rest of my life. Pour one out for the Bay Area summers of highs in the 70s.
I took Friday off from work, as the pandemic means there isn’t much to use vacation time on other than staycations. I slept in a bit, and then went over to Byxbee Park in the Palo Alto Baylands, which was a delightful walk. I walked for about 20 minutes along the bay (more or less – it’s still pretty marshy around there), and then came back and hiked around the hills in the park. The hill reminded me a lot of the dry areas in Hawaii, with brown grass and scrub, and scenic views of the bay. I’ll definitely have to go back next time I want to do a longer walk. Although if we get some rain in the next month, it might look pretty different if the plants start waking up!
After my walk I drove up to our vet to pick up some medication for our cat Roulette.
Rou – who turned 17 in July – had had a rough week: Last Sunday after a normal morning and early afternoon, she suddenly slept for most of the next day and a half, didn’t seem able to jump like before, and was peeing outside of the litter box. She got a little better by Wednesday, but still didn’t seem quite right. She was also having a little, well, leakage in other places she slept, which would not be that big a deal if one of her favorite places wasn’t between my legs in bed overnight. So I’d picked up some puppy pads to lay down in a few of her normal places, and also ordered some waterproof blankets.
We talked to our vet on Thursday. We didn’t really want to take her in unless we had to, because the car and the vet really stresses her out (and we couldn’t go inside to the vet with her because of the pandemic). Our vet suggested that she might have arthritis, which might be getting worse as it gets colder, so she prescribed some meds for that. We’ve started her out at the lowest level, and it seems to be helping: She’s able to jump more, and she’s curling up more normally, not sticking her legs straight out as much. And while she’s not always hitting her litter, she’s doing better than she was last Monday. And she seems fine with the extra blanket I have over myself at night.
She still seems to be basically happy, so hopefully we can keep her comfortable.
Yesterday we filled out our election ballots and dropped them off, and then got ready for the evening.
Halloween for us is usually a pretty lively evening, as some years we’ve gotten 300 kids or more. Our neighborhood I think attracts kids from surrounding neighborhoods – and even cities – to be driven in. It’s not really a big deal for us – Debbi enjoys seeing all the costumes, especially of the young kids, and we buy a bunch of candy and when we’re out we’re out – but this year of course we had no idea how many kids would show up.
So I bought a couple of bags of candy and we divided them up by putting 2 or 3 pieces each into a plastic snack bag. Then around 5:30 Debbi laid a bunch of baggies out on our front steps. I cleaned off our wooden glider and sat there, while Debbi brought out a folding chair, and we sat on the front porch to say hi to people as they went by or came up to get candy.
Some friends stopped by and hung out in the yard for half an hour before they drove around to look at Halloween decorations (something we did on Friday night). Otherwise we had a steady trickle of kids until about 8:15 pm, with maybe 50 to 60 kids coming by. Most of the kids were younger and accompanied by their parents, and almost all of them were wearing cloth masks and/or keeping their distance from other people. So it seemed pretty safe for everyone involved, and we felt pretty good about having helped them have a positive Halloween experience.
Our award for “best costume” was a girl – maybe 11 years old or so – who went as a jellyfish: She carried an umbrella which had streamers and strands of mini LED lights hanging from it, with frills around the edges. It was a neat look.
Today we made our weekly run to the farmer’s market, and then mostly sat to watch football. But I did go out to mow the lawn for what will probably be the last time this year. Our lawn has been getting a bit ratty, between the clay-like soil getting bumpy, and the drought a few years ago killing off some random patches around the edges. Now we have a zone of sprinklers which isn’t working, and that grass is dying, too. We’ll probably have someone come in and at least fix the sprinklers and spot-patch the lawn, although I’m sorely tempted to just get the whole thing re-sodded.
Anyway, it’s been a long strange summer around here. I’m looking forward to winter and hoping we get some good rainfall to stave off another drought. But I know the winter is going to be rough for the nation, as it will signal an end to outdoor dining for restaurants in many places, and I bet the inability to do things outdoors will lead to even wider spread of COVID-19.
I dearly hope Joe Biden can win the Presidency on Monday. I think he’ll not be a lot more than a caretaker President, but anything would be better than the incompetence of the Racist Impeached President Trump administration, whose lack of leadership has lead to over two hundred thousand American deaths. Otherwise I expect we’ll be stuck in quarantine until at least some time in 2022, if not even later, as I doubt Trump and his sycophants are capable enough to spell ‘vaccine’, never mind organize distributing one.
The weekend after our trip to the coast, we noticed that Edison was feeling kind of down – or a least acting that way. He’s been a high-energy kitten, but now he was spending a lot of time sleeping, not really playing. He was eating and drinking, and would engage with us if we worked at it, but otherwise he was just finding different sleeping spots and hanging out there.
So Saturday we took him to the vet – we seem to spend a lot of time at the vet since getting these kittens, but fortunately all for treatable issues. In this case, Edison was running a fever, so our vet gave him some subcutaneous fluids and a shot of something – I think a broad-spectrum antibiotic – to help him shake it. She also drew some blood to run a deeper test if that didn’t help. And then we took him home.
Happily, that treatment seemed to do the trick, as by Monday he had perked up considerably, and by today he was just about back to his normal self. I think his brother Simon missed having his playmate, although he is pretty self-entertaining. But seeing Edison charge after toys at high speed again was a joyful thing.
I guess this is just part of getting new kittens: They come with some new issues. But hopefully now that we’ve taken care of the chlamydia, the conjunctivitis (twice!), and whatever this was, they won’t come down with anything else for a while. For years, with any luck.
Puzzles have been a popular pastime during the pandemic lockdown. We’ve only done one, though: Megaplanet, which was pretty neat both because of its vivid colors and its round shape. We finished it over the course of a week – and found we were missing two pieces. Since we have young kittens, we suspected they might have been the culprits, and indeed I found one piece under the couch. But no luck finding the other one so far, so we eventually gave up and took it apart. Would definitely recommend, though.
But this weekend we found ourselves with another puzzle to unravel, as it were:
Like most people, we now own a bunch of cloth masks. Debbi puts them through the laundry in a lingerie bag, which seemed great until she took out the latest load with eight masks in it. In addition to the ear loops, many of our masks have loops to hang them over your neck when not using them. (This is pretty handy when driving from place to place.)
The problem is that the eight masks their loops all tangled up in a big mass. After quite a few minutes Debbi was able to free one mask, but after another while she got frustrated and handed it to me.
It took me several minutes to figure out how to tackle the problem: Pulling at the tangled mass wasn’t any good, as pulling on one end just tightened another end. But eventually I figure it out:
I laid the masks on the counter, with the mass in the center, and arranged them in a circle around the mass. Then I realized that it was a puzzle with two “moves”:
Undo a twist in the loops of two adjacent masks, and
Push one mask through the loop of an adjacent mask.
So the trick was basically to figure out which masks were “adjacent” to each other, and then to take whichever two masks had the “outermost” connection and perform one of the two moves. Every few moves I’d rearrange the masks slightly (basically a simple form of undoing a twist), but this technique made it really easy to methodically untangle the mass. Two masks got freed after a number of moves, and then after a few more moves the other five were freed from each other.
It was actually a pretty neat little puzzle! Not one we need to do every time, and we’re trying to figure out how to wash the masks without this happening again. But it gave me a nice little feeling of accomplishment.
Debbi and I took a vacation day yesterday. I’ve taken some time off since the pandemic started, but Debbi hasn’t taken much, and she was ready for a day off. We decided to take a day trip to one of our favorite places in the Bay Area, Half Moon Bay.
Our trip was slightly complicated by the latest round of fires in the region, specifically the Glass Fire, which has triggered evacuations in the north bay, and dropped a new layer of smoke across the area. But the smoke mostly stayed above the ground layer, so we decided it was safe to go. Well, as safe as anything is in the middle of a pandemic.
It turns out that a pedestrian bridge along our usual walking route was closed – not clear why, but we assume it’s due to the ongoing erosion of the sandstone cliffs along the ocean – so we parked somewhere else and walked along the streets and trails near Pillar Point Harbor. The ocean waves were high, and there were a bunch of surfers out. Also a number of walkers, joggers, and bicyclists, but for the most part it was not hard to keep our distance from others. The ocean mist combined with what smoke did come down to sea level helped keep it from getting too warm, as the area is also in the middle of a heat wave.
We’d made reservations at the Miramar Beach Restaurant, which we’d eaten at once before, and where I saw some friends of ours ate last month. They managed to lose our reservation, and the hostess had trouble keeping her mask over her nose, but otherwise it was a good outing: We only had to wait 15 minutes for a table on their patio, and they were otherwise doing a good job of serving customers with physical distancing and masks.
Afterwards we stopped by the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, which is one of several San Mateo County parks which is still closed, so that was a bummer. But, we stopped off at Dunking Donuts on the way home.
Did I mention the heat wave? It was about 100°F at home, while it only got a little above 80 in HMB. Despite that, we got a little too much sun and spent the rest of the day lying around at home. The cats – who have had us around almost 24 hours a day since early March – seemed a little put out that we’d been gone. The kittens of course have never seen us leave for so long, and Edison was unusually snuggly with me in the evening.
Despite the bumps, it was a nice, relaxing day. And it was nice to get away – safely, we think – for a change.
The big news this week in our area were the eerie yellow and red skies due to the marine layer lofting the smoke from fires up north high into the atmosphere. (More here.) It was yellow and dark most of the day here in Mountain View, but further south and north the skies were red and much darker. But the air quality at ground level was actually fine, it just made for a from and foreboding rising every time one looked out the window.
The apparent end of the world was overshadowed for me because Jackson started showing signs of conjunctivitis again, meaning I guess the respiratory infection some of the cats had a month ago isn’t entirely gone. So we took him to the vet and got some meds. We couldn’t take him in until the end of the day, so I spent much of the day looking out at the dire heavens, and worrying about our boy. So we’re going him two meds for a week and then we’ll revisit. It remains to be seen whether the others will also need meds, although Edison started showing signs of eye trouble today. Sigh. I was really hoping a month after finishing the last round of meds that we were done with this.
(Despite the dramatic coloring, our weather was greatly overshadowed for the rest of the country by the disastrous wildfires in Oregon, which have been about as bad as anything I can recall in California.)
Unfortunately the marine layer moved out of the area by Friday, which meant the smoke came down to earth, and our air quality has been lousy for the last couple of days. Even worse up in San Francisco, I think. But we’ve basically been sitting inside, running the house fan and occasionally and A/C (the outside temperature did hit 80°F today, and the sun even came out). I don’t think anyone really knows, but the best prediction I’ve heard is that we won’t get relief (in the form of winds blowing the smoke elsewhere) until at least Monday.
Of course, the best thing would be for the fires to get put out. California firefighters have been doing a heroic job of containing the fires – the three large ones around the Bay Area are almost completely contained – but the whole west coast and several inland states have been set ablaze and things are bad.
Anyway, hopefully next week will be better. On top of the pandemic, this week was just nuts.
Originally the plan was that this was the year we’d take lots of trips. I haven’t taken many vacations the last few years, largely because I’ve been working on some exciting and rewarding things at work (most notably Xcode’s new build system, and support for Apple Silicon Macs), so we’d mainly just taken our annual trip back east to visit our families in the summer. But this year we’d planned to do that, and go to Hawaii, and maybe visit a friend in Portland, and maybe go somewhere we hadn’t gone before, such as Seattle or San Diego.
But, I still had lots of vacation time saved up, and was getting close to our vacation cap, so after taking the odd day off here and there, I decided to take last week off.
Originally I’d figured I’d spend some time walking around outdoors, and hopefully make a trip over to the coast when I could visit the seashore with fairly few other people around. But that was before a freak lightning storm a couple of weeks ago touched off enormous wildfires around the Bay Area. In particular the CZU Lightning Complex lit up large sections of the mountains between here and the Santa Cruz coast, which wiped out historic FDR-era buildings in Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Other coastal communities asked people not to come to the coast since they were where affected people were evacuating to (I have a few friends & cow-orkers who were in evacuation zones from various fires).
So, a staycation it was. And mostly inside because the air quality was often quite bad. I went out for walks when I could, sometimes with a bandanna just to filter the air particles a bit, but I tried to avoid the worst times. And I put running on hold.
I spent a lot of my vacation playing Magic Arena, leveling up on the constructed ladder. I made Platinum, which was pretty nice since I wasn’t trying that hard. Still a long way to go if I ever want to make Mythic, though. Someday, maybe! I also played a bunch of Overcooked 2 on our Switch with Debbi and her sister, and we’ve been getting pretty good at it.
My other project was to sift through the stack of old – in some cases very old – Apple hardware I had sitting around unused, and figured out which pieces I could trade in for gift cards. I got through most of them, and the trade in process seems pretty nice: Apple sends me prepaid boxes to ship them back in. They also have a recycling program for stuff which isn’t worth anything, but you have to find a box and pack it yourself. For that I decided I’ll just take it to our community E-waste center, which is where I usually took such stuff. All of this made me feel accomplished, but it took a while because pulling serial numbers and info off of the old, often wiped-clean machines was not simple. Collect this info before you wipe your devices, kids!
I also did a bunch more clean-up in the study, and it’s looking pretty good now.
Beyond that we did a bunch of random stuff at home: Worked on a puzzle, I made my favorite Indian dish, played with the kittens, had a socially-distanced happy hour with a couple of Debbi’s friends, and so forth.
Not exactly where I’d wanted to spend my vacation time, but I expect I’ll take at least a couple more such weeks before we have a vaccine, so, shrug. I realized by the end that I had been pretty burned out at work, so I really did need some downtime.
If all goes well, a year from now maybe we’ll be back visiting our families again. If Incompetent Racist Impeached President Trump is reelected, it might be another year or two after that before things start getting back to normal.
Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. I love our home, but this has been a lot of home.
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first: You may recall that they had upper respiratory infections and kitty conjunctivitis when they arrived, which we treated them for. Well, it turns out it was worse than that: The infection they almost certainly had from the start was kitty chlamydia, which we learned when their big brother Jackson’s right eye started watering and got hecka inflamed. We found out because we took him in to get tested.
So the three boys were on antibiotics for three weeks. We decided not to treat Sadie and Roulette because neither of them had showed any symptoms, and both of them had been avoiding the kittens (and Roulette avoids Jackson anyway). It was a bit of a risk, because if it turns out one of them was infected, then we’ll get to do this again, for all five of them. So of course every time I see Sadie sniffle I think, “uh oh”. But Sadie is a sniffly, slightly-drooly cat anyway, and she hasn’t shown the eye watering that all three of the boys showed. It’s been a week and a half since we finished their meds and none of them seem to be showing any symptoms, so it seems we got away with it.
The other downer is that a couple of weeks ago we were watching The Mandalorian, while the kittens were playing hard, when Edison jumped down off the top of the cat tree and must have twisted his ankle or something because he stopped putting weight on one of his rear legs and went and hid behind the couch. We put a stop to playtime for the night and corralled him and took the kittens up to their room and closed the door and left them alone for half an hour. Then we checked on them and he was limping, but he was using the leg again. So we decided to let it go to the next day, and while he was favoring the leg he was using it, and it wasn’t stopping him from running around. So we’ve kept an eye on him, and will probably ask the vet to take a look when we bring him in for their next shots. He was less adventurous about jumping for a while, but maybe it was psychological. Recently he’s been back to his old self, getting all kind of places, so hopefully it was something small.
We have another appointment for them to get their next round of shots in a week so we’ll have the vet check them out and make sure they’re okay. Fingers crossed!
Anyway, end of bad news.
The good news is that both kittens are growing up and are now in that delightful time where they’re able to do more, and they’re interacting with us more.
You may have guessed that they’re no longer confined to a bedroom. We staged letting them out, first giving them play time upstairs – usually with Jackson monitoring or even playing with them – and then giving them supervised visits downstairs. Next we let them out all day from morning til night, putting them back for the night. And finally last weekend we left them out overnight, which predictably ended up with us being kitten-piled at 2:30 am, but otherwise they seem to have adjusted well.
Jackson, somewhat to our surprise, is quite fond of the kittens. At first when they’d run up to him he’d tackle them too hard and they became wary of him, but after a week or so he figured it out, and the kittens would look for him whenever we let them out of their room. Simon in particular loves Jackson and would rub up against him whenever he first saw him after being released. We eventually caught Jackson and Simon sleeping together, with Jackson roughly grooming Simon and Simon purring away in happiness. The next development was hearing cats running around the house and spotting Edison chasing Jackson through the dining room. That chase ended with a hiss, I think because Jackson didn’t think a kitten could keep up with him, but they’ve had some chase time since then and it’s gone well. Jackson sometimes gets a little tired of the kittens and finds a place to get away from them, but mostly they get along great.
Sadie and Roulette… it’s a work in progress. Sadie I think has been trying to figure out how to play with them, but has been having a hard time finding a way to do it without wapping them with her paw. It’s funny because she and they all have their spaz-all-over-the-house moments, but they haven’t played chase yet.
Meanwhile, I think Edison is looking for his special big cat to love, the way Simon has Jackson, and he’s chosen… Roulette, our grumpy 17-year-old cat who has spent most of the time since the kittens arrived under our bed. Fortunately we quickly identified that she came down to eat and use the litter, and finally she started coming down to hang out with us in the evening. But Rou would really like to be an only cat. Which is why Edison giving her the hard sell has been so funny: Sitting near her, watching her, trying to sneak up on her and lie next to her or lick her head. She is getting less belligerent, but I don’t know whether he’ll win her over. But he’s trying so hard. It would serve her right if he does, though, since that’s basically the hard sell that she gave my cat Jefferson when she was a kitten.
We’ve been trying to promote acceptance by giving everyone wet cat food together. Roulette and Simon are both very food-oriented, and Jackson and Edison will also join in. Sadie is not really food-oriented and often sits and watches.
As you probably know California has been wracked with wildfires for the last couple of weeks, and the air quality combined with unusually warm weather this month has led us to keep the house closed up and the A/C on for most of the time since we released the kittens for good. So they haven’t really gotten the full experience of sitting in windows and watching things outdoors. They’ve gotten a little of that in the last couple of days, and it seems Simon is a sunbeam cat, while Edison is going to be the one who tracks every little thing that goes by outside. Hopefully we can make sure that doesn’t include him.
The best part is that both of them like to snuggle with us, and each one will spend time sleeping on our chest or sometimes our lap. Edison in particular will sometimes get up and visit each one of us, sitting on our chest for a couple of minutes purring away before he goes back to whatever he was doing. And sometimes we wake up in the middle of the night with one of the cats snoozing next to us.
Despite the hiccups, these are still great kittens, and I’m really glad we got them.
Back in 2012 I bought Debbi a Fitbit One for Christmas. Early in the next year Debbi bought one for me. We’ve been using them all this time, but this month my device finally gave up the ghost, first the button started being finicky, and then today it just shut down and couldn’t be resuscitated, even though I’d charged it just a couple of days ago.
For context, the Apple Watch didn’t come out until April 2015, so for over two years these were the only activity trackers we were using. And they seemed to do a pretty good job of tracking steps. I think I peaked at somewhere over 24,000 steps in a day in Las Vegas once.
For most of that time my daily step goal was 9,000 steps. I would usually beat that goal by a few thousand steps on running days, but I set it to be achievable on non-running days, which it usually was.
It was interesting to contrast it with my Apple Watch once I had both of them. A couple of years ago something happened so that my Fitbit thought I was running significantly faster than my Watch, and I suspect something was amiss with the Fitbit, measuring the distance I was running differently. Looking at the activity map it thought I zig-zagged all over the place, likely accounting for the discrepancy. Since I assume both devices were getting the positioning information from the same source – my iPhone – I’m not sure why they were so different. Even if the Watch has more accurate GPS built-in, it doesn’t explain why the Fitbit’s measurements suddenly changed. It was weird.
Fitbit had pretty good customer service, too: Both of our Ones died at some point – I think Debbi’s died twice – and each time they sent us a new One. Hard to argue with that. So I guess our current devices are really 5-6 years old, not almost 8 years old. Still, not a bad run for a tiny device with a presumably small battery. And mine has gone through the washing machine at least twice.
Our friends with Fitbits have mostly switched to other devices, and Fitbit has discontinued the One and as far as I know only makes wrist-based devices these days. And, well, I have my Apple Watch now.
I’ve been using Crest toothpaste for as long as I can remember, presumably because one or both of my parents used it when I was a kid. Sometime in the 90s, toothpaste manufacturers (or are they extruders?) started diversifying their products, and after trying various kinds, I eventually settled on Crest tartar control fresh mint gel as my preferred product.
(I don’t really strongly about paste vs. gel, but I’ve tried both cool mint and cinnamon flavors, and say “no thank you” to both of them.)
Back around 2013 I noticed that I could no longer find the gel in stores, so I turned to Amazon, which sold them – either directly or through third parties – in batches of 5-to-10 tubes. Annoying, but whatever. I also learned that you’re only supposed to use a pea-sized blob of paste to brush your teeth with, and while I still use a little more than that, cutting down made the tubes last a lot longer.
Unfortunately, my reprieve seems to have reached the end of the line: Amazon no longer offers this product, so I assume Crest has stopped making it. Which means sometime in the next week I will crack open the last tube of my favorite toothpaste, and sometime in the next eight months or so it will be gone. Alas.