Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Kitchenette gain

I mentioned in earlier posts how I’ve made some changes to my apartment’s small kitchenette recently. I got a shelf/cutting board to put over half of my stovetop, giving me more counter space, and I got a smaller microwave when I was forced to throw out the cockroach-infested big one, which freed up even more counter space.

I also got a coffee maker for the first time. Since it has a tendency to splash on the counter, and since I was running through paper towels really quickly already, I decided it was high time I restocked on reusable wipes and sponges, which I guess I stopped buying once the pandemic started and I switched to ordering groceries online for pickup. I never managed to find those items on the site before, so I fell out of the habit of buying them. But I finally committed to it and found them.

Which required a bit more kitchen refitting. Now that I had rinse-and-reuse wipes, I needed a place to hang the clean ones so they could dry out. Luckily, I have a second paper towel rack in my kitchen. When I moved in ages ago, I carried forward my father’s practice of using two kinds of paper towels, regular and microwave-formulated (without dyes). And I didn’t like the placement of the paper towel rack in the kitchen, so I installed a second one closer to the sink. Eventually I realized there was no point in using two simultaneous kinds of paper towel, since I could just use microwave-suitable towels for everything. So I stopped using the original rack.

So it occurred to me that if I put an empty paper towel roll in the long-abandoned dispenser, I could use that as a drying rack for the reusable wipes. After the first time I did it, I realized the cardboard roll would get soggy if unprotected, so I rolled some plastic wrap around it, and voila, I had a perfect drying rack. Well, not completely perfect, since it’s above the toaster oven, but I don’t think it’s close enough to be a fire hazard, and I can just put away the dried wipes before using the toaster oven.

Anyway, here’s the upshot of all this. There have been a number of times in the past when I’ve found myself feeling depressed when washing the dishes in the sink. It just made me sad to be be in the kitchen, and washing dishes was a chore that always seemed to drag on way too long. But since I made these improvements, I find that I don’t mind taking more time with the dishes, and I feel more upbeat when I’m there.

So I think these improvements I’ve made in the kitchen have helped me feel better about it. Part of it is just that it’s a change in my environment. I discovered in my youth that I needed to rearrange my bedroom from time to time for my peace of mind, because I got depressed being in the same unchanging environment and needed a fresh stimulus. It’s been much harder to achieve any major change in my apartment, since the rooms’ layout and the available furnishings don’t lend themselves to much rearrangement, and I’ve never been able to afford whole new ones. So it’s been a long time since I’ve gotten to make any significant change in my environment, and I think finally getting to make even incremental changes for the better in the kitchen has helped me feel a lot better in there.

Moreover, I think it might feel better because it’s brighter. I remember once in my adolescence when I realized that the big black dresser in my bedroom was depressing me, and I felt better when I swapped it out for the white one my sister had used before moving away to college, which reflected more ambient light and made the room a bit brighter and more cheerful. Here, my old microwave was silver but with a black door. My new microwave is all black, but it’s smaller and positioned differently, so instead of seeing the big black door in my peripheral vision when I’m at the sink, I see the white countertop and wall that were hidden by the old microwave. So I think that might be helping too.

But I think a major part of it is just that I’ve been taking action and solving problems, which creates a sense of accomplishment and gives me more confidence. And I think that’s helped nudge me a little out of the funk I’ve largely been in since the pandemic started, and take some initiative to start trying to improve things in little ways.

For instance, I recently made one more incremental change. I was trying to clear out some empty cardboard boxes I’ve been letting accumulate and take them out for recycling, and I found that one of them was the box my modem had come in, and it still had a bunch of associated cords and filters, as well as a base that you could attach to the modem to mount it vertically. For some reason, I’d never gotten around to attaching it, even though I do keep the modem in that position. I think it’s because I had trouble figuring out how to attach the base, since it seemed to resist clicking into place and I was afraid to try forcing it.

But I finally figured it out. The phone jack is inconveniently far from the computer desk, so I keep the modem on the floor by the bookcase since that’s the only place where the cords can reach both places and still be out of the way along the edges of the room. I have only a strip of cardboard between the modem and the carpet. So it occurred to me that the reason I couldn’t click the base into place was that I needed a firmer surface to push against. I slipped a clipboard under the modem, and voila, the base clicked in easily. It’s a tiny change, but it’s nice to know my modem is now more stable against tipping over. And again, there’s simply the satisfaction of finding the solution to a problem, however minor.

Categories: Uncategorized

What a gas-tly day I’ve had…

When I got back from Shore Leave the other week, I had just enough gas to make it home, plus a little extra, enough for a grocery pickup a few days later. I figured I’d go somewhere soon after that to get a few gallons, enough to hold me over with my infrequent driving until prices went down more. I discovered that the gas station right across the street from the grocery store had the lowest prices in the area, so I thought, okay, next time I need groceries, I’ll fill up there before my pickup.

It turned out to take two weeks before I needed groceries, and I placed my pickup order last night for between 11-11:30 AM today. So today at 11, I went down to the car, started to pull out of my parking space… and the engine suddenly sputtered and stopped. The electrical system was on, but nothing happened when I pushed on the gas pedal. I was stuck just beyond my parking space with no way to move the car. I tried checking under the hood to see if anything was wrong, but I had no idea what to look for. Mainly it was just performative, in hopes that somebody would see my plight and come to help. Nobody did.

I’d always wondered what would happen if my car wouldn’t start for a grocery pickup, so before I did anything else, I proceeded with my plan for that contingency: call up the grocery store and ask if they could change my pickup order to a delivery order. Turns out the customer service rep had no idea how to do that. She said she’d have them call me back in 5 minutes, but they never called back.

After I had enough time to think, I realized that instead of a breakdown, I might have simply run out of gas. I’ve never run out of gas before, so I didn’t know for sure what it was like, but it seemed to fit what happened, and I knew I was extremely low on gas. Anyway, I went up to let the building manager know about my car being stuck, but she wasn’t able to offer any assistance. I figured all I could do was walk up to the corner gas station with the gas can I keep in the trunk for emergencies.

But there was a new problem. The gas can is very old and I’ve never needed to use it before. I discovered that it was missing the part that sealed the opening. Now, the building maintenance guy was there with a painter, and they graciously offered to push my car back into the space, though it took me a false start or two to realize I needed to put it in neutral. The maintenance man then suggested using a plastic bag under the screw-on collar thingy to seal the can. That worked long enough to get me to the corner station and back, though I felt very uncomfortable lugging a metal can full of gasoline with a makeshift seal into the convenience store to get my receipt from the cashier.

The maintenance man had said that if he was still there when I got back, he’d help me figure out how to pour the gas into the tank. Unfortunately, he wasn’t still there. I tried to create a makeshift seal for the nozzle using the roll of electrical tape from my car’s emergency kit, but it was half-melted and sticky and didn’t hold at all. So I went upstairs for my more substantial role of gorilla tape and used that to make a seal, then tried pouring the gas. Long story short, the seal was imperfect and it took some false starts to figure out how to pour, so I spilled some gas on the ground and on my hand, which was very worrisome. Once I got back to my apartment, I washed my hands thoroughly and changed my clothes. I didn’t think I’d spilled any gas on them, but I didn’t want to take chances.

So I went back down and started the car just long enough to confirm that it was running again after all. It took a few moments for the gas to work through the lines, but then it started! I pulled back out of the parking space and then forward again. Success!

With one problem sorted, that left the grocery issue. I checked the website and found that my pickup order was still listed as ready and waiting. I called up to make sure I could still come in for it, and I had a long wait on the phone, but finally I talked to someone who said yes, sure, it would be available until tomorrow.

What I should’ve done at this point was relaxed and had lunch, then gone in later. Instead, I started out right away. I was in such a rush that I even forgot my mask. I figured I’d be outdoors the whole time and just shrugged it off. It’s the first time I’ve gone anywhere unmasked since the first lockdowns. (I did forget my mask once when I went for a walk, but I remembered in time to go back for it.)

So I thought I’d go to the gas station first and then pick up groceries, but the station was too crowded. I waited in line for a bit, moved into an open space, realized I was facing the wrong way to reach the gas tank, tried turning around and backing in, gave up, and just circled the block and went to pick up groceries. With that done, I drove by the station again, found the lane open, and pulled in to fill up. Since I drive infrequently, I’d planned to get only maybe five or six gallons, then wait until prices were lower to get more. But I found I was unable to shut off the nozzle! The little metal kickstand thingy that holds the lever in the on position wouldn’t disengage until it filled the tank completely. So I ended up paying for a whole tank after all. It’s less than I would’ve spent two weeks ago, but probably more than if I’d waited a few months until the tank ran low again. Well, at least I have the peace of mind that I won’t run out again anytime soon.

So anyway, in this grocery order, I bought a can of coffee grounds to use in my new coffee maker. But I had no sense of the size from the online ordering page, and it turned out to be huge. Apparently they were out of the size of powdered creamer I ordered, since they gave me a huge one of those too (though only charged me the cost of the one I ordered). I had to rearrange my cabinet a bit to make room for it. (I took out the salad spinner I hardly ever use and nested it inside the microwave steamer I hardly ever use.)

So now that’s all settled and I can relax for now. But I guess I’d better buy a replacement nozzle for my gas can, or just a new, more modern gas can, in case of future emergencies. And I do wonder what would’ve happened with my grocery order if I’d needed to take the car to the shop rather than just refuel it.

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Grounds for experimentation

Sometimes my local grocery store hands out bags of free stuff to its curbside pickup customers, and the most recent time this happened, the bag included a sample pouch of coffee grounds. I wasn’t sure what to do with them, since I didn’t have a coffee maker; I rely on coffee bags, which work essentially like tea bags. So I searched online for methods for making coffee without a maker. The only method I had the necessary equipment for was brewing the coffee in a measuring cup and pouring it through a fine mesh strainer, which does an imperfect job straining out the grounds. It was also suggested to dribble cold water on the coffee to make the grounds settle, so I did that and then strained it, which mostly worked.

Turns out the coffee isn’t bad; it’s a medium roast, described on the package as “smooth with a balanced flavor,” and I found it mild enough that I could almost take it black, though I did stir in a little creamer. It did taste a bit thin, but it seemed to have a pretty decent caffeine kick, which could be useful now that I’m weeks from deadline on my current writing project.

Afterward, I realized I also needed to search for how to dispose of coffee grounds. I’m glad I did that before I tried pouring them down the sink drain, which is apparently a bad thing. But it wasn’t easy to scoop them out of the measuring cup with a paper towel and throw them in the trash. It’s easier when the grounds are contained in a coffee bag.

It turned out not to be a great idea to try that coffee after having already had my regular cup that morning, since the second cup was pretty strong, and once the cumulative caffeine kick wore off, I was pretty zonked out and useless. So the next day, I started the day with a cup made from the loose grounds. This time, I tried pouring it more directly into the strainer in hopes of getting a less thin-tasting result, but I ended up with way too many grounds in the cup, and oddly a less full cup than I expected.

I considered just going ahead and buying a small single-cup coffee maker for about 20 bucks, something I’ve thought about doing in the past. I wasn’t quite sure where I’d keep it in my small kitchen, but I figured out that it would just fit in the cabinet where I keep my coffee and tea bags, so it could work.

Still, I decided to try something else first. It occurred to me that the next time I used a coffee bag, I could cut it open, rinse it out, let it dry, and insert it in my mesh strainer to catch the grounds. When I did that the next morning, I was planning to cut it on three sides so it would be flat, but after cutting two sides, I realized it could form a rough cone shape, which was better. Once dried out, it fit surprisingly well into the strainer:

Makeshift coffee filter with used coffee bag in mesh strainer

When I used it the next morning, it worked, but it was very slow. The grounds quickly built up in the bottom and blocked the liquid, so I could only strain a little at a time. I eventually found it went a bit faster if I used a spoon to push the grounds aside.

In any case, all this prompted me to investigate ground coffee and how much it would cost per cup. The Folger’s coffee bags I use run to about 28 cents per cup, but it looks like a can of the equivalent ground coffee would make enough cups that it would come out to under 5 cents a cup. So if I spent 20 bucks on a coffee maker, it would pay for itself in about 3 months, assuming one cup of coffee per day.

That realization of how comparatively expensive my coffee bag usage has been, combined with my lack of success at finding a reliable method for preparing loose grounds, convinced me to go ahead and get the coffee maker. I ordered it just after I signed my contract for “Aleyara’s Descent” on Thursday (since I like to know for certain I have money coming before I buy things).

It was delivered sooner than I expected, just a little while ago today (Saturday). This time the delivery guy brought it to the right building and handed it to me on the balcony, which was convenient for me, but seemed a bit too trusting of the guy not to confirm I was who I said I was.

I figured it was still early enough in the afternoon that I could go ahead and make a cup of coffee rather than waiting until morning. Of course, I followed the instructions to wash the reusable filter and do a dry (well, wet) run with just boiling water first, but then I made my first cup with the free coffee grounds, and I’m finishing it up as I write this, using the black ceramic mug that came with the machine, a nice bonus (I manage just fine with just my usual mug, but it’s nice to gain another one). I don’t exactly love the taste, but it’s okay, not too sour or bitter, though enough that I did add some creamer.

I think the coffee I made in the measuring cup tasted a little better. I wondered if that was because I “bloomed” the grounds first, letting them sit in a small amount of water for a minute before adding the rest. But a drip coffee maker adds the water gradually enough that it’s the same as blooming anyway, or so it seems to me. So maybe it’s just that the grounds were fresher last week. Or maybe the concentration of the coffee is different.

Anyway, now I finally have my own coffee maker for the first time in my life, and it’s compact and easy to use — although I haven’t gotten the hang of pouring water from the mug into the crescent-shaped reservoir without spilling some. I guess I should use a measuring cup with a spout for that. Also, it’s so lightweight that I have to hold it in place to push the power button, or it slides. And the power doesn’t automatically turn off after the cup is brewed, unlike the single-serve coffee maker in my hotel room at Shore Leave. That’s a bit inconvenient.

Still, it’s a good thing to have. I do like my coffee bags, but they’re a more expensive indulgence than I realized. And there’s no guarantee the store will always carry them. A coffee maker gives me more options.

Well, I think the caffeine buzz is kicking in, so I should get back to work.

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My new microwave

I was expecting it might take a few days after I got home from Shore Leave before I obtained a new microwave oven, so I made a stovetop meal with leftovers for lunch yesterday (forgetting that I usually use a microwave for reheating). But then I decided to start shopping online. I’d already settled on going for a smaller, less expensive 900-watt oven rather than the 1100-watt kind I’d had before. After thinking it through and comparing notes with Cousin Barbara, I realized my old microwave was too large for my needs anyway, and it was easy enough to adjust cooking times with a handy chart I found online and could print out.

Since I’d rather minimize human contact for the next couple of weeks as a COVID precaution post-convention, I figured I should get a microwave delivered. But rather than going to Amazon, I tried the Target site to see if they delivered, since they had cheaper options (and apparently the sale that I thought was ending last week was still ongoing). They actually had same-day delivery, but I soon realized that the oven I wanted was the same one I’d seen on my quick trip to the small local Target last week. It was just a few blocks away, and delivery would cost an extra 10 bucks.

So I decided to go in person after all. Since I already knew exactly what item I wanted and where to find it, I wouldn’t need to be in the store for long. And I had my N95 masks for extra protection. The only issue was carrying the thing, but I decided to drive up and find a parking space near the Target. I had to circle the block, but I found a space surprisingly close to the store near the end of my loop. (The blocks there are long and narrow, so the street behind the store is a very short walk from it.) I put a quarter in the meter for 12 minutes and hastened to run my errand.

The only snag was realizing I should go back and get a cart to carry the box to the register. They even let me take the cart out to my car, as long as I brought it right back, which of course I did. Though as it turned out, the smaller microwave wasn’t so heavy. I don’t know if I could’ve lugged it all the way home on foot, but it was easier to carry from my car to my apartment than it usually is to carry my groceries.

The new oven seems to work okay, though there’s going to be a learning curve getting the hang of the new controls — for instance, I can’t just tap in a time and hit start, since tapping any of the first 6 number buttons instantly starts cooking that many minutes. I have to hit “Time Cook” first and then the time. But it’s not that hard. For reheating my leftovers today, I weighed the serving on my kitchen scale so I’d know how many times to hit the “reheat” button, and it worked pretty well. I just have to remember in the future to hit that button twice for a serving that size.

The best thing is that the oven’s slightly smaller size lets me do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I have a small kitchenette, and the old microwave had to be positioned sideways to leave me enough counter space. Which meant that when I had the dishes drying on the rack between the sink and the microwave, the rack blocked the door from opening very far, so it was very hard to use the microwave after washing the dishes. But now, even though the new oven’s width is only a bit over an inch less, it’s small enough to let me do this:

Microwave facing forward next to drying rack

Yay! I no longer have to choose between doing the dishes and having an accessible microwave (and counter space)! The age-old dream is fulfilled!

Although that white towel is what I used when I had too many dishes to fit in the rack, so I put some on a wire cooling rack atop the towel atop the microwave. The new one might be a bit small for that, but I could use the counter space in front of it. Or the cutting block that provides a bit more counter space between the fridge and the stovetop, if I want access to the microwave (but then that would block my toaster oven).

One problem is that I store the dish rack on top of the microwave when I’m not using it, but the new one’s a bit small to make a good platform for that, and the new position puts it under the overhead cabinets, so it’s a bit more awkward to put things on top of it. Also, I have to be careful not to let that towel get caught in the door. I’m considering if I have any alternative places to store the rack.

As it happens, I also recently bought a glass shelf that goes over two of the burners on my electric stove, which also gives me a bit more counter space than I had before. Between the two, hopefully my kitchen won’t feel quite so crowded anymore.

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A surprise I did not need

Well, just when I thought everything was going reasonably smoothly in the run-up to Shore Leave — car repaired swiftly, COVID test scheduled promptly and turning up negative, my own physical fitness improved somewhat in recent weeks — I got thrown a bit of a curve ball. This morning, I noticed an odd silhouette on the clock of my microwave oven. Was there a bug on it? I looked closer, and it turned out there was a bug inside the clock. And then I saw another one crawl across it.

I have no idea how, but somehow some bugs must’ve nested inside the workings of my microwave, probably slipping in through the air vents or something. I’m not sure, but they’re probably cockroach nymphs. (I took a photo to show the manager, but I don’t want to inflict it on my readers.) I immediately took the microwave out onto the balcony, and as soon as the office opened, I went to notify the manager. Apparently I’m now required to get a cockroach spraying in my apartment, which is something I’ve always managed to avoid until now, relying on plastic roach baits instead. They’ve always worked in the past, but not so much lately, and now I’m wondering if a hidden nest inside the microwave might explain that. Anyway, they’ll presumably do it while I’m away, which works out, I guess. Unless they come today, but I didn’t get the impression they would.

Unfortunately, neither the manager nor I had any idea how to get bugs out of the inner workings of a microwave. Maybe putting a chunk of dry ice inside overnight would suffocate them, but I don’t have time to sort that out when I have to make final preparations for my trip tomorrow. And I’m not allowed to leave appliances sitting on the balcony. I hated to do it with an otherwise perfectly workable appliance, but my only option was to lug the microwave to the dumpster out back.

On the other hand, I just looked back through my records, and unless I omitted something, the last entry I have for buying a microwave oven was from 2005. Which appears to be consistent with when this model was on the market. So it had a good long run. And a new one can be had for about 100 bucks or so, which isn’t too bad, though it’s not great, either. (I’ll be getting a nice-sized check after I finish my current project in about a month, but I don’t yet have any work lined up beyond that.)

I checked, and apparently Target has a sale on microwaves that’s ending today. I decided to walk up to the Target store a few blocks away, a small one serving the university, to see if they had a suitable one. But I couldn’t carry it back; I had a hard enough time lugging the old one down to the trash. I thought I might ask if they did same-day delivery, the cost of which would presumably be cancelled out by the sale price.

But the only microwaves they had were 900 watts, while I’m used to 1100. Maybe if I’d had time to think it over, I’d have decided to settle for the lower power. But it was a token effort anyway, so I just went home (then promptly went out to return some library videos and mail a package, as long as I still had fresh sunblock on).

I guess I’ll just have to get by without microwave food for the rest of today and tomorrow morning, and then an unknown amount of time after I get home. That’s easier now than it would’ve been once, since I rely less on frozen dinners (stovetop mixes, pasta, etc. are cheaper) and use an electric kettle to boil water. But there are still a number of things I routinely microwave, like hot dogs, veggie-burger patties, and single-serve macaroni pouches (which I just restocked on yesterday, and only work in the microwave). Come to think of it, maybe I should get a smaller one next time after all, since I rarely use it for anything big.

I wonder if they make smaller 1100-watt ovens. Or does it scale with size, so that a smaller 900-watt heats as fast as a larger 1100-watt? I’m not sure that makes sense given how microwave ovens work, but maybe the energy is more concentrated in a smaller volume?

Trackpad travails

In breaking in my new keyboard, I’ve been having some issues with the built-in trackpad. There were a couple of occasions where it started glitching, the cursor dragging spontaneously to the side and the scroll strip (the equivalent of a mouse wheel) no longer working. I found I could reset it by unplugging the keyboard and plugging it back in, but it happened twice within the first few days, then again a bit over a week later. There was one time when scrolling worked intermittently and came on and off with no clear rhyme or reason. Also, the sensitivity of the pad seemed variable; sometimes it got so sensitive that I kept accidentally clicking on things while just trying to move the cursor across them.

So I was concerned I might have to swap it for a different keyboard, but when I went to Amazon to look into the return policy, I saw a troubleshooting page, and after looking it over, I realized the problem was probably that the driver hadn’t installed right, because I’d ignored the instruction to shut down the computer before plugging in the keyboard. I really don’t like to shut down or reboot my laptop, because it takes forever. I usually just hibernate it at night.

So I tried rebooting it at last, and after that, the pad seemed to stabilize. The sensitivity was normal again, and its behavior was consistent for a few days. It still tends to be slow to respond; I have to move my finger over it a bit before it starts to work, so if I try clicking or tapping it “cold” after not moving the cursor for a while, the click doesn’t go through. I wondered if this was another driver issue, but since it’s been pretty consistent from the get-go, I suspect it’s a built-in feature to guard against accidental clicks, or something. Not ideal, but I can get used to it.

But a couple of days ago, the scrolling stopped working again, and I had to unplug/replug the keyboard. I may have to try something more than just rebooting; the troubleshooting page suggested uninstalling the driver, shutting down, then plugging it in and rebooting. Of course, then I’d have to use the laptop’s own keyboard to shut it down, a bit more involved (since I keep the laptop sort of halfway under the desk on a wire rack for ventilation, so I have to kneel down and pull it out to access its keyboard). So I’ve been hesitating to do that.

See, I realized that the past couple of times the trackpad glitched, it was when I tried using it with damp fingers. (I’m a very frequent hand-washer.) So I’m wondering if maybe this is not a driver problem; maybe this particular trackpad just gets confused by the coldness or spread-out contact when there’s moisture on the pad. So maybe reinstalling the driver wouldn’t do anything.

Another possibility suggested on the troubleshooting page was interference with the USB port, suggesting plugging it into another port. The problem is that I don’t have a lot of options there. The ports in my laptop itself are taken or inaccessible. (The speaker jack stopped working several years back and I had to get a USB speaker/mic adapter that’s wide enough to block the adjacent port.) So my only real options are the ports on my USB hub, and if one of them had interference, they all might. And somehow it doesn’t really seem like an interference problem at this point.

I really should try the uninstall/reboot thing just on general principles, but I’m lazy. For now, I’m just waiting to see if the pad glitches again without moisture being involved.

I guess I put up with my old keyboard’s dirty contacts and responsiveness problems for so long, constantly having to fiddle with the left button and push it at just the right angle and pressure to get it to engage after multiple false starts, that having a keyboard that works fine aside from occasionally having to be plugged back in — or one that works fine as long as I keep my fingers dry — seems like a minor inconvenience by comparison, one I can live with in the same way.

Anyway, if anyone has any insights based on the symptoms I described, feel free to comment.

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My new (old) keyboard

February 13, 2022 2 comments

I’ve needed a new desktop computer keyboard for a long time now. I’ve had the same keyboard since 2007, and it’s gotten really worn out, but it wasn’t easy to replace. See, because of my shoulder tendinitis, I have trouble using a conventional mouse. Back in ’07, I finally found a special ergonomic keyboard, split in the middle and contoured, with a built-in wrist rest that has a touchpad in the center, which is much less strenuous on my shoulder than a mouse. (It’s also got volume and mute hotkeys built in, which is really handy.) But it’s a unique design, and I haven’t been able to find anything comparable. The only available option was to buy another of the original model, and that would run me around 70 dollars, quite pricey for a keyboard.

So I just stuck with my old keyboard and tried to put up with its increasing deterioration. The letters had worn off of many of the keys, which was okay since I can touch-type, but sometimes a problem when I was typing one-handed by sight while sipping tea or something. There was some kind of a glitch in the connection (I suspect in the USB adaptor for its original mouse and keyboard jacks) that occasionally caused it to disconnect for a fraction of a second so I’d have to retype. If it glitched while I was using Shift, Ctrl, or Alt, they would sometimes get stuck on and weird things would happen until I realized the issue and hit the key again to undo it. Worst of all, the left button on the touchpad had a very dirty or eroded contact and I had to push at juuust the right angle and pressure to get it to connect, so it often took multiple tries to highlight a piece of text or use a scroll bar, which was very frustrating. Still, I figured I’d just bear with it until something stopped working altogether.

But the other day, the E key suddenly became less responsive. I had to push firmly for a moment to get it to engage, and that really disrupted my typing rhythm, as you can imagine. So I decided that was the last straw. Despite the expense, I went ahead and ordered the replacement keyboard. I found I could pay on a 3-month installment plan, which is nice, but not really making much difference since I don’t expect to get much if any new income until 3-4 months from now, unless one or two pending things pan out within that time frame (or unless a lot more people finally start backing my Patreon). Still, I figured I didn’t really have a choice. How did I know the E key would keep working at all? I can’t be a writer with only 25 letters! (And yes, I know there have been whole novels written without the letter E, but that’s not an option for someone who writes about the starships Enterprise and Arachne, Troubleshooter Green Blaze, and the Tangent Knights.)

So I went ahead and ordered the new keyboard… and then I somehow managed to get the old one’s E key to work pretty much normally again, though I’m not sure whether it was by finally clearing whatever debris was sticking it or just by pushing down on it long enough to do… something or other. (It ended up permanently lower than the other keys, which had also happened to the T key a few years before.) Still, I couldn’t be sure it would last, so I didn’t cancel the order for the replacement.

I was initially told that the expected arrival date was Tuesday, but then I was notified that it had shipped and would be here Saturday (yesterday). It arrived yesterday afternoon, and it proved a simple matter to plug it in and start using it. The instructions said to turn the computer off first, but I wasn’t sure how that would work with plugging it into my laptop, and I figured maybe it was an outdated instruction that was no longer necessary. So I just plugged it into my active laptop, and the driver installed with no problem. I was using it within moments.

Though it’s the same model, it’s a bit more advanced, with a USB connector this time, so I no longer need the adaptor. The cord comes out further to the right, so it no longer goes into the cord clip built into my desk’s roll-out keyboard tray. But that’s fine, since it’s a heavy keyboard that doesn’t slide around anyway. Other than the brand logo being in a different place, it’s otherwise exactly the same as the previous one, except all the keys work normally.

Which is great, since I don’t have to adjust to a new layout. All my old comfortable typing reflexes still apply. The only habit I’ll have to unlearn is my expectation to struggle with the left touchpad key. Although I’m still getting used to the new touchpad, whose sensitivity is a little different than the old one. Sometimes it seems to need a bit more pressure applied to start responding, yet paradoxically, sometimes I accidentally select something when I think I’m just hovering over it and not pressing hard enough to engage. And I probably need to relearn that left-clicking may be a better option sometimes than tapping the pad.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that the first thing I did with the old keyboard after plugging in the new one was to pop out a few of the keys to see if I could clean the crevices between/under them. I was always afraid to try that before, since I didn’t know if they were designed to be detachable. Turns out they are, and if I’d know that all along, I could’ve kept the crevices/contacts cleaner and probably kept using it longer. But I still can’t figure out whether the left touchpad key is detachable for cleaning, and that was my biggest problem. Plus cleaning the contacts wouldn’t have helped with the worn-out letters and the glitchy connection. At least I know that I’ll be able to clean out the new keyboard when necessary. Though I wish it were one of those newer models with an integrated surface so you don’t have to worry about crumbs or hairs getting under the keys.

But hey, my previous keyboard lasted through almost 15 years of heavy usage with poor maintenance. Hopefully this one will last even longer.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

A new card for a new year

I can now say something that I haven’t been able to say since college: I have a new library card!

I’ve known for some years that the Kenton County Public library, whose nearest branch is just across the river from Cincinnati in Covington, Kentucky, had a fair number of books and comics that the Cincy library system doesn’t have, and vice-versa. But I visited there infrequently over the years, and the route there is a bit tricky. Well, there’s a quick route through Downtown Cincinnati and over the Roebling Suspension Bridge (essentially a prototype for the Brooklyn Bridge that John A. Roebling built later), but that bridge has been frequently closed for repairs over the past decade — more often than not, it seems, at least at those times when I’ve gotten around to considering a library visit — and the other routes are kind of complicated. So I never got around to applying for a library card there, since I wasn’t even sure I’d be eligible, as a non-resident.

Lately, though, I found that the KCPL has a number of recent Star Trek novels that the Cincinnati library doesn’t have, and I realized it could be quicker to get them (and other items) from there than to request them through the SearchOhio library loan system. So I finally looked into their library card policies, and it looked like Greater Cincinnati residents were eligible. At least, I was able to apply online by entering my address and putting Hamilton County into the “Other County” box on the form, and a day or two later, I got confirmation that a card account had been created and I’d get my physical card in the mail in a few days.

The card came yesterday, along with a letter saying I’d need to go into the library physically and get it activated for in-library use, as opposed to just online access. I could probably have just requested items through their site and then gotten it activated when I went to pick them up, but just to be sure, I decided I should get it activated first. And the library was still open for a few more hours before its New Year’s closure. Plus, I had a new library card and I was eager to try it out!

I checked first to find out if the Suspension Bridge was open (it’s the only suspension bridge out of the six on the Cincinnati riverfront, so we just call it the Suspension Bridge), and it turned out that it was closed for repairs yet again; indeed, it had been slated to reopen at the end of 2021 but there had been delays. So I had to take the more roundabout route Google Maps recommended, the I-71 route over the Brent Spence Bridge (the one in the foreground of the photo linked above, which a family friend used to call the Bent Springs Bridge due to its reputed effect on car suspensions). Apparently that bridge is overdue for repairs or replacement and there are doubts about its safety, but I didn’t know that until I looked it up just now. Hopefully the infrastructure bill that Congress finally passed last year will bring some much-needed improvements, though it will take a while.

Anyway, that route isn’t fun for other reasons, since I had to do some scary merges from the left onto the freeway, and there were some confusing branches where the Maps voice told me to take the left fork when the signs told me to get in the right lane, that sort of thing (luckily I followed the signs, which was the right thing to do). It’s a route I’ve taken before a few times to get to social gatherings at a friend’s house, but that hasn’t happened since before the pandemic, and I never did it often enough to get familiar with the route. Still, I managed to survive the perilous merges and the antiquated bridge and reach the library intact.

The letter said I needed to show two forms of ID to get my card fully activated, but the library clerk didn’t even ask to see them, just doing a quick setting change on the computer and handing me the card back. I didn’t want to hang around too long indoors, even though I’m vaccine-boosted (a bit over 2 weeks ago, so I should be good) and everyone seemed to be masked (myself included, of course). So I just went over to their science fiction shelf — I remembered roughly where it was from my last, pre-pandemic visit, after interviewing there for a job I didn’t get — and made a few quick picks, then took them to the desk to be checked out. Apparently that’s still done manually there, as opposed to the Cincinnati library where there are automated stations for checkouts. (I have mixed feelings about that, since it’s preferable in pandemic conditions but regrettably impersonal.)

The last time I drove back from Covington, I found the Maps directions confusing and took a wrong turn, getting lost for a few minutes before I found my way back to the route. So this time I selected a different route back on my phone, eastward over the small Licking River into Newport, KY and across one of the bridges there, which I’m more familiar with from trips to the mall and movie theater in Newport in past years. Unfortunately, Google Maps’ directions for how to get out of the library parking lot were confusing; they told me to go north on a certain street, but I didn’t know which way was north or what street it was, and the display on my phone didn’t make it clear (since Maps doesn’t always get your starting point or direction quite right before you begin moving). So I just improvised and let Maps recalculate as I went, and unbeknownst to me, it completely ditched my eastward route and sent me back the way I’d come, something I didn’t realize until I saw signs pointing to I-71. Or really I didn’t quite realize it was the same route until just now, checking routes on Maps as reference for this post. It was much simpler going back the other way, without the harrowing merges and confusing branches, so it didn’t feel the same. Luckily it wasn’t the same confusing route as last time, just straight onto the interstate. Still, I’ll be glad when the Suspension Bridge reopens. It’s narrow and a bit scary to drive over, but at least it’s direct.

For future reference, I’ll have to remember that from the library parking lot, north is toward the library. I probably won’t visit too often, but hopefully my sense of direction in Covington will improve on future visits.

One more difference between libraries, by the way, is that the KCPL’s checkout period is four weeks instead of three. That’s handy. On the other hand, by coincidence, the KCPL’s online catalog just recently upgraded to the same system the Cincinnati library uses, so it’s a familiar interface.

Going forward, I’ll just have to be careful not to get confused about which library to return things to. It shouldn’t be too hard right now, since I currently only have DVDs borrowed from Cincy and books from Covington. But I can be forgetful. Still, that’s a minor concern. I now have access to even more library materials than before, and that’s unambiguously a good thing.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , ,

Booster engaged

December 16, 2021 1 comment

I am boosted! I just got back from the hospital, where I got my COVID vaccine booster. I went to the same hospital as last time, but things have changed. The vaccination center was a huge, crowded operation last year, but today it was just in the pharmacy inside the hospital’s little bookstore/souvenir shop, and only a couple of other people were there. I hope that means that most people have already gotten their boosters, or that they’re taking advantage of the free vaccine clinics at the board of health or getting them from their local pharmacies. I tried going to a walk-in vaccination clinic at the board of health a week or two ago, but the parking lot was full so I gave up. A good sign, I guess.

Since it was a relatively warm day, I started to walk to the hospital, which is only a 15 to 20-minute walk from home. But I started out too late, and once I’d gotten a couple of blocks, I decided I wouldn’t make it in time, so I walked back home and took my car after all. As it turned out, what with parking and all, I ended up ten minutes late anyway. I’m not sure I really saved myself any time. Still, that would’ve made more of a difference last year, when so many people were making appointments that a slot might be snatched up between the time you saw it and clicked on it on the hospital’s site. This time, it wasn’t busy at all, so I guess being late didn’t matter.

Another thing that turned out not to matter was the identification number and QR code they e-mailed me and told me to keep on hand. The pharmacist explained that was just a backup if they couldn’t find my name in their system.

Anyway, I got the Pfizer vaccine for my first two shots, but now the hospital only offers Moderna. Apparently the science says it doesn’t really matter which one you get as a booster, and mixing and matching might actually increase immunity a bit. The one cause for concern is that I know I had a mild reaction to the Pfizer vaccine, while Moderna is an unknown quantity. So I might feel kind of bad for the next day or so. No evident symptoms yet, though. My arm isn’t sore, but then, it took some time for the soreness to set in the first time (there was none the second time).

I mentioned before that my first shot hurt significantly (at injection, not later) while the second was so painless that I wasn’t convinced I’d even gotten injected (I never look). I figured the difference was that I was too tense the first time and more relaxed the second. So I made sure to relax my muscles this time too, and I just felt a mild jab and then nothing.

When the pharmacist advised waiting around for 15 minutes, I said, “It’s a good thing I’m in a bookstore, then.” But it turned out to have at least as many of its shelves devoted to tchotchkes, toys, candy, etc. as to books and magazines, I guess for the benefit of patients or visitors buying them gifts. Still, I got to browse through a science magazine, something I don’t do enough anymore.

So now my immune system should be reinforced, which is good, since they’re tentatively planning to hold the Shore Leave Convention in person again in 2022, after going virtual the previous two years. I don’t know if the rise of the omicron variant will force them to change their plans, but for now, I’m hoping to be there if I can. Here’s hoping!

Calculator update (further updated)

This morning, I decided to see if I could find a way to fix the blanked-out row of LCDs on my calculator, after determining that the batteries weren’t the problem. Looking it up online suggested that there was probably a dirty or broken connection in the ribbon of circuits connecting the display to the circuit board, and that it was theoretically possible but extremely difficult to fix.

Taking the long shot, I unscrewed the back of the calculator again — swapping the old batteries back in while I was at it, since they were still good after all — and tried to spot the problem. Seeing nothing, I just generally tried to fiddle with the connecting ribbon and push any loose connections back into place. I have an old irrigation syringe left over from my orthodontic surgery decades ago (since I’m a bit of a pack rat and I often hold onto things just in case they might prove useful someday), and I used it to puff air under the ribbon in hopes of blowing any dust free. But nothing seemed to make any difference. So I figured I’d done all I could and closed the calculator back up again.

Then, just as a last-ditch, token effort since I had nothing left to lose, I resorted to the ultimate fallback — percussive maintenance. I just tried banging the calculator around in hopes of knocking something back into place.

And it worked!!!

I’m not kidding. It actually restored the display to full function, at least for now. Brute force did the job when delicacy failed. I have no idea if it will hold, but at least I have hope that if the problem does recur, I’ll be able to bang it back into place again. Though hopefully there was just a speck of dust or something that’s now gone, and it’ll be fine. Still, I’ll try to remember to be gentle with the calculator lest something get knocked loose again.

That left the question of what to do with the unnecessary replacement batteries I got. Amazon doesn’t let you return batteries, because they’re technically hazardous materials, but it does allow refunds. I didn’t feel right about getting a refund on perfectly good batteries I still had, but if the calculator had proven irreparable, I might’ve done it anyway. As it is, though, since the calculator is still working (for now), I might still have use for the batteries in the future. So no refund — I just put the batteries back in the pouch they were shipped in, taped it back up with a note saying “For calculator” so I wouldn’t forget, and put the pouch in the closet where I keep my other spare batteries. I figure if the original batteries have lasted for so many years (the manual is copyrighted 2003, apparently the last year this model was sold, so it’s probably about 18 years old), the new ones will keep. Though it’s just as possible that the old batteries will last longer than the calculator.

(Also, if I’d remembered earlier that the manual was still in my drawer, instead of just now when I decided to check the copyright date, then I wouldn’t have had to look online for battery replacement instructions. D’oh!)

EDIT: Well, that didn’t last long. I just tried using the calculator, and the LCDs went out again after a few moments. And no amount of banging was able to fix it this time. So basically forget what I just said an hour ago. Yeesh.

UPDATE 12/10: Turns out I can return batteries after all, as long as they aren’t defective. Since the calculator’s busted and the old batteries are still good, I had no reason to keep the new ones. I just had to print out the shipping and hazardous materials labels, tape them onto the return package, and walk them up to the Amazon pickup/drop-off center a few blocks away. I’ve been notified that my refund has been issued — all five bucks and a penny. Whee!

The replacements

Last week, I had trouble getting my electric kettle to go on, and when I fiddled with the cord, the power light on the kettle flickered intermittently… and another light glowed from within the cord, evidently from an electric arc, so I immediately unplugged it. The wire inside must have broken. In retrospect, that must be why the cord kept getting hot there, and I should’ve realized there was a problem. Dodged a bullet there.

So I ordered a replacement online; I couldn’t find an exact match, but I found the most similar one I could. While I was at it, I also ordered a couple of replacement batteries for my calculator, whose display has been fritzing out in places (basically the whole second row of LCDs from the bottom, the ones that make the lower half of the vertical strokes in the numerals).

Anyway, for the past few days I’ve had to microwave water for my coffee and tea, since I don’t have a coffee maker (I use coffee bags that work like tea bags). But the new kettle came yesterday evening at last. It was too late in the day to try it out, and I had to wash it and prep it first according to the instructions. But today I’ve successfully used it to boil water for morning coffee, midmorning tea, and ravioli for lunch. (I like to boil half the water in the pot and half in the electric kettle so it goes faster.) I just have to get used to the power switch being underneath the handle instead of on top of it in easy reach of the thumb, and to the top opening being smaller and not quite as easy to pour water into.

As for the batteries, I’m embarrassed to admit that I forgot they were for my calculator and thought they were for my bathroom scale, which also needs new batteries, though I didn’t think to order any. So I was really confused about how I could’ve ordered the wrong size batteries for the scale, and was planning to go to the local Amazon storefront and return them in the morning — and then I glanced toward my desk drawer and it finally hit me that I’d gotten them for the calculator instead! D’oh.

So I followed the instructions I found online to unscrew the back of the calculator and swap out the batteries, and at first I got no result. Did I get the wrong kind after all? Did I break a connection? I swapped the old batteries back in and they worked, and then I tried again with the new batteries and the calculator turned on. Okay.

But — that lower row of vertical LCDs is still out. So the batteries weren’t the problem after all. The calculator must just be getting old. But I don’t think I can get a refund for the replacement batteries now that I tore open their packs. Can I? If not, then I’ve wasted my money.

I guess there’s not much point in buying a new calculator either, since I can just use my phone app for that. I feel a bit sad about that. (I happen to use the exact same model calculator as the late Grant Imahara of Mythbusters, as I recently learned.)

Categories: Uncategorized

Return of the phone woes

You may recall that last year I had chronic problems with my landline phone and internet connections going out. After they were fixed last October 5th, the connection’s been stable, aside from one brief dropout that fixed itself after a short while and was probably due to some kind of work going on outside somewhere temporarily disrupting the system. So I’d thought the worst was behind me — until last Tuesday morning, when both connections abruptly went dead just after 9:40 AM. Remembering the previous brief outage, I waited about an hour to see if it would fix itself, and when it didn’t, I used my cell phone to call the help line. They thought it might be due to some work being done in the area, and said they’d have someone out to fix it within 24 hours. I figured I could make do without it for that long. I could still access the web through my smartphone, though my phone’s Gmail app is for some reason quite slow in updating mail from my other, primary address, and I’d have to do without streaming video, since the data usage without wi-fi would probably get expensive, if I could even get a good enough signal (I rarely get more than 3 bars out of 5 in my apartment, which is part of why I need to keep my landline). I figured if it were fixed by Wednesday morning, I’d be able to catch the Supergirl series finale just a bit later than I otherwise would have, and things would be fine.

By 10:30 AM Wednesday, it still hadn’t been fixed, so I called again. (I see now in my phone log that I called precisely 24 hours later, to the minute, even though I hadn’t planned to. Wow.) They told me someone would be coming that afternoon… then called back later to say they’d been delayed and would be here later that afternoon, no later than 4:30, I think. The technician finally called at 4:45 to say he was on his way, then showed up at 5:08 PM. He determined that the problem wasn’t in my modem or line and was probably in the electrical room downstairs… but it was after the building manager had gone home for the day (apparently she doesn’t live in the apartment adjacent to the office as previous managers have done, something I didn’t realize until now), so he couldn’t get into the electrical room to fix things. He went on his way, promising to have someone out to fix it first thing in the morning. Okay, then, I’d be a bit more delayed in catching my Arrowverse shows and the new Star Trek: Prodigy episode. Also, I wasn’t able to log onto my Patreon page because it didn’t recognize my phone, and it took hours for the confirmation code it emailed to my main address to show up on my phone, by which time it had long since expired.

Nothing happened all day Thursday. As I surfed on my phone, I was reminded that it was Veteran’s Day, and I realized the phone company was probably closed for the day. (It was later confirmed to me that this had indeed been the case.) Oh, well; I resigned myself to one more day without TV, filling the time by rewatching a couple of my DVDs and trying to get some actual writing done despite my frustration (and I did get some done, though not nearly enough). I figured they’d have someone out early Friday morning instead.

So on Friday morning, I called them again to make sure… only to be told that no appointment had been scheduled and the earliest they could fit me in was Monday. Monday?! I got angry, pointing out emphatically that I’d been promised it would only take 24 hours, and then promised again that it would be fixed first thing in the morning, and it was unacceptable for them to make me wait three more days when it should have been fixed already and it only wasn’t due to their delays and oversights. I ended up demanding to speak to a supervisor, but even then, I couldn’t convince them to get anyone out to me any sooner than Monday. I was left infuriated and unsatisfied, but resigned to three more days of this drought.

So I finally started to think about other options and realized I could take my laptop out to the library or the university to use their wifi. That hadn’t been an option on Tuesday or Wednesday when I was waiting for the repair tech, and I hadn’t realized it would be an option on Thursday until it was already too late (plus, in retrospect, it would’ve been harder to find someplace open on a holiday). But on Friday afternoon, after letting the building manager know about the Monday appointment and confirming she’d be there, I walked over to the library with my laptop, taking the opportunity to return some items and borrow a couple more DVDs to tide me over the weekend. But I didn’t see any good places in that branch where I could watch TV on my laptop (with earphones, of course) without distractions and without risk of patrons tripping over my cord. So I went over to campus instead — only to be unable to log onto their wifi! I figured it wasn’t my laptop that was the problem, since I was able to connect at one point to the university guest network’s access page, but kept timing out when it tried to log on anywhere else; it must have just been that the signal was too weak or something. Tired and frustrated, I gave up and went home, resolving to try again at the library the next day.

On Saturday, I decided to drive to the next-nearest library branch and see what they had to offer. I found a quiet place to sit and log on… and I still couldn’t connect to the wifi! Since it was a completely different service, I realized at last that it was my laptop that was the problem; sometimes the DNS recognition thingummy or whatever just stops working and I have to reboot. So I rebooted, noodling around on my phone while I waited, since rebooting my old laptop takes forever. Finally, finally, I got a connection. I had laptop wifi, for the first time in more than four days! I was able to download my emails at last, and to get my Patreon to recognize my phone, and do a bit of other stuff. But again, enough time had passed that I gave up on trying to watch streaming video and just wanted to go home for the day, since I didn’t want to spend too long in a public building even with a mask on. Luckily this was one of the only library branches open on Sundays, so I resolved to go back again the next day.

Sunday, I found a better place to set up at that library, a reading/study room with a nice empty corner table where I could plug in. And again, I had DNS problems and had to reboot. I’ve never had that happen twice in such quick succession, and it hasn’t happened in months, so I’m guessing it was somehow a function of moving the laptop around between different wifi signals, or something. Still, I finally made a connection and managed to catch up with a couple of shows including last week’s Prodigy. The laptop got a little warm without its cooling-fan platform (which I should’ve brought with me, but that didn’t occur to me, since this is the first time I’ve taken the laptop anywhere since I bought the cooling platform mid-pandemic), but I finally perched its back end on top of the little box that my earphone cord is stored in, which provided enough ventilation. Still, I didn’t want to press my luck with too much TV, and the branch was only open for four hours on Sundays. I regretted that I hadn’t figured things out sooner.

So then came Monday morning, and waiting for an appointment I’ve been let down for twice already is much more nerve-racking when I’m actually in the scheduled window and can’t think about anything except my fear of being disappointed once again. Luckily, at 9:50, I got a call from the tech to say he was 15 minutes away. After about 25 minutes, I got antsy and went out to look for his truck, not finding it. When I got back in, of course, the tech was waiting outside my apartment!

So I told him where to find the electrical room and went to get the manager, who opened it. This time, I stuck around to watch the tech working, and finally got to see inside this mysterious electrical/storage room. (To my annoyance, I noticed a couple of bottles of wasp/hornet spray, which means they could’ve helped me with my car’s wasp infestation a few months ago rather than leaving me to fend for myself. Grr.) It was rather alarming to see that the Internet connection on which so much of my life depends is reliant on a pair of virtually hair-thin wires in a mare’s nest connected to a old circuit box.

Still, the tech determined that the problem wasn’t a short in the wires like it had been the last time. He managed to trace a dead signal all the way to the substation that the lines lead to, and after calling up the staff there and checking some things, he determined that someone on that end had swapped some things around and attached my line to the wrong place, since they were using really old wires with lead insulation (I think) that wasn’t color-coded like the newer plastic. So not only did the phone company keep missing appointments and failing to live up to its obligations, but the problem was their mistake in the first place.

Despite that, though, the tech explained some things that eased my anger. Apparently there aren’t that many techs still working that are qualified to fix the older copper wiring instead of the newer fiber optics. That’s why it was so hard to get one of them here in a timely manner — they’re just spread too thin, especially in bad weather when there’s more damage to repair. My building complex hasn’t been rewired for fiber optics because it’s just too big, and it would be hard to access all the old lines and replace them.

But that might be a tradeoff for something good. I mentioned to the tech that this week’s frustration had made me think about switching to the building’s wifi service, which I think would be added to my rent, but might cost less than what I’m paying for the Cincinnati Bell service. But the tech nodded to the Spectrum wifi router that was attached to the wall and said that it would get really slow when multiple tenants were using it at once. He opined that the lines originally set up for cable TV had gotten a lot slower since all these other services were piled onto them. Although now that I write that, I have to ask why the same thing wouldn’t be true of lines originally set up for telephone conversations. Still, it might have something to do with each apartment having its own separate phone line, to which individual modems would be attached, rather than everyone drawing on the same modem/router/whatever. It occurred to me at the time that the tech had a vested interest in promoting his service over a rival, but as he is on the technical side rather than the business side, I’m more inclined to trust that his assessments come from a practical place, a mindset that’s more about understanding mechanisms and their abilities and weaknesses than about trying to sell people things.

Bottom line, the tech successfully got my phone and internet back on, and he did good work and reassured me about some things, in contrast to the disappointing service I got over the rest of this week. I could finally start getting back to my normal routine, though I spent most of yesterday catching up on the shows I missed last week. I’m probably going to stay nervous about my connection’s reliability for a while, but it helps to know that last week’s outage wasn’t from the same cause as last year’s, so hopefully it was just a fluke. Apparently there are downsides to relying on the old copper wires, but there are advantages too. And at least now I have a better idea of my options for wifi elsewhere if I need it.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Wasp update

August 19, 2021 1 comment

After getting stung by a wasp in my car trunk a couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t sure what to do about it. Should I risk dealing with it myself or call an exterminator? I looked online for solutions, and one suggestion was to put a hunk of dry ice in the car and let the carbon dioxide smother the moths overnight. But I’d have to drive somewhere to get dry ice, so that was a Catch-22 of sorts.

It occurred to me that maybe the building maintenance people would have experience dealing with wasp nests and might be able to help me out, or at least recommend an exterminator. But when I asked the building manager, the only advice I got was to buy some wasp spray from the store, since an exterminator would be expensive. Eventually I decided to go ahead and try that, getting it when I walked to the store to get groceries. I was uneasy about all the warnings on the can about how toxic it was and how to avoid letting it get into the drains or on my clothes or skin, but I couldn’t see another option. Anything more environmentally friendly would require searching farther afield, which would require driving.

I had to wait for the right time to use it, though. It had to be early in the morning before the wasps were active, and it had to be on a day without rain in the forecast, since my car was parked fairly close to a storm drain. When the day came, I followed online advice and bundled up to cover my skin as much as possible — a turtleneck and buttoned-up jacket to protect my arms and throat (since getting stung in the throat area and having an allergic reaction could close off the windpipe, apparently), bike straps around my pant cuffs (they recommended boots, but I don’t have any), heavy gloves, a wool hat over my ears, and of course my glasses and a mask. Fortunately it was a cool morning.

The wool hat, by the way, is a gift GraphicAudio sent me after hiring me to write Tangent Knights for them. They sent it last winter, and it was very handy, since it often got cold in my apartment overnight.

I also took the long wooden bar that I’d used to knock away the nest the first time, using it to pry open the trunk from a distance. I spotted the nest after a moment; it was in a different place than before, a bit lower and attached to the body of the car rather than the trunk lid. Making sure the wind wasn’t blowing toward me, I sprayed it liberally with the spray, which was a thick white liquid, not the kind of bug spray I’m used to. I fear that I probably used rather more of it than I needed, since I wanted to make really sure. Once I saw no more wasp activity around the nest, I sprayed other areas around the rim of the trunk and a bit in the wheel wells, and even squirted a bit behind the side mirrors, since I’d seen a wasp crawl into the left mirror cowling (or whatever it’s called) some weeks before.

Then I walked away, since the instructions said to let it sit for at least 24 hours until the poison killed the queen and any returning wasps.  I was concerned that I’d left a significant puddle of the liquid on the pavement behind the car, but I really didn’t know what to do about it; I wasn’t supposed to wash it away or let it go down the drain, and I didn’t know how I could safely clean it up by any other means. The instructions said just to let it sit for a day, and I hoped that meant it would just break down naturally in the environment, and that any animals would avoid it. My car wasn’t parked very close to the building or to other cars, so I hoped it would be okay.

When I got up the next morning, there was light rain earlier than had been predicted, which was of some concern, but I hoped enough time had probably passed for the spray to break down or whatever it did. When I went to the car, though, not only did I see no trace of the puddle, but there was no residue of the liquid anywhere on the car where I’d sprayed it. I’d expected dried encrustations or something, but there was nothing at all. I don’t think the rain that morning was heavy enough to account for that, so I figure it must have evaporated on its own, hopefully well before the rain came.

Anyway, I took the same precautions as the day before, just in case, and pried open the trunk to get rid of the nest. I wasn’t pleased to see that there was still one live wasp on the nest, but it was sluggish and I didn’t see any others. I used the wooden bar to deal with it and scrape off the nest, along with a couple of what looked like eggs stuck next to where the nest had been. Then I used my long-handled ice scraper to try to scrape away any residue of anything around the rest of the trunk, and then I applied a little more wasp spray to various crevices just to play it safe, then walked away for another day — actually a couple of days, as it turned out, since there was more rain the next day.

When I checked back again, I saw no sign of wasps, but I wanted to reduce the chances of a recurrence. So I drove up to the local gas station and used the window-cleaning squeegee and paper towels provided there to try to clean out all the accumulated plant matter around the edges of the trunk under the lid, to make it less inviting as a wasp habitat. (I probably should go to a proper car wash, but I didn’t feel ambitious enough to try that.) And when I came back, I parked in the front lot of the building rather than the rear, in hopes of altering as many variables as possible to prevent a recurrence.

Yesterday I drove to pick up groceries again, still bundling up in my jacket and wool hat just in case, but I saw no wasps around the car even though it was quite warm, so that’s a good sign. (I took off the jacket and hat once I got in the car.) Still, just to play it extra-safe, I asked the clerk to put the groceries in the back seat instead of the trunk. And when I got home (still parking in the front lot, even though that’s a longer schlep for the groceries), I found it’s actually a little easier to collect grocery bags from the back seat than from the trunk. So I may do that regularly from now on, even without wasps to worry about. Maybe some good came of this after all.

I wish I’d at least avoided being stung, though.

Stinging irony

I went out to my car just now to go out for some groceries, and I opened the trunk to double-check that the wasps were gone after I cleared out their nest last week. Guess what — they weren’t gone. In fact, one immediately stung me in the arm before I even realized they were there. So after closing the car back up, I ran back to my apartment to look up online what to do about a wasp sting. It recommended just washing the area, which I’d already done, and putting ice on it and taking an anti-inflammatory, all done. So far, there’s just a bit of skin irritation around the site, but that could be from the scrubbing. I thought my hand was going numb for a moment, but it was just from pressing the ice pack too hard.

It’s been more than ten minutes and I haven’t had an allergic reaction yet, so I’m probably fine. The problem is that anxiety symptoms, like tightness in the throat and tingling in the extremities, can resemble symptoms of an allergic reaction. So I just have to stay calm and focus on breathing normally. I’m pretty sure I’m fine.

Still, I don’t know what I’m going to do about the wasps. I guess I could just put my groceries in the back seat for now, but that’s not a solution. Maybe go to a car wash? Or should I call an exterminator?

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Workin’ at the car wasp

I went to pick up groceries today, and when the guy came out to put my order in the trunk, he noticed that the milk was close to expiration, so with my permission, he went back in to get a fresher one. He left the trunk lid open, so I got out to shut it while I waited. I was rather shocked to discover there was a wasp’s nest built into the driver’s side rear corner of the trunk lid, with a bunch of wasps swarming around it! (At least I think they were wasps. Hornets are bigger, right?) Apparently the store guy missed it because the corner was up high away from the trunk while the lid was raised. Or maybe trunk wasps are common and he’s used to them. Anyway, I was tempted to ask the guy to move my groceries to the back seat when he returned, but I figured that was too much of an imposition — plus I was worried a wasp or two might get into the car along with the groceries.

So I determined that I’d do something about it once I got home. I decided to try using my long-handled ice scraper (still on the floor in front of the passenger seat, where I usually keep it) to knock the nest away. But when I went to get out my groceries and attempt to do that with the nest, there were just too many swarming wasps and I was afraid to try it. I just gathered up my grocery bags as quickly as I could and hurried inside. Although I did manage to get rid of a smaller, perhaps nascent nest on the opposite side of the trunk lid.

It occurred to me to find out if wasps were active at night, and I did enough web searching to confirm they’re relatively dormant then. So I waited until after sundown, then went out to the car with the long wooden bar that I use to reinforce my sliding balcony doors at night, which I figured would be long and sturdy enough to deal with the nest from a reasonably safe distance. I wore my jacket and gloves for protection just in case. The wasps weren’t completely dormant, but I was still able to knock the nest away with the bar, though not all in one piece, and I managed to avoid getting stung. Then I used my phone flashlight to check the crannies inside the doors and under the wheel wells to see if there were any more nests, not finding any (although I just realized I forgot to check inside the back doors).

In retrospect, I think that nest may have been there for a while, since I’ve had to contend with a few wasps flying around the trunk on my past several grocery trips. I figured they were just flying over from the trees on the edge of the lot, but it makes more sense if the nest was there.

And now I really need to stop writing about wasps, and hopefully get out of the state of mind where I fear that every little itch is a wasp crawling on me. I hope I don’t dream about it.

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Today is the official on-sale date for Star Trek: The Original Series: Living Memory. This is the fifth installment in my ongoing post-Star Trek: The Motion Picture continuity which began way back with my first novel Ex Machina, and the second in as many years, after a long hiatus. It’s the second novel (the third work overall, after Mere Anarchy: The Darkness Drops Again and The Higher Frontier) to cover the pre-Wrath of Khan period when Spock commanded the Enterprise and Chekov served on the Reliant, and the first one set entirely in that period.

Star Trek: The Original Series — Living Memory

TOS_Living_Memory_coverAn all-new Star Trek movie-era adventure!

While attempting to settle in as commandant of Starfleet Academy, Admiral James T. Kirk must suddenly contend with the controversial, turbulent integration of an alien warrior caste into the student body—and quickly becomes embroiled in conflict when the Academy controversy escalates to murder. Meanwhile, Captain Spock of the USS Enterprise and Commander Pavel Chekov of the USS Reliant are investigating a series of powerful cosmic storms seemingly targeting Federation worlds—unstoppable outbursts emitting from the very fabric of space. Endeavoring to predict where the lethal storms will strike next, Spock and Chekov make the shocking discovery that the answer lies in Commander Nyota Uhura’s past—one that she no longer remembers….

™, ®, & © 2021 CBS Studios, Inc. STAR TREK and related marks and logos are trademarks of CBS Studios, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Available from:

I’ve updated my TOS Motion Picture Era page with general discussion and a link to the annotations:

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My first outing of cicada season

Some weeks back, after I got vaccinated, I got a call from my dermatologist to schedule my yearly checkup, which I missed last year due to the lack of a vaccine at the time. I was aware that the time they suggested would be during the once-every-17-years emergence season of the Brood X cicada swarm, but I was in the first flush of post-vaccine eagerness to get out into the world, and maybe a bit embarrassed to admit my phobia, so I accepted the appointment and figured I could just reschedule later if I felt it necessary.

Now, I fully expected to find it necessary. This is the fourth Brood X emergence of my lifetime, though the third I’ve been old enough to remember. The first of those, in 1987, was toward the end of my first year of college, and it was awful for a lifelong entomophobe like me. I particularly resented the cicadas for preventing me from getting closer to a woman I thought I had a chance with romantically, since she was untroubled by them and happy to hang around outside while I was desperate to get indoors as soon as possible. The second time, in 2004, was not long after I moved to my current apartment (yes, I’m still here, since the right opportunity to move elsewhere has never quite come together), and I managed to weather it fairly well by staying mostly indoors and only going out in the mornings before the cicadas became active. I was hoping to repeat that this time, but my dermatologist’s appointment was at 2 PM.

So I figured I’d just reschedule when they called to confirm the appointment. But when they did call, it was an automated “please press one” sort of system, and it was while I was watching a show, so I was distracted. So to avoid having to think about it, I just confirmed the appointment before I could stop myself. (Never ask me to make an important decision on the spur of the moment. I usually choose badly.)

I was thus pretty worried about what I might have to face out in the world today, but I decided I just had to weather it. I’ve spent the past year sheltering indoors as much as possible, and I figured I needed to get some practice at facing my fears and getting out into the world again, reminding myself that cicadas are just a nuisance, not a threat.

As it turned out, it wasn’t so bad. There were a few dead cicadas on the hallway floor of my apartment building, but I wasn’t swarmed by them in the parking lot on the way to my car (just a couple took off from the sidewalk ahead of me), nor in the lot of the medical building (or on the moderately long freeway trip between them). Maybe the rain earlier in the day had delayed their emergence.

So it all went pretty smoothly, to my relief. But once I got back, I decided to stop in at the local pharmacy to see if the prescription from my dermatologist had come in yet. Before I got out of the car, I noticed that there were dozens of cicadas swarming around the parking lot. Either that was a busier area for them, or they’d finally come out in greater force. So I just put my seatbelt back on and drove away without getting out of the car, figuring maybe I could come back in the morning or use the drive-thru or something. (They still haven’t called to confirm the prescription anyway, so I don’t know what’s up there. It’s for a minor irritation, so I don’t even really need it.)

I almost made it back into the building unaccosted, but one cicada flew headlong into me as I had my keys in the lock, coming right between me and the door and bumping into me. My tote bag took the hit, but still, there went my perfect record of avoidance. (Why do they just fly right into people like that? Can’t they see where they’re going?)

But overall, the trip was far less stressful than I feared. I’m not sure it really counts as facing my fears, since I chickened out of going into a visibly cicada-heavy zone, but at least I took the chance of going out in the first place, and it turned out not to be so bad. Although I’m still planning to minimize my trips outdoors until the cicadas are gone.

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My first post-vaccine outing

Yesterday was two weeks since my second COVID-19 vaccine shot, so I’m protected now (at least as much as anyone can be, in conjunction with continued distancing, masks, etc.). Yesterday was rainy, so I waited until today to make my first foray. I decided to start out small and just dropped into Clifton Natural Foods, in hopes of finding some things I haven’t been able to get at the regular grocery store. I didn’t find the vegetarian Italian sausage I was hoping for, but I got some other stuff, including some cookies to give some variety to my dessert options, and some pumpkin butter (a fruit spread like apple butter). I had a nice little chat with a store staffer about how satisfying it was to be able to go places and feel some peace of mind again. This is the first time in 6 months that I’ve been inside a store, and only the second time in the past 12 months (third if you count the post office).

I thought about going to the library too, but I didn’t want to overdo it my first time out. I have a post office trip planned soon, so I can go then, since the two are just a couple of blocks apart.

Speaking of the library, it just now occurred to me that I can resume borrowing DVDs again. So I’ve just put in holds on the most recent season of Doctor Who, which I haven’t managed to see since I don’t have cable TV anymore. I think this was the first time I’ve used the library’s new online catalog format for requesting items, which was instituted within the past year. However, it seems that at some point I already set it to default to my preferred branch as my pickup location, so I don’t have to set it every time. I guess I did that months ago when the new system went online, but forgot about it since it’s been so long since I needed to use it.

Speaking of things returning to a semblance of normality, this is the first time in months that I’ve gone for a drive without bringing my emergency jump-starter power pack with me. (I keep it in my apartment instead of in the car so that I don’t forget to top up the charge every three months as recommended. Although I don’t think I’ve ever managed to go that long between jumpstarts since I got it.) I didn’t need it, but I should try to stay in the habit of bringing it with me just in case.

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Vac-scene two

Well, this past Thursday was the day of my second COVID vaccination appointment. After the first one three weeks ago, my main side effect was my upper arm being quite sore for about a day. The only other effect was that when I undressed for bed that night, I started to shiver uncontrollably until I got in my nightclothes and under the covers, even though I didn’t actually feel cold. I guess that’s what the information sheet called “chills.” But it was only for the first night.

So anyway, I was expecting another painful injection and a worse reaction afterward, though I wasn’t sure how mild or severe it might be. Still, it would be worth it to feel more or less safe again, and to do my part to keep others safe.

I’d been hoping I might take advantage of the decent weather and walk to the hospital this time, but I’d somewhat strained my hip the day before while cleaning the bathroom, so I wasn’t up to it. I made the same drive as last time, but had a bit of trouble getting into a parking space in the garage, since I’m out of practice at it. I kind of held up one or two cars behind me before giving up on that space. Then I found an open space right at the top of the ramp, so I could drive straight into it, which was nice. (Although it proved tricky when I left. To get out required going down the reverse of the way I came up, and I couldn’t turn 180 degrees from where I was, so I had to go up another level or two to find enough open space to turn around.)

For some reason, the vaccination center at the hospital was far less busy than it was the last time. I would’ve thought that all those people getting their first shot the same day as me would’ve been scheduled for their second shot the same day as me also. I hope that doesn’t mean a lot of them skipped out on their second doses, since it won’t last long that way. But I was able to get my shot pretty much immediately after checking in, and the check-in process was easier because I could hand them my vaccine card. I was expecting the shot to hurt again, but instead I barely felt it; indeed, I wasn’t entirely convinced I’d even gotten it. Maybe the nurse this time had a gentler touch, or maybe it was because I made more of an effort to relax my muscles first. Or maybe it was because I’d taken ibuprofen for my hip pain.

On my way out of the clinic, I overheard a couple of hospital staffers chatting about how the Pfizer vaccine had milder side effects than the Moderna one, which was nice to hear as a Pfizer recipient. And that turned out to be entirely true. Not only did I have much less arm pain this time (though just enough kicked in by that evening to reassure me that I had indeed gotten the shot), but I haven’t had any side effects beyond a mild fatigue and a slight dry-ish cough. I was afraid I might lose a day or two of work on the novel I’m writing, but I’ve managed to keep going after all.

So now I’m starting to think about things to do in two weeks’ time once I’m fully vaccinated and can feel safer going into buildings, as long as I stay masked and distanced for others’ benefit. The library will be one of my first stops. I may also drop into the natural-foods store for some groceries I haven’t had in a while. I’m not sure about going to the supermarket, which would have more people in it, but I might stop in for a quick visit, probably to a more distant store than my usual pickup location, in search of items they don’t have in stock there.

I read a day or two ago that it might be necessary to get annual booster shots, but that’s okay; we do that for flu shots anyway, and it makes sense with new variants likely to keep cropping up. The essential thing, as always, is to educate and encourage more people to get vaccinated. Although, sadly, that’s easier said than done in the current climate of ignorance. But at least there’s hope for things to get better now.

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Running pretty smoothly

Well, I’ve now managed to go as many as 10 days between car rides without my battery dying, which is an encouraging sign. I went out for another drive around the neighborhood two days ago to make sure it stayed charged. That may not have been necessary, as I had to go get groceries today anyway, but I didn’t want to take chances.

Anyway, I’m pleased with how much better the car seems to be running since I got maintenance. I haven’t had any problems with the acceleration being sluggish; that’s usually just a problem in cold weather, but the car seems to respond better even than it used to in warm weather, I think. On my drive, I even went up a hill that the car always used to have trouble accelerating on, at least in the first few years after I started driving it (I haven’t needed to go up that hill much in recent years), but the car had no trouble with it. So whatever maintenance and fluid changes the folks at the garage did really seemed to help.

There was a sign on the apartment building’s door the other day warning us not to keep any valuables in our cars due to a rash of break-ins that had the local police overwhelmed. I never keep any valuables in the car anyway, but I was still concerned. When I hit the key fob to unlock the car the other day, the horn beeped three times. I think that means that the alarm had previously been triggered, but the car still seemed to be locked and intact and nothing was missing. I’d guess maybe someone set off the alarm and it scared them off, though I don’t recall hearing it. Or maybe they just realized my car is so decrepit-looking that it’s unlikely to have anything in it worth taking.

As for my COVID vaccination, I’m about halfway between shots now. After my last shot, my upper arm got pretty sore within a few hours and stayed sore for about a day, but then got better. The only other side effect I had was a weird one — when I undressed for bed that night, I started to shiver, even though I didn’t feel cold. It didn’t stop until I was in my nightclothes and under the covers. But I was fine in the morning, and I haven’t had any other symptoms beyond maybe a slight ooginess for a day or two. We’ll see how much worse it is after my second shot.

One side effect I didn’t expect was that I got a bill for the vaccination. Evidently it’s not free if you get it at the hospital. But it’s not an exorbitant fee, and it’s worth it.

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