NYCC, masks, and other stuff

It’s almost time for NYCC, though this year it’s going to be a virtual event called Metaverse. I’ve gone to NYCC a bunch of times, and have been on a roll recently, going in 2017, 2018, and 2019. Alas, I’ll just be watching from home this year. I really wish we could have gotten this COVID thing under control by now, but nope. I haven’t looked closely at the panel schedule yet, but I’m taking off Thursday and Friday next week so I’ll be able to watch some stuff and simulate the con experience a bit, like I did for the San Diego con a few months back. This whole “staying home all the time” thing is starting to wear on me.

I know I still need to take COVID-19 seriously though. Our president’s inability to do so may have been the start of a super-spreader event here in Somerset County. That’s probably an exaggeration, but it’s still not good.

It’s been really hard to process news this year. And the news of Trump’s infection is particularly hard to process. It’s not surprising news, really, given his disdain for mask-wearing and all that. But it’s hard to fit all this stuff in your head and figure out how to react to it and how to deal with it. This column from Politico has a pretty good take on it all. And Nick Kristof’s column in the Times is useful too. (Reminder: wear a mask!)

…and now I’m starting to go down a rabbit hole, reading stories on the Politico and NY Times sites about Trump’s condition. I need to stop doing that, and maybe go out for a nice walk. Maybe ending up at the coffee shop where I can get a nice cappuccino and a pastry. (Which I will bring back to the apartment, of course, because actually eating/drinking at the shop is still too scary. Sigh.)


I installed the new COVID Alert NJ app on my iPhone today. It’s been more than six months since the pandemic started, but hey, better late than never, I guess. and NJTV have articles about the app, and ABC 7 has a write-up on New York’s app, which is basically the same as the NJ app, but with a different color scheme (purple vs. blue). The first state to release an app using the new Apple/Google API was apparently Virginia, which released their app in early August.

NJ’s app was apparently created by an Irish company, because I guess they couldn’t find any competent software developers in NJ. (I kid. There are plenty of competent developers in NJ, but we’re slow and expensive.) The company is called NearForm. They started with the app for Ireland, I think, then started rebranding and customizing it for other countries and for several US states.

I found a Guardian article from a few months ago indicating the the Ireland app had over a million installs at that time. NJ’s app is currently at just under 35,000 installs, according to the app itself. (I’m not sure if that’s just the iOS app or combined iOS/Android.)

The tech behind these apps is kind of interesting. Here’s a write-up on it, from Apple’s web site, and one from Google. This stuff is helpful, but only if they can get a lot of people to install the app and enable it. And, well, we know how much all the other stuff that only works if we all do it is working out here in the USA…


Weird Al on the presidential debate

I don’t usually post about politics, but I feel like I need to write something today, just to maybe mark a few odd items, for posterity:

  1. Weird Al’s reaction to last night’s presidential debate was silly and made me feel a little better about the whole thing. (Not a lot better, but a little.) The fact that it’s posted on the NY Times site makes it a little weirder, but somehow even better. It amuses me to think about the editorial process that led someone to decide that Weird Al was the right guy to go to for reaction to a presidential debate.
  2. In less amusing news, my House rep, Tom Malinowski, is getting death threats from QAnon, after a misleading press release and ad from Republicans. Here’s a Post story on the ad, and here’s an opinion piece on his opponent’s refusal to address the issue at all. I’ve donated a few bucks to Malinowski’s campaign on a couple of occasions, and I really do think that he’s a good guy. I’m sure he’s not perfect, but he comes off as smart, serious, competent, and concerned about his constituents.

I thought I had an item #3 for that list, but I’m exhausted now, just thinking about the election.

NJ MVC, IFTTT, RSS, and other acronyms

This post may wind up covering a variety of barely-related topics. I have a bunch of stuff in my head today and I’m making connections between things that might not make much sense. Buy anyway…

I had to renew the registration for my car recently. I normally do that by mail, and I did that again this year, and got the registration card back, no problem. But then I got a letter saying that NJ MVC had undercharged me by $7 due to a computer glitch and I’d have to pay that. The letter didn’t really include any helpful information about how to submit that $7 to them. It wouldn’t let me do it online. And there was no indication that they’d accept it by mail. I definitely don’t want to go near an MVC office right now, since they’ve been mobbed ever since they reopened in July. (Apparently, the line at the Somerville MVC starts forming at 4 AM every day.) I really wasn’t sure what to do, but thankfully I found an article on today explaining the problem and indicating that it was OK to mail in the $7, and gave the address to send it to. has been reasonably useful throughout the pandemic. They’ve run a lot of good, useful, articles. (Mind you, they also run a lot of nonsense and clickbait.) They started asking people to pay $10/month to subscribe to the site at some point earlier this year, and I thought about doing it. But I couldn’t quite talk myself into it. First, there’s the aforementioned nonsense and clickbait. Then, there’s the worry that they won’t make it easy to cancel.

In the past, I’ve often used virtual credit card numbers when I’m subscribing to something that might be hard to cancel. Citi used to have a good program for virtual card numbers, including a Windows program that you could use to generate them on the fly and copy them into forms on web pages. But that program stopped working a while back. And the web-based version relied on Flash, and I don’t have any browsers left on any of machines that are still running Flash. So I kind of gave up on them.

I saw an announcement today from 1Password saying that they were going to start integrating with to allow users to generate virtual card numbers right from 1Password. That sounded promising, but it draws from your bank account, and not from a real credit card. So it seems like there could be complications there. But that got me thinking about virtual card numbers again, so I checked Citi’s web site, and found that they’ve finally rewritten their virtual card functionality to work without Flash. (They’ve also eliminated the Windows program, which is a bummer, but I was expecting that.)

And I saw that recently added an option to pay $100 for a full year, rather that $10/month. So I went ahead and paid for a year of with a virtual card number. I figure their article explaining the $7 MVC mess was worth at least $20 to me. And somebody’s got to pay for all of their articles on pork roll sandwiches and ranked lists of 326 Bruce Springsteen songs, so it might as well be me. A year from now, I’ll figure out if I want to pay for another year.

Overall, I’ve been struggling with how to both consume and support local news during the pandemic. I generally watch NJTV News every night. Their newscast is pretty good and covers a lot of NJ news, but it’s mostly political state-level stuff. I don’t currently support NJTV or Thirteen, and I probably should. I watch enough stuff on PBS that I should toss them $5/month, at least.

I’ll also occasionally look at, which covers some local Somerset county news, but they’re hiding a lot of stuff behind a paywall now. They have a deal for $39 for one year, and I might go ahead and pay for that with a virtual card too.

I try to get a lot of my news through email and RSS. I use IFTTT to set up some email stuff, and The Old Reader to manage my RSS feeds (along with Reeder on iOS). IFTTT has recently introduced Pro subscriptions, and I would need to start paying for Pro to keep doing some of the stuff I’m currently doing with the service. I don’t really want to do that, so I’ve been looking at shifting more stuff into The Old Reader. But I hadn’t really looked too closely at IFTTT Pro. I just noticed a blog post from David Sparks that’s got me a little more interested in it. It sounds like they might be adding enough value to make it worth the minimum $2/month that you can pay for Pro under their current “set your own price” plan. It’s not quite clear, but maybe you can actually write code as part of Pro applets? That would be useful.

So, yeah, this is me going down a bunch of rabbit holes and thinking about spending a bunch of money. I should probably stop now.

Somerville news

I don’t have a lot to say about either of these news items, but I just wanted to note them on my blog for some reason.

First: There was a huge fire on Friday at a new apartment building here in town. (The building wasn’t yet complete, and no one was living there yet.) There’s been a lot of new construction in town over the last few years, including three or four big new apartment buildings/complexes. They’re all “luxury” apartments that go for around $2000 per month for a one-bedroom. Here’s the site for this development. Fancy. I couldn’t find any prices on the site, but I found a mention on another site that indicated that it was $1950. I really don’t know where they find people who can afford that. Maybe some of them are people who think it’s OK to spend a much higher percentage of their salary on rent than I do. I wonder if these high rents are going to hold up post-COVID, or if a lot of people are going to wind up in positions where they can work from home and don’t need to be so close to the train into NYC.

Second: There was another BLM protest in Somerville on Sunday. It wasn’t a big one, but it was still big enough to drown out the cartoon I was watching on Netflix at the time. I should probably feel bad about binge-watching cartoons while there’s so much bad stuff going on in the world, but honestly I’m exhausted. I need cartoons to keep me sane. And I’m still not sure it’s safe for me to be out in a crowd of strangers, even if they’re all wearing masks. Young healthy folks can go out and march. I’ll make a few charitable donations and do what I can in the voting booth. (Well, not actually in the voting booth this year, hopefully, but you know what I mean.)

Still staying at home

From Where Americans are still staying at home the most, in the Washington Post:

In New Jersey, second only to New York in covid-19 deaths, people are spending 96 percent of their time at home, just 1.7 percent less than at the peak. That is both the highest stay-home percentage and the smallest change of any state. Gov. Phil Murphy (D) reopened state parks and golf courses on May 2, but his stay-at-home order is still in effect.

I’ve been going out a bit more over the last week or two, but not by much, and I’m wearing a mask now almost every time I go out. (I’m still skipping the mask on my early morning walks, since I don’t generally see more than one or two people that early, and I can easily keep my distance from them.) Generally, I’m alone in my apartment for 23 to 23.5 hours each day.

ready for May

I’ve been blogging about once a week through this pandemic. But, for some reason, I’m going for three days in a row this weekend (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday). I’m not sure why. Probably because it’s the end of one month and the beginning of a new one, so I’m taking stock and thinking about stuff. The Washington Post published a long overview article about April yesterday, and it’s a doozy.

I did a couple of fun things yesterday evening, including watching most of Mark Evanier’s Cartoon Voices panel live, and all of a live webcast of Neil Gaiman speaking with N. K. Jemisin. So I got a little bit of the feel of being at a good comic con. And, for some reason, watching these things live always feels a little more exciting than watching the recording later.

I’m feeling a little better this morning than I did yesterday. I didn’t sleep too well last night, but it was better than the previous night. And since I have nothing at all on my to-do list for today, I can just take it easy. I went out for a half-hour long walk this morning, and that was quite nice. Not too many other people were out. The rain had stopped, the sun was shining, and the birds were chirping.

After my walk this morning, I uploaded some more photos to Flickr, updated my March/April album, and created a new May album. I’m not sure how long I’ll keep taking photos and uploading them, but, for now, it’s a nice little thing to do.

It’s supposed to get up to 78º later today, so that might be a problem. I don’t really want to close the windows and turn on the air conditioning, but I might have to. Otherwise, my allergies will really kick in and I won’t be able to sleep again tonight.

I’m again looking at the “On This Day” sidebar on my blog, and I see that five years ago today, I went into NYC, and visited the Whitney and the High Line. This would have been a great weekend to do something like that.

I’ve been meaning to post a bit about the music I’ve been listening to lately, but haven’t gotten around to including that in any of my other recent posts. I’ve been listening mostly to slow, quiet, stuff. Yesterday, I pulled up Max Richter’s Sleep to help me relax and take a little nap. (I bought a copy of that back in 2018, and it’s come in handy on several occasions.)

And I just bought a copy of Ludovico Einaudi’s Seven Days Walking, which is a seven-part work, coming in at about six hours total. It’s quite simple and relaxing, and works well as background music. I didn’t know much about Einaudi, but I’ve looked into him a bit, and he’s apparently quite popular, as classical composers/musicians go. He’s “the most-streamed classical artist of all time,” according to this article. But, apparently, he’s somewhat looked down upon by serious critics, if this review in The Guardian is any indication. Or this one, which compares his music to Thomas Kinkade’s painting. (Ouch.) I’m fine with that, though. I’m enjoying his music, and it’s helping to keep me sane.

And for a couple of shorter works: I recently bought Neroli (Thinking Music Part IV), by Brian Eno and the ZeroZeroZero soundtrack by Mogwai. I’ve also been thinking about picking up some stuff by The Necks, after listening to a bit of their album Drive By and reading some stuff about them, including this old article from the Times.

So, as you can see, it’s mostly been quiet, slow, instrumental music. I’ve also been listening to a bit of WQXR on weekday mornings. That gets me started with some shorter classical pieces, some nice chat from their morning host, Jeff Spurgeon, and a little bit of news (but not too much).

It’s nearly 11 AM now, so I should really wrap this up. I still don’t have much of a plan for today, but that’s fine. I think I’ll go out for another walk before it gets too hot out, then have lunch and read some comics.

Easter Sunday

Well, today is apparently Easter Sunday. I haven’t really celebrated Easter in a traditional way in several years, so being at home alone on Easter isn’t that weird for me. Still, I usually try to get out and do something on Easter. Last year, I went out for a nice walk and uploaded some photos to Flickr. I could of course go out for a walk today, and might do that a bit later, but I’m thinking about just staying in all day. I had to go out a few times yesterday, and it was exhausting.

I have a bunch of stuff that I want to blog about today, and I’m not sure how to organize it all, so this post may be somewhat scattershot. We’re about a month into this whole social distancing thing, and there’s a lot on my mind.


I guess I’m going to start with masks. Here in the US, the initial advice to everyone was that wearing masks in public was unnecessary. This gradually evolved into the situation we have today, where mask-wearing in public, here in NJ, is now required in most public places. It was required in supermarkets starting last week, and has now been expanded to include situations like picking up take-out food. If you’re interesting in the science behind mask-wearing, Ars Technica has a good article on that. And the Pinboard guy has been pushing for public mask-wearing in the US for a while, and has a good blog post on the subject.

Acquiring masks here in NJ hasn’t been easy though. I haven’t seen them for sale anywhere, though of course I’ve only been to ShopRite and Walgreens in the past month. I watched a video showing how to make a mask with a bandana and two hair ties, and managed to make myself one that way. (I had a spare bandana, but I had to buy hair ties.) That will do in a pinch, but it’s not great. I also went online and ordered masks from a few different sources. Only one of those orders has shown up so far. It was an order of two apparently homemade cloth masks, via eBay, which shipped from Texas. They’re reasonably well-made and fit me OK. I don’t know if they’re going to last through too many washes, as the straps don’t seem too sturdy. But hopefully, they’ll be good enough for now. I also ordered a five-pack from Buck Mason, which should be shipping at the end of April or early May. I’m hoping those will be good quality and will last me a while. The options for mail-order face masks right now seem to be: (1) eBay, (2) Etsy, and (3) various mail-order clothing retailers that have added cloth masks to their stores, but aren’t able to keep up with demand. I found out about the Buck Mason masks from a GQ article. That article lists a bunch of other similar sources. (I found a fancy/ridiculous $185 face mask by following a link in that article. And, no, I’m not buying that one.)

My trip to ShopRite yesterday was my first adventure in public mask-wearing. It didn’t go too bad, but I found that my glasses were constantly fogging up. I’ve read articles about how you can prevent that (Kotaku, Lifehacker), but I’m not too optimistic about the methods they’re suggesting. I guess I’ll stick a tissue under the top of my mask the next time I go out and see how that works.


I have a few follow-ups to last week’s post on the state of the comics industry, and other comics-related stuff. First, here’s an article from the NY Times on the situation. It’s actually a pretty good summary of the situation. It used to be that mainstream articles about the comics industry routinely got stuff wrong, over-simplified things, and/or indulged in overused cliches (usually related to the 1960’s Batman TV show). But they’ve gotten a lot better in recent years.

I was going to link to some other stores about the current state of the comics industry here, but there’s probably not much point. There’s a lot of speculation, but nothing much solid. I will say that now is probably a good time to support some indie comics and charity fundraising bundles. I recently bought a Firelight Isle Kickstarter and a COVID-19 Humble Bundle. There’s probably a bunch of other stuff out there I could be buying, if I had the time and inclination to go looking.

I realized just yesterday that this weekend would have been WonderCon. I went last year, and had been seriously thinking about going this year too. It’s funny to think that, as recently as February 29, it still seemed possible that WonderCon wouldn’t be canceled. There’s a fairly low-key WonderCon at Home thing going on this weekend instead. I poked around on the site and checked out the Twitter hashtag, and there’s some cute stuff there, but I haven’t been able to work up too much enthusiasm for anything there.

How I’m Doing

(…for lack of a better section header.) I’m very glad that I still have a job, and that I can work from home, and that work stuff seems to be pretty stable, so far. And I’m glad that I appear to be healthy, and have enough to eat, and have TV and comics and books and music with which to distract myself. I’m very worried about how bad things could get if this crisis drags on for too long though. I’m worried about myself, and my friends, and the world at large, I guess. I mentioned above that I kind of exhausted myself yesterday, just dealing with some everyday stuff: laundry, grocery shopping, and a trip to the bank. All the hand-washing, mask-wearing, awkward maneuvering around other people, keeping up with new rules, dealing with the spotty availability of everyday things. It all adds up to extra stress. I’ve been hoping that, at some point, things will settle down a bit, and I can get into a good rhythm. But there always seems to be something new that throws a wrench into the works. Yesterday, it was the new rules around mask-wearing, the fact that all of the self-checkout lanes at ShopRite were cash-only, the broken change machine in the laundry room… I found myself with a headache in the afternoon, and of course immediately started to worry about whether that was a symptom of COVID-19 or just a regular everyday headache. I’m thinking it’s just a regular headache, but it’s persisting a bit today. I’m going to try to take it easy today and just rest and relax and hope that tomorrow will be a nice “normal” work day. And I hope that anyone who made it this far down into my self-indulgent ramblings is having a good day, a good Easter (where applicable), and is happy and healthy.


work from home, week two, done

I’m not sure I should really be writing a blog post right now, but I think maybe it’ll help me sort some stuff out. I haven’t been sleeping well, so it might not be super-coherent. Bear with me. (Or feel free to bail out. No one really needs to read my ramblings.)

I’ve now been working from home for two weeks, and it looks like my group will continue doing that for the foreseeable future. I think that our management has accepted this as the new normal this past week, since they’ve now deactivated our access cards for the building and told us that if we need anything from our desks that we need to get manager approval first, then the item can be picked up at the loading dock. And that we should only do this for critical items like medication or glasses. So my plan of going in at some point and picking up my granola bars, tissues, and hand sanitizer is now out of the question. Oh well. It’s amazing how fast we went from “you can maybe work from home, I guess” to “you can’t enter the building even if you want to.”

I’ve got things set up now so that I can be reasonably productive from home. But, honestly, not nearly as productive as I can be in the office. I really only have room here for a single-monitor setup, and I’m used to working in a multiple-monitor setup. And the office chair that I have at home is OK for occasional use, but not really great for a full eight-hour work day. I’m wondering if it’s worth blowing $1300 on an Aeron chair for home use. That’s what we have in the office (though I’m not sure of the exact model we use). Or maybe I should figure out some way to use a standing desk at home. The limited amount of space I have here makes it hard to do much. Anyway, I’ll probably muddle through, by taking a lot of little breaks to stretch and walk around a little.

I’ve continued to do all of my grocery shopping at the local ShopRite, in person. I’d love to switch to delivery or pick-up, but all of the local options for delivery or pick-up are constantly booked solid. I’ve tried Instacart, ShopRite, Whole Foods, Target, and Walmart, and they’re all, always, booked up. I’ve heard that the way to get a slot is to go online right after midnight, when a new day opens up on the schedule, and grab a slot right away. I’m not sure I’m desperate enough to try that yet. (And maybe I should leave that option for people who actually need grocery delivery, as opposed to people like me who are just lazy and/or scared.) In theory, all of these services are trying to ramp up, but it’s definitely not going smoothly. I see that Instacart workers are planning to strike on Monday. I can’t blame them. If nothing else good comes out of this thing, maybe at least we can get better working conditions for “gig workers” like these folks. (Not that I’m optimistic about that, but you never know.)

In terms of living with the solitude of “social distancing,” I’ve found two recent articles helpful. One by Scott Kelly, who spent a year in space, and one by Jason Rezaian, who was imprisoned in Iran for almost two years.

I’ve been bookmarking articles about the mental health aspect of all this, though I’ll admit I haven’t been reading all of them. (And I probably shouldn’t be reading all of them. Obsessively reading/watching news about COVID-19 is one of the things to avoid, according to the experts.) Anyway, here’s an article on 10 Ways to Ease Your Coronavirus Anxiety from the NY Times. (Yes, even the NYT succumbs to publishing listicles occasionally.) And from the HBR: That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief.

On the lighter side, if there is one, it seems that Americans Coping With the Coronavirus Are Clogging Toilets. People: do not flush paper towels or disinfectant wipes!

And, for anyone looking for distraction, here’s Brian Michael Bendis’ Stuck at Home Comic Book Reading List. There’s some good stuff on his list, though some of it is maybe a little too heavy for me right now. Speaking of comics, it’s looking like COVID-19 is going to do a lot of damage to the comic book industry. I know that this shouldn’t be the first thing on most people’s mind right now, but it is troubling for long-time fans like me (and of course more so for people who make their living in the industry). Diamond has halted new comics shipments into their warehouses. And a lot of shops are going to be in some trouble if they can’t keep selling regular monthly comics every Wednesday, as usual. I’m still ordering my books from Westfield Comics, and they’re still going, for now. Their statement about COVID-19 can be found here. I’d been thinking about dropping my monthly books at some point this year, but now it feels like I should keep buying them, just to help out.


work from home, week one, done

I’ve got a lot going on in my head. (I’m sure I’m not alone in that.) I keep reminding myself that I’m way better off than most people, right about now. My job is (fairly) stable, and I can work from home effectively. I live alone, and don’t really have anyone depending on me, so I can stay home and isolate myself, for the most part. I have a grocery store a short walk from my apartment. I don’t have any ongoing medical conditions that require management or treatment right now. Still, this thing is pretty scary.

It looks like working from home and social distancing will be the “new normal” for some time now. I’m very worried about this, for a variety of reasons, but there’s not much I can do, aside from doing my part, being responsible, and being kind.

I thought I’d post a few links today, broken down into three categories. First, links about working from home:

  • How to pair Apple AirPods with your Windows 10 PC — My USB headset is still on my desk at work, so I’ve been using my AirPods for conference calls. They’re working pretty well. I wasn’t sure if they’d play nice with Windows, but they’ve worked fine.
  • Scott Hanselman blogs and tweets about working remotely a lot. Here’s a recent blog post. (It’s from back in February, before things got quite as crazy as they are now, but it’s still relevant.)
  • And here’s a post from Eric Lippert about his work from home setup.

Next, distractions:

  • I’ve been watching a lot of Joe Pera Talks With You lately. It’s a pretty funny show, and it’s also pretty quiet and slow, which is nice at a time like this. The episode Joe Pera Takes You to the Grocery Store is a good one, and particularly funny now, given the current situation. I’m not sure I’m ever going to see a grocery store that looks that calm and organized ever again. (I mean, I guess I will eventually, but it doesn’t seem likely any time soon.) Joe’s grocery list from the episode is online too.
  • Bandcamp did a thing on Friday where they waived their cut for all sales on that day. I’d meant to go online after work and buy a few albums, but I just didn’t have the energy to do it. Buying a few albums from Bandcamp is still on my to-do list for this month, but I keep getting distracted.
  • Yo-Yo Ma started a #SongsOfComfort hashtag going and posted a nice video on YouTube, of a little Dvořák piece. I found a couple of other nice things under that hashtag. I’ve been listening to a lot of classical music this week, generally from WQXR and BBC Radio 3. It’s nice background while I’m working, and calms me down a bit.
  • Disney released Onward digitally yesterday, after only a few weeks in the theaters. I went ahead and bought it, and I’ll likely watch it tonight. I also bought Rise of Skywalker yesterday. I saw it in a theater when it came out, and I’m not in much of a rush to see it again, but it’ll be another nice distraction, so maybe I’ll watch it tomorrow.

And, third… I had some idea for a third set of links, but it’s gone now. I guess I’m too tired. Saturday morning is generally busy for me, but not stressful. I just do my laundry and grocery shopping. But today, both of those things were pretty stressful. Our laundry room isn’t cleaned that often, and gets a lot of use, so I was being really careful about what I touched while I was down there, and washing my hands every time I came back upstairs. And of course the grocery shopping was stressful, dealing with the crowd and the spotty product availability. I had wanted to relax after I was done, and I did for a bit, but then came Gov. Murphy’s press conference. He honestly didn’t say anything I wasn’t expecting him to say, but for some reason, the lead up to it made me nervous, and then I felt I had to sit through all of it, to make sure I was fully informed.

Anyway, there’s no reason I can’t relax for the rest of the day. I have clean clothes and a reasonably full pantry for the coming week. I’ve checked in with friends. I’ve cleaned the apartment. I think I’m done for now.