Apple stuff, vaccine stuff, and more

I’ve got a few things to blog about, and I think I’m just going to write a hodge-podge post with a random selection of subjects. I guess that’s a reasonable thing to do on a cold and dreary Saturday morning.

Apple stuff

I noticed in my “On This Day” widget that I bought my current iPad two years ago today, and my first Apple Watch five years ago today. The iPad is still in pretty good shape, though the battery life isn’t what it used to be. Next week’s Apple event will probably include an announcement about new iPads, but I think I’ll stick with my current one for a while longer. I primarily use it to read comics and browse Twitter and Facebook, and it’s fine for all that.

As for the Apple Watch, I’m quite surprised to realize that I’ve been wearing one for five years now. I’ve got to say, Apple really got it right with the Watch. I was leery about a few things when I first bought one, but it’s been great. I got used to the Sport band pretty quickly, and haven’t ever bothered to try a different style. I don’t want to give the Watch all the credit for the fact that I’ve kept my weight down and my fitness level up over the last five years, but honestly it probably deserves a lot of credit. It’s dumb, but closing my rings does motivate me to get out and exercise more often than I would otherwise.

Vaccine stuff

I’ll finally be eligible to get the COVID vaccine, starting Monday. I’m registered with the state of NJ, so we’ll see if anything comes of that. I’m also getting myself ready to try other avenues, including RWJ, CVS, and Walgreens. This (subscriber-only) NJ.com article has a good round-up of vaccine resources. The suspension of the J&J vaccine and the opening up of eligibility on Monday may mean that I won’t have much of a chance of getting vaccinated any time soon, but I’ll give it the old college try, and maybe I’ll get lucky. In general, availability seems to be better in south Jersey than around here, but I hope I can find an option that’s relatively local. I really don’t want to have to drive down to Atlantic City.

Apparently, more than a third of adults in NJ are now fully vaccinated, and more than half have received at least one dose. So that’s good news. Meanwhile, the global death toll has passed three million. So we still need to take this thing seriously.

Reading, Watching, Listening

I dropped my cable subscription down to Broadcast Basic this week, and I’m doing fine with that so far. I miss TCM a bit, but I still have eight or nine TCM movies on my TiVo that I haven’t watched yet, so that’s no big deal. And I miss The Daily Show, but I can always watch bits of that on YouTube.

I’ve had Apple One for about a week now, but I haven’t watched anything on Apple TV+ or played any Apple Arcade games yet. I did get all my photos up to iCloud though, and did a bunch of organizing there.

My two favorite TV shows right now are probably Falcon and the Winter Soldier on Disney+ and Invincible on Amazon. Both, coincidentally, have related podcasts from Comic Book Club. There’s a whole mini-industry going right now around podcasts and web site articles recapping and discussing various nerdy TV shows. Sometimes, I think there’s a bit too much of that. Even the NY Times does recap articles now. But, hey, it doesn’t do any harm, and sometimes the discussion is interesting and fun. I’ve been watching/listening to the Comic Book Club guys on and off for more than ten years, so they seem kind of like old friends. (You can read a bit about their history here.) I never made it to any of their live shows in NYC, and now I kind of regret that, since they never be able to start those back up again.

The Invincible show has gotten me interested in the Invincible comic book again. I bought and read the first four volumes some years ago. I enjoyed them, but didn’t get around to buying any more, until 2016, when I bought volumes 5-13 from Comixology during a sale. There are 25 volumes, so I need to pick up 14-25 to get the whole run. There’s another sale going on at Comixology, so I can get them for half-price right now, but that’s still enough money that it’s not an easy impulse buy for me. I haven’t actually read those volumes that I bought back in 2016 yet either, so I don’t think I need to be in a hurry to complete the set. But, of course, the collector’s mentality has kicked in, so now I’m probably just going to go ahead and get them.

I’m somewhat tempted to buy physical copies rather than digital, but I know that’s a bad idea. I have way too many books in my apartment now, and I haven’t been able to get rid of them via library sales like I used to, since my local library system suspended their book sales when the virus hit. As I mentioned recently, I’ve stopped ordering comics from Westfield, so hopefully I can start putting a dent in my backlog of physical books (both comic and otherwise) and then find something useful to do with the ones I’ve read. Maybe the library can start up their book sales again over the summer. Maybe they can do them outdoors in the parking lot or something like that. That would be cool.

too much snow

Fair warning: this is going to be a rambling post, mostly complaining about the weather, and about how crappy I’ve been feeling. You’ve been warned.

We started off February here in NJ with a huge snowstorm on Monday. According to NJ.com, we got 23 inches here in Somerville. I’m pretty sure it’s the worst snowstorm we’ve had since the big one in January 2016. I’m very glad that I can work from home right now. That wasn’t the case in 2016, and dealing with driving and parking turned out to be quite a big problem. This time, I just left my car alone on Monday and Tuesday, and stayed indoors. (I did knock a little snow off it on Tuesday, but not much.) On Wednesday, I made a concerted effort to dig it out of the snow. Over the course of three 30-minute sessions, I managed to get about halfway there. But then, Wednesday night, I felt horrible. Lots of pain, sore throat, headache. I guess I’m just too old and broken to do manual labor anymore. I left it alone again on Thursday, and tried to heal up. I felt a little better today, but still not great. I did a little more digging, but maybe just 15 minutes, total. At this point, between the digging and some melting, I could probably move the car if I had to. But I’m still feeling pretty bad.

What’s left of the snow (and there’s a lot) isn’t likely to melt anytime soon. And now we’ve got another storm coming in this weekend, bringing maybe another eight inches. I’m really glad that I don’t need the car right now. I’ve been ordering my groceries from Whole Foods for the last few months, and getting them delivered. And I have ShopRite in walking distance too. And it looks like my company won’t be asking us to get back into the office for quite some time. So I may just leave the car where it is for the rest of the month. I should probably try to drive it around a little at some point this month, if I can, but I don’t think it’ll be a huge problem if I let it sit for the next few weeks, if I have to.

Now it’s Friday night, and I still have some pain in various parts of my body, plus a bit of a headache, and still kind of a sore throat. I plan on getting up early tomorrow and doing my laundry. After that, I think I’ll just be resting up for the remainder of the weekend. The Super Bowl is Sunday, but I have to admit that I don’t much care about it. I didn’t pay any attention to football this year.

I have a bunch of other stuff I want to blog about, some of which might actually be useful or entertaining. But I sure don’t have the energy for it right now. Maybe if I feel better on Saturday afternoon or Sunday, I’ll try to write something useful. For now, this is all I got.

what a week

In my last post, on New Year’s Day, I said “I’m expecting the first couple of months of 2021 to be pretty rough.” It turns out, the first couple of weeks of 2021 have been pretty rough. So one week ago, we had an angry mob storm the Capitol building, and today, we saw Trump get impeached for the second time, at record speed.

I wanted to write a post about the whole insurrection thing over the weekend, but I just couldn’t get my thoughts together in any coherent way. I still probably can’t, but I feel like I need to get some stuff out of my head, regardless. It might not be that organized or coherent, so I apologize if it isn’t.

It’s been interesting to follow the reaction of some of our local NJ politicians to the Capitol incident. Here are a few links.

  • Andy Kim got some attention for picking up trash in the Capitol building after the incident. Here’s an article from the Post, and here’s one from NJ.com. It’s a small thing, but it was one of the only positive stories to come out of this, and really reflects the kind of values I want to see in my elected representatives.
  • Meanwhile, Bonnie Watson Coleman, another NJ rep, has now tested positive for COVID-19. Here’s an article on that from NJ Spotlight. While of course there’s no way to tell for sure, there’s a good chance she was exposed while locked up in the Capitol building with a bunch of other lawmakers, many of whom refused to put on a mask. So that’s infuriating. Here’s a Post opinion piece she wrote. (She’s not happy.)
  • Mikie Sherrill is alleging that some members of Congress led “reconnaissance” tours of the Capitol a day before the insurrection. If true, that’s… horrible. (But she could be wrong on that.)
  • Jeff Van Drew continues to disappoint, being the only NJ rep to vote against certifying Biden’s win. Here’s a USA Today article on that. A lot of people aren’t happy with Van Drew, but I’m not sure he cares. Here’s an NJ.com article about protests calling for him to resign.
  • Van Drew also, for some reason, decided to wear an extremely weird suit to work today. People have been making fun of him for it on Twitter. Here’s one from Sam Bee. And another from Matt Platkin. Not really a big deal, but I guess it’s yet another example of his generally poor judgement. (And it gave me a laugh today, which I sorely needed.)
  • Chris Smith, meanwhile, is keeping a low profile. Both he and Van Drew are quoted in this NJ.com article about today’s impeachment.
  • My own rep, Tom Malinowski, has been setting a good example. Today, he hosted two online meetings, one on vaccine distribution and one on the insurrection. I watched parts of each. He always comes across as calm, reasonable, and thoughtful in these things. I’m leery about putting too much faith in a politician, but he genuinely seems like a hard worker and good guy.

I’ve definitely been experiencing some information overload over this past week. I feel like I need to keep up with the news, but so much of it is just crazy. I want to talk to somebody about it, but I’ve hardly got anyone to talk to. (Hence this long, rambling, blog post, I guess.)

My Twitter feed often becomes quite surreal these days. I keep stumbling across stuff, and thinking it’s from The Onion, but it’s not. Or thinking that I must have misread something, but… nope. Here are a few examples:

  • Trump really was planning to give the Medal of Freedom to Bill Belichick. That was not an Onion article. (He declined, though I actually did first read about that in The Onion.)
  • Someone Wrote “Trump” on a Florida Manatee, from the NY Times.
  • From NPR: “Joint Chiefs Remind U.S. Forces That They Defend The Constitution” — because apparently that’s something we can’t take for granted anymore?
  • And I could probably add a few more links, related to some of the characters who romped around the Capitol building last week, from the weird guy with the viking hat to the scary guy with the zip ties. I’ll just add one: “Jamiroquai Singer Says Capitol Rioter In The Viking Helmet Isn’t Him.”

I had a few serious, high-level, articles about the insurrection that I wanted to link to, but I’m too tired to do that, and I’m not sure they’re necessarily the best ones to reference. Maybe I’ll revisit that later. For now, just one more link: I Recommend Eating Chips, from the NY Times. This is a pretty dumb article, but it does kinda sum up how I’m feeling lately. I’m trying very hard not to stress-eat, and I’m definitely not eating Doritos, but I’ll admit I had a small bag of potato chips with my lunch on Sunday, and it felt pretty good.

 

The Morning After

I tried to be careful about how I was following election news last night. I watched the regular NJ Spotlight newscast at 5:30 PM, then some of their later election coverage, from about 9 to 9:30 PM. And I listened to a bit of WNYC, and checked Twitter a few times. I check Twitter only via Twitterrific, and I’m careful about who I follow, so my Twitter feed is relatively sane. So I managed to get a pretty good night’s sleep last night. (A little Yo-Yo Ma helped out too.)

This morning’s news is… pretty much what I expected. No conclusive winner in the presidential race. Cory Booker reelected to the Senate, and Tom Malinowski reelected to the House. The legal weed question passed, by a 2 to 1 margin. Overall, the Democrats will likely keep their House majority and probably won’t win a Senate majority.

The mainstream media (at least the sources I follow) seem to be dealing well with Trump’s FUD. The Washington Post has a headline that reads “Trump falsely asserts election fraud, claims a victory” and the NY Times has one that says “As America Awaits a Winner, Trump Falsely Claims He Prevailed.” So we’re getting that word “false” in there, at least.

I haven’t looked at Twitter or Facebook yet this morning, but I inevitably will at some point. I’m sure that a lot of people will have opinions about all this. Either way, I need to try to get through the rest of the work week without getting distracted by all this stuff too much. Hopefully, I can find some interesting work to occupy my mind.

Afternoon Walk

I’ve been going out for walks nearly every day since the pandemic began, and taking photos. I haven’t posted any of the photos to Flickr since May, though. So here are a few photos from a walk I went on this afternoon. It was a nice autumn afternoon walk. (I’m trying an embedded album below, which might or might not look OK here. If it isn’t working, try this link.)

I had my Airpods in, and was listening to Invisible Man, which I started in May, and still haven’t finished yet. (I’m just at the part where he realizes that he can be invisible, so I’m getting near the end.) I don’t usually listen to audiobooks while I’m walking. Usually I go with music or podcasts. But I really felt like making some progress with Invisible Man today, so I gave it a try. It worked out OK. I managed to give enough attention to the book, and also managed to not get hit by a truck while crossing any streets.

afternoon walk 10/24/2020

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.)

COVID Alert NJ

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. NJ.com 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 NJ.com 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 nj.com today explaining the problem and indicating that it was OK to mail in the $7, and gave the address to send it to.

NJ.com 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 privacy.com 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 NJ.com 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 NJ.com 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 MyCentralJersey.com, 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.

physical media and lockdown anxiety

I’ve now reached the stage of the lockdown where spending $100 for four Avengers movies on Blu-ray seemed like a good idea. (I already have the first one on Blu-ray, but none of the others.) I’d been keeping an eye on iTunes and Vudu to see if maybe the digital versions would go on sale for $10 each or something like that, but yesterday, I decided that it was OK to just go ahead and get the fancy SteelBook box set.

I go back and forth with my thinking on digital vs physical media. On the one hand, my cable & internet went out last night, while I was watching a Blu-ray, so I patted myself on the back for still holding onto physical media there. On the other hand, I accidentally knocked over a big stack of DVDs this morning and had to pick them all up and get them back in order. You can’t knock over digital video. I guess I’ll still keep going back and forth on this for the foreseeable future. There’s an argument to made on both sides.

I have been feeling lately like the lockdown is starting to get to me. I’ve seen some articles about post-lockdown anxiety recently. I think my main problem is that I’m pretty sure we shouldn’t be talking about “post-lockdown” yet at all. I see a lot of people without masks wandering around downtown these days, and I keep reading about the pressure to open stuff back up. I think we need to be real careful about that, and I think we at least need to be wearing masks more often. As of today, NJ is requiring people to wear masks outdoors, so that’s good, though there’s really no enforcement mechanism for this.

And I’m pretty steamed about movie theater chains suing NJ. This really seems like the last thing they should be spending time and money on right now. I’m fairly sure I won’t be entering a theater any time before the end of this year. And I probably won’t want to go into one until next summer, at least. (Assuming there’s a vaccine and/or treatment for COVID-19 by then.)

Some of my anxiety and restlessness is no doubt coming from the simple fact that it’s summer, and I really can’t do most of the things I like to do in the summer. Like going out to see a movie. Or going into NYC and visiting the Met and MoMA. Or going to a comic con. To address that last one, I’m thinking about taking a few days off for Comic-Con@Home later this month. Just sitting around in my apartment and watching panels online won’t come near the experience of actually being in San Diego for the con, but at least it’ll get me away from work for a few days and maybe let me recharge my batteries a bit (so to speak).

They have the Wednesday panel schedule up now, and it’s mostly not that interesting to me. It’s mostly serious stuff related to education. Which is fine. I assume the nerdier fan stuff will be Thursday through Sunday. So maybe I’ll take Thursday and Friday off from work and just chill and watch panels and read comics for a couple of days. I’ve been thinking about other things I could do to make the experience feel more like actually being at the con. I could skip my usual meal habits and get take-out on those days. Maybe I could even find some local take-out that reminds me of the kind of stuff I like to eat in San Diego, like fish tacos. I could sleep a little late and stay up a little late. (Or I could even try to switch to PDT for a few days.) Maybe I could try to ignore “regular” news for a few days and just read con-related news only. (That might be kind of hard to manage.) I guess that’s about it though. I can’t dress any more casually than I’m already dressing. I can do an excessive amount of walking, I guess, but just wandering around Somerville isn’t the same as wandering around downtown San Diego and the convention center.