Hurricane Ida, and Labor Day weekend stuff

It’s been a rough week here in Somerset County. Hurricane Ida hit us pretty hard. A house exploded just a few blocks from here, and a building collapsed right here on Main St. I’m fine. My apartment building is fine. (I suspect we had some flooding in the basement, based on the smell coming from down there, but that’s the landlord’s problem.) Peters Brook overflowed, so that caused a bunch of damage to homes near it. I walk along the Peters Brook Greenway quite often; I walked along it yesterday, and saw a lot of downed trees and other damage.

It’s Labor Day weekend. In a “normal” year, I might go into NYC today, but the Raritan Valley line is still shut down due to the storm. And, even if it was running, the Delta variant has dimmed my enthusiasm for NYC trips this summer. So I guess I’ll be spending the day relaxing at home. I’d like to go out and see Shang-Chi, but, again, my enthusiasm for sitting in an enclosed space for two hours with a bunch of strangers ain’t what it used to be.

The Tour of Somerville, which is usually held on Memorial Day, was moved to Labor Day this year due to the pandemic. I guess the original thought was that the pandemic would be over by Labor Day. Of course, that’s not the case. It might actually have been safer on Memorial Day. Despite the Delta variant, and the flood damage, they’re still carrying on with the race tomorrow. I’m not sure how great an idea that is, but there’s not much I can do about it. I’ll likely hole up in my apartment all day and watch from my window. I wonder what the crowd will be like this year. It’s hard to imagine it being anywhere near what it usually is, but it could still be pretty big.

On an unrelated note, I got an email recently detailing some changes coming to ComiXology. In a nutshell, it sounds like they’re basically going to be shutting down the ComiXology web store and integrating it into the regular Amazon site. That makes sense, and I’m surprised that it took them so long to get around to doing it. Amazon bought them in 2014, but they’ve continued running their own site, separate from Amazon. I merged my old ComiXology account with my Amazon account a long time ago, whenever they first enabled that, but it’s still been possible for people to use a separate ComiXology login. I think that’s going to stop being an option, at least if you want to purchase new books. There’s some coverage of this announcement at The Beat and Bleeding Cool. Also, there’s some discussion on reddit, including responses from official ComiXology support.

I may be spending some money at ComiXology this weekend. There’s a big DC Labor Day sale going on, with a bunch of graphic novels at $2.99. That includes all of the Sandman collections, which I’ve been thinking about buying. I’ve read the whole series, of course, but I don’t have all the original issues anymore, and I’ve been thinking about re-reading the series. (Oh, and the first part of the Sandman Audible adaptation is still free, for a while longer. The second part is coming out later this month. I bought the first part on MP3 CD some time ago, but I snagged the free Audible version too, since it’s convenient to have a copy in my Audible library.)

And as long as I’m talking about Neil Gaiman, I might as well mention that I started reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane yesterday. It’s good! I guess I’ll keep reading that today, as there doesn’t seem to be much else to do.

Memorial Day 2021

It’s been a quiet Memorial Day weekend so far. It rained all day Saturday and Sunday, and Friday night, so that kept most people away from downtown. It’s looking nicer today, so maybe Main St will be a little busier. There’s no Tour of Somerville today, of course. It’s been rescheduled for Labor Day. Hopefully, that’ll work out OK. The race attracts people from all over the US, and even some international racers, and I’d hate to see it turn into a super-spreader event for whatever variants are floating around in September.

Downtown Somerville is planning on returning to a somewhat “normal” schedule of events for this summer. I’m not too enthusiastic about that, since I’ve been finding them more of an inconvenience/annoyance over the last few years. But hopefully this summer will be a little more subdued than recent pre-COVID summers.

As I mentioned in my last post, the NJ mask mandate is now (mostly) gone. I haven’t gotten much of a feel for how that’s working yet, since I stayed in almost all day Saturday and Sunday, due to the rain. I did go out to my local coffee shop, and found that they were about 50/50 on masks now, among both staff and patrons. I also went on a quick trip to ShopRite this morning, and found that nearly all patrons and employees were wearing masks. I still haven’t gone out without a mask, but I may try skipping it for my morning walk tomorrow and see how it feels. Tomorrow will be exactly two weeks since my second vaccine shot, so I’ll be officially fully vaccinated then.

Apple TV

Since it’s been raining all weekend, I’ve spent a lot of time in front of the TV. (I guess I could have been reading books or comics, but I didn’t really have the energy for that.) So I have a few more thoughts on my new Apple TV box.

First, I had some trouble figuring out how to deal with HDR. My TV uses a different set of video settings for HDR vs regular HD, and I found that stuff that displayed in HDR looked way too dark. The first issue is that the Apple TV, by default, is always in HDR mode, regardless of whether or not the content you’re showing is HDR. As mentioned in this article, you can fix that by going to Settings > Video and Audio > Match Content, and turning on Match Dynamic Range and Match Frame Rate. That keeps the TV in regular HD mode for regular HD content, so that fixes the problem for most content.

But for actual HDR content, I had to keep messing around. This article from Wired addresses the specific issue of HDR content looking too dark, and was helpful. In the end, the solution was to turn off the “energy saver” mode. I’d really been resisting making that change, because, well… I don’t want to waste energy. But it seems to be the only way to get a bright enough picture.

On the subject of the new Apple TV remote: I like it, but I had a little trouble figuring out some stuff. Here’s an article that explains some of the less obvious commands. Initially, I couldn’t figure out how to do the “rewind or fast forward 10 seconds” thing or the new “scrub” thing. The official Apple doc on this stuff is here.

There’s a fairly long review of the new Apple TV here. It’s worth reading (or at least skimming) if you’re thinking about buying one.


I was going to add another section to this post, talking about some troubleshooting I had to do with WordPress on Saturday, but this thing has gone on long enough, so maybe that’ll be a subject for another day.

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

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.)

more odds and ends

I’m kind of exhausted now, and I kind of want 2020 to just be over. But it’s not. I’m doing my best to stay positive and keep working and exercising and eating right (and I am doing all that), but I’m getting a little frayed around the edges. Anyway, here’s another round-up of (mostly) bad news. Writing helps me process things and clear my head. I don’t necessarily expect anything here to be useful to anyone else, but writing it down helps me.

More #MeToo

Well, the #MeToo stuff in comics is really starting to snowball. After Cam Stewart, Warren Ellis, and Charles Brownstein, now it’s Scott Allie’s turn. Allie was an editor and writer at Dark Horse. He was the editor on all the Hellboy and Hellboy-related books for a long time. And he’s written a few also. I’ve been a Hellboy and BPRD fan since Hellboy #1 from back in the 90s. I didn’t really know anything about Allie, other than just knowing his name from the credits and letter columns. So I can’t say much about him. I don’t think there’s any indication that Mike Mignola knew anything about this, so that at least is something. I’d hate to have to lose my respect for Mignola. (And I do have a good bit of respect for him.)

And back to Brownstein: He was apparently involved in another incident, about ten years ago, involving a CBLDF employee, who was then essentially forced to sign an NDA. So things are looking worse for them. I’m not quite ready to burn my CBLDF t-shirts, but I’m not going to be wearing them in public anytime soon either.

New Toys

I don’t think I’ve even turned on my new laptop yet this week. I’ve been doing a bunch of React stuff on my MacBook, and all of my actual work on my work machines, of course. So I haven’t had time to do any setup on the Lenovo.

I have had time to mess around with my Echo Dot a bit though. I’ve discovered that it’s pretty good as a speaker (given it’s small size), but not if you’re using it via Bluetooth. So if you’re playing stuff over it via the usual Alexa route, it sounds pretty good. But it’s not really worth trying to use it as a Bluetooth speaker. So I’ll yell “Alexa, play WQXR” if I want to hear some classical music while I’m working and that works out fine.


Speaking of React, I’ve been reading the second edition of Learning React via my ACM O’Reilly subscription. It’s an “early release” version, so it’s a little rough, but it’s more up-to-date than any other book on React that I’ve seen. I’m at a point now where I’m not sure if I should keep working my way through books and videos or if I should stop reading/watching and start actually working on a project. I think I might need to finish the Learning React book at least. I’m still having trouble getting at the big picture with React. I’m learning little bits and pieces, but they don’t all fit together in my head yet.

Reopening NJ

Somerville is really hopping this week, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. Mostly nervous, I guess. All the restaurants are doing outdoor dining, which means that they’ve annexed about 90% of the sidewalks. So a walk down Main St right now is kind of an obstacle course. And the obstacles are people sitting at outdoor tables, talking, eating, and not wearing masks. My early morning walks are still OK, since there are only one or two places open that early. But I’ve been avoiding Main St on my afternoon walks. Still, though, it’s kind of fun to see the outdoor dining. And it’s nice to hear people talking and laughing and all that. I just wish I could shake the idea that one of them is going to spray COVID-19 all over me.

Meanwhile, the Bridgewater Commons is going to reopen on Monday. I don’t think I’ll be going back there any time soon though. Maybe I’d risk a trip to the Apple Store if I really needed something, but only as a last resort. I just ordered two new pairs of shorts from the Macy’s web site, and I think that’s all the new clothes I’ll need between now and the end of the year. Macy’s and the Apple Store are really the only places at the mall that I frequent, so I don’t think I’ll be tempted to go over there.

And Yestercades is reopening too, on July 2. This seems like an even worse idea that reopening the mall. There’s no way they can keep all those arcade machines clean. And that place is really too cramped for social distancing. I don’t know, maybe they’ve figured out a way to make it work. I can definitely say that I’m not going back in there anytime soon either.

I may be more stressed now than when I started writing this post, which is not how I wanted this to turn out. Maybe I should spend the next hour listening to this public domain recording of the Goldberg Variations. That’ll help me calm down.


protests in Somerville

There were a few Black Lives Matter protests here in Somerville over the weekend. I didn’t go out much at all myself this weekend, so I was mostly aware of them only from the perspective of seeing them from my apartment window. I was sick on Saturday, so going out then seemed like a bad idea. On Sunday, I was feeling better, and did go out for a couple of walks, but going outside during the protests still seemed like a bad idea, just from the perspective of the possible COVID-19 exposure. Maybe I’m being paranoid, but I’m an old man with some health issues, so… maybe I’m not paranoid.

Anyway, judging purely from what I could see from my window, it seemed like there were just a handful of kids, mostly white, protesting on Saturday. I think that might have been just a group of well-meaning local high school students or something. That was a little amusing, but still nice to see.

Early afternoon on Sunday, there was a much larger group, still mostly young, but much more mixed, that marched up and down Main St several times. This group stuck to the sidewalks. I’d estimate 100 to 200 people total. They were probably marching for an hour or so, and I’m guessing they were going back and forth from the courthouse to town hall, based on the timing of when they were passing by outside.

A couple of hours later, a much larger group came by, this time marching right down the middle of the road, stopping traffic. There must have been hundreds of people, but I can’t say how many. They were quite loud and there were a lot of them. The group was definitely mixed: young and old, adults and children, white and black. Everything I saw was entirely peaceful, and I didn’t see any police presence at all.

This article from MyCentralJersey seems to be covering the earlier Sunday protest. It mentions “hundreds” of protestors, and has a bunch of photos, but they only show people on the sidewalks. This one from TapInto seems to be covering both the earlier and later protests. It mentions “1000+” protestors, and has some photos of people marching in the street. And here’s an article from Patch briefly covering protests in Somerville, Manville, and Franklin.

Apparently, there were some organized speeches and activity on the courthouse lawn prior to the marches on Sunday. It would have been cool to have been able to go down and check some of that out. But I didn’t know about any of this prior to seeing it pass by my window. And, if I did, I still would not have felt safe mixing with such a large crowd.

I don’t have anything really useful to add to any of the discussion on these issues, other than to say that it’s inspiring to see how many people seem to be engaged and concerned about this stuff now. I don’t know how many of these folks are going to vote in November. I don’t know how many of them are going to remain engaged, once this stuff fades from the news. I remember the shooting of Amadou Diallo in 1999. We all hoped things would change after that, and, well, that was twenty years ago. But I don’t remember anybody protesting in Somerville in 1999. So maybe there’s finally enough momentum now to change things. We’ll see.

SharePoint, Somerville, and so on

A little follow-up on some subjects from yesterday’s post:

I complained a bit yesterday about the “hundreds of files” pulled in on a new “Hello World” SharePoint Framework project. I checked today, and it’s actually more than 50,000 files, totaling up to about 500 MB. Scary. I’ve also been a little worried about all the security warnings issued by npm when scaffolding a SPFx project. Apparently that’s all fine though and I should just ignore them, according to this blog post. I guess none of the stuff that npm is checking is actually ever deployed to SharePoint, so it’s fine.

NJTV News tonight had a segment on restaurant and retail reopenings that spent some time talking about Somerville. I guess we’re likely to go ahead with the plan to close down Main Street to car traffic a few nights a week that I mentioned yesterday. I’ve still got some reservations about that, but nobody asked my opinion. (Yeah, I know, I could start attending town meetings. They’re virtual now, so I don’t even need to leave my couch. I’m still probably not going to do it though.)

One other benefit of having “attended” Microsoft Build this year: They’re letting attendees buy some stuff from the Microsoft company store. They’re only allowing purchases of digital goods, so no discounts on Surface hardware or anything like that. But I did pick up a few things at bargain prices. I got a Windows 10 Pro license for $40, and used it to upgrade my desktop PC from Home to Pro. And I got a one-year extension on my Microsoft 365 Family account for only $20. (That’s usually $100/year. I get the Home Use Program discount, which makes it $70/year. So $20 is really low.) And I got a two-year Xbox Live Gold sub for $50. (That’s usually $10/month or $60/year.)

I don’t know if I’ll actually get much use out of the Xbox Live Gold account. As I mentioned recently, I’ve had the Xbox for a year now, and I barely use it, except as a DVD/Blu-ray player. I’ll have to keep an eye on the Games with Gold stuff and see if they have anything I’m interested in. I really want to start playing video games again, but there’s so much other stuff to do too.

SharePoint, social distancing, civil unrest, and so on

I need to start a new SharePoint Online project at work soon. It’ll be an attempt to move an on-prem SharePoint 2013 site, with a fair amount of custom code, to SPO. I haven’t had time to learn much about SPO yet. I’ve taken a couple of pokes at it, but I’d been having trouble finding the right resources.

I “attended” Microsoft’s virtual Build conference this year, and had hoped for some useful SharePoint content, but there wasn’t much. About the only thing I could find was this session on the Microsoft 365 developer program. I already knew about that, and have an account, so that wasn’t too useful. It did, however, point me in the direction of a web page that (in turn) pointed me to this course on extending SharePoint. That seems to be what I need to get started.

I’m cautiously enthusiastic about learning this stuff, but I’m a little leery of the dev stack that they’re recommending. I have some limited experience with the tools they’re using (gulp, yeoman, node.js, and so on), but this stuff always seems like a house of cards to me. Too many different tools, all from different open source projects, pulling in possibly hundreds of different files, all just to get the scaffolding for a “Hello World” project up and running. Well, I need to remain positive and give it a try. I made it through the first “Hello World” example today, and I’m hoping I’ll have time to make some more progress tomorrow.

Since the dev stack includes node.js, I found myself visiting the node.js web site today. They’ve changed their home page to contain a Black Lives Matter message. (I’m not sure how long they’ll leave it up, so here’s a link to an snapshot.) We had a fairly small and very peaceful BLM march in Somerville over the weekend. And protests in NJ have mostly been peaceful, with some exceptions. I don’t have much to say about all this, other than that I hope something positive comes out of it all. I’m afraid that it’s going to get worse before it gets better though. (My own contribution to this situation was to start catching up on all the Black Lightning episodes on my TiVo. And to keep listening to the Invisible Man audiobook that I started a while back. So, not much, really.)

Meanwhile, NJ is starting to open back up a bit. Today actually marks three months since the first COVID-19 case in NJ, according to the newscast I just watched. I think that Murphy is acting with a reasonable level of caution, all things considered. I am worried about the “knuckleheads” who might push things a little too far and cause another spike in cases. I’ve actually been venturing out a bit more myself this week. I had a doctor’s appointment, then had to go to Quest for some blood work. And I’ve got a dentist’s appointment next week. It feels a little weird, going out and driving and stuff. I’m really wondering about how “armored up” the dentist and hygienist are going to be for my appointment. Dental work has got to  be pretty high-risk, given the level of contact necessary.

Here’s an article about the current state of things in downtown Somerville. And here’s one on a plan to close off Main Street to car traffic a few nights a week, and use the road for outdoor dining. It’s an interesting plan, though if it’s not implemented carefully, it could be a disaster. I want to see Somerville’s restaurants have a chance to do some business this summer, but not if it means that the whole street is crammed with people eating and drinking and spreading germs. If they can keep things reasonable and organized, maybe it’s not a bad idea. If things get crowded (like on a normal, pre-COVID-19, Friday night), then I’m going to be locking myself in my apartment and keeping the windows closed.

A Quiet Memorial Day

As I mentioned in my last post, there will be no bike race today, so it should be a pretty quiet Memorial Day here in Somerville. I went out on a relatively long walk this morning: two miles, thirty minutes. I don’t usually use my AirPods while I’m walking, but today I decided to try that, and listened to the new Vessels VIII compilation from Future Astronauts. I didn’t see too many other people out, and the weather was great. So it was a nice relaxing walk.

I’ve added some more photos to my May 2020 Flickr album, covering all of the random photos I’ve taken since I last uploaded any, on May 3. Nothing special, just random photos. I’ve been trying to maintain certain habits since this thing started, as a way to help myself stay sane. Doing a morning walk, and taking a photo or two, is one of those habits.

I’ve been looking back on past posts again, both here and in my Day One journal. I see that’s it’s been a year since I bought my Xbox One. As I predicted, I kind of lost interest in it at some point, and I’m mostly just using it as a DVD & Blu-ray player now. I canceled my EA Access subscription, which would otherwise have billed me for a second year this week. I’d really only been using it to play Bejeweled 3, which is kind of silly. Bejeweled is really more of an iPhone game, and certainly easy to play on an iPhone. I’ve considered trying to get back into some video games during this pandemic, but haven’t really managed to do that. I feel like doing something a bit more interactive than reading and watching TV would be a good idea, but can’t really work up too much enthusiasm for it. I guess I’m really just not a “video game guy” anymore.

I started working my way through the Resident Alien comic book series this weekend, and will probably read volume 5 today. That one was published in 2018, and is the most recent. There’s supposed to be one more mini-series coming, and I’m looking forward to buying that one when it comes out (hopefully soon). It’s a really good series, and has been a pleasant distraction this weekend.

One more habit that I’ve been trying to maintain during the pandemic is meditation. I’ve been working my way through a forty-day course called Mindfulness Daily At Work in the Insight Timer app on my iPhone. It’s pretty good. I’m still not sure that meditation helps me that much, but I guess it helps me enough to be worth the relatively minor time investment that I’m putting into it.

Memorial Day Weekend

I think this is the end of week ten since I started working from home. It’s probably time to stop keeping track of which week it is. This is just the way it is now. My employer is starting to talk about reopening our offices, slowly, but they haven’t officially announced anything yet. Right now, the official word is that we’re all still working from home through June 1. I’m fairly certain I’ll still be working from home through June. I might have to start going back into the office on a limited basis in July. We’ll see. It would be nice to have more certainty, but, as Nicholas Kristof points out in his column this week, “Let’s Remember That the Coronavirus Is Still a Mystery.” I’m trying to accept, with humility, the uncertainty that there is around this thing and take things day by day.

NJ’s COVID-19 dashboard shows that we’re now over 150,000 cases, 10,000 deaths, and 500,000 tests here in NJ. Gov. Murphy has been gradually loosening restrictions. The maximum size of a “gathering” has been increased from 10 to 25. Beaches are open this weekend, with some restrictions.

I’m definitely not going anywhere this weekend though. I’ll be staying in, reading comics, maybe playing some video games, and just generally puttering around the apartment. I generally spend Memorial Day at home, watching the Tour of Somerville. The tour has, of course, been canceled this year, for the first time since World War II. So it’ll be quiet in Somerville on Monday.

I had wanted to “attend” a number of the sessions from Microsoft Build this past week, but we had a bit of an emergency at work that took up most of my time, so I pretty much missed it all. I did have some time Friday afternoon, so I went back and watched some of the stuff that’s available on-demand. I have a few more sessions bookmarked, and I’d like to watch those this weekend.

I got an email from the Metropolitan Museum this week saying that my membership would be extended for however long the museum is closed. I was expecting that, and I suspect that MoMA will do the same. (MoMA had extended all memberships when they had closed for renovations last year, so they’ll probably do the same for this situation.) The Met is now tentatively planning to reopen in August. I think that may be a little optimistic, but it’ll be great if they can. I haven’t heard anything about MoMA or any other museums in NYC making plans to reopen yet. Museums elsewhere in the country are starting to reopen, but of course no other city has been as hard-hit as NYC. I don’t think I’ll feel comfortable going into New York for museum trips (or anything else) until we’ve got a vaccine and/or an effective treatment for COVID-19.

When this thing started, I, like many other people, started looking into the possibility of getting groceries delivered, or at least just doing grocery pickup. At that time, all of the various options for grocery delivery were overwhelmed, so I just kept making my weekly trips to ShopRite as usual. This morning, it was raining pretty hard and I decided to check and see if grocery delivery was possible. Surprisingly, it was. ShopRite had delivery slots open, but not until the middle of the week. Whole Foods, on the other hand, had same-day slots open. So I went ahead and placed an order. I put in the order at 8 AM, for delivery between 10 AM and noon. It’s 11 AM now, and the order just arrived. The process was pretty smooth. They were out of stock on one item, though, so I guess I’m going to run over to ShopRite today anyway, at least for a quick trip. I don’t think I’ll switch over to delivery on a regular basis, but it’s nice to know that it’s an option.

This was a pretty random post, but it’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve blogged, so I thought I should gather my thoughts and write something. I may write some more later this weekend, if I get bored and/or feel the urge.