new MacBook Air

I finally gave in and bought a new MacBook Air today, so this is my obligatory “I bought a new computer” post. The old MacBook Air was crashing a lot, and nothing I tried helped. I could have sent it in to Apple for service, but my AppleCare had expired and it seemed like maybe it would be better to just get a new one. So I got the current MacBook Air with a 512 GB drive and 8 GB of RAM. My old one only had a 256 GB drive, and that was always a problem, so it’s nice to get back to a reasonably sized drive. As for the RAM, that’s the same as the old one. The big difference between old and new is the M1 chip, I guess. The old one was an Intel i5. So far, I haven’t noticed any speed improvement, but I don’t do anything really CPU-intensive, so it probably won’t make much of a difference.

The old MacBook lasted for almost four years. I bought it in May 2018. I guess that’s a good run for a modern laptop, but I wish I could have kept it going for another year. The new one cost me $1250, bought directly from Apple. With AppleCare, a USB to USB-C adapter, a USB-C to Lightning cable, and sales tax, the total was a bit over $1500. And I arranged to trade in the old one for $270, assuming they accept it and decide it’s in good enough shape.

Migration from old to new was pretty easy, using the Migration Assistant. At first, it looked like it was going to take a long time, but then I moved the laptops closer to each other, and it sped up considerably. I think it might have switched from using my wifi network to a peer-to-peer connection, maybe using Bluetooth, when I did that. I’m not really sure how that works. Migration was much simpler than the nuke & pave that I did on the old one a while back. (Though I think that doing that clean install probably helped this migration run more smoothly.)

One thing I figured out after the migration is that I had a few Intel-only apps, so they required Rosetta 2 to run. Evernote was one of them, which I thought was a little weird. It turns out that there is a Universal version of it, though, and I just had to delete it and reinstall it from the App Store to get the Universal version. I tried doing the same with OneDrive, but apparently the Universal version of that still isn’t in the App Store.

I guess the next Apple item up for replacement is going to be my iPhone XR, which I bought in January 2019, and is starting to show its age. Then maybe my iPad Air, which I bought in April 2019. I think the iPhone is going to need to be replaced relatively soon, but maybe I can hold off on the iPad until next year. I wish these things would last longer, but I’m resigned to having to replace them all every few years now, I guess.

Back home and sick

My trip up to Albany earlier this week was a success, in that I got there and back in one piece, went to my friend’s wife’s funeral service, and generally had a pleasant time, catching up with old friends. I have gotten sick now, though, as I expected/feared.

I took a COVID self-test yesterday, and it came back negative, so it’s probably just a cold. I might take another test today or tomorrow, just to be sure. (The tests come in two-packs, so I might as well use both, now that I’ve opened the pack.)

I tried to be careful about things on this trip, of course. I wore my mask most of the time, while out in public. Mask compliance was pretty good on both NJ Transit and Amtrak. Once in Albany, I used Uber to get around, and mask compliance wasn’t 100%, but most drivers were still wearing masks. In Troy & Albany, most people in public weren’t wearing masks. At my hotel in Albany, most workers and guests weren’t bothering with masks. At the funeral service, everyone was wearing masks. Afterwards, though, they had a get-together at a local bakery, and most folks (including me) dropped the masks. It’s hard to drink coffee and eat muffins with a mask on. That get-together was quite nice, but it’s probably where I picked up whatever germs are making me miserable right now. Or maybe it was in the train station in Newark or New York. I guess it doesn’t matter. The end result is that I haven’t been real productive at work the last few days, and had to take a half-day yesterday. Hopefully, I can get better over the weekend and have a good week next week.

I think the lesson I’m taking away from this is that I’m still not ready to get back out into the world in a big way. I need to stick close to home, for the most part, and carefully consider any trips that bring me into crowded public spaces, or on public transportation.

Scary Travel

I’m getting ready to go on my first trip outside of NJ or NYC since 2019. And I’m spending maybe too much time this morning obsessing and worrying about it. It’ll be a trip up to Troy NY, where I went to college, for a friend’s wife’s funeral service. I’ll be taking Amtrak from NYC to Albany tomorrow, staying overnight in Albany Sunday and Monday, and coming back on Tuesday morning.

This trip will definitely involve much more human contact than I’ve had since before the pandemic began. (I guess my NYCC trip last year got me close to a bunch of people, but that was a one-day in and out trip.) I’ll be taking NJ Transit into NYC, then changing to Amtrak. I’ll be staying in a hotel for two nights. And of course I’ll be at the service. I don’t really know how many people will be there, whether or not they’ll be masked, or how many are coming in from out of state. So lots of opportunity for virus transmission. And also for weird and/or awkward interpersonal encounters.

NJ Transit and Amtrak both still require masks, so that’s good. But I know that mask compliance has probably gone down over time. I know from experience that NJ Transit won’t make a big deal of it if somebody isn’t wearing a mask. I’m not sure about Amtrak.

This is also the first time I’ve ridden Amtrak in many years. As far as I can tell, it should be pretty straightforward. I have coach tickets both way. Coach on Amtrak looks like it should be reasonably comfortable. And it looks like boarding an Amtrak train is still much more straightforward than getting on an airplane. I won’t need to check any bags, and I don’t think they have any kind of security around carry-on bags, so I don’t need to worry about whether or not I have a plastic fork in there or more than three ounces of shampoo or whatever else is forbidden by the TSA these days.

I’ve built enough slack into my schedule to allow for NJT or Amtrak delays. The service is Monday, and I’m going up on Sunday. I think that Amtrak generally has enough flexibility that, if my NJT train to NYC is late and I miss the Amtrak train, I can get on a later one. And I’m going to take a NJT train that should get me into NYC about an hour before the Amtrak one leaves.

And the two nights in the hotel give me some flexibility and allow me to go to the service on Monday without having to drag my luggage with me and worry about getting from there directly back to the train station.

Still, I’m kind of freaking out about the trip. Worried about getting sick before it and having to cancel. Worried about travel issues. Worried about forgetting something. Worried about getting sick after the trip. Oh well.

Whenever I go on trips like this, I spend a lot of time thinking about what devices I’m bringing and what I’m leaving home. For this trip, I plan on bringing my iPhone (of course), AirPod Pros, iPad, and Kindle. I sometimes bring a Bluetooth keyboard for the iPad on a short trip, but I think I’ll skip that this time. Both my iPhone and iPad are old enough that their batteries don’t hold as much of a charge as they used to. I’m pretty sure Amtrak has power outlets at every seat, so I should be able to charge them up on the train. Another thing I’ve gotten paranoid about in recent years is the possibility of completely draining my iPhone battery, then not being able to use it for an Uber, or to show my ticket on the train. I do have an Anker battery back that I can use in a pinch, but that’s also a few years old and I’m not sure how much of a charge it holds these days.

And my last bit of uncertainty and slight paranoia comes from not having a real set schedule for what I’m doing while I’m in the area, outside of obviously the service itself. I know that some old friends will be around, but I’m not 100% sure who’s coming in or when they’re arriving or departing. So there might be people around on Sunday night who I can go to dinner with, or there might not. And there might be people looking to go to lunch on Monday, or there might not.

I’m just looking back at some notes, and I’m pretty sure that my last major trip was to Redmond in May 2019 for a Microsoft workshop. Looking back at my post-trip blog post on that, apparently that trip took a lot out of me. This will be shorter trip and doesn’t involve any cross-country airplane flights, or time zone changes, so this one shouldn’t be too hard on me.

Anyway, this overly-long post is just a dumb way for me to work out some anxiety and fill a little time between getting my laundry done and grabbing lunch today. I don’t think I’ve managed to say anything witty or useful, so my apologies if you’ve read this far, thinking there would be something good or funny in here.

Weird Story

This is a completely trivial story, but it’s one of those things where something a little weird happened, and I can’t figure out a reasonable sequence of events that could result in the outcome, so it’s bothering me. Anyway, here’s the story:

I ordered some random stuff from Amazon a few weeks ago. Perfectly normal stuff. Granola bars and some other stuff. I order a lot of stuff from Amazon, and I haven’t had a problem with a delivery in ages. But this package just disappears. I get the notification that it was delivered, via USPS. I’m working from home that day, so I go downstairs and look for it. It’s not there.

Now, sometimes a package gets marked as delivered and it’s not actually there yet. I assume that’s the delivery guy trying to tweak his metrics or something, so it looks like he’s on schedule when he’s actually behind. But the package doesn’t show up by the end of the day.

And sometimes there’s a little mix up, where maybe a neighbor picks up the wrong package, realizes it, and then brings it back down to the foyer. So that could delay it a day. Or the mailman thinks he dropped it off, but it’s still in the back of his truck, so he drops it off next day. But a few days go by and the package doesn’t show up, so it’s nothing like that.

So I do the online customer service thing with Amazon and they cheerfully agree to send me a replacement shipment, which I get the next day. So all is well, and I go on with my life.

Then today, almost three weeks after the original package was meant to be delivered, the package appears, right outside my door. It’s been torn open, but there’s nothing missing or tampered with. And there’s no note.

So the likely reason for this is that one of my neighbors picked up the package accidentally, has realized that, and is now giving me the package. But I can’t figure out several things:

  1. The label on the package is perfectly clear and correct, with my name and apartment number. So it’s not a case where the label was damaged or something. So why did they pick it up in the first place?
  2. Even if someone picked it up accidentally, why did they open it? Once they had it in their apartment, it would have been hard not the notice the name and address.
  3. Why did it take them three weeks to get it back to me? It’s got to be someone from here in the building, so it’s not like they would have had to go very far with it.
  4. Given that they opened the box and sat on it for three weeks, why didn’t they write a little apology note? If they’re embarrassed about it, they wouldn’t have to sign it.

I know it can’t be a “porch pirate” kind of thing. If it was somebody taking it with the intent of stealing the contents, I don’t think they would have bothered returning it to me when they realized that it wasn’t anything good. They would have just tossed it.

The only sequence of events I can come up with is something like this:

  1. Neighbor picks up package, thinking it’s theirs. Doesn’t look at it too closely, and doesn’t open it when they get back to their apartment.
  2. Neighbor goes away on business for a couple of weeks. Or maybe they just toss the package in a corner and forgot it about it for a couple of weeks.
  3. Neighbor gets back home (or notices package that’s been sitting unopened for weeks) and opens the package. (Again, without actually looking at the label.)
  4. Neighbor realizes the contents aren’t theirs, finally looks at the label, and then walks the package over to my apartment. Maybe they knock on my door, intending to apologize in person, but I’m out. (I was out when it was dropped off.)

So that’s semi-plausible, but still pretty weird. And yes, it’s completely trivial. But now I feel guilty for paying for all this stuff once and getting two of everything. I guess I shouldn’t feel bad about that though. Amazon has plenty of money, and sending me two boxes of granola bars for the price of one isn’t going to bankrupt Jeff Bezos.

Fifty-five years

Well, I’m 55 years old today. Here’s a link to some posts from my 50th, 45th, and 35th birthdays. (Not actually “on the day” for those, but on the day before or after.)

In my post from yesterday, I mentioned that I might consider going into NYC this weekend, if the weather wasn’t so bad. Well, I only just barely left the apartment yesterday, and I’m thinking that today will be much the same. I briefly toyed with the idea of going into NYC and doing my usual museum visits today, but it was 20º out this morning, with a “feels like” temperature of 10º. And there was a stabbing at MoMA yesterday, so they’re closed today. So it’s not a great day for going in to the city.

I guess I’ll watch the St. Patrick’s Day parade from my window here in Somerville. I’m hoping one of the restaurants on Main St will have a corned beef sandwich special today, so maybe I can have a nice Irish lunch.

Two Years

I’ve been meaning to write a “two year COVID anniversary” post for the last couple of weeks. I thought about it on the anniversary of the first COVID case in NJ, which was March 4. NJ Spotlight News has a good article looking back on the last two years of COVID in NJ. It’s one of those fancy interactive things, with a timeline that you can move around in. (Those things usually annoy me, but it’s not too bad.)

I didn’t get around to it last weekend though. But today is a good day for it too, since March 12 is the last day I was in the office before everything shut down the following week. I was posting a lot around this time in 2020. Here’s a link to the posts from March 12, March 13 and March 14.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we’re getting close to one million deaths from COVID here in the US, and how to process that information. There’s a good article at The Atlantic on that subject. Honestly, the whole thing is bothering me a bit more than it seems to be bothering most people.

Here in Somerville, it looks like the St. Patrick’s Day parade tomorrow is still on. It was canceled in 2020, of course, and also 2021. I noticed that a few towns that had their parades scheduled for today, Saturday, were canceled due to the storm. I guess that’ll all be over tomorrow, so our parade can go ahead, but it might be cold and windy Sunday, so maybe not the best weather for a parade. Still, I imagine the parade will attract a pretty big crowd. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I may spend the day holed up in my apartment and watch the parade from my window.

At work, we’re still at two days per week in the office. But we’ve dropped most of the COVID precautions. We’re not required to wear masks anymore, nor are we required to do the Sonde health check before coming in. And we never actually had a vaccine mandate, though it was looking like we might at one point. We’re scheduled to have an IT department “town hall” meeting in a couple of weeks. It’ll be an in-person thing, with an option to watch it remotely. I might talk myself into going in-person, but I’ll probably go with the remote option. I’m feeling mostly comfortable with the two-days-per week thing, but I’m still not enthusiastic about large gatherings, especially if not everyone is guaranteed to be vaccinated and/or masked.

In addition to the St. Patrick’s Day parade tomorrow, it’s also my birthday. I’d kind of like to do something to celebrate it this weekend, but I’m not too enthusiastic about any of the usual options. I’d consider going into NYC, but the snow and rain today makes that less attractive. And tomorrow might be clear, but a little too cold. We’ll see.

I’m a little more nervous about going into NYC now since they’ve lifted a lot of their COVID restrictions, including their indoor vaccine mandate. Looking at the web sites for the Met and MoMA, it looks like the Met has dropped their vaccination requirement, but MoMA still has one. (Or maybe MoMA just hasn’t updated their site yet.) Both still require masks, at least.

Given the weather outside today, it might be a good day to watch the last few films from the Criterion Godzilla box set that I bought about a year ago. (I also just bought their box set of Once Upon a Time in China films.) So maybe it’s a good movie weekend. Last night, I watched Turning Red on Disney+, the third Pixar movie to skip a theatrical release and go straight to Disney+. I know that bothered some people, since movie theaters are almost back to “normal” now, but I’m glad I could watch it at home.

I’m still waiting for Spider-Man: No Way Home, which should finally be out on home video next week, a little earlier than expected. I already pre-ordered the 4K Blu-ray, which won’t be out until mid-April, so I may find myself paying for this movie twice, once on digital, next week, and then again for the 4K Blu-ray. Unless I can talk myself into just waiting for the Blu-ray.

Dresden Files

Last night, I finished listening to the fourth Dresden Files audiobook, so now I’m done with the four-book set that I started back in January. I’ve been debating whether or not I want to keep working my way through the series in audio format. This is a reread for me, since I’ve read the first eleven Dresden books already, though that was in paperback, so the audio format at least is new for me. And it was long enough ago that I don’t recall all the details, so there’s some suspense to it.

I started reading the Dresden novels in 2007 and last read one in 2015. So it’s been a while. I had those first eleven books in paperback. I think I donated them to a library sale at some point, though I don’t seem to have any record of that. (I usually note donated books in Evernote and with a “donated” tag on Goodreads, so I can remember that they’re gone, and not go looking for them…) In 2018, I noted that I had considered donating them, but decided to hang onto them. But I can’t find them now. So either I donated them at some later point, or I stuck them in a box and squirreled it away somewhere non-obvious.

Anyway, I’ve noticed that both the audio version of the fifth book, Death Masks, and the Kindle version of the twelfth book, Changes, are available from my local library, so I can read both for free. I’ve just started Changes, and we’ll see if I remember enough of the stuff that happened in books 5 through 11 to understand what’s going on. If I need a refresher, I can look at this Dresden Files reread on tor.com.

Looking at the my history with the Dresden series is interesting to me. I started reading it at a time when I was mostly buying books one at a time, in paperback, from mall stores or Borders, or Barnes & Noble. And my method for keeping track of what I’d read or not was mostly just looking at my bookshelf and seeing if the book was there. If it was, then I’d read it. Now, things are more complicated. Sometimes I still buy physical books. Sometimes, I buy Kindle books. Other times, I borrow a book from the library (either physical or on Kindle). When I buy physical books, I generally donate them after reading them. So I really have to rely on Goodreads and Evernote to keep track of stuff.

I bought my Kindle in 2008, so I actually had the Kindle through most of the time that I was reading Dresden novels. I’m not sure why I never switched from paperbacks to Kindle versions, but maybe it was because I’d started in paperback, and just decided to stay with that format. Or maybe I was getting the paperbacks for less than I would have had to pay for the Kindle versions.

I feel a little guilty for sticking mostly with familiar, safe, low-brow reading material this year so far, but not that guilty. I’ve been stretching myself over the last few years, reading some classics like War and Peace, and other stuff that’s outside my comfort zone. I think it’s time to take a break and catch up on some silly genre stuff.

MacBook follow-up

My experiment with switching from Firefox to Safari on my MacBook has been interesting. But the MacBook crashed again yesterday, while using Safari, in the same way it had been crashing while using Firefox. So that pretty much rules out Firefox as the reason for the crashes. That’s both good and bad news. On the good side, it means I can go back to Firefox. On the bad side, it means I’ve just about exhausted software-related reasons for the crashing, which means I’ve probably got a hardware issue.

Apple might announce a new MacBook Pro at their event next week. If they do, it might be time to replace this MacBook Air. (Even if they don’t, it might still be a good time to replace it, likely with the current iteration of the Air.)

Getting back to the experiment with Safari: I think I’ve decided that I could use Safari as my default browser on the Mac, if I needed to, but I’m still more comfortable with Firefox. I’ve been using 1Blocker for ad-blocking in Safari, and that works OK, though not as good as uBlock Origin in Firefox. And I haven’t found any other Safari extensions that really give Safari an advantage over Firefox in any way. The other big thing for me is 1Password integration, and that works just as well in Firefox as it does in Safari.

new WordPress theme and PHP version

My second pointless project today, after spending the morning messing with bookmarks and browsers, was to find a new theme for this blog, and update the version of PHP that I’m using.

I’ve been using the Stargazer theme for a long time, and I’ve been really happy with it. But it hasn’t been updated since 2018. And I’ve started getting PHP errors on this site. I also noticed that I was running PHP 7.4, and should probably switch to 8.0. Doing a little testing with that revealed that Stargazer definitely would not work with 8.0. So I decided it was time to upgrade to a newer theme.

I tried out a few free themes from wordpress.org and wordpress.com. I didn’t find anything that was quite what I wanted. After trying a bunch of stuff, I’ve settled (for now) on the Twenty Sixteen theme. Twenty Sixteen is, of course, the default WordPress theme for 2016. I tried out a couple of the newer ones, but they weren’t right for me. Twenty Sixteen has a right sidebar, a header that doesn’t look too bad, and a fairly clean layout. I don’t know if I’m going to stick with it, but it’s good enough for now.

After installing it, I upgraded my PHP install to 8.0. That seems to be working fine. So at least now I’m running a recent PHP, a recently-updated theme, and a fully up-to-date WordPress.

I’d really like to switch to something a little more customized, but this is good enough for now.

MacBook issues, browsers, and bookmarks

I did a nuke & pave on my MacBook Air a few weeks ago. My main reason for doing that was to see if it would clear up an occasional problem I have where the machine crashes if I’ve been using it for more than an hour or so on battery power. Well, it crashed again yesterday, so clearly the nuke & pave didn’t cure the problem.

One other possibility I’ve considered is that maybe it’s Firefox’s fault. The crash has always happened when I’m watching a video in Firefox. That doesn’t necessarily mean much though, since watching long YouTube videos is about the only thing I’d do on the MacBook that would stress the battery for a good bit of time. Regardless, I decided to try switching my default browser on the Mac to Safari, and see how that works out.

I’ve been a big fan of Firefox since before it was Firefox. And I still like it, and use it as my default browser on both Windows and Mac. It’s been losing market share to Chrome though, and now has only a tiny sliver of the browser market. So maybe it’s time to give something else a try, at least temporarily. Safari is supposed to be very efficient in terms of battery use on the Mac, so maybe, if my underlying problem is the battery, switching to Safari will fix it.

Switching browsers, of course, means that I need to try to replicate my Firefox setup in Safari, to the extent that I can. A few of my Firefox extensions are available for Safari, but some aren’t. The two big ones are probably uBlock Origin and Privacy Badger. But there are alternatives, and I’ll play around with some of those.

Getting my Firefox bookmarks into Safari wouldn’t be difficult if I was just switching over entirely, and didn’t care about keeping them up to date in both browsers. But I want to keep using Firefox on my PC, so I really want to keep the bookmarks in sync. The best way I could find to do that was via iCloud for Windows. This article describes the process of setting it up and enabling bookmark sync between iCloud and Firefox. I went ahead and did that, and it seems to work OK. So now I have Firefox Sync keeping my bookmarks in sync between my desktop and laptop PCs, iCloud sync keeping my Safari bookmarks in sync between my iPhone, iPad, and Mac, and iCloud for Windows bridging Safari and Firefox. I think that, even if I decide to switch back to Firefox on the Mac, I may keep iCloud for Windows running, just so I can have the same bookmarks across iOS, Mac, and Windows. (I’ve always used Safari on iOS, but never really did much with bookmarks there.)

Combining my Safari/iCloud bookmarks with my Firefox bookmarks left me with quite a jumble of duplicates. I had, at some point in the distant past, used Safari as my default Mac browser, and had a bunch of very old bookmarks in there that I’d never cleaned up. And I had a bunch of out-of-date bookmarks in Firefox too, that I’d just been ignoring. So I spent some time this morning trying to clean up my bookmarks. I did that in Firefox on my PC, and hoped it would sync back to iCloud with no problems. So far, it seems to have done that.

Browser bookmarks, in general, aren’t as important as they used to be. But I’m still a weirdo who wants a nice selection of useful bookmarks organized in a sensible hierarchy. I’ll see how my current setup works over time, but I’m also considering some alternatives. On the Mac, I’ve been curious about URL Manager Pro. That might be a good home for my bookmarks. There’s no PC version, but I could just get them over to the PC via iCloud for Windows, I think.

I currently use Pinboard as a place to dump miscellaneous bookmarks, but that’s not a carefully organized collection of stuff that I can traverse easily. I’ve got over 18,000 bookmarks in there right now. So I can’t really use that for my browser bookmarks. There’s a similar service called Raindrop that seems to allow you to apply a bit more organization than Pinboard does. Specifically, it allows you to use both tags (like Pinboard) and something they call “collections”, which can be nested. So that makes it seem like I could combine my carefully organized Firefox/Safari bookmarks and my Pinboard bookmarks into one service. I’d keep the stuff I use regularly in top-level collections, and toss all of the random old Pinboard links into a “miscellaneous” collection or something like that.

Well, anyway, this is mostly just me messing around on a Sunday morning. It’s now almost noon, and I haven’t done much else with the day, other than organize bookmarks. But, hey, it’s relaxing.