Blog: Life

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Garden lineup

I just finished putting seedlings in containers. Let's see what survives. This year I learned about companion plants so I'm giving that a try in the big pots. And I also bought some liquid plant food to see if that helps with the bounty.

The pickings for cucumbers were pretty slim and mostly marked "thrives in ground". I found one hybrid bush that said it's suitable for containers. The seedling looks like it's struggling a bit, but we'll see what happens with room and food. Meanwhile, I'll keep looking for another.

I'm trying tomatoes again despite the loss to critters last year. Apparently basil is a good companion plant for tomatoes: the core of Caprese salad in one pot! (But just in case, I also have basil in a separate pot.)

Leaving the nest

Four weeks ago I had a robin's nest with three eggs on a rafter outside my back door. For the last couple weeks I've caught occasional glimpses of beaks or even heads over the edge of the nest. (The nest is above eye level.) The adult birds have been very adamant when we enter or leave, even though I try to do that gently and non-threateningly.

In the last few days I've seen young nestlings standing on the edge of the nest and even on the rafter. I've watched them flap their wings vigorously without getting lift yet.

Yesterday, by virtue of lucky timing -- looking out the window at just the right times -- I got to see two of them fledge. Neat! This morning there was no activity around the nest so I got the ladder and held my phone up, aiming down, to check on the state of the nest -- empty. So number three seems to have figured it out too.

It's been fun watching them grow and learn to use their wings, and watching the family (or the parts I could see at that angle) for the last few weeks. Simple serendipitous joys of urban life. If it happens again I need to figure out how to do a nest cam.

New neighbor

A nest appeared just outside my back door a couple weeks ago. I saw an occupant early on, and then not for a long time, so I wondered if the nest were abandoned. Earlier this week I started seeing a bird in it again; I've tried to be careful in coming and going but she always flies away. This happened in the same spot several years ago and we eventually had a family of young robins, so I'm hopeful.

I managed to snap a picture of mom earlier today:

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Later I saw her fly away, startled by some small sound I guess, so I quickly confirmed my suspicion, holding a camera up at arm's length and shooting blind:

3 blue eggs

Yay, incipient chicks!

This year's garden

This year I am attempting to grow (in containers):

  • Roma tomatoes
  • slicing cucumbers (it was labelled as a "bush" and good for containers)
  • red bell peppers
  • orange "lunchbox" pepper
  • basil
  • chives
  • mint

I have a few more smaller pots, should I come across or think of anything else I want. Last year I had lots of herbs, and found that aside from basil I wasn't keeping up with them fresh and so dried a lot. I want more vegetables anyway, but many of them require more space than a container can provide.

I hope that whatever was eating my cherry tomatoes last year is not as fond of Roma.

Seasons

Making the rounds (I saw it here). Applies to Pittsburgh too:

Chicago actually has 12 seasons:
- Winter
- Fool's Spring
- Second Winter
- Spring of Deception
- Third Winter
- (you are here)
- The Pollening
- Actual Spring
- Summer
- Hell's Front Porch
- False Fall
- Second Summer
- Actual Fall

Bagels

I asked my spouse to pick up a couple bagels and he came back with this and I had no idea this was even a thing. Very festive; no idea what the bakers had in mind.

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Description: Two colorful bagels, one sliced open to reveal swirls of red/orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. The outside of the other is mainly green and orange.

Review: desk lamp

Why no, I never expected to review a desk lamp, but here we are.

My father, from whom I inherited my vision problems, got a lamp for himself that he really likes, and so he bought me one. The "Yeslights Business Desk Lamp" is a small desk lamp that fits nicely amongst the three computers, two sets of monitor/keyboard/mouse, assorted external hard drives, tablets, and charging cables, and other tech necessities on my desk. The base is about the size of my Kindle, and the light is on a folding, rotating arm that sits flush against a vertical support when not in use. The base has a USB port because of course it does, and a wireless phone charger that I can't evaluate because my phone charges the old-fashioned way, with a cable. The wireless charger has a red indicator light (I assume red because it doesn't detect a phone) that I've found no way to turn off; it's not bright, but it's an unnecessary light in my field of vision and I'd prefer to not see it.

The LED light (a bar, not a bulb) has adjustable brightness and adjustable color temperature; the first I'm used to, but the second I haven't seen in a conventional lamp before. Color temperature matters a lot to me, so this is a delightful surprise. The controls are easy to use (no finicky touchscreens or the like), and very sensitive. Mine's in a space where I don't expect to accidentally brush it much, but depending on where you put it, you could surprise yourself with unexpected lighting changes. If you have cats that jump up on your desk, this could be an issue.

That vertical support has an embedded clock; I discovered this when I plugged the lamp in for the first time and it started playing Auld Lang Syne at me. I was not expecting that. I set the time and date (doing so emits loudish beeps) and I hope it won't play music again. (There's a button battery, so I assume it will retain these settings during power outages.) It also reports temperature, though I'm not sure how accurate that'll be when sitting on a desk with computers and monitors. It currently thinks it's a couple degrees warmer than the thermostat in the hall thinks it is. The clock has an alarm and a snooze setting, so even though it's billed as a desk lamp, they seem to have also had the "bedside table" use case in mind.

The lamp does very well with its primary function, to produce light at the desired brightness and color temperature. It's got a good range from "bright enough to easily read by" to "a little supplemental illumination". The head rotates in two of the three dimensions: up/down and left/right, but you can't change the angle of the head. So far that hasn't prevented me from getting light where I need it.

Online payments and credit cards

As I make the rounds doing year-end donations, I'm reminded of two things that have long puzzled me:

  1. Some web sites auto-detect the type of credit card based on the number. Apparently all credit-card numbers that begin with "4" are Visa. (I don't know if the reverse is true: do all Visa numbers start with 4?) Being me, I've cycled through the other nine digits and nothing else produces a match based on a single digit. What are the patterns for other providers? And are all these sites using some standard library for this, or are programmers really coding that by hand?

  2. Years ago, a three-digit code ("CCV") was added to cards to mitigate fraud. On a physical credit card, this number is stamped rather than embossed, so those old-style manual credit-card gadgets that took an imprint of your card (on actual paper, with a carbon!) couldn't record it. Um, that's fine I guess, but online, that number isn't any more secure than the card number itself. And someone who steals your physical card has the number; it's not a password. Does that number have another purpose?

Adventures in cat-sitting

A friend is traveling (with her housemate) and I offered to go feed her cat and give him some people-time each day. Her original flight was delayed to Sunday, so I made my first visit Monday morning.

It was 39 degrees in her house. The thermostat said it was holding at 60, but...no. I walked around the house checking for open or broken windows (none found). I went down to the basement and stared at the furnace -- no error codes or blinking lights, one steady light (so it had power), and that exhausted my knowledge of furnaces. I fed the cat, cycled through the thermostat programming to double-check things, reset the hold, built up some warm places to burrow, and tried to reach my friend (who was several timezones west of me, so I didn't expect an immediate response). I asked if she minded if I brought her cat to my house if we couldn't figure out the problem.

When she got my message she asked if the power was out (no, there were lights), and we speculated about whether power had gone out and come back on. I said I'd look for blinking or wrong clocks when I went back. Offhandedly, she wondered if a power outage would have somehow turned the thermostat off -- had I noticed if it was on? Um, I assumed it was because it showed me programming and let me set a hold temperature, and my thermostat doesn't let you do that if it's not on, and also it would be dangerously bad design if a power outage killed your post-power-resumption heat. So I went back later, and sure enough, the three-way toggle (cold - off - heat) was in the "off" position.

It's a physical switch, so I suspect my friend and the other person living in that house are going to have Conversations. Ouch. (Also, no blinking or very-wrong clocks.)

I turned on the heat and waited for the temperature to rise several degrees to make sure everything was on track. When I left last night the house was up to 45 degrees and the cat was very friendly. This morning everything was fine -- up to 65. (Yeah, maybe I overshot a little on that hold, but...)

Here's the scary part: originally they were going to leave on Friday, when the daytime high was 3F and the temperature was sub-zero before Shabbat started. When we were making the original plans, she'd said she'd feed the cat Friday so I didn't need to come until Saturday, and I said I wouldn't be able to come until Saturday night and that was fine with her. Friday night was frigid-cold here. I shudder to think what temperature the house would have been on my first visit if her flight hadn't been cancelled.

Order matters

"I put the lemonade and limeade on the door next to the Coke."

"Is it Coke or Pepsi?"

"Uh, Pepsi."

"Ok, then that's the correct order."

Look, they're in unmarked bottles and almost the same color so I needed a way to tell, and alphabetical order is obviously the way to solve that problem, and why are you looking at me like that?

(If it had been Coke, I'd've asked him to swap; reverse-alphabetical would also be fine.)