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.

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.


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


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.

Image without description

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, 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.)


Shabbat afternoon there was a brief but fierce storm here. I don't know about other parts of the city, but from my house, it was about three minutes of heavy wind and downpour and otherwise a typical summer rain. It was enough to knock our power out for the afternoon and evening, which was disruptive. Also, I think I was about to turn around that game of Through the Ages when continuing became impossible. We got power back just as we were going to bed; this morning Internet was still out, but we were able to get that resolved in under an hour on the phone with Verizon, which is above par. And, fortunately, we didn't lose any food -- went out for ice as soon as Shabbat was over and the meat in the freezer was still solid when I opened it to add the ice.

The garden, on the other hand... I have a large cherry-tomato plant in a large pot; with all the dirt, it's not trivial to move. It was sprawled across the patio. (I didn't think to get a picture before cleaning up.) That pot had been in front of a trellis that I'd been training the plant to climb, but once wrenched free, it wasn't going back. I had to fall back to an, um, "engineering" solution. I hope this works; the plant can't stand free any more even with the cage, so I couldn't just leave it on the patio away from the trellis.

ring of cage tied to trellis with twine

I also lost a pepper. I have no idea if it'll ripen after being disconnected, but green peppers are foul so I'm not going to eat it as-is. The plant is supposed to produce sweet red peppers.

all the survivors, including a pepper sitting on the ledge

In case you're wondering, the cilantro was pretty much done before the storm finished it off, and the attempts to grow a second one from seed didn't work. So that's what the two empty pots are about; just waiting for them to dry out before putting them away.

TIL: lobster rehabilitation

I followed a link and followed a link from there and... eventually ended up at this video about an adopted lobster, and I learned a lot about how lobsters work. Huh.

Keeping a grocery-store lobster as a pet (YouTube)

I didn't know (having never been in the market for live lobster) that they banded the claws like that, apparently for extended periods of time and apparently causing pain along with loss of function. Granted, loss of function won't end up being the largest problems most lobsters in that tank face, but the pain is still a problem IMO. This one had been restrained long enough to cause visible injury, so it probably wasn't just done that day.

Pardoning turkeys

On the way to Thanksgiving dinner we found ourselves wondering what happens to the turkey that the US president pardons each year. We were both under the impression that the president is presented with two turkeys, one of which gets pardoned and one of which becomes dinner. I said I thought the pardoned bird went to a zoo or some such, and that it would be wrong for it to go back to the farm where it could become somebody else's dinner.

We talked about the similarity to the two goats on Yom Kippur, one of which becomes an offering and the other of which is sent to Azazel. I pointed out that neither of those goats gets out alive (though they at least serve a holy function), and said I didn't think the turkeys worked like that.

When we got home I looked it up, and found that we were both wrong on several points. (I blame that West Wing episode, though perhaps my mistaken impression predated it and I shouldn't.)

The president is presented with one turkey, not two. There is a backup turkey, in case something unfortunate happens to the first one. (Still on the goat theme: like the backup wife for the high priest on Yom Kippur? Topic for another day...)

This turkey is presented by the National Turkey Federation. (Today I learned that there is a national turkey federation.) This started in the 1940s, apparently as tribute. They ate the turkeys until sometime in the 70s, when presidents started sparing them. The regular ceremonial pardon started with Bush the First (though it also says Reagan pardoned one).

I hadn't thought about this at all, but there is a selection process where a pool of candidate turkeys is filtered on not only size and appearance but also tolerance of loud noises, flashes, and large crowds.

And yes, the turkeys end up at various places where they will not become food.