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.

Two vignettes from my day

My synagogue is trying to recreate holiday services using video and Zoom, and they asked me if for Simchat Torah I would be willing to do hagbah, the lifting of the torah, recorded in advance. I did that this morning. This means picking up an open torah scroll by the bottoms of the two support rods (spread a couple feet apart), holding it overhead, and turning around in a circle so everyone can see it. Because it's Simchat Torah, the scroll is rolled all the way to one side or the other (we read the very end and then the very beginning, from two different scrolls). They gave me the D'varim one, meaning all the weight was on the "wrong" hand for me, but it was fine. (There's a trick; you don't just lift but push off from the edge of the desk and put physics to use.) The scroll weighs probably 25 pounds -- not super-heavy, but awkward. So lots of people decline this honor, but I can do it if I'm careful and don't rush it.

This afternoon a package was mistakenly delivered to our porch. I picked it up, said "um no", and walked to the neighbor's house to see if anyone was home to come get it. No answer. The package was large and awkward, not too heavy -- I could lift it just fine and could have carried it across a flat surface fine, but I wasn't confident of open steps. Probably weighed about 25 or 30 pounds. As I was walking back into our house (thinking to fetch paper to leave them a note) I saw Dani and told him what had happened -- and he went out and delivered it.

So I guess that's strong 1, weak 1, net 0 for the day? Can't help thinking I should have been able to deliver that box, though.

Garden thoughts

This year I tried my hand at a little container gardening. I have nine pots: two cherry tomato, two lunchbox pepper, two rosemary (different varieties but I don't know which), and three basil. I'm enjoying having truly fresh food available (harvesting herbs as you prepare dinner is great). I'm not sure what yield I should be getting and some of it's been surprising. I've identified some things I did wrong. Read more…

Garden thief!

On Tuesday I hit peak tomato, harvesting 22 (!) cherry tomatoes. There were several more that were almost ripe that I expected to pick the next day.

But the next day they were gone, all of them. I found the half-eaten carcass of one green tomato on the ground. I couldn't tell what ate it. I wonder if it was the rabbit I saw when I went out Tuesday evening to harvest some basil.

rabbit on steps

Read more…

This is how it begins

Last year one of my spring CSA boxes included a cute little basil seedling. And I said "huh -- I wonder if I can help it make more basil or if I should just recognize my ineptitude and eat it now". But lo! I decided to be daring, and I was rewarded -- that picture is from July, and it it just kept going and going (with periodic trimmings, a subject I still consider black magic). And I said to myself that hey, we should try that again. I entered this spring with plans to buy a basil seedling.

Then the pandemic happened, and the food-supply network is not as reliable as it once seemed, and Siderea wisely counselled people to grow food if we can. And I said to myself that, well, I'm not going to try to plant a whole garden with attendant kneeling-on-ground (or in my case pavement) and weed-battling and the like (and anyway I don't have places with the right sun exposure), but I can expand from one pot. I ventured out to buy two seedlings, basil and rosemary, and one more pot because I only had the one.

But herbs, while delicious, aren't really food in the sense of sustenance, so I thought some more about what I use a lot of and what is practical in pots and durable enough to withstand my ministrations, and so when Grow Pittsburgh (the people who supplied that basil seedling to the CSA) started its weekly seedling sale and one week I was able to get stuff (as opposed to everything being sold out in the first few minutes), I decided to add cherry tomatoes and lunchbox peppers (those are the miniature ones that come in red, orange, and yellow) to my plans. And because my basil seedling that I'd had for a few weeks now was not looking super-perky and the basil had been the whole point of this excursion, I ordered a couple more basil seedlings, and a little redundancy for the others (for parity). I ordered a couple more pots from Amazon to hold them.

Once they were in proper pots and getting more quality outdoor time they started to perk up, and the Internet told me that I was overcrowding some of them. And, well, this is how it begins.

Photographic evidence: Read more…


We received a beautiful and serendipitous gift today for our 20th wedding anniversary (which was a couple weeks ago, but shipping is more complicated during a pandemic). The serendipity requires backstory:

A few years ago, in a year of big design changes, Stack Overflow had a contest with SO-branded cheese boards as prizes. I won one. Recently I've been divesting myself of some of my SO swag and packing most of the rest away, because of the pain and also because I'm not very interested in promoting that company by, say, wearing those t-shirts in public any more.

I offered some of my Stack Overflow/Stack Exchange swag to folks on Mi Yodeya, with the price being a torah teaching of the recipient's choice. I got some thoughtful torah, and a taker for the cheese board. I sent it off to its new home a couple months ago.

We eat cheese not infrequently, by the way.

And then today, somebody who knows nothing of Stack Overflow, recent events there, or swag, sent us this:

bigger nicer cheese board

It's beautiful and well-crafted, and I look forward to using it with much fondness. Yay, 20 years of marriage! Yay, nice gift from someone who didn't know about the extra niceness!

A day much like any other

Get up, shower (because we do not let hygiene lapse).

Make coffee. I seem to have learned to drink coffee. Between us we're going through 4-6 K-cups per day; that jumbo box isn't going to last as long as it looks like it should. And that's with tea and cold drinks as well throughout the day. Remember to drink water; it matters.

Box of tea arrived yesterday. Good.

Plug laptop into dock, start work day. Visit the "pets" chat channel. Mon/Wed/Fri, join the virtual coffee break mid-morning just to see and interact with coworkers. Try to work productively. Pay particular attention to my mentee who joined the company two weeks ago in the midst of all this. Read more…

Random notes from a pandemic

Boy did it feel weird to be isolated for Shabbat -- no torah study, no services, no shared meals, just me and Dani home all day. Some Reform and Conservative congregations (including mine) streamed services, but I don't use computers on Shabbat. If weeks turn to months I wonder how much pressure I'll feel on that. One bright spot is that we have a lunch-time torah study (parsha of the week) on Wednesdays that I can never go to because of work, but since it's virtual now I can block off that hour from work and attend. So at least I'll have that.

Pesach is in a few weeks. The seder we would have gone to is going virtual. I care about the ritual aspects way more than Dani does; his connection is family not religion, and we won't be with his family. It'll feel weird for me to basically read the haggadah while he plays along, maybe? I wonder if it would be safe to invite, say, one other couple and sit at opposite ends of the dining-room table. Maybe the virtual one will start well before sunset (sunset being late now that we're in DST)? I don't know what to do here.

Local businesses are struggling, as expected. Today we got take-out from a local restaurant to do our small part to help -- got two meals' worth of food, so lunch today and probably lunch tomorrow. I got email from the shop where I have new eyeglasses pending; when they come in I can pick up curb-side, but of course that removes any possibility of adjusting the frames to my face, which is always necessary. So I guess I get my new glasses when all of this is over.

With both of us working from home we've needed to develop some protocols: close the door when in a meeting, use headsets, coordinate lunch times. Eating lunch together helps with the isolation. Both of us are used to casual in-person chatting with coworkers and video chat isn't the same -- it's the difference between bumping into someone at the coffee machine and chatting for a few minutes, which feels natural, and taking a deliberate step to initiate a video chat just to say hi, which feels more forced. Our doc team (which is already remote even without a pandemic) is now talking about a regular casual video chat; maybe that will help. Maybe the Pittsburgh team should do that too.

Dani and I wanted to play an on-theme game yesterday and our copy of Pandemic is missing. Much sadness. We're trying to figure out if we left it at some friend's house or what. It's the older edition, before they changed the board and the game pieces in ways that combine badly for the vision-challenged, so I actually want that one back, or to replace it with that edition, rather than getting the current edition, if it turns out we need to get another copy.

Surprise vacation

A couple years ago friends of ours took a trip with a "surprise travel agency", which was not a thing I had previously known existed. Basically, you give them dates and a budget, fill out a dating profile interest survey, tell them what cities you've been to recently or visit regularly already, and they plan a trip for you. A week in advance you get a long-range weather forecast and some packing suggestions/hints. The day before you get an updated forecast. At the time they tell you to be at the airport, you get email with your boarding passes and find out where you're going.

(Ok, they also send you a paper packet a few days in advance, containing things like attractions at your destination, where your hotel is, information about your return flight, and so on. They tell you not to open this until you get to the airport. You could cheat, but we didn't.)

The folks we used, Pack Up & Go, describe what they do as "weekend getaways", but somewhere in the FAQ is the information that, yes, you can tell them when your weekend is, so we were able to book a Sunday-through-Tuesday trip. They did a good job of planning an interesting trip that took into account our survey responses including write-ins. We used write-ins to flesh out broad categories that were checkboxes: yes we like live music but not loud music, yes we like museums and we are, in particular, science and technology geeks and prefer history to paintings, and a couple other things like that. With our survey we sent a pretty strong "culture good, learning great, beaches and sports not interesting" signal. We also noted that we needed vegetarian food options; by saying "options" we meant to convey that one of us cares, but we learned that we should be more explicit next time. (Not bad -- just that Dani would not have otherwise gone to a vegan restaurant, I don't think.)

So, with that preamble, we went to... Read more…

TIL: ophthalmology edition

I started getting noticeable floaters something like 8-9 years ago. (I see I failed to record it at the time, so I'm estimating now.) Floaters are bits of stuff in the vitreous in your eye that, as the name implies, float around and sometimes get in your way. They don't go away. They were quite annoying at first, but over time they became less invasive -- presumably my brain was learning to ignore them for the most part. I'd still see hem but they didn't get in the way as much.

A few weeks ago I noticed/realized that I've been having more trouble reading lately, whether sitting at a computer or reading a book. It wasn't a sudden change -- not the sudden onslaught that sends one for a same-day appointment to check for retinal detachment. I think it's been building for a while and finally crossed some critical threshold. I couldn't quite tell if the problem was obstruction (what floaters do) or acuity, but I'm not generally having acuity problems.

I had a checkup scheduled for earlier this week anyway, so I asked my ophthalmologist to take a look. She said yup, sure are a lot of floaters and stuff in there. I asked if she could compare what she's seeing now to the last photo she took of the inside of my eye, but that photo didn't help much. She sent me to a retina specialist just to be safe.

I saw that specialist this morning and learned some new things. Read more…

Security vulnerability: pharmacy edition

While waiting to pick up a prescription, I noticed that the person in line ahead of me picked up prescriptions for both himself and his wife. Oh, good idea, I said to myself -- I should authorize Dani to pick up mine, just for flexibility.

When it was my turn I asked how to add my husband as someone who can pick up my prescriptions. Oh, the person manning the desk said cheerily, you don't have to do anything -- he just has to know your birthdate.


When picking up a prescription the only challenge I ever have to answer verbally (besides my name) is my birthdate. I do not, for example, have to say what medicine I'm here to pick up, or even how many prescriptions. The usual interaction is:

Me: (name)
Clerk: two prescriptions?
Me: Yup.
Clerk: birthdate?
Me: (answer)
Clerk: Any questions?
Me: Nope.
Clerk: Loyalty card? (swipe) Sign here. That'll be $X.

I don't have to show ID, but I assumed they were reading that out of my loyalty card. But no, anybody who knows an easily-compromised piece of information (how many data breaches have included this by now??), shows up in person, and has reason to believe that I have some prescription waiting can (a) collect it (denying it to me) and (b) find out what I'm taking. Hell, if the attempt comes up empty -- no prescriptions currently waiting -- the person can probably say "oh, I was expecting my doctor to have called in, um, I can't remember the name now" and be prompted for options.

Granted, this is a physical attack so it can't be done by just anybody on the Internet. But it's still a security vulnerability, especially when targeting older customers (good odds of being on something) or people known to need expensive medicines (either because of street value or to troll the victim). We worry about other physical attack vectors, like credit-card skimming.

I asked if I could attach a password to my record for pickups, but their software doesn't support that. I didn't ask if I could change my birthdate of record, because if I do that I'm just asking to have to prove it at some point in the future. (My bank, in contrast, has never asked me to prove that my mother's maiden name contains numbers and punctuation and, well, not a recognizable name.)

Is this the norm for pharmacies, or might looking for a different one be productive?