First Day of School 2020

August 25, 2020 5:36 pm

School started today for the girls. From home via computers. They both had a morning check-in meeting starting at 8am and then a break.

Heather then had more class time of some kind, I'm not sure since I was working. She says they were learning about the stuff in their supplies box (they went and picked up materials from their teachers yesterday) and the teacher read a story and watched a video about kindness.

We set up a desk under Heather's lofted bed. I zip-tied some Ikea LED strip lights to the underside of her bed to light up her space and she's using a Chromebook we bought last month. So far so good.

Corinne was very excited about everything. Her teacher is doing one-on-one assessments throughout the week so she had some independent (meaning Jess-led) activities but was otherwise done for the day after the morning meeting.

But being excited also means burning through a lot of energy. 90 minutes after her morning meeting she was exhausted.

COVID-19: Part 43

August 22, 2020 6:49 pm
  • Quarantine Day 159
  • Livermore cases: 720
  • Alameda County cases: 16,212; deaths: 228
  • U.S. cases: 5,598,000+; deaths: 174,000+

I've been extremely busy the past two weeks trying to catch up with my new job duties. Let's see if I can remember what's been happening. I've been holding get-to-know-you meetings with all the people in my group and beginning to write up their annual performance appraisals. That's going to be a big part of my work for the next month or so.

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I applied to be a poll worker for the election in November because I think it's important that everyone be able to vote and most poll workers are retirees who should not being spending large amounts of time in public right now if it can be avoided. Since I haven't had any use for my vacation time I'll take the day off to do that.

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Our mortgage refinance went through. We cut 2 years off the loan and lowered our interest rate from 3.625% to 2.75%. Which will save us around $45,000 over the life of the loan. Since we shortened the loan, our monthly payment will only go down about $10, which is fine.

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I've been working on site pretty much every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday--usually for half days. I have a handful of tasks that have to be completed on systems that can't be accessed off site. I've just about got them wrapped up. So probably a few more visits next week and then maybe a few shorter trips to tweak things and then I'll be working fully from home again.

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Two weekends ago Ivy and Beryl infiltrated the enemy base in the Wromblen Mountains and defeated the Manscorpion and his wizard. But the Queen was not there. They had given her to the dragon, Darkfyre. They must now climb to Darkfyre's lair to rescue her.

This past week my friends' group completed their quest into the mausoleum in Emrin to apprehend Reginald's murderer. Next they'll be off to Mt. Atheros to seek the Mountain Spirit.

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Heather got to meet her teacher yesterday via video chat. And Corinne has the same teacher Heather did for Kindergarten. School starts on Tuesday. I'm still waiting on some lights to put up under Heather's bed and some speakers to connect to the Chromebook to significantly improve the audio quality (which makes a big difference when trying to listen for extended periods of time).

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Last weekend we had a massive heat wave that lasted through Wednesday. On Sunday morning we were awakened at about 5:00am by a massive thunderclap. And a really impressive lightning storm slowly marched its way across the Bay Area for the next several hours.

We've never seen a storm like this in the time we've lived out here. We will, very rarely, hear some light thunder, but it's gone almost immediately. This was an assault.

The girls came bounding into our room seeking comfort. We eventually got them calmed down. Heather seemed to calm down quickest after showing her how to count the time between lightning and thunder to approximate the distance.

Unfortunately, the something-like 11,000 lightning strikes with almost no rain created a dozen or so wildfires all throughout the Bay Area. And now everything's on fire. A recent news article indicated it the active fire was at least the size of Rhode Island. Of course the several days after having temperatures over 100F didn't help any. Even now the highs have only "cooled down" to the mid 90s.

A lot of areas had repeated and extended power outages due to equipment failures in the high heat, or generation & transmission issues. We lost power very briefly on a few occasions, but otherwise were fine. We'll have our solar and battery installation complete by next year so grid issues shouldn't even affect us then.

The 2 largest fire complexes (which keep switching places for 1st and 2nd in size) are fairly nearby.

The LNU complex (which is the [L]ake County & [N]apa County [U]nits of CalFire) is north of us, across the innermost parts of the SF Bay, about 45 miles away. It has burned over 300,000 acres and is only at 15% containment; they've managed to keep it from entering Fairfield proper, but the entire rest of the front is unconstrained (burning to the north, west, and east).

The SCU complex (which is the [S]anta [C]lara [U]nit of CalFire) is kind of all around us. There was one section about 7 miles north of us, but I think it may have been contained since the map boundaries haven't seemed to change in several days (but I can't find anything definitive). The major sections of this fire are south of us (as close as ~10 miles). It's burned over 291,000 acres and is listed at 10% containment. I haven't been able to find where those containment lines are though. Presumably near San Jose where it's been closest to burning down into the residential areas.

Livermore is pretty defensible since the city isn't built all the way up into the hills. From the hills and canyons where the fire is burning there are wide stretches of grassy hills or vineyards that should provide good access for fire crews to set up firebreaks. So I'm not toooooo worried, but just the same I made sure the van is gassed up and spent 20 minutes loading the back up with supplies. 20 minutes wasted now is a trivial cost should those 20 minutes be needed later.

Consequently, the air is filled with smoke. We've had the air purifier running all week to try and keep our indoor air breathable. Outside is disgusting. You can see the smoke in the air just looking across the street and the scattering causes the light color to stay yellowish-orange all day. The air quality has consistently been in the either "unhealthy" or "very unhealthy" zones. Though we haven't had it hit "hazardous" yet.

Oh, and the forecast has more thunderstorms as a possibility for both nights this weekend.

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On a lighter note, I've done some more painting of miniatures. Here are the six more that I've done.

I'm quite happy with how they're coming out.

COVID-19: Part 39

July 17, 2020 3:12 pm
  • Quarantine Day 123
  • Livermore cases: 349
  • Alameda County cases: 8,556; deaths: 160
  • U.S. cases: 3,555,000+; deaths: 137,000+

A triple quarantine. Ugh.

The school system sent out a notice that school will be either fully remote or as a hybrid model with limited on-campus time each week in smaller groups with the option to dynamically switch between modes depending on conditions. Given the data trends, I'm expecting things will start fully remote at this point, unless things really turn around in the next four weeks.

So Jess ordered a desk and chair we can put in Heather's room under her loft-bed so she has a dedicated school-work station. I'm setting up deal alerts on Chromebooks so we have a dedicated computer available for her (the school system has Chromebooks available, but I'm guessing we can get something better and also ease the demand on their supply for others who can't afford to just go buy one right now). I'm expecting we'll see a run on Chromebooks as the school year approaches (since many district use them) so I'm hoping to grab one before that happens.

How remote Kindergarten will work for Corinne is a mystery. She really needs the hands-on, in-person experience. So it's sad she won't get to have that. But we are fully in support of following the best available medical advice on how to do schooling safely.

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I interviewed for a "Group Leader" position at the Lab today. It's basically the bottom rung of the management ladder. It's only funded at 5% so you still do a regular technical job 95% of the time. Mostly it's handling performance appraisals and career development type activities for a group of 10-20 people.

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Last night my friends played the Gambler's Pass adventure in our campaign. One of them used a flying spell to fly across the Red River and avoid falling in when the bridge was destroyed. So that was unexpected. I'll have to do a little re-writing for the next adventure to account for that.

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More and more states are enacting mandatory mask regulations. But then you have Georgia whose governor passed an executive order banning mask mandates in the state that had been enacted at the city level.

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I finally got my hands on "Ring Fit Adventure" a fitness game for the Nintendo Switch. They've been completely sold out since March and any time they are in stock they sell out again within minutes.

We've all been playing that this week (except Corinne who isn't strong enough to squeeze or stretch the resistance band). It's pretty fun.

It's a great evolution on the Wii Fit concept. In Wii Fit they created a bunch of minigames where you exercise to play the games. But they had no overarching narrative so it was interesting but you still had to have the base motivation to do exercise since the minigames lost their novelty fairly quickly.

In Ring Fit Adventure they built the overarching narrative and exercise is the medium of fighting enemies and advancing the story. So while the actual exercise is still repetitive (repetition is rather the point) there is a developing story line and your character's strength and abilities level up so it's much more engaging.

Consequently we've all had sore muscles all week.

COVID-19: Part 35

June 27, 2020 12:03 am
  • Quarantine Day 102
  • Livermore cases: 145
  • Alameda County cases: 5,354; deaths: 129
  • U.S. cases: 2,414,000+; deaths: 124,000+

The latest modeling suggests that with widespread mask use we could basically get on with our lives with minimal interruption. Unfortunately, widespread mask use is not happening. One segment of the population continues to attempt to equate temporary, mandatory mask regulations with tyranny and refuses to cooperate. Predictably, in areas with widespread belief in this insanity the caseloads are setting new records on a daily basis.

I've been reading "What we Owe to Each Other" by T. M. Scanlon, a moral philosopher at Harvard. I'm just over 100 pages in--just about to begin section three of the premises section. His work borrows elements from John Rawls' political philosophy of "Justice as Fairness" and applies it to morality along with other thoughts and ideas. I finished reading Rawls' book earlier this year and I liked his approach. I'm also liking Scanlon's application of the concepts.

On page 106, Scanlon is wrapping up his basis of defining what a "value" is when he turns his attention to what it means to respect the value of human life. He has this to say:

Respecting the value of human life requires us to treat [people] only in ways that would be allowed by principles that they could not reasonably reject insofar as they, too, were seeking principles of mutual governance which other [people] could not reasonably reject.

It takes couple of rounds to parse it out fully, but it's really quite nice (and very Rawls-ian).

Is wearing a piece of cloth across one's mouth and nose in order to mitigate the spread of a deadly virus really a principle that can be reasonably rejected in a world where we presuppose that everyone wants to live peacefully together? I don't see how it could be. Great benefit is had at almost zero cost and trivial inconvenience. Surely compromising a little pride for saving thousands of lives is an acceptable trade off.

Professional philosophy writing is a bit of a slog to get through, but I find it interesting. I'm looking forward to reading more about how Scanlon answers the question of what we owe to each other. But I feel pretty confident that we at least owe each other the level of respect inherent in agreeing to wear a mask during a pandemic the same way we owe each other the level of respect inherent in staying attentive to the road while driving.

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Last Sunday was Fathers' Day. We spent the day at home, like every other day for the previous 4 months. We may have gone for a walk in the evening, I can't remember now. Jess and the girls gave me a 55-pound bag of flour imported from Italy. It's supposed to be a specially-selected blend of wheat that will let you get nice, brown, pizza crusts in a residential oven. The temperature is supposed to dip down a little bit this weekend, so I'll have to try it out and see if it's true.

After the girls went to bed I watched "They Shall not Grow Old", which was....gruesome. I can't say it was "enjoyable" because it really shouldn't be for anyone. It is very well made and worth watching though. It did leave me feeling frustrated with how incredible quantities of resources can always be found when nations decide to destroy each other, but outside of that we just write off difficult problems as unsolvable.

We can figure out how to keep 68 million people fighting for over four years, but when it comes time to addressing homelessness or hunger or access to medical care we wring our hands about it being too expensive. It's frustrating.

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Tuesday was our 11th anniversary. We spent the day at home (surprise!). We did get takeout for dinner though. Jess wanted a potato-and-bacon pizza that one of the local restaurants makes, so she got one of those and I had a calzone. I made crème brûlée for dessert.

To celebrate, we upgraded our cookware. We bought some fancy All-Clad stainless-steel-with-aluminum-core pots and pans. We bought 8-inch, 10-inch non-stick, and 12-inch frying pans as well as 2-quart and 3-quart sauce pans. In theory they should last pretty much forever.

We also watched "The Dish" which is a loosely-based-on-a-true-story movie describing the role in the Apollo 11 mission of one radio-telescope in Australia. I did appreciate the reminder that there have been times where great national resources were directed to incredible challenges that weren't about killing people. But also saddened that it still seems to require being linked to contests of international dominance.

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Last weekend Ivy and Beryl completed their investigation of Hinderstap Manor and learned of the tragedy that befell the family resulting in the mansion being haunted. They helped bring peace to the home and are now on their way south through the Forgotten Lands.

I took the week off from preparing another adventure so this weekend we'll do a non-story-related side game of some kind.

Last night I played through the Spirit Valley adventure with my work friends so their characters are now on their way north towards Englewood and Gambler's Pass.

Painting Miniatures

June 24, 2020 7:17 pm

Now that I have a bunch of miniature creatures for use in our Dragon Strike adventures, I thought I'd give a try to painting them. I was really on the fence, because it could easily devolve into a lot of not fun (I live in a CTRL+Z world). But I figured if I kept my expectations appropriately low then I could probably be happy with the result.

Here are the first 2 that I completed:

Far from perfect, but I'm pretty happy with how they came out. So I'll paint some more and provide a little more fun and detail to our games.