Alan Porter's minimal net presence

January 2020

We joined the YMCA a while back. I wanted an alternative to running during the cold months – and more importantly, during the DARK months. I have been using the weight machines, riding the stationary bikes, and running on the treadmills.

But this being NC, we have some pretty mild winters. So sometimes we can get out to the parks. Since I have made some progress on the unicycle, I decided to upgrade to a taller seat post to better fit my height. I also had to replace the pedals after one of the original ones broke. I am still only able to go about 100 feet at a time.

Foong got a dental crown… it only took six visits to get it right! I call her my queen.

We’re planning a trip to Malaysia and China in July, and so we all needed to get renewed passports. While I was at it, I got a passport card (which is mostly useless, except that it counts as a “Real ID” for US travel. We know there is a nasty virus going around in parts of China, and so we hope they have that under control by then.

[Editorial note: later in the year, we would find that the Coronavirus is a Big Deal™, and so I have gone back and added quick notes about pandemic-related events. I also included key political events, since the two are so inter-related.]

Coronavirus pandemic notes:

  • 1/30 WHO declares Public Health Emergency
  • 1/31 US declares Public Health Emergency

February 2020

I participated in the Krispy Kreme Challenge, a 5-mile running race through downtown Raleigh where you run 2.5 miles from NC State to Krispy Kreme, eat a dozen donuts, and then run 2.5 miles back, all in under an hour. I ran the race in 46m 3.5s – that’s PLENTY of time left over to choke down (and throw up) 2400 calories worth of fried dough, right? Rather, I chose to run in the “casual” category, which allowed me to just carry the donuts back home and share them with my family, who were still asleep when I got home. The race raised $175,000 for the UNC Children’s Hospital.

I went in to work one day to find that the office did not have power! I should have checked messages before I left home. So I returned home. Then I saw that the power was back on, and that I had to meet someone at the office for an interview! I should have checked my calendar before driving home! After I got home for the day, we met my brother for dinner… guess where? Just down the street from my office!

I continued practicing on the unicycle, this time on the greenway, with a few gentle hills and bumps. I could not get the hang of cresting a small hill, and I fell off every time. One time, I caught my shoe on the pedal and dove into the pavement. I skinned my knees pretty badly and ripped my jeans. From there, I decided to give my knees some time to heal before riding again.

I got a letter in the mail saying my “Delinquency Predictor Score is 492”, whatever that means!

Our little girls are growing up. They went to the Ritz to see a band called Saint Motel (I’ve never heard of ‘em). This was the first time we sent them off to a show like this on their own. But they can look after each other. They had a great time.

I attended a three-day strings music camp called “Scor!” (Strings Camp On the Road). There were 18 adult students that roughly fit into two groups: beginner and advanced. The main goal of our beginner group was to learn how to play together as a group. That meant that wrong notes are OK, as long as they are played at the right time. The instructors are a husband-and-wife team that travel the country in their RV, giving the camp in cities across the US.

I have been thinking that it’s time for a new violin, but I was really on the fence about what to get. I’ve had my eye on a Glasser carbon fiber model that is super cool looking. They’re really inexpensive, so I ordered one, and also a nice case for it. So far, I can make it sound just as lousy as my cheap student violin!

In mid-February, my friends and I started an email thread about how the Coronavirus was disrupting China, and how that will affect the US economy. That, combined with the weak positions of many US companies with respect to borrowing money in cycles to pay previous debts, makes us think the US stock market will sharply decline soon. I chose to liquidate most of my retirement accounts.

We got a dusting of snow in late February.

One night while we were warming some bread, our oven broke in an “always on, full power” mode, as long as the electricity was on. We burned our bread and set off the smoke alarm and quickly decided to turn off the circuit breaker! Later, we removed the heating elements so we could at least use the stove top, and then we went shopping for a new oven/stove.

Coronavirus pandemic notes:

  • 2/13 Richard Burr sold $1.6M in stocks
  • 2/17 Greg’s initial financial worries email
  • 2/19 market high: S&P hit 3386
  • 2/26 I started selling investments

March 2020

Apex High School had their spring musical, “The Drowsy Chaperone”. On opening night, the female lead fell down some stairs during a dance number and sprained her ankle. So when we saw the show, she performed the entire play on crutches, including dance numbers. Some of the lines in the show seemed to almost foreshadow her accident – there was one song called “accident waiting to happen”, where the male lead dances on roller skates (with his partner on crutches – yikes).

In the beginning of March, the Coronavirus started popping up all over the US, including in Raleigh. Suddenly we all became hyper-sensitive to how much contact we have on a normal day. We stopped shaking hands, and the “elbow bump” was born. Our office tried an experimental work-from-home day, and the very next day that became our company policy. I returned to the office to fetch a big monitor, and to clean out my desk. I am guessing I won’t be back there for a long time.

Within a few days, events started being canceled one-by-one. It was almost funny how many emails we got saying events were postponed or canceled. When the major sports leagues called off their seasons, everyone realized how big this was. By the end of the month, Wake County issued a “stay-at-home” order, closely followed by the state of North Carolina.

Things unraveled quickly, and so at the end of each month, I will start listing interesting pandemic-related milestones.

My music lessons were switched from one-on-one in-person lessons to “virtual”, by FaceTime… from my closet. Our first remote lesson was basically a sound-check, and after that I gave my teacher the rest of the semester off. There’s enough stuff going on in my life right now that I do not need another daily thing I feel responsible for completing. Just as I had gotten a nice boost from the strings camp, this came as a pretty big buzz-kill.

We had a lot of rain in March… enough to keep the green clouds of pollen under control.

Coronavirus pandemic notes:

  • 3/2 sold most investments
  • 3/3 primary elections
  • 3/6 $8B federal aid bill #1 (Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act)
  • 3/8 Russia/Saudi oil dispute, S&P dropped 7.6%
  • 3/8 my friends discuss inverse ETFs via email, I called the idea “reckless”
  • 3/9 UNC Spring Break started
  • 3/10 I bought iETFs
  • 3/10 NC state of emergency
  • 3/10 school events canceled, everything canceled all at once
  • 3/11 presidential “deer in the headlights” speech, banned passengers from Europe, S&P dropped 9.5%
  • 3/12 WFH experiment, then 3/13 policy
  • 3/13 WH “I don’t take responsibility at all” (for lag in testing)
  • 3/15 Fed cut rate to 0%, S&P dropped 12%
  • 3/16 S&P drops 11.98% after fed cut rate
  • 3/16 WCPSS schools closed
  • 3/16 UNC Spring Break extended one week, Audrey moved out of the dorm and into our bonus room
  • 3/17 music lessons start online
  • 3/18 $100B federal aid bill #2 (Families First Coronavirus Response Act)
  • 3/20 WCPSS “online learning resources” (a Google doc listing a few web sites like Khan Academy)
  • 3/23 UNC classes started back online
  • 3/23 Fed announced unlimited quantitative easing
  • 3/23 market low: S&P hit 2237
  • 3/24 president predicted we’d be open by Easter
  • 3/26 3.3M new unemployed
  • 3/27 $2T federal aid bill #3 (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act)
  • 3/27 Wake stay-at-home order (until April 16th)
  • 3/30 NC stay-at-home order (30 days)

April 2020

In April, we basically fell into routines. As an inside-dwelling computer nerd, I have found it fairly easy to adapt to a Covid-inspired hermit lifestyle. I eat three meals a day at home. I work at home. I entertain myself at home. The only time I leave the house is to run maybe 5 times a week and occasionally for shopping.

I noticed a general downward trend in my weight. I am going to attribute that entirely to Armadillo Grill, which I have not eaten at since I stopped going to work.

Our neighbors got some turkeys! Another neighbor got chickens!

Audrey was chained to her desk for most of April, as classes kept her busier than normal. Final exams were extra stressful. At least one test was made much harder to prevent remote cheating, and was spread over a longer time to account for at-home schedules – a combination that caused Audrey to spend almost an entire day on one test! She managed to end the semester with straight A’s!

It’s been interesting to see businesses who make the transition to pandemic mode, and those who fail. I had to go to a bank… in person… a rarity, I know, but they needed me to sign a form. Their app and their web site said the lobby would be closed but the drive-through windows would be open. But when I got there, the drive-through was closed, with an altered schedule posted on the glass. You know, if there were only a worldwide network of computers they could use to publish their schedule so people could avoid leaving their homes during a pandemic. Ugh.

Sydney mourned her chorus group’s canceled New York City trip by photoshopping images of herself and her friends onto scenes of the city and posting them to Instagram. Classic!

In general, I avoided all things on the internet on April 1st. April Fools Day is bad enough in a normal year. I don’t need any made-up nonsense to add to the already-bad-enough “new normal”.

April 1 is the beginning of most companies’ financial quarters, and this would be the time that they would report how dismal Q1 was and how gloomy their outlook is for Q2. My friends and I discussed a lot of companies before “earnings season” and we took a few market bets. I finally dipped my toes into the “options” pool, buying $90 worth of PUT options against Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-B) before their much-awaited earnings presentation. I later sold those options for $578. Perfect. Now, with a small dollar-amount “win” under my belt, I will be totally hooked on options… so if you see me living in a cardbox box some time next year, that’s why.

Coronavirus pandemic notes:

  • 4/2 1M cases worldwide
  • 4/2 6.9M new unemployed
  • 4/8 Bernie drops out
  • 4/9 6.6M new unemployed
  • 4/9 Fed: $2.3T in loans (inc junk bonds)
  • 4/9 S&P 500 logs best week since 1974
  • 4/10 WH : “very brilliant enemy”
  • 4/13 WH : absolute authority
  • 4/16 5.2M new unemployed
  • 4/17 FL opens beaches
  • 4/17 Wake stay-at-home order extended to 4/30
  • 4/18 I cut my own hair
  • 4/20 oil price negative
  • 4/23 4.4M new unemployed
  • 4/23 WH : inject disinfectants, or use UV light
  • 4/24 GA opens up
  • 4/24 relief bill #4 - Paycheck Protection Program, part 2
  • 4/25 visited a bank in person, only to find it closed
  • 4/29 NC stay-at-home order extended to May 8th
  • 4/30 3.8M new unemployed
  • 4/30 my first stock options: BRK-B (bought $90, sold $578, 542% profit)

May 2020

May in North Carolina means running heater at night and air conditioner in the daytime. Our thermostat is so stupid that it uses the same temperature banks for both settings. What I WANT is a simple range… 70F-80F. It is gets cold, turn on the heat. If it gets hot, turn on the A/C. I do NOT want something that checks to see what weather topics are trending on Twitter. So I opted for a semi-smart model that can be programmed with a range, and that has an app to make the programming easy, but nothing else!

My old Linux-based router, a Zotac Z-Box mini fanless PC, suddenly stopped powering on after many years of dedicated service. So I replaced it with a “Fitlet2” from CompuLab (maker of the “Fit-PC”, which I had before the Zotac). The Fitlet2 is a very small box, and seems to be up to the task of being our home router and my personal electronic butler.

We spent Mother’s Day at home. I called my mom, only to find her hanging out with my brother and his extended family. So much for isolating. It was then that realized how hard-core my immediate family is… we’ve stayed in our cave.

Audrey has finished school, but Sydney is in the middle of it, with three AP exams. It has been hard to take a college-level exam for either (A) a class that she completed back in January, long enough ago to forget everything or (B) a class where they stopped attending a few weeks in, and only made a perfunctory effort afterwards. She is glad the exams are over, and she might have actually done OK. But she was not happy with the process, and had a lot to say about how poorly the tests were handled.

I was shocked to see the “covidiots” in large crowds on Memorial Day. I guess we humans have a short attention span, and we’re tired of putting in the effort to stay safe. I expect a pretty nasty rise in cases all around us.

Like everyone, I am outraged that our country has been so inept at controlling this disease. But it fits with our core values of decentralized government, duplication of effort, rugged individualism (at the expense of the better good of society), our absolute refusal to pay for anything unless it personally benefits us right here and right now, and our general distrust of government. I don’t know. I just had this idea that America would have our collective shit together. Now the secret it out… we’re basically pooping our pants while some other countries like Korea, Singapore and New Zealand are the models of how to do it right.

Just when we thought May was over, we had the horrible news of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, followed by peaceful protests, then followed by non-peaceful protests and finally riots in the streets. Our very own Audrey attended the peaceful protests in downtown Raleigh, and left just minutes before the teargas came out. Stay safe, y’all.

Coronavirus pandemic notes:

  • 5/4 BitSight “My Day” #1
  • 5/8 NC phase 1 reopening
  • 5/3 I cut my own hair
  • 5/7 3.2M new unemployed
  • 5/8 NC phase 1 reopening
  • 5/14 3.0M new unemployed
  • 5/21 2.4M new unemployed
  • 5/22 NC phase 2 “safer-at-home”
  • 5/23 received “CARES” stimulus payment
  • 5/25 Memorial Day covidiots
  • 5/26 I cut my own hair
  • 5/27 100,000 CV deaths
  • 5/27 NASA/SpaceX launch
  • 5/28 2.1M new unemployed
  • 5/28 Twitter annotates DT tweets
  • 5/29 DT threatens China
  • 5/30 George Floyd protests & riots

June 2020

The girls wanted to take their mother out to dinner for her birthday. But, times being what they are, they decided that was not wise. So they had me rush Momma out to the car as if we were “late” for something, and we drove around the neighborhood for a few minutes to arrive at the fancy “home restaurant”. She was greeted with two snooty waitresses and a posh menu, and served a fruit smoothie and a cake.

School is finally out and so summer begins. It’s hard on both kids, because they can’t do normal fun things with their friends. Since this is Sydney’s last summer before college, she had hoped to work on some film projects to boost her portfolio.

For Father’s Day, we drove to Winston-Salem to visit my parents. On one hand, I feel like we should not be visiting anyone in person. On the other hand, I think we’re way more cautious than most people (and maybe that’s the problem). I hate how everything we do is such a constant risk assessment.

The neighborhood pool opened, with a whole lot of limits and rules. For this summer, our family decided “no, thanks”.

Our local governments are starting to require masks be worn in public. It’s about time. Still, we seldom leave the house, other than for grocery shopping and exercise.

We spent some time working on the yard. In the back yard, we have a tree that has many major trunks, one of which just keeps getting closer to the house. So I decided to saw that trunk off, which left me with a lot of logs and branches and leaves to get rid of. Somehow, we managed to cram it all into the back of the minivan and drive it off to the dump.

I also planted some grass seed in the front yard. I worked in very small sections, breaking up the soil, planting the grass seed and raking the dirt to cover the seeds. Then I watered it every day. Our soil has so much clay in it, it’s hard to get grass to grow and to stay for long. But I am going to try.

Coronavirus pandemic notes:

  • 6/01 Trump: St. John’s Church / Lafayette Park photo op
  • 6/04 1.9M new unemployed
  • 6/06 George Floyd funeral, Raeford NC (Hoke County)
  • 6/11 1.5M new unemployed
  • 6/12 Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta
  • 6/18 1.5M new unemployed
  • 6/19 BitSight “My Day” #2
  • 6/19 Raleigh face masks required
  • 6/20 Trump Tulsa Rally
  • 6/24 NC “Safer at Home Phase 2” extended 3 more weeks
  • 6/25 1.5M new unemployed
  • 6/26 NC face masks required
  • 6/28 St Louis: McCloskey guns in front lawn

July 2020

We celebrated Audrey’s birthday at home. I really don’t understand my kids. Sydney made Audrey a birthday “card” out of a slice of bread and thread. She stitched the words “happy birthday” into the bread. Yep, that’s thread on bread. I have no idea why. But they both thought it was hilarious.

We don’t go out much. But I did leave the house for my annual physical exam. It was a little abbreviated, more Q&A than poking and prodding. I also went to the dentist. In the waiting room, they had turned every other chair backwards, to make sure you don’t sit close to anyone else.

Since we have a lot of time at home, I tend to do a lot of computer projects. I have been wondering if there exists a Linux application that acts as an external keyboard for my phone. I have a Bluetooth keyboard that I can use with my phone. But why would I carry another keyboard around when I have my laptop right here? I would think that I could run an application where when I type into it, the laptop just relays the keys to my phone via Bluetooth, just like that external keyboard does. I did manage to hack together a prototype using “hidclient” running in a terminal window. And it worked… just barely… with a lot of set-up. Certainly not smoothly enough to use often.

I also bought a new Raspberry Pi 4 and set it up to run my home backups (using flashback, the python package that I wrote many years ago). The Pi4 replaces an old laptop that had been doing the job for years, but that recently has started randomly powering down because it overheats.

Here’s something fun to do during a pandemic… draw up a will! Since we’re left with some at-home time on our hands, and since we’re constantly reminded of how people are getting sick and dying, maybe it’s a good idea to plan for our family’s future. Fortunately, it is super simple to do. We started with a template from where you answer a bunch of questions, almost like a MadLib. I answered using generic terms like “BENFICIARY1” instead of proper names and addresses. Then we downloaded the resulting document and did a bunch of search/replace to get them the way we wanted. It was easy – just list the people who are to inherit your estate, and the people who will administer the process (any responsible adult who can hire a lawyer using your money). And since our kids will both be 18 this year, we no longer need to list someone who will look after them. Then we called a notary who came to our front yard and watched us sign the papers. When we’re done, we just put them in a safe place and tell the kids where they are. You don’t have to file them with the government or anything. I feel better knowing that if something happens to us, the kids will be taken care of.

I took over as treasurer for the high school’s chorus and theatre booster club. What fun! The first order of business is to refund the money to all of the kids that did not get to go to New York back in March. It’s surprisingly hard to get in touch with all of them, even if you’re offering them money!

Here’s a funny story… somehow, one of our hermit crabs escaped from his 20-gallon glass terrarium. We discovered him in the laundry room, clinging to a cloth bag! He’s lucky he didn’t get a free ride in the washing machine!

Let’s be honest… this pandemic is looking pretty awful. It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets any better. Audrey is going to be returning to UNC soon, and the current plan is that they’ll be on campus. I can imagine how chaotic the dorms will be, with some kids masking and staying separate, and other kids mixing it up like college students do. So we hastily decided to find an apartment for Audrey to live in. We’ve found a couple of suitably responsible room-mates for her, and the dorms will refund what we’ve already paid. And because of all of the uncertainty, there’s actually some decent apartments available, some at pretty good prices. So we spent a couple of weekends hunting around Chapel Hill, and we signed a lease for them.

Likewise, the plan right now is for Wake County schools to open up for in-person learning. But they offer an at-home option called “Virtual Academy” as well. So we talked it over with Sydney, and we signed her up for remote learning. Her senior year will suck… but at least it will suck SAFELY, and not surrounded by 2000 other virus risk vectors.

There’s a comet in the sky, so we went out to see it. It’s called C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE). You can just barely make it out with the naked eye, and you can kind of see its tail with binoculars. It’s a lot like Halley’s comet was in 1986, and LOT dimmer than the spectacular Hale-Bopp comet was in 1997.

Coronavirus pandemic notes:

  • 7/01 NC governor : school recommendations
  • 7/02 1.4M new unemployed
  • 7/09 1.3M new unemployed
  • 7/14 NC “Safer at Home Phase 2” extended 3 more weeks (until Aug 7)
  • 7/16 1.3M new unemployed
  • 7/20 100,000 cases in NC
  • 7/20 Wal-Mart requires face masks
  • 7/22 daily WH briefings resume, worse before better
  • 7/23 1.4M new unemployed
  • 7/30 1.4M new unemployed
  • 7/30 150,000 deaths in US

August 2020

School started in August. We moved Audrey into her new apartment at UNC. Within a few days, the school changed course and sent all of the on-campus kids back home. Perfect… they let them bring their germs to Chapel Hill, mix them up like only college students can, and then sent them back to their home towns. Having Audrey in an apartment basically insulates her from that nonsense (it’s debatable whether paying a year’s worth of rent is a waste, since she could just ride out the entire year at home, but she would be miserable there).

While Wake County schools are divided into “in-person” students and “virtual academy” students, the initial plan is to keep them both at home for a while. Again, having Sydney in VA insulates her from the nonsense.

We had a minor earthquake in NC. Unlike the one in 2011, this time I actually felt it. I was still in the bed (it was 8:07am on Sunday), and it felt like somebody walked up to the edge of the bed and sharply nudged the mattress with their knee. This earthquake was in Sparta NC, about 160 miles from Cary.

There’s a bunch of construction at the entrance to our neighborhood. One of the long-time land owners finally sold to a developer, and so they’re putting townhouses in. I am not sure what kind of changes we’ll see: more traffic, changes to home values. Will our neighborhood HOA offer pool memberships to the new residents? They’re not in our neighborhood, but if we don’t offer memberships, I bet we’ll see a lot of pool crashers.

When I replaced our home router (a small Linux server) back in May, I was not initially able to get IPv6 working like it had been. So in August, with my abundance of at-home hobby time, I finally decided to look into what’s wrong. This turned into a much more involved project than I had expected. It turns out that in the last few releases of Ubuntu, there are now multiple ways to specify how you want your networks to work. I researched four network layout systems (ifupdown, network-manager, netplan, and systemd-networkd). I opted for the oldest and most well-established, ifupdown. I looked into four DHCP clients (wide-dhcpv6, ISC dhclient, dhcpcd, and dibbler), and chose dhcpcd. Then I looked at three firewalls (iptables, shorewall, and nftables), choosing the new nftables. It can be very difficult to figure out which admin-level packages are supposed to be build ON TOP of older pieces, and which ones REPLACE older pieces. In the end, I have my IPv6 again.

Coronavirus pandemic notes:

  • 8/03 BitSight “My Day” #3
  • 8/05 NC phase 2 safer-at-home extended 5 weeks
  • 8/06 1.2M new unemployed
  • 8/08 5M cases in US
  • 8/08 Memorandum on Deferring Payroll Tax Obligations in Light of the Ongoing COVID-19 Disaster
  • 8/11 Harris for VP
  • 8/13 960k new unemployed
  • 8/17 UNC cancels in-person classes
  • 8/18 S&P500 new high
  • 8/20 1.1M new unemployed
  • 8/20 NCSU cancels in-person classes
  • 8/27 1M new unemployed

September 2020

Audrey came home and we made Chinese dumplings… the whole family got involved, from making the dough, to rolling and cutting circles, to filling and wrapping them.

It’s 2020, and that means it’s time to tackle more of those long-neglected at-home clean-up tasks. This time, I did a “paper purge” from my file cabinets. I have been storing digital statements since 2009, and so any paper statements I have are either old or redundant. Cary and Apex both occasionally have shred/recycle/privacy days, but they’re not too frequent, and some have been canceled due to the pandemic, so the end result of this weekend project was some boxes that can be shredded whenever the next event happens.

The town of Cary sponsored a “fit Cary” virtual run, where you pick your own time to run 5k, either on one of their pre-measured routes, or on one that you choose. I ran my own route around the neighborhood trails in just under 30 minutes.

BitSight has been very conscious of worker productivity and morale while we’re working from home, and so occasionally they’ll have a pop-up holiday called “My Day”. In a rare outing, our family spent our three-day weekend at Myrtle Beach. It was nice to get out. The beach and the condo were not crowded at this time of year. But once we went to “downtown” Myrtle Beach, there were a bunch of people. Some wore masks, many did not. I was surprised how much “Trump crap” they sold at the beach shops… but maybe that’s their main clientele. Overall, we had a good weekend away from home, and it was nice to get out into the “real world” to see what it was like.

At the end of the month, we had a pretty spectacular hail storm. Most of the window screens were damaged. It looked like a cat had clawed its way up them. So we learned how to repair screens (not hard at all!) and we had a repair party in our garage. Little did we know… (read on).

Coronavirus pandemic notes:

  • 9/02 Trump in Wilmington NC: “vote twice”
  • 9/03 881k new unemployed
  • 9/08 Trump in Winston-Salem
  • 9/10 884k new unemployed
  • 9/10 San Francisco sky is red
  • 9/18 BitSight “My Day” #4
  • 9/18 RBG died
  • 9/24 870k new unemployed

October 2020

In an approximation of a senior tradition, the senior students at Apex HS decorated their cars and had a parade and design competition. Sydney painted her windows in a “Senior Things 2(021)” design that looked like “Stranger Things 2”.

I have attended the IBMA “Wide Open Bluegrass” festival seven out of the eight years that they have been in Raleigh (I missed 2016 because I was out of town for my new job at BitSight). Those guys come shining through, no matter what hardship is thrown in their way. In 2015, they held the entire “street festival” inside the convention center because a hurricane was rolling through town. And this year, they held the entire event online. It was well done, all things considered.

But having a “live” music event held over the internet really made us question “what is LIVE?”. Is it something that happens at a particular time? Some of these performances were pre-recorded, as could be seen by the lighter or darker skies behind the band vs outside my window. Is it interactivity? The workshops had live question and answer sessions. Is it the fact that you have to choose which bands to see from multiple stages? They did have at least two bands during each time slot. And although you could easily pop out of one and into another much faster than running between stages downtown, you could still only watch one at a time. I think it was important that these shows were not just recorded and listed on YouTube, like watching last week’s “Saturday Night Live” skits, because that would take all of the LIVE-ness out of the festival. It’s interesting to ponder what “LIVE” means… it’s subtle, but important.

We got our flu shots. I don’t want to get any kind of flu this year, corona or traditional. So I am getting my shots, masking up, and staying out of public.

More geeky projects… a while back, I wrote a PC app that shows a violin fretboard (or any stringed instrument, really) and a piano keyboard, and it color codes the finger positions in a do-re-mi rainbow. This is to help visualize playing the violin in different musical keys. I’ve been wanting to add the ability to print a fretboard cheat sheet. One added bonus of this rework was that I had to separate the music logic from the screen-drawing code… and that kind of separation usually produces a stronger code base.

We voted early. I’ve been concerned about the dirty tricks that some are willing to pull to keep people from voting, and so I am getting my vote in way ahead of time. We were in line for almost two hours.

I thought I had my IPv6 networking all worked out back in August. But for some reason, it stopped working. So I went on a quest to figure out why and to fix it. It was crazy. It would work for exactly 4.5 minutes, and then it would stop. I finally narrowed down the problem to something outside of my home network. The packets were leaving my router, but never being accepted by the modem or whatever is just upstream from it. I replaced the modem, but the problem persisted. The eventual “solution”? I set up a cron job that does a DHCPv6 renewal every 2 minutes, 24 hours per day. What a tedious problem to debug! Every fix looks like it works… for a few minutes… until it stops again!

BitSight had their annual Hackathon. This time, I teamed up with two people who are NOT software developers: one designer and one from marketing. So we split the task into “them talking about it” and “me making it work”. I kid, but they did a great job on the presentation and exploring a lot of “further steps” while I cranked out a simple demo. Our creation was a browser plugin where every time you visit a web site, it looks up what company owns that domain (using the BitSight inventory, which I work with every day) and then it looks up the BitSight security rating for that company, and it shows the rating in a little icon. When you click on the icon, you can see the company name and some details. That’s a lot to get working in a single day, and I was exhausted when we were done.

Halloween is normally one of my favorite holidays of the year. Even if we’re stuck in our homes, it’s still fun to dress up. I dressed up as “BORДT” (Borat), the fictional Kazakh journalist played by Sacha Baron Cohen in two goofy films. The “subsequent moviefilm” just came out on NetFlix this month. I think my costume was “very nice”.

Coronavirus pandemic notes:

  • 10/01 837,000 new unemployed
  • 10/01 Trump has coronavirus
  • 10/01 layoffs at Disney, airlines
  • 10/04 Trump COVID parade photo-op
  • 10/15 898k new unemployed
  • 10/19 WCPSS : Band, Chorus Rehearsal, Instruction Restrictions
  • 10/22 787,000 new unemployed
  • 10/26 WCPSS K-3 return rotating

November 2020

Wake County schools returned to a part-time in-person format for the students who chose that option (one week in school, two weeks remote). Since about half of the students chose “virtual academy”, that means at any given time, one sixth of the students are at the school. From what I hear, the kids like seeing (some of) their friends, but the restrictions make daily things like lunch pretty awful. We were given the option to continue VA for the spring semester, or return to in-person classes. Sydney will do her last high school semester remotely, capping off a pretty disappointing senior experience. But honestly, I think she’s already thinking ahead to college.

Remember that hail storm back in September? It turns out a lot of people on our street are getting their roofs repaired. We had our roof inspected, and we qualify for a complete replacement.

One night, in the wee hours of the morning, we heard our garage door open… and then close… and then open… and then stop and start many times. I went down to check on it, and the remote control in my car was flashing non-stop. So I turned off the power at the circuit breaker, and I took the battery out of the remote. But the constant jarring of the door up and down caused the cables to pop loose, leaving one very heavy door in the closed position. Rather than attempt anything myself, we called a guy who had us back up and running in a few minutes. We have a few spare remotes, so we’re back in shape. You know… if I ever need to drive my car again. I have put maybe 100 miles on it since March.

Back in 2006, when our project was wrapping up at TMIO (“the oven company”), I considered working as an independent contractor. And if I was going to do the effort of paperwork and payroll and liability for myself, I might as well also do it for other people, too. At least, that was the thought. So I formed an S-Corporation back then. I never ended up working as a contractor – I got full-time gigs instead. So the only work that my corporation did was some web-hosting for a few small businesses. 15 years later, I am tired of filling out a second set of tax returns to account for my side hustle. So I decided to UN-incorporate. I’ll still have to fill out those two extra returns this coming year, but then I am done.

A funny thing happened when I went to close my corporate bank account. I forgot that when I sent my paperwork in, I wrote a check for the $30 filing fee. So then I went to bank and closed my account, and they gave me the money that was in the account. They say that if a man lives his life just right, the check he writes to the undertaker should bounce… he’s spent exactly what he’s earned up until the last day. I think what I did is the corporate equivalent to that story. The check for dissolving my corporation came in the day after I drained my account (the bank was nice enough to pay it, and I went back there the next day to give them the $30).

More computer projects. I proved that you CAN run Ubuntu on a 2009-era Mac Mini.

After ten years, my 2011 Kindle Keyboard 3G finally stopped working. The screen just turned white (which is weird, since I thought e-ink displays would just continue to show whatever they had on them when the power is removed). Of course, I tried to tinker with it, and bring it back to life. Finally, I decided it was only good as a high-tech drink coaster. But instead of throwing it away, I just set it aside. Then a few days later, I saw the familiar screensaver faces of Charlotte Brontë, Jules Verne, Mark Twain and the gang. And now it works like new. I have no idea why.

I’ve been thinking about deleting my Facebook account for a long time. But as much as I hate Facebook, I still felt like I might miss it when it was gone. So I would “deactivate” it for a few months at a time (highly recommended). But at some point, after hearing about their echo-chambers and self-regulation and how they sell finely targeted ads just pushed me over the edge and I deleted my account. Or at least, I TRIED to. When I logged in and went to the “disable/delete my account page”, it decided something was suspicious and it locked me out of my account… which I was trying to delete. How infuriating!

They said I could get back in using one of two methods: (1) contact three out of five friends that THEY chose and convince them to visit a link to vouch for me or (2) send them a copy of my driver’s license. The five friends they had chosen were loose enough acquaintances that I was not going down that path. Their rules for the driver’s license said I could (PHYSICALLY and NOT DIGITALLY) cover up anything sensitive, that they just needed my name and face and birthday. Well, more than a decade ago, when I set up my account, I did not use my real birthday, so I had to explain that. After several rounds of resubmitting photos and being rejected over several days, I finally capitulated and sent them a full unaltered picture, got my account unlocked (and my birthday automatically corrected), and I immediately deleted the account with no remorse whatsoever.

Sydney turned 18 this month. She celebrated by buying lottery tickets.

We had a low-key Thanksgiving at home, with mostly-prepared food ordered from one of our favorite grocery stores. Audrey was home from UNC, because they compressed the semester to prevent kids from going home for Thanksgiving and then returning to Chapel Hill to spread their family’s germs to the other students. Her break will last until well into January. It was not a big gathering, not a big preparation, not a big meal, and not a big deal.

Our fridge has slowly been dying. It would keep the freezer side very cold and the refrigerator side slightly cool. We even bought little thermostats to keep an eye on it. When it would start acting up, we would remove all of the food and thaw out the air vents. The routine is getting to be more frequent. So it’s time for a new fridge. Fortunately for us, the stores are having Thanksgiving sales. Let’s go stimulate the economy!

Coronavirus pandemic notes:

  • 11/03 election day
  • 11/04 100,000 cases in one day in USA
  • 11/07 election called for Biden
  • 11/09 WCPSS grades 6-8 return rotating
  • 11/12 709k new unemployed
  • 11/13 NC EO176 - phase 3 through Dec 4
  • 11/16 WCPSS grades 4-5 return in rotations
  • 11/25 NC EO180 - more masks (Nov 25 - Dec 11)

December 2020

Sydney got a box set of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies for her birthday, so we watched all of them in the beginning of December. Audrey ordered a box set of the Studio Ghibli movies, so we watched a lot of them, too.

Have I talked about 2020 and movies? We’ve watched more movies this year than in the past decade combined. In the early months, the family would be waiting for me to pick a movie, only to come back two hours later to find me still scrolling through Netflix and Prime and IMDB. I have gotten better about picking movies, and about just watching whatever I have queued up.

We received a hand-written letter from Indonesia. It was addressed simply to “Connie” at our address. I don’t know anyone named Connie. So I carefully opened it, and found a beautifully written letter from a school-age girl, with some stickers and drawings. I really hated the idea that some kid had carefully written this letter and sent it halfway around the world, but that it didn’t make it the last little bit to the intended recipient. So I tried my Google-fu and came up mostly empty-handed. Finally, I took a stab in the dark, guessing that it might be for someone on my street. I asked one neighbor with a teenage daughter, and sure enough, “Connie” is her nickname. So I packed it back up, almost like new, and put it in their mailbox with a note about the incorrect address. I am so happy the letter found its way!

Now that Ubuntu 20.04 LTS has had some time to settle, I decided it was time to upgrade my web/mail servers. Fortunately, the one that I use for client web sites worked perfectly. But the one I use for personal projects kept running out of memory, and so random processes would be killed off by the “OOM killer” to free up memory. It took several days of debugging, but the problem mainly came from my MySQL configuration, which used WAY too much memory in some cases, and then never really returned it. I spent many days monitoring memory usage using sar -r before finding a solution.

The delivery guys showed up with our new refrigerator… a day late, but hey, times are hard. Then the lift gate on the truck stopped working and we all had to wait for the repair guy. And then the crew almost dropped the fridge down our front steps because one guy didn’t know how to tighten the belt on his “shoulder dolly”, and it slipped in mid-move. And then we panicked because we were not sure this massive fridge would fit in between the counters and into the kitchen (it cleared by a half inch). What a relief when it was finally in place!

We finally got our roof replaced after the hail damage in September. The crew was fast. They completed most of the work in a single day (with rain scheduled right after that). It looks good!

With Saturn and Jupiter appearing closer together than they have in 800 years, we dug around and found our cheap table-top telescope. It was good enough to see the two planets, and to see the moons too, if you squint just right.

Christmas was a lot like Thanksgiving, with just the four of us. We chose long ago to forego presents, and just spend the day together. In one of our few breaches of quarantine, my parents came to visit (masked up). It was nice to see them in person. The last time we saw them was Father’s Day.

What a year… 2020 sucked all around. Good riddance!

Coronavirus pandemic notes:

  • 12/08 NC EO181: masks, 10p-5a curfew, limits through Jan 8
  • 12/08 federal safe harbor deadline
  • 12/11 EO181 - 10pm curfew (through Jan 8)
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