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…And This is Twenty-Twenty

Posted on Wednesday, January 1st, 2020

Dave!And so here we are in 2020. I am siding with The US Naval Observatory that says a new decade begins a year from now in 2021 and runs through 2030. But it's only natural to see a zero at the end of a year and think back to what's happened in the past decade. Fortunately, I have a blog that goes back to 2003, so I know exactly what I was doing a decade ago in 2010.

From a blogging standpoint, everything has changed. As in... ten years ago blogging was still a thing. Now, of course, blogging has been shoved aside in favor of Facebook and other social media. No idea why I stick with it. I am inclined to think it's just a habit I can't break. What I may do is rethink daily blogging and just blog when I feel like it. Problem is that once I start skipping days, I may not start again. I guess I'll cross that bridge when I get to it. If I get to it?

Personally I don't know what to think. A decade ago my mom was here and I had grandparents, now they're all gone. I was in a bad relationship, now I'm happy to be single with cats. I was much better off financially, but now I have a house and mortgage. I know I was happier a decade ago, yet I'm pretty happy with my life now too. I was a lot less healthy, but now I'm over fifty and closer to death. All things considered, I'd go back to 2010 in a heartbeat. But would I do anything differently to justify living all those years over again? Probably, if I knew what I know now.

When it comes to 2020 things are very much up in the air. Many things in my life are in strange places so it's tough to make plans. For once I think I'd be happy if things were to just stand still for a year. I do know that I will try to be grateful for every day that I have family, friends, cats, work, something to eat, and a roof over my head. Do I really need anything more?

And speaking of 2020, here is my favorite thing about it this year so far...

And to you, dear readers, here's hoping your New Year is a good one.

   

The Howling at Midnight

Posted on Thursday, January 2nd, 2020

Dave!I have come to the conclusion that once you pass 50 it takes two days to recover for every day you go without a bare minimum of sleep. I went three days without sleep, so it's going to take six days before I recover. Which, for me, will be sometime Saturday.

It was not always like this. Used to be I would operate on a few hours sleep for weeks and suffer no ill-effects. Sometime in my mid-30's this changed and I needed a couple hours extra sleep to recover from a week of insanity. Then I hit 40 and suddenly I needed a day for every day of missed sleep to recover. That was at least manageable. But two days per day? How do I schedule for something like that? Being able to operate at only half-speed is killing me.

Last night I went to bed much earlier than I usually do (around 11:00pm instead of 1:30am) in an attempt to make up for lost rest. Jake, who usually sleeps with me most nights now, fell asleep in the downstairs guest room so I wouldn't be bothered by him. This left Jenny, whom will hop off the bed and go sleep in the other guest room the minute I fall asleep.

But not last night.

Oh no. I fell asleep while petting her and she was very upset about it.

VERY.

I woke up to the sound of her walking around my room howling because I dared to fall asleep before she was done with being petted. When she gets upset or wants attention, she will meow from time to time... but this was howling. Keep in mind that this camera is downstairs, so what you're hearing is one floor and three rooms away from the microphone. That's how unbelievably loud she was...

I love how she is so loud that Jake wakes up and is all WTF?!? and goes walking upstairs to see what Jenny is on about.

And so... I pet her for another twenty minutes until she was satisfied, then eventually fell asleep and hour-or-so later. Not quite getting the sleep I was hoping for, but... well... cats... you know.

Speaking of cats...

One of my favorite things on YouTube is Super Easy, Barely An Inconvenience, a series of "pitch meetings" for popular films by Ryan George for Screen Rant. The guy does the same thing every time and yet it is hilarious every time. The most recent pitch meeting is for the Cats movie, and it's one of the best yet...

And so now I'm binge-re-watching all of the episodes of Super Easy, Barely An Inconvenience while I work, which is a fantastic use of my time. Better than most stuff on television if I'm being honest.

And here's hoping that Jenny gets all her required petting in before I fall asleep so I can maybe... possibly... perhaps... kinda get some sleep tonight?

Well, she's a cat, so I'm not holding my breath. But maybe I should hold my breath. Can a cat howling in your bedroom wake you up if you've passed out from holding your breath?

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Ibuprofen and Benadryl Cocktail

Posted on Friday, January 3rd, 2020

Dave!Somehow, someway I managed to seriously injure my right shoulder. I think the muscle in it is torn or something. No clue whatsoever how it happened, but it's been a couple months. Probably slept on it wrong, because that's a thing that happens after you turn the-big-five-oh.

Anyway...

Since I am not a pro athlete or even remotely physical in any way, this is not a big deal. It doesn't bother me at all during the day because, let's face it, there's not a lot of shoulder action that comes from typing on a keyboard, clicking on a mouse, or watching television. The only time it bothers me is when I am trying to fall asleep* and I end up laying on it funny. Then... ouchies. But, no big deal, I just load up on some Ibuprofen and take a couple Bendryl, problem solved.

Except when it isn't.

Which was last night.

As I mentioned a couple times now, Jake reeeeeally likes to snuggle with me at night now. Lord knows why with all the tossing and turning I do, but he apparently likes a wild ride while trying to sleep. Or he's just terrified I'm going to leave him for a week like I did over the holidays (=insert sad emoji=). On those nights when he wants to sleep on top of me, it's especially awkward because I'm a side-sleeper. So in order for this to work, I have to grab a pillow or two and build a "shelf" beside me that he can lay on. Because, you know, laying beside me might result in him getting crushed and he won't do it. It looks something like this...

Jake laying on top of me and the pillows next to me... being king of the bedroom.

When Jake hopped up last night and waited (im)patiently for me to build his sleeping shelf, I had to reach behind me to grab a pillow. Unfortunately I did that with my bad shoulder and twisted in such a way that I let out a yelp. Jake did not have any sympathy at all. He promptly hopped on top of me and fell asleep.

Then, at 3:00 in the morning, I could not get to sleep and simply couldn't take the agony any more. I gently lowered Jake to the bed (much to his annoyance) then escaped from under the covers so I could go drug up on an Ibuprofen and Benadryl cocktail.

And go to the bathroom... again... something else that happens after you turn the-big-five-oh.

When I got back to my bed, he had decided to lay down RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF IT, which meant I had to kinda work my way around him. Eventually he curled up BETWEEN MY LEGS... SO COMFORTABLE... and I passed out 20 minutes later thanks to over-the-counter drugs I was abusing.

When I woke up to the 7:00am cat feeding alarm blaring, Jake was sniffing my face... probably wondering if I was dead. Because if I wasn't dead, why wasn't I rushing downstairs to feed him his breakfast?!?

And so my day was spent attempting to get caught up on work while in a sleep-deprived stupor... occasionally wincing with pain.

How about you?

Though, if you're under 50 years-old without cats, I probably don't want to know.

   
*I lie. I found out while traveling last week that it hurts my shoulder a great deal if I offer to get a suitcase full of bowling balls down from the plane's overhead bin for a young woman who is 90-lbs. soaking wet if she's a day** and would probably be crushed in the attempt.

**Or however the fuck that metaphor goes. I am from the Pacific Northwest where we don't do that.

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Caturday 141

Posted on Saturday, January 4th, 2020

Dave!I've heard a number of scary stories about people who have had to leave their cats only to come back and find their shoes pooped in... their clothes shredded... their furniture chewed up. Basically, the cats get their revenge for being abandoned. For whatever reason, I am blessed with two cats who are not vindictive like this at all. When I come back, they are incredibly happy to see me and then hang around me constantly. Whatever room I'm in, they're in regardless of time of day.

Jake sitting on the bed while I work while Jenny is on the window shelf.

Jake curled up next to me while my arm is around him.

Jenny on the nightstand rubbing up against my arm while I pet her.

Jake sitting on the end of the couch staring at me to make sure I am not going anywhere.

   
But they will leave me if there's something exciting outside. Like Fake Jake stopping by for a visit...

Fake Jake outside the catio staring up at something.

They will abandon me instantly for that...

Fake Jake outside the catio staring up at Jake and Jenny staring down at him.

And now it's time for the second-most dreaded time of year... making an appointment for Jake and Jenny's annual checkup at the vet. Because the most dreaded day of the year... their annual checkup at the vet in February.

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Bullet Sunday 644

Posted on Sunday, January 5th, 2020

Dave!We may be on the verge of World War III as a reckless, clueless president is intent on starting a war to distract from his impeachment, but all is not lost because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• Oh Deer. So there I was falling asleep last night when the security system alarm goes off on my phone telling me that there was a person on the side of my house and in my back yard. I thought it might be a cat trying to get into the catio again, but Jake and Jenny were in bed with me. Nope... definitely not a cat... it was A FAMILY OF DEER! A couple others came along after this video...

Apparently with the warmer weather they are looking for something to eat, because they spent some time in my shrubs before moving on...

A deer walking through my back yard.

I feel horrible that somebody may harm them as they try to survive by heading into suburbia.

   
• RIP Syd Mead. It's unbelievable how so much of how we envision the future was defined by one guy... Syd Mead. He has created a tremendous volume of incredible work, and I was saddened to hear of his passing.

Syd Mead scene from Bladerunner showing a futuristic city street.

Syd Mead scene from Bladerunner looking out of a flying car's windshield.

Syd Mead future submarine-like-craft that shows futuristic construction.

Syd Mead scene from Bladerunner showing a futuristic cityscape skyline awash in lights.

2010, him. Aliens, him. Blade Runner, him. Blade Runner 2049, him. Star Trek the Motion Picture, him. Tron, him. You will be missed, sir.

   
• Poop. I loathe coffee. I have never liked it despite my proximity to Coffee Central (AKA Seattle). On those occasions where it's the only thing to drink, I will try it (again) and want to barf (again) so I've just stopped trying. Finally, finally I've found a video which encapsulates how I feel about the entire situation...

Smart kitty.

   
• Persevere. And speaking of cats... for all the challenges you meet in 2020... take courage from this cat who perseveres over whatever life throws at them!

Way to go, buddy!

   
• Squishy. HOLD UP A MINUTE... how many butternut squashes were y'all going to let me buy, peel, and cube before telling me that they make LUXURY BUTTERNUT SQUASH that comes pre-peeled, pre-cubed, and frozen for my convenience?

Me holding a bag of frozen butternut squash.

Y'all are on my list now. — I think I was dangerously close to breaking down crying in the supermarket when I saw it in the freezer case. This changes so much!

   
• Fly Someone. And lastly, I missed this adorable Christmas commercial from Heathrow Airport. Well worth your time to watch...

What a nice way to end Bullet Sunday! Have a good one, everybody.

   
Stay safe and be kind, everybody...

   

The World is On Fire

Posted on Monday, January 6th, 2020

Dave!The news out of Australia is so heartbreaking that I am having trouble sleeping at night.

With 30,000 square miles having been burned, it's estimated that a half-billion animals have perished in the flames with a half-billion more affected. The video of confused and frightened koalas clinging to trees as fire approaches... animals running as their homes burn... not to mention the thousands of people who have been evacuated or made homeless... it's a catastrophic situation that is really tough to wrap your head around. The stories of people with kind hearts helping the animals is a small consolation, but I always wonder what happens to the animals after the photos have been taken...

A thirsty koala being watered from a canteen by a cyclist.
Photo from Anna Heusler

A thirsty koala being watered from a water bottle.
Photo from Photo from Matt Sully

No home. No food. No water. The situation for these already endangered creatures is dire. I can't fathom what it's going to take to save them. Could be that koalas in the wild will be rare and all we're going to get will be those made safe in captivity. And while koalas get all the press because they're so cute, the populations of other less-cute animals, lizards, snakes, insects, and the rest are perishing too.

I know that animals have been suffering around the world for as long as the world has existed, but it doesn't make it any easier to process. Unlike humans, animals can't be made to understand what's happening or told to evacuate or instructed what they should do. All they know is that the world is on fire.

Alas, it's not just the flames they have to worry about. There are other ways to burn down the world, and humans are doing a fine job of that, if Twitter is any indication. Soon wildfires may be the very least of their problems. Maybe this realization is why I can't sleep at night? I dunno. I'm too exhausted to figure it out.

   

Travel Journaling Vacation

Posted on Tuesday, January 7th, 2020

Dave!I really need a vacation.

Not a work trip. Not a staycation. Not a trip for a party or wedding or any other occasion. A real, honest-to-goodness vacation where I can go somewhere new, do interesting stuff, and just relax. Since the days have been cold, dreary, wet, and largely dark (given the early sunsets), I'd prefer going somewhere that's the opposite of all that.

Also adding to my desire to get the fuck out of dodge? These amazing, amazing travel journals by José Naranja. He sells reproductions that are impeccably crafted which I would love to own, but the two volumes cost $320 and $360 each...

A photo of José Naranja journals with thick black covers and beautiful packaging.

A photo of José Naranja journal interior with gorgeous hand-lettering and wonderful hand-drawn color illustrations.

A photo of José Naranja journal interior with gorgeous hand-lettering and wonderful hand-drawn color illustrations.

He also sells posters of some of his most popular interior page spreads, but they ain't cheap either. A single print costs $45...

A photo of José Naranja journal interior with gorgeous hand-lettering and wonderful hand-drawn color illustrations.

A photo of José Naranja journal interior with gorgeous hand-lettering and wonderful hand-drawn color illustrations.

A photo of José Naranja journal interior with gorgeous hand-lettering and wonderful hand-drawn color illustrations.

Gorgeous. Every page is a work of art.

It makes me want to drag out my hand-drawn travel maps. When I first started traveling, I drew them for each of the places I went. My favorite was a map of Japan with all the sights I saw plus all the Hard Rock Cafes I visited marked on it. It's pretty good size... probably 12 x 20... on Bristol board rendered in colored pencil, inks, and watercolor. Took me a month of most nights and some weekends to complete. No idea where it is, but it's likely rolled up with old posters somewhere.

Assuming that I could come up with the money or time to go on a vacation, I'm note sure where I would go. I still want to get to India and Peru one of these days, so maybe one of those.

But since I don't have the money or time, I guess I'll just go to work tomorrow.

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Done Gone By the Wayside

Posted on Wednesday, January 8th, 2020

Dave!Most of my day was spent wanting a chocolate cupcake with vanilla frosting and sprinkles. Something I haven't had in over a year because I shouldn't be eating such things, which is probably why I want one so bad.

Instead I had a rice cake and a Coke Zero, which pretty much sums up my Wednesday.

Of course I also spent the day thinking it was Thursday, so there's that. Once I realized that I had two days before the weekend instead of one day before the weekend, that whole chocolate cupcake thing kind of went by the wayside.

And so here I am waiting for the premiere of the Schitt's Creek sixth and final season. I'm hoping for the best so the day isn't a total loss.

Boy, 2020 is shaping up to be a heck of a year.

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Haven’t I Done Enough?

Posted on Thursday, January 9th, 2020

Dave!When I first started traveling, I always went to a place with the mindset that I will likely never get to visit there again.

Sometimes it was true... but many times it was not. Places I fell in love with I would find a way to get back to. Spain is a perfect example. I wanted to see Barcelona. I went to Barcelona, loved it, then wanted to see more of Spain. So I kept going back to the country again and again and again. I also went back to Barcelona two more times. That was completely unexpected. And there are still parts of the country I am dying to see. Valencia, Seville, Toledo, Córdoba, Bilbao, Zaragoza... and dozens of others.

Italy is another example. I've been to many, many places over several trips... but there's always someplace else to see. Palermo, Como, Parma, Genoa, Bari, Catanzaro... I'd visit any of those cities in a heartbeat. I'd also be happy to return to Rome and Venice even though I've been to each multiple times.

Thanks to writing about travel journals a couple days ago, all this was running through my head when I woke up this morning and had the realization that the bulk of my traveling days are probably behind me. Now that I've got a mortgage and cats, I have more important things to spend my money and time on. I look at my travel map and think "Haven't I done enough?

Dave's Travel Map showing a bunch of marks on a world map.

And yet... there's an awful lot of open space on that map. Granted, a lot of it I probably don't need to see, but there's quite a lot I do. And probably even more that I don't realize I need to see.

So probably not this year, but maybe next year?

Assuming travel outside the USA is even a possibility in 2021. Or there's a world left in 2021.

   

A Taste of the White Stuff

Posted on Friday, January 10th, 2020

Dave!Today was the second time this winter that we had snow dump down on our heads. The first time we had about 8 inches accumulate, but it eventually melted away. This time it's smaller flakes, but is accumulating nicely. Problem is that the forecast for tomorrow is sun, so it may very well be gone in short order.

This is not boding well for the snow pack in the mountains. We're currently running less than 70% of where we should be. Unless we get some serious snowfall soon it could means drought this summer. Which means the wildfires will be out of control. Which means we're boned.

I was happy to have the snow hold off until I was done traveling, but now Mother Nature needs to get to work. Bring on the white stuff.

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Caturday 142

Posted on Saturday, January 11th, 2020

Dave!I will never understand my cats.

Never.

After I returned from my travels a week ago, my cats were all over me. They wouldn't leave my side any time I was home. Jake and Jenny could not get enough of me and I was adored.

Until today.

But before I get to that, let's take a look at eight photos of them not being able to get enough of me...

Jake and Jenny laying in bed with me.

Jake on my bed peeking out from behind a blanket.

Jake curled up on my bed.

Jenny rubbing up next to me.

Jenny getting scratches from me.

Jenny getting more scratches from me.

Jake laying next to me curled up and looking up at me.

Jenny getting butt scratches in bed.

   
Tonight I was at the office working. I lost all track of time, so I didn't get home before Jake and Jenny's dinner alarm sounded. When I walked in the door seven minutes late, they were both sitting there waiting for me.

They were livid.

L-I-V-I-D-!

They ate their dinner and then, instead of coming into the living room to hang with me, they ran upstairs!

A couple hours later Jake finally came downstairs. After a while he hopped up on the couch next to me. Mostly so he could show me his ass...

Jake on the couch next to my legs with his ass pointing in my direction.

After making sure his butthole had been clearly presented, he lay down at my feet and threw his head down on my leg so he could look as forlorned as possible... his dinner was seven minutes late, and he was still devastated by the memory of it all. Devastated.

Jake curled up next to my legs with his head laying on my leg looking sad.

He went to sleep soon after.

Jake curled up asleep next to my legs.

I started talking to him so he would come lay on my lap and keep me company while I watched TV. He looked up at me... grunted... THEN TURNED AROUND AND WENT BACK TO SLEEP...

Jake curled up next to my legs sleeping but turned around so he's facing away from me.

Jenny is still upstairs not speaking to me.

So... gone for seven DAYS, cats can't get enough of me.

Seven MINUTES late for dinner and they are so mad they want nothing to do with me.

I will never understand my cats.

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Bullet Sunday 645

Posted on Sunday, January 12th, 2020

Dave!The world may be cold and bleak right now but there's a bit of warmth to be had, because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• WWDD? I am very late to the party with What Would Diplo DO? but am very glad that Hulu recommended it to me. James Van Der Beek plays a parody of real-life DJ Diplo and the result is some of the funniest television I've ever seen. I can't believe that Diplo signed off on this (as well as produced it). I hesitate to link to this (NSFW) trailer because the show is so much better than this would indicate, but here it is...

It seems impossible we haven't seen a second season since the show was originally released in 2017. Since there's only five episodes available (which I've already watched twice), I need more Diplo in my life.

   
• Deeply Faked. I was disappointed by The Irishman... everybody involved has done better work elsewhere and I was bored by it all. But I did watch it. And a big part of the movie is the fact that the story is told over a long period of time. So Netflix had to pony up a big chunk of money for computer FX to de-age the characters. It was done well enough that it wasn't distracting... nor did it stray too far into uncanny valley territory. But it wasn't terribly convincing either. Which is why I find the fact that some guy used free "deep fake" tools to do a much better job of it for zero dollar so amusing...

These are the same free tools that did a far superior job of replacing Superman's face after Henry Cavill couldn't shave his mustache for Justice League. I wonder how long until Hollywood gets smart about these tools. I also wonder how long before faked video is indistinguishable from authentic video... and how that's going to change the world. What happens when you can't tell what's real any more?

   
• HEADLINE: 32-year-old Medford man fighting severe flu case. I stopped getting the flu vaccine because it never seemed to make a difference. I started again when I became a granduncle because I wanted to take every possible precaution that I wouldn't get him sick. My doctor once asked me if I had gotten my flu shot and I told him that I stopped doing that. His reply? "Well, 50,000 people a year die from the flu, but it's your call." That didn't change my mind, but I see this story and what he said is stuck in my head. 32 years old. Man, I wish this poor guy the best of luck and hope he gets better soon. Get your flu vaccine, people. And if you want to know more about it, the CDC has a page for that.

   
• Front and Center. Holy cats! This $3 utility restores MacOS X window functionality so that clicking on one window will bring all windows for that app to the front. I have NO idea why Apple changed this behavior from all the MacOS's before X, but it drives me insane. And now it's BACK, baby. No idea how much I've missed this. 100% critical app.

   
• WAKANDA FOREVER! Yo, Marvel Studios... what is it going to take to get an M'Baku series on Disney+? The guy steals every single scene he's in! He lives in one of the most magical places on earth! He's a character everybody loves! Winston Duke is a cinematic treasure! It's like... how many pieces need to click together before you do what needs to be done? Is Kevin Feige asleep at the wheel?

And who wouldn't guest star in THAT piece of awesome? Black Panther? Shuri? Okoye? Nakia? They could all make an appearance. This is a show that's begging to be made.

   
And now for some hot chocolate.

   

Better Than Sliced Bread?

Posted on Monday, January 13th, 2020

Dave!When I got home from work I burned through thesecond season of Fleabag. Don't ask me why it took me this long to get around to it. Maybe it's because I didn't freak out over the first season like everybody I know did. Sure I liked it, but it wasn't better than sliced bread, I tell you what.

No, it's the second season of Fleabag that's better than sliced bread.

And speaking of better than sliced bread...

Nice to see that Marvel dumped some serious money into giving Black Widow the movie she deserves. Taskmaster is the perfect opponent, so something to look forward to (as if I weren't already).

   

Don’t Hold the Mustard

Posted on Tuesday, January 14th, 2020

Dave!Yesterday I ran to the grocery store to throw some money away on food. It never ceases to amaze me the cost of food nowadays. Every time I go shopping it seems like the prices have gone up. Ten items... $45, please.

One of the items I purchased was a bottle of spicy brown mustard.

To eat it.

Which, if you have known me for any length of time, is a surprising turn of events given that I spent the majority of my life hating mustard. Sure I've always got a bottle of that yellow stuff in my refrigerator for friends who come over for barbecue, but the only time I use it is as an ingredient for potato salad.

But then last month I had a Market Fresh Sandwich at Arby's and everything changed.

Let me back up a second there.

I don't usually buy Market Fresh Sandwiches at Arby's because I don't like having to pay for something I'm not eating. They don't have a cheese sandwich at Arby's, so I have to order the Roast Turkey & Swiss Market Fresh Sandwich and have them hold the turkey... AND DEFINITELY HOLD THE MUSTARD.

Except last month when I ordered I forgot to tell them to hold the mustard because it had been four or five months since I last had one.

The sandwich was incredible.

And it took me a minute to realize that the reason it was incredible was because there was mustard on it. I was dying to know what kind of mustard it was, so I went up to the counter and asked for an extra packet. But I didn't put it on my sandwich. I took it home so I could add it to my shopping list.

And so here we are.

Except the store didn't have spicy brown honey mustard like they use at Arby's so I had to buy regular spicy brown mustard and mix a touch of honey in.

A bottle of Gulden's spicy brown mustard.

Tonight for dinner I had a Swiss cheese sandwich with lettuce, tomato, mayo, onion, and the spicy brown mustard with honey. It was delicious, as I knew it would be. And now I am wondering what other things in life I need to try that I decided I don't like because they might be something that I actually like. Well, except cauliflower and broccoli. I know that shit hasn't gotten any better since childhood.

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The Catastrophic Failure We Deserve

Posted on Wednesday, January 15th, 2020

Dave!The plan was to meet a friend for dinner in nearby big city 20 minutes away. But it was pretty dark at 4:30 and snowing like crazy so I called to cancel. Turns out my friend had forgotten all about meeting up, so it was no harm no foul. Instead my dinner consisted of veggie hot dogs. Which was lame, but better than the bag of potato chips I had for lunch.

Though it's tough to feel too sorry for myself after I saw this video this morning...

Animals around the globe are having such a tough time of it... and people are not doing enough to help. Indeed, it seems so many of the problems animals face are due to humans in the first place. This kind of shortsightedness is incredibly depressing, and I can't help but wonder how close we are to catastrophic failure of our ecosystem.

Then we humans will be the ones having a very tough time of it.

And it will be fully deserved.

   

YOU GOT IT, MACGRUBER!

Posted on Thursday, January 16th, 2020

Dave!Ugh. NBC just released the details of their new "Peacock" streaming service and it's not good news for me.

I have been ditching online streaming services right and left in an attempt to save money. I've decided that I'm just going to rotate between them so I have no more than two active at a time. Hulu and Netflix are getting temporarily dumped in favor of CBS All Access so I can watch Picard later this month. Then it looks like I'm going to have to dump that when all the Picard episodes have aired so I can switch to NBC's "Peacock" service for Will Forte's new MacGruber series. I loved the shorts on Saturday Night Live and really loved the MacGruber movie, so there's no option for me to avoid "Peacock" as I had planned...

Will Forte as MacGruber wearing his trademark tan vest, plaid shirt, and sunglasses.

I hope hope hope that Kristen Wiig will at least do a guest-shot as Vicki St. Elmo on MacGruber... but she's got so much going on with movies and such that it's probably a long shot.

So let's take stock of where I'm at with paid streaming services, shall we?

✓ Fubo (My main service for television)
✓ Disney+ (Prepaid for three years)
✓ Apple TV+ (Free for a year)
✓ Amazon Prime (Free with Prime membership)
✓ HBO GO (Free with AT&T cellular plan)
• Netflix ($13/mo. when I need it)
• ABC Hulu ($6/mo. when I need it)
• CBS All Access ($6/mo. when I need it)
• NBC Peacock ($5/mo. when I need it, starting July)
• Sundance Channel Now ($5/mo. when I need it)
• Hallmark Now ($6/mo. when I need it, assuming they stop being bigoted assholes)

Such a load of crap. The pricing almost ensures that people will not keep their subscriptions year-round but will instead rotate between everything like I'll be doing. They would be a lot smarter to drop from $6 a month (average) which will likely net $18 from me annually to a pre-paid yearly plan of $40 which would get them double the revenue. But oh well. I'm sure there will eventually be some kind of shakeup and consolidation, because there are likely even more streaming services on the way.

The biggest losers? Cable and satellite companies who have fucked over their customers for decades by forcing expensive massive packages with channels people will never watch. Had they gone à la carte ages ago, they could have survived this. As it is? Good riddance.

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Cracking the Perfect Egg Bite

Posted on Friday, January 17th, 2020

Dave!Happy birthday to one of my favorite people on earth: BETTY WHITE! 98 years young! I've been a fan long before The Golden Girls... mostly thanks to appearances on The Tonight Show and reruns of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Anyway...

Today I finally finished a project I've been working on all year long (ha!), so I decided to leave a couple hours early so I could bake bread and do some cooking.

Namely, trying to figure out the perfect egg bite recipe.

There are dozens of recipes on the internet, possibly even hundreds. I've gone through a lot of them and have cooked many of them. Eventually I started experimenting on my own, combining recipes and adding my own ingredients.

Some things I've learned...

  • Green onions, purple onions, sweet onions, any kind of onions make the entire egg bite taste like onions. If that's your thing, go right ahead. I avoid avoid avoid.
  • Cottage cheese makes them more fall-apart, so I avoid it.
  • Most cheeses are too mild to have much impact. I eventually solved this by using SHARP Cheddar Cheese and spicy Queso Blanco (Totino's brand, which sucks for chips, works really well).
  • Bland egg bites are yuck, and most of my experimenting was trying to find a way to spice them up while still getting a good balance of flavor. Again, Queso Blanco was my solution.
  • Many of the recipes I found call for Greek yogurt (anywhere from two tablespoons to a quarter-cup). I didn't find it made a lot of difference, especially after I started going down the Queso Blanco route.

Which brings us to...

Dave's Spicy Egg Bites.
Start by dumping all this in a blender...

  • 3 Large Eggs (or 4 Egg Whites)
  • 1/4 cup Queso Blanco (plus 1-2 Tbs. extra, if you like added spice)
  • 1/2 cup Sharp Cheddar Cheese
  • 1 Tbs. Sour Cream
  • 1/4 tsp. Ground Black Pepper
  • 1 Tbs. Crumbled Feta Cheese (optional)
  • 1/8 tsp. Tabasco (optional)

Blend on medium speed until well-mixed. Then add...

  • 1/4 cup Red Peppers, diced into small pieces then heated in a microwave-safe bowl until they just start to brown. I cook for 1-1/2 minutes, stir, then cook for another 1-1/2 minutes. Your microwave may vary. Don't let them burn!
  • If you want ham or bacon in them, dump in a 1/4 to 1/2 cup of whatever. Be forewarned that a lot of extra stuff will cause the egg bites to fall apart easier.

Pulse-blend on slow just until mixed, don't pulverize the peppers!

Spray silicone egg cups with cooking spray (I know they say you don't have to, but they always stick if I don't). Evenly divide egg mixture amongst cups. Place a cup of water into the bottom of your instant pot then lower the silicone bite tray into the pot with the wire steam rack. Most recipes say to put a circle of foil on top of the egg tray so condensation doesn't drop onto the eggs. I don't bother.

I have an 8-quart Instant Pot. I have no idea if this makes a difference if you have the 6-quart, but I often have to increase cooking times from recipes I find. There are two ways I've tried to cook these things. There doesn't seem to be a big difference. I prefer to steam because they seem softer, but I am including the pressure-cook version which also works...

  • STEAM: Cook on STEAM-HIGH for 15 minutes. Quick-release. Cool/deflate for 5 minutes, then gently pop or scoop out of the cups.
  • PRESSURE COOK: Cook on PRESSURE-LOW for 10 minutes. Natural-release for 5 minutes, then quick-release. Cool/deflate for 5 minutes, then gently pop or scoop out of the cups.

Egg Bites on a plate with one cut in half to show the red peppers inside.

If you don't eat all of them, you can put them back in the silicone egg cups and use the provided plastic lid to store them in the refrigerator for a few days. I just pop them on a microwave-safe plate, cut in half, then cook for 30 seconds to warm them.

If you're not going keto you can chop them up and eat them on toast, which is my most favorite way to eat them. Also delicious? Chop up, mix with crispy hash brown potatoes and more cheese, put in a steamed flour tortilla with salsa.

These are pretty good stuff, if I do say so myself, and it's the Queso Blanco which ended up being the key. I didn't find it on any recipe I dug up, which is strange. Adding it seems obvious, it was the other factors that took a lot of time to figure out (I wasted many a batch with different onions and cottage cheese until I got rid of them completely).

I'll keep experimenting and post any changes if I find out they work better.

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Caturday 143

Posted on Saturday, January 18th, 2020

Dave!Earlier this week before going to work I was in the kitchen packing a lunch when I saw the lights in the dining room turn on. This was strange because that set of lights isn't programmed to turn on until 30 minutes before sunset. I was about to tell Alexa to turn them back off when they went off on their own.

What is going on here?

I head into the dining room and... there it is... Jenny is turning the lights on and off.

Jenny sitting on a shelf by the light switch.

Jenny turning on the lights in the dining room.

This was not an accident. She's done it twice since then. I don't know if it's fun for her... or she likes the beep that the smart switch makes... or it's her way of getting attention... or what. At first I was just going to de-program the switch. But then I though "why?" Let her have her fun. If it becomes a problem, I'll just deal with it then.

Also this week I set up a security camera in my bedroom to see if Jake is actually sleeping at my feet all night long. It just seemed impossible given all my tossing and turning. But, yep, he sure does. Not only that, but I am not tossing and turning nearly as much as I usually do. I wonder if my cat buddy is responsible? Seems likely. Previous times I've recorded myself to see how I'm sleeping I'm like a maniac.

Speaking of sleeping with cats...

Jenny will fall asleep next to me... so long as I am petting her the entire time. The minute I stop one of two things will happen: 1) Cry until I start petting her again if she hasn't had enough, or 2) Leave if she has. What's weird is that if I am asleep, she will leave. Neither of my cats will wake me up. Last night I was so sick that I couldn't sleep. I went to bed at 10:00pm and watched television and pet Jenny until 2:00am at which time I couldn't take it any more and went downstairs for sleeping pills. Jenny was gone when I got back.

I took a photo of her every 20 minutes. She doesn't move a lot...

Four images of Janny sleeping

Four images of Janny sleeping

Four images of Janny sleeping

I'm willing to bet that had I kept petting her, she would have slept there until the breakfast alarm rang!

Before I sign off this fine Caturday, I ran across this photo last night and it absolutely slayed me. It's adorable times a hundred...

It's also genius. I'd credit the guy for his fantastic photo if I knew who he was. Obviously he's quite the cat lover, as his awesome wardrobe attests.

Until next week... same cat-time, same cat-blog.

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Bullet Sunday 646

Posted on Sunday, January 19th, 2020

Dave!I'm still sick and dying, but the show must go on, because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• HDR. I've had a 4K AppleTV since the day it was released. The 4K part isn't a massive improvement over 1080 because my television isn't big enough (or rather I'm not sitting close enough) for it to make a big difference. When I get up close, fine details do look also nice... especially fine lines like strands of hair and the like. And so I just left the settings to the default of 4K because my TV can do that. Sometimes if it's a really beautiful movie that's being displayed in 4K I'll pull up a chair so I can see all the incredible detail up close. In discussing this, I was told that the default 4K is in Standard Dynamic Range and I should check to see if my television can display High Dynamic Range. A quick look at the specs and... my television CAN display HDR. I thought my AppleTV was already set to HDR, but I went into my AppleTV settings and, sure enough, it was set to SDR instead. So I made a quick comparison by switching back and forth while watching Captain Marvel. SUCH A HUGE DIFFERENCE!

HDR/SDR comparison.

The glow when Captain Marvel uses her powers alone is worth the switch. But where it really makes a difference is in the black levels. Any time people are in shadow you can see much more subtlety in their presence. Even more important, Agent Fury and Maria Rambeau's gorgeous skin tone is far better defined and doesn't get lost when they're in shadow. Just watch the scene where Fury and Carol are washing dishes and you'll see what a difference it makes... far more of a difference than going from 1080 to 4K. Another movie that just luxuriates in HDR? Blade Runner 2049. If you've got a television that can display HDR, then that's the most important setting you can make.

NOTE: The Marvel movies are not... I repeat NOT... in 4K or HDR if you purchase them on iTunes. You have to watch via a different app which has them in Ultra-High-Def HDR. If you purchased with MoviesAnywhere, you're good. The Disney+ app looks like it's HDR, but I haven't done a lot of testing.

NOTE: The "Movies" app on AppleTV stupidly does not seem to tell you when movies are encoded in HDR. You have to look them up on the shitty AppleTV desktop app on a computer to know that. So lame.

NOTE: Just to say... I've been running through the movie purchases I have which are in HDR and the picture quality is stunning. Even movies like Crazy Rich Asians which don't seem like they would be affected have a delicious richness to them. Seriously, wow.

NOTE: After watching a while, I am relatively confident that the AppleTV app for Disney+ is showing 4K HDR. Yay! So even if you only own the crappier iTunes versions, you can still watch in HDR with Disney+, I guess. Boy is Thor: Ragnarok disappointing. I thought once they got to Sakaar the color would be off the hook. Alas, not as often as you'd think, just in certain scenes. But the lightsaber fight in Star Wars: The Force Awakens nice.

   
• Reprisal. I suspended Netflix a couple weeks back, now I've also suspended Hulu so I can reactivate CBS All Access for ten weeks to watch Picard (unless CBS is a total dick and skip weeks like they've done with Discovery, the assholes). For the two days left I've got Hulu I've been watching it non-stop to get my money's worth. The last show I had on my list to watch was Reprisal...

A cross between all those revenge movies and Sons of Anarchy, this show is one of the most drawn-out, uneventful, dull, and overall boring series you'll ever see. Long stretches where absolutely nothing happens. Characters that have loads of screen time yet are somehow one-dimensional. There's also moments of real stupid which pad runtime just because there were ten episodes to fill. And yet... it was a fascinating, stylish, twisty, interesting ride that accelerated to the finish line. And had some great moments. I don't regret watching it. I do regret that I spent so much time watching it. So if you've got time to kill, here's a show to check out. You'll need to tough it out those first five episodes though.

   
• Kindness. It's not that difficult, really. If you can't be supportive of people living their best life at zero cost to you, you can at least be kind. So be kind. Offer kindness to those who are being treated unkindly. Stand against those who are treating others unkindly. As a fellow human, it’s the very least we can do.

   
Dave!
• Dietary Sadness. Quaker rice cakes are a staple of my diet. I love them. They are high in carbs (7g to 11g ea.), but it's a far better option for dessert than say... three Chips Ahoy cookies (22g) or your average cupcake (40g). I have a Plain or White Cheddar or Popcorn cake with my lunch and a flavored cake with my dinner for dessert. My favorite for dessert, by a wide margin, is Caramel Chocolate Chip. Except you can't get them any more. You have to choose either Caramel or Chocolate. Caramel Chocolate Chip has been replaced by Tomato Basil.

I decided to try them and I can't make up mystery mind. The first bite and I'm like "Tastes like crackers in tomato soup!" The second and I'm like "Tastes like pizza sauce!" Then things start to go wrong. The flavor powder accumulates on your taste buds and suddenly it's awful for some reason. I am so very, very sad that my Caramel Chocolate Chip rice cakes are gone.

   
• Pantone. There is beauty to be found in diversity. And this is amazing.

   
• Help. And before I go... I read this week that there's now a hotline specifically for caregivers... "Depression. Exhaustion. Burnout. Stress. Those are just some of the words people are using to describe their experiences as caregivers. Helping care for a family member or loved one can be hard work. People don't often talk about the emotional toll it can take on the actual caregiver. Now the Caregiver Action Network is trying to provide help by launching a hotline specifically for caregivers." — Had this existed, there were days I would have totally called this number.

   
And now... probably time for a nap considering I'm about to pass out anyway.

   

Tiny Cat House Living

Posted on Monday, January 20th, 2020

Dave!Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day! Technically I have the day off but, given how behind I am at work (something not helped by being sick this past weekend), I really didn’t have the day off.

Yesterday afternoon I had somebody float the idea of creating a tiny house community. After ten seconds of thought, I decided I liked the idea. As I get older I am trying to rid myself of all my possessions so that cleaning up after me when I’m gone won’t be so much a burden. What better way to get rid of 90% of your stuff than to move into a place where there’s no room for it? Assuming a location existed where I could find work, I’d build my tiny house, drive it there, then set up until retirement. After I retire (assuming I get to retire) I can drive my home to wherever I want to end up.

Tiny house living might be a great option for me. Assuming I could find one which has a ground floor bedroom so I’m not having to climb up to a loft each night when I’m 90 years old (knock on wood).

Except...

What about Jake and Jenny?

Tiny house living with cats seems an almost impossible idea. For one thing, I think they’d go crazy if they were confined to a small space for extended periods. As it is now, they like to run all over the place and cutting down their room to roam by such a huge amount would be cruel, wouldn’t it?

And then there’s the smell of their litter boxes. I have Litter-Robots which actually do a pretty good job of containing smells, but that’s when there’s 1,800 square feet for it to dissipate. What happens in 240 square feet?

And so... I guess perhaps tiny house living isn’t such a great option for me after all.

And then last night I got to thinking... unless... what if the tiny house was built from the ground up with cats in mind?

An hour later I had roughed out an idea in Chief Architect Home Designer.

  • The home is single-level for humans... but the addition of an upper “catwalk” for the cats gives them far more space to wander.
  • Perhaps running a steel pipe underneath the entirely of the catwalk would give me a place to hang clothes in my bedroom, pots and pans in the kitchen, and a place to dry clothes after washing in the living room? No closet required! Just put bins underneath a flip-up mattress on the bed for storage of things which don’t hang.
  • To handle the Litter-Robots, why not build a ventilated loft for them? Between the robots keeping the smell to a minimum and cat-flap barriers to keep any residual smell contained, this is totally doable. You’d have to use incline-steps (which lower from the ceiling) for the once-per-week changing of the bags and twice-annual scrubbing, but if the bed flips up, there’s plenty of room for that.
  • A removable “catio” that bolts to the back side of the unit adds even more room for the cats to have access and allows them outside time. Just unbolt to make the house street-legal when you move it, then bolt back on when you arrive.
  • So many designs have the bathroom at one of the ends. This seems such a waste of potential window space! I’d rather have the bathroom in the middle and have nice big windows on the ends!
  • 99% of the time I eat on the couch while watching TV. No need to build a separate dining area, I’ll just create a fold-out table when I need it.
  • A couch which converts to a bed for guests isn’t as nice as a dedicated guest room, but it would work in a pinch.

And here we are. Note that I don't know how to make a slant-roof in Home Designer, but that's the kind I would definitely use on this so the snow would slide off. It just has to be tall enough at the front-side for the Litter-Robots, and could slant towards the back no problem. Cat's don't need more than 18"-20" to run around...

A rendering of my Tiny House plan.

Also not shown... wheels. The entire thing would be built on a trailer bed so it's movable.

Here's the back side with the catio attached. Note that Jake and Jenny would access the catio from a door in their loft...

A fenched walkway and cat enclosure attached to the back of my Tiny House.

Here you can see the upper track for the cats leading to the ventilated loft where their Litter-Robots would be located...

A walkway for the cats runs all around my Tiny House.

Here you can see how the Litter-Robots would be accessed from a door in the bedroom. An incline staircase would be lowered from the ceiling, the bed would be flipped up, and the staircase would attach beneath the door. You can also see how there are stairs leading up to the cat track (just as there are in the living room)...

A walkway for the cats runs all around my Tiny House.

You can see the vents in the cat loft here. I'd think that I'd probably get some near-silent, slow-moving fans to install in each. That would help keep small flying bugs which might get past the screen from entering while keeping any smells blowing outside...

A cutaway view of my Tiny House showing the vents in the cat loft.

Tiny houses are, well, tiny. There's no getting around it. I would likely have to build a small shed that I could transport with me to hold stuff I don't use that often but want to have handy. I still love the idea of a metal pipe hanging under the upper catwalk so I can hang stuff from it. As you can see from this render of the living room, there's plenty of room for it. Note that the catwalk has windows all the way around so Jake and Jenny can look out everywhere and not feel so confined...

Looking up at the catwalk in the living room.

A view from the catwalk in the bedroom for looking down at the unsuspecting human sleeping there...

Looking down at the bed from the catwalk.

The bathroom features a full-size toilet, vanity, cabinet, medicine cabinet, good-size tiled shower, plus a closet for electronics and a water supply (plus small water heater)...

In my Tiny House bathroom.

In the kitchen I prioritized a good-sized refrigerator/freezer, a micro-convection oven, range top, and a decent-sized sink. You can see the "stairs" for the cats to access their catwalk here on the left...

Looking towards my Tiny House kitchen.

Here's the blueprints. You can click on them to embiggen...

Tiny House blueprints.

The best part? $80-$100K and you're done. Assuming there's space where you want to live, you'll never have to buy another house. You can just take it with you.

And it's not so bad, really! I mean, sure I'd rather have a proper-sized house... but if that's not possible, I could certainly live like this. And I'm pretty sure that since it was designed to keep cats happy, they could live like this as well.

One of these days when I have some free time, I'll have to figure out how to slant the roof and add scratching posts and stuff. Fun times. Fun times.

   

A Dream of Doing Nothing

Posted on Tuesday, January 21st, 2020

Dave!I have been killing myself with work since October. Day and night I've been working on projects. Then I flew to a work site in Maine, flew back, and went right back to non-stop work again at the 1st of the year. Finally, as of Friday I turned in the last critical deadline project and can relax a bit.

But relaxing was apparently a mistake, because now I am sick, sick, sick.

All the adrenaline that was keeping me going is gone, so now I've got nothing left. I guess getting sick is my body's way of forcing me to take a break? Probably.

What I really need is a vacation. But one where I don't have to go anywhere or do anything.

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QNAP if You’re NASty

Posted on Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020

Dave!For years now... a decade really... I've been experimenting with setting up a personal NAS (Network Attached Storage) media server that's connected to the internet. There are a lot of reasons I'd like to have such a thing, but the big one is that I want to be able to access my vast photo library from anywhere on earth. If I'm in Germany and want to show a friend a photo of the Hard Rock Cafe Yokohama (something that actually happened) it would be great if I could do that. Sure I have the option of paying for a photo service, but then I have to convert all my images from RAW format and lose the ability to access/edit the original photo remotely if I want to.

So I purchased a 1 Terabyte single-drive, internet-enabled "WD My Book Studio" NAS back in 2010 with that in mind. Everything ended up being a total mess and didn't work at all like I was hoping. It's been sitting in a drawer ever since.

Fast forward to 2019 and I decided to try again. I used money I had saved in 2014 for a trip to Norway's fjords with my mom (that we never got around to taking) and purchased a QNAP TS415+ NAS and two Western Digital 8 Terabyte RED drives to put in it. The drives are mirrored in a RAID configuration so I don't lose any data if one of them dies. Note that there's a television remote. That's because this model has an HDMI port so it can hook up directly to a television...

Today I finally set it all up. It was fairly straightforward, though not the most user-friendly thing to do. It spent hours doing a "RAID resync" (whatever the hell that is), which makes zero sense. The drives were empty and freshly formatted. How can it take over 24 hours to "resync" NOTHING? Note that QNAP doesn't bother with beta testing their apps. If they did, somebody might have noticed that the displayed percentage overwrites the text label, making it tough to read its progress...

Before you can do anything, you have to set up a "Storage Pool" from your drives. I maxed my pool out at 100% of my available drive space, because why only use part of your drives? QNAP is pretty brain-dead when you choose to do this... it will endlessly pester you with alerts because it defaults to a threshold of 80% usage. Insanity. If somebody sets their pool to 100% of drive space, why not ask if you want to disable the threshold alerts? I had to do it manually. Sadly, after setting things up, my 8TB mirrored drive resulted in only 7.1TB of space available. No idea what happened to nearly a FULL TERABYTE of storage (this seems high for overhead), but whatever.

Anyway...

Rather than have to install a third-party app, I decided to give the QNAP "Qmedia" app a try on my AppleTV since it's the "native" application from QNAP. It is complete and total shit. Despite "pretending" to remember where you left off when viewing videos, it doesn't. You can't even fast-forward the video you're watching, which is mind-blowing. I have no fucking idea why they even bothered. Qmedia is useless.

I'd rather not have to switch television video input sources from my AppleTV every time I want to watch something off the NAS, but apparently that's going to be how this goes. So I grabbed the QNAP remote and went for it. First I had to install an app (of course) but no big deal. Then I actually tried to use the thing and it's a total clusterfuck. The "VideoStation" app is just a fucking web browser interface. It's difficult to read because it's not sized for a television. It's impossible to use with the included remote because the remote doesn't do anything. You have to plug in a mouse and keyboard to make it work.

There's an "HD Player" app that looks like it's geared more towards television displays and using the remote control but it's fucking useless too, having many of the same problems as Qmedia. It goes non-responsive constantly, doesn't allow fast-forwarding (pressing the up arrow to skip forward is not the same thing), starts at the beginning of a video even if you tell it to resume from where you stopped, has a shitty interface that makes sorting through a large number of videos a nightmare, has crap video quality that you can't adjust for brightness or anything else, and is an overall steaming pile of fail.

I swear, QNAP is the most ridiculous fucking company. Why bother to make claims of being a multimedia center that can connect directly to your television if it does THIS shitty of a job of it? The whole thing is a fucking joke.

Fortunately there's plenty of options for serving your media from a NAS if it has a computer onboard like the TS451+ does. The "big two" are Kodi and Plex. Kodi is open source and free. Plex is free, but you can support the project by paying to subscribe to "Plex Pass" for additional features (like being able to download media on your phone for local playback instead of streaming it). Most people I know who started on Kodi ended up with Plex, so I just skipped a step and installed Plex Server on my NAS.

For what it is, Plex Server is pretty sweet. It transcodes just about anything you throw at it. Including the RAW Digital Negative photo format from Adobe (DNG) that I use. Which means I don't have to save out JPEGs in order to access my photo library remotely. Nice! I need to work on settings for this, however, because Plex compresses things pretty heavily for transmission. This results in some ugly visual artifacts, banding, and color shifts...

A visual comparison of an original photo of a sunset vs. the version Plex serves up.

Video works brilliantly from Plex BECAUSE YOU CAN ACTUALLY FUCKING FAST FORWARD THROUGH IT ON APPLE TV! Plex does a really good job of cataloging it as well. Thank heavens, because I'd light my QNAP NAS on fire if I had to suffer through their shitty apps. The only problem I've run across is having the video stop and tell me that my connection isn't fast enough, which is absurd because AppleTV is literally plugged into the same high-speed hub as the NAS! There must be some kind of setting for that I'm missing. Fortunately, it's a rare event.

I don't steal media. All the movies and television shows I have are on DVD/Blu-Ray or purchased on Digital. Well, with two exceptions... Cupid (the Jeremy Piven original) and Oh Grow Up! (one of my favorite shows of all time)... are not available to purchase. Lord only knows I wish they were, because my digitized versions of VHS tapes are really poor quality. I've used Vudu's Disc-To-Digital service to convert the bulk of my DVD/Blu-Ray collection to Digital legally. But not all of my stuff is available for conversion. Now I have the option of ripping them to the NAS and viewing them digitally no matter where I am via Plex Server. Technically, any time you break the protection on a DVD you are breaking the law, but that's a bullshit law. I would happily pay to convert them to digital if the studio who owns them would allow them to be converted. What I'm not going to do is buy the same movie all over again. Fuck that. I already paid for it, I should get to pay a small fee for a new format, not have to buy it all over again. And so... I have a small collection of DVDs ripped to my NAS temporarily until the studio allows them to be converted and I can pay for that. Plex does a great job of streaming from my living room to remote locations in HD. No, the video quality is not as good as what comes off of iTunes... especially if the iTunes version is 4K... but it's plenty good enough for my iPad or iPhone. I'm sure if I didn't have tons of security cameras flooding my bandwidth I could set the quality higher, but it's really not necessary.

Music streaming (local and remote) is handled quite well through Plex, and my SONOS system can address Plex directly. This means I can download all my music from iTunes, put it on the NAS, then drop iTunes Music Match and iTunes itself with no problem.

And so... bravo Plex.

I'm going to try out "Plex Pass" for a month and see if I want to upgrade to the lifetime membership for $120. Something tells me that's a purchase I will end up making. I certainly can't do without Plex if my alternative is the QNAP crap.

UPDATE: Yeah. Easiest decision to make to get the Plex Pass... the apps for streaming are included and you're helping the team behind it to keep developing the app.

So okay... the QNAP multimedia is bullshit. What about the NAS itself? Well, I'd love to report on that, but the minute I login, it either immediately disconnects me...

Make sure the NAS can be reached and refresh the page!

...or it allows me in but gives me a shitload of error messages. My favorite? Telling me it's running out of memory. If 2GB is not enough memory to do even the most basic tasks, then why ship with just 2GB memory? QNAP has their own version of Microsoft "Clippy" to break the bad news, which is a weird choice...

QNAP Robot Assistant

Even better? If you choose "optimize" he does a happy dance when he recovers 0MB of memory! Once I can log in again, I'll turn off and uninstall absolutely everything except the bare minimum I need (which includes Plex Server, of course), so I'm hoping that will fix these problems.

My NAS can act as a Time Machine backup for my Mac, but I really don't need that any more. All my data is stored in the cloud, so the only thing that would need to be replaced on my MacBook if it were destroyed are the apps, which I can just download from the developer again.

QNAP provides Apple File Services so I can access my NAS over my local network easily. Weirdly enough, you are required to install Windows File Services in order to install Apple File Services, but (luckily) you can kill the Windows File Services after installation to save precious memory and everything seems to work fine.

Speaking of memory... QNAP is happy to sell you more, but they charge outrageous pricing for the stuff. I mean laughably outrageous pricing. Far better to buy it yourself (which I'm guessing I'll have to do sometime soon if killing apps don't work).

Remote management and access to my files is a breeze thanks to QNAP's tools and a service they call CloudLink. The NAS talks with QNAP so even though its IP address may change, you can still reach it with no trouble.

And so...

  • I fucking hate the fact that QNAP doesn't really work as a media center as advertised. THAT'S WHY I PAID EXTRA FOR THIS MODEL!
  • Their video apps are worthless garbage that can't even do rudimentary shit like fast forward video.
  • They don't include enough memory to do even basic tasks.
  • Their HDMI television output can not be altered for settings like brightness, contrast, color, etc., which is no big deal considering it's fucking useless without decent apps for it anyway.
  • The included remote control doesn't control shit. And what it can control is garbage and doesn't work.
  • Their web interface is brain-dead idiocy that confuses even the most simple things.
  • Nothing about operation of the QNAP unit is even remotely intuitive. Nothing is easy to find and the byzantine menu system is difficult to use. The fact that they don't have an abstraction interface for moderately-experienced users makes zero sense. They ONLY want to serve the professional market? How strange.

I am still relatively new to the QNAP TS451+ NAS and the Western Digital RED drives, so I can't comment much about them. I can say that Western Digital are the only brand of hard drive that hasn't disappointed me so I'm hoping that trend continues. Also, despite the shitty media center aspects and overly-difficult controls, QNAP is highly respected in the IT industry. I just wouldn't bother paying extra for an HDMI port and remote that you will probably never use because their software is shit. Put that money towards a Plex Pass where it will do some good.

   

Star Trek: Reboot

Posted on Thursday, January 23rd, 2020

Dave!I am a massive fan of the original Star Trek series. And the original cast movies too.

I did not like Star Trek: The Next Generation because it was just so boring. Aside from an occasional good episode, the lack of conflict on the ship and Gene Roddenberry's "new vision for the future" was a massive downgrade from where he started. Then Star Trek: Deep Space Nine came along and, while beloved by critics and fans, was somehow worse. Odo the non-shape-changing shape-changing alien? Quark comic relief? The Prophets? I mean, sure there was Avery Brooks, but holy crap. AND THEN, just when I thought things couldn't possibly get worse... Star Trek: Voyager. I was totally excited for it. At first. Enemies on the same ship? CONFLICT! Biomechanical ship? COOL! Stranded across the galaxy where survival is a constant struggle and no allies in sight? EXCITING! But then they ended up doing the same old Next Generation shit all over again and boring the heck out of me. Star Trek: Enterprise was a step in the right direction, but they burdened it with a "Temporal Cold War" that was a boat-anchor tied to the show in a horrible way.

Naturally, when CBS announced they were coming out with Star Trek: Discovery, I was skeptical. The cast was amazing (seriously amazing) and they looked to be doing something new, but the ship looked like shit and the early previews with engine spores and stuff looked like crap.

Boy was I wrong.

The first season of Discovery was phenomenal.

The performances and characters were incredible. The stories were cool as all getout. And the "big twist" was about the best thing to come out of Star Trek in decades. I loved just about everything about it. Critics said it "wasn't Star Trek" and hated on it terribly. This made me laugh my ass off, because it was easily the most "Star Trek" thing to happen since the original series! People who said it "wasn't Star Trek" were saying it wasn't "NEXT GENERATION Star Trek." Which, of course, was my favorite thing about it. The second season wasn't as good, but it was still worth watching.

And now there's Star Trek: Picard...

Star Trek: Picard movie poster with Picard at his vineyard with his dog as the sun sets.

Obviously I was not enthusiastic about the continuation of a show which I feel is the point Star Trek went terribly wrong. I like Patrick Stewart... like him a lot... but more Star Trek: Next Generation was not something I was interested in. Paying extra for CBS All Access to see it was the nail in the coffin. Except... I read more than a couple interviews with Patrick Stewart and other people working on the show who promised that it was not going to be more of the same old thing. They were doing something new.

Well, sign me up! Even though I was certain it was going to suck.

Boy was I wrong.

First of all, Patrick Stewart is phenomenal in this. He's playing up the age of his character rather than trying to act like he's twenty years younger. Second of all, my mind was completely turned around when Picard said the words "Starfleet was no longer Starfleet!"

Finally somebody understands what the show needs to be interesting. The story being set up feels like it's going to be entertaining. The cast they've assembled is great. The guest-stars from the old new generation seem like they will be used to good effect. And, oh yeah, the special effects are fantastic...

I have high hopes that the talent behind the show have an ending that's going to be worth it all.

CBS sure seems to think so... they renewed the show for a second season AND invited Whoopi Goldberg back, who's "Guinan" is one of the most interesting characters to come out of the old new generation. So fingers crossed.

Something else that was new today? Jay & Silent Bob Reboot...

Jay and Silent Bob Reboot movie poster.

I'm a huge fan of Kevin Smith's "Askewniverse" films... Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Clerks II, and (to a lesser degree), Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back. And now we're getting the sequel, Jay & Silent Bob Reboot. To me it was a mixed bag. Sure it was great seeing all the characters again and it was pretty funny in spots (though a lot of the humor relies on the viewer having seen all the previous films), but it's almost reached a parody of the parody it was parodying and priority is put on famous cameos and injecting his wife and daughter into things rather than humor, insightful commentary on pop culture, and the characters that made me love the movies so much.

I was glad I saw the movie (worth the $10 price tag), but couldn't help but think that half of it was wasted. I am really, really hoping that Smith goes back to form with Clerks III instead of sabotaging himself again.

Kevin Smith needs to Picard himself instead of giving up more Voyager.

   

Cat House Tiny Two

Posted on Friday, January 24th, 2020

Dave!It's funny how something can start out as a lark but snowball into something else entirely.

On Monday I wrote about how the tiny house craze might not work with me having cats, then designed a tiny home with cats in mind. The friend who asked me how I felt about tiny house communities posted my plans to a tiny house forum and, next thing you know, I've got a list of ideas from people who might actually want to attempt something like this!

As I had mentioned, I started with the idea of having a ventilated loft for the Litter-Robot litter boxes. The idea being that foul odors will tend to accumulate more easily in a tiny house, and it's better to plan for that from the start. Everything else just kinda fell into place.

There were some really, really good suggestions passed my way.

The biggest was that since I have a cat walk going all the way around the interior, I might as well add some storage underneath. I was also told that while I might not mind eating on the couch, a guest might feel otherwise, and it would be good to have a dining area... even if it was all collapsible.

And so... this morning while eating my Corn Flakes, I took the ideas that people had and revised my tiny house idea.

To make room for the dining table and add a window so you're not staring at a wall while you eat, I built cat "stairs" on the back of the door and added a pole so cats could climb up if they wanted to... along with small storage cupboards below the catwalk...

My tiny home interior, showing a dining nook with a table and chairs.

My tiny home interior, showing cat stairs and a climbing pole to the catwalk.

And here it is from above. Having a "catwalk" adds a lot of space for cats, and I changed the litter box loft so that they can access from both sides now, which would avoid congestion with more than one cat...

My tiny home interior, showing catwalk from above.

One person who was most enthusiastic about my plans asked if his-and-her closets could be added rather than hanging clothes everywhere. That sounded like a great idea, so I added closets (extending the home from 30' to 34') and also added corner shelving to the bedroom. Note that there are also cat stairs on the back of this door as well...

My tiny home bedroom now with closets!

Plus dual poles in the corners so cats can climb up to the catwalk that way if they prefer...

My tiny home bedroom now with poles in the back corners!

I had to switch from barn doors to actual doors for the bathroom to accommodate the cat stairs, but I actually like that better. I thought that barn doors would be better because you wouldn't be opening the door into somebody but, hey, people can be careful. PLUS... now that I think about it, there's no reason the doors to the bathroom/passthrough couldn't open inward which would solve everything. There's definitely enough room for both doors to do that. Hmmmm...

My tiny home bedroom now with poles in the back corners!

And here's the updated main floor plan with the dining table, closets, shelves, storage, and catwalk access poles and stairs (click to embiggen)...

Tiny House blueprints.

Note that the bathroom is slightly larger because I was told my electronics/water-tank closet was not big enough. Now it's plenty big enough for that and maybe some linens and towels! And now that I think about that... perhaps the washer/dryer unit would be better in the bathroom so the water tank and electronics were closer to the shower and kitchen sink. Nifty!

This was a really fun project! I may continue to tweak it as new ideas occur to me.

A pity I don't have millions of dollars laying around so I could buy a chunk of land for a tiny house community and actually build the thing. But who knows? Maybe somebody with money who wants to try tiny cat house living might take the idea and run with it?

   

Caturday 144

Posted on Saturday, January 25th, 2020

Dave!I've had to pull a chip bag off of Jake's head more than a couple times. Usually they are the "Big Grab" size, and once that goes on his head it don't want to come off! I have to chase him around the house until I can pull it off. Poor Jake.

The larger bags are easier for him to get out of. Unless I cut them down when they are near empty. Then he can get his head stuck in there while digging for crumbs, no problem. Earlier this week he got his head stuck but I was able to pull it off right away. I thought he had learned his lesson, but here he is at it again...

Jake sticking his head in a potato chip bag.

Until... he stopped short of sticking his head all the way in and started digging with his paw to pull the chips out of the bag...

Jake fishing for chips with his paw in a potato chip bag.

He knocked it on the floor, spilling crumbs. I was going to go toss it in the garbage, but he was learning something and so I put it back...

Jake fishing for chips with his paw in a potato chip bag.

Sure enough, he fishes a chip out of the bag so it falls on the floor and he can eat it...

Jake fishing for chips with his paw in a potato chip bag.

Jake fishing for chips with his paw in a potato chip bag.

And speaking of Jake...

He's not content to sleep next to me at night any more... he wants to sleep ON TOP OF ME now. This shot is him on my back. It was tough to take because my arm is twisting back with my iPhone...

Jake laying on top of me as I try to sleep.

It's easier when he lays on my chest...

Jake laying on top of me as I try to sleep.

Jenny is still being Jenny. She's incredibly smart. She's deviously clever. She's wonderfully . And she's also inexplicably weird at times. I've seen her jump down seven feet without even batting an eye. But earlier this week she hopped up 30 inches into one of my jean cubbies and somehow felt stuck. She cried until I got out of bed and helped her out...

Jenny sitting in a small cubical shelf crying.

Jenny sitting in a small cubical shelf crying.

She's a cat alright.

Until next week's adventure...

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Bullet Sunday 647

Posted on Sunday, January 26th, 2020

Dave!I may be ankle-deep in sawdust, but here I am... because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• Push Back. The impeachment trial is absurd. There is overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing in a number of areas, and it's clear the president is exploiting his office for personal gain at every possible opportunity. But because Republicans in The Senate are 100% willing to enable his abhorrent behavior, he's going to remain in office. Which is why This post from Dan Rather is so important. "As many of us focus on the news out of Washington, let us not forget on these cold, winter nights, many are struggling with hunger and hopelessness. There are the lonely, the homeless, the sick, and scared. Service to others is a way to push back at the cynicism of our times."

   
• TEMPORARY! OH MAN! TIME TO STOCK UP MY FREEZER! YOU SIMPLY CANNOT BEAT THESE SAVINGS!!!

Mission Street Taco pricing... regular $1.89, NOW JUST $1.88!!!

As I've made known many, many times, I rarely buy anything at the grocery store that's not on sale. I build my meals around what I can find that's inexpensive. I very nearly grabbed these for taco night until I was like "Wait a minute! Aren't these usually about $2?!?" Stores are pretty devious. They expect people will grab something on sale without looking for how much it's on sale.

   
• Dance Dance Dance. A new bird has been discovered. It's feathers are like a black hole, absorbing most light. This results in a very cool mating dance you gotta see...

It's amazing that we keep discovering new animals as scores of others are going extinct.

   
• Scraps. It's hard to complain about working on the weekend when I get to set up my wood shop and build displays! I cut the pieces for a rack display I will assemble tomorrow, and now I am building a half-dozen little fruit-crate-inspired booklet displays. They will have a small standee sitting next to them with info and pricing...

Wooden display stands for small booklets.

As thrifty as I am for my own projects, I've doubly so when spending money for work. The stands had to be heavy so they wouldn't move... and deep so they wouldn't tip over. I made the tray part look nice, then used whatever scraps I had laying around for the back-stops since they don't show. Works like a charm, and they ended up costing a whopping $2.20 each. =sigh= Designing and building displays is the best part of my job. Wish I got to do more of it.

   
• Peanut Hell. Killing time until 10:00 so I can fire up the power tools... I'm watching SNL from last night with Adam Driver. The cold open takes place in hell where Flo from the Progressive Insurance commercials is visiting. She sold her soul to the devil so she could be on television forever. THEN can you guess what commercial comes on? Just guess! I hope that was planned and SNL contacted Progressive to have it happen, because that's genius.

Flo from Progressive in hell with Mr. Peanut and the guy who rote Baby Shark song in a Saturday Night Live sketch.

In other news... POOR MR. PEANUT! Guess he shouldn't have killed all those kids with peanut allergies!

   
• Art. I recently read a Facebook post by Rachael Eliot Barker that's so important to me that I am reprinting it in its entirety...

"Recently, there was a dust-up over The Comedian, a piece in which Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan taped a banana to the wall of a gallery and sold it for $120,000. A gallery patron made additional news by pulling the banana off the wall and eating it. Interviews made it clear that everyone involved was trolling. The saga was catnip to people who believe that conceptual art is full of shit.

Maurizio Cattelan is clearly full of shit, but his work begs the question: could an artist ever walk into a gallery with some snacks, say 'This may look like something I picked up at the bodega on the way here, but it is in fact my Art, behold my Art,' and NOT be full of shit?

In my opinion, the answer is yes.

My opinion is heavily informed by this 1991 piece by Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) is a pile of free candy. Visitors are invited to take one piece of candy. Frivolous, right? The piece may be staged in any gallery that follows a few simple rules. The most important rule is that the pile should weigh 175 pounds.

175 pounds was the healthy weight of Gonzalez-Torres’ partner Ross Laycock, who died of AIDS.

González-Torres had a Roman Catholic background, and taking the candy is meant to be an act of communion. The patron partakes in the “sweetness” of Ross while participating in his diminishment and torturous death.

The decision to use candy has political significance. In 1991, public funding for the arts and public funding for AIDS research were both the hottest of hot-button issues. HIV positive gay male artists were being targeted for censorship. González-Torres was desperate to be heard, and part of the logic of Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) was that you can’t censor free candy without looking ridiculous. The replicability of the piece makes it indestructible; González-Torres had an intuitive, ahead-of-its-time understanding of virality that came from dealing with an actual virus rather than the internet.

I’ve never seen this piece staged, but I think about it all the time. The artist, sadly, is no longer with us. But we will always have the most brilliant, heartbreaking free candy to ever be heaped in a corner. The key to conceptual art is storytelling — how well can you tell a story without words OR a “proper” picture? The banana on the wall sucks because it doesn’t tell a story about anything but attention-seeking and greed. I can’t stand Banana Guy or the media coverage surrounding him because stunts like that make people close their minds to unconventional art and storytelling, which can be just as sophisticated and moving as conventional art and storytelling."

A corner in a white-walled art gallery. There is a large mound of multicolored candy piled up in the corner.

I always assume that there's a story like this behind every artistic endeavor. I may not understand it... I may dismiss it... I may not like it... I may disagree with it... and all that is okay. So long as it means something to the artist and not just a stunt, I can at least respect them putting themselves out there like this.

   
And that's it for Sunday bullets.

   

Cheap Wood

Posted on Monday, January 27th, 2020
Dave!Ideally, you will be working with high-quality wood that isn't warped, twisted and coved. But I didn't have the budget for that kind of wood on this project... so I ended up using common boards of dubious quality. I picked out the best lumber I could find, but it still wasn't flat or smooth or even pretty.

The key to using cheap lumber is to own a planer to grind it into shape.

Except I don't have a planer, so instead I assembled my project with small screws, dampened it a little bit. Then let it set for a couple days to see how it all comes together.

It wasn't too bad... only minor adjustments and some sanding to whip it into shape. It sits level and looks like a million bucks... even though it only cost me $25 to make. Time to remove the little screws and move up to the big screws so it will be solid as a rock...

My wooden display rack.
Shot with a wide-angle lens in my tiny garage wood shop... it's square, I swear!

My favorite trick when needing thin pieces of wood? Paint stir sticks! They cost 98¢ for ten of them! And they always look fantastic! I edged the little booklet displays I made with them...

Wooden display stands for small booklets.

Unfortunately, Home Depot didn't have an 1/8" router bit in stock (even thought their website says they did)... so I had to pay $5 for some 1/4" hemlock to make the dividers...

Close up of the shelf dividers glued into grooves I cut with a 1/4-inch router bit.

The contrast between the light pine and the darker hemlock is actually pretty cool! So I meant to do that!

All that's left is to sand it, varnish it, then haul it to its new home!

I would do woodworking every waking minute of every day if I had the time.

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Duracell is the Loneliest Color

Posted on Tuesday, January 28th, 2020

Dave!And... I killed my blog.

The template for this blog is really old. So old that it's starting to break with the newer versions of WordPress. Comments haven't worked properly in over two years. Commenter name and contact information is no longer stored and the comment field is wider than the blog container. Not that it's a tragedy since I don't get many comments now-a-days, but still... it annoys me.

And so last night* I set out to see if I could fix it.

Idiot that I am, I didn't backup my old templates. Nor did I write down the old settings I had. Instead I just plowed forward and made tweaks that I thought would make things work a bit better.

Nope!

Screwed everything up. Couldn't even log in.

Long story short... I had to download my blog archive, extract the template code, rebuild WordPress, rebuild my custom templates (faults and all), then re-link the database so my entries could be found again.

Time to complete? THREE DAYS!

I am writing this on Thursday, January 30th after having finally getting everything working again this morning before I headed into work.

What I would like to do is purchase a spiffy new "Gutenberg-Ready" template and modify it so that it looks like my blog. Then I could do all kinds of cool stuff that the new WordPress editor allows me to do. Problem is that I don't have time. I'd hire somebody to do it for me, but I have even less money than time. And so... I guess I should just be grateful that Blogography keeps on running at all.

Until WordPress releases an update that breaks my blog completely. Which is any day now, I'm sure.

   
*The word "yesterday" being relative, in this case.

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The Wood Surgeon is In

Posted on Wednesday, January 29th, 2020

Dave!As I mentioned in my entry for "yesterday," I broke my blog. Something that didn't get fixed until "tomorrow." I actually still wrote entries for "yesterday" and "today" but decided to save them for "tomorrow" and "the day after tomorrow."

If that's all confusing to you, just think about how it feels to be me! My head has to be in the past, present, and future at the same time. All because I decided to go messing in Blogography's guts without a backup.

I've been thinking back to what I did today (yesterday) and, other than hammer away on WordPress, I can't think of anything special.

Oh... check that... I did clean up my garage wood shop! The shelves I built got all sanded, varnished, and delivered, so I wanted to put my tools away and clean up so I'm starting my next project organized and sawdust-free. And it took a minute, I tell you what. It's shocking what a mess I had made. Why I can't put a tool back after I use it is a genuine mystery. It would certainly make my life easier.

What would also make my life easier? Throwing garbage in the trash rather than on the garage floor. Contrary to popular belief (held by me) you can't just sweep it all up at the end of the day. Dustpans can only hold so much. And so I end up having to pick it all up before I sweep. Which takes longer than if I had just tossed it in the trash in the first place.

But don't try telling me that.

When I'm being a wood surgeon, the last thing I want to hear is somebody telling me what to do. I actually became wood surgeon specifically to get away from people telling me what to do.

And, oh yeah... in case you didn't notice, I've started using the term "wood surgeon" now. I find that I prefer it over "wood worker." I toyed around with "wood doctor" for a while, but telling people that I have a doctorate in playing with wood seemed dishonest somehow. I'm amateur at best.

I bet Bob Vila never has to deal with existential crises like this (he says while wondering if whomever came up with the plural for "crisis" realized how stupid it looks and should have just made it be "crisises" like you'd expect it to be).

Probably not. He's Bob Vila. He gets to be a fucking wood wizard if he wants to!

Ooh. Now I wanna be a wood wizard.

   

Martha and Marley Spoon

Posted on Thursday, January 30th, 2020

Dave!I've tried a number of different "meal services"... some of them send a recipe with the ingredients you need... some of them send complete meals that you microwave. I prefer the stuff you assemble from ingredients by a wide, wide margin... things just taste better and fresher.

The problem with these meal services is that I'm vegetarian and most of them put mushrooms in everything vegetarian. Since mushrooms trigger a reaction which can cut off my air supply and kill me, I have to substitute something or just leave them out. Since these meal plans are expensive, I don't like the idea of paying for recipes that are incomplete, so I generally get frustrated and quit. There's rarely many vegetarian options so it's not like they give me much choice.

Then I found Martha Stewart & Marley Spoon and all that changed. Martha always has a good assortment of vegetarian selections and none of the stuff I've selected have had mushrooms in them. NONE! How refreshing!

Martha Stewart eating a bowl of food in front of boxes of Marley Spoon stuff with ingredients in front.

But the best part? I really like the stuff I've been sent!

Ingredients are (mostly) fresh and good quality. Recipes are good. Some are very good. None of them are overly-complicated or difficult to prepare, though Marley Spoon's recipes are a bit more involved than others I've tried.

Like all of these services, each "meal" is supposed to be two servings for two people. Since I'm alone, and like big dinners, I'm usually just eating both portions. Any leftovers get tossed in the fridge for lunch the following day.

There are a few downsides, however.

First of all, you have to actually cook. I'm more of a take-something-out-of-the-freezer-and-microwave-it kinda guy. Second of all, since the recipes are a bit involved, there are a number of steps which make a lot of dirty dishes...

My sink. Full of dishes.

Thirdly, and this is a big one, the meals are expensive, yo. Each week you get two meals which are, in Marley Spoon's opinion, four servings. The cost is $41.00 plus $9.00 shipping. So... FIFTY DOLLARS for two dinners and two leftover lunches (most times). Now, $20 dinners and $5 lunches may not seem like an extravagant amount of money if you eat out all the time. But I don't because I have other places my money needs to go and $25 a day is outside my budget. That being said, I do consider the Martha Stewart meals to be a fairly good value (and a great value if you eat the meals with meat in them). Especially when you consider that I get to keep the recipes and will absolutely be making some of these meals again. After my "promotional discount ends" I will likely be skipping most weeks since I can't afford them, but I will still buy an occasional box that sounds too good to pass up when I can afford it so I can get new recipes.

And, lastly, because I'm in a rural area, my boxes are hit-or-miss as to whether they arrive on time. It's running about 50/50. This wouldn't be terrible, except the vegetables start to age so they can end up yucky and need replacing. Another bummer? They do not seal the boxes very well. A single piece of thin tape, and it sometimes comes open during shipment. Since this is food, they should really be using WIDE security-printed tape so you know if your box has been tampered with.

And now for the recipes I've tried so far...

   
01. Tortelloni & Butternut Squash with Harissa Butter & Roasted Almonds
My very first meal was my favorite. And it's so simple that I can easily make it myself. Essentially you cube up a bunch of butternut squash, chop up an onion, then sauté with harissa spice until soft. Mix that with cooked cheese tortelloni, butter, and top with chopped almonds. Done. I had never heard of "harissa spice" before and immediately fell in love with the stuff. It wasn't at my local market and we don't have a Middle-Eastern market, so I ordered from Amazon. Fantastic stuff. Odds of me making this again? 500%

My dinner. It's a bowl of cheese tortelloni with chunks of butternut squash in it.

   
02. Cheesy Black Bean Chili with Warm Tortillas & Quick Salsa
The beans were canned, but everything else was fresh and had to be prepared (which involved a lot of chopping). I've never made chili from scratch before and was surprised at how easy it was. And how much better it tastes than canned. The only hiccup was with the tortillas, which they ask you to brush with oil and heat on a flame. Well, my oven is electric not gas, so I'm guessing they wanted me to light my kitchen on fire or something. Instead I broiled them. Not the same, but good enough. Odds of me making this again? 100%

My dinner. It's a bowl of chili with a stack of corn tortillas and Salsa.

   
03. Southwestern Veggie Flatbread with Pico de Gallo & Crema
This was my first problem with ingredients I received. My poblano was starting to turn brown, so I had to lose a chunk of it. There was still enough left to make the recipe though, so I guess it's all good. The flatbreads are crisped, topped with sautéed onion and poblano, then baked with sharp cheddar cheese and garlic. You top that with crema and cilantro and serve with a salad made from halved cherry tomatoes, onion, garlic, fesh-squeezed lime juice, and cilantro. This salad would have been much better with some feta, so that's how I'll make it when I do it. Odds of me making this again? 75%

My dinner. It's a pretty bowl of halved cherry tomatoes in a salad with flatbread pizza that has onions and poblanos and melted cheese..

   
04. Veggie Bolognese Alla Norma with Eggplant & Pappardelle
Roasted eggplant, carrots, onion, and celery mixed with chopped tomatoes, basil, and garlic and dumped over pasta sheets that's been cut into 1-inch strips. While this wasn't bad, I could make a superior pasta dish on my own... and it wouldn't include celery, which is a water-logged waste. This was the first dish that I found boring and cheap. Not nearly as imaginative and delicious as the previous three dinners. I made toast and added garlic butter. Odds of me making this again? 0%

My dinner. It's a pretty bowl of halved cherry tomatoes in a salad with flatbread pizza that has onions and poblanos and melted cheese..

   
05. Fresh Pappardelle with Walnut Cream Sauce & Arugula Salad
Martha Stewart... my queen... my goddess... my master of culinary delights... you slayed it with the pasta in my dinner tonight! I LICKED THE BOWL! — MY CAT LICKED THE BOWL! — And it was everything I could do not to eat the remainder for dessert because it's supposed to be my lunch tomorrow. Amazing! 1-inch strips of pasta are cooked with mascarpone, shallots, crushed walnuts, butter, and parmesan with a bit of pumpkin spice. The salad was a bit meh though. I am not a fan of arugula. To me it tastes like bitterness and sadness. But it was made edible thanks to the dried sweet cherries, so I guess that's something. Odds of me making this again? 1000%

My dinner. It's a plate of thick pasta in a cream sauce with walnuts and onions.

My dinner, Part 2. It's a bowl of greasy arugula with dried cherries on top.

My cat jake, licking the plate that my pasta was on.

   
06. Chickpea & Carrot Falafel with Tzatziki & Spinach Salad
I was really looking forward to this one (I love falafel), so imagine my surprise when I open my VEGETARIAN ingredients bag and find BEEF JUICE and WORCESTERSHIRE SAUCE in it! So gross. My recipe doesn't mention any of this, so I go back to the bag and see that I was sent ingredients for MEATLOAF...

A label on an ingredients bag which says CLASSIC MEATLOAF WITH ROASTED CARROTS AND MASHED POTATOES.

BOOOOOO!

   
07. Oven-Fried Veggie Chimichangas with Avocado Crema & Salsa
When you're reducing the can of black beans they tell you to bring to a boil and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated... 3 minutes. That's crazy. Try 13 minutes minimum. Another issue was that they give you four tortillas and you're to divide the filling and cheese between them. If you do that, they are so full that it's tough to get them rolled. There really should have been 5 or 6 tortillas. Also? The filling cooks down quite a bit, so even though I rolled them so tight they were about to split apart, they were still kinda hollow. Which means Martha HAD to have spooned in more filling when she took the recipe card photo. I like the sour cream and guacamole sauce, but the "salsa" was just greasy vinegar tomatoes. Hysterically enough, they toss the tomatoes in a sack with the can of beans which means my tomatoes were beat to hell. That's just sloppy. Odds of me making this again? 75% (without greasy tomato salsa)

My dinner. It's a bowl of chili with a stack of corn tortillas and Salsa.

   
08. Cheese Ravioli & Brown Butter Sauce with Roasted Squash & Toasted Walnuts
This is a rehash of my all-time favorite Martha dish (and the first one I tried: Tortelloni & Butternut Squash with Harissa Butter & Roasted Almonds)... except the pasta is ravioli and it's walnuts not almonds. Instead of harissa spice they rely on fresh thyme for flavor and, though I prefer the hairssa by a wide margin, this was a nice change. Where the recipe fails is that they have you dump in a bunch of arugula and the bitter flavor obliterates the subtle thyme and brown butter notes. When I make this again I will leave out the arugula completely. Still... yummy stuff. Odds of me making this again? 100%

My dinner. It's a pretty bowl of halved cherry tomatoes in a salad with flatbread pizza that has onions and poblanos and melted cheese..

   
09. Coconut-Peanut Rice Noodles with Blistered Zucchini & Green Beans
Phenomenal. Most of the time I take a pass on the Asian cuisine selections because it has mushrooms (which I can't eat) or broccoli (which I loathe). This time the Asian selection had neither. If I change anything when I make this again (AND I WILL ABSOLUTELY MAKE IT AGAIN!) I will halve the amount of Sriracha. It wasn't too hot... I like the heat... but I love love love love charred vegetables, and much of the char flavor was obliterated by the spice. Even so... I can't wait for my leftovers lunch tomorrow! Odds of me making this again? 100%

My dinner. It's a plate of rice pasta with spicy peanut sauce and blackened zuccini and green beans with cilantro and peanuts.

   
10. Brown Butter & Sage Gnocchi with Sweet Potatoes & Pecans
I nearly passed on this one because I detest kale and they have a kale salad as a side. And yet... I love toasted sage and the mix of gnocchi and sweet potato sounded fantastic. And, shocker, it totally was. I ended up adding a dash of my beloved harissa spice. Not enough to overwhelm the sage, but enough to add a little extra flavor... and it was even better. Odds of me making this again? 100%

My dinner. A bowl of gnocchi and sweet potato with crisped sage, peans, and parmesan on top.

Jake wandered over and licked the bowl clean, so I guess he liked the sauce too...

Jake licking the bowl.

The kale salad with greasy green apple dressing wasn't great... but at least it wasn't arugula. I HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE ARUGULA! IT'S JUST BITTER AND SAD! STOP TRYING TO MAKE ARUGULA HAPPEN, MARTHA!!!

My side salad. A bowl of kale with greasy apple dressing on top.

   
And there you have it.. my first ten meals with Martha & Marley Spoon.

I dearly wish I could afford to get these meals every week. They so rarely disappoint. On the contrary, most of the time they are amazing, awesome, and delicious in every way. I am discovering wonderful foods and great cooking methods that will last far longer than any one meal. But, alas, I have reduced my Martha with Marley Spoon meals to every-other-week (or less, if the recipes are not different from what I've already tried). It's still more money than I should be spending, but I can't give it up. I make the recipes again and again, so the value is far beyond the cost of the food. It's like getting food PLUS creating a recipe book with only the most incredible meals I've found. Who wouldn't pay top dollar for that?

And now, not to end this on a sour note, but I really have to...

In my last shipment, Marley Spoon announced that they will no longer be including recipe cards. You have to view them online or download them and print them yourself...

We wanted to tell you about an important change to your upcoming Martha & Marley Spoon deliveries. In an effort to reduce our product’s environmental footprint in 2020, we are replacing the paper recipe cards in your box with downloadable recipe cards on our app and website. We believe that every green step we take is important. We hope you agree.

They are not including recipe cards to save the environment? Horse shit. They just don't want to spend the money. So I do NOT agree. People having to print the recipe cards instead of Marley Spoon printing them is not saving the environment. And you really need to print them because who wants to get their computer all greasy and covered in food while cooking? You could literally ruin your computer doing that. So much for convenience! Furthermore, most people are going to save the cards so they can make the recipes again, so it's not a waste. I know I sure do.

But the biggest reason I call bullshit on this?

If Marley Spoon was truly interested in "saving the environment" they would shut down. Because the carbon footprint to deliver their boxes... not to mention all the packaging they use which just gets tossed in a landfill... is far, FAR more damaging than a couple recipe cards. I mean just LOOK at this crap... TWO ICE PACKS AND A GIANT FOAM-LINED PLASTIC BAG TO SHIP TWO TINY, TINY PIECES OF CHEESE!

TWO ICE PACKS AND A GIANT FOAM-LINED PLASTIC BAG TO SHIP TWO TINY, TINY PIECES OF CHEESE!

"Saving the environment" my ass. I may love the meals I get from Martha & Marley Spoon, but this is about as lame an excuse as it gets.

But setting that aside... still so happy I discovered Martha's meal service. Some of the best food I've ever cooked. Which isn't saying much considering I usually microwave frozen meals... but still... good stuff.

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Worthwhile Salad

Posted on Friday, January 31st, 2020

Dave!I started another woodworking project last night, lost track of time, and was too tired to go to the store as I had planned.

And so I went after work today.

Which was a huge, huge mistake because everybody and their dog was buying crap for their Super Bowl watch parties. The traffic is jacked up on the road to the grocery store on a good day... but today? Bedlam.

All I really needed was potatoes and eggs so I could whip up some potato salad for dinner tomorrow, but there were sweet savings in celebration of Super Bowl Weekend that I was compelled to take advantage of, so I guess it made the horrible trip worthwhile.

Now I'm too tired to blog.

   

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