Our lives are being changed by COVID-19 – permanently

I just read on OregonLive.com that gas stations will be permitted to temporarily go to self-service to reduce exposure of employees to coronavirus as they take payment and interact closely with customers.

I’ve often thought that handing a credit card across is one of the best ways to give or get a cold. Now that we have a turbocharged version of the cold, we’re all looking at all the ways we might be opening ourselves to risk. This is going to create some lasting changes as we do things differently to prevent contamination.

Other examples of processes that are under the microscope and how they may change in the future:

  • public transportation seating is very close together for extended periods – fewer people may travel on planes, or airplane ventilation and cleanliness may be managed differently
  • tightly packed lines at grocery stores, TSA security, athletic events, and more – we may see a different method for managing lines involving “Disney-esque” crowd control
  • public building and restroom door handles are needlessly high-touch – more of these may become automatic when you press a switch plate
  • public or workplace plumbing faucet handles – many of these are already touch-free, and many more will become so
  • point-of-sale systems that require the employee to handle customer’s credit card – more POS will be self-service
  • POS systems that require customers to touch the screen or buttons – more POS will allow touch-free (in their lingo, “contactless” payment like Samsung Pay, Google Pay, or Apple Pay
  • reusable shopping bags introduce more disease risk than expected – customers who are tired of wiping down their reusable bags are going to buy machine-washable cloth bags or some better alternative
  • using the customer’s own reusable drink cups pose a risk to restaurant workers – we may see that restaurants stop this practice forever, even for drive-ins
  • sick leave for workers who are in contact with customers regularly is inadequate to protect public health in extreme cases like coronavirus – more employers may go to a more flexible sick leave policy (or be forced to by law)
  • recycling is now so dangerous for the workers that stores in many states are not required to accept bottles and cans for refunds – in the future, there may be more stringent requirements about rinsing or protective equipment for workers

As the effect ripples through our nation and even our world, we can only be sure of one thing – that we will encounter more surprises and challenges in the future.

What we’re going through is going to change how we work, shop, play, celebrate, and care for ourselves and others.

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LastPass and my chromebook

I’m settling into my new Asus Chromebook C433T, which is a wonderful, fast, slim machine that seems to do so much of what I want out of a laptop.

This one has an Intel CORE m3 8th Gen processor and 60 GB of storage, and is running Chrome OS Version 80.0.3987.158.

I’ve been using LastPass to manage my passwords for years now and it works great on Windows PCs as a Chrome extension and on Android phones as an app. It fills usernames and passwords like a champ.

However, Chromebooks are neither a PC or an Android phone, but can use a little of both. I’ve recently learned that the best way to use a Chromebook is with Chrome extensions or apps, and not Android apps. Some of the newer Chromebooks can also use Android apps, but I find they open in a small, phone-shaped window and that’s a bit awkward to manage.

If you also have a Chromebook that can have Android apps, you may have noticed that when you are looking at your launcher and searching for a specific app, sometimes you see two of the same app but with slightly different icons. What’s happening there is your have both the Chrome WebStore and the Google Play Store apps.

Chromebook launcher with Evernote search.

Chromebook launcher with Evernote search.

Currently, the Chrome browser extension (from the WebStore) is still auto-filling with no problems.

However, LastPass isn’t auto-filling passwords between the Android LastPass app and other Android apps on my Chromebook.

Chrome LastPass extension

The Chrome browser on my Chromebook shows LastPass is ready to auto-fill my password for the Pocket website.

To log into the Spotify Android app, I must open the LastPass Android app, put in my PIN, search for Spotify and then copy and paste the password back into Spotify.

I think this is the main reason why Chromebook mavens are recommending to use the WebStore apps whenever possible. The user interface is not pleasant on Android apps when you’re trying to display them on a 14″ screen.

If you want to learn more about managing both types of apps, Google has a good answer on this topic. There was a bit of useful discussion on the LastPass Reddit as well. The website GSA Education provided a helpful comparison of Chrome OS apps, Chrome browser extensions, and Android apps, all of which are available for Chromebooks.

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My favorite Young Adult books

Goodreads.com is promoting Young Adult week. Its blog article, “Can You Be ‘Too Old’ for YA? Our Expert Opinion: No,” says it all. I agree.

Young Adult Fiction that’s written with care, where the characters drive the action, is a joy to read. One of the things I love about Young Adult Fiction is that it is often more positive. In life, we can’t always have a happy ending. In fiction, we can.

My fave YA series so far:
Vega Jane, a fantasy series by David Baldacci
Harbinger Series, a fantasy by Jeff Wheeler
An Ember in the Ashes, a fantasy series by Sabaa Tahir
The Earthsea Cycle, a fantasy series by Ursula K LeGuin
The Traveler’s Gate, a series by Will Wight
Arcane Ascension, a series by Andrew Rowe
Inter World, a sci fi series by Neil Gaiman, Michael Reaves, and Mallory Reaves
The Giver Quartet, a fantasy series by Lois Lowry
Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children, a fantasy series by Ransom Riggs
Harry Potter, a fantasy series by J.K. Rowling
Alice in Wonderland, a fantasy by Lewis Carroll
and of course, the first fantasy series in my heart – The Oz Books by L. Frank Baum

If you’re interested in checking out some YA books, your library likely has a great selection of ebooks in this category. Take advantage of this wealth of entertainment!

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Book Clubs have gone high tech

Test setup of a poll for our book club on GoodReads.com, a book review website.

My recent exploration of social sites and apps that might help me manage a book club has surfaced some interesting new choices, but I find myself a bit disappointed in the options.

Let’s start from the beginning. We have a book club that occasionally swells to 15 members but most often is about 6-8 people. It’s mostly a sci fi book club, although members can (and have in the past) nominate and select a book in any category. We meet in person at a local Hillsboro brewery, Three Mugs. That way, we can have beer while we visit.

Most of the members are in Facebook, so we had a group set up there for messages and polls. However, there was a need to communicate via SMS with those who didn’t have Facebook pages. That resulted in double entry.

Requirements. I compiled a list of requirements in Google Sheets. My husband Jim set up a Slack channel for testing, and fellow book club member Matt set up a GoodReads group, and I set up a Bookclubz.com group. We began to test, using the spreadsheet as a guide.

Google Sheets let us track requirements and test.

If you want to see all of our requirements, here’s the list:

  • Admins can send invites to new members via email or text.
  • Ability for any group member to add new members.
  • Ability for people to access club details and vote without needing a login.
  • Display a calendar of past and upcoming meetings in calendar view.
  • Event list view option, search calendar for specific meeting topics.
  • Send and receive messages to entire group easily.
  • Live chat.
  • Run online meetings with screen share.
  • Lists of recommendations from members
  • List of previously read books
  • List of music to read by
  • Reach book club details and interact using desktop, iOS or Android.
  • Require a login setup for security.
  • App and website access.
  • Ability for Admins to create polls with up to 50 books being considered.
  • Ability to add a line or two of text along with the book title.
  • Ability to have any group member nominate a book, and have it available for others to vote on.
  • Ability to add a link to a specific book to be voted on.
  • Ability to add a pic of the book to be voted on.
BookClubz.com user interface showing voting options.
Test setup of the book club in Slack. Notice the text-based commands.
The easy user interface of SurveyMonkey makes it a joy to use, but it’s only a survey tool.
Test setup on GoodReads. Not perfect, but pretty darn good.

I found other sites and apps, but they only addressed some of the needs. Meetup was cool but they have a monthly charge. Slack can make use of plugins for calendar and polling, but would be challenging for nontechnical people because most of the commands are text based. Bookclubz.com has the ability to vote on books and search for and link the books, but members have to rate each book from 1-10 and it doesn’t really look or act like a poll should.

SurveyMonkey is easy and visually attractive for polling – although linking to books and adding their cover images is a manual process. Many other polling sites were reviewed, but they only have polls and cannot manage a club.

It became clear fairly quickly that there was no single solution that captured all of our “need to have” requirements. But it also became clear that GoodReads had most of them.

GoodReads’ strengths. Some requirements were much more important than others – the ability to click and vote from any device or platform, to send poll invites in multiple ways, to link to a book from the poll, to add a book nomination even after the poll starts, to communicate with all members in a platform-agnostic way, and to see past and upcoming events.

GoodReads’ weaknesses. The only possible downsides were the poor user interface (polls do not run well on the mobile apps) and the need to have people create GoodReads accounts so they could join. The site has the option to place a poll into any webpage (like this blog) by clicking the Widget button and copying the code. However, the links go to 404 pages, so that feature is not ready for prime time.

Above and beyond. I feel that there are a couple of other reasons to choose the right site for managing a book club: portability and collaboration.

Portability. We’ve only been doing this club for about 6 months and already we needed to change the leader (our leader is currently about to have a baby!) We want the book club’s leadership to be easily passed along to any selected member, or to add more leaders, without a lot of technical hurdles. Because of this, the site has to be easy to use and free of charge. It can’t require either an iPhone or an Android. GoodReads works here too – it’s on desktop, and there are Android and iOS apps.

Collaboration. We want to have multiple people contributing book ideas, creating polls, and scheduling events so these duties can be shared. GoodReads lets us name several Moderators who have the ability to do that. Group members can still contribute to the discussion and add book recommendations as well as vote and add book choices to the poll.

Privacy. GoodReads may not be much better than Facebook, because it is owned by Amazon. But the fast linking of almost any book in existence to what I feel are the best reviews you can find – the GoodReads site – outweighs that doubt in my mind. I think we’ve found our new home.

In my research, I found many blog articles and even some Quora answers to the question of how to run a book club, and more specifically which social sites or apps to use. Most of them gave a few best practices and touched on a few key recommendations, but none of them gave it the thorough treatment that the topic deserves. Quora answers were overtly commercial, recommending specific polling sites that come with fees and are more complex than book clubs need.

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New avatar bodies in Second Life

I sometimes visit a world called Second Life, which is kind of a big 3-D space where you can hang out, build stuff, and fiddle with your avatar’s look. I’ve been a member since 2007, and in that time, I’ve seen the look of avatars change a lot. Also, the people I met there – Willy and Nostrum – influenced my avatar’s look.

When I first started, this was my avatar. I controlled its look through the use of slider bars for every part of the avatar, from body height to amount of fat to face shape. I think there were 15 sliders just for the face alone. There was plenty of room for error, and you would see these freakishly tall avatars walking around with little tiny feet and huge breasts.

Second Life Sylectra 2008
The 2008 version of my avatar, achieved only with slider bars.

second life sylectra willy 2008
Willy and I met up from time to time to use the dance halls. It was fun getting dressed up, though time-consuming.

As I made friends and they showed me some cool new things, it was possible to buy skins, and later, shapes. My friend Nostrum Forder gave me her shape which was a more realistic height. Skins were expensive – about 500 – 1000 Lindens each. (1000 Lindens is currently about US $4) My complaint at the time was that most of the skins you could buy had overly made up faces, garishly bright and unnatural looking. I chose one that was pretty basic, compared to those other users selected.

Sylectra (without hair that day, apparently) with friend Nostrum Forder, one of the legendary personalities of Second Life and a resident of Organica. Nostrum, aka Jim, is now my husband.

In the pic above, I had a fairly good purchased skin and a mix of free and purchased clothing. Note the skirt – it’s a Second Life avatar skirt with prim ruffles for bounce and movement. A nice compromise. Nostrum preferred to go as female and had an amazing feel for shapes, skins, hair and clothing. In real life, he’s a regular guy with regular fashion sense.

My friends Steven (Stevenaia) and Cinco, two people that made Second Life a great place to be.

Skins made huge strides in 2010, 2011, and 2012. I had a DrLife skin that was worth every penny in the pic below. Outfits were still made mostly of flexi prims which ate up bandwidth and slowed down Second Life regions.

This skin was slightly green tinted but it was absolutely beautiful, like a painting.

 

Lately, it’s possible to buy mesh feet, hands, bodies, and heads – separately if you prefer. Then after you have a mesh body, you can buy mesh clothing, which is a snap to fit. Where before I had to use resizing scripts (that ate more bandwidth) or manually adjust prims for a better fit of hair or clothing, now I just add the item and it knows how to fit. Once in a while, some skin shows through the clothing. I can make that area invisible and – voila! Perfection. The only drawback is that it’s harder to look unique. Everyone now looks like a Barbie doll.

Here’s a pic of my avatar Psyche with her new Belleza Freya body.

Psyche’s new mesh body from Belleza.

The trouble with mesh bodies, is that if you don’t also buy a mesh head, you have to use the body sliders for skin tone to try to match the head.

Sylectra with a Maitreya Lara body and Lamb hair (awesome free gift for joining the group). She’s wearing Belleza Belle skin and the face shape is my own slider bar creation.

It took me about 5 hours and 5,000 Lindens to learn how to use mesh bodies and clothing, but it’s a fun new thing to play with. I have a huge inventory of items, most of which is clothing and hair (17,247 items after the latest purge). Most of my clothing won’t work with mesh bodies.

 

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Spring’s coming! Time for beer and wine events in Portland

This Spring is starting early with some events to herald warmer weather and blossoms. In Portland, that means celebrating with food, beer and wine!

I attended the Golden Valley Brewmaster’s Dinner on Saturday, March 3 with Jim. They had set aside their party room in Beaverton for the occasion and we were among about 53 guests. We felt like the price was a great value for this 5-course dinner at just $55 each. We have attended beer dinners that were $75 each. My favorite food was the scallops. A beer was poured with every course and, before the dinner, the wait staff was generous with beers. Our table companions were friendly beer enthusiasts (it’s a thing in the Portland area).

My favorite beer was the Tickle My Dickel (LOL).

Brewmaster Jesse Shue spoke to the gathering about the featured beers.

The next weekend, I joined a group of friends to visit the Sip! McMinnville Wine & Food Classic at the Evergreen Space Museum in McMinnville. Parking was $7, which is kind of a lot for the area, and tickets were about $21, if I recall correctly. Admission includes one free souvenir glass and a coupon for a free tasting at one of the booths. Tastings were $1-$2 per pour, or $5 for several varieties in the tasting.  It was interesting to taste the winners of the wine competition, but I have my own groove at these things so I didn’t buy any award winners this time.

I bought a Gewurtztraminer, a Malbec, and a Tempranillo.

I also bought a light switch cover and a clock from Paperwings.

Golden Valley Brewing had a booth where I got a delicious beer to go with my lunch of fish tacos. The company was stellar. This is a great way to taste a lot of wine without having to drive a lot.

Last Sunday, after a lovely dinner with my brother and his family at Pacific Growlers Taphouse in Beaverton, Jim and I went to McMenamins Cornelius Pass Roadhouse to walk the fairy-lit grounds and sit at the fire pit with other friendly folks. I found and petted two Corgis.

 

What’s Next?

Some of my friends are going to the PDX Tequila & Tacos festival on March 24 at Portland Expo Center. Sounds delicious!

 

I noticed Yoga + Beer Beaverton is happening on April 2 at Golden Valley Brewery. If you can get there by 6, the event begins with yoga for all levels, with a pint included at the end. $20 includes the pint of beer. Yes!

 

Whatever you do this spring, I hope it’s fun and helps lighten your heart.

 

 

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Not so dark and deep

Today Jim took me to Forest Park, a large urban forest in the hills overlooking downtown portland and Vancouver, WA.
 
 We were at the highest point in the park today – 1,100 ft. Nice clear day at about 65 degrees. We hiked about 3.5 miles.
 
 Forest Park, a municipal park in Tualatin Mountains measuring 5172.14 acres in size, is a gem right in the middle of the Portland metro area.
 
 We saw a chipmunk, mole, and slugs in addition to the common fauna.
 
 Best part was when the view opened up to Vancouver. It was a beautiful clear day.
 
 Without further ado, the pics:

 The forest awaits! Beginning of Fire Lane 7 trail.
 


My love makin tracks.


Weird dwelling cleverly constructed.
 


So many beautiful flowers. Is this a trillium?


You can see Vancouver through the trees.


Obligatory selfie. (left) Syl. (right) Jim.


Mosses, flowers and ferns on the forest floor.


A slug. Jim says the moles eat them but I don’t know. Who could eat a slug?

Location:Forest Park,Portland, OR

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NJ to Oregon travelogue, day 4

Tues, Oct. 4:

Started the day with 1700 miles to go and ended with 1200 to go. Had a call with Phil,  our mover, to update him on progress. Basically if we cannot be there by Friday morning he initially said he wouldn’t be able to deliver our stuff until Tues or Weds. Sigh. But then he called back and said he might be able to do Sat.

We had a big line of storms we would have to go through. They had the potential of producing strong winds and hail, but we crossed it to the other side without incident.

We had a great but short visit with Erin, Art, Ryan, Sam and Gracie. It was interesting learning how they were doing and what they were up to for the Fall. Erin and I talked about the challenge of finding Stuff to write about.

We then proceeded to Irv and Janet’s place in Omaha. Because we were running late, Janet was already at work and we didn’t get to see her, but had a really nice visit with Irv.  

It rained a few times but got through the line of storms pretty fast.

Then we assessed the miles between us and Ft. Collins, where we were going to stop for the night. No go. So then we chose Cheyenne, WY. By 4 pm it was clear that we would be driving until 10 or 11 pm if we kept that course. So we ended up reserving a room in Sidney, NE, about 3/4 of the way between Omaha and Cheyenne.  Folks, this is a long drive when you have a dog and cat in tow.

Got into Sidney, the home of Cabela’s, around 9 pm, but it was actually 8 because we had crossed a time zone. 

Days Inn is fine, but the surrounding parking lot is a bit sketchy and there was nowhere to walk Sophy. 

Went to Wal-Mart and ended up at Applebee’s around 9:30.

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NJ to Oregon travelogue, day 3

Monday, Oct. 3: We have 1,966 miles to go. Will reach halfway point tomorrow. The journey has included seven states – New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa. 

Tomorrow we will go into Nebraska, weather permitting, and see Irvin and Janet and Erin and Art.

We drove a long time on this day and stopped, exhausted, at 7:30 pm. By the time we checked in and had thw pets cared for, it was 8:30 and we were able to go for dinner. 

We stayed at a Microtel, which was clean and comfortable.  We ate at the Beer house Restaurant. I had a decent grilled chicken with avocado and Jim had the Beerhouse sliders. 

To my great relief, Silver used his litter box right after we got him settled on the hotel room. Overnight, he continued to use it :-).

So I feel less guilty about having him in the carrier for ten hours. And I have been walking him too. 

Sophy is actually doing better than she did at home, with regular walks and food. No accidents so far.

Jim had a rough evening because we pushed too hard to get there. Basically, moving is hard because we don’t have any of the usual comforts or enough down time. You’d think that sitting in a car while your partner drives gives you lots of down time, but it’s not focused time because of all the things we have to look after.

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NJ to Oregon travelogue, day 2

Sunday morning, Oct. 2: Left at 10 am. Silver was good all night (slept on the bed) and Sophy slept well. So did we, despite having a smoke smell in the room. Silver didn’t have a BM so I walked him on his kitty harness when we stop. Although he walked well and was super cute, he didn’t do anything. I guess he can hold it for a while longer. I offered him water in his kennel and gave Sophy some, too.

Went through lots of tunnels:

Blue Mountain

Kittatiny Mountain

Tuscarora Mountain

Allegheny Mountain

The views are beautiful but there is a low fog on everything. Bucolic. Pastoral. Like a Charles Wysocki puzzle.

Thinking in a couple of directions today – gratitude for the wonderful send-off by friends and family members, and concern about remaining logistics.

Before we left, we were able to visit some of our favorite places and see some of our favorite people again. One of our favorite places is the Raptor Trust, a sanctuary for injured and sick birds like falcons, hawks, owls, eagles, and ravens. The Raptor Trust is next to The Great Swamp, between Berkeley Heights and Morristown. I spend a lot of time there or driving through it, just enjoying how serene and beautiful it was.

I got to go out with several of my favorite work friends and they treated me so kindly. Their good wishes have buoyed me as we go through this tough journey.

I also spent time with dear friends that I knew from outside of work. I am so glad to have been able to visit with Don and Claire Kissil, just to name a couple.

As we get through more of these marathon days, my concerns are, for the most part, settling down. The dog is doing fine and the cat is not complaining at all.

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