Making of a Christmas Card, 2022

I really had no idea what I was going to do about a Christmas card this year, or even if I wanted to do one. I have less free time this year, and I wasn’t really feeling it. There is a big part of me that wanted to do a jump cut to February.

Still, a tradition is a tradition, and so, at the beginning of the month, I was wracking my brain trying to come up with an idea. I didn’t get as frantic as I did in 2013 — I have more confidence in myself now that I’ll figure out something — but I was definitely feeling bereft of ideas.

And then, one day, I was looking at pictures with Mum, and for some reason, I decided to look at my iPhone pictures. And there is was, a picture I’d taken with the iPhone last year:

Ornament on Christmas tree
Ornament on tree, taken with my iPhone 12 Pro

Looking at it, it was nearly perfect. The only thing that bothered me was that you can see my hands holding the phone taking the picture. So I took it into Photoshop, and cut the hands and phone out of the picture, using Content Aware Fill, in several steps. I also bumped up the contrast a bit because printing on card stock tends to flatten the contrast a bit:

Christmas ornament, with the reflection retouched away
After retouching my reflected hands out of the red ball

Content Aware Fill is an amazing thing. It took me maybe two minutes to take care of it; I remember when it would have taken me hours.

Then it was time to lay out the card. Once again, I used two-up card stock, using Apple Pages to lay it out. Vertical cards are actually laid out sideways on the template, so I just grabbed one of my older cards, replaced the images in them, updated the date on the back, and then had to decide on typography.

This year, I decided on white Bodoni 75 with a thin outline and drop shadow for better separation, placed directly on top of the picture. I removed the borders on the text box this year. I’m pleased with the way it came out — the type fits well with the picture, and it looks almost like a book cover.

The hard part this year was what to say inside. This has not been a good year for me or the family, because of Mum’s situation. Do I use the space to send a Mum update? But I send cards to a variety of people, and it wouldn’t be appropriate for everyone I send cards to. And a single message isn’t appropriate for everyone. In the end, for the pre-printed part, I went with the classic “Merry Christmas & Best Wishes for a Happy New Year”.

And here’s the finished card:

Finished 2022 Card Cover - Picture of a Christmas tree ornament with Merry Christmas laid over it.
Finished 2022 cover

Merry Christmas, everyone.


Ten year ago, in “Season of Lights” , I wrote:

Personally, at least for now, I prefer the old-fashioned incandescent types. They seem warmer, with a better distribution of color. The reds and oranges are brighter, the blues less prominent. The newer LED lights seem to be too heavy on the blues. Their blue lamps are quite bright, and  their oranges and reds less bright in comparison. I suspect that this is something that will get fixed in time–the manufacturers need to make light strings where the warmer colors are brighter.

I think the manufacturers are finally starting to get it. I have a couple of strings on my tree that seem a little more well-balanced, and I’m noticing as I drive around town that there are more lights that have the characteristic LED deeply saturated blues, but also have decently bright reds and ambers. And for the first time, it feels to me like old fashioned incandescent lights seem reddish.

I’m also noticing that there are warmer “white” LEDs — the trees in front of the police station are covered with them, though they still seem just a touch greenish.

A few months back I took a ride on the new Green Line extension to Union Square. The new branch to Medford/Tufts opened last week, and I took a ride late Sunday afternoon. Like the Union Square branch, it starts off elevated headed out of Lechmere, then runs at ground level. Unlike the Union Square branch, it goes quite a distance. It’s sort of like the Riverside Line in that it’s fully grade separated with decent spacing between stops; unlike the Riverside Line, there are sound barriers along most of it, which kind of feels like you’re riding in a canyon. And boy, have the walls already been heavily tagged. There seemed a fairly decent ridership for late afternoon on a Sunday.

A Few Subtle Changes

“Upgrade to the latest version of PHP [the language that runs WordPress, the software that runs this site]”, the email from my hosting provider said. “Better performance” it said. “The version of PHP your site is running on is no longer supported, and won’t be getting security patches” it said. So, I figured, “Why not?” This site runs on WordPress, and I figured WordPress would be well tested on the latest PHP. So I clicked the button to upgrade the site… and the site died.

I followed the instructions for troubleshooting WordPress. I renamed the plugins folder, and the site came back partially– the page shell was visible, but not the content. Clearly, there was at least one plug-in that was incompatible. When I switched the site back to one of the stock themes, the text became visible again, and I knew there was a problem with the child theme.

A little trial and error located the errant plugins — there were two of them. One was the plug in that allowed me to reverse the normal order of posts within the Bonaire categories — I want the posts in those categories to be in chronological order. Fortunately, I found a different plugin to handle that.

The second one was the plugin that I used to display my tweets on the page. I’m less concerned about that now since Twitter has become such a shit-show. I removed that plug in entirely, and enabled the rest. The site continued to run.

Now it was time to find the problem with the child theme. I knew there was a file called “functions.php” that contained overrides to the stock theme. Looking at it, the most likely culprit was the “posted_on” function, that displays the date of the post. I’d customized it to show the date using a “calendar-like” appearance. So I commented it out, and the the site content came back. I knew I had the right culprit. At that point, the site was functional, though lacking the custom post dates. I needed to get supper and take care of some errands, so I left it in that state temporarily.

When I came back, I took a closer look at the problem. Unfortunately, I don’t know PHP, and don’t really know the WordPress internals, so I started by comparing the default version of the function with my customized function. Eventually, I realized I was calling esc_html( get_the_date(M) ), The esc_html function returns escaped HTML, while get_the_date() returns the post date. What I was trying to do was get the month part of the post date. Both of these functions are WordPress functions. The docs said that get_the_date() takes any PHP date formatting string. And then the word “string” jumped out at me. The M was unquoted. I quoted the parameter in each of the calls, and my content (and custom post date) came back. Huzzah!

Now it was time to clean up a few loose ends. I noticed the category display was gone, but in its place were two copies of the “tag cloud”. It turns out one was from a newer version of the theme, and one was from a legacy widget I’d added. I removed the legacy widget, and added a widget to display the post categories.

Then I took a second look — the categories were actually still present in the footer area. So I pulled it out of the side bar, and put the random post plugin back in its place. In the footer, I put a top posts plugin which would show my top posts if I get some traffic, but for now, is showing my most recent posts.

So there you have it. The site is back up and running. At the moment, it’s running in Christmas mode. I’ve made some tweaks to my plugins and sidebar widgets that most people probably won’t even notice.

The bigger question, of course, is whether it’s time for a redesign. This theme is long in the truth, but to be honest, I still like the way it looks. So, we’ll see.

Catching the Type 9

Back in March of 2019, I took a trip on the Green Line to see if I could catch a ride on their then-new Type 9 trolley. The T needed a couple of dozen extra cars to fill out the fleet once the Green Line Extension opened. (It’s been delayed, but the first branch opened last spring, and main branch will open next month. Finally.)

At that point, there were only a few of the trolleys in service, and one Saturday I saw one was out and about, so I decided to see if I could see it. I still remember excitedly watching its progress towards Kenmore on the B line, while I approached Kenmore on the D. I finally managed to position myself so that I was just ahead of it as it came back outbound, only to have it run right past me; it was not carrying passengers.

The COVID happened, and Mum’s stroke happened, and I’ve been busy, and I haven’t had a chance to try again. In the meantime, the rest of the order has arrived and been accepted. This past Saturday, I finally had a free afternoon, and decided to try to catch it again. I succeeded, and was able to ride #3904 from Riverside to Union Square.

Like the Type 8, the Type 9 is a “low floor” car, meaning that the center of the trolley is low, and you can board without climbing steps. The T has been obliged to buy low floor cars to accommodate wheel chair users. The Type 9 is laid out mostly like the Type 8 — bench seating along the sides of the car. I’m not a fan. You end up looking out the window behind the person across from you and can’t really see much. Along much of the car, the seats are on a raised platform that you have to step up onto from the low floor, while there are a few foldout seats available in the low-floor section.

I do like the interior of the Type 9 better than the Type 8. The Type 8 has a kind of light mint green interior that always reminds me of a bathroom. The Type 9 has warm light grey walls — almost a beige — green seat pads and enameled yellow stanchions for standees. It’s quite attractive. All of the signage aboard has been updated for the new extension. (The same cannot be said for many of the stations). The seat pads have a flat green textured surface that looks like they might be soft vinyl, but they are unfortunately hard plastic.

The train looks nice, and the on-board displays are nice, but still, I think I prefer the Type 7s with their transverse seating and beige and faux-wood interior. The entire Type 7 fleet was recently overhauled too, and they’re still the workhorses of the line. The Type 8s have never been particularly reliable; hopefully these new cars will be more so.

Sunrise at Castle Island

Today is the last day of Daylight Savings Time for 2022. The trouble with the tail end of DST is that sunrise is really late – 7:24 this morning, It been really sucking on workdays for the past few weeks; I normally get up at 7 on days that I work from home, and 6:30 on days that I go into the office, and I hate having to get up in the dark.

This morning though, I figured… If I get up a little after six, I can be over at Castle Island before 7 and be there before the sun comes up. I did not set an alarm; if I blew the wake time I figured no big deal, but in fact I did wake up around six, and hauled myself out of bed and onto the road.

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Crowd Crush

I’ve been reading a little about the Seoul Halloween Crowd Crush. There was a holiday celebration, the first after social distancing from COVID, and many more people showed up than expected, the layout of the streets funnelled them into a small area, and at least 156 people were crushed to death and at least 172 were injured.

It brought back memories. In October of 1979, Pope John Paul II visited Boston. There was a big temporary canvas covered altar set up on the Common. It was beautiful. Back then, I was 20 years old, active in the church, and had been invited to be in a special youth section up front, right in back of the VIPs, but in front of the vast masses covering the rest of the Common.

I got there early afternoon, and at first, it was great. I was close, I could see the altar clearly. When the Pope arrived, I was close enough to see him, and hear him say, “America the beautiful, beautiful even in the rain.”

But then the pushing started. Gradually, the folks behind us started trying to get closer, and started pushing from the back. We started moving forward, but there was only so far we could go because of the barriers in front separating us from the VIP section. It was scary, and I decided right there and then that I never wanted to be in that big of a crowd ever again. I can only imagine how the people who died felt at the end.

New Apple Watch

I decided to treat myself to a new Apple Watch, a Series 8, this year. I got my first Apple watch, a Series 4, about three and a half years ago. I still liked the look of my Tissot better, but I was interested in some of the heart monitoring features, and over the years, I came to like it a lot. I liked the fact that notifications popped up on the watch, so that I could triage them and decide whether I wanted to bother getting out the phone. Getting turn by turn directions while wearing a watch is great; the watch will tap you on the wrist when your turns approach.

The one unlovely feature about the watch, though, was that it was a rather so-so timepiece, because the display was usually off, to save battery life. The following model year, Apple introduced an always on display, but I really couldn’t justify getting a new watch after less than a year.

It’s now been a few years, though, and though there’s been mainly incremental improvements year to year, over four model years, they’ve added up to a number of improvements over my old Series 4:

  • From the Series 5, always on display and compass
  • From the Series 6, a blood oxygen sensor, faster processor and faster charging
  • From the Series 7, a bigger display
  • And with this model, car crash detection.

Last time, I got a base model with an aluminum case and cloth band. This time, I decided to get the nicer version, with a gold stainless steel case and magnetic leather band. I really like the look, and I’m really happy with the watch. Having the always on display makes a world of difference, because you can now use it like a normal watch to tell the time; you don’t have to hold it up to your face with a specific gesture to turn on the display.

The way it works is interesting. When the watch is inactive, the display dims. When running a watch face with a second hand, the second hand goes away. “Complications”, the little indicators of other apps, don’t update themselves. There is one watch face, the one that they use to illustrate this particular case and band, that has a beige background and cream colored dial. When that one goes inactive, the beige background goes black and the dial inverts — light numbers on a dark dial — to conserve power.

Having the oxygen sensor is good –I wish I’d had it earlier in the month when the COVID was just getting going. Still, it was good to see that my oxygen levels weren’t affected.

The leather band is nice. Rather than a buckle, the band is segmented, with little magnets inside the strap. When you put it on, the band wraps around itself. It’s neat, though I have noticed occasionally it will pick up metal objects.

Because I got the stainless steel case, the watch comes with cellular connectivity; but at the moment, I don’t intend to turn it on. I rarely use my watch without my phone.

I ended up buying the watch online, since this particular case and band weren’t in stores. It took a couple of weeks for it to ship. The only real complaint I have about this order has been the trade-in of the old watch. I’m not getting much for it — only $50, but I figure that’s better than having it sitting around collecting dust. The other three times I’ve done Apple trade ins, I’ve gotten the trade in box either at the same time or before the merchandise; this time it was about a week after, and I got a semi-querulous email from Apple asking me if I still wanted the trade in. The box arrived the same day, though, and I sent it off the next day. And when I got home, there was a second trade-in box waiting for me on the doorstep. So clearly something got screwed up there. They got it today, and I’m now waiting for them to process the trade-in.

Update 10/26/2022: The trade in has been processed, and I’ve gotten my refund.

I got the watch a couple of days before my birthday. On my birthday, it had a message for me.

My new watch

Fall Foliage, 2022

This has been a frustrating October. I came down with COVID the day after my niece’s wedding and even though I had a three day weekend the following weekend, and we had gorgeous weather, I still felt crummy enough, even after a week, to not want to do much of anything. It wasn’t a serious case; it just felt like a bad cold, but it hung on for about ten days. So last weekend, I moped around the house looking out at the gorgeous weather, and hoped that it would still be nice the next weekend, and that I’d finally be over the COVID enough to be able to do something fun.

It was, I was, and I did.

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Sunday Morning, Charles River

One of the things the fall brings is shorter days. The earlier sunsets are the most noticeable, but sunrise is getting later too. In June, sunrise was around 4:30-ish, now it’s around 6:30, and will be getting later still over the next six weeks, until Daylight Savings Time ends.

This later sunrise makes it easier to haul my sorry behind out of bed to see the sunrise. I tend to wake up early anyway — 3:30 – 4:00 is not uncommon, but usually I just roll over and try to go back to sleep.

I decided this weekend to see if I could get up early enough to be on the Charles River for sunrise. It’s something I’ve been thinking of doing for a long time. Since downstream faces East, I figured I could get some decent pictures.

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I realized the other day that it’s been just over forty years since I started my first full time job, at a one hour photo lab called Photo:Hour.

I’d majored in Elementary Education, to be a teacher, right in the middle of the demographic ebb between the end of the Baby Boom and the Boomers starting to have their own children. This I knew going into it. And then, the November I graduated, Proposition 2 1/2 passed, cutting property taxes, and suddenly schools were laying off teachers.

I’d seen an ad for an assistant manager position for a photo lab in January of 1982, and interviewed in the basement office of the Winter Street store with the owner, Tom Giampapa, and then… heard nothing. And then six weeks later, they called. Turns out the guy they’d originally hired had quit. Still being unemployed, I took the job.

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