Four Years

I see, looking in my Photos library, that fours ago tomorrow, I spent Saturday afternoon in the kayak, on the lower Charles River, paddling the area from Magazine Beach to just past the Lechmere Viaduct. I remember Mum and I went out to breakfast at Westbury Farms that Sunday, like we usually did.

It was the last “normal” weekend we’d have for quite some time. The next morning, she was calling for me in the bathroom, after falling into the tub. I got her out, she brushed off my inquiries, but after finding out later that morning that she’d fallen a couple of more times, we called her doctor. When we got to the doctor’s office, she immediately sent her over to the hospital in the ambulance, where we found out she’d had a stroke.

I’d noticed the day before that she’d seemed a little shaky climbing the porch steps, but she’d dismissed my concerns. Now we found out out that not only had she had a stroke, but there were signs of other, previous strokes that she either hadn’t noticed, or hadn’t mentioned before.

That fall, she had a series of strokes — she’d recover a little, then she’d have another one. She spent time in Spaulding Rehab, where one of the therapists told me she’d never seen a patient who tried so hard. I still remember seeing her walk again for the first time, and I remember her coming home again, and the first time she stepped out of the house again on her own.

Unfortunately, the strokes never stopped coming. She recovered well in 2020, to the point where she insisted on doing the dishes, because she wanted to feel like she was contributing, but had another Halloween day, and then another major one in May of 2021. That one robbed her of all of her gains of the past year, and more. It became impossible to keep her at home because she needed full time care.

The strokes also led to vascular dementia, to the point where she has next to no short term memory, and has trouble expressing thoughts. When you visit her now, you can tell she’s sad and frustrated, but she can’t verbalize what’s bothering her. They have also left her left side almost completely spastic.

In four years Mum’s gone from independent and capable, driving, running her own home and sociable, to completely disabled, dependent on assistance for all the activities of daily life, and non-communicative. When I look at her now, and look at how she once was, I want to cry.

Pacific Grove and Carmel

I spent most of today walking around two different towns, Pacific Grove and Carmel.

Brian and the guys were golfing today at Pacific Grove Golf Course, and they needed to be dropped off. So I took them down, noticing on the way there that there was a nice downtown area. After dropping them off, I drove down to the waterfront, took some pictures, and then drove back downtown, had a coffee, then took a walk through the downtown area. There were several real estate offices, a couple of banks, and a few stores. It didn’t seem super touristy. I walked down to the waterfront, saw the Lover’s Point complex, and walked back to the car.

The town seemed nice, and clean, and the a fair number of the cottages appeared to be Victorian.

I then drove back to the time share to see if Tom was up and about. He was, so we decided to head up to Carmel, hoping that the Weston Gallery would be open, as I knew it had some Ansel Adams photographs. This was not a surprise, as their website said they were only open by appointment. I’d not made an appointment as I figured if someone was coming specifically in to work for us, there would be more of an expectation we would buy. But I’d hoped they’d be open anyway.

Carmel is a very pretty town. Kind of self-consciously so. It’s a more upscale town than Pacific Grove, and caters more to tourists. Tom and I did find another gallery with a couple of Adams prints, and ended up spending a couple of hours there, before we had to pick the guys up.

The rest of the group decided they wanted to see Carmel as well, so we went back up. In hindsight, I should have gone kayaking, as they ended up doing wine-tasting and not much else.

We did try to get over to Point Lobos after Carmel, but didn’t make it in time, so hopefully tomorrow, on the way to Big Sur.

San Francisco, Day 2

Today dawned foggy. A thick pea fog, with only a hundred feet or so of visibility. Here in Pacifica, it was foggy around 8 when we did a coffee run, but had burned off by 10 or so when we decided to head into San Francisco to get a closer look at the Golden Gate Bridge.

As we got closer to the bridge, though, the fog closed in again. By the time we got to the bridge overlook, the fog was blowing hard, and you could only see the first hundred feet or so of it.

Fog blowing around the Golden Gate Bridge.

With the bridge invisible, it didn’t make much sense to hang around, so Tom suggested we visit the Point Bonita Lighthouse.

The lighthouse is on a small craggy island, connected to another craggy cliff by a pedestrian suspension bridge. To get to it, you walk along a path, past rocky outcrops, and through a hand-hewn tunnel through a tall cliff.

Walking there in the fog, I was struck by the sounds — the crash of the surf, and the foghorns in the distance. There were cormorants on the rocks surrounding the lighthouse.

After the lighthouse, we wanted to visit Muir Woods, but as we started to get close, we realized reservations were needed for admission — and we didn’t have one. So we turned around, and visited the Sausalito Harbor. By this time the fog had burned off, and it was bright and sunny. The harbor is very pretty, and there are a ton of shops and restaurants along the waterfront.

After lunch, we wanted to see if the fog had burned off at the Golden Gate, but no luck. It was definitely less foggy than the morning, but visibility was pretty poor, so we decided to skip it.

The one thing Matt really wanted to do today was watch the Florida State football game, so we headed back to Pacifica. Matt got settled in for the game, and Tom ran some errands. Once he got back, Mike, Brian, Tom and I headed over to nearby Rockaway Beach for sunset. There was a big cliff next to the beach, and we climbed up to get a better view.

Despite the treacherous footing, the view was awesome. Once the sun set, I looked back to the east, where I could see the fog clouds once again start to flow over the mountains.

Gordon Lightfoot

I just read the news that Gordon Lightfoot has died. Given his age and condition, it’s not surprising, but still, it’s a shock. He was my number one favorite musical artist.

I’d heard his hits on the radio, of course, all through high school, and loved “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” when it first came out, not knowing at first, that it was based on a true story, but it wasn’t until the late seventies/early eighties that I really got into his music.

Someone had left Gord’s Gold at the Cape House, and I just totally fell in love with it. A lusher re-recording of many of his hits from the sixities and early seventies, it’s a great album. I so fell in love with the storytelling of the “Canadian Railroad Trilogy”, which tells the story of the building of the Canadian Pacific Railroad, that I listened to it over and over until I knew the lyrics:

There was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run
When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun
Long before the white men and long before the wheel
When the green dark forest was too silent to be real

But time has no beginnings and history has no bounds
As to this verdant country they came from all around
They sailed upon her waterways and they walked the forests tall
Built the mines, mills and the factories for the good of us all

And whеn the young man’s fancy was turning to the spring
The railroad mеn grew restless for to hear the hammers ring
Their minds were overflowing with the visions of their day
And many a fortune lost and won and many a debt to pay

The song then switches to the viewpoint of the industrialists, who developed the land, and to the “railroad men” who envisioned “an iron road runnin’ from the sea to the sea” After this section there is a bridge, the tempo changes, and he switches viewpoints again, to the “the navvies who work upon the railway/Swingin’ our hammers in the bright blazin’ sun“. I can see this section in my mind’s eye, almost cinematically — yellow filter with the sunset behind, semi-slow motion silhouette of a worker swinging his sledge hammer to drive in the spikes.

Another bridge, and the original melody resumes, and the song’s camera pulls back, to show what the workers have accomplished, and the cost: “We have opened up the soil/With our teardrops and our toil”

The last stanza reprises the first, with one important addition:

For there was a time in this fair land
When the railroad did not run
When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun
Long before the white men and long before the wheel
When the green dark forest was too silent to be real
When the green dark forest was too silent to be real
And many are the dead men
Too silent to be real

The storytelling in this song just blew me away. Pop music, at least the music you heard on the radio, was typically just love songs. This, this told a story. It was the first song I learned, (and to this day, if I want to test a keyboard, I’m apt to rattle off “There was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run).

I fell in love with Gord’s Gold down the Cape, but it wasn’t mine, and I had to leave it there. The first album I owned was a birthday present that fall: Dream Street Rose. Again, a great combination of songs, including “Ghosts of Cape Horn” describing the sailing ships that rounded the Horn.

I started working around that time, and was able to start picking up his albums for myself. A concert of his, around the time of Shadows, was the first concert I ever went to. I must have seen him half a dozen times, at various venues in Boston, and the South Shore Music Circus. I picked up all his albums through the nineties, and most of his earlier work. When he appeared on PBS’s Soundstage, I recorded the audio off the TV, and nearly wore the tape out.

Nothing lasts forever, though, and while he never lost his songwriting ability, his wonderful baritone started to become reedy and thin. I started to find him unlistenable around the time of A Painter Passing Through, and stopped going to see him and picking up his newer music. I still love his older stuff though, especially the era from the seventies to early eighties, and feel like a big chunk of my musical life is gone.


Like a lot of people, I’ve become addicted to Wordle, the word guessing game first created by Josh Wardle. It’s sort of like Mastermind for words — you have to guess a five letter word in as few tries as possible. It does not give you any meaning based clues; instead, you enter a guess, and it colors any letters that are correctly in the right position green, any letters that are in the word but in the wrong position a mustard yellow, and any wrong letters dark grey. There’s only one puzzle per day. The game makes it easy to share your score via text or social media by placing an obfuscated version of your guess on the clipboard:

Wordle 679 4/6


(I probably should have gotten that one sooner)

My sister Karen also likes to play, and we tend to text each other our scores. I think we’re basically in the same league; some days she does better than me, somedays I do better than her, and somedays we do the same.

Wardle originally created the game for his wife, and when it became popular, he sold it to the New York Times in January 2022. The Times has maintained free access to the game.

One of the things they’ve added is Wordlebot, which provides an online analysis of the way you played today’s puzzle. What I find fascinating about Wordlebot is the way it solves the puzzle. It’s appears to be mostly probabilistic.

Here’s the way it appears to solve the puzzle:

  • It starts off with a fixed list of around 3000 words
  • It makes an initial guess, usually SLATE, and then filters out those words that the clue response eliminates. When analyzing your score, it will tell you how many words are still possible based on your guesses.
  • It makes another guess, based on the words remaining, probably weighted by some sort of word usage, and repeats until it gets the word.

I don’t work that way. For one thing, even though I have a very large vocabulary, I don’t keep all of them in my head. Here’s I I solve it:

  • I start with a word with a couple of vowels and some of the more common consonants. For a long time it was HEART, now I tend to follow Wordlebot and use SLATE
  • If none of the vowels hit, I’ll go with a word like SOUND to test a couple of the other vowels. If I did get a vowel, I then have to consider its placement, how many of them I got. Many five letter words have two vowels; if I only got one, then it’s not unlikely there’s a second, and I’ll choose a word to test that. I don’t play in hard mode,
  • If one of the vowels is in third position, I tend to try out two letter consonant combinations, since words that begin with a consonant tend to be more common than words that begin with vowels. If I know the first or second letter, that can be constraining, since a lot of letter combinations don’t work — think, for example, “dv”. If I can’t find a two letter consonant combination, then I’ll try a vowel in first position.

In general, I have a sense of English letter patterns, but what I don’t have is a sense of what words I have not yet eliminated. I can’t tell you how many times I’ll agonize over finding a word that fits, trying out different letters to see if they sound right, and then finally, I’ll trip over the word, and it will be immediately obvious it is right.

Then I’ll look at Wordlebot, and it will tell me I’ve eliminated all but one word, and I should have it in the next turn. If I’ve done well, it will have be on the next turn, and other times… not.

The Verizon Follies

I’ve been a Verizon FiOS for the past fifteen years. Up until last week, I was a happy Verizon customer for TV, internet and phone.

I arrived home last Monday to find that the internet was down. A quick check showed me that the TV was down too.  I didn’t bother checking the phone — I seldom use the house phone anymore — but I assume it was down too.

The first thing I did was go downstairs, and check the Optical Network Terminal (ONT). I saw no indicator lights on it. 

The next thing I did was use the Verizon FiOS app to try to contact support. Oh, gawd. It. was. so. bad. Slow, laggy, and the user experience sucked. I build user interfaces for a living, and one of the the things you learn is that when the user acts, your app needs to react.

This app lead me through a series of yes/no questions, and when I answered each one, it sat there. No reaction whatsoever for seconds. The buttons didn’t highlight to indicate they’d activated, there  was no focus ring to indicate that the button had been clicked, there wasn’t any kind of spinner or progress bar to indicate a request had been sent to the server and that the app was waiting for a response. It just sat there, and I wasn’t even sure it hadn’t died. It finally led me through a series of checks which seemed to indicate that it was testing the ONT to see if it had power, and when it got the the last screen…. it was empty. Nada.

Having gotten nowhere with the in-app diagnostics that were supposed to get me back up and running “in just a few minutes”, I used the option to get a call from Verizon. I gave them my cell phone number, and sure enough, I got a call in just a moment. It went downhill from there. Press one for this, press two for that, etc, for a long chain of options. Finally it agreed that I could talk to a representative. And then it put me on hold for about ten minutes (it felt like an hour, but I just checked my phone). I finally got to an operator who told me that it was a known issue that should be fixed by 7 the next day.

So much for Monday night. I’d spent about an hour between the app and waiting on hold. I had no TV and not much internet — just cellular on the phone — so I actually read a book.

The next day, Tuesday, I got up early, because I knew that with the internet down, I would have to go into the office to get work done. Sure enough, the system was still down, so I went into Watertown. 

When I got back, the system was still down, so I called Verizon back; and this time I pressed a little. I got another operator, who continued to tell me that the problem was a cut fiber somewhere. I told him I was standing in front of the ONT, and it had no power. No, no he assured me. The problem was on their end. Well, what if there is a problem here too, and you fix your network problem, and I’m still down? Didn’t listen, just said they were working on it, and he would check in at 10 PM to see if I was back up. He didn’t and I wasn’t. I was beyond furious at this point.

The next day was Wednesday, the day we ordinarily go into the office, and I had a decision to make. Should I go in, or did I need to stick around to see if a tech would come?

I called Verizon back, and promptly got dumped into a robosystem that swiftly informed me that I already had a ticket open and it would not be resolved until 8 PM, and that there was nothing else anybody could tell me. Click.

By this point, I was pretty damned sure that the problem was sitting in front of me. They’d sent me a mail last year saying it was no longer supported, but since I work from home, it’s hard to be both available for a tech and get work done. So I put it off. But I know that indicator lights mean something, and if even the power light is off, there’s a problem. I was boiling mad, so I tried using the “I want a call” option again, and this time, I got an operator who listened.

He scheduled a tech to visit that day to diagnose the problem, and another tech the next day to upgrade the system. Finally. I mean, I wasn’t thrilled that I’d be down for two days, but at least, I was confident that the problem would be solved. I was hoping the tech could get the existing system back up so I could limp along for a couple of hours, until I had to go down again the next day for the upgrade, so I texted my boss to let him know I wouldn’t be available today and part of the next day.

James, the technician who came that day, was awesome. He took one look at the old ONT, pronounced it dead, and told me he could replace the ONT and router and arrange with one of his co-workers to come in and complete the upgrade that day. And he did. He got the internet back up in a couple of hours, running at much higher speed, and his colleague came by around 4:45 to handle the TV upgrades. It was done, and I now have a much better system (aside from the fact that the wifi doesn’t reach well into the bathroom). James and his colleague (and I wish I could remember her name) were the heroes of this little misadventure.

This whole thing feels like such an unforced error. As I said, up until last week, I’d been a very enthusiastic Verizon customer, because the previous times I’d called them, they’d responded quickly and well. I would get advertisements for other ISPs and chuck them, because their service is notoriously bad, and why would I want to deal with that when I was dealing with a good outfit that took customer service seriously?

At least, I was.

They burned so much good will with me over the course of about forty hours. Clearly, some bean counters somewhere realized it was cheaper to get rid of a bunch of representatives who knew what they were doing, and replace them with a poorly made app (which is clearly just a series of web views) a shoddy, unresponsive back-end backing it up, and outsourced customer service operators working off canned scripts that try to avoid having to send out repair people.

Yes, it’s cheaper. But it’s not more efficient.

It takes a hell of a lot of money to attract a new customer. I remember when I first got FiOS reading that they were spending ridiculous amounts of money on each new customer. If they can retain existing customers, that’s money they can amortize, not spend again trying to replace that customer. Furthermore, if they can keep those customers happy, they’ll tell other people, and hopefully that means attracting new customers is easier and less expensive.

Instead, they’ve chosen to become just as customer-hostile as the other guys. What a goal to shoot for. Instead of diagnosing the problem properly the first night, and sending someone out the next day to deal with it — since the problem started in the early evening, I would have been content with next day service — they fumbled for about 36 hours, while I became more and more enraged.

And I’m damned well making sure everyone I come into contact with knows about it.

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.