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Posts tagged as “We Call It Living”

[twenty twenty-four day fifty-five]: like it always was that way

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According to legend, the man who built this house died in this courtyard. Well, technically, he's the man who oversaw its most recent renovation; the core of the house is almost 75 years old, and on plans for the renovations we found in an old drawer, the courtyard appears to have been a swimming pool. Regardless, when he passed, this big, rambling old house soon became too large for his widow, who moved out, leaving it empty for quite a while, enabling us to get it for a steal during the pandemic.

While we wouldn't have turned down a swimming pool - we were actually more concerned with getting away from the drought and the fires and the burning than we were about where we were moving to, other than "big enough for an art studio and a library" - we much prefer the courtyard, which we've started calling "The French Quarter." But the excellent design of this house - architecturally, most of the windows have an excellent view, and the landscaping slopes away from the house almost everywhere to keep it dry - has a few minor warts on it, including the courtyard: under the overhangs, nothing will live.

The feature that keeps the water away from the house - the landscaping and the big sofits - makes it hard for anything smaller than a bush to live. When we moved in, and put in that little sitting area using paving stones and chairs from my late mother's old garden, I dug up the monkey grass where I put in the paving stones, and used it to fill in the areas you now see filled with rocks. That grass lasted about a season, and by the next year, you couldn't even tell anything had been planted there. It was just dust and weeds, and even the weeds frankly weren't doing too well themselves and could have used a watering.

So, kind of in desperation, we hit on the idea of putting in more stream stone as a kind of a border, which the former owners had put around the fountain. This is something our termite folks have actually been asking us to do around the whole house to create a barrier, but we decided to get started here.

And I guess the surprise is that this stopgap effort looks really good. We sort of expected that it would have looked better than scraggly weeds and dead dirt, but, actually, it looks REALLY good, as if it was always supposed to have had a stone border around the outside.

I guess my point, if I did have one, is that sometimes you do things that you have to in order to patch a problem, but if you pick the right patch, sometimes it seems like it was on purpose.

-the Centaur

Pictured: um, well, I think I said it.

welp, looks like my Facebook got hacked …

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And Facebook is a perfect example of customer-service hell in which once one has lost one's account, there's no way to talk to a person who can get this unfucked.

What happened? As best as I can figure, someone attempted to hack my 2-factor authentication last night while I slept - I woke up to a text message from Facebook with a 2-factor authentication code.

What did Facebook do? When I went to check, I was logged out of Facebook on all devices, and I was told that my account was suspended for "not following their rules":

Is this possible? No. Since I rarely post, I'm pretty circumspect, and I primarily use it for Messenger to talk to a few old friends, I'm pretty sure that I wasn't doing anything that violated community standards.

And I sure didn't while I was sleeping.

Is there a way to fix this? No. I tried to follow their procedures, only to find I didn't have a linked account, because I didn't have an Oculus. And once you do create such an account, there is no mechanism to appeal a suspension - only this reference in the help files:

But, probably because these folks were trying to hack my account, they likely mucked with the email, so I never got an email from Meta about this - not even in my spam folder.

So the hackers did something bad with your account? Maybe? I can't tell. So, the next attempt is to report the account as compromised. There is a way to do that, which takes you to the following page:

But, since the hackers were likely messing with two-factor authentication and trying to break in to the account, we get back to the temporarily blocked state you have above:

Are you sure you were hacked? Pretty sure. The text came in at 2:23am, after I was already asleep.

As a last ditch effort, I remembered I had an open Facebook tab, so I tried to go screenshot it. It quickly logged out, but I got to see, very briefly, my old Facebook page, and could see the last activity was merely me using Messenger to talk to friends.

How could this be fixed? Easily. This is the kind of thing that a customer service representative, looking at the account, can resolve in five minutes flat over chat, just by looking at the calm history followed by a spike of hacked traffic. And it's the responsible thing to do for your customers.

But Facebook doesn't provide access for this - apparently except for business accounts. And, while I'm not happy with a lot of stuff Elon did at Twitter, this makes me more inclined to use services you pay for. X, in contrast, makes it very easy to appeal a decision via an easily findable and accessible form:

The bottom line? Someone hacked me while I slept, and a decade plus of Facebook is gone - principally because Meta does not provide basic tools for customer support.

Welp, nothing to do but call Zuck out about it on Xitter ...

-the Centaur

UPDATE: There are forums, where people are reporting this issue, and customer support representatives for the Meta Quest are responding. Cross your fingers. But it wasn't at all obvious that this is a solution! We're getting help from people who aren't even support staff for the same product.

UPDATE UPDATE: Nope, nevermind, they just redirect you back to the Facebook help center, which as I already confirmed, can't help you.

UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE: Apparently Facebook has someone on Twitter who monitors for just this sort of thing. That is an unorthodox solution, but I've heard of the same thing at the Google. I'll reach out; we'll see. Cross yo fingies ....

UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE: Apparently those people on Twitter are not affiliated with Facebook - there's a huge list people recommending various peeps as people who "helped me" and when you look at those users they don't appear to be affiliated with Facebook. So, no.

[twenty twenty-four day forty-seven]: two of two

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Back when I worked on-site, I used to keep a lot of genre toys on my desk - Oreius the centaur, a plush Cthulhu, a Star Trek Enterprise I used as a fidget - and I told myself that I was doing so to remind myself why I was working: not just to pay for food, clothing and shelter, but to pay for fun and entertainment.

But I had too much stuff, too poorly organized, to the point that I didn't want to come home and spend time in my own library. It got ridiculous at one point. My wife and I talked about it and I took on the big project of turning the library into something that I could REALLY use, from organized files to library style aisles.

But also, it meant having a place for everything. If I was to own the genre toys, if I was to keep them, I needed to SEE them, not just store them, and, ideally, have them be a part of my day-to-day life. This meant crafting a space, and, ultimately, building custom structures which enabled the toys to go on display. This became even more urgent in the pandemic, where we built out a lot of structure to enable us to put almost EVERYTHING on display, down to Porsche's scythe hanging over my desk.

But, as I said before, after we moved away from the drought and the fires and the burning, we left the swords lying around and the hardware to hang them in the metaphorical junk drawer. It's easy to put self-care chores like this on the back burner, as they are not "urgent". And they're not even really "important", in the grander scheme of things. But they are fulfilling, on two levels: first, in that they make your environment nicer; and second, in that they involve making and building things, which is an accomplishment of its own.

Well, now, we have assembled the things that we made to make Excalibur and Kylo Ren's lightsaber an integral part of my environment. They are no longer easily visible behind me when I'm on Meet or Zoom, but they are at last up on display again. And one more piece of the library falls into place.

All I need now is to find the jade monkey, roadmaps and ice scraper before the next full moon ...

-the Centaur

[twenty twenty-four day forty-five]: level but not even

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So back in the day (and on the Left Coast) I had a couple of swords mounted on my bookcases. We hadn't done that here because we were busy ... but two years is too long to be busy, so my wife and I decided it was time to set up the swords again, starting with the Kylo "Kylo Ren is Best Sith" Ren cross-lightsaber.

Only ... it ain't that simple. We had to buy new brackets as the previous ones disappeared in the move. We found those at Lowe's, but it turned out that we could not install the mounting diamonds as the old bookcases were solid wood and these were hollow - the screws would have pulled straight out.

Eventually we used bolts and washers and I was able to finish the installation after my wife left town.

A little duct tape and an old Amazon delivery bag protect the books in the case. There's only one problem:

Despite our careful measuring, it was not possible to make it both level (up-and-down) and even (side-to-side) at the same time. It may be that the bookcase itself is leaning (see the top of the previous picture) and since it is screwed into the bookcase next to it for stability, well, we're stuck with that.

Still, I like how it came out.

1 of 2. Next: Excalibur.

-the Centaur

[twenty twenty-four day forty-four]: i can’t drive fifty-five

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I and a politically opposite friend got together today to NOT solve the world's problems, and after a long and charged discussion we came to the conclusion ...

... that the 55+ menu at IHOP is good.

I think we can come together as a nation on this one.

Seriously, just turned 55 recently, and my buddy offered to take me out to breakfast at IHOP and order off the "senior" menu because, well ... sigh. It's time, literally, it's time. And it was pretty good!

So we've got that going for us, which is nice.

"What's that, sonny? First time trying it? I can't hear you over my advancing decrepitude ... "

-the Centaur @ 55(ish, give or take a few days)

[twenty twenty-four day forty-two]: a new life on the off-world colonies

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This is your periodic reminder that we may not be on the moon, but we live in a pretty awesome world, where almost every movie, book or comic book you ever wanted is either available to stream over the air or can be readily shipped to your home, genre toys that once were inaccessible are now readily available, and we can shrink a playable Galaga machine down to the size you can put it on your coffee table.

We've got it good. Don't screw it up.

-the Centaur

[twenty twenty-four day twenty-six]: make up your mind

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Cat, when it's raining: "Let me out! Let me out! But not this door, it's wet. Let's try another door. And another! Or another! I gotta get out! Just hold the door open until the rain stops!"

Also cat, when it is nice and sunny: "Who cares about going outside? Ima gonna havva nap."

-the Centaur

Pictured: the cat-shaped void, Loki, actually using his void-colored cat tree for once. Image taken in infrared bands and color enhanced by NASA to show surface detail.

[twenty twenty-four day twenty-four]: in foggiest depths

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One of the problems with computing is when it just gets ... foggy. Not when you're trying to do something hard, or when two pieces of software are incompatible, no. When things just sort of kind of don't work, and there are no known reasons that it's happening, and no reliable actions you can take to fix it.

Once this happened to me when I was working on a robotics device driver, and I realized the lidar itself was unreliable, so the only way to fix problems was to run each configuration ten times and keep average stats. Broken "worked" around ten percent of the time, whereas "fixed" worked around seventy percent of the time (approaching the rate at which the manufacturer's own software could connect to its own hardware).

Today, I ran into a seemingly simple problem with Anaconda, a Python package / environment management system. Conda lets you corral Python and other software into "environments" with different configurations so that potentially incompatible versions can be used on the same computer (albeit, not at the same time). It even gives you a handy indication about which environment is in use in your command prompt, like so:

There's a seemingly innocent blank line between (ThatEnvironment) and the previous line, yes? Not part of the standard Conda setup, but you can easily add it with a single line of configuration, changing the "env_prompt" to include an extra newline "\n" before printing the environment, like so:

Yeah, that line at the end. "env_prompt: \n({default_env})". In a conda configuration - a .condarc, or "dot condarc" file - which is almost as simple as possible. I don't even think the "channels" bit is needed - I didn't recall writing it, I think it just got added automatically by Conda. So this is almost the simplest possible change that you could make to your Conda configuration, done in almost the simplest possible way.

Except. It. Didn't. Take.

No matter what changes I made to the .condarc file, they didn't affect my Conda configuration. Why? I don't know. No matter what I did, nothing happened. I changed the prompt to all sorts of weird things to try to see if maybe my syntax was wrong, no dice. No amount of searching through manuals or documentation or Stack Overflow helped. I re-ran conda config, re-loaded my shell, rebooted my Ubuntu instance - nothing.

Finally, almost in desperation, I went back to my original version, and tried creating system-wide, then environment-specific configurations - and then the changes to the prompt started working. Thank goodness, I thought, and rebooted one more time, convinced I had solved the problem.

Except. It. Took. The. Wrong. Config.

Remember how I said I created a weird version just to see that it was working? Conda started reverting to that file and using it, even though it was several versions ago. It actively started overwriting my changes - and ignoring the changes in the environment-specific configurations.

So, I blew away all the versions of the file - local, system and environment-specific - and re-created it, in its original location, and then it started to work right. In the end, what was the final solution?

I have no idea.

When I started working on the problem, I wanted Conda to do a thing - print an extra blank line so I could more easily see a command and its result, separate from the next command and result. And so I created a file in the recommended place with a line containing the recommended magic words ... and it didn't work. Then I hacked on it for a while, it sort of started working, and I backed out my changes, creating a file in the same recommended place with a line containing the same recommended magic words ... and it did work.

Why? Who knows! Will it keep working? Who knows! If it breaks again, how do I fix it? Who knows!

This is what I call "the fog". And it's the worst place to be when working on computers.

-the Centaur

Pictured: Sure was foggy today.

[twenty twenty-four day twenty-three]: and for the record …

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... it's still one of the worst feelings in the world to turn back the sheets at the end of a long day, only to realize you hadn't blogged or posted your drawing. I had a good excuse yesterday - my wife and I were actually out at a coffeehouse, working on our art, when we had a sudden emergency and had to go home.

I had just finished my drawing and was about to snapshot it so I could post it, but instead threw the notebook into my bookbag, packed it up, and drove us home. Disaster was averted, fortunately, but the rest of the day was go-go-go, until finally, exhausted, I went to turn in and then went ... oh, shit. I didn't blog.

Fortunately, I didn't have to go back to the drawing board. But it did flip over to tomorrow while I was posting ... so, next day's post, here we come.

-the Centaur

Pictured: A jerky shot of me trying to document my wife's computer setup for reference.

Studio Sandi Sells Custom Sustainable Furniture!

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So, my wife's furniture business is finally kicking off! Here's the first ad for Studio Sandi's custom sustainable furniture, made from (almost) all eco-friendly, recycled and recovered materials:

Check them out at , where more information will be added soon!

-the Centaur

Pictured: An ad for Silicon Valley Open Studios, showing four pieces of art and two pieces of custom furniture, almost entirely made from recycled / sustainable materials except for the resin tops.

[twenty twenty-four day twenty]: cat-shaped void

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We have a black cat, so we got a black cat condo (just barely visible to the left). But of course, our cat-shaped void is a cat, and so prefers the blue couch, where its voluminous shedded fur is easily visible. My wife caught him in the act, so, enjoy this picture of our cat-shaped void, doing cat-styled things.

-the Centaur

Pictured: Loki on our couch. Interestingly, this picture was taken at an angle, so I rotated it, then used Adobe Photoshop's generative fill to recover the outer edge of the picture. The very outer edge is ... mostly right. Some weirdness is visible in the carpet patterns on the lower left, the brick pattern on the upper left, and whatever it is on the table on the right isn't there in reality. Otherwise, not a terrible job.

[twenty-twenty four day sixteen]: blog early, blog often

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I'm a night owl - I'd say "extreme night owl", but my wife used to go to bed shortly before I woke up - and get some of my best work done late at night. So it constantly surprises me - though it shouldn't - that some things are easier to do earlier in the day.

Take blogging - or drawing every day, two challenges I've taken on for twenty-twenty four. Sometimes I say that "writer's block is the worst feeling in the world" - Hemingway apparently killed himself over it - but right up there with writer's block is deciding to call it a night after a long, productive evening of work - and remembering that you didn't draw or blog at all that day.

Sure, you can whip up a quick sketch, or bang out a few words. But doing so actively discourages you from longer-form thought or more complicated sketches. Drawing breathes more earlier in the day, especially in the midafternoon when your major initial tasks are done and the rest of the day seems wide open. And blogging is writing too, and can benefit as much from concentrated focus as any other writing.

SO! Let's at least get one of those two things done right now.

Type Enter, hit Publish.

-the Centaur

Pictured: Downtown Greenville as seen from the Camperdown complex.

[twenty twenty-four day fifteen]: photographic archaeology

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I take a heck of a lot of pictures, seemingly way more than most of the people I know other than the ones in the movie industry; in fact, one of my friends once said "your phone eats first". But there's a secret to why I take pictures: it's for something, for the creation of an external memory - and memory is my brand, after all. With those photographs, I can figure out what happened in the past, even sometimes obscure things - like the attachment point of this lightsaber, which isn't just the diamond-shaped piece of wood, but also includes two hooks that seem to have disappeared in the move.

We may not find them, but at least now we know what to look for.

How can you turn the things in your life into an unexpected resource?

-the Centaur

Pictured: the old library, which was very nice, but not as nice as this one:

[twenty twenty-four day fourteen]: there’s no such thing as an “egg vegan”

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My wife eats vegan almost exclusively, and I often try to eat vegan when I'm with her. But she's experienced a lot of difficulty in finding vegan food, even at restaurants that claim to serve it; it's not resistance to veganism per se, but a strangely baffling lack of understanding that vegan means "no animal products".

On our recent trip to Asheville, we got a BIG set of clues as to why this is happening: purely by chance, a number of people inadvertently exposed to us why there's so much confusion around the concept of vegan as "plant based food".

First, there's no such thing as an "egg vegan" - but, apparently, there are a lot of people who are going around claiming that they are, and confusing the heck out of restaurants because of it. At one restaurant in Asheville, the host stand told us they had a "vegan southwestern benedict" but there was nothing vegan about it: it had eggs, butter and hollandaise sauce (which is egg AND butter). Our server then let slip that many people claimed to be "egg vegans" and this dish was aimed at them.

Well, maybe they THINK they're "egg vegans," but there's no such thing: the word for someone who eats eggs is "vegetarian", or if you want to get specific, "ovo-vegetarian". Regardless, the FOOD is not vegan if it has eggs in it, so it is really unhelpful to people who have chosen to be vegan, or who are avoiding eggs for health reasons, to mislabel food with eggs in it as vegan.

"Egg vegans" remind me of another group of people: those who say "they're mostly vegan, but they eat fish". The word for that is "carnivore", or if you want to get specific, "pescatarian". I actually knew a real vegan who added fish to his diet for about a month for nutritional reasons, but he was clear to everyone and himself that this was a departure from the vegan diet.

Second, some people literally do not understand that vegan is different from vegetarian - and if that person owns a restaurant, he's going to have many unhappy customers. At one Japanese restaurant we visited this weekend, there were dozens of "vegan" items marked as such on the menu - but a kindly waitress stopped by our table and warned us that the owner did not know the difference and repeatedly labeled food with butter and eggs as "vegan", despite being told otherwise.

This reminds me that some people do not understand that any animal products makes a dish not vegan. My wife's mother frequently tried to get her to eat food cooked with a ham hock in it because "it's just for flavor". The P.F. Chang's we used to go to put fish flakes in most of their vegetarian items, which makes them not just not vegan, but not even vegetarian. And so on.

Third, even when a restaurant is trying, vegan and vegetarian are confusing because they both start with VEG and end with N - and there's no standard abbreviation for either of them which can be used to unambiguously label a meal. I've seen "V", "VG", "VE" all used to refer to both vegan and vegetarian, and if you look around I bet you'll find some menus using "VN" for both purposes. Regardless, at one or two restaurants this weekend, even the waitstaff got confused as to what was vegetarian or vegan due to the "V/VE" issue.

And finally, sometimes the waitstaff just gets it wrong. And at another restaurant this weekend, the waiter didn't write our order down and completely messed it up in her head - but fortunately came back to ask before passing the wrong order to the kitchen. As another example, the staff at a very vegan-friendly local pizza joint told us that one of their pizza sauces was vegan, only to discover months later that it was not.

So it's seemed strange to us that some people can't seem to wrap their head around what vegan is. But if some people are running around claiming to be "egg vegans", the owners are mislabeling the meals, the meals are not labeled clearly enough even for the staff to tell, and sometimes people are just mistaken even when they're trying to get it right, it seems more clear why things get messed up.

But really, vegan is just plant based food, and if it's not plant based food, it's not vegan.

-the Centaur

P.S. Fine, fine, bacteria and fungi aren't technically plants, but they're vegan. Just nothing with a face or a mother, and nothing from something with a face or a mother, okay?

Pictured: Sunny side up eggs, bacon, and French toast, NONE of which are vegan.

[twenty twenty-four day twelve]: this is why we don’t use pesticides

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Some people wonder why me and my wife are so strict about not using pesticides and weedkillers in our yards. Well, there's the general principle of not contributing more toxic chemicals to the environment, and in San Jose there was the concern that our cats walked in the yard, then slept in our beds, and we didn't want them tracking in chemicals (other than dust and pee and poop, but, oh well).

But in South Carolina? We have a well. Our yard is our source of drinking water. And the recent unexpected excess precipitation event really brought that home by making the water drainage channels visible:

We get enough chemicals from our neighbors poisoning their lawns. We don't need to add any more to it. In fact, we're busy enough trying to slowly clean up the waste that the previous owners left on the property ... it's a nice house, but someone seemed to think that the woods around it were a dumping ground.

One step at a time. But one of those steps is, don't add pesticides or herbicides to your own drinking water.

-the Centaur

P.S. Yes, I understand a lot of chemicals get filtered out by the dirt. There's still no need to add to it.

[twenty twenty-four day eleven]: where water falls from the sky

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When we decided to live in a place where water falls from the sky, we didn't realize how much we meant it.

The good news is that there's more places to go swimming. The bad news is that you can swim in only one direction, much like a muddy simulation of the interior of a black hole.

Honey, I hope you didn't need anything at the store.

-the Centaur

[twenty twenty-four day six]: you have to remember to blog …

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... or you're not blogging every day. And I even went down to the library TO blog, but forgot what I was supposed to be working on when I got here, and did a whole buncha other tasks.

So, anyway, here's a margarita. It was strong. Enjoy.

-the Centaur