Author Archives: kiesa

Houses and Mortgages

Within the last 18 years I have owned 5 houses in three different states1. Watching mortgage rates increase so dramatically got me to thinking about our past mortgages.

We bought our first house because I couldn’t find an apartment I liked. At the time, we lived in Louisville in a 2-bedroom apartment that had an efficient layout and was an easy distance from almost everything except my new job which was an hour away in good traffic. We looked at a map and determined that Longmont would be a better base location, still relatively close to Boulder but also 20 minutes closer to my library. However, all the apartments I looked at wasted a lot of the square footage on hallways instead of living space.

Somewhat on a whim, I started looking to see if we could buy a house instead of rent. This being 2004, before the housing crash, the answer was yes even though I had been working for less than a year, Jaeger’s company was financially shaky2, and we had no down payment. We were also considerably more naive than now. I don’t remember if we were “pre-qualified” or “pre-approved”, probably the former, but in any case, we started looking at houses. It took a while to find a house we liked and the buyer agreed to our offer. This was back in the dark ages when only some of the houses had online photos and those you had to get through a broker’s special website. However, eventually we found a very nice 3-bedroom house that had a tiny yard but backed up to a green area that kept our house from immediately backing up to the house behind us. We didn’t realize it at the time, but the house also required the least amount of maintenance of any house since. Fortunately for us given we had no extra cash to spare.

We found the house but had no down payment so needed to figure out how to buy it. I remember sitting in the mortgage broker’s office, the first and last time I ever did that in person, and him trying to convince me we should get a 3-year ARM. I do not like uncertainty and didn’t want an ARM but I don’t recall being given the option of a fixed rate mortgage. I countered with a 7-year ARM, which is what I thought we had agreed on. However, this was back in the day before home buyers automatically saw documents prior to signing. When we got to the signing, which in Colorado involves the buyers and sellers being together in the same room, the escrow officer asked if we had seen our loan docs ahead of time and we said no. She looked at us in moderate consternation and proceeded to quickly summarize everything. It was at this point I learned that we didn’t have a 7-year ARM, we had a 5-year ARM. It turned out that we also applied for a home equity line of credit which took care of our 20% down payment3. I was a bit perturbed but the signing felt like it was too late to back out so we signed4.

In any case, we did buy the house and it was really exceptional to have our own home that allowed me to make changes whenever I wanted. We got our first house bills and the main mortgage amount seemed right but the second mortgage payment seemed way too small for the amount of money we had borrowed. I got out our loan docs and read through them carefully. With dawning horror I finally realized that our home equity line of credit was a 10-year, interest-only loan, that never paid down the principal amount and the interest rate adjusted monthly. Fortunately, I’m good at math. I created an amortization chart to estimate how much extra we’d need to pay each month to pay the loan off in 10 years. Almost every month the interest rate on the second mortgage increased. It started at an introductory rate of 4.00% and after 6 months jumped to 7.00% and after a year was about 8.50%. At about the one-year mark I finally investigated other options and we refinanced it into a 5-year home equity loan at 8.299% which we paid off several years early. We eventually refinanced our original ARM, with a five-year rate of 6.125%, to a 15-year fixed rate mortgage with a rate of 4.25% (though we did pay points for it).

After Calvin was born my boss agreed to let me work from home instead of commuting to Greeley every day. When Calvin was about three, Jaeger convinced me that we should move closer to his job, since I no longer had any commute. I didn’t really want to leave our first house, it met all my needs and was feasible to pay off within a relatively short amount of time. However, I had to admit that the commute wasn’t fair. Thus, we listed our house for sale and started looking closer to Jaeger’s work.

However, this was in 2012 and the housing bubble had definitely burst. While housing had recovered a bit, I knew our house wouldn’t be easy to sell. While we had a realtor helping us, I also read several excellent books about selling houses: Seven Steps to Sold, How to Sell a House Fast in a Slow Real Estate Market, and Home Staging that Works5. The home staging book, in particular, made a significant impression on me. We didn’t hire a professional stager but I did follow the staging recommendations scrupulously. While showing our house to potential buyers, we were also looking at houses in the Boulder area.

Eventually, we found a house we liked and put an offer in on it, even though we didn’t have a seller for our old house yet. Fortunately, a couple did put in an offer on our house that we chose to accept. We sold the house for about 7% less than what we had bought it for. However, the low housing prices probably benefited us in the long run as Boulder houses were also cheaper to buy. We had a slightly better idea what we were doing with our second house. Among other things, we had a down payment from paying down the principal on our first house, and we saw the loan docs ahead of time. This time we got a 5-year ARM with an interest rate of 2.75%. I still didn’t love having an ARM but at that time the fixed interest rates were significantly higher and running the various amortization charts it was obvious that the ARM was a better option.

The Boulder house turned out to be one of my favorite houses. However, when Jaeger got laid off and then offered a job at Google in San Francisco, we sold our house and moved again. With our second house we got really lucky and sold it for 42% more than we had bought it. This is the only reason we were able to buy a house in San Francisco. Yes, Jaeger’s stock helped but we still wouldn’t have had the down payment without the sale from our Boulder house6. We rented in San Francisco for almost a year before deciding to buy.

In many ways, house hunting in San Francisco was more fun than anywhere else because of how ubiquitous the open houses were. I spent many fun weekends walking from house to house without having to go to the trouble of making an appointment ahead of time. Also, San Francisco has some truly weird houses. I still remember the basement that obviously had been an illegal apartment and they made it legal by pulling out the walls but leaving the floor footprint so you could see how the rooms use to be laid out. Eventually, we found a house that met both our needs and our budget. That house we bought with a 7-year ARM with an interest rate of 3.5%. We weren’t sure how long we planned to stay in San Francisco which is why we went with the ARM option again.

San Francisco wasn’t working for me, for various reasons, and I got offered a great job up in Seattle so we moved up there. We owned our San Francisco house less than 2 years so I wasn’t entirely sure we would break even. However, we lucked out and sold it for 16% more than we bought it for. In retrospect, I think the buyer might have overpaid because we’ve been keeping an eye on the house and it didn’t appreciate much when it was sold 3 years later.

In Seattle, we lived in a temporary rental for several months which, in retrospect, I think was a mistake because there was too much pressure to buy a house quickly. Though, there weren’t a lot of longer term rentals that would fit our family’s needs. Jaeger and I also had trouble agreeing on a house but we eventually found a house that was good enough. We got another 7-year ARM, at 4.125%, because we felt there was a decent chance we’d leave Seattle in 5 years. This was the first house we owned that required major repairs. The roof started leaking even before we moved in7. However, this was the house where I really learned that I like quirky better than shiny. Even with it’s flaws, I liked it better than our San Francisco house. Also, the house came with an insane number of roses in the front which, at first, overwhelmed me but I now miss.

Seattle wasn’t working for Jaeger, for various reasons, so we decided to move back down to California. We made this decision about a month prior to the pandemic starting but I wanted to stick around till I had worked a full two years at that library. By the time we were ready to sell, it was the summer of 2020. Not the best time to sell, even though I believe the market picked up later. This was another house we sold for loss, about 8% less than we bought it. However, we lost more money because the new roof was a significant expense and we had also spent money on the master bath8.

Exactly where to move to in California was a matter of debate. I didn’t want to deal with the stress of living in a large city on top of my disappointment in leaving my Seattle job. Jaeger found a rental in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It was glorious and provided exactly the life I wanted for my kids. However, it was a bit too remote for Jaeger. So, when we started looking to buy again, we ended up gravitating towards a house closer to Santa Cruz.

At this point we were still in the middle of the pandemic except housing had picked up significantly, even in most cities. This was the oddest house buying experience I’ve had. Competition was probably fiercer than what we had previously experienced in Seattle and San Francisco. Twice we found houses which were no longer available by the weekend. Once we went on a house tour where the buyer’s agent insisted on joining us due to COVID reasons, I guess to keep our germs from touching the owner’s property, and spent the whole tour with a drooping mask crowding us in a clearly unsafe manner. Fortunately, that house didn’t speak to us so we didn’t have to deal with that agent again.

One weekend I needed to get out of the house so I drove down to check out a City of Santa Cruz park with redwoods. It was a lovely trail and reminded me a lot of wandering around the woods when I was growing up, though with significantly fewer blackberry brambles to get scratched by. The park happened to be relatively near a house for sale so I left my car at the park and walked up the hill to the house, just to see the outside. The outside didn’t offend me and I really liked the idea of being close enough to walk to real trees9. The inside pictures looked decent so we scheduled time to see the house.

The house was large and quirky, so it met many of our requirements. We put in an offer but were outbid. I was disappointed but really didn’t want to pay more than I felt the house was worth and so moved on. That is, until our realtor contacted us about a week later asking if we were still interested. It turns out the other buyers were getting cold feet and/or were asking for more concessions than the seller wanted to give so we got the house after all. This was when interest rates were still at historic lows and so we bought this house with a 30-year fixed mortgage and an interest rate of 3.25%. I really like this house and hope we are finally done moving and can stay here for a long time, especially given our low fixed interest rate.

Looking back, we’ve been extraordinarily lucky when it comes to buying houses. Our first house buying experience could have ended very badly if we hadn’t understood the terms of the loans or if we were just unlucky and lost our jobs early on before we’d built up any significant savings. However, it didn’t end badly and is one of the reasons we can buy nice houses in California. For our most recent house, if we bought now, we’d probably be paying an additional 40% a month in housing costs, mainly due to the interest rate increase10.

Again, we’re really lucky.

  1. If we include rentals, I have lived in 9 homes in 18 years.
  2. This was in the era where Jaeger was occasionally given paychecks that he was asked not to cash till several days in the future.
  3. On the upside, this also kept us from paying mortgage insurance. Though, I’ve wondered since how our broker managed that. It doesn’t make sense to me that you can get out of mortgage insurance just by adding more debt.
  4. These days I would have definitely backed out but these days I would have insisted on seeing the docs ahead of time anyway.
  5. Note, I love these books but they are quite old at this point and some of the information is dated.
  6. This is one reason I feel really bad for tech people who started in California. Yes, they have good salaries but it’s still really hard to save enough for the insane housing prices we have out here.
  7. Don’t buy a flat roof in the northwest even if the view is great. I knew better but I was so desperate to agree on a house at that point that I compromised where I shouldn’t have. Also, the inspector had pointed out potential roof problems, we just didn’t realize it was actively leaking as we bought in summer.
  8. Though, much of that labor was provided by Jaeger.
  9. A tree is not real unless it’s thick enough you can’t put your arms around it.
  10. This is assuming a 30-year jumbo mortgage with a rate of 5.625%, which is probably on the low side, and looking at Zillow’s Zestimate range and choosing the lowest number given we are in a cooling housing market.

Using Mastodon

I first heard about Mastodon in 2017. Yanthor was also intrigued and he got me to take the next step and actually join octodon.social, a Mastodon instance. I stayed on Octodon for a bit but wandering.shop had more people talking about books so I eventually migrated to that instance because I found the local timeline more interesting. I don’t post a lot, particularly compared to others, but I’ve been a regular user since November 2017 and I have seen many people come and go over the years.

As I mentioned on Twitter, I’m slowly edging away from my account there. However, I don’t use my wandering.shop account in the same way I used my Twitter account. I do post life updates on wandering.shop but what I really love to talk about in that space is books, usually science fiction or fantasy. After some thinking, I’ve decided to use my old Octodon account as a general Twitter replacement.

If you are interested, there are a couple of different ways you can see what I’m posting on my Octodon account:

  1. The easiest option is to just go to my public timeline whenever you think about it. This is probably the easiest approach.
  2. If you want to get slightly fancier, you can also get an RSS feed of my local timeline. This is probably not a good option unless you already use an RSS reader for other things.
  3. If you want to be extra special fancy, you can get your own Mastodon account.

Mastodon options for posting toots.

General Mastodon
If you’ve never been on a Mastodon instance before, I imagine there’s a lot of terms in my prior paragraphs that doesn’t make sense. A Brief Mastodon Guide for Social Media Worriers is a good introduction for beginners. However, below is a summary of some of the details I think are pertinent.

Unlike Twitter, there is no one Mastodon. Instead, there are lots of Instances which know how to talk to each other. Many people explain this as being similar to email. Gmail users can email Yahoo users who can email Outlook users. However, unlike email, the community and culture of specific Mastodon instance can vary widely and is often based on specific shared interest. For example, code4lib.social tends to be a place for techie librarians/information professionals while mastodon.art people post a lot of art. Most of these instances have some sort of rules they require accounts to follow, for example here are mastodon.art’s rules.

If you use a Mastodon instance similar to how you use Twitter, your instance doesn’t matter as much as long as you stick to your instance’s rules. However, one fun thing Mastodon has is local timelines. Timeline icon.This is where you can go and see what everyone else is publicly talking about on your instance. This is also why it’s particularly fun to find an instance centered around topics you find interesting. However, it’s pretty easy to move instances so it’s fine to start with a larger one like mastodon.social until you find a more interesting one1. It’s much easier to move instances than it is to change email addresses.

Content Warnings
Mastodon etiquette will vary from instance to instance. However, it’s generally considered good manners to use content warnings when you suspect someone may be bothered or annoyed by a topic. Common topics to content warn include things like politics, traumatic events, graphic pictures, mental health, etc. However, the specifics do depend a little bit on your instance and the other people you follow. For example, food is often content warned on my instance and often they’ll explicitly content warn if it’s non-veg. If you go look at your local timeline, you can often get a feel for what people content warn and what they don’t.
Content warning icon.
You can also use content warnings to discuss spoilers which allows people to enjoy book/movie discussions without accidentally learning major plot points ahead of time.

Post privacy options: Public, Unlisted, Followers only, Mentioned people only.
I also use content warnings when I’m talking about things that don’t really fall into the general interests of my instance (such as parenting or kids). However, I just realized that’s probably not the right way to do it. I probably should have also been using the “unlisted” feature where my followers can see what I’m talking about but it doesn’t appear in the local timeline. I’ve been using Mastodon for five years and am still learning new things.

While I use content warnings heavily at wandering.shop, I’m planning to use them much less frequently with my Octodon account. Instead, I’m going to try keeping my posts primarily unlisted so they don’t ambush people in the local timeline. My thought is that keeping things without content warnings will probably be easier for the family member who just wants to see updates without a lot of clicking. This is an experiment so we’ll see how it goes.

Alt Text
The other thing that is strongly encouraged is to provide alt text for any images you post. There are a fair number of users that use screen readers and they really appreciate alt text being added. Here’s a good guide on entering helpful alt text.

Mastodon App
When using a desktop, it’s really easy to load and use Mastodon in a browser window. Personally, I suggest enabling the “advanced web interface” view. However, there are various apps available for use on mobile devices. Since my transition back to Android, I’ve been using the “official” Mastodon app. Which, it turns out has quite a few limitations. I just started using Tusky which lets me post unlisted and also allows me to easily see the local timeline.

Hashtags
Mastodon doesn’t allow searching on your posts unless you hashtag them. If you want to be found by people with common interests, hashtag your posts. If you don’t want to be found, don’t hashtag topics. When Elon Musk first threatened to buy Twitter we had a lot of new users. I did an introduction post and listed my general interests. All of a sudden, my timeline got much busier than I wanted. This time, I’m keeping quiet and not hashtagging anything. I’ll probably start hashtagging more once things get quieter again.

Support
If you end up sticking around, and can afford it, make a small contribution to help support your instance. Most instances have a way to give money, such as a Patreon account.

Mastodon is made up of flawed humans
Some people come to Mastodon expecting utopia. However, Mastodon is far from perfect and it has many of the same problems that Twitter does. Unfortunately, people get harassed on Mastodon instances just like they do at Twitter. However, your instance has more control over what it allows through and so moderation is sometimes better on Mastodon (and sometimes worse). Like Twitter, you will also have very well meaning people who just don’t think before they say something hurtful. Or, a mob of users may gang up on someone because of a innocently meant remark.

That said, I generally find Mastodon to be a more pleasant experience than Twitter. If I’m tired of hearing about election news, I can easily scroll past it because people are content warning it. If I don’t have the energy to handle someone else’s bad day, I don’t click into their content warned post. If I need something good in my life, I go search for #catsofmastodon or #florespondence2. It’s not a perfect place but I still enjoy using it.

Additional Reading

  1. Because of the Twitter drama a lot of the smaller Mastodon instances are currently overwhelmed. As a result, quite a few of them have chosen to stop allowing new users or have switched to only allowing new users to join if they have an invite from a current user. However, they often open back up once things calm down again.
  2. If nothing appears when you click, it’s possible the server is currently overloaded. Again, this will even out when most people go back to Twitter.

Rio

This last August I started dreaming about cats. They would randomly show up in my dreams and just hang out, purring. Then I would wake up and be sad not to have a purring cat next to me.

It’s been over a year since Willow died. She’d been with us for almost sixteen years and had lived in every house we’ve ever owned. It was both sad and weird to not have her around. For quite a while it felt a bit overwhelming to think about getting another cat. However, once I started dreaming about them I figured it was time.

I talked to Jaeger about getting a new cat and he was fine with the idea. I was thinking about looking for a bonded pair, so the cats could keep each other entertained. However, Jaeger leaned toward one cat. Regardless of the cat numbers, I didn’t want to do anything hasty. Every so often I’d go online to look at the cats available at the nearby animal shelters and wait for inspiration to strike. I had some basic criteria: I wanted a cat who was cuddly, a good purrer, and didn’t hate children1. However, I looked at the lists of cats and couldn’t figure out what would cause me to choose one over another.

Last Friday I was getting ready to take the kids to school when I noticed a cat outside our front door. I decided to go out and see if the cat would let me pet it. It did but, as I was petting it, I noticed how thin it was and how matted its fur was. The cat looked like she was in pretty poor shape so I took her inside, so she wouldn’t wander off, with plans to post on Nextdoor and/or take her someplace to see if she was microchipped. She looked kind of rundown but had beautiful markings. A very handsome cat. Also, she was obviously use to people and was very friendly.

It turns out she was a neighbor’s cat. Jaeger had seen her once before, though she seemed in better condition at that point. My hypothesis was she must have been sick which is why she looked like a stray. The neighbor who responded wasn’t actually the cat’s owner so I didn’t get the full story. However, the neighbor did say that the cat is allowed to roam oatside. Based on that, I didn’t feel like I could keep her trapped in our house. So, I let the cat out and she happily trotted off back down the cul-de-sac and clearly looked like she was headed home. I haven’t seen her since. We fed her while she was here. In retrospect, she didn’t eat an excessive amount, just some of the wet food. In any case, I assume if she actually was hungry she would have come back for more food later and she hasn’t.

I was a bit disappointed because I thought maybe the universe was sending me a cat and that turned out not to be the case. However, it did emphasize that I really wanted a cat. I took a look at the animal shelter pictures again and came across a cat named Waylon2. Waylon was around one year old and described as very affectionate, loves snuggling, and purrs enthusiastically. Also, he was an orange cat. Nimrod3, my very first cat as a kid, was an orange cat and he’s the standard I judge all other cats against. He was very vocal and had a wonder purr4. I decided it was a sign and talked Jaeger into going down to the animal shelter with me on Saturday.

Saturday afternoon we loaded the kids into the car and headed off to the animal shelter. When we got there, they asked us what traits we wanted in a cat and then took us around pointing out some cats who might meet our criteria. We came up with a list of five cats and then went back to the desk where they looked them up and gave us some brief information about each of them. One of them we excluded based on past history as it seemed like she became stressed around children. That left us with four cats that seemed like good candidates.

The first cat we visited was named Evanescence. She was just over one but had already had a litter of kittens5. She had caught Jaeger’s eye because she was enthusiastically trying to interact with us when she was in her cage. However, in the visiting room she mostly ignored us, running back and forth between the two glass doors. It seemed she wasn’t interested in us as much as getting out and exploring things. Understandable, but it didn’t give us enough information to know if she’d be a good fit.

While we were waiting for our next cat, one of the volunteers asked if we wanted to hold the cat she was holding. We said sure. On the upside, the cat sniffed Julian’s hand and didn’t instantly recoil. However, she wasn’t quite what we were looking for so they took her back. Unfortunately, she had a cold so we all had to tromp into the bathrooms and wash our hands before we could see the next cat.

The next cat was named Motherboard and I’m fairly certain she ended up on our list because Jaeger liked the name6. Motherboard seemed pretty promising. She was affectionate and seemed to like Julian a great deal. However, I still wanted to see the others.

The next cat we visited with was Rio. She won me over pretty quickly with her very loud purr. She was also the only cat who was interested enough in Jaeger to actually jump up into his lap7. After visiting her, I was fairly certain she was going to be our choice. However, we hadn’t visited with Waylon yet, the cat that enticed me into the shelter to begin with.

When we visited with Waylon it quickly became apparent he was not the right cat for us. It’s true he was cuddly but more in a “please hide me from the world” sort of way. The volunteer handed him to me and he jammed himself into my arm and tried to ignore that the rest of the world existed. If we didn’t have kids I still might have considered him. However, we felt that even fairly well-behaved kids would probably be too overwhelming for him.

After seeing all the cats, Rio was the clear winner for our family.


Black cat standing with upright tale.

We brought Rio home and I let her out in our master bathroom. I had closed all the master bedroom doors but had left the door between the bedroom and bathroom open. She sniffed around the bathroom for a few minutes but once she got into our bedroom she headed straight under the couch and refused to come out. She stayed there all afternoon. I finally managed to coax her out around 11pm after the kids had gone to bed and the house had quieted down significantly. However, once she was out, she seemed fairly comfortable. Unfortunately, I noticed that the bottom of her left eye was swollen and she was sneezing a lot. This wasn’t too surprising, as quite a few cats at the shelter had colds, but the shelter hadn’t tagged her as a sick cat.

I went to bed around midnight and she quickly followed me into bed. I learned that she really liked burrowing under the covers. I had heard of cats sleeping under covers before but my cats never had so it was a novel experience for me. She is a fairly well mannered sleeping partner, at least for a cat. She kept up a nice purr but didn’t do any meowing during the night. She also didn’t insist we stay awake and entertain her by raking her claws across my face (Cat5 would do this).

Black cat peaking out from under a duvet.

Given Rio had slept with us all night, I thought she would be more comfortable on Sunday. However, as soon as we got up she disappeared under the sofa again. My original plans for the day included cleaning the master bathroom. However, I decided that many smells might make Rio even more nervous so decided to skip until next weekend. I spent a good portion of the afternoon sitting on the sofa hoping she’d come out but she stayed firmly underneath.

Jaeger had gone to a concert and Calvin went to a Renaissance fair with a friend so it was just Julian and I. After supper, we watched Netflix’s “Inside the Mind of a Cat” which we both found pretty interesting. Among other things, it talked about how cats like to be treated so I’m hoping Julian picked up some useful dos and don’ts.

After I put Julian to bed, I went back to our bedroom and Rio came out and sat on my lap until my bedtime. I went to bed and she happily followed me like the previous night.

Today, I got out of bed at my normal time but Jaeger and Rio continued to sleep. After I came back from dropping Julian off, I went to our room but couldn’t find Rio. I started wondering if she had escaped out of our bedroom. However, I eventually found her under the duvet. It turns out what I thought was a wrinkle was actually Rio. Her eye still looks bad to me so I called Willow’s old vet to see if I could get an appointment for today. However, the vet was out sick and they weren’t accepting any new animals. I called a couple of other places and none of them were accepting new pets. I was starting to panic when I finally found a place accepting new patients. They had me fill out a form and will contact me to schedule an appointment “within 48 hours”. Not as fast as I would prefer but at least it’s better than nothing.

Rio seemed much more comfortable in our bedroom today than previous days. She wandered around a fair bit, included a brief visit to my office. She spent the majority of the day under our bed. However, she seemed more relaxed than the previous day.
Black cat sitting in sunlight on purple armchair.

Now that it’s evening Rio is once again out. She’s currently sitting on Jaeger’s lap. Though, she did spend a bit of time chasing the laser pointer. So far I can verify she’s a very cuddly cat and has a great purr. Given she mainly has emerged in the evening, we have yet to see if she’ll get along with Julian. I’m crossing my fingers. Regardless, she seems a good fit for Jaeger and I.

Black cat in front of box.

  1. Cat5 and Willow both predated our kids and never completely forgave us for having human children. Our children and our cats coexisted by keeping a respectful distance from each other.
  2. I keep accidentally calling him Waymo
  3. When we named him, we had more familiarity with biblical references than popular culture. He’s named after the great hunter in the Bible. We didn’t intend to give him a derogatory name.
  4. He also was a very good hunter. My parents had a mole problem prior to his arrival but Nimrod took care of it. He also attacked an opossum, at least once, that was as big as he was
  5. A distressing number of one-year-old females had already given birth.
  6. When the shelter gets a mom and kittens they try to name the cats according to a theme. However, the shelter was running out of good names and had resorted to somewhat bizarre names such as Ketchup and Mustard.
  7. Most of the visiting rooms only had 2 chairs so Calvin and Jaeger sat in the chairs and Julian and I sat on the ground. This meant that Julian and I tended to get more interaction with the cats.

Office Upgrade

We have been living in our current house for over a year. I think it’s on its way to being my favorite house. This is a relief as we’re hoping not to move again for at least another decade. I started with a solid layout plan prior to moving in. However, the longer we live in this house, the better feel we have for our needs. As such, we’ve been making incremental changes.

My office is one area that’s been going through regular small adjustments. The major components of my preliminary SketchUp plan mostly worked.
Sunroom layout. Desk on right side in front of windows. Seating area on left side with purple chair and end table. The room is long but relatively narrow so I chopped it up into two areas: an office area and a seating area.

We never got the plant stand I was originally envisioning but I’m not sure it really would have fit well anyway. We do have a coffee tree, curry leaf plant, and mint plant in the sunroom. While the three plants live in my office, Jaeger takes care of all of them. I kill plants but Jaeger clearly has a green thumb. He keeps acquiring more plants and they all seem to love him.

View of the sunroom office from the bedroom door. Can see old desk and chair as far well sitting area.

Sunroom with old desk.

I wanted blinds for the windows but the people I talked to said the skylight frame wasn’t deep enough. So I went for regular curtains for the vertical windows and foam core board, as needed, for the skylights.

I also ended up adding a tall, but narrow, bookcase next to the hallway door that contains office supplies and my romance books.

View of the sunroom office from the far corner. Can see old desk and chair as well as bookcase and hall doorway.

Sunroom with old desk and bookcase.

However, the most expensive upgrade I made just a couple of weeks ago. I finally bought an Uplift desk, similar to Jaeger’s and a desk treadmill.

We’ve recently switched up our evening schedule to include Julian in family TV time. Up to this point, I’d finish the dishes and then try to go for a walk or use my old treadmill prior to watching TV with Jaeger and Calvin at 8:00pm. However, to include Julian, we needed to move TV time to 7:00pm. I was having a really hard time trying motivating myself to do any level of exercise after watching TV. I do usually go for a walk during lunch but that doesn’t always work for my schedule and, in any case, it’s not a particularly long walk. Of course, there’s the option of getting up earlier but I’ve really been enjoying not having to get up till 7:00am.

In any case, I started mulling the conundrum around in my head trying to think of solutions. Back in 2013 I bought a cheap treadmill and used existing materials in my house to create a treadmill desk. This worked surprising well and, as an even bigger surprise, the treadmill still works and has survived five moves. It’s not in the best of condition but it still works. However, it’s currently in the downstairs bedroom, which Jaeger uses as an office, and wouldn’t easily fit in my office. I didn’t want to trade offices with Jaeger and I believe the feeling is mutual. So, I figured I’d see what’s available on Craigsilst. Craigslist did have desk treadmills for sale. Though, they felt kind of expensive for Craigslist. On a whim, I looked on Amazon to see what an official desk treadmill cost and was surprised by how cheap they were. Back in 2013, you couldn’t get a treadmill desk for under $1,000. To be fair, I think the good ones still cost over $1,000. However, I wanted to prototype the idea before spending a lot of money on it.

That said, a desk treadmill also requires an adjustable desk because I didn’t want to end up with two desk areas again. I’ve become too attached to having two large external monitors. I was less hesitant to spend money on an adjustable desk. Jaeger has had his Uplift desk for over a year and still likes it. I really like the memory options to automatically raise and lower the desk to predefined heights. So, once I figured out exactly what options I wanted, the desk was pretty easy to order.

The treadmill took more thought. There’s now quite a few cheap desk treadmills available but all of them had a decent number of reviews complaining that the treadmill broke in less than a year. After waffling for a bit, I decided that this treadmill was good enough.

Both the treadmill and the desk arrived fairly quickly. The treadmill didn’t require any setup which was lovely1. The desk took a lot longer but it wasn’t hard, just a little tedious.

So far, both the desk and the treadmill are working out great. I store the treadmill under my bed when I’m not using it. First thing in the morning I’ll pull out the treadmill and walk on it for an hour or two, depending on my meeting schedule. The fastest the treadmill will go in the desk treadmill configuration is 2.5 mph. I’d like it to go a little faster but it’s adequate to create a light sweat. At a minimum, I’m burning more calories than sitting at the desk. To my surprise, I can actually work while walking. I originally thought I’d mainly use it when reading email or other documents. However, it turns out I can also comfortable type while walking. Ten minutes before my first meeting, or after 2 hours if my morning is miraculously meeting free, I stop walking and store the treadmill back under the bed. It’s a minor pain to move it every day but I like having it completely out of the way when I’m sitting at the desk.

Sunroom office with desk lowered to sitting height. Desk chair is in front of desk.

New desk in sitting position.

Sunroom office with desk raised to use with treadmill. Treadmill is in front of desk with chair off to the side.

New desk in treadmill position.

So far I’ve only used the desk once to stand, but not walk. That was an after lunch meeting where I figured standing might help me stay awake. Though, I think I fidget too much when standing.

At the moment, this looks like it’s going to be a nice long-term solution. I’m not entirely sure what I’ll do if/when this treadmill breaks. Now that I’ve confirmed the concept is working for me, I’d be willing to pay more for a better quality treadmill. However, from what I’ve seen, the more expensive treadmills are also longer. They may not fit with my current office configuration, which I could change but would rather not, and they’re also heavier so may be hard to store out of the way. Hopefully, this treadmill will end up with an unexpectedly long life, similar to my first treadmill, so I won’t have to figure it out for a long time.

  1. I’ve put together and taken apart my old treadmill numerous times and it’s always a huge pain and I always end up with mysterious left over screws.

Oven Repair

I’ve always dreamed of having a double oven. Granted, most of the time one oven is perfectly fine. However, every so often it’s really convenient to have the ability to either bake more things at the same time or to bake multiple things at different temperatures. Thus, I was really excited when we bought this house to finally have two ovens. One is a wall oven that is part of a microwave/warming drawer/oven combo and the other oven is part of a range.

After some experimenting, I determined that I preferred using the wall oven most of the time. The wall oven’s temperature was more consistent and it’s also nice to not have to bend when pulling things out of the oven. So, except when I needed a second oven, I used the range’s oven primarily for storage of my cast iron cookware.

For Jaeger’s 2021 birthday I baked a cake in the wall oven and it turned out beautifully. Then, immediately afterward, I put the Garbanzo Pot Pie into the oven and, 30 minutes later, discovered my oven no longer baked. Not fun but I really appreciate it waited to die till after the cake had finished.

Unfortunately, the wall oven is a Thermador and I discovered there weren’t any Thermador technicians on this side of the mountain. I did find someone over in San Jose willing to come out but he was booked out till late October. Fortunately, we had the range oven so this was mildly annoying but not especially inconvenient1.

The oven repair person came out at the end of October and told me that the element was fine which meant that the control board was probably dead. Unfortunately, Thermador doesn’t make the control board for this model anymore. So, my best bet was to pull out the control board and send it to a company that specializes in fixing oven circuit boards. I asked for a recommendation and he told me to just Google for it and something would pop up. This didn’t inspire a lot of confidence as many things pop up on the internet when one searches for random things, including scams. I did do some initial searching and confirmed that this was a thing that people do. However, it seemed like a lot of work and we did still have one working oven.

Jaeger and I alternate major holidays with our families. This year is Thanksgiving with the Logans. After some discussion, everyone decided to meet at our house. Given Thanksgiving is one of the times when having a double oven would be particularly useful, I started thinking about trying to get ours fixed. Except, I didn’t get around to doing anything about it until the microwave died.

The microwave is integrated into the oven system. Originally, it was a Thermador microwave but at some point it had been replaced with an LG microwave. One day Jaeger was microwaving something in the microwave and there was a loud pop. We don’t know exactly what happened but after that the microwave no longer heated anything. Unhelpfully, it would go through all the motions without providing any error message.

Unlike the oven, we did not have a backup microwave. To make things worse, our counter space is limited and doesn’t have room for a counter microwave. Jaeger poked around and discovered that the trim around the microwave came off and he could pull the microwave out without an excessive amount of effort.

Given both the microwave and oven were no longer working, I contemplated just buying a new wall oven. However, wall ovens, at least fancy ones like we have, don’t appear to come in standard sizes. I also learned that the equivalent Thermador oven, now a “triple oven“, would cost around $10,000. I could switch to a different brand but I couldn’t find one that looked like it would fit the current space in our wall. There are companies that will take a wall oven and customize the wall niche so it fits the new oven. However, I couldn’t imagine that would end up particularly cheap either.

We decided to fix the immediate problem, no microwave, and continue to procrastinate on the oven. Then I learned that the space provided for the microwave is a bit small by today’s standards. None of the official built-in microwaves I found were the right size. Eventually, I discovered there was an equivalent LG microwave to our old one that, while technically a countertop model, had a trim kit option to convert it to a built-in. I didn’t love the buttons2. However, at this point it was obvious it was our only option.

We got the microwave oven and confirmed it fit. However, the old microwave had metal pieces screwed, and duck taped, on in order to make it fit the Thermador space. We’d need to transfer the metal to the new microwave before we could install it back into the oven system. I started taking pictures of how the metal fit together, so I’d be able to recreate it on the new microwave. However, after I finished taking pictures I decided that since we already had part of the oven system taken apart, I should at least evaluate the difficulty of dealing with the control board.

I found a website, circuitboardmedics.com that claimed to be able to rebuild boards for our oven model. However, their website said that if we had a low heat problem, we should send in the relay board also. I sighed, and found a video on extracting the relay board. This video was for a double oven but the process is essentially the same except all four anchor screws are in the single oven and I blessedly also only had one relay board to extract.

Closeup of brightly colored wires plugged into circuit board.At first, I was hoping I could just take off the front panel and get everything from there. However, it quickly became apparently I was going to need to pull the entire oven system out about a foot in order to get to the top screws. For me, my essential tools were my camera phone, needle nosed pliers, and a step ladder. I turned off the two oven circuit breakers, took many pictures to document everything as thoroughly as possible, and started pulling all the wires out of the boards. It was quite a project and ended up taking longer than I expected. However, at length, I had both the control and relay boards disconnected from the oven.
Labeled plastic bags with screws.

As required, I prepaid for the service, hoping desperately it wasn’t a scam, and then mailed the company the oven boards. It arrived at their facility on September 26 and they shipped it off on September 27. It arrived back at our house on Saturday, October 1. While it was nice to have back, it also meant I needed to find time to try install the boards back into the oven.

New microwave sitting in mircowave slot with extension cord hanging out.

Here is how we used the microwave while waiting for the oven boards to come back.

Oven system pulled out about a foot from the wall.

Pulling the oven away from the wall to access the top.

Loose wires haphazardly arranged on top of the oven frame.Sunday afternoon, when I should have been cleaning, I decided to tackle the oven. It turns out that putting the wires back on is substantially easier than taking them off. It wasn’t nearly as painful as I expected. For the most part, I had taken enough pictures for me to recreate where the wires went. However, I wasn’t quite detailed enough in some of the early pictures so I also ended up looking at the oven circuit diagram to double check a few of the wire placements.

Relay circuit board with many colorful wires.I installed the relay board, then the control board, and finished by connecting up the control panel. Then I pushed the oven back into its hole, though I didn’t screw it back in. I pulled out the kitchen fire extinguisher, double checked it was rated for electrical fires, and then flipped the circuit breaker back on. Nothing exploded! The oven clock started to placidly blink. Definitely a good sign. I tested a couple of features that had been working previously, such as the timer and oven light and then, with some nervousness, set it to bake at 350 degrees. This oven usually takes around 10 minutes to preheat so I hovered and watched. Once it finished preheating I opened the door and it felt about right. Though, I suspected that this approach is as fraught as parents trying to gauge if a kid has a temperature by using the hand on forehead method.

Microwave on floor with metal pieces duck taped to the top.I screwed in the oven to the wall and then started putting the support metal pieces onto the new microwave. To my surprise and relief, it mostly fit and only needed duck tape in the same places the previous microwave had needed it. Once its metal appendages were attached, Jaeger helped slide the microwave back into the oven slot and we snapped the decorative trim around it. Everything now looked normal again.

While I was fairly certain the oven was heating up correctly, I wanted to confirm. I decided to try baking King Arthur Flour’s Chocolate Breakfast Muffin as I make it a fair amount and I know it’s a reliable recipe. Once the batter was made, I dropped it into the muffin cups and put it into the preheated oven. I got the muffins out to test at 22 minutes and thought it wasn’t quite done so put it in for another three. In retrospect, it probably was done at the 22 minute mark as they ended up a tad on the dry side. However, the recipe did verify the oven was baking as expected!

The new microwave cost around $240. The control and relay board repair cost around $340. Not cheap but much better than what a complete replacement would cost. I’m really happy to have my wall oven working again.

Microwave, warming drawer, and oven all put back together.

A working oven and microwave!

  1. Though, one thing I absolutely hate about the range is, in order to preheat faster, it turns the broiler on. This messes up how I do sweet rolls which involves making them the night before, putting them in the fridge overnight, and then in the morning putting them in a cold oven which then gradually heats up to its normal baking temperature. The first time I made sweet rolls after switching ovens I ended up with blackened bread.
  2. Among other things, it only has a +30 second button and no quick 1 or 2 minute buttons.

Armored Phone: Part 2

Monday
Monday started with my alarm not waking me up. Fortunately, my alarms almost never wake me up because I hate alarms and always try to wake up before they go off. However, this time I had not cancelled the alarm because I wanted to confirm it was working. It was not. I decided it was probably some quirk with the Do Not Disturb mode. I set the Wake Up time to 2 minutes before I normally set the alarm under the theory that even if it doesn’t audibly sound immediately, once it went out of Do Not Disturb mode I would probably hear the alarm. Then I moved on with my day.

Except, I next noticed that my 7:55 alarm hadn’t gone off. I live by my alarms. My 7:55 alarm makes sure that I deliver Calvin and Julian to school on time. I start each work day by reviewing the meetings on my calendar and setting a 2 min alarm for each meeting1. I set alarms for Calvin’s late afternoon coding class and Julian’s swim class and every other thing that I need to make sure I attend on time. When I got back from dropping of the kids I tested the alarm and it seemed fine so I decided that it was probably a one-time quirk and set my meeting alarms for the day. Unfortunately, it was not a quirk and I almost missed my first meeting of the day without my reminder alarm.

At lunch time, I poked around at the various settings and thought I fixed things. At least my alarms worked for the rest of the day.

Supper brought new complications. The audiobook which I had started Sunday was no longer in the Libby app. I thought that was weird as I knew I hadn’t returned it. I’m a late adopter to Libby, having stuck with the original Overdrive app for years, and only switched to Libby when they officially announced end of life. It seems a little buggier to me than the Overdrive app was. For example, sometimes when I try to listen to an allegedly already downloaded audiobook, it just spins until I give up and switch to a podcast instead. This had started prior to changing to Android so I gave the early check-in problem a 50/50 chance of being due to an Android glitch. I wrote a note to the library about the problem, and also contacted Overdrive support directly, and then checked the book out a second time2.

Tuesday
My wakeup alarm once again failed. I did a little more searching which is where I first ran across rumors of battery optimization being to blame. Except, I thought I had already turned off any battery optimization. That is “Battery Saver” and “Battery Manager” were off.

I decided to download a different clock app and see if I had any better luck with it. I eventually settled on Talking Alarm Clock Beyond. After downloading and opening it up, the first thing the app told me to do was to go into the “Battery optimization” part of settings, which is not under the Battery menu, and make sure the app isn’t optimized. Turns out it was, which might have been why the prior Clock app didn’t work. I appreciated the app warned about this problem but I was also irritated that Android made it so intuitive to find. In my testing, it appeared that alarms were working.

I decided to screencast each time I opened up the Libby app. I specifically wanted to make sure the early return problem wasn’t being caused by Android Auto. I listened to the audiobook at lunch time with no issues. When I went to pick up Julian from school, my audiobook also existed in my account, though we listened to a different audiobook on the way home. Then supper time came. I started the screencast, opened the Libby app, and discovered my book was gone again. I sighed, appended the screencast files to my Overdrive ticket, and checked out the audiobook a third time.

Tuesday evening, with hopes that the alarm clock problem was solved. I emailed Unihertz tech support about the problem I had with starred contacts not coming through when Do Not Disturb was on.

Wednesday
My wakeup alarm did not go off. On the upside, Unihertz support had responded with some suggestions of some settings to check for the Do Not Disturb issue. I glanced at it and decided I’d explore it more in the evening.

I was hoping the alarm issue was just a wakeup alarm and the other alarms would work. Alas, no. At this point I was seriously considered bailing and just using the phone as a replacement for my bedtime phone and getting another iPhone SE as my primary phone.

During lunch I pulled up the instructions on what to check for Do Not Disturb and discovered yet another setting that can keep apps from working in the background: App blocker, under Intelligent assistance. When I turned that off, all sorts of notifications that I had been missing, but were a lower priority than my alarms, started working. This included my work’s authentication app. The authentication app not popping up had been slightly annoying but since I always knew when I sent a push, I had just been working around it by opening up the app ahead of time. In any case, App blocker was to blame.

Back on the Libby front, my audiobook disappeared sometime prior to me starting supper. This time I sighed, gave up, and did not check it out a 4th time.

That evening I turned of Battery optimization and App blocking for everything. However, starred contacts still couldn’t get through Do Not Disturb. I created a screencast for Unihertz support of every setting as well as a demo of the Do Not Disturb issue and emailed it off.

Thursday
My alarm went off!! Starred contacts not being able to message me was annoying. However, my alarms not reliably working would have been a deal breaker.

In less fun news, Unihertz had escalated my ticket and a developer had responded essentially saying that the Do Not Disturb problem is an Android 11 bug, they weren’t going to release Android 12 for the phone, and they recommend I not use Do Not Disturb. I responded by pointing out that, as far as I could tell, the Android 11 bug had been fixed by Google back in 2020 and I was hoping even if they weren’t going to release Android 12, they could at least incorporate the Do Not Disturb patch into an update for the phone.

I also got a response back from Overdrive saying the reason the title kept auto returning is that it wasn’t suppose to be on the library’s website to begin with. Annoying, as I was multiple hours in at that point, but at least it wasn’t a phone bug.

By this point, I had gotten the phone into a usable condition for me. It still has some quirks but they’re ones I can live with and being able to use one phone for everything is really nice. I also really love the size. I thought I’d get annoyed by how thick it is but so far that hasn’t been a problem at all. However, it’s not a phone I can recommend to anyone else. The amount of tinkering I had to do for basic functionality is appalling.

  1. Yes, I realize using the calendar notifications in the usual method to do that. However, calendar notifications aren’t noisy enough for me if I’m deeply involved in troubleshooting something.
  2. Books randomly returning themselves is a problem because often the library will lose access after around 15 checkouts and have to “buy” the book again. If this was a bug happening to a lot of patrons, it’s a problem the library needs to report so Overdrive can fix it quickly.

Armored Phone: Part 1

Saturday
My new Android phone arrived around suppertime on Saturday. Jaeger thinks it looks like its wearing armor so I decided to call it Devi in honor of Devi Morris from The Paradox Trilogy1. As expected, it’s quite thick so the first thing I tested was making sure it would fit comfortably in my jean pockets. It fit great so I went ahead and turned it on.

Android is not iOS. I know this is stating the obvious. However, Google and Apple have fundamentally different approaches to software. iOS believes in the one perfect right way. Android was designed for people who like options and don’t mind tinkering. I’ve used Android phones before, and use many Google products, so I didn’t expect any major challenges. I was mistaken.

Unihertz was remarkably restrained in the apps it preloaded onto the phone. I think it’s the most bare bones phone install I’ve seen. Overall, this is a good thing. However, it left me with some initial app gaps. I decided to prioritize finding apps by looking at what was on the first page on my old iPhone. Weather was the first app I looked for. The number of choices were bewildering and I took way too long finding something I liked.

By this point, night was fast approaching and I realized I needed to get my phone setup for the night. This meant two things: 1) Verifying that Smart Audiobook Player still existed in the Play store and still worked the way I expected and 2) setting up Do Not Disturb for the night. Fortunately, Smart Audiobook Player worked flawlessly. I downloaded the app, swapped the MicroSD card from my old Samsung phone into Devi2, and everything just worked. This was a huge relief.

My next step was to configure Do Not Disturb/Bedtime mode. This turned out to be substantially more complicated than I expected. Bedtime is controlled in the “Digital Wellbeing & parental controls” section which isn’t too hard to find with a bit of Googling. I quickly learned that iOS’ version is vastly superior. Among other things, Android doesn’t appear to let me have different sleep schedules based on the day of the week. I sighed, and set it for my regular weekday schedule. Then, I went to the Clock app to figure out what that meant for my Wake Up alarm. I definitely didn’t want to be woken up at 7:00 am on Sunday. Except, the Clock didn’t show any Wake Up alarms. That functionality didn’t seem to exist in the Clock app even though various web pages assured me it did. I eventually decided that I must be seeing an older version of Google’s Clock app but I couldn’t figure out how to update it. I searched in the Google Play store and found another version of Google Clock, downloaded it, and saw the bedtime option3. It appeared that I could set the wake up alarm to just M-F. It’s a little different than I was use to but I figured I’d get use to it.

Then, we discovered that Do Not Disturb wasn’t allowing audio notification for my Starred Contacts. In Android, rather than picking specific people, you add a Star to all contacts who should be allowed to message or call you while Do Not Disturb is one. This I dutiful did but the phone was still blocking audio notification when it was in Do Not Disturb mode for Jaeger’s messages. Fortunately, we learned that he could call me and the phone call would come through. I tried all sorts of settings but couldn’t get it to work so I finally gave up for the night.

Smart Audiobook Player worked beautifully through the night. The only slight hiccup was at one point I accidentally turned on the phone flashlight and I had to open up the phone and maunally turn it off.

Sunday
Sunday I was suppose to pay bills and clean house. One of the first things I did Sunday was download the Dumpling app which I use to order groceries. To my relief, my preferred shopper and previously bought lists transferred fine. Then, I downloaded Libby so I’d have something to listen to while cleaning house. All of this went fine.

I started out by paying bills and it took longer than I expected because, among other things, I realized I had skipped sending Jaeger the August finance report so needed to do August and September at the same time. I also used the time to install all my authentication apps4. Sometime while I was paying bills Jaeger went to our local Pottery Planet to upgrade the pots for some of our household plants. He texted me a picture of a strawberry pot except on my side I received a “Message expired or not available”. Regular SMS was coming through fine but all pictures were being blocked for some reason. Interestingly, I could send both SMS and MMS and Jaeger was able to receive pictures from me.

My first thought was it had something to do with Verizon. You see, according to the internet, if I took this phone to a Verizon store and tried to activate it, it would fail. However, numerous reviews assured me that because I already had a SIM card from my iPhone, I could just transfer it to this phone and everything would work fine. Indeed, when I popped in my SIM card Saturday, everything had seemed to work fine. In fact, I didn’t even get the typical text warning from Verizon that my SIM had changed phones.

I spent more than an hour on the MMS problem, both poking around in my phone settings and searching the internet, and eventually learned that it was a widespread problem back in 2021 and the fix is to use a messaging app other than Google Messages. I was dubious but decided it was worth a shot. The first app I tried was Signal, as I felt fairly comfortable using it. However, for unknown reasons, I couldn’t get it to work as a regular text message app. I gave up fairly quickly and found another one, Textra, and tried again. I was successful in setting up Textra as my text app and was a bit surprised to confirm that it had no problem receiving MMS. I thought that maybe the Do Not Disturb problem had also been solved but, alas, no. Emergency contacts still couldn’t text me while I was in Do Not Disturb mode.

It was late afternoon by this point so I decided not to clean house after all and instead focused on getting the majority of my must-have apps installed and configured. I also took the time to figure out how I had accidentally triggered the flashlight in the middle of the night. It turns out the red button on the left is a shortcut key and its set to turn the flashlight on by a long press of the button. I liked the general idea but changed the flashlight to be two quick presses of the button instead on the assumption that would be less likely to do accidentally in the middle of the night.

The Atom L appears to be designed for a rugged outdoorsy type of person. Based on the reviews, I have some doubts of its ruggedness, but that’s still the aesthetic it’s going for. While this phone is surprisingly free of weird pre-loaded apps, it did come with a “Toolbox” folder that included various things such as: Noise test, Compass, UnderWaterCamera, Protractor, etc. It also included a Remote app that is designed to replace AV remotes. I amused myself by setting it up with our TV, Blu ray player, and receiver. Though, I have yet to find an app that I like as a replacement for the Apple TV remote on iOS.

.One of the last things I did Sunday was verify that the phone worked with my car so everything would be ready for driving the kids to school in the morning. This part was amazingly easy. I don’t know why, but I’ve always had to fiddle with my iPhones a bit to make them connect correctly to the car. Android Auto seamlessly set everything up and it just worked which made me very happy. That said, I prefer the Apple CarPlay interface to Android Auto. One of the things I really miss, which doesn’t seem to be available, was the split screen option which let me see both maps and whatever app I was listening to at the same time. I also dislike that Android aggressively will not let me type into the screen, even when I’m sitting in my driveway, and instead requires me to say everything. However, these are design choices that I’ll probably get use to eventually.

  1. Devi is rather obsessed with her armor named Lady Gray.
  2. My Samsung phone was my first modern smart phone. When I bought it, I wasn’t convinced I needed a new-fangled device so went with a phone that only had 8 GB internal storage but did have a MicroSD card. Turns out most apps won’t play nicely with external storage but, fortunately for me, Smart Audiobook Player deals with it fine and so I keep all my audiobooks on a MicroSD card.
  3. However, it wouldn’t let me delete the original Google Clock.
  4. I do appreciate 2FA but I wish there was either more standardization or cross compatibility. Four apps dedicated to logging in seems excessive to me.

Looking for a New Phone

For more than a decade I’ve had issues going back to sleep after waking up in the middle of the night. This was particularly problematic when Julian was little as he woke up often and my brain would wake up while I was trying to get him to go back to sleep. I tried several different things to keep my brain from thinking but nothing worked consistently until I stumbled across listening to audiobooks.

One essential feature for my audiobook app is a persistent sleep timer. That is, every time I hit play, I want the sleep timer to automatically activate. This allows me to wake up in the middle of the night, tap my earbud to start the audiobook, and then have the audiobook automatically stop at 15 min all without me having to open my eyes. So far, I have only found one audiobook app that will do this: Smart AudioBook Player. Unfortunately, this app is only available on Android, not iOS. So, when I transitioned to an iPhone SE back in 2017, I kept my old Samsung phone as a dedicated nighttime audiobook player.

Other than the audiobook app, I really liked my iPhone SE. It was a good quality phone, with a nice amount of storage, that still fit in the pocket of my jeans. However, as it got older, the battery life got progressively worse and it was starting to show its age. This made me sad as everyone seemed to have given up on the concept of “small” phones. Thus, I was very excited in 2020 when Apple announced the return of the SE model. Both Calvin and I got one. Then, about a year after owning the phone, I accidentally dunked the bottom of the phone into black beans and some clearly got into the charging port. After that, getting it to charge, or connect to our car was possible, but fiddly. Overall, it mostly worked. That is, until about a month ago when charging became progressively harder until it didn’t charge at all one night. Long story short, I decided it was time for a new phone.

As I said, I’ve really liked the SE phones. However, an added complication was that my Samsung phone was also nearing end of life. If I nudged the phone wrong, it would start repetitively power cycling until I nudged it just the right way to make it stop. Given how much I rely on it to sleep at night, this was a big problem. It had been a couple of years since I had last tested iOS audiobooks apps so I went and tried most of the popular ones again: BookPlayer, MP3 Audiobook Player, Bound, Audiobook Player SmartBook, CloudBeats, MP3 Book, and ListenBook Pro. None of them worked the way I needed. So, I decided to combine my two phones back into one by getting a new Android phone.

Unfortunately, Google’s idea of a “small” phone is laughable. My original iPhone SE, which is pretty much perfectly sized, is 123.8 mm high. The SE2 is a bit bigger at 138 mm. Google’s current smallest Pixel is 156 mm. The Asus Zenphone was a bit bigger than optimal but still looked intriguing until I learned it wouldn’t work on Verizon’s network. Which . . . left me with mostly super cheap phones that didn’t have the storage I wanted.

At beginning of August, I stumbled across the Unihertz Atom XL phone. It’s . . . quite something. Among other things, it doubles as a walkie-talkie. I showed it to Jaeger and he seemed incredulous that someone would go to the trouble of making such a product. However, aside from the odd features, it looked like a legit small phone. Mind you, this is small in terms of height, it’s the thickest phone I’ve seen in recent memory, allegedly due to its battery. It sounded intriguing to me but I decided to limp along using my old iPhone SE for a while.

Last week, I decided I did not want to continue living with the bad battery and dodgy map ability of the old phone so I went back to looking at Android options again. Unfortunately, nothing magical appeared so I decided to buy the Unihertz Atom L which is like the XL, just missing the radio. Features I like:

  • Runs Android so I could use Smart AudioBook Player
  • Fairly short at 134.5 mm tall
  • 128 GB of storage with an additional Micro SD slot
  • 3.5mm headphone jack!

My biggest concern was it has a slightly older version of Android and, unlike a Pixel, it probably won’t be updated regularly. However, I decided to take a chance and buy it anyway.

Progress Reading the Hugo 2022 Nominees

I feel like I’ve been in a reading slump except I just updated LibraryThing with the books I’ve read since March and it was a fairly respectable number. Last year I didn’t even try reading the Hugo Award Nominees. However, this year I think I’m on track to read a good number of the 2022 nominees.

Best Novel
I’ve read all of nominations except for A Desolation Called Peace which I’m currently reading. All of them are good but very different. In many ways, Project Hail Mary is my favorite, probably because of its naive belief that science can solve all problems. However, I didn’t love some of its passages dealing with women (or the lack thereof).

Best Novella
I’ve read all of the nominated Novellas. Fireheart Tiger is my favorite.

Best Novelette
Another category I’ve read everything. I liked the variety in this category but I don’t have a clear favorite.

Best Short Story
I haven’t read anything in this category. However, the good news is they’re short stories so I can procrastinate and then cram them in at the end.

Best Series
Well . . . this is a tough category for me. In many ways, I wish it were a favorite author category rather than best series. The only series I’ve read all of the books is The World of the White Rat, by T. Kingfisher and it’s my clear favorite. T. Kingfisher has definitely been a comfort read for me the last couple of years. The first book in the series is Clockwork Boys.

Best Related Work
I’m probably not going to read enough in this category to vote but we’ll see. I have a hard time reading non-fiction unless it is to learn a specific skill. However, I did read Being Seen: One Deafblind Woman’s Fight to End Ableism which was very good. Maybe I’ll get around to some of the others.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
So far, I’ve seen half of the nominees in this category: Encanto, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and Space Sweepers. I enjoyed all of them and am finding it hard to rank them.

Best Fancast
This year, Be the Serpent was the only fancast I had listened to prior to the nominations. However, after the nominations came out I downloaded and listened to at least a couple from the other podcasts. Our Opinions Are Correct is my favorite of the new-to-me podcasts but I’ve enjoyed all the episodes I’ve heard of the others also.

Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book
I always feel conflicted about this category because I’m not a teen so it feels weird to be voting in a YA category. That said, I’ve read four of the six nominees so far. I’m not sure if I’ll make it to the last two. I started reading a couple of pages for both of them and they haven’t caught me yet. However, I should probably go back and try again. Of the ones I’ve read, Iron Widow was the most engrossing and Chaos on CatNet was the most charming.

Astounding Award for Best New Writer
Finally, we have the Astounding award nominees. I’m doing surprisingly well in this category having read at least something from four of the six authors. I loved Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn and really need to pick up the next book in the series. However, every author I’ve read in this category is good.

Categories I’m (probably) Ignoring
There’s always categories I’m not interested in or don’t know enough about to feel comfortable voting. This year, it’s probably going to include:

  • Best Graphic Story or Comic
  • Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
  • Best Editor, Short Form
  • Best Editor, Long Form
  • Best Professional Artist
  • Best Semiprozine
  • Best Fanzine
  • Best Fan Writer
  • Best Fan Artist
  • Though, I may get around to having an opinion about the Best Editor categories. We’ll see . . .

What’s Happening Now

While I’ve posted random misc stuff the last couple of years, it looks like I haven’t done any life updates since the summer of 2020. I would start an update and then stop because I found it too depressing. There was, of course, COVID-19 but the biggest challenge for me was our move from Washington to California. So, I’m giving up on the past, it’s not a healthy place for me to remember.

Here’s a scattering of more recent updates:

We’ve lived in our most recent house for about nine months. I’m hoping this is our last house for a couple of decades. I’m so tired of moving. We are still settling in. Every house is different and I’ve been scouring Craigslist looking for furniture that fits this house. Unfortunately, Jaeger and I together have very specific and narrow tastes so it takes a while to find furniture we both like. This house will take as much money as we’re willing to give it so I’m trying to keep my furniture budget relatively restrained.

The kids have been going to in-person school since the start of this school year. Calvin got a B in PE with a note that he talks too much with other classmates. Personally, we’re delighted to hear he talks to classmates. Overall, he seems to be much happier this year than last. Julian really likes first grade and loves math. He keeps creating math worksheets for everyone to do and doesn’t understand why we don’t find this as exciting as he does.

Julian got vaccinated for COVID-19 in December and Calvin got his booster in January so everyone is our household is currently up-to-date on all vaccinations. We also switched from cloth masks to KF-94 masks at the beginning of January. The kids had a lot of potential school exposures in January and February1 but the school was doing weekly, and sometimes twice weekly, testing and the kids never got a positive result. Starting March 12, CA will no longer require children to be masked in school but it’s still “highly recommended”. For now, we’re planning to require Julian wear a mask and strongly encourage Calvin to wear a mask at school.

We are inviting Julian’s classmates to an in-person birthday party this year at a local playground. Julian just handed out the invitations today and I have no idea if other families are ready to go to birthday parties again. Hopefully having it outside will make them a bit more comfortable with it. If not, we’ll still have pizza and cake so Julian will still probably be happy.

I think the pandemic played to my strengths more than many other people. The hardest bit was having other people constantly in the same house as me. We went to the Monterey Bay Acquarium this weekend and it had more people than I could deal with so I spent most of the time either on the outside decks or with my back pressed against the wall watching the kelp forest. It’s tempting to blame my lack of social endurance on COVID-19. However, then I think of the work party Jaeger took me to once which was so overwhelming I eventually just left and hid in a stairwell for a while. COVID-19 created an environment where I didn’t have to deal with people and while I don’t think it affected my level of social anxiety, it did allow my pretend-I’m-not-panicking skills to get very rusty.

On a completely different note, I’ve put Calvin in charge of his own clothes shopping. We’re giving him an allowance that includes enough for clothes and I set him up with a checking account and as an authorized user on a low-limit credit card. Ideally, I’d like him to have a savings account too but the interest rates are so pathetic I don’t think I could teach any real life lessons about the power of interest that way. However, I am teaching him the basic concepts of double entry bookkeeping and making him keep track of his expenses in GnuCash. We’re also having monthly money meetings together where we do things like reconcile his bank statements and make sure he’s tracking all his expenses.

My job is going well. While I miss being a public librarian, the work culture at my current place is much more family friendly than Seattle was. I’ve also been hired as a permanent remote worker so I never have to go “back” to the office.

My reading life is still sporadic. I’m still reading a lot of fluff and am very, very thankful that fluff reads exist. Sometimes that’s all the energy I have. However, I’m start to read a bit more than just fluff.

We no longer have an au pair. Now that Julian has started in-person school, and I’m working from home, I thought we could get by without additional childcare. Julian misses having someone available to play board games with him constantly but other than that it’s been going fairly well. Jaeger is enjoying working in a room that isn’t our bedroom. I’m enjoying having the second floor to myself most of the day.

Most evenings Jaeger and I watch an hour of TV with Calvin. I suppose at some point we’re going to need to start including Julian but we haven’t yet. Friday nights are movie night, usually just with Calvin but sometimes we try to start early and have a “family” movie night so we can include Julian. Most Saturdays nights we play a boardgame with Calvin. Those go way too late for Julian so sometimes we try playing slightly easier games during the day. Julian can play Catan but it’s a little long for his attention span. However, he does pretty decent at Splendor, even beating Jaeger once.

Life continues.

  1. Several weeks in a row Calvin had 4 exposure notifications. Julian’s school had so many exposures for a while that they gave up keeping track of the classrooms and just said everyone was exposed.