Author Archives: Kelson

Four Covid Tests

I’ve gone through or seen four different Covid-19 testing procedures over the past year, not counting the ones I’ve only read about. (You remember, the early days of the pandemic when they were still trying to make enough tests, and weren’t sure just how easily transmissible it was, so they had people wearing haz-mat suits and passing the test kit to the patient on the end of a long pole.)

The first Covid-19 test I took was in July 2020. I was coughing and registered a fever, so I went to an urgent care. Masks and distancing were standard by then. I signed in at the door, then waited in the car until they called me on my phone. They led me into one of the exam rooms, asked me the screening questions, then handed me a nasal swab to administer it myself.

The second Covid-19 test I took, at the end of September, was in the emergency room. I was there for an unrelated health problem, but if you’ve got someone who’s going to be in the ER for a while (and let’s be honest, if you have to go to the ER, you’re going to be there for a while), you have to check. They basically just stuck the cotton swab up my nose while I was sitting on a gurney in the hallway. To be fair, I was pretty out of it by that point.

The third Covid-19 test I took was at a drive-through pharmacy window. I didn’t have any symptoms, but I’d been potentially exposed. I made an appointment ahead of time and drove up to the window. This was the kind of window with an extending drawer that they normally use to trade your payment for your medication. They passed a plastic bin out with the swab kit, instructions, and a collection vial. I did the swab myself, put it in the vial, then put the vial back in the bin to return it.

The fourth test isn’t one I took myself, but I was at an urgent care last week for another issue and got to see how they were handling it. They were screening everyone at the door to the building. If you were there for Covid-19 testing, you wouldn’t even set foot in the building. You’d wait on the sidewalk or in your car, and when they were ready, a nurse would come out and meet you with the test kit. I don’t know whether the nurses or patients were performing the nasal swab, but I thought doing it all outside (this is Southern California in spring, so YMMV) was a good way to minimize transmission.

More Clocks than Time

Walking around the house last night, setting all the clocks to Daylight Saving Time before bed, I found myself thinking: Why do we have so many clocks, anyway? They used to share one clock for a whole town!

OK, that’s not feasible these days, but every time we switch into and out of DST I miss some clocks because we have so many in the apartment, even though there are only three people.

  • Analog wall clocks in the dining room and each bedroom (bought when the kid was small so he’d be familiar with clock faces).
  • A waterproof clock in the bathroom for shower timing.
  • The cameras we use when we want to take higher-quality photos than a phone can (or when I just want to be able to take pictures of birds with a zoom lens so they don’t fly off before I get close enough to catch more than a vague silhouette in the photo). Related: How I fix the timestamp on photos when I forget to switch the camera’s time.
  • Alarm clocks we don’t use for alarms anymore since phones have nicer alarm tones, but they have glowing displays so we can see what time it is when we wake up in the middle of the night.
  • Watches we don’t wear anymore but the batteries last for years, so they’re still going.
  • The microwave has a clock.
  • The stove has a clock.
  • The coffee maker has a clock. (The display’s messed up, though, so we stopped bothering to set it.)
  • The stereo has a clock.
  • The car has a clock.

And that’s not counting the devices that automatically pull from a canonical time source over the internet. Every phone, computer, tablet or ebook reader tracks time, but at least they adjust themselves automatically!

Some of these we placed intentionally, like the wall clocks. Some need to track current time internally to function properly or to keep track of when things happened, like the phones and cameras. But some are just kind of extras.

The microwave doesn’t need a clock. It needs a countdown timer, yes, but the clock is just kind of there as something for the display to show when you’re not using it. I guess since they’re already building the timer circuitry into it, tracking current time doesn’t add much complexity. Same with the oven timer (countdown again) and the stereo (track/album length). Anything that has a display that might show hours/minutes/seconds for some purpose seems to get a clock as its default display. Whether you need it there or not.

Anyway, the upshot is, we have a ridiculous number of clocks for the number of rooms and people here. We always have the time, even though we never seem to have time.

Now I want to write a story about how time goes faster as you get older because you keep adding more clocks, and they use it up.

WordPress 5.7 Upgrade Breaks Posts with Emoji in the Title?

Not sure what might be going on here, but after upgrading to WordPress 5.7, some posts started timing out. Viewing the post. Searching in the Posts interface for anything that was in the post. Trying to list posts that had its tags. I could search for it on the blog, but not in the admin area. Error logs on the web server showed a connection timeout. The only way I could find them was through the Search Regex plugin, and it turned out I could still edit the post. Though I couldn’t save any changes without getting the same timeout.

Both posts that I’d been alerted to had emoji in the title. Hmmm….

I tried removing the emoji from the title and saving it. The post loaded again! And I could search for keywords and tags that matched it!

Just for kicks, I pasted the emoji back in. Saved. No problem.

I don’t know what changed, but apparently older versions of WordPress were storing emoji in titles differently or something, and re-saving it fixes it?

Anyway, that seems to work, so I’m posting this here for anyone else with the same issue to see what worked for me.

Update: I checked another blog that updated from 5.6 to 5.7 and had emoji — in some cases the same symbols — in titles, but it wasn’t affected by the same problem. I’d guess it’s either a combination with some plugin, or something left over from the fact that this site has been updated continuously from some very old versions of WordPress.

Farewell to Fry’s

I’m going to miss two things about Fry’s Electronics, which shut down this week:

  • Being able to walk in and grab random parts immediately.
  • The decor.

And yeah, there’s nostalgia for the old days, but they’re already gone.

Back in the 1990s and early 2000s they really were a one-stop shop for computers, software, appliances, all kinds of electronics hardware, and the random snacks you might want to munch on while tinkering or upgrading. You could check out, or better yet try out – they had a huge number of computers available for demos – all kinds of cool tech.

I bought a lot of components for my desktop PC over the years, replacing pieces bit by bit. Sure, you could get complete systems at Micro Center or Best Buy or Circuit City, but none of them had the long tail of components that Fry’s did.

(There was also the generous return policy — I knew a lot of people who used the “Fry’s rental” when they needed something for a single project.)

Service was a mixed bag, though. Sometimes you’d get someone really knowledgeable who could help you pick out the best hardware combination for what you wanted. Sometimes you wouldn’t be able to find anyone. And a lot of the sales staff tended to be proto-techbros, so if you were shopping while female, or looking for Apple products — or worse, both — there was a good chance you’d get someone overly condescending.

Fading Away

They’ve been going downhill for a while. They dropped a lot of the middle range and focused on the high-end and low-end markets. All the articles talk about competition from online stores, and I suspect friendlier brick-and-mortar stores like Best Buy took over a lot of the mid-range consumer market.

When I built a gaming PC a few years ago, I tried Fry’s first, but I couldn’t find most of the parts I wanted. I only bought the case and power supply there, then ordered other parts from NewEgg, Amazon, or direct from the manufacturers. And I went back to Fry’s when I tried to put everything together and discovered I had the wrong mounting rails and needed another case fan.

They never really adapted to online shopping. Their website is still terrible (or was until Wednesday). Before 2019, big deal, I’d just walk into the store and browse anyway. But in 2020, after Covid-19 hit and in-person retail shut down, curbside pickup and shipping were the way to go. The search results were a pain to sort through, even for products that didn’t have nationwide shortages (like webcams). Even when I told it I wanted to look for shipping or local pickup, it kept trying to send me to San Jose, hundreds of miles away.

The Fry’s Experience

Ultimately, though, the most memorable thing about Fry’s couldn’t translate to a website. The locations I’ve been to were all converted warehouses or small office buildings. And each one was decorated with a theme.

Burbank’s store had a flying saucer crashed into the front, with statues of 50’s sci-fi aliens with ray guns scattered around as if they were invading the building. A giant squid’s tentacles supported the computer demo tables.

Anaheim had a giant mock-up of the Space Shuttle. If I remember right, the audio demo room was inside it.

Manhattan Beach had a Pacific Islands theme, with tropical plants, tiki statues, and murals based on Gauguin’s paintings from Tahiti.

Fountain Valley’s store was decked out in a classical Roman style, with columns, a mural of Roman gods, and a broken aqueduct that poured into a fountain in the center of the store. (I always thought that was a risky choice for an electronics store.)

Las Vegas had a giant slot machine for an entrance, but nothing special inside that I can recall.

Sad to say, I don’t seem to have taken photos inside any of these locations, though I do have a shot of the Vegas entryway, and of course now I can’t.