Read the cookies!

Is there a way to tell the advertising world that I already bought a car? I’ve been getting scads of car ads on Facebook and everywhere else that isn’t blocked by AdBlock Plus. I’ll post another picture of it. Read your D**n cookies FB, Amazon, Google, and Bing! Go back to feeding me laxative and ED ads!

Garage striping

My garage was wired for a Blink EVSE back in 2011 for my new Nissan Leaf. The Blink was on the right side which was fine for the Leaf and much easier to install because of the workbench and washer/dryer on the left. Now with the 240V socket on the wrong side for Volvo, I have to back in to charge. Technically I can do it when facing forward if I pull in way on the right side, but only at risk of scratching up the paint on the roof of the car dragging the heavy cable over the top. The problem is that it’s a tight fit – the car in the garage, that is. If I pull in too far, I cut off access from the house to the wash/dryer workbench area where I get out of the car and if not far enough the garage door will come down on the car. Also, there’s lots of stuff on both sides that causes the warning system to sound alarms at me as I back in, and visibility isn’t good coming from the bright sun to the dark garage, especially with sunglasses on. My solution was to paint stripes on the floor of the garage so that the camera system recognizes the stripes and stops screaming at me as I back in. I’ve tested it pulling in forward and the bird’s-eye view camera system sees it perfectly and I can place the car perfectly. I haven’t tried it backing in yet, but if nothing else, it will make it easier for me to judge my positioning. I don’t expect others will need to do it, but I’m rather proud I thought of it. My butt is still sore from all the squatting. I used masking tape, spray paint, and a sort of stencil made from a cardboard box.

Poweramp – thumbs up

I don’t normally do product reviews in this blog, but I thought I’d give a shout out to Poweramp. In my earlier posts I complained about my new Volvo not having an easy way to play my mp3 music. I have hundreds of songs I’ve either recorded myself, ripped from my CDs or LPs, or downloaded as mp3s. In my previous car, a Nissan Leaf, I had these in three folders on a USB thumb drive. I just plugged them in to the USB port and the car’s player would play them in order (or I could have them randomized). I discovered that I can’t do that with the Volvo.

My son came up with the solution: Poweramp, an inexpensive app available from the Google Play Store. I don’t know whether it plays wma files, the default format for Windows and the format I had used for most of my music. That’s because I first converted all my wma files to mp3 before loading them onto my Android phone. Before I downloaded Poweramp, I could go to the Files app and tap a music file from the list of files, and it would play, but I could not organize them into playlists, and every time I turned off the phone or quit the Files app, it would open up back at the beginning again.

With Poweramp I was able to create three playlists, equivalent to the folders I have on my thumb drive, and when I stop the app from playing, it remembers where it was and continues from there the next time. It has quite a few other nifty features that I haven’t explored, but I have to say it’s well worth the price just for the convenience. The phone plays through Bluetooth, which has its own drawbacks, but the sound quality is good enough for my ears.

The Falling Woman by Richard Farrell

The Falling WomanThe Falling Woman by Richard Farrell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Erin, recently diagnosed with incurable cancer, is en route across the country when her plane comes apart midair. Incredibly, she survives the fall, landing still strapped in her plane seat, the fall broken by tree branches, a rotting barn roof, hay bales and soft mud. She is taken disoriented to the hospital as a Jane Doe, but her injuries are minor. The NTSB investigators arrive at the debris field, but by the time they get to check out the stories of a survivor, she has disappeared. This is a great premise for a mystery. Where did she go? And why? Who was she?

Unfortunately, the author drops the ball well short of the goal line. He writes well enough for a thriller of this type. The problem is with plausibility, and I don’t mean the idea of a survivor. The book cites several real life cases of airplane fall survivors. The greatest implausibility is the notion that she could disappear and not be identified. She may have been a Jane Doe missing her clothing and too stunned to give her name, but she was ambulatory and communicative. There would have been X-rays and blood tests that would provide DNA and reveal both the cancer and chemo thus pinning down who she could be. Security cameras abound in Wichita’s major hospitals, I’m sure. She was so unique not only because she was a passenger from the exploded airplane having fallen though the barn roof, but she was a very good-looking woman (her lover was described as “Hollywood handsome” and in her thrall, so she had to be a stunner) and dying of cancer. Everyone at the hospital would have remembered her, yet only a day later they could give only a vague description and couldn’t pick her out from a lineup of photos of only a handful of women yet to be identified. This is preposterous. Her photos would have been plastered all over the Internet and TV news. Her family and friends would have identified her immediately. Despite having no clothes or identification she “settles up” at a bar. With what? She still had a credit card? Someone gave her cash? I could go on, but you get the point.

Even more incredible were the actions of the lead investigator, Charlie Radford. I won’t bother with all the details because they’re spoilers and it doesn’t matter all that much. Despite the silliness and mandatory eye-rolling, the book was still a fun read. The plot premise was just compelling enough that I was forced to keep reading to see whether, when, and how she would be identified. There were other families, those whose loved one’s remains had not been found or positively identified, who held out hopes from the rumor of a surviving woman that she might be their relative. Would they finally be spared the agony of not knowing and be allowed closure? It’s a quick easy read with a killer premise and that’s enough for some good hours of entertainment for me, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending it.

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Volvo Recharge – geographic interest

If you read this blog, you’ve seen a couple of posts about my new electric SUV, the Volvo XC40 Recharge. I got curious about where the car would be most popular. Of course I was pretty sure California would be a hotspot since it has very “green” policies and mild weather ideal for EV batteries. So I checked Google Trends for a 7-day stretch. The map below shows where there were searches on that specific model. The darker blue areas mean more searches.

After two weeks I still love the car.

Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline

Ready Player Two (Ready Player One, #2)Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Unfortunately RP2 suffers from sequelitis. The author has tried to recreate the charm of his hit RP1 by loading it up with mementos and trivia from the video games, movies, songs, and TV shows a person who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s might have experienced. RP1 had that, too, but in smaller doses. Its selling point is nostalgia and for some, it will be a wonderful read for that reason, but for me it was “been there, done that.” I loved RP1 but it was more because of the poor boy makes good theme of the real life Wade. I didn’t grow up in that era and never played any of the games mentioned in the book.

Slight spoiler here if you haven’t read the first book: Wade, the protagonist, raises himself from poverty through his skill at playing video games. Here, he is more of a dilettante and much less sympathetic. He, or his avatar, still must fight through the levels of a horrific video game of sorts, since an AI bot gone wild has taken control of Wade’s physical body and those of millions of others. But the charm is lacking. Rather than conveying the thrill of a good video game, it’s hundreds of pages of trivia, mostly of movies, TV, and pop songs and celebrities, especially those of Prince, that must be mastered. I found myself clicking ahead on the audiobook while playing solitaire. The reader was very good and kept me awake with his enthusiastic reading, and there always the fun of watching the good guys defeat the bad guys, so the book wasn’t a waste. It was just too formulaic.

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Volvo XC40 P8 Recharge – further impressions

A week ago I posted about my new car, a Volvo XC40 all-electric small SUV. Now that I’ve driven it a bit, I’ll add a few things. I really like the adjustability in the car. The front seats are five-way adjustable electrically and even have a pull-out seat extender for greater thigh support, both for the driver and the front passenger. The steering can be adjusted to be soft or firm. I chose the firmer feel. The steering wheel can be adjusted in height and extension. I’ve had trouble with other cars where the steering wheel covers the speedometer or other important gauges. I had the same trouble with the Volvo at first until I realized the steering wheel covered the battery level at the bottom of the screen. A simple adjustment took car of that. Fine-tuning the air conditioning and heat have been a breeze.

The integrated Google Automotive infotainment system is the car’s most unique feature, but it’s a two-edged sword. The Google Assistant with voice commands does many things very well, like adjust the air conditioning, heat, fan and other climate controls. It has been excellent in understanding my commands. However, the system falls short in the area of music. The salesman and online reviewers promised the ability to plug in a USB drive to play music from a thumb drive. In fact, I can’t do that – not yet anyway. Even Volvo Consumer Support told me I could, but then retracted that by email. The brochure promised Pandora was available from the Play Store, but the system won’t let me download it. When I search for it there, it just brings up Spotify instead. I can play my songs from the phone, but my phone no longer supports Google Play Music and instead tries to get me to sign up for You Tube Music. I bought a bluetooth mp3 player so I could play my playlists and WMA files which my phone won’t. But the car, although it recognized the device, and vice versa, could not connect with it. The car seemed to think it was a phone and couldn’t get past the screen asking me to allow access to my contacts for phone and text in the mp3 player. In short, the system isn’t ready for prime time. I’m hoping they’ll take care of these things in the near future. Software updates are supposed to be possible over the air (OTA) so that it won’t be necessary to take the car in for service.

It’s a great car and I’m patient about such things. I knew there would be glitches on a brand new model. The same kind of thing happened with the Leaf. I charged up to full the day I got it and I’ve been driving it for eight days. I haven’t had to recharge (pun intended) since. I still have over 60% of battery capacity. I’ll post again when I have a good idea of the true range.

Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African ChildhoodDon’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This memoir by an African-raised white British ex-pat, now living in America, details an extraordinary upbringing in various African countries. The stories are often wild, hard to believe, or simply depressing. The author’s style can be described as in your face. It is certainly unconventional. Her family seems to have done nothing but drink beer, smoke, farm tobacco, and survive the most horrid conditions imaginable. Rhodesia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi – they lived in all of them. They seemed to be always on the brink of insolvency, yet they always had money and position superior to the Africans, many of whom were their servants. I get the impressions that they both loved Africa and Africans yet were staunch racist white supremacists, if that is possible. I certainly didn’t admire their lifestyle or life choices as depicted in the book, but it’s difficult to know how much was hyperbole. In the end I can only say I found it a relatively original and entertaining read.

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Impressions: Volvo XC40 P8 Recharge

I bought a new car yesterday, a Volvo XC40 P8 Recharge. Actually I bought it over a year ago, or at least reserved one with a deposit, but it was delivered yesterday. It’s Volvo’s first foray into all-electric vehicles (EV’s). The XC40 refers to body size and shape and is consistent with the regular gas XC40, their smallest SUV. The P8 refers to it being all-electric and distinguishes it from the T5 which is a plug-in electric hybrid (PHEV). Both share the Recharge name.

I drove it to the gym and back today, the first time I drove it, although I’d taken a demo model on a test drive a few weeks ago. I’m not ready to give it a real review, but I’ll give some first impressions. Since I’ve been driving a 2011 Nissan Leaf (another EV) for the last 10 years, I’ll do a few comparisons.

The Volvo is small for an SUV but still has a heftier, bigger feel than the Leaf, a hatchback. The suspension feels firmer. I sit higher in the Volvo, and I like that better visibility. The interior is much more luxurious than the Leaf as you would expect at its hefty price tag. The Volvo’s seats are 1: electrically 3-way adjustable, 2. leather, and 3: heated. The Leaf’s are none of the above. The Leaf has a lousy heater, so when I’d go to the gym in my shorts and T-shirt on a cold winter morning I’d shiver all the way there, which is why I always wore sweats and stripped those off once at the gym. Today in the Volvo I needed no sweats. It wasn’t too cold, but chilly enough that I turned on the seat heater. Within a minute, probably less, I was very comfortable. In fact, I had to turn it off after a few minutes.

Driving on local streets, I decided to turn off the one-pedal driving mode, which is Volvo’s version of regenerative braking. I didn’t like it on the test drive with the demo. I’ll discuss that more in another post later after I’ve driven more. One thing I didn’t like is how I had trouble seeing all the controls and indicators. The interior is mostly black. The controls on the door, black buttons on black background, are invisible to me when I’m wearing my sunglasses, which is 98% of the time. I had to park in the sun, take off my sunglasses and put on my regular bifocals in order to adjust the side mirrors. The button for the seat heating is easy to see, but there is a small red light next to it that indicates whether it is on or off. It’s very dim, though, and I couldn’t see that either until I took my sunglasses off. When I pushed it to turn it off, it felt like heat was still on, and, in fact, I had only turned it down. Fortunately, since Volvo’s infotainment system is integrated with Google, I just told Google assistant to turn off the heat seating and it did. Yes, that’s right, the car is an Android device and many function will respond to voice commands. Neat.

When I pulled into the parking spot at the gym the car’s parking assist feature warned me as I got almost up to the tire stop. I really like the 360º camera view feature which makes parking in a tight spot a breeze, even backing up. The Volvo is a much superior car to the Leaf and I’m learning more about it every day. There will be a learning curve. These are my first impressions, and I’ll leave it at that for now. I’ll post more about it from time to time after I’ve driven it more.

Water is on at Rancho San Antonio!

I went for my bi-weekly six-mile run at Rancho San Antonio (RSA) today. It’s the hottest day this year for running and I was thirsty by mile 5. Finally I could drink and douse myself with cool water. RSA has drinking fountains at strategic locations, but those have been turned off for months. First for COVID safety they bagged and taped them, but people just ripped through the bags and drank anyway, so then they turned off the water completely. The bags and tape are long gone. It’s been like that for months. I’ve checked them a few times and none of them worked until today.

I parked in the Horse Trailer Lot. I didn’t check the fountain by the rest room since I was at the other end by the trailhead. There is one drinking fountain right at the trailhead where the stretch bars are, but that one had no water pressure. It just dribbled.  The one at the beginning to the Permanente Creek Trail coming out of the main parking lot, however, had plenty of good, cool water. There is also one at the west end of the farm, which is also on. I’m not sure when the change happened, but at least there is water available on the trail.

Varsity Blues forfeiture question

A few days ago I posted an update on the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal. The data I saw confused me. Four defendants were sentenced to forfeiture in addition to their fines. Combined they totaled over $700,000.

Only one of the four defendants was a parent trying to get her child into school. The rest were bribe takers or otherwise involved in the scheme. That makes sense. They profited and were required to give up their ill-gotten gains. My question is, what was the parent forfeiting and why? The Department of Justice (DOJ) press release says in her case it was forfeiture of the $400,000 she paid to get her child in. Why not do that for all the other parents? Perhaps her case was unique in that the government was able to seize her money before it was received or before the check was cashed. It still seems odd.

Despite the recommendations by the DOJ for restitution in every case, no judge has imposed restitution as part of a sentence in the case. The reason seems obvious: to whom would they make restitution? The universities weren’t hurt, and in some cases benefited financially. The real victims were the kids who didn’t get admitted because the slots were given to undeserving kids. But there’s no way to know who they were. You’re likely to see some inaccurate reporting on this issue. Typically, the parent agrees to plead guilty and the U.S. Attorney recommends restitution, then the newspeople report that the defendant has agreed to X days in jail, a fine of such and such amount, and restitution, all of which is true. Sometimes they even say the defendant received this sentence. But the judges have disregarded that part of the plea bargain and declined to include restitution. Check the DOJ website if you want to know the true sentence.

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Magpie Murders (Susan Ryeland, #1)Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Susan Ryeland (randy, sensual?) is a book editor for a small London publisher. She receives a manuscript of a murder mystery from her star author. Only it’s missing the last chapters. A mystery without the ending is worthless. We are then given the manuscript to read ourselves. In it Atticus Pund is a German refugee turned private eye who takes on a last case before the inevitable end he knows he is facing based on bad news from his doctor. He travels to a small town in England and we find out about more than one death. But we are left hanging because of the missing chapters. When Susan seeks the missing pages, she is shocked to learn that the author himself has just died under suspicious circumstances. When she travels to his home town, a village much like the one in the book, she finds striking similarities between the book and real life. We are left to try to solve the book mysteries and the “real life” ones. That’s all I can say about the plot without spoilers.

If you haven’t figured it out already, that “randy, sensual” remark is an anagram of Susan Ryeland. Wordplay is sprinkled liberally throughout the manuscript, although that’s not obvious at first. I really enjoyed that part. The book as a whole was very fun even if the ending(s) wasn’t all that I had hoped. The author has produced too many suspects on both levels and could have picked any at random to be the guilty party, so it’s not a fair mystery for the reader to solve. That dropped it a star for me. Still, he writes very well and I was thoroughly entertained through most of the book. It has a real wit to it at times, too.

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Varsity Blues update

If you haven’t yet watched the new Netflix show on the Varsity Blues college admission scandal, you should. It’s excellent. Here’s a short update on the status of the defendants. Forty-two of them have pled guilty. Here’s the list. All are parents trying to boost their kids’ chances unless otherwise noted.

Diane Blake
Todd Blake
Elizabeth Henriquez
Manuel Henriquez
Douglas Hodge
Michelle Janavs
Lori Loughlin
Mossimo Giannulli
Felicity Huffman
Augustin Huneeus, Jr.
Davina Isackson
Bruce Isackson
Peter Sartorio
Stephen Semprevivo
Devin Sloane
Gordon Caplan
Gregory Abbott
Marcia Abbott
Jane Buckingham
Robert Flaxman
Marjorie Klapper
Toby MacFarlane
Jeffrey Bizzack
David Sidoo
Xiaoning Sui
Karen Littlefair
Peter Dameris
Robert Repella
Mark Hauser
Rick Singer (ringleader)
John Vandemoer (Stan. Coach)
Michael Center (Texas Coach)
Igor Dvorskiy (test admin)
Rudy Meredith (soccer coach)
Mark Riddell (test tutor)
Martin Fox (middleman)
Laura Janke (soccer vcoach)
Ali Khosroshahin (soccer coach)
Steven Masera (Accountant)
Jorge Salcedo (soccer coach)
Mikaela Sanford (Singer aide)
Niki Williams (exam admin)

Most of the above have been sentenced, but for some, like Singer, the sentencing will wait until their cooperation is secured in any pending trials.

15 others have been charged but not yet tried. They are:

Joey Chen
Amy Colburn
Greg Colburn
Wm. McGlashan
Marci Palatella
Houmayoun Zadeh
Robert Zangrillo
John Wilson
Gamal Abdelaziz
Elisabeth Kimmel
Amin Khoury
Gordon Ernst (tennis coach)
William Ferguson (volleyball coach)
Donna Heinel (athl. Dir.)
Jovan Vavic (water polo coach)

What3words dominoes

Here’s a game you can have fun with: What3words (W3W) dominoes. It works like this.

  1. Pick a famous or historical site and enter it into the website.
  2. Pick any square on that site and record or remember the three word address given.
  3. Search the adjacent squares by clicking on them to find a neighbor that begins with the same first letter as the last letter of the original three words. A common side or corner counts, so there are 8 neighbors.
  4. Keep going until you can’t find any further adjacent squares meeting rule 3. You can’t reuse any previous square.
  5. Start over to see if you can find a longer chain, but the starting point must be on the same site. As long as the starting square is on the site, it’s okay for the chain to go off the site.

As an example I chose the Golden Gate Bridge across San Francisco Bay. The longest chain I could find in about 15 minutes of searching was five squares:


See if you can beat that. Post your best result in the comments below. I’ll put this on Facebook, too, so you can post there if you prefer. Here’s a hint: S seems to be a good letter to look for both at the end and beginning.

Wreck Wreak Reek

Yesterday I heard one of the nation’s top health experts on national television say the pandemic has wrecked havoc on the economy, etc. That’s wrong and I hear it often, but you’d think a top doctor would be better educated. It has wreaked havoc. The havoc isn’t wrecked at all; it’s the normalcy (not normality!) that’s been wrecked. The havoc is doing just fine.

Wreak sounds just like reek, but one can’t reek havoc since reek just means stink. I suppose you could say it stinks to have all the havoc wreaked, so in a way it reeks, but reek is an intransitive verb. I’ll throw in that grammar lesson for free: intransitive means it doesn’t take an object.

The Forgers by Bradford Morrow

The ForgersThe Forgers by Bradford Morrow
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Our narrator and main character, Will, whose name is first mentioned about 100 pages into the book, is an art forger. He considers himself a master, but the police and the art world consider him a convicted felon. He doesn’t forge paintings or checks. His specialty is calligraphy. He buys legitimate first editions of rare books and adds forged inscriptions to enhance their value. He’s in love with Meghan, a bookshop owner but her brother Adam disapproves. Will swears off forgery after his conviction and vows to be true to honest Meghan. Then Adam turns up dead one day and Will suspects another forger named Slader, a rather nasty character. But there’s no proof.

Morrow writes with a literary elegance, although he can at times lay it on too thick. He used cerulean twice, once describing the sky as a cerulean dome and the other referring to Meghan’s eyes. Cerulean is a word to be used only once in a book. There are other words for blue. He used hynagogic and hynopompic in the same sentence. Another long word, pretentiousness, comes to mind while reading this. Even so, it’s an enjoyable read, with lots of goodies for those enamored of all things literary and outdated – calligraphy, inks, manual printing presses with gothic print slugs and fine bond paper, and, of course, Irish poets and the like.

About halfway through the book a jarring turn of the plot had me scratching my head and turning a sour eye on the author’s abilities. It just didn’t make sense … unless …. well, I hoped he wouldn’t go there, but he did. It may have resolved the strange turn, but it didn’t make the overall reading experience better. In the end, I can say it was a worthy read even if the author took a lazy route in a couple of ways.

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Pit / Stomach

Here’s another word usage bugaboo of mine. I saw a television show recently where a character said he had a pit in his stomach. What he meant was that he had a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach. I’ve heard this mistake before and it grates.

The stomach is mostly empty space, like a hole in the ground. The deepest part of it is the pit. Strong apprehension can cause a tension or uneasy feeling of tightness in the pit of the stomach. One cannot suddenly develop a pit in the stomach since it is always there already. Saying you had a pit in your stomach is like saying you had strands in your hair or a hole in your nostril. Your hair is strands and your nostril is a hole. Unless you meant you just swallowed a peach pit or something like that, stick with a feeling in the pit of your stomach.

Pangrams – NYT style

The New York Times daily newsletter has a feature they call a Pangram. They provide a honeycomb arrangement of seven unique letters (six around a central one). The reader must find a pangram, that is, a standard English word that uses all the letters shown in the puzzle, and not containing any other letters. However, you may use letters in the puzzle as many times as you want. For example, if the letters were VELD you would solve it with DELVE, DELVED, LEVELED, and LEVELLED. Not acceptable are words with too few or extra letters such as LEVEL (no D) or DRIVEL (I not in puzzle letters). I’m not going to limit the length to seven letters. There may be more than one correct answer.

Here are a few examples for you to try your hand at. Scroll down for the answers, which will be written backwards so they are not immediate spoilers. Letters are shown in alphabetical order.


See answers below:

| Answers are spelled backwards

    1. YLDIULF
    5. (S)MULUCEPS