Furnace Filters

I recently bought some MERV 13 furnace filters from filterbuy.com and was very happy. They mailed 3 filters for about $14 each delivered in about a week. They work well to keep the occasional wildfire smoke out of our house. An acquaintance on Nextdoor.com recommended them to me.

JK Rowling on Gender

[10-9-20 I have solidly changed my opinion on Rowling’s views. I’ll leave this post here but please read this post]

[original, outdated post is below]

There has been much fierce discussion about JK Rowling’s statements concerning gender and trans-gender issues.

I read JK Rowling’s long post about trans-gender issues. To cut through all the flak, what I read is this “Be cautious about encouraging people to change their gender too quickly.” I fully support that position. Taking such a position supports the health of the person reconsidering their gender.

Penelope Flom Passed Away

My mother-in-law, Penelope Flom passed away yesterday.

A Snapshot from Kindergarten

Here, the lead teacher from Abigail’s almost-kindergarten class at Step One writes his weekly letter to families. I found this letter particularly soothing in these crazy times. Best thing, I feel comfortable posting the photos because all the kids’ identities are hidden behind masks :-) :-(

Dear Room 3 Families,

We have just completed an amazing week at school, finally getting to enjoy some much needed clean air. We want to give you a more detailed snapshot of how we spend our day.

Our morning starts with having the kids sit on the wall after they are dropped off, waiting for all our friends to arrive. Thank you for everyone arriving on time and having your kids ready with their masks on. We want to remind you of some important street safety reminders: pulling up past the bus stop, making sure you are doing any u-turns in a safe place, and remaining in your car.

When we are walking to or from school, we like to remind the kids about walking in the middle squares of the sidewalk, in order to keep them from walking too close to the curb.

Once inside we all come to the rug for circle. At circle we have been singing different good morning songs, reading books, doing movement activities, and having all class discussions. Next week some of the discussions at circle will center around how we want to be treated at school, so we can have them be part of the process of creating a positive classroom environment, where we are all being treated in a kind and respectful way.

After circle we head outside for one of our two hillside times. A popular spot has been “River Rock” where they have been showing some interests in how the water flows and what things can float and make their way downstream. There are blocks on the hillside for them to build with, the digging spot, and the fun “chicken coop” area. Next week we will change up our outside time In the morning (9:00 – 9:45), where we will be up on the hillside (Mon, Wed, and Friday) and be on the lower yard (Tues and Thursday).

Snack and lunchtime happen on our yoga mats. Thank you for supporting us in sending your child’s food in containers that they can open by themselves, helping us reduce the amount of gloves we have to use. We love our eating times, where we get to see the kids without their masks on. Some chores that come with our eating times is having the kids wipe their trays and mats after each meal. This is also a good reminder that your child is capable of helping out at home and beginning to have certain responsibilities.

After our first snack time is our inside time. This is a time where we like to have one teacher led activity and also have free exploration.

This week the kids have been working on drawing their family portraits. It has been fun for us to observe what things the kids are interested in, so we can start to see a pattern in their play that can help us develop a project to explore in our curriculum. Some things we have noticed are: a strong interest in our animals (Zemo the beta fish, Unicorn the girl cockroach, King Boss the boy cockroach, and Queenie the king snake), block building, and lego building to name a few. We are hoping by October to have a possible project to investigate.

One of our recent additions has been a monarch butterfly caterpillar that has now transitioned into a chrysalis.

After lunch we go back up on the hillside until 12:45, when we come back down to get ready for our playground time (1:00 – 1:45).

The tire swing is always popular, as well as the monkey bars.

After our outside time we go in for one more snack time before we: pack up, walk to the pick up area, and end our day. I just got exhausted from writing this and am so amazed at how well the kids do with all the transitions.

Here is our schedule for the upcoming week.

On Monday we will be having our first birthday celebration, Sahil’s 4th birthday. You first need to contact us to let us know what day you would like to celebrate your child. We will arrange to FaceTime or do some other kind of virtual chat to have you be part of our circle. A crown will be made for your child. Depending on how old your child is turning, we ask you to think of one thing for each year that they have been alive that you love about them and your child will think of that many things that they can do now that they couldn’t do when they were a baby. We will light candles (with an extra candle being the wishing candle) and ask them if they want cha chas or no cha chas when we sing happy birthday. We do not have any birthday treats as part of the circle but just want to focus on the child.

On Monday we will be having a special snack in celebration of Rosh Hashanah. If your family has special traditions that you celebrate, please contact us to find out how we can share those traditions with the class.

Please work on your family collage. We will be putting them together into a book for the kids to enjoy and share with their peers.

We hope you have a wonderful weekend and look forward to seeing everyone on Monday.


Steve, Christina, and Robyn

Controlling Anxiety

A friend on FB asked what people are doing to control their anxiety. Here’s my response:

I am learning to control my Doomscrolling, Unfriending those who are assholes (disagreements are ok, just not assholery). I joined Nextdoor where people hollering “Hey, get off my lawn” and “How do I stop those darn gophers?” is refreshing. Making lists of organizations to donate to and then doing it.

Heh, looking back at what I’m doing is remarkably similar to the list of things to do mentioned in a conspiracy theory podcast I quoted just the other day.

  • The need to reduce uncertainty and make sense of the world
  • The need to feel safe and have a sense of control
  • The need to maintain a good self-image

I highly recommend putting the Savvy Psychologist podcast on your playlist!

Amazon Customer Answers Are Ridiculous

A while back I ordered some latex party balloons on Amazon. Putting them in my mouth to blow up, they tasted TERRIBLE. I couldn’t give them to a kid to blow up! I returned them. I used the Amazon “Customer questions & answers” system to ask some other vendors, “How do they taste when blowing up? Some balloons I’ve gotten taste really bad.” Here’s what I got back.

WTF Amazon?

I asked the same question about 20 similar balloon products. The above was absolutely typical.

There is no useful way to mark an answered question “beyond useless”. Why is this the case?

Megan bought some balloons at Target. They were fine. Feh.

Scientific American Endorses Joe Biden


We’ve never backed a presidential candidate in our 175-year history—until now

By THE EDITORS | Scientific American October 2020 Issue

Scientific American Endorses Joe Biden
Credit: Ross MacDonald

Scientific American has never endorsed a presidential candidate in its 175-year history. This year we are compelled to do so. We do not do this lightly.

The evidence and the science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the U.S. and its people—because he rejects evidence and science. The most devastating example is his dishonest and inept response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which cost more than 190,000 Americans their lives by the middle of September. He has also attacked environmental protections, medical care, and the researchers and public science agencies that help this country prepare for its greatest challenges. That is why we urge you to vote for Joe Biden, who is offering fact-based plans to protect our health, our economy and the environment. These and other proposals he has put forth can set the country back on course for a safer, more prosperous and more equitable future.

The pandemic would strain any nation and system, but Trump’s rejection of evidence and public health measures have been catastrophic in the U.S. He was warned many times in January and February about the onrushing disease, yet he did not develop a national strategy to provide protective equipment, coronavirus testing or clear health guidelines. Testing people for the virus, and tracing those they may have infected, is how countries in Europe and Asia have gained control over their outbreaks, saved lives, and successfully reopened businesses and schools. But in the U.S., Trump claimed, falsely, that “anybody that wants a test can get a test.” That was untrue in March and remained untrue through the summer. Trump opposed $25 billion for increased testing and tracing that was in a pandemic relief bill as late as July. These lapses accelerated the spread of disease through the country—particularly in highly vulnerable communities that include people of color, where deaths climbed disproportionately to those in the rest of the population.ADVERTISEMENT

It wasn’t just a testing problem: if almost everyone in the U.S. wore masks in public, it could save about 66,000 lives by the beginning of December, according to projections from the University of Washington School of Medicine. Such a strategy would hurt no one. It would close no business. It would cost next to nothing. But Trump and his vice president flouted local mask rules, making it a point not to wear masks themselves in public appearances. Trump has openly supported people who ignored governors in Michigan and California and elsewhere as they tried to impose social distancing and restrict public activities to control the virus. He encouraged governors in Florida, Arizona and Texas who resisted these public health measures, saying in April—again, falsely—that “the worst days of the pandemic are behind us” and ignoring infectious disease experts who warned at the time of a dangerous rebound if safety measures were loosened.

And of course, the rebound came, with cases across the nation rising by 46 percent and deaths increasing by 21 percent in June. The states that followed Trump’s misguidance posted new daily highs and higher percentages of positive tests than those that did not. By early July several hospitals in Texas were full of COVID-19 patients. States had to close up again, at tremendous economic cost. About 31 percent of workers were laid off a second time, following the giant wave of unemployment—more than 30 million people and countless shuttered businesses—that had already decimated the country. At every stage, Trump has rejected the unmistakable lesson that controlling the disease, not downplaying it, is the path to economic reopening and recovery.

Trump repeatedly lied to the public about the deadly threat of the disease, saying it was not a serious concern and “this is like a flu​” when he knew it was more lethal and highly transmissible, according to his taped statements to journalist Bob Woodward. His lies encouraged people to engage in risky behavior, spreading the virus further, and have driven wedges between Americans who take the threat seriously and those who believe Trump’s falsehoods. The White House even produced a memo attacking the expertise of the nation’s leading infectious disease physician, Anthony Fauci, in a despicable attempt to sow further distrust.

Trump’s reaction to America’s worst public health crisis in a century has been to say “I don’t take responsibility at all.” Instead he blamed other countries and his White House predecessor, who left office three years before the pandemic began.

But Trump’s refusal to look at the evidence and act accordingly extends beyond the virus. He has repeatedly tried to get rid of the Affordable Care Act while offering no alternative; comprehensive medical insurance is essential to reduce illness. Trump has proposed billion-dollar cuts to the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, agencies that increase our scientific knowledge and strengthen us for future challenges. Congress has countermanded his reductions. Yet he keeps trying, slashing programs that would ready us for future pandemics and withdrawing from the World Health Organization. These and other actions increase the risk that new diseases will surprise and devastate us again.ADVERTISEMENT

Trump also keeps pushing to eliminate health rules from the Environmental Protection Agency, putting people at more risk for heart and lung disease caused by pollution. He has replaced scientists on agency advisory boards with industry representatives. In his ongoing denial of reality, Trump has hobbled U.S. preparations for climate change, falsely claiming that it does not exist and pulling out of international agreements to mitigate it. The changing climate is already causing a rise in heat-related deaths and an increase in severe storms, wildfires and extreme flooding.

Joe Biden, in contrast, comes prepared with plans to control COVID-19, improve health care, reduce carbon emissions and restore the role of legitimate science in policy making. He solicits expertise and has turned that knowledge into solid policy proposals.

On COVID-19, he states correctly that “it is wrong to talk about ‘choosing’ between our public health and our economy…. If we don’t beat the virus, we will never get back to full economic strength.” Biden plans to ramp up a national testing board, a body that would have the authority to command both public and private resources to supply more tests and get them to all communities. He also wants to establish a Public Health Job Corps of 100,000 people, many of whom have been laid off during the pandemic crisis, to serve as contact tracers and in other health jobs. He will direct the Occupational Health and Safety Administration to enforce workplace safety standards to avoid the kind of deadly outbreaks that have occurred at meat-processing plants and nursing homes. While Trump threatened to withhold money from school districts that did not reopen, regardless of the danger from the virus, Biden wants to spend $34 billion to help schools conduct safe in-person instruction as well as remote learning.

Biden is getting advice on these public health issues from a group that includes David Kessler, epidemiologist, pediatrician and former U.S. Food and Drug Administration chief; Rebecca Katz, immunologist and global health security specialist at Georgetown University; and Ezekiel Emanuel, bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania. It does not include physicians who believe in aliens and debunked virus therapies, one of whom Trump has called “very respected” and “spectacular.”

Biden has a family and caregiving initiative, recognizing this as key to a sustained public health and economic recovery. His plans include increased salaries for child care workers and construction of new facilities for children because the inability to afford quality care keeps workers out of the economy and places enormous strains on families.ADVERTISEMENT

On the environment and climate change, Biden wants to spend $2 trillion on an emissions-free power sector by 2035, build energy-efficient structures and vehicles, push solar and wind power, establish research agencies to develop safe nuclear power and carbon capture technologies, and more. The investment will produce two million jobs for U.S. workers, his campaign claims, and the climate plan will be partly paid by eliminating Trump’s corporate tax cuts. Historically disadvantaged communities in the U.S. will receive 40 percent of these energy and infrastructure benefits.

It is not certain how many of these and his other ambitions Biden will be able to accomplish; much depends on laws to be written and passed by Congress. But he is acutely aware that we must heed the abundant research showing ways to recover from our present crises and successfully cope with future challenges.

Although Trump and his allies have tried to create obstacles that prevent people from casting ballots safely in November, either by mail or in person, it is crucial that we surmount them and vote. It’s time to move Trump out and elect Biden, who has a record of following the data and being guided by science.

Editor’s Note (9/15/20): This article has been edited after its publication in the October 2020 issue of Scientific American to reflect recent reporting.

This article was originally published with the title “From Fear to Hope” in Scientific American 323, 4, 12-13 (October 2020)


The Psychology of Conspiracy Theories

When speaking to your conspiracy-theory loving, Trump-supporting friends, it may help to keep the following in mind. It is a podcast / article about what motivates people to believe in conspiracy theories.


By keeping in mind the reasons that people cling to conspiracy theories, you may be able to frame your response to be something different than “But, that’s stupid, here’s a pile of evidence from… everyone… that refutes what you are saying,”. Saying such things isn’t compelling to such people.

I highly recommend listening to the very long running podcast series, The Savvy Psychologist. It is very pleasant to listen to and they get right to the evidence-backed point. I listen on Stitcher.

Scanning 35 mm Slides

Megan has about 700 35 mm photographic slides from her family going back 50+ years. We’re going to scan them into the computer. Here are some thoughts on scanning…

Photo scanning appears to be a fully mature technology. I think this because some of the most legendary scanners were made around 2005-2010; units made by Nikon, Minolta, Hasselblad. They’re now mostly discontinued and those companies didn’t make new products to replace the old! 15 years of technology improvements has meant that 35 mm slides can be scanned by a cheaper device that still does a great job.

That’s not to say there isn’t “cheap crap” out there. We were wondering if a $160 Kodak Scanza or similar Wolverine wouldn’t do a good job and I came across several reviews that said, essentially “It’s good for quick, lo-fi scans but it is NOT for archival use!” Here’s a good review of the Scanza on the Analog Resurgance Youtube channel. High points: The film holders are crappy, the scanning adjustments are mediocre, the image quality is kinda crappy, it can scratch your film if you’re not careful, it doesn’t fix dust spots. But it’s easy to use and fast.

We looked to other options:

ScanCafe.com is a photo scanning service recommended by a friend. $0.40/image with a technician cleaning each image up by hand. We almost went with them (and you may want to) but we wanted to keep our photos at home.

Local image scanning services. I hear Costco does image scanning, and there’s other local providers like this one. We were again hesitant to send the photos out of the house and the service I looked at was more expensive, in the $1.00/image range.

So I looked into getting a mid-priced slide scanner for home. I found mixed reviewds for flatbed scanners like the Epson V700. Some great reviews, some “moderate”. The main sticking point is that some say flatbed scanners don’t get the full range of colors. Maybe that’s true, maybe not.

Here’s some resources I found to evaluate scanners

And some tips on restoring photos: DIGITAL PHOTO RESTORATION

I saw several recommendations for Vuescan scanning software, people saying “Ditch the software it comes with, Vuescan works better and faster!” Though several reviews said the Silverfast software it came with worked fine.

I just ordered a Plustek Opticfilm 8200i SE tonight. I’ll tell you how it goes…

Dr. Zarkov! There’s no sun! It’s 8:24 in the morning, and there’s no sun!

“Dr. Zarkov! There’s no sun! It’s 8:24 in the morning, and there’s no sun!”

It’s very eerie outside. The news says that smoke from wildfires is being held at very high altitudes, obscuring the sun and making the world appear red. Sunrise was at 6:46am but, OMG, it’s 8:24 in the morning and there’s no sun!

(that’s a quote from the 1980 movie Flash Gordon)

Yesterday the weather report was for a second 95 degree day in a row. But instead of it being smokey and unbearably hot (Google’s forecast , it was cool and… apocalyptic. I’m very done with 2020.

I tried to take a photo of the effect by my camera… well, my camera didn’t believe the sky was the color the way it is. I color corrected these images to be close to correct. But it is, in fact, redder, darker and more apocalyptic.

Yes, I took these photos at 8:24 this morning.