After a brief stint at distributed computing early in the pandemic, I came back first to Folding@Home, then BOINC, with the following goals:

  • Use some spare computing power to help with worthwhile research.
  • Not drastically increase my power usage.
  • Mainly run projects when my computer would be on anyway, not start running a full desktop power supply full blast 24/7.
  • Avoid damaging my primary system, and especially not have to replace a fried CPU or GPU in a hurry during the ongoing chip shortage! (I’ve had heating problems with graphics-intensive games on this box.)

Folding@Home only seemed worth doing with the GPU, and the tasks took long enough that it only seemed worth doing if I was going to keep the computer on, which tripped up on my targets for power usage, uptime, and overheating risk. And their ARM version had dropped 64-bit support, so I couldn’t put it on the Raspberry Pi either. Well, not without installing a new OS and setting everything up again.

I tossed BOINC on an old Android phone (via F-Droid) to start with, using Science United as a manager to automatically choose projects based on areas of research instead of having to dig into each project one at a time. After a week or so, that seemed to be working out pretty well, so I looked into expanding.

Continue reading

We actually got quite a bit of rain (for Southern California, anyway) in December, and the mountains have stayed cold enough that the snow has stuck around for a few weeks!

Here’s a view of the San Gabriels in mid-December, after a big storm.

Snow-covered mountains in the distance, with partly cloudy sky above and green trees and a lamp post in the foreground.

And here’s a comparable view a week into January.

Snow-covered mountains in the distance, with blue sky above and green pine trees in the foreground.

Nowhere near as impressive as, say, the entire range being covered in 2008, but that’s a rare occurrence even in non-drought years…and we’ve had mostly warmer and drier years since then.

The weirdest thing about the apparently-not-actually-Covid case I’ve got has been its effect on taste and smell.

It’s already starting to go back to normal, but for a couple of days it went really wonky. It never went out completely. It was more like taking an audio equalizer and readjusting the sliders so that some frequencies are barely audible and others are louder than they should be. And maybe shifting tracks out of sync while you’re at it.

Umami was the only taste that stayed intact, so flavors like cheese were fine. Sour was blunted in some cases, overpowering in others. And sweetness was both faint and delayed, which was really strange.

Seriously: I tried a chocolate chip cookie, and at first it was like eating a cracker or plain biscotti, but after a few seconds of chewing I could taste the chocolate and then the sugar.

I could taste the garlic on roasted potatoes, but could barely taste the potatoes. I could taste soy sauce in a stir-fry sauce, but not the ginger. I could taste the bitterness of kale, but couldn’t taste anything of the carrots.

Spice, Spice, Maybe?

I did some experiments with smell and the spice cabinet. I could smell most of the dried herbs fine – oregano, thyme, dill, cloves. Rosemary was kind of faint, but I could pick it up.

Garlic was seriously intense.

I could smell cinnamon but not nutmeg, which I thought was odd.

But the really weird one: paprika, ancho, black pepper, cayenne and ginger all smelled subtly off from normal. It was like when you get a chile of a type that’s normally spicy, but isn’t, and you can still taste the flavor but it doesn’t have the bite you expect.

Saucy!

I also tried tasting a few sauces.

Ketchup and mustard tasted more sour than usual. Plain yellow mustard was so intensely sour I couldn’t stand it!

Teriyaki tasted a little more like sweet and sour sauce.

Gochujang and caramel were both a little bit off, but I can’t quite place how.

Chocolate syrup was interesting, because I could pick up the chocolate taste before the sweetness, so it started out tasting like darker chocolate.

The same thing happened with chocolate candies. We have an assortment of Ghirardelli squares, and I tried a few of them: the 60% cocoa tasted like the 72% normally does. The filling on the mint was more noticeable than its chocolate coating. And the sea salt caramel just tasted like salty chocolate.

It’s theoretically possible that I picked up a cold in the middle of a surge in a highly-transmissible virus that, in people who have been vaccinated and boosted, has exactly the symptoms I have, and started about a week after a possible exposure.

It could happen. [Edit: apparently it did. See the update below.]

But we all know what William of Occam would say about that.

(No, this is not a good time to reread Eifelheim.)

Anyway, we had a possible exposure to Covid-19 last week. With the winter+omicron surge, we couldn’t get any at-home tests at all, let alone enough for three people. So we booked the first drive-through testing appointment we could get, which was still a week out.

We’d already planned a low-key Christmas at home with a family Zoom call, and we haven’t resumed going out places anyway. We’re still doing most of our shopping by store pickup or curbside pickup.

None of us came down with anything over the next week…

But this morning I woke up late, still fatigued, hoarse, with a runny nose and brain fog.

Well, that probably answers that question.

It was a self-administered drive-through test at a pharmacy, the kind where they pass the kit to you through a sliding drawer under a closed window, you swab your nostrils and put the swab in a collection vial, and pass it back through the drawer. Minimal air transfer. There were only two cars ahead of us, but it took almost half an hour to get up to the window (probably because one or both of them were also doing covid tests), and about 15 minutes to check us all in, send the test kits over, do the test, and send it back.

It was late afternoon when we got back. Between lunch and getting back from the test, my senses of taste and smell went wonky. I could barely smell the orange I picked up. I tried a chocolate chip cookie, and each bite started off tasting like a plain cracker, then picked up the chocolate taste as I chewed it.

So, yeah, looks like I’m ringing in the new year with Corona. Here’s hoping I’m the only one of us who gets symptomatic.

In a sense, though, this is the best time it could have hit us over the last two years. The world knows a lot more about how Covid spreads and how to treat it. There are treatments that didn’t exist two years ago. And vaccines! The three of us are all recently vaccinated or boosted, which makes a huge difference in chances of getting a severe case to begin with. Because of that, we’re more likely to have caught the variant that’s good at evading immunity, but comparatively mild when it does. And since we were all exposed at the same time, there’s no point in trying to isolate from each other. One of the lessons we learned when I came down with the flu at the start of all this was that it would be really difficult to properly isolate just one of us in this place.

So, um, happy new year?

Update Jan. 1

All three of our tests came back negative. So I don’t know what I have, but apparently it’s not COVID?

Time to re-apply Occam’s razor with new information.

  • We were all exposed to someone who came down sick the next day.
  • I have symptoms consistent with an Omicron breakthrough infection in someone who has been both vaccinated and boosted.
  • Katie and the kid have both had a few odd things happen that, in retrospect, might be illness-related or might not be.
  • All of us tested negative.

So:

  1. All three tests being false negative seems very unlikely.
  2. Mine could be a false negative, and both of them fought off the virus without noticeable symptoms, and legitimately test negative now.
  3. Or all three tests are accurate and I really did manage to catch something else in the middle of a surging wave of a covid variant matches my symptoms.

Weirdly enough, I’m kind of disappointed. I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop for almost two years and thought it finally had, and dropped in a way that would do minimal damage to the three of us.

Since I’m definitely sick with something, I’m still going to isolate. Just to be sure.

Update Jan. 6

It turns out the person I caught it from also tested negative for Covid during their illness…and then came down with actual Covid after they recovered. Fortunately they seem to be on the mend from that now too.

That means (a) whatever I caught from them wasn’t Covid and (b) we haven’t been around them in long enough that we don’t have to worry about it having been a Covid exposure too.

I confused the iNaturalist identification AI with some random snapshots from a trip up into the mountains a few years back.

Normally it’s pretty good at narrowing things down to a family or genus. In this case, I was aiming for scenery and family snapshots at the time, so they weren’t exactly ideal for plant IDs even cropped. Still…

Thumbnail of a pine tree in snow, with a dropdown menu for species name: "We're not confident enough to make a recommendation, but here are our top suggestions: American Black Bear, Mountain Chickadee, Lodgepole Pine, Bobcat, Mule Deer, Wild Turkey, Coyote, Mountain Lion"

This is on the level of “A flock of sheep on a hill” for an empty landscape. I wanted to ask it how many giraffes were in the picture!