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Improving my tamper

I’ve been very much enjoying the Flair, and have gotten very used to pulling shots with it. Since the making of the video I’ve streamlined my morning routine, and also started using a cork trivet as a tamping pad, which is easier on my countertops and the portafilter.

The big downside to the cheapest Flair model is it doesn’t really come with a tamper though, it just comes with a dosing cup that sort of doubles as one. But it’s not very good.

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Brewing with Flair

Today I got a Flair manual espresso maker, and I found that the manual that came with it was a little hard to follow, and the official “how to use Flair” videos were all about the higher-end models and also not that great to follow, and I couldn’t find any useful videos from reviewers on how to actually use the darn thing.

So after I played with it a bunch I figured out how to use it and drew a few shots (which all came out excellent! Espresso Vivace knows how to roast.). So I decided I’d share how I do it, which might be helpful for someone else.

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Non-COVID-19 medical care wonkiness

So, because I’ve changed insurance plans, I need to change my specialists as well. One of those is my sleep specialist, which I mostly want to get a DME provider set up with my insurance, which requires a screening in order to get DME approval.

Because of COVID-19, appointments are limited, and they can’t see me until June 1, which means if I need to refresh my mask et al I’ll have to go out-of-pocket until then. Not the worst thing in the world (and honestly I found out-of-pocket to be cheaper than the copay on my previous DME anyway), but annoying.

But there’s a bit more that this leads to which is a little wonky… because of COVID-19 they had to ask me the usual appointment pre-screening questions regarding SARS-NCoV-2 symptoms and exposure. But those questions are based on right now, and probably won’t be valid in three months. Like, one of them was “have you traveled in the last 14 days or been exposed to someone known to have the virus in that time?” and regardless of how I answer now that has no bearing on how it’ll be on June 1. Similarly, just because I have no symptoms or fever right now doesn’t mean anything about how I’ll be in June.

If the appointment were within two weeks I’d say this was reasonable, but… it’s two months away. How does that make any sense?

Surprise frustrations

So, I am using way more soap than usual when washing my hands, which has been drying out the skin a lot. To try to counteract that I’ve been using lotion a lot more. But it turns out that this leads to more tactile stimulation on my fingers (basically I constantly feel like I’ve just been soaking in the bathtub for an hour) which in turn leads to a sensory overload/pain flare, and it doesn’t even help with the dry skin anyway, and the dry skin also leads to its own level of sensory issues too. And Fiona’s insistence on sitting on my lap while I work isn’t helping at all. Just before lunch I had a bit of a meltdown because of it.

I guess I need to figure out a better way to periodically clean my hands without leading to other issues.

I could also really use a haircut, because my wild scraggly hair getting in my face is making this worse. Of course all the hair stylists are (rightfully) closed right now. I suppose I could break out my Flowbee but that feels like it’s taking the “mental stress due to isolation” look a bit too far. (Plus I don’t want my hair to be that short right now. I need every femininity cue I can get these days.) Maybe it’s time to finally learn how to use hair clips, but I suspect feeling them bouncing against my face would make me flare too.

Why is my brain like this? Ugh.

Teleconferencing tips, advanced edition

In the last article I talked about how to teleconference without too much hassle; my main, key point was to wear headphones. But headphones can be a problem for some for various reasons (sensory issues, needing to get up and walk around, and so on).

Since I teleconference from a home recording studio, I have a reasonable amount of semi-pro audio gear. Lately I’ve been experimenting to see about a headphone-free setup that still works, and I’m pretty sure this setup is fine and workable. However, do note that it’s a lot more expensive than just wearing headphones.

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Mosaic Palette 2S on an Artillery Genius

A few days ago my Palette 2S arrived, and I’ve been having some amount of fun with it. I won’t do a full review of it (there are plenty of those on YouTube, after all) but I’d like to talk about some of the things I’ve learned and how I have it set up.

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Join me on Discord

Just as a reminder, if you’re bored and want to chat with other bored people about geeky things, I have a small but friendly Discord community. We mostly talk about the sorts of stuff I talk about here, but lots of hobbies are welcome.

I’m trying to keep it cozy and comfortable, so if you need somewhere that’s cozy and comfortable, hopefully this is a reasonable place for you!

Updates from Elsewhere

So, my cold symptoms came back somewhat today, so I took another sick day and took it easy. And now I’m feeling better, so, yay.

The last few days I’ve been having trouble with my sleep apnea again so I’m giving my CPAP another shot. Since I’m on new insurance and getting healthcare at a different place now maybe I’ll get a new sleep doctor who actually listens to my concerns instead of just taking shortcuts based on simple apnea.

I also of course still want to get tested for COVID-19, if only for peace of mind. I’m not fond of this constant uncertainty. If I can get a clean diagnosis I can stop having an anxiety attack every time I cough or feel short of breath. And on the off chance I do have the virus I know what to prepare for. (Plus I switch to no-contact grocery and food delivery for a while.)

Inside I’m going to ruminate about the virus itself.

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Today’s Catalina iTunes Music gripe

iOS and watchOS have a great little remote control app for iTunes, which lets you control iTunes playback. It’s useful when I need to play or pause music during a typing break, or if I get a phone call while I’m in another room from my computer or whatever.

It’s supposed to work with Music.app.

It doesn’t.

I mean, it’ll pretend to connect just fine, but it never actually shows any of the playback information, and the controls do nothing.

Bonus fuckery: iTunes Match completely messed up the Fingertips suite on They Might Be Giants' Apollo 18. Tracks were out of order (yeah, yeah, I know it’s supposed to be shuffled but my brain has a thing) and half of them were glitched out and truncated.

Some tips for teleconferencing

Right now a whole bunch of people are starting to teleconference without having done such a thing before, and some of the hardware setup is a little bit unexpected. So speaking as someone who’s been doing teleconferencing for a while, here’s some tips to help everyone get along better:

  1. Please use headphones! If you do nothing else in this list, please do this. Headphone use alone will make the biggest difference. The reason for this is that your microphone will pick up sound from the speakers as well, and using headphones means that your audio won’t feed back into the microphone, so you won’t have feedback loops or echoes, and it will cut down on how much the software needs to do “echo cancellation” which is a big part of why you talking makes everyone else cut off.

  2. Also mute your speakers, if your headphones don’t do this automatically. If you’re using a laptop/tablet/phone this probably won’t be an issue, but on a desktop computer this might still be something you have to do yourself.

  3. If you’re not speaking, mute your microphone. Especially if there’s background noise (kids, cats, music, etc.) or if you have a cough or cold.

  4. Please try to limit the amount of background noise, as well; if you have a very meowy cat or barky dog, close your door with them on the other side (if possible). Turn off your radio or TV.

  5. Only connect/listen with one device at a time; this is sort of an extended version of point 1 above, but if you are listening in on a speakerphone or radio or TV or the like, using your headphones won’t prevent feedback from happening. Any noise that someone in the room can hear, your microphone can hear, and anything your microphone can hear gets broadcast back to the conference. You really don’t want your microphone to hear the other participants of the teleconference.

  6. If you’re on a laptop and don’t need to type during the conference, use the microphone on the laptop, which is almost certainly going to sound better than whatever’s on your headset. However, if you need to type, please use a headset with a built-in microphone instead; most laptops these days accept a 2.5mm telephone headset (the kind with four metal “rings” on the plug) and this will reduce the amount of keyboard noise that the microphone picks up.

  7. If you’re using a headset with a built-in microphone, make sure the microphone is clipped to your shirt rather than hanging loose. If it hangs loose it might brush against your shirt (which makes noise) or knock against your desk (which makes noise). These noises can be very distracting and disruptive to others on the conference.

  8. Similarly, please, please, please don’t join in while outdoors if you can help it; even the slightest breeze will also be picked up as a noisy rumble. (As will all background noise.)

  9. Finally: Most teleconferencing systems will show you if the microphone is picking up and sending your audio, or will have a test mechanism where you can check to see if it’s working. Please test this before joining in on the call, which will cut down on the amount of time you have to spend asking, “Can you hear me?” or having others ask, “Are you muted?”

With a little bit of effort we can all make our newly-found virtual presences go a lot more smoothly and less aggravating for everyone.

The ongoing quagmire that is iTunes Catalina Music.app

So, the latest issue with iTunes is that for whatever reason it’s stopped letting me actually play in a shuffle-from-library way. Which is to say, they got rid of the view where you can just see your whole library as the library, and click a “play” or “shuffle” button from there. I don’t know when it disappeared, but I know it used to be there, and now it isn’t.

It used to be that if you just had your view set to “albums” and pressed play anyway, it’d go ahead and choose something at random to play. But today it just kept on doing the same album: The Bends by Radiohead. Which is, granted, a great album, but I don’t know why it was choosing that one and that one alone, and I only felt like listening to it once, you know?

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OctoPrint et al

So, my main reason for wanting to get a Canvas Hub was to have easy one-click print support that works with the Palette; after playing with Slic3r a bunch last night I then realized I also wanted OctoPrint for its print queue functionality to decouple the print process from Slic3r (which turns out to be rather unstable at times, at least on the Mac). But it turns out that Palette’s OctoPrint plugins work with plain ol' OctoPrint, too. So I looked into building an OctoPrint node… and then realized I was overcomplicating things, since OctoPrint doesn’t actually need dedicated hardware1 — it just needs to be on a computer that’s physically close to the printer and has multiple USB ports available.

My desktop computer is physically close to the printer and has multiple USB ports available.

So I looked to see if OctoPrint runs on macOS, and yes, it does; there’s nothing Linux- or ARM-specific about it, as it’s all written in Python. The macOS-specific guide is an okay starting point, but I saw a few things that could be a bit simpler, so here’s what I settled on.

(Also note that these directions should also work for Linux and even Windows users! There’s no reason to build an OctoPrint hardware node if you already have a computer that lives nearby your printer!)

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The printer arrived!

So my new 3D printer arrived today. I went with the Artillery Genius, since it seemingly had the best blend of features and physical characteristics.

So far I like it, although wow the out-of-box experience could be a lot better. Not from the printer so much as from the software that drives it.

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Normalcy returning?

My symptoms have mostly cleared up, so I went out to get some cat food and cat litter. At the store everything seemed like it was back to normal; the crowd wasn’t quite as massive as usual for a Sunday afternoon, but the shelves were, for the most part, well-stocked. The canned beans section was still somewhat depleted (but there was still plenty to go around), and paper products and bottled water were back to normal stock levels. Hand soap was a bit scarce (and there was a “limit 5 per order” sign prominently placed there) and hand sanitizer and rubbing alcohol were completely out. I didn’t think to check the rice section, though. Anyway I did end up buying some more hand soap since I’m running low. Just the usual amount1 I’d need for a reasonable amount of time, of course.

And while I was feeling up to it I finally got around to doing a Sodastream canister exchange at Bartell’s. I only went to the Sodastream section and also picked up some of their actually-sugar-based-we-mean-it raspberry mint syrup2 so I didn’t check their product availability myself, but while checking out the cashier handled a phone call and said, “Sorry, we’re out,” and then after hanging up said, “If I had a dime…”

Masking symptoms

This morning my prescriptions finally came through (I don’t know why they weren’t available same-day as they were filled, but whatever). So I donned one of my N95 masks (which I happened to have on-hand from years of preparedness around summer wildfires) and headed over to the drug store next door, to pick those up as well as some other medical things.

Unsurprisingly, the pharmacy didn’t have up-to-date insurance information in their system, and my prescriptions — a short course of prednisone, a prescription cough suppressant, and a steroid inhaler — came to around $450! When they updated with my new insurance it came down to $50, mostly for the inhaler. Even that’s a lot for a lot of people to handle, and I can’t imagine trying to afford these things without insurance. We need universal healthcare, already.

Also I dislike wearing the mask in public. People look at me like I’m either a paranoiac or like I’m one of the people who’s been hoarding necessary medical supplies that could better go to others. But I am very specifically in the category of people who are supposed to have and wear masks — people who are symptomatic and/or high-risk for infection! (I happen to be both.)

The pharmacist was completely okay, but I also went to get a few other things (cough syrup, thermometer probe covers1, nasal rinse saline2, stuff like that) and the cashier was a bit… weird to me about the mask.

Yesterday when I was walking to the doctor and back I made extra-sure to cough audibly whenever people looked at me funny.

Which reminds me, I still need to get a cane for when I’m having a pain flareup and want people to not give me dirty looks when I sit in the priority seats on the bus.

I hate that so much of illness has to be performative. Can’t people just, like, assume that people only take what they need? Then again, the massive hoarding of masks and hand sanitizer just indicates that people generally don’t, and that’s a big part of the problem.

But, whatever. I have my meds and I have no real reason to leave the house for a while. Well, except I need to buy more cat litter and I have a bunch of coupons that expire tomorrow anyway. Maybe I’ll just go maskless and cough on everyone. That’ll learn ‘em.

Ironically, when I wear the mask outside I don’t need to cough as much, because the air inside it is warm and moist.

Everything has to be sweet

So part of whatever this is I have is muscle pain, and my doctor directed me to take 1000mg of acetaminophen up to 4x daily. So I bought acetaminophen at the drug store just now, and the only non-expensive version they had was these “cool capsule” versions with an “instant cooling sensation.”

Which is to say they are cloyingly sweet and have a hint of mint flavor.

Of course the sweetness comes from an artificial zero-calorie sweetener which will probably end up giving me a headache.

Why the heck does everything have to be super-sweet? Maybe we wouldn’t need artificial zero-calorie sweeteners in pretty much everything if we didn’t have this expectation that everything taste like candy all the time.

I don’t know how it is in other countries but at least in the US we seem to have forgotten how to taste things. Everything’s loaded up with sugar and super-sweet. And so we have zero-calorie sweeteners to reduce the amount of sugar (instead of just reducing the amount of sugar in things that didn’t need sugar in the first place), and then we have sugar taxes to incentivize people away from sugar.

When I want to reduce my sugar intake, I generally do so by not eating sugary things. Yeah, I have a tendency to keep too much candy and snacks and so on around and I could stand to remove more from my diet. But it’s hard to avoid sweets when everything is sweet. And now I’m left with the horrible aftertaste of acesulfame potassium in my throat, this pernicious coating of not-sugar that just feels gross.

I just wanted some fucking Tylenol, man.

Prognosis: good

Just got back from the doctor. She says I definitely have a virus but it’s probably not COVID-19; I probably have one of the many other emergent respiratory viruses that’s going around, many of which also cause the symptoms I’m feeling. Notably I’m not having any signs of pneumonia, which is what I really need to look out for.

She prescribed me prednisone and inhaled steroids and says I should continue to self-isolate (of course) but otherwise I don’t really have anything to worry about. Of course I should go back if things get worse and keep her in the loop about any changes.

Incidentally, I am quite pleased with One Medical so far. They were super-friendly and compassionate, and they asked my pronouns and are elated to call me “fluffy.” It’s annoying that this kind of healthcare is only really available if you’re able to spend $200/year for concierge care, but I’m glad to be in a position where I can.

I mean, Kaiser was pretty okay! But they still felt bureaucratic and, well, HMO-ish. (And they were still better than any of the major care clinics/hospitals in Seattle, like Swedish or, worse yet, Virginia Mason…)

Anyway. Folks were asking for updates so here’s the update.

Current status

My shortness of breath has gotten somewhat worse, and my peak flow is around 400 L/min, which is somewhat lower than my average healthy level.

I had a video visit with one of the nurse practitioners at One Medical and while my symptoms aren’t severe enough yet that they think I need urgent attention, they do want me to come in this afternoon for a secondary screening so they can check out my lungs and see what’s going on with my asthma, at least.

Despite the current administration’s advertisements, there’s still no test kits available, and they’re not expected to be for a couple weeks. This h*cking country, am I right? And the CDC still only care about suspected direct exposure or people who have themselves traveled internationally, despite the growing epidemic and the fact that almost none of the confirmed cases (including deaths) fell into those categories.

If this were just an asthma flare due to a cold they’d be putting me on prednisone (which is a standard course of treatment which works well for me), but they’re concerned about the immunosuppressant effect if I do have COVID-19.

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Using multiple GitHub accounts from a single macOS/Linux account

Let’s say you’re stuck working from home due to an ongoing apocalypse. Let’s say that you use separate GitHub accounts for personal projects vs. work (for one of any number of reasons), and that when you’re working from home you’re using a personal computer. Let’s say that for Reasons it’s not feasible for you to juggle multiple user accounts on said computer, and you need to be able to access both of your GitHub accounts without a lot of hassle.

The main problem is that GitHub ties your ssh key to your account (out of necessity), but all connections to GitHub are via the master git@github.com account, so there’s no easy way to differentiate which key to use at runtime.

So, here’s how I managed to set things up so that I could select a GitHub account on a per-shell basis.

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