De-Google-ifying

For a while now, I’ve been increasingly concerned with how much information Google has about me (yeah, I know many people feel this way). The problem, of course, is that they make it so¬†easy to use their services, and when you get an Android device, you’re pretty much locked into their ecosystem. There was a time I thought maybe being locked into the Android/Google world was better than iOS/Apple, but I no longer think that. So I’ve been thinking about how to migrate away from them, without losing the convenience many of their products provide.

Last week, I was surprised and dismayed when Google announced they were changing how their Tasks system worked. It essentially killed the interface I’d been using for years to manage my daily to-do list. Since I’m a guy who absolutely depends on my to-do list, it was crushing. Their new Tasks UI is clunky and terrible, and I immediately hated it.

Luckily I’m a web developer!

So I sat down and started building my own to-do list platform. Because I was building it from scratch, I could make the user interface exactly how I envisioned a “good” task system would behave. Over the next few days, I spent a few hours here and there poking at it. I connected it to Google’s API so I could still manage my to-do list through them (since I have a phone app for it, and don’t know app development). Things were good, but today I decided even that’s not a good solution. I’m still providing Google with a list of everything I do, and although I don’t think there’s some poor employee who reads the to-do lists of millions of users, I also think there’s no reason Google should have that information about me.

I started poking around NextCloud, which is a fantastic platform I’ve been using for years for file-sharing, and found that the calendar and task tools are first-class. They have all the functionality I need to manage my schedule and tasks, and I found some apps that integrate directly with them. Best of all, the data is completely under my control (running on a server I own) so it’s all private to me.

Now I’ve successfully switched everything over to NextCloud, imported my data, and deleted all of it in Google. Laralee saw what I was doing and asked if I could set it up for her as well, so I did. Now we’re both de-Google-ified, at least in these two areas. Woot!

100% Dominion

Dominion remains my favorite board (card) game, and I’ve been a faithful collector of all the sets since it first came out many years ago. For Christmas, Mom and Dad gave me a set of wooden dividers, and I promptly bought an “Artist Supply Case” from Hobby Lobby– the dividers were specifically designed for that box, and provide a way to insert six rows of European-sized gaming cards.

After spending a weekend sanding, staining, and varnishing the box, it was time to load up the cards. They all fit– barely– but I needed a better way to organize them so I’d see what was what. With almost 400 unique cards (10+ of each type), there are over 4,000 cards that have to be sorted. So I found a list of all the cards online, downloaded an icon set, matched the font on the game cards, designed and printed everything on colored paper, glued them to a bunch of bridge-sized playing cards, and inserted them into the stacks of cards so everything is organized.

The result is awesome. Everything is color-coded by set, alphabetized, and squeezed in perfectly. The box is exactly big enough to hold all of the expansion sets. Laralee says that’s great because it means I won’t order any more expansions in the future. She also saw what I was doing and commented that she couldn’t believe I’d spend so much time on something so trivial, but that only proved she’s a Philistine when it comes to board games.

So now I’m all ready to crush Kyra again, when she returns from her mission in a couple of weeks. Yay Dominion!

The Golden Broccoli Award

Today in seminary I gave the class a “pop quiz”, which I do fairly often as a good way to start discussion and get everyone talking at 6am. Because we were discussing the Word of Wisdom and being healthy, I made a little trophy for whoever did the best on the quiz. I called it the Golden Broccoli Award, and it was breathtaking.

Yes, I actually spray-painted a sprig of broccoli, then painted a base, and mounted it. Awesome.

Of course Laralee thinks I’m the biggest dork she’s ever married.

That’s food?

I opened the fridge and seriously thought we had a bag of birdseed in there.

Apparently I’m uncouth and uncultured, because I didn’t recognize that it’s quinoa. I told La she can call it whatever fancy name she wants, but it still looks like birdseed.

Now that’s love

La and I went out for lunch at the new(ish) First Watch restaurant in town. I liked their napkin holders:

Yay, stock market

Ooh, the stock market is so much fun. I’m not sure I’m timing my retirement very well…

I’m gonna be rich! Or, something

I just got an email from some random guy who said:

“I am Attorney representing the late Eng. Michael A. Schroeder, who died
during the 2004 tsunami while on vacation with his family in Thailand.
He seems to be related to you hence I have contacted you to discuss
this matter with you.”

I don’t know what “Eng.” means– maybe Michael was an engineer? Or perhaps he was English. Or a really engaging conversationalist. Or an enigmatic sort of guy.

In any case, I suspect that when I respond I’ll learn that Michael had a lot of money, and the Attorney (capital “A”) representing him is going to offer to split it with me in a clever and very professional-sounding scheme. Personally, if the Attorney representing my estate waits fifteen years before contacting my heirs, I’m going to come down from heaven and give him a stern talking-to.

Bowlin’

Julian visited us again this weekend, so we decided to get some lunch at a new sandwich shop in town and then go bowling. Yes, bowling. I figure it’s one of the dumbest games ever invented, but with the right group of people it can be a lot of fun. It turns out we had the right group of people.

Zaque’s strategy was to use a lightweight ball and put just enough juice on it to get it to the pins.

As it turns out, that was often not enough momentum to actually knock down enough pins, even though his targeting was pretty good. So he’d often end up with splits or a couple of stalwart pins in the middle.

I, on the other hand, believed in using a heavyweight ball (15 pounds, oof!) and hurling it down the alley with all the force I could muster. My aim was terrible, but sheer inertia did a lot of damage.

Julian definitely had the best form, and managed to start off with a couple of strikes in the first frames.

Laralee looked good too, although apparently I caught her after a particularly bad bowl:

In the end, we all had a good time playing a dumb game.

Power Grid

At my request, Mom gave me the board game Power Grid for Christmas. I think I described it to her as “complicated but fun”. I’d played it once, many years ago, and remembered it as a great game. We cracked it open on Christmas Day and learned how to play (it had been a while for me, and as I said, it was complicated).

It has cool little houses you build across a map of the United States (or Germany, the “B side”):

There are four different types of “fuel”, represented by little wooden pieces:

In the game, coal is represented by little brown cubes and oil is a black cylinder, but it drove Laralee absolutely nuts because she kept insisting “coal should be black!” So after the game we took permanent pens and painstakingly re-colored all the coal cubes to black, and the oil drums to silver. Actually, she was right– it felt much more clear after we finished.

We’ve played about half a dozen times since Christmas, teaching Hannah and Julian last weekend. Both of them liked it. In today’s game, Julian and I both felt a little bit like this:

… because Laralee is the absolute queen of this game. I can’t quite figure out her strategy, but it’s amazing. She wins every time. Today I was crushing her and Julian, on pace to win the game handily, when I suddenly ran out of money and couldn’t buy one last city to finish victorious. That gave Laralee one extra turn, and she managed to squeak out a victory using tie-breaker rules. Wow.

She celebrates her victory by imitating Wonder Woman:

Despite continual losses, I really enjoy the game and now have a goal to figure out how to beat her. (She reminds me this is pretty much how she feels every time she plays any other game against me, so I guess fair is fair…)

Inflation

Today it’s Retro Day, so I’m jamming to my awesome 80’s music. Young MC just came up in the playlist, with his classic “Bust a Move”. I caught these lyrics:

The movie’s showin’
So you’re goin’
Could care less
About the five you’re blowin’

Hah! Five bucks for a movie… boy, those were the days. (Actually, they were the days, since this song was released in 1989.) The last time I went to a movie, the four of us– me, La, Alex, and Zaque– paid $56 for the privilege. Sheesh, inflation.

It’s new! Except it’s not!

Shopping on eBay is sure fun these days. I’ve been using eBay since its birth, and generally speaking it’s a great platform to buy and sell stuff. But whenever I want to buy something that’s new I struggle because most sellers now use “new (other)” to indicate an item that’s been “lightly used”. In other words, “new” now means “used”. So it’s an exercise in wading through a ton of listings to find an item that’s actually honest-to-goodness new. Sigh.

Pizza socks

Ben just dropped by my office with a Christmas gift.

Pizza socks!

Yep, they’re just as awesome as they look.

Thanks, Ben!

Get Air

Zaque works at Get Air, a local trampoline park where kids pay $13 to bounce on tramps for an hour. The other day Laralee and I stopped by to see him (and also to see Get Air, as we’d never been there). He wears a spiffy “referee” sort of shirt and gets a whistle, which he twirls professionally on his finger.

Sunrise

Seminary started yesterday, so after a nice Christmas break I was back at it early in the morning. Luckily I was rewarded with a beautiful sunrise after class.

‘Tis the season

Now that we’ve hit the new year, it’s time for the scammers to start making their fake IRS threat calls. I had one this morning. As a general rule, though, I feel like I can hang up any call that begins with a computerized voice saying “Do not hang up!”

I saw some random statistic that something like 50% or more of calls these days are “robocalls”. What spam has done to email, robocalls and scammers have done to phones. Thanks, guys.

Science!

Physics still works, despite our ridiculous government shutdown, and two NASA spacecraft fulfilled their mission plans in the past few days even if there was only a skeleton crew to celebrate the accomplishments.

OSIRIS-Rex arrived at the asteroid Bennu and took a magnificent photo of it:

Instruments on the spacecraft have detected water ice, which has the astrophysics community abuzz. If an asteroid this small has water onboard, perhaps the substance is far more plentiful than we expected. That’s good news for mining and other futuristic uses of asteroids.

And New Horizons screamed past Ultima Thule, a Kuiper Belt object a billion miles past Pluto. This is officially the most distant object we’ve visited, and although the picture isn’t breathtaking…

… it’s a monumental achievement. Scientific data will continue coming in, and we’ll be able to learn about the primordial solar system.

As a space aficionado, I love reading stuff like this. We’re doing cool stuff these days, even while our government leaders continue their petty bickering. Learning about the mystery and grandeur and, frankly, surprises of the universe around us puts some of that stuff in perspective.

Zaqueism

“You call it bad at darts, I call it freestyle acupuncture.”

GRINCH

Last night, Alex and I played in the Grass Roots INdoor Charity Hat Tournament, also known as GRINCH. There were 90 people on eight teams, and even though our team didn’t go to the championships, we had a good time.

Laralee came along to watch, and took some pictures with my camera. Since I don’t have a high-speed zoom lens, and the action is usually pretty far from the sidelines, the photos tend to come out a bit blurry or grainy. Still, she managed to capture a few good ones of me and Alex.

It’s clear from these nice shots of Alex and me scoring in separate games that we have the same form in our catches:

Here’s another one of Alex scoring without all the drama of a big leap:

And I’m reaching above Rhonda a second time:

Alex did a great job on the field, especially considering he hasn’t played ultimate much lately. (I don’t have a good excuse, as I play weekly.) It was fun to be on a team together.

The card

Continuing the tradition of ghastly Christmas cards, I decided this year to do something completely different. Like the last four years, there was an added challenge of incorporating one of our kids who was away on a mission (Alex for two years, now Kyra for two). Without an opportunity for a “photo shoot”, I turned to the Renaissance.

After a bit of searching, I found a painting by Charles le Brun that would work. It was a family portrait featuring an incredibly homely group, with the added bonus of Charles painting himself painting (note the creepy guy in the mirror on the left).

This particular guy had more kids than me, so I had to do some cropping. I was able to remove a daughter, Charles himself, a dog, the weird bust and globe, and the marble head on the floor. The result wasn’t half bad:

Laralee thinks “her” hair looks awful (it does), and Zaque was less than thrilled about being a chubby naked baby. But all the girls who saw the card remarked “You’re so adorable!” which lessened the trauma a bit.

I had the cards printed on “premium textured” stock, thinking it might make it seem a little more like canvas. I’m not sure the effect was really there, but it was fun to hear what people thought of the card when they opened it.

For an added bonus, as part of a 25-day Christmas gift game with Kyra and her mission companion, we were asked to send a family photo. Naturally I couldn’t resist printing this and framing it for her. Apparently her companion thinks our family is weird. Go figure!