Archive for the 'Diary' Category

Covid-19 diary: Part 3

March 25, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
March 25, 2020

When I woke up on Tuesday, March 24, I felt slightly feverish. I went to what I still think of as the orange bathroom, even though its colors are now predominantly brown after a renovation in 2018, and again opened the closet. This time, I was searching for a thermometer.

I found what I wanted almost immediately. However, after I pulled the silver tip from beneath my tongue, I saw that it registered my temperature as… nothing.

After fiddling with the thing for a couple of minutes, I determined that, yes, in fact, this thermometer seemed to be entirely out of mercury. Where did it go? Good question.

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Covid-19 diary: Part 2

March 24, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
March 24, 2020

After about two hours of passing New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway electronic signs referring me to, I was nearly at my parent’s home. I had given a lot of thought to how I was going to get out of my car and into the house safely in this pandemic.

I don’t display any of symptoms of Covid-19. Unfortunately, that seems to be true of many of the people who have been spreading the disease. Still, I could make an effort to avoid bringing in any coronavirus that I might have picked up during my rest stop.

I called ahead and, editing my to-do list on the fly, asked my Parental Unit to confine the dog and unlock the front door. After parking in the driveway around 10:30 p.m., I pocketed my phone, which was already powered down. When I got out of the car, I shouldered my duffel bag and my computer backpack and then walked inside.

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Covid-19 diary: Part 1

March 23, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
March 23, 2020

On the afternoon of Thursday, March 12, I did some shopping at a home-improvement store and picked up a pizza. Then I headed home and went inside, where I would stay for nearly 72 hours straight. With a very few notable exceptions, which I’ll probably write about later, I remained in the house until Sunday the 22nd.

Around 2:30 that afternoon, I started up my car and drove to a nearby automated teller machine. After withdrawing some cash, I hopped on Interstate 85 for the long drive to my parent’s home outside New York City.

In this still-early stage of the American coronavirus pandemic, everything I do outside my home — and even many things I do inside — is worrisome. When I reached to put my ATM card in the slot, part of my bare finger brushed against the housing. I cursed myself, because I’d taken out a pair of disposable gloves prior to pulling up to the automatic teller. I sheathed my hands in order to complete the transaction.

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It’s all fun and games until somebody gets shot: My very short, very upsetting attempt to play pinball early one Wednesday morning

March 19, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
March 19, 2020

Author’s note: Although this post is not graphic, it involves violence. It also includes some foul language and refers to drug usage. As such, it may not be appropriate for sensitive readers.

Worth noting, perhaps, is that I started writing this blog post several days ago but put it on hold as concerns over the Covid-19 pandemic surged. I apologize for the delay. MEM

Around 10 minutes after midnight on the morning of Wednesday, March 11, I walked into a Durham establishment that I will refer to as Pinball Oasis. Pretty much right away I noticed that something was off.

A strange grouping of people was arrayed near the high-top tables on the far side of the pinball cluster. Two men were facing each other; behind each, a few people were fanned out. After I showed my identification to a staffer at the front desk, I took a moment to study this formation.

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More than you (or I) ever wanted to know about USB cables

March 4, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
March 4, 2020

I wanted to add some odds and ends about the computer stuff I’ve been posting about.

First, USB ports on Macintosh laptop computers — that is to say, the MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. I wrote on Friday that these machines had had USB Type A ports since the line was introduced in 2006 up until 2017. If you’re a Doubting Thomas, you can click the links in the first sentence of this paragraph, which will lead you to the appropriate pages on the website

The MacBook’s USB Type A ports came in two flavors; the receptacles initially conformed to USB’s 2.0 standard before being upgraded to the 3.0 standard. The early version transfers up to 480 megabits per second, while 3.0 can transfer 5.12 gigabits per second, which is roughly 10.7 times faster. By contrast, USB 1.1 — the version that made the Universal Serial Bus a popular connection standard starting in the late ’90s — topped out at a measly 12 megabits/second.

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DriveQuest: The hardware strikes back

February 28, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 28, 2020

My plan to add a network-attached storage device to my home computing setup and thereby create a personal cloud has yet to come to fruition.

I put in an online order for a network-capable hard drive on Thursday, Feb. 13; it was set to arrive the following Tuesday, Feb. 18. But after my post on this topic went up, I received an email saying that the NAS drive was out of stock and that I could cancel my order and receive a full refund.

I did so and instead bought what I believe is a slightly newer device made by WD, or Western Digital. It was a little bit more expensive than the item I’d originally bought. It came on Thursday the 20th.

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Items for Feb. 15, 2020: Lost pens, new pens, computer storage

February 15, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 15, 2020

Various items:

• Sometime over the last week, I lost a red pen. It’s not a big deal, I guess, but it was still annoying, especially because when I checked my office supplies at home I discovered that I didn’t have any red pens in reserve. I use red ink to mark questionable words and challenges while playing Scrabble; I also use them to mark attendees and the total number of players in late games when I work as a World Tavern Poker tournament director.

On Tuesday, Feb. 11, I went into a convenient office-supply store that’s part of a national chain; I had a $30 “e-gift card” for it. (This item, which I printed out at home, belongs in a different category than either a gift card or a gift certificate, as various cashiers and I learned in 2019 through trial and error.)

I wound up buying a four-pack of fine-tipped black pens for $10.98 and a five-pack of fine-tipped red pens for $7.29. I wasn’t out of black pens, but I have been searching for fine-tipped black writing implements. I can no longer find the 0.5-millimeter black rollerball pens that used to be stocked in every office-supply store.

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Poker postseason recap, winter 2020

February 12, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 12, 2020

Having scooped up a pair of tavern season points titles, I went into the two-week World Tavern Poker postseason with the goal of collecting some more trinkets.

The first postseason week, which began on Monday, Jan. 27, consists of tavern championships. Those who placed in the top 10 at that venue start these games with double stacks and can re-enter if they’re knocked out before a certain time. Top tenners only get one re-entry, and those who knock them out receive a bounty.

I held top-10 rankings in three venues, playing on Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday nights. I also qualified to compete, and did compete, at venues on four other days.

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Poker regular season recap, mid-summer 2019 though mid-winter 2020

February 11, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 11, 2020

Another six months, another World Tavern Poker season in the books.

This stretch was gratifying for a few reasons. I collected 11 tournament victories, which made for my second-best season ever. (I managed to take down 16 wins between September 2016 and February 2017.)

Even better, I found myself competing for a pair of tavern season points championships, both at venues where I serve as tournament directors. My Wednesday night race ended in something of a rout was fairly secure — I led by 495 points in the final reckoning — but the Sunday night race was determined in the final two games.

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My discovery in the dead of night

February 8, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 8, 2020

I went to bed on Thursday night. Technically, it was Friday morning. Nothing about the preceding sentences is unusual for me. What follows, however…

Every so often when I’ve been sleeping, my mind will rise to a state of semi-wakefulness. Often, this is because my bladder is insisting that I go to the bathroom but the rest of me just wants to stay in bed.

After all, who likes getting up in the middle of the night? It’s often unpleasantly cool outside the bedroom, if not outside the bed, period; this is especially true in the wintertime, even one as mild as we’ve been having down here in North Cackalacky.

Even worse, getting out of bed means waking up, and who knows how hard it will be to fall back asleep. Getting out of bed: What’s to like?

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Jan. 3, 2020, poker recap

January 10, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 10, 2019 2020

It’s only been five days since my visit to the casino in Bethlehem, Pa., but it seems like a much longer while.

I was card dead for quite a while, both before and after my successful acquisition of a working Wind Creek player’s card. Over time, my stack shrunk from $220 to $210 to $200… I had a number of $25 chips plus some $5 and $1 chips. I must have gotten below $150 as things continued to go direly.

The best hand and only pair I got over the first hour or more was 9-9. I raised with it and got at least two or three callers, plus a flop with at least one over (a 10, and maybe there was paint as well). I called a post-flop bet but folded when the turn failed to bring me a third nine.

I made money on three hands. I remember no details about the first — was it ace-queen or ace-jack — except that I bet the river, mimed a bit of anxiety and got called by a beefy fellow two seats to my left. I think I must have straddled that hand, which is a move that involves posting twice the big blind ($4 on this $1–$2 table) and acting last on the initial round of betting.

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All I wanted to do… Or: Departure day! (Being part of my impromptu holiday travels series)

January 9, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 9, 2019 2020

The plan was simple enough: Leave my parent’s home in the greater New York metropolitan area around 9 the morning of Friday, Jan. 3, 2020; drive about 105 minutes to the Wind Creek casino (formerly a Sands property) in Bethlehem, Pa.; play poker for roughly three hours, until 2 p.m.; and then drive another three and a half hours for dinner and a night’s stay with my friends in Northern Virginia. If I timed things nicely and got a bit of luck, I would avoid heavy rush-hour traffic — especially around Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s capital — and have a little extra cash in my pocket.

All I wanted to do was play some poker on the last full day of my trip, and I was getting grief from this, that and the other.

Actually, most of the grief was coming from my parent’s computer, which had been the focus of many of my information technology efforts over the course of the past 10 or so days. In an effort to improve the speed of a seven-year-old basic 21-inch iMac, I’d installed CleanMyMac X and used it to delete some cruft. The machine seemed to be operating a bit better. (Your mileage may vary; not a paid or otherwise compensated endorsement.)

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Drive, return, blackout: Selected sketches from my holiday travels

January 6, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 6, 2019 2020

I left my home on the morning of Monday, Dec. 23, 2019, and did a bit of holiday shopping in downtown Durham before heading north to the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area. (I later realized, in reviewing and deleting old email messages, that my shopping errand could have been done over the weekend thanks to the magic of extended store hours — alas.)

On the evening of the last full day of my trip (more about which I may describe in a future post[s]), I stopped at the home of friends in Northern Virginia. After enjoying lunch at an Ashburn restaurant called Pho Noménal, I struck out for North Carolina.

I parked south of downtown Raleigh around 6 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 3, 2020, and walked over to Boxcar, the arcade and bar. After playing a bit of Batman ’66 (Stern 2016), where I don’t believe I got to the main multiball even once, I switched to Monster Bash — again, I’m not sure if it’s the 1998 Williams original or the 2018 Chicago Gaming remake, although I suspect the latter — and put up one good score and some mediocre ones.

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Weekend ruminations

December 8, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 8, 2019

One night this week, I parked by my house and started picking my way across the yard to the front porch. In the dark, I put my left foot down on something that was neither flat nor stable. (It was a little chunk of concrete, I found the next morning.) My left ankle rolled sharply, and I yelped in pain. It’s been slightly tender ever since.


On Wednesday morning, I woke to a text from someone who works for my landlord:

Hello! Lowes has called and said they will be delivering the new machines today between 12pm-2pm. We’ll be meeting them there to install it.

This was welcome news. I’d reported a problem with the combination washing machine and dryer some time in early November, after the washer failed to drain. The rental management agency took a look at it and, after receiving the needed parts, dispatched workers to fix the appliance on Nov. 20.

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Bad-Ugly-Good: Taking stock of 4-7 Stanford

November 28, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Nov. 28, 2019

I attended the joint Stanford-Cal Big Game viewing party for the fifth year in a row. Suffice to say that the result was not to my liking.

“I can’t believe we have the Axe!” one Cal backer exclaimed joyfully upon the conclusion of the Cardinal’s nine-year victory streak over the Bears.

I had to wait rather a while to pay my bill, which didn’t put me in a good mood.

• The Bad

I was struck after the end of Big Game by the similarities between Stanford’s second half at Washington State and its second half vs. the Bears. Junior quarterback Davis Mills threw two picks in both cases, once per game near the opposing goal line. The Cardinal’s opponents had a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns in both cases. And the opposing defense turned the Farm team away on fourth downs with less than two minutes to play in both contests.

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2019 Robb Griffith Memorial Tournament, part 3

October 17, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 17, 2019

As I noted in my last post, my opponents’ ratings were increasing as the day wore on. Round seven pitted me against the field’s No. 2 seed, D.L., a Durham resident who was returning to competitive Scrabble after a 12-year break.

His rating entering the tournament was 942, but he’d had a rough day, and his record stood at 2-4 with a spread of minus-190. Nevertheless, I expected him to be dangerous — he’d beaten me and a few other players during club play earlier in October.

However, I got off to a good start. Playing second, I turned my opening rack of ADEHIS? into SHADIEr/COWS, a 72-point bingo. Later, I put down ZEST/SCOWS for 43-points, which gave me a 168-57 lead after five turns.

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2019 Robb Griffith Memorial Tournament, part 2

October 16, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 16, 2019

As is customary when we hold Scrabble tournaments at the local mall, I took advantage of the midday break to walk home. After grabbing some lunch, I hopped in my car. I parked in a shady spot — I think the temperature got up to the mid-80s that day — in a very particular part of the mall lot that I picked out because it would facilitate my access to the highway I planned to use after the Scrabbling was done.

Upon returning to the tournament play area, which was roughly in the center of the mall, I saw that standings had been posted. Somewhat surprisingly, my 3-0 record with a plus-379 spread hadn’t been enough to put me in first place. That honor actually belonged to N—, whom I hadn’t competed against since June 2018. Like me, she was 3-0, but her spread was even better than mine: plus-435. I knew that I’d have to play well to stay in contention.

My adversary in round four was C—, whom I’d last played in April 2018. Playing first, I drew CJLSVXY and threw back everything but SX. C— put down WHALE 30, which benefitted from the double-letter-score bonus that amplified the W as well as the double-word-score bonus that automatically applies to the first word played in every Scrabble game.

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2019 Robb Griffith Memorial Tournament, part 1

October 15, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 15, 2019

It’s been more than a year since I last wrote about Scrabble. Those posts detailed my 4-4 record with a minus-53 spread that saw me finish sixth in the 10-person lower division.

Since then, I’ve participated in four tournaments that have until now gone unremarked-up on this blog:

• A 4-12 debacle in Wilmington, N.C., in which I finished 12th out of 12 in a single-division event in October 2018. I was seeded 10th but lost 12 games against four wins, with an abysmal spread of minus-1,036.

• A 9-7 performance in the January 2019 Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament. I was fifth out of 18 in the lower division and exceeded my No. 14 seed. I started out 3-5 but went 6-2 on the second and final day.

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Struggling up a hill, causing a traffic jam: A recent dream

October 11, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 11, 2019

Author’s note: I originally published this post with the title “Climbing that hill, stuck in traffic: A recent dream”; I adjusted the title shortly after publication to make it more accurate. MEM

This morning, I dreamed that I was driving, perhaps to work. I remember thinking to myself — or explaining to someone in the car? — that this wasn’t the route I normally took to get where I was going, but that it was important to have some variety in one’s routine.

(This part of the dream may have been influenced by Thursday, because I went to a part of Hillsborough Street in Raleigh that I hadn’t traveled on in a few months and found the area transformed by construction. As I used one of the new roundabouts to reverse course in order to access a bookshop on the north side of the street, I noticed that the concrete foundations for a new building had been installed on the northwest “corner” of Hillsborough and Dixie Trail. I thought to myself, “Hey, the sports bar with the outdoor deck that used to be right there that I never visited is now a thing of the past!”)

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A movie, some local history, a career and some advice; or, my trip to an alumni function

October 2, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 2, 2019

I have not been particularly active in the local Stanford Alumni chapter, but last week there was an event that I absolutely had to attend. The group showed The Best of Enemies, a movie released in April that’s based on a remarkable incident in the battle to integrate Durham schools.

The movie, based on the 2007 book of the same name by journalist Osha Gray Davidson, centers on a comprehensive series of community discussions known as a charrette. The meetings were organized because a fire at an elementary school serving black students essentially forced the public’s hand.

I won’t say much more about what happened, either in actual history or in the movie, other than to note that it’s a truly amazing story. I’d learned about this 1970s episode during a past life as a local education reporter — although I’d forgotten some of the more important points, which heightened the climax for me.

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Inconsistent Stanford squanders a big lead but slips past Oregon State with a 31-28 win

September 30, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 30, 2019

Junior quarterback Davis Mills threw for three touchdowns and caught another as the Stanford football team survived Oregon State’s fourth-quarter rally to claim a 31-28 victory on a damp, cool Saturday evening in Corvallis.

Senior Jet Toner hit a 39-yard field goal with a second remaining to win in regulation after the Cardinal (2-3, 1-2 Pac-12) squandered a 21-point second-half lead and a two-touchdown advantage with 9:31 remaining in the fourth quarter. The kick spared Stanford some of the embarrassment of explaining away a late collapse by the defense, which let the Beavers (1-3, 0-1) score touchdowns on their final four drives.

Sophomore wideout Michael Wilson had three receptions for 87 yards and a score, while junior tight end Colby Parkinson (three catches, 44 yards) both caught and threw a touchdown for the Cardinal. His partner on those scoring plays was Mills (18 for 25 for a career-high 245 yards); he started in place of K.J. Costello, who injured his throwing hand against Oregon. Stanford also got another workmanlike effort from redshirt senior running back Cameron Scarlett (24 carries, 92 yards).

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Boat racing in Orange City: A crazy holdem hand at a cash table

September 27, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 27, 2019

I’ve written a pair of posts about my mid-September trip to Orlando (not to mention a few more about the game in which the University of Central Florida walloped my beloved Stanford football team). What I haven’t yet mentioned is my excursion to the Orange City Racing and Card Club, about 30 miles north of downtown Orlando.

What drew me here was cards, particularly the chance to play poker for money. After buying in for $220 in chips, I sat down at a $1–$2 cash table around 2:15 p.m. Aside from a pair of toilet runs and a visit or two to a nearby trash can, I stayed there for nearly the next four hours.

I was up by $69 when I returned to the cashier. This was both encouraging and disappointing: The former because I started off ice cold and seemingly couldn’t get a winning hand for an hour or so, the latter because I had roughly $350 arrayed in front of me around 5:30 p.m. before I started playing more loosely in hopes of hitting it big. (Obviously, I did not.)

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Florida flipping: My pinball excursion to Orlando* (*by which I mean Oviedo)

September 19, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 19, 2019

I went to Orlando to do one thing: Watch Stanford football. But in booking my trip, I gave myself a few days on either side of the actual football game against UCF. I looked online for a few other activities to fill the time.

A quick search of a handy app named Pinball Map revealed that the Orlando area has three locations with large numbers of pinball machines. For reasons that escape me, they’re all in a town called Oviedo, which is five miles north of the University of Central Florida and about 15 miles northeast of central Orlando.

The first pinball venue that I stopped at was District Eat and Play, which is located in Oviedo Mall. When I visited on Thursday evening, the facility was so dark that I at first believed it was entirely abandoned. This is one of the old-style enclosed malls that were popular in the latter half of the 20th century, as opposed to the street-style shopping districts that have supplanted them. (Incidentally, I suspect this trend might be cyclical, but it could be decades before a possible shift back to indoor malls, so I may not live to know the truth.)

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Botanical beauty in Central Florida: Images from my stroll through the Leu Gardens

September 18, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 18, 2019

My major cultural activity while staying in Orlando for Stanford’s ill-starred football game at UCF was visiting the beautiful Harry P. Leu Gardens. I headed west from the main gate and walked to the Lake Rowena overlook — where a woman inspecting the informational placards was surprised to learn that alligators might be about — before cruising through the northwestern sections of the property.

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Garbage, person: In which I step outside and have an awkward conversation

September 5, 2019

By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 5, 2019

As I write this on Thursday, Sept. 5, Hurricane Dorian seems to have largely spared the Triangle. It only started raining hard around 4:15 p.m., and there have been no winds to speak of. (The rain settled down after an hour or so and is no longer coming down in buckets.) As far as I could tell, Durham didn’t get any precipitation until around 2 or 2:30 this afternoon.

However, as you can imagine, the storm has been on everyone’s minds. A lot of area residents monitored its approach toward us as the system churned north past Florida and Georgia on Wednesday.

I starting running an errand late Thursday morning and returned home around 1 p.m. After puttering in the house for a bit, I got a notification from my phone’s weather app that rain was going to start about 20 minutes after the hour.

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