Your Tax Dollars At Work

A thought for anyone who asks “Can I stop paying taxes because of this thing I don’t like/can’t use?”

There are lots of things that you pay for but will not, choose not, or hope not to use. Your tax dollars go towards welfare, unemployment, drug treatment programs, prisons, nuclear bombs, and foreign countries. Do you expect to take advantage of any of those programs in the near future?

Taxes pay for things that benefit the public at large, but don’t necessarily benefit you.  That’s a price we pay for civilization.

Sherlock

Sherlock S4E1One of my favorite TV series is Sherlock, the modern update to Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous character.  There are three 90+ minute episodes per season, and the seasons are spaced two years apart.

The latest season has been much anticipated by fans, so much so that the first episode, titled The Abominable Bride, warranted a limited cinematic co-release with the premier on television.

Meghan, bless her heart, found out about this release and that one of the lucky cinemas to have some showings is near us.  My Christmas present was a pair of tickets.  Naturally, one was actually for her.  (Though she had the good taste to not point that out.)

Date Night!

Meghan’s mom came up to babysit the girls.  Since we were going to be out late, she planned to stay overnight.  (That plan changed at the last minute: she developed conjunctivitis the same day, and still came up, but elected to drive herself home when we got home — at 10 pm.)

Meghan and I drove into the city a bit early to have a nice dinner.  Not knowing the city all that well, we parked the car around the corner from the cinema and followed our noses.

Meghan at Papagayo
Meghan at Papagayo

We stumbled upon a hole in the wall called Papagayo.  Unlike the nearby restaurants with flashy signs and prices to match, our meal was very tasty and surprisingly inexpensive.

After dinner we had time to kill so we took in some local flavor.  Within a couple of city blocks we had encountered two universities, a handful of theaters, Macy’s, Chinatown, and a strip club.

Alas, it was time for the movie so we shuffled back to the cinema and headed up.  You can already find the episode on television so I’ll not bore with details; I will say that it was good.  My favorite scene was when Sherlock came to (the first time).

Hiking the Fells

Beta and Butter leading the way
Beta and Butter leading the way

Beta and I seem to be the more adventuresome side of the family.  Today we went hiking in the Middlesex Fells Reservation because we’d never been.

For our first look-around, I chose to start near the off-leash area at the Sheepfold, thinking we might be able to let Butter off her leash for a bit.  Sadly, the area is not fenced in at all, and she won’t come on command when there are any distractions.  (Butter will come when called at home, she’s not totally devoid of training, but the possibilities of squirrels and other dogs and dead things to roll around in are just too much for her to resist.)

From the Sheepfold parking area, there’s a straight shot up to the Bear Hill observation tower (about a mile) so we headed up.  The view from the top is impressive.

Beta brought along a book to identify animal tracks, and we found some animal tracks that were neither human nor dog — we think they were bobcat.

Unbeknownst to me Beta did NOT bring socks, however, and her waterproof boots quickly gave her a blister.  We discovered this at the tower, so we turned around and headed home a bit earlier than I had planned.  She promised me that she would bring socks next time, and she was so miserable by the end of the hike that I kind of believe her this time.  I think she enjoyed the hike otherwise, though.

NYE 2015

Meghan and Quinn
Quincy Market. The girls wanted nothing to do with this selfie.

Another year, another amazing fireworks show on Boston Common!

The weather has been abnormally warm this year.  Christmas day was in the 60’s, and NYE was in the upper 40’s during the day.  The fireworks, held at 7 pm, were not uncomfortably cool.

Being a tradition, we like to make an evening of it.  We took the train in, arriving at North Station and walking around the city.  Even though we have a train station in town, the parking sucks and the fares are higher so we head down the road to Anderson RTC in Woburn.  The MBTA makes outbound trips free on NYE after 8 pm, so it’s even cheaper to take the train (and just as convenient).

Beta child on the carousel
The carousel doesn’t have any horses, but it does have squirrels, owls, and a sea turtle

On the greenway in front of Quincy Market there is a carousel.  December 31 is the last day of the season, so the kids like to get in one last ride.  This year we arrived after dark so all the lights were on.

After the carousel, we headed across the street to Quincy Market.  The Christmas tree was still lit and the holiday show, Blink!, was still running.  It’s just a small light show and music that plays a few times an hour, but it’s a nice touch.

Dad and beta
Dad and Beta making bad faces for the selfie

We got dinner at the kiosks in Quincy Market.  It was nothing to write home about except this year there was a teenage guy playing rock hits on his guitar in the central seating area that Alpha was quite taken with.  Meghan gave her some money to throw in his guitar case.  It was all very cute.

We got some dessert and hot chocolate on our way out, and ate it on the way.  The kids got cannoli, which weren’t quite as good as what’s available in the North End but seemed to be pretty good regardless.  Meghan and I shared a slice of German Chocolate cake.

Alpha and Dad
Heading home, and all smiles!

With the weather being so nice a lot of people turned out this year, and the hill overlooking the baseball diamond was downright crowded.

A funny thing about these fireworks: they always seem to have more than one climax.  We always have to wait for a few moments to make sure they’re really done this time, before heading out.  We caught a train from North Station before 8:30, had the girls in bed before 10.  No, we didn’t stay up until midnight either.

Everybody
Everybody!

Windows? Oh, right, that means malware

We’ve been a Microsoft-free household for the better part of a decade.  I had one lonely copy of Windows XP on a virtual machine so that I could occasionally use iTunes to manage my iPad.  Everything else runs some variant of Linux, OSX, or iOS.  Until yesterday, Christmas day.

We purchased new hardware so the girls can a) run their Windows-based games, and b) stop fighting over the other “fast” computer.  It wasn’t a terribly expensive machine (<$200) but it offers decent performance.  We went completely over to the Dark Side and purchased it from our local Microsoft Store.

I was pleased with the whole process — I rather prefer the tenor of the Microsoft Store over the Apple Store (located a few storefronts away in the same mall).  Windows 10 is supposed to be so much better, too.  I’m not a fan of the interface but it is intuitive for some tasks.

I have just, as I type this, finished removing malware.  Already.  Less than 24  hours after turning their new, fully-patched Windows laptop over to the kids, there is malware on it.  The built-in Windows Defender virus and malware scanner didn’t detect it, of course, but it was clear that something was wrong when I borrowed it back to check on it.

Color me unsurprised.  I’m just glad that I took a whole-disk image before first boot.  I think I will be restoring it to factory settings before too long.  (the bastards don’t include recovery media anymore.)  I’m also glad that tools like MalwareBytes and Spybot Search and Destroy have free versions.

Christmas Choral Concert (CCC)

It’s that time of year again: Beta’s fifth grade class concert.

Beta, smiling
By accident, I managed to snap a good photo of Beta while everyone else was looking away.

The concert was pretty good overall, but the real highlight was a kid in the band who was responsible for banging a cowbell (more cowbell!).  He was way in the back with the rest of the percussionists, and half in the shadow, but he was the most enthusiastic member — and his timing was spot-on.

Hills Home Delivery: Day 1

Oh dear god what have we done to ourselves.

freezer packed with food
Our first delivery from Hills Home Market

One of Meghan’s friends raves about a grocery delivery service called Hills Home Delivery.  After listening to their sales pitch, trying some sample food,  working out the costs, and checking reviews online, we wanted to give it a try ourselves.

Our first delivery came tonight.  This is several months worth of beef, chicken, pork, sausage, fish, and veggies, packed into a freezer in our basement.  There’s a turkey and some cookie dough, too.  Not pictured is several shelves of dry goods: pasta + sauce, flour, sugar, paper towels, and toilet paper.

This isn’t completely new to us, Meghan already buys her coffee and a few other things from Amazon, but wow that’s a lot of food all at once.

The delivery guys were friendly and professional, and pretty darn close to on-time. (Ten minutes late, but our delivery was scheduled for 5:30 pm — it’s night-time dark already, and rush-hour traffic is in full swing.  I don’t consider that ‘late’.)

On paper, this looks like we should be spending the same or less on food than we’re spending now — and we can cut out a bunch of time at the grocery the store.  We’ll just need occasional trips for fresh things like dairy, eggs, and fruit.