On Tuesday, September 14 2021, I volunteered at a local polling place for the California Governor Recall Election. This was my third time working a polling place, so I didn't have a web page's worth of observations to write down. But maybe I have a blog post's worth of observations, so here we go.
This polling place was in Grattan Elementary School, a few blocks from my apartment. Thus, I was able to step out of my apartment, pick up some coffee at the open-darned-early Cole Valley Peet's Coffee, and get to the polling place in less than 15 minutes—quite a luxury when you have to be at the polling place by 0600 in the morning. Once I arrived at the school, things got frantic: My instructions said I should enter through a side door, not the front door. The side door was locked, however. I waved at someone inside who turned out to be delivering food for school meals; he poked his head out and let me know I could get in through the front door.
The front door led to a nicely-decorated courtyard. Opening off the courtyard were several rooms including the auditorium, which had been taken over for the day as a polling place. Actually, there were two polling places in that auditorium. One side of the auditorium was set up for precinct 7551; the other side for precinct 7555. This could have been confusing for voters: if a voter went to the wrong side of the room, their name wouldn't be on the voting rolls. The city had anticipated that this might be a problem and provided some signage: a sign with a map showing the borders of precinct 7551, another sign with another map showing the borders of precinct 7555. We poll volunteers eventually thought to put the signs next to each other by the auditorium entrance. And our greeting was, instead of just "Here to vote?" the lengthier "Here to vote? Depending on where you live, you want to be on this side of the room or this side."
Grattan Elementary school's courtyard had colorful art, beehives, and an unfortunately-not-visible-from-the-street sundial.
(Remember the locked side door? As part of setting up the polling place, I went to that side door with the intention of unlocking it; but it was covered with Emergency Exit Only signs, so I chickened out. I'm kinda glad it was locked—it wasn't even on the same floor as the auditorium, so voters entering through the side door would have wandered lost through school hallways until they thought to try walking down stairs.)
The school had "This is a No-Peanut Zone!" signs posted. Normally when volunteering, I lunch on peanut butter sandwiches, a food which I'm capable of preparing even before 6 o'clock in the frickin' morning. However, since I knew that peanuts were forbidden, on my lunch break I instead walked two blocks to Luke's Local and splurged on a California Classic sandwich. Just one more reason why it's nice when your polling place volunteer-spot is close to home: you've probably already researched the local quick lunch spots.
The inspectors (bosses) at both of the auditorium's precinct polling places were first-timers. That seems to be a trend: I think ¾ polling inspectors I've worked with have never worked a polling place before. I don't know if my experience is typical; but if it is… I worry that polling inspectors burn out and don't come back.
When we first set up, our ballot-scanning machine wasn't working. A Dominion tech came to our site to look over the machine. I think maybe this "Dominion tech" was working with Dominion machines for the first time ever that day. He asked us poll workers, "Do you know where the thermal printer compartment is?" and I pointed at the machine's printer, and that was indeed it, and so we found the answer but I didn't have a lot of confidence in this guy but he got the machine working so maybe I shouldn't worry so much?
Jeffrey Oldham, my ex-co-worker, stopped by to see if he could pick up lunch or snacks or whatever for us poll workers. His girlfriend Brenda was volunteering at another polling place nearby.
School was in session. Thus, during the mid-day lull, when there were no voters to help, there were still interesting goings-on. At one point, there was a great clattering—students had dropped many kite-like paper parachutes off of a second-floor balcony into the courtyard. They then came running down to see how well their parachutes had survived the fall. That might have been the highlight of the day, excitement-wise.
One jerky voter wanted to let us all know he had voted "No" on the recall. Somehow he grew up without learning that it's mean (and illegal) to talk about which side you're voting for while you're at the polling place. It occurred to me: This year we didn't have those "300 pies"* signs to mark the border of where you can put up campaign signs and such. Maybe that jerk had forgotten because there was no signage to remind him. Fortunately, he voted during a lull, and there weren't other voters in the room to be intimidated.
Speaking of intimidation, this was the first year I worked with a security guard at a polling place. I forget why we had a security guard. Was it because poll workers and election officials have been getting death threats? Was it because of anti-masker loonies who wanted to vote without a mask (their consitutional right) by walking onto school grounds without a mask (illegal)? (Those hypothetical anti-maskers might not wait to learn that we poll workers were happy to bring voting materials out to them on the sidewalk.) Anyhow, I'm glad we had guards. Though they didn't stop any downright loony anti-maskers, they did hand out masks to clueless folks who hadn't thought to bring masks to a school. Also, a couple of our taped-up signs blew off in the wind; a guard let us poll workers know about these so we could tape the signs back up better.
*I forget how many pies out the no-voter-intimidation zone extends
I had a fun time solving Patrick Berry's puzzle extravaganza "Containment Policy." It took a while to get through. The puzzles were pretty straightforward to solve, but then I spent a while staring at each one trying* to figure out how it was constructed. These puzzles solve kinda like crosswords, but with different topology. The instructions are generally something like "Solve the across clues; you'll know when you have the answers right because each square of the grid is covered by an across-answer and by a something else answer." And the something else gets weird and interesting.
September is National Preparedness Month (NPM) here in the USA. Unfortunately, I didn't find out about the existence of NPM until we were already well into September, so I didn't have any cool preparations planned. Here are some things I'm better prepared for this year than in past years:
If some kid is telling me the "Interrupting Cow" knock-knock joke, I'm just going to roll with it. My knee-jerk know-it-all instinct is to try to shut the joke down to demonstrate that I'm in the know, I am too clever to be taken in by this joke. But if some kid is learning how to tell jokes, I shouldn't disrespect the classics.
I've accumulated several cans of canned food. I used to be proud of my emergency food supply: a few pounds of dried beans. But if an earthquake knocks out my stove, I might not have a good way to cook those beans, and they're not-so-edible raw. A past employer gave out emergency kits to employees; those kits contained emergency rations that lasted for years. But those kits were many many years old, and even emergency rations don't last that long. So I bought some canned food. And once a month, I eat something canned and then buy something canned to replace it. So if an emergency knocks out my stove, I should have a few days' food to eat that won't have gone bad meanwhile.
Also if a kid tells that joke where they have to interrupt suddenly saying "Timing!" I'll let them get away with that, too. It ain't easy, but I believe that children are the future.
Some Texans made a pro-life whistleblower web site to persuade other Texans to anonymously report each other for personal medical decisions about abortion. These awful people, “Texas Right to Life”, want to enforce the Texas Heartbeat Act, which claims to let people sue each other based on reports like this.
Fortunately, someone has set up another web site: https://www.prolifewhistleblower.net/ . That web site has good info about detectable heartbeats and standard medical practice and why attempting to illegalize abortions is stupid. Hopefully, people who want to report abortions in Texas will find the good website instead, which they might if the good site shows up higher in web search results.
How do internet search engines order their search results? They consider many factors, including which other web pages link to each website. My blog is small potatoes, but its links kinda boost the good result up in search results. Do you have a web site or blog? You could link to the good web site also.
Fun-loving people are gumming up the bad web site with spurious reports. I won’t link to the bad site here, but it has the same URL as the good web site, except use .com instead of .net. You can’t see the anonymous report form except from an internet address within Texas. But there (V) are (P) ways (N) to arrange to have a Texas internet address. Sites with report forms like this can easily filter out clearly bogus reports (e.g. state is not Texas, or Zip does not match City, or it mentions someone famous who is not an abortionist). It is harder to filter out plausible-sounding reports. Some anti-abortionist will have to spend effort to check them out. The more effort they waste, the less this bad website helps them.
Sorry for the strange blog entry, folks. I copied-and-reworded it from Jim DeLaHunt, world-ready.
I read Allison Parrish's article "Rewordable versus the alphabet fetish," in which she discusses the design of the card game Rewordable. Like Scrabble and Bananagrams, in Rewordable a player builds up words from parts. Unlike Scrabble tiles and Bananagrams tiles, a Rewordable card might have more than one letter on it. Parrish points out:
We sort of take it for granted that spelling games will use letters as their unit. But why should this be the case?
And I thought Oho, yes. Those past game designers fell into this trap. Such buffoons! And then I remembered that I had made a game in which one builds up words, uhm, from letters. I couldn't throw stones at those buffoons, for I resided in a glass house of buffoonery myself.
So I tweaked the game: Bewordled can now have more than one letter in a square.
Now the Bewordled game is that much more compelling. This could be good news for me if wildfire smoke keeps me indoors for a few days.
My most recent grocery delivery came with free samples. Among those samples lurked a couple of packets of ground coffee. The supermarket chose a bold strategy. Avoiding swapping air during the pandemic, I've ordered many many grocery deliveries from this supermarket over the last year and a half. In that time, I have ordered zero (0) coffee filters. I have ordered some (some) instant coffee because I can make that without using any coffee filters, a choice I made because I don't have coffee filters. (People who have known me a long time might think Wait, doesn't Larry have a Hello Kitty French press pot? But that broke long ago.)
Before the pandemic, I only rarely ordered groceries delivered. I joined no supermarket loyalty programs. I paid for groceries with cash. Why? Because I value my privacy. I didn't want some creepy heuristic drawing creepy conclusions about me just because I eat more than a pound of carrots a day. Ugh, I can just visualize some computer making an annotation like 18.7% chance subject is not a human but is in fact three rabbits in a trench coat. But apparently, I don't need to worry about the rise of the machines quite yet, seeing as how the brilliant supermarket supercomputers decided to send me coffee that I'm not equipped to prepare.
So anyhow, I had all this ground coffee but no coffee filter. You're thinking Oh, you can ersatzify your way around that: just fold a paper towel into quarters and use that as a coffee filter. But my paper towels are themselves ersatz: I accumulate heaps of paper napkins with takeout food. I'm not sure why restaurants give me so many napkins. I guess the food servers look at me and think This guy teeters as if he were really just three rabbits in a trench coat. If he sways like that while eating, I bet he spills a lot. Better toss in another handful of napkins, just to be safe. I've accumulated plenty of napkins useful for drying things. But I wouldn't trust them to hold together filtering coffee.
So I've been drinking unfiltered coffee. I pour grounds into my coffee cup and then pour water on top. Then I drink it like an even-groundsier version of Turkish coffee, straining out most grounds between my front teeth (but plenty of grounds make it past that barrier). If the purpose of coffee is to wake you up, this works great. Drinking coffee this way requires involvement. If you're just blearily trudging through your morning, drinking sludgy coffee forces you to shake off the cobwebs and concentrate. After you're done drinking the coffee, you can't just sit there: you get up to rinse out your mouth. Despite the rinse, some grounds will still lurk. As each dislodges, it irritates you, brings you back into the moment.
I finally made it through one packet of coffee. It was OK, but I think I'll give away the other packet to someone with the gear to use it properly.