Life and the Universe and Everything

Well, it’s 2022. That means that my photo journal and photo stats pages have been updated.

It’s been an odd year, with a summer of “things are starting to get normal again” promptly followed by a return to the usual pandemic mess, but with a few small changes: we’re allowing ourselves grocery store trips again, and trips to see the niblings and in-laws are facilitated by at-home COVID tests (and both being triple-vaxxed).

The end of the year was also marked by some new electronics, that are rare enough that they’re noteworthy. I bought a new laptop from Dell as a pre-Black Friday special for use when I eventually return to business travel (because our work laptops are now so locked down that we can’t run anything on them but work stuff) and was forced to buy a new phone because T-Mobile is phasing out 2G and my old flip phone would soon stop working. Both of these purchases are interesting for very different reasons.

As far as the laptop goes, I intentionally picked the slowest shipping possible (even though I qualified for free 2-day shipping) so it wouldn’t arrive while we were traveling for Thanksgiving. (I generally try not to buy things before we’ll be traveling, but in this case, the deal was limited in its time window.) And of course Dell promptly shipped the laptop the same day and it arrived exactly while we were gone, AND it didn’t require signature confirmation (for an $800 laptop!). I had to have a friend retrieve it for us.

I really wish that companies would have options for “don’t deliver before this date” delivery options, especially around holidays. This happened a few years back with my camera order for Black Friday as well, but Amazon support was much more helpful (mostly because they were actually working over the holidays and were able to tell the FedEx to hold off delivery for a few days… no such ability with Dell, who shipped the laptop late in the day and then had no support the next few days because of the holidays).

The phone was interesting mostly because I just wanted another flip phone… but the cheapest option they had was $126. The moto g pure was available for $186, and I figured the extra $60 was worth it just so I could have the camera and not have to carry my work iPhone around for photos all the time. So… I now have an Android phone, and it has been an adventure because its UI (and the entire OS’ general philosophy) is so different from Apple’s. I don’t think I like Android, but I’ll deal with it because, hey, $60 camera. :)

(It’s also interesting because the phone plan I’m on is so old it doesn’t have data, so I now have a smartphone with no data. But that’s really not much different than the iPod touch I used to carry around with me anyway, so that’s fine.)

Otherwise, that’s really been it? Here’s hoping that 2022 actually starts to represent a return to normalcy.

Meal Kits In Review

We’ve tried quite a few different meal kits now (Blue Apron, Dinnerly, Every Plate, Hello Fresh, Home Chef, Gobble), and I think I have enough information to give a reasonable review of most of them?

One important thing to note: We eat a lot, so many of the “four person” meal kits for us are actually two or three servings (so one or 1.5 meals for the two of us), and many of the “two person” meals are a (small) one serving, so we augment the kits with additional things or just expect they’ll make fewer servings than they say. That also increases the per-serving cost for us a lot (by 50% to 100%), which has a large effect on our cost/benefit analysis.

Let’s do them in order that we tried them in.

Blue Apron

This was the original kit we tried, years ago, and it had the effect of turning us off meal kits for a very long time. (Necessary caveat following from that: it may also be different now.)

I’d generally describe it as “time consuming, wasteful, small, and expensive”. Every ingredient came in the package, but often in small containers (like a tiny bottle with a little squeeze of oil), and the recipes involved a ton of chopping and mixing and generally took way too long to cook. Cleanup was also a mess because preparation involved just about every pan we had (and more than a few plates and bowls). And the ultimate result was tasty enough, but really small for us.

Blue Apron looks like it costs $8.99/serving now, which for us actually means $17.98/person (and we’re still hungry afterward). If we want small and expensive and gourmet, we’d probably do Gobble instead.


This is basically the exact opposite of Blue Apron. Its recipes are significantly simpler to make (often involving only one pan and a bowl or two), and their veggie meals seem to actually be four (or sometimes five!) servings. (Their meat dishes are still somewhat small, but the side portions are generous, so I think a four-serving meat meal actually made three servings for us, which is better than the other kits.)

It’s also the cheapest of the kits at $4.69/serving (so somewhere between $3.75/serving and $6.25/serving for us), but that comes at a cost: more at-home ingredients required (vinegar, eggs, milk) and also no printed recipe cards. The recipes also tend to involve fewer ingredients overall, and also generally be more “standard” fare that you could make yourself by just hitting up the grocery store. However, another plus: They don’t nickle and dime you with “premium” recipes: everything is the same price.

Packaging-wise, everything comes together in the box and you have to pick out which ingredients go with which meal, which is maybe a little more complicated by the lack of recipe cards. But that’s also not a big deal for me.

They have a lot of variety in their menu, but no veggie substitutions, so you’re stuck with the vegetarian options they have. (Or you substitute for yourself; for one of the meals, we got the beef and just made it with tofu from the store instead.) Some of the recipes also seem to not be too well thought through: A recent veggie option was Tandoori Cauliflower that was intriguing on paper, but a little weird in practice with the ginger/garlic rice and cranberry chutney, plus the recommended preparation (mix tandoori spice with oil and toss with the cauliflower) fell apart in practice (managed to coat less than half the cauliflower before running out of oil/spice mix).

This is probably the one I would recommend the most, from both a price and serving size standpoint, and it helps that it’s one of the easiest kits to prepare, too.

Hello Fresh

This was not quite on the level of complexity of Blue Apron, but getting there. They have a few substitution options for vegetarians, but that comes at a cost: $9.99/serving to start, and an additional $5.99 to $7.99/serving for “premium” options that honestly don’t feel that premium.

In general, Hello Fresh meals tended to involve more preparation and more ingredients than the other kits, but they also sent almost everything needed (including the milk, for things like cream sauce pasta). I appreciated that the meals felt less like things I would normally make anyway, and that it required having less stuff “on hand”.

That said, the servings were small. These were very solidly in the “two servings is actually one serving for us” column, making a meal $19.98/serving for us, which is definitely not worth the price.

Packaging-wise, everything for a kit came together in one labelled brown paper bag, which you throw in the fridge (dry pastas and all), and the meats came separate from the kits. It was convenient for pulling out everything required for a meal, so that was nice. The recipe cards come separately on top of the bags.

Every Plate

We joke that this is the “zest a lemon” meal service, because just about every meal involves zesting a lemon, even the ones that don’t actually come with lemons. That said, this is a strong contender for #2 for us as its price ($4.99/serving) is reasonable and its servings (a solid 3 meals per 4-serving kit, for a price of $6.65/serving for us) are also reasonably sized.

The recipes tend to be slightly more complicated than Dinnerly, but still not involve unreasonable amounts of preparation. But that also means they’re a little more unusual, which is nice. They’re also consistently tasty: they always seem to have a veggie option that involves roasted chickpeas, and I love them so much I’ve started making variations of them on my own (canned chickpeas cooked with chili powder, roasted carrots with paprica, pearl couscous, sour cream, grape tomatoes, and spinach = delicious).

Like Dinnerly, they also tend to not do substitutions (although I think I’ve seen a couple options, but none of which were veggie substitutions for meat dishes), but that’s not a huge deal when they have such great veggie options.

Also like Dinnerly, everything comes together in the box without being separated by recipe, although they have better separation between veggies, dry ingredients, and proteins than Dinnerly does (with a separate paper tray for the veggies). However, these separations are just layers of paper, and one of the boxes we got had a leaky bag of chicken that got its juice over some of the veggies, so that wasn’t great, but otherwise this lack of meal separation also hasn’t been a problem. The recipe cards come separately on top of the bags.

In general, I’d say Dinnerly has slightly bigger servings but is simpler dishes, and Every Plate is more interesting but (slightly) more expensive, but they’re the two most similar of the kits, and I’m happy with both of them.

Home Chef

This is probably the best option for vegetarians, as basically every dish can be substituted. Their meals also have a much wider range of complexity than other companies, ranging from super simple to fairly involved. So flexibility wise, you can’t really beat them.

That said, we found Home Chef to suffer from the same problem as Hello Fresh: Small servings and expensive, especially because they have premium options and substitution of protein often costs more. They start at $6.99/serving (which for us is solidly $13.98/person), but very quickly and easily goes up in price.

I think I’d be more interested in them at half the price (or at least 25% less), because they do have some interesting recipes.

Packaging-wise, everything comes in separate large plastic ziploc bags by meal, with the proteins separated out, so these were very easy to pull out of the fridge to make. The recipe cards are 3-hole-punched and come separately on top of the bags (and they included a binder for the cards with my first shipment, which I thought was a nice touch).


Gobble was by far the most “gourmet” of the meal kits we tried, even more so than Blue Apron. But we were pleasantly surprised by how easy the meals were to make. Most of the sauces come pre-made, and complicated things (like polenta) come pre-formed and ready to cook. The meals are also the most unusual and things I would never be able to make myself without visiting specialty stores. (We had chicken in a wine sauce with polenta cake and broccolini, barramundi with cauliflower rice and beans, and a really nice vegetarian bi bim bap with mushrooms and shisito peppers.)

However, all of this comes at a steep cost: $12.99/serving with premium options costing even more. Worse still, the servings are among the smallest of the kits we received, so that’s actually $25.98/person if we ate just the kit. (For example, in the meal below, the potatoes and tortellini are not part of the kit and are things we added ourselves to augment to a reasonable serving size, but the kit contents of fish and cauliflower rice and beans were delicious.)

Packaging-wise, everything came in large sealed plastic bags divided by meal, with the exception of the proteins that came separately. The bags were also well-cushioned with paper inserts both inside the bags and outside, and the recipe cards were inside the sealed bags. So the packaging was a little excessive, but helpful.

I really want to like this kit, because it’s definitely the most unusual and has the most “free” premium options (like unusual fishes and beef), but that price is simply not justifiable for us when we could go to a nice restaurant and pay less than that per person after tax and tip.

Martha Stewart

Edit 12/29: We’ve also now tried the Martha Stewart/Marley Spoon kit. It feels like it’s trying to be gourmet, with “fancier” meals than any of the kits other than Gobble, but also with more prep work than Gobble. The ingredients themselves seem to be sourced from the same company as Dinnerly (and the Dinnerly website also loads many assets, like the PDF recipe cards, from Marley Spoon, so they’re really combined), but its recipes are significantly fancier than Dinnerly.

However, it’s also one of the most expensive list prices. Depending on how many servings you get, it’ll cost between $9 and $11/serving. Their servings are between 1.5 and 2 servings per 2-serving kit for us, so the cost to us is actually something like $9 to $15/serving, which I think is not worth it unless you have discounts.

The box packaging is similar to Every Plate, in that they have a divider for the meat and veggies, but also include an extra bag for the “dry” ingredients, but they don’t otherwise split up the meals, so you’re on your own for locating components for each meal. The recipe cards are between the insulated bag and the box (on the side, in my box, as opposed to on the top with other meal kits).

Overall Thoughts

If price is of no importance to you, I’d recommend Gobble. Its meals are delicious and varied and feel really premium but are still very accessible in terms of cooking complexity. However, they may leave you hungry.

If you’re vegetarian or need lots of substitution options, go with Home Chef for its flexibility, although expect to pay for the flexibility.

If you’re like us and care a lot about serving size and cost, go with either Dinnerly (simpler) or Every Plate (slightly more interesting but slightly more work).

Edit 12/29: We’ve also tried Martha Stewart now. It’s too expensive for me to recommend, otherwise it would probably come third after Every Plate. If you’re able to get discounts, I think the three I’d recommend (in order) is Dinnerly, Every Plate, and Martha Stewart, growing in fanciness but also price as you go.

Edit 3/23: See my followup post after another few months of meal kits.

Photo Stats (Finally)

Well, this post has been a *long* time coming. Thanks to the pandemic (and six [!] months of double-digit photos, including January and February 2021 with 19 and 18 photos), it’s taken three years (!) to take 25,000 photos and hit the next milestone of 475,000 photos.

We finally hit it yesterday, thanks to an impromptu Pittsburgh visit by Karl, featuring the second day in a row of long walks (10 miles yesterday, probably like 5 miles the previous day).

So… first up is the (full) camera stats table, this time featuring a new work phone (iPhone 12). (We had a couple new photos with the D90, but it’s not in regular use, so I’m keeping it in retired status despite it being usable.)

Intel Pocket PC camera October 6, 2000 – September 18, 2003 1077 days; 2.95 years 15,829 photos $200 14.7 photos per day 1.26¢ per photo
Olympus C3000 Zoom September 28, 2001 – December 5, 2003 798 days; 2.186 years 10,647 photos $450 13.3 photos per day 4.23¢ per photo
Kodak Easyshare DX6490 December 8, 2003 – March 17, 2006 830 days; 2.274 years 49,413 photos $500 59.5 photos per day 1.01¢ per photo
Nikon D50 March 22, 2006 – November 15, 2009 1334 days; 3.655 years 105,067 photos $570 78.8 photos per day 0.54¢ per photo
+$250 repair cost 0.78¢ per photo
106,916 shutter releases $570 80.15 shutter releases per day 0.533¢ per shutter release
+$250 repair cost 0.77¢ per shutter release
Samsung SL30 July 27, 2009 – December 1, 2016 2684 days; 7.35 years 21,616 photos $70 8.05 photos per day 0.32¢ per photo
Nikon D90 February 26, 2010 – July 23, 2021 4165 days; 11.4 years 208,718 photos $780 50.11 photos per day 0.37¢ per photo
290,005 shutter releases 69.63 shutter releases per day 0.27¢ per shutter release
iPhone 5 June 23, 2013 – December 23, 2014 548 days; 1.5 years 130 photos $0
(Provided by work)
0.24 photos per day 0.00¢ per photo
149 shutter releases 0.27 shutter releases per day 0.00¢ per shutter release
iPhone 6 Plus January 8, 2015 – January 11, 2018 1099 days; 3.01 years 4883 photos $0
(Provided by work)
4.44 photos per day 0.00¢ per photo
23,352 shutter releases 21.25 shutter releases per day 0.00¢ per shutter release
Nikon D7100
December 2, 2015 – December 5, 2021 2195 days; 6.01 years 34,064 photos $620 15.52 photos per day 1.82¢ per photo
94,082 shutter releases 42.86 shutter releases per day 0.66¢ per shutter release
iPod Touch 6
December 2, 2017 – December 4, 2021 1463 days; 4.01 years 5605 photos $160 3.83 photos per day 2.85¢ per photo
66,387 shutter releases 45.38 shutter releases per day 0.24¢ per shutter release
iPhone 8 Plus March 8, 2018 – March 21, 2021 1109 days; 3.04 years 17,751 photos $0
(Provided by work)
16.01 photos per day 0.00¢ per photo
252,264 shutter releases 227.47 shutter releases per day 0.00¢ per shutter release
iPhone 12
March 26, 2021 – December 5, 2021 254 days; 0.7 years 1114 photos $0
(Provided by work)
4.39 photos per day 0.00¢ per photo
9941 shutter releases 39.14 shutter releases per day 0.00¢ per shutter release

Here’s the first photo taken with the iPhone 12:

And here’s the 475,000th photo (incidentally also taken with the iPhone 12):

Here’s the photo counts table. Thanks, pandemic.

0 25,000 50,000 75,000 100,000 125,000
October 6, 2000 January 12, 2004 October 20, 2004 April 10, 2006 April 20, 2007 December 4, 2007
1193 days 282 days 537 days 375 days 228 days
125,000 150,000 175,000 200,000 225,000 250,000
December 4, 2007 February 7, 2009 July 4, 2009 April 14, 2010 September 4, 2010 June 23, 2011
431 days 147 days 284 days 143 days 292 days
250,000 275,000 300,000 325,000 350,000 375,000
June 23, 2011 December 23, 2011 August 24, 2012 June 2, 2013 February 17, 2014 March 21, 2015
183 days 245 days 282 days 260 days 397 days
375,000 400,000 425,000 450,000 475,000
March 21, 2015 November 13, 2015 April 29, 2017 December 2, 2018 December 5, 2021
237 days 533 days 582 days 1099 days

And the usual graphs, starting with photos by month over time, log scale y-axis:

The same thing, but with a linear scale y-axis (full timescale versus 2010 onward):

Total number of photos taken over time (full timescale versus 2010 onward):

And time between 1000 photos (full timescale versus 2010 onward):

Those pandemic spikes on the graphs are unsurprising, but still unfortunate.

Adirondacks, Schitt’s Creek

We did another cabin trip! This one was a far one, to a little cottage in the town of Keene, New York in the Adirondacks.

There was the usual hiking and lounging around the place.

We also got to see Mark on our drive back, which was nice.

But I spent most of the week at the cottage bingeing Schitt’s Creek, which I think is my all-time favorite show now. It’s been sitting and simmering for a bit over half a week, and I think it’s pretty safe to say that it

  • Has some of the most consistent characters I’ve seen in any show… there’s very visible character growth through the seasons, but the characters never act in a way that seems “off”… every change makes sense and feels earned
  • Starts consistently good, instead of having a first few seasons that are easily skipped (such as Parks and Rec or Star Trek The Next Generation)… I think the cast is a large part of this, because it feels like they all come in the right way and changes are character growth rather than the actor growing into the role
  • Has the best pacing I think I’ve ever seen in a show… it never tries to do too much within an episode or season, and gives events the time they need to sit and simmer
  • Left me an emotional wreck starting in the fourth season, and especially into the later part of season 5 and season 6, but did an amazing job interspacing levity with its emotional moments so it didn’t get overwhelming
  • Doesn’t really feel like it has “filler” or bad episodes, because there’s always some important development or insight happening in every episode… I think the only one I can think of is “Roadkill”, and I wouldn’t even call that episode “bad”
  • Had I think the all-time best final episode of any show I’ve ever seen… it gives closure in the right ways and (as noted above) everything feels like it’s happening at the right time with no sudden unexpected storylines to tie up
  • Ends at the right time, instead of dragging on into bizarre later seasons like we see with House or much of Glee or getting cancelled prematurely like many other series, which overall makes for an extremely satisfying watch
  • Does such a good job of developing all of its characters and giving them important moments… for example, I think Maybe This Time is a great example of how to properly tie in music and performance into a show, because that entire scene is such a great epiphany for the character… it reminds me of how Glee actually did a good job tying its music into the plots in most of its first season
  • Is amazing because it gave us A Little Bit Alexis and the beautiful cover of The Best

I’m so glad I was able to consume the entire show in one go instead of having to wait for it week by week. At some point I’ll need to find some time to rewatch the entire thing again.

Life, Bleh

My photo journal and stats page have both been updated. With an attempt at returning to normalcy in May, including eating (outside) at restaurants and having people over for board games, we actually have a reasonable number of photos: 2292 in the past 4 months. It’s still lower than the pre-pandemic 3417 since we weren’t doing weekly games or the usual weekend social things, but it’s still nice. (There are also some board game photos on photos, for the first time since the pandemic started. Woo.)

But of course, it’s all just in time for us to have to start being super cautious again, thanks to delta, and particularly thanks to all the people who refuse to vaccinate. I expect the next four months will be depressingly low in photos again, as we curtail in-person things. So that’s bleh #1.

Bleh #2 is work… I don’t think I’ve ever felt this utterly dejected in my professional life, and the worst part is that there isn’t even a reason for it. It’s probably just a ton of burnout, brought on by a combination of things in work and the world at large (because hooray the world is continuing to fall apart). I’m trying to push through it, like always, but I wonder if I actually need to find some more concrete changes I can make, like offloading some of the teams I work with to other people.

So of course, bleh #3 (and probably the biggest one) is the world in general right now. Politics is still an endless mess of poop, states are still doing horrible things (looking at you in particular, Texas and Florida), and the fact that we can’t even come together as a country in the face of an obvious, immediate threat (Covid) really doesn’t bode well for us being able to do anything about climate change.

Speaking of climate change, bleh #4 is that our basement flooded again, thanks to Ida. We’d been expecting for years that the flooding was due to the gutters being clogged and/or was coming from the walls. But this year… gutters were cleaned and cleared, and the water barriers we’d set up maybe suggest that the water is actually coming up through the concrete foundation, given the walls were actually relatively dry, and the wet patch in the middle of the carpet kept getting wetter as we cleaned it up, despite everything around it already being cleared. So that’s going to be some more house fun, and continue to curse the people who finished a Pittsburgh basement without proper consideration for the fact that basements of 100-year-old houses get wet.

Maybe the one “interesting” thing is that our food apathy and indecisiveness have led us to try some meal kits. After the arguably terrible experience we had with Blue Apron a few years back (“Let’s use every plate and pot and utensil and take 2 hours to make this overly-elaborate dinner that is supposed to serve four but barely serves the two of us!”), I didn’t have high hopes. But it turns out there’s a ton of meal box services now, all of which seem to be running specials. So…

Our first attempt this time around is Dinnerly. We got a 6-meals-for-4-people box and, to my surprise, the servings actually seem relatively well-sized. Some of the meals (pulled pork bowls) seem like they’re actually more like 3 servings instead of 4, but others (stir-fried eggplant) are more like 5 servings than 4. It’s also not a huge pain to cook… the things are more elaborate than I would usually make, but not unreasonably so. If it wasn’t for the fact that the meals also felt a bit plain (like things I could easily plan myself, such as grilled portabella with quinoa), it feels like it might be a good way to help with the food issue.

Next up, we’re trying Hello Fresh. They had some interesting-looking dishes up next week (particularly mushroom gnocchi and mushroom cavatappi), so we’ll see how that goes.

So other than the food, that’s a lot of bleh. Not much is going well in life right now, all things considered.

Yay life?