Thursday, December 20, 2012

To Build A Fire

We're having a party tomorrow (mainly to celebrate Christmas, but for our theme we jumped on that Mayan "end of the world," bandwagon); Emmi will be here with a friend or two, and Ben and Jaime, and some other friends and their families. We've already got two batches of beer brewed -- one brown ale in bottles, and a keg of imperial porter -- and we have plans to cook a turducken for the party, and of course there will also be bread, and pizza, and all sorts of other things cooked in both the inside and outside ovens.

Anne plans to bake bread today too, and we want to have ribs tomorrow as well, so we had to fire up the oven this morning for the party's first day of baking (and overnight slow cooking of the ribs).  Since she has to meet a deadline with some work, and I'm on vacation, the fire job fell to me.

So it not quite first thing in the morning, but not long after my breakfast and shower, that I went out and split a bunch of (already cut, split and somewhat seasoned) wood into not-quite-kindling pieces, maybe an inch or so on a side. I then put two bigger logs inside the oven as sort of side walls, piled my sticks crosswise on top, then another layer crosswise on top of that. In the little cubby hole below the crosswise sticks I build a pyramid of twigs on top of newspaper, then I hit the pyramid with the blowtorch. The result, after a minute or so, was this:

The Start of the Burn

The fire is still a bit cold in this picture, still smoky and dirty. In a few minutes it had warmed up enough that the smoke mostly disappeared; now it's hot enough that I've got the bigger logs on, and it's burning clear. (I'm on stoker duty, and I'm watching it from my blogging perch in the dining room.) The wood is a mix of miscellaneous hardwoods, I have no idea what but it smells awesome.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Old School

I can remember riding the American Standard back in the day, in what was the original preferred direction (clockwise), starting across from the first Game Lands parking lot, back behind the truck turnoff where the abandoned Red Road ended: you'd go down some singletrack and up that notch of rock, then across the weird area behind the rifle range (sort of like "the blocks," for any Pocono guys following along here), down that always-muddy jeep road and across the stream, and eventually the trail tees and you make a left.
 
I didn't really think about what was to the right at the time, we all just went left at the tee onto another ATV trail, which eventually became a steep drop -- there always seemed to be a tree down on that trail too, causing the inevitable pileup when the lead guy hit the brakes, or crashed, but since we had to make a right turn somewhere on the steep part, into barely visible singletrack and the lead guy was always taken by surprise, we crashed here a lot even without the tree. That singletrack would take us to another trail, the actual trail with the urinal, at a point midway between where the old urinal was and where the new one now is, and we'd turn left again, on to the urinal ("NO DANCING"), the roller-coaster trail, and the rest of the ride. (If I remember it correctly, that surprise right turn was our first modification to the route, which originally kept us us on the steep downhill and down to to the dam for the Broad Run reservoir; from there we had a hike-a-bike up to the old urinal's location.)
 
Years go by, the trail evolved... We changed our "approved direction" to counterclockwise and added some more stuff we found up there, , and more stuff, and we eventually ended up approaching that tee from the right, this time making a left turn and heading towards the swampy jeep road. It was a sort of "A-Ha!" moment, seeing that tee and realizing we were now coming from what was once the mystery direction.
 
More years go by, and the stuff to the left at the tee gets neglected, forgotten, and it slowly becomes the Mystery Direction...
 
This fall I did several rides, almost sentimental journeys on some of those old trails. One took me the usual direction, but when I got to the old tee I kept going straight. It was pretty wide like a jeep road or ATV trail, and started descending -- and completely unfamiliar to me, as if I'd never been on it. I stopped by the remains of an old tree that had fallen across the trail years ago, consulted my Garmin and decided that the official trail was close by, off to my right -- I didn't have to bushwhack, there was the ghost of an old trail right there, and it took me to where I'd broken my dérailleur only a few weeks before, near the location of the new urinal -- I'd rediscovered the trail that was our first modification to the route, a trail I'd probably not ridden in ten years. It was still there, but barely. I continued on that loop and returned to the tee, this time taking the left, but towards the end I made another left, to go behind the gun range on a trail I literally hadn't been on since maybe 1995, when I rode it with my friend Joe and his then-girlfriend.

A few weeks later we were up there, a big ride that Jay put together to ride some new stuff called "Young American," to access which we did the trail "backwards," ie the original direction, so even with the new stuff it was a nostalgic ride, especially since the ride contingent was huge, just like the big big rides of the olden days.

A Walk In The Woods: Sals

Hi it's me. I've been off work (from last week through the end of the year), but I just haven't got around to writing anything here -- nothing especially noteworthy has happened, but that's never stopped me before; there were a few things I could have written about, but I just didn't have the motivation...

Then this morning I saw something on Facebook about the Nurture Nature Center having a multi-week workshop in "nature journaling." It sounded interesting, so I Googled "nature journaling" and became even more interested. I may sign up for the workshop, but in the meantime I decided to just dive right in, based on the things I saw online.

I had to run a few errands (Christmas shopping, etc), so as part of the trip I finished at Tulum and got a burrito to go. With that and the coffee I got earlier, I drove up to Dodson Park, and after eating my burrito I took a little walk on the hiking trails east of the "Yellow Trail."

The Start of the Yellow Trail at Dodson Park
First impression -- it was a pleasant day, warm for December but breezy and brisk, maybe 50 degrees: sweater weather, and I was comfortable in my sweater, either sitting in the sun or burning calories hiking in the woods. The sky was deep blue, with a few not-puffy white clouds. The trees were swaying a bit, but it was not all that blustery.
Dodson Park: Ball Field and the Start of the Woods

The colors were mostly the ones you'd associate with late winter or early spring, rather than late fall: yellowish-green wet grass on the playing fields, the gray of the tree trunks and the brown of old leaf cover on the ground. Not much seemed to be going on, unless you knew what to look for in terms of leaf decay or whatnot, and in the woods my eyes were drawn to the few green spots I saw. One of the first things I saw was this half buried, mossy piece of wood.

Mossy Wood At Sals

Just a bit further in, the woods seemed to thin out quite a bit, possibly because so many trees had fallen in the recent hurricanes, but also likely because of attack from vines. These vines are everywhere in some places up there; some are wild grapes and some are poison ivy, and there may even be other kinds, but they all grow and cover the trees and eventually kill them. There didn't seem to be any Japanese stiltgrass (an invasive) in the area, but other places I've seen that growing among the down trees and it contributes to the sense of winter dissolution.

Downed Trees and Branches at Sals
Thin Woods


There was also a sticker bush which I though might have been multiflora rosa, another nightmare of an invasive plant.

Sals: A Sticker Bush in Winter

Eventually I was back in a section where there seemed to be a lot of healthy mature trees. The picture doesn't do this justice, this was a really big and nice looking tree.
 
Sals: Winter Trees
I wasn't familiar with the trail I followed, since it was not one of the official bike trails, but it was wide and well-kept, and easy to follow, so I could let my eyes wander without fear of tripping on roots or rocks as I walked. I saw a few bouts of color (ie green) here and there.

Sals: Scallions in Winter
Sals: Greenery in the Leaf Litter
The plant in the first photo looked like clump of scallions or wild onions; there were a bunch of these clumps scattered in the general area I took that photo. The second plant was nearby, and looked like it might have been wild ginger except the leaves looked crinklier on the tops. These grew a little more spread out, but it seemed to me clustered as if all the leaves in an area were part of the same plant. These plants also seemed to be fairly common in that area.

The trail eventually headed towards the reservoir, so I took a left onto a side trail, which led to an impressive rock.

Sals: The Trail Led to a Rock

Not much further past this, my trail approached the bike trail, and I saw two riders conferring. One continued on, while the other seemed to be having mechanical difficulties. I took a connector over to the bike trail, and the rider turned out to be my buddy Joe, taking his new hardtail out for a shakedown cruise, and he'd just got one pinch flat more than he had spare inner tubes... I walked with him back to the parking lot, and that was my hike.

Postmortem: There were two things, that I saw in that online advice for nature journaling, and that I didn't do, and now I see why they might be important. The first was the advice to take a notebook (they usually had a description of the best kinds to bring), and make notes and drawings of observations in real time. This mainly frees you from trying to remember what happened afterward. The other piece of advice I didn't follow is to budget a big chunk of time for journaling -- I'd been out for about an hour rather than the recommended full day.

I can see both of their importance or practical usefulness, but these, or at least the notebook one, are going to be hard to follow: my plan is to do more of a nature photo-blog when I do this, and if I'm on foot the notebook is fine as a recorder of first impressions, but I also intend to do a lot of this from the bike, stopping now and then; a pocket camera could be handy, but a notebook might be a luxury.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Frankenstorm Apocalyptipalooza

Right now I'm sitting in the Bethlehem Public Library. At home we've been without power (and heat, and Internet) since Monday night; sleeping's not so bad but the house can be a bit cold (and dark) for hanging out. Luckily the stove works, though not the oven, and we have hot water -- we've been eating like kings and taking nice hot showers -- as well as a house full of books, but Cabin Fever set in days ago... (It doesn't help that what I'm reading is James Howard Kunstler's The Geography of Nowhere.)

Even so, I've seen the pictures of NYC and the Jersey Shore, and even some of the local damage around here that managed to miss us, and I think we got off pretty lucky: some spoiled food and a few roof slates.

What else s new? Not much! I hate to say it, but I seem to be running out of things to say here. Let's see:

Before we lost electricity I got back into that GRAMPS software, and I'm filling in my mother's side of my family tree; I've been using my cousin Joanne's comprehensive family tree for a reference, so even though I don't have much biographical information yet -- birth/death dates (other than the year it happened), marriage dates, home addresses and schools and jobs and churches etc, I have most of the names and relationships filled in to about four generations back, and all descendants from that point. My mom's family is larger, and much more complicated, than my dad's, so this is a good, and non-trivial, first step.

In the last few weeks I did three good adventure rides: two on the American Standard at Jim Thorpe, and one at R.B. Winter State Park. The first JT ride was a "no GPS allowed" ride on some new trails (dubbed "Young American"), a huge ride with thirty one riders. The next weekend my friend Joe wanted to e photo ops, so we went back and did the east side of Broad Mountain, stopping at the overlooks to take pictures, then did a little exploring to find those new trails. Both rides were 20+ miles of solid MTB.

The weekend before last was the annual trip out to R.B. Winter for the Cowbell Hollow ride: 100 or more miles driving to the trailhead, then 28 miles of mixed singletrack and jeep roads before the return trip. I did it with Mark W, a VMB cohort, th only one I could get to go with me, and I don't think he'll ever do it again -- I think this kind of riding is not as popular as it once was.

It might be a while before any more big rides, based on the reports coming in of how the local trails fared in the storm (not well). Lots of cleanup and repair for everyone in the coming months.

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Dilemma

Last weekend we had a party for Emmi's graduation: family, church, some of her college friends... We'd brewed five gallons of "FI" imperial IPA, and had another five gallons of Irish Red on hand in another keg, and another five gallons or so of yarrow-blueberry beer in bottles, but I thought that we might need something more normal for possible beer-muggles among our guests, so I picked up a case of Leinenkugel Sunset Wheat.
 
Well, our guests had a blast, and hoovered up both kegs, most of the bottles and a bunch of stuff they brought themselves, and left the Leinenkugel. So, we're stuck with a case of it, and no other beer in the house. I had one last night before dinner --- grilling burgers in the backyard, beer in hand, going full-metal bourgeois -- and it wasn't too bad. But we still need to replenish our real supply.
 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

This Is The Droid I Was Looking For

My old phone finally bit the dust, or more accurately, I destroyed it by running it through the wash in my pants pocket. There are some things you can try, to salvage your phone if it gets mildly wet (like putting it in a bowl of rice for a few days to absorb moisture), and I did try them, but to no avail -- the wash/spin cycle is just too extreme an environment. I really didn't like that phone, and I have been looking for an excuse to replace it, but that was a stupid mistake...
 
Fast-forward one week and beaucoup bucks later, and I have a brand new Samsung Galaxy S2. Not the ultimate latest technology, but pretty close, and it seems to be running the latest Android version. Strangely enough, the biggest difference between this phone and my old one (a Samsung Transform), is that this one is not underpowered: they have very similar feature sets, except that the Galaxy has more memory and the CPU is a bit peppier, and so it can actually use those features. (That drove me nuts about my old phone: it had maps, but the GPS was unreliable because the phone had a cheap, weak GPS chip, and though it had features like a front-facing camera, you couldn't use them, for Skype or or whatever, because the phone wasn't powerful enough to run an operating system that could support them. There didn't seem to be any attempts to upgrade the system software/firmware either after a certain point, like maybe Samsung just gave up on the Transform as a bad design.) Anyway, it's up and running, and I have my old apps reinstalled, as well as a few new ones like Skype. I was pretty lucky, the micro-SD card was fine -- photos are automatically backed up to Dropbox, and my music is backed up at home, so all I would have lost was hardware, but still -- and so I'm pretty much back to where I started, except with a better, faster phone, the one my Transform should have been, if it had been built right.
 
One new feature I've come across is that the new phone uses something called MTP, when I try to connect via USB cable to my laptop. This has been a bit frustrating for me so far, since I deliberately run an operating system that is several versions behind the cutting edge (Ubuntu 10.04), and MTP does not seem to be implemented very well -- I can connect the phone, and see some of the files on it, but writing to the phone usually fails. I'm thinking of maybe trying to do a wireless workaround, like network shares, but that seems to have roadblocks of its own, this time on the phone side. There are workarounds for now...
 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Empire Building (Procrastinator Edition)

Morning weigh-in (Monday): 180.5#, 15% BF
Morning weigh-in (Tuesday): 179.5#, 14.5% BF
 
Anne and I did a mellow ride out to South Mountain Cycles for coffee on Sunday morning, then spent rest of the day with errands/chores. The main thing we did, and this has been hanging over us for a while, was that we bought a new lawnmower, and electric model now waiting for me to put together. While were at the store we also made our other big (outdoor) capital improvement, a propane BBQ grill. That's also waiting for assembly at home, but it's here and it'll be ready for Emmi's party, as well as for everyday grilling -- we cook a lot of steaks and beef, mostly by frying, which works well and tastes great, but the kitchen gets really hot and smoky when we do.
 
Two down, and that leaves two more capital improvements in our infrastructure upgrade: one is the new kitchen floor -- we're looking to rip out the linoleum, and replace it with slate -- and the other is a kegerator. I may try to get one by Emmi's party, but there's a lot more research I need to do (prices seem to be all over the map, I'm not sure what's good or bad) and the truth is, kegs at a party are no problem -- just put them in a garbage can full of ice. Our big problem, now that we're kegging the beer, is that we have no keg infrastructure suitable for day-to-day use. The kegs, convenient as they are when making/storing the beer, are almost useless for drinking beer without this last piece of the puzzle. We knew we'd need to get one when we made the switch from bottles, but have been putting off the kegerator purchase, and now it's past time...
 
(By the way, we also bottled the yarrow beer on Sunday, and had a sample with dinner. It's one of the best we've made. That makes two monster brew batches, this and the F.I., and we've been eating like kings lately with all the fresh food available, fruit and tomatoes and corn etc. Summer is awesome.)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Here Comes The Sun and I Say

Morning weigh-in (Wednesday): 180.5#, 15.5% BF
Morning weigh-in (Thursday): 179.5#, 13.5% BF
 
Some of that might be suppression (Tuesday night towpath ride, 24 miles in 1:39 -- not even a personal best for this season, but still pretty good -- then a mellow Jacobsburg ride last night with Anne) and dinner has been pretty light the last few days: basically sliced fresh tomatoes, and some cheese maybe, and a blueberry/yogurt dessert both nights. But I'll take it.
 
(It's rainy today though, so we're possibly looking at a rest day, at least on the bike. Tonight is dinner at Black & Blue, but their food is pretty high quality, and nowhere near as fattening as your typical bar food.)
 
Skin: My skin has been in pretty good shape lately: most of the rashes and dry patches are long gone, and though some places are still occasionally itchy it's no longer a constant issue. I no longer need to moisturize constantly, and even the need for cortisone has become pretty rare.
 
What's the secret? I basically changed three things: one was I started taking cold showers, rather than the scalding-hot ones that feel great but do a lot of damage, the next was that rather than scratching, I've been washing itchy areas with an alcohol-soaked cotton swab, and finally, and probably most importantly, I started taking vitamin D supplements. The first two I started doing directly in response to the eczema (the alcohol mainly something I made up, thinking I might have had allergens on my skin), but the vitamin D thing was just something I started doing: I'd been told a while ago that I have a vitamin D deficiency, and so I was adding a few drops, along with an Emergen-C packet, into my post-ride recovery drink mix, and all of a sudden I feel like a million bucks.
 
I looked it up on the less-than-infallible Internet, and there were a lot of alternative-medicine posts, recommending vitamin D supplements as a treatment for eczema. I'm not sure I believe all of the mumbo-jumbo I found, but the supplements seem to be working for me -- or, at least one of those three changes I made is working. I'm going to keep doing all three for now...
 
I may try to talk Anne into a short run tonight, then we're going to Black & Blue for dinner. It's the Homebrew Club monthly meeting tonight too, so we may bring a sample of something, and also a few records since it's also the weekly Bring Your Own Vinyl Night. Probably an early night for us though, since we're meeting some friends (Judy, maybe some others) who are just not the night owls we are.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Eleven The Hard Way

Morning weigh-in: 181.5#, 14.5% BF
 
So about two days after I hit the gym, and then went running, both for the first time in months, my body totally let me know it was not happy with my new decision: aches and fatigue like I couldn't believe, it shut me down physically for the rest of last week. On top of that Anne and I managed to catch a summer cold, which hit us both while she was away and is only now starting to fade. So there's not been much physical activity...
 
We do have the F.I. coming along nicely though, and while I was off helping with Sunday's Enduro Rama at Sals (which was lovely) she brewed another batch of beer, this time using yarrow instead of hops -- these are the beers we'll serve at Emmi's graduation party, and the yarrow beer is in honor of her Botany degree. (Emmi is in town for a visit by the way. We watched "The Royal Tennenbaums" with her last night, which was very good, and which I'd never seen before.)
 
Tonight is a towpath ride.
 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Old Man River

Morning weigh-in: 181#, 14.5% BF
 
No run this morning, I kind of slept in until 6:15 or so -- I felt tired, and finally sore from the gym, and I think I'm getting a summer cold -- but I did bring my yoga stuff. I want to do a  towpath ride, but the weather is supposed to get nasty later, so if it rains tonight I'm prepared to hit the beginner class at Easton Yoga. We shall see...
 
Last night I stayed a bit late after work, then went to my friend Greg's surprise 50th birthday party. Pretty nice, but I was tired and I got out of there early, and was probably in bed by 10:00. Dinner beforehand was tortellini with hot sauce, which might have some significance because my stomach felt like I'd eaten a big rock, and I was up most of the night just feeling uncomfortable.
 
Tonight I think I'll make pasta and tuna.
 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Ten The Hard Way

Morning weigh-in: 181.5#, 14% BF
 
So I went to the gym last night after dinner, the first time in more than six months. I can feel a twinge here and there, but I took care to take it easy on myself. (Dinner was steak stir-fry, by the way.) A light workout, immediately followed by a trip to Wegman's to buy food I know ho to cook -- pre-made (frozen) meat tortellini, pasta and tuna with wilted greens, cereal, and some yogurt and cottage cheese -- enough to get me by until Anne gets back.
 
I've been "planning" to drop some weight for a while now, but all of a sudden I really feel a need for it to happen. I'm going to try to get down to about 170#, by the end of the summer, if I can. Some of those food choices won't help get me there, but some will, and I also decided to add back some of the exercise things I abandoned to push the early-spring bike training. Last night's gym visit was the first one added, and this morning I got in a run: 1.7 miles, 12 minute pace, not exactly lighting the world on fire but I am back in the game. (Next up is yoga.)
 
Tonight is another towpath ride, then I am off to a friend's birthday party.
 
Ominous: Does anyone else remember the summer of 2001, pre-911, all those bogus Shark Attack and Missing White Woman stories as the newspeople tried to find something sensational to report? Sure seems that there are a lot of those stories in the news again, and I see that terrorists vandalized another third-world World Heritage Site. I sure hope the Olympics security is not as incompetent as it looks...

Monday, July 16, 2012

Pranayama, or, "They Said Size Wouldn't Matter"

Morning weigh-in: 181.5#, 13.5% BF
 
Yes, I have the scale properly calibrated again, and once again will be regaling all my faithful readers with the weight stats -- for as long as I remember to do it...
 
So last Wednesday I had a followup appointment with  the pulmonologist, where I did another set of spirometer tests, and got another set of ambiguous results. They seem to think that my lung obstruction isn't so bad, ie my maximum breath flow rate is OK if not stellar, but the volume of air in my lungs (volume available for me to breathe out) seems to be reduced. Not by much, and not too far outside what's considered normal, but it's almost as if my lungs were small or something, which apparently is something they ruled out with the chest X-rays.
 
So back to the hospital on Friday morning, for another set of more advanced breathing tests, this time to look at lung volume. The test machine was the same as last time, sort of a giant, NASA-designed bong enclosed in a glass box, and I was set to breathing through a sort of scuba mask again, but this time the med tech closed off the box. Breathe normally, big breath in, all your air out, breathe normally again, then a set of rapid, shallow puffs, repeat. The machine produced a bunch of interesting graphs and a table of calculations, but they meant nothing to me and the med tech wasn't forthcoming -- they know what's their job, and what's the doctor's. All she said was that everything seemed normal, just... small.
 
Anyway, that was a pretty quick test, and I spent the rest of the morning doing stuff around the house until Anne got home; then we hit the Allentown Farmer's Market, and then met her brother Joe and his wife Laura, and Paul & Ann at the Velodrome. It looked almost like it was going to be rained out, but things cleared up just enough, after a rain delay, to dry the track out. We caught some of the Jr Nationals (a friend's daughters up on the podium) and the usual Friday night races.
 
Saturday we brewed another batch of "Fucking Intense," that super-hoppy, high-alcohol beer we made a few years ago. Long day of watching pots boil, but it should be worth it, and ready to drink in about two weeks.
 
Anne took yesterday off with her buds to do a bike tour of the Finger Lakes, and I sent the afternoon finishing 1Q84 (verdict: not great but OK, maybe I'll give it a "meh+") while the storm cells blew through, then when it looked like the coast was clear I did a towpath ride -- I got slammed by heavy rain with just five minutes left to the ride. Dinner was at Brew Works with John, also stag while Donna visits friends in Denmark.
 
Tonight I'm hitting the towpath again, then I'll have to do some shopping for things I know how to cook.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Duly Noted

Morning weigh-in (Thursday): 179.5#
 
Probably a fluke, based on a skipped meal or two and some dehydration in this stinking heat, but I thought I'd make sure the date was marked...
 
A Quiet Fourth: There were some possibilities, but Anne and I opted to kick back and catch up on our sleep -- we woke up early enough according to "California time," but we were in Pennsylvania so breakfast was really brunch. We futzed around the house for a bit, then went over to Lake Nockamixon and did a mellow mountain bike ride, followed by a dip in the lake. Later in the day we caught up with other friends at Greg and Judy's barbecue, then caught the Bethlehem fireworks.
 
A Late Night: Deb and her boyfriend have been vacationing in Kenya, which from all accounts has been the adventure of a lifetime, but then, with the recent terrorist attacks, things got a bit too real and they decided to cut their trip short. We were going to pick them up tonight, but they cut their trip so short we got a text, last night, that they were on the ground at Newark Airport... Cue the comically fast music and off we drove, picking them up not too long after they cleared customs. They regaled us with their adventure stories (or maybe it was venting, with the focus on when/where things went downhill), and we got them home safe by 2:00 AM. So that's a big relief: except for sporadic Facebook posting they've essentially been incommunicado for about a week, and we've all been worried.
 
Anyway, tonight I think I'll be catching up on my sleep again.
 

Monday, July 02, 2012

Like An Angel, Standing In A Shaft Of Light

Back from my California vacation. I flew out to LA with Anne's sister Lorraine, picked up her daughter Vicky and drove to meet Anne in San Diego. Spent a few days there, then an overnight in Thousand Oaks before driving to Pismo Beach for a few days, and finished with a day or two in LA before heading home. I took about 300 pictures, many of which were either multiple shots for stitching into panoramas, or attempts to get a good shot of some nesting birds -- night herons were nesting in the tree outside our hotel window at Pismo Beach, and I have about 40 blurry photos of the (enormous) chicks -- but I should have about 150-200 good photos to post after the final cull. Stay tuned, but don't hold your breath...
 
So-Cal: First Impressions Three things impressed themselves on me right away: The first and biggest was that the traffic was far heavier, everywhere, than I expected. The second was that Southern California, though not particularly hot, is intensely sunny (and my hair is much thinner than it used to be, so I now own a hat like the ones that little-old-lady gardeners wear, bought in San Diego, and I still managed to get a serious full-body-plus-scalp sunburn) and though I knew the region was a mountainous desert, it was more mountainous, and far more desert-like, than I expected. And the third? The people I met and saw were nowhere near as "California" as I'd hoped -- they were pretty much like everybody else, oh well. Uggs seem to still be in style though, and there were one or two common male hairstyles that we don't see back home.
 
I did some mountain biking, not as much as I would have liked but we got two good days in, renting bikes and riding in Topanga Canyon, on mixed singletrack and dirt roads -- including the famous Mulholland Drive, which is unpaved at one end. Not particularly technical except in a few places, but was very hilly, and very scenic.
 
Most of the rest of the trip was nice but uneventful (we had a great meal at Bo Beaux in San Diego, where Vicky knew the chef, and had a nice day sightseeing in San Luis Obispo), but there was one unexpected highlight: The Getty Museum in LA. I'd never heard of it but Lorraine wanted to go, and we did that on our last full day. The artwork inside was almost an afterthought, the architecture and outer gardens were so beautiful.
 
(My laptop battery basically reached the end of its life last week, holding only enough charge for 20 minutes or so off the grid, so I ordered a new and better one on vacation, and it was waiting when we got home -- I went from 20 minutes to over five hours, which I verified yesterday. My car also got worked on while I was away, another burden off my checklist.)
 
We got home after midnight Saturday night, and spent yesterday just hanging out -- reading, browsing the web, and gardening (that last was Anne, even though I do have the hat for it now).  Later in the afternoon we biked out to the swimming hole near Freemansburg, and we ended the day with a visit to Brew Works to see some friends.
 
Anyway, I'm home now, and back at work, listening to the Penn State fans weasel-wording their way around the latest revelations in the Sandusky scandal.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

News

Well, I made my decision: I'm not racing the Wilderness 101. So what does this mean? I still want to do it next year, so I have more time to get back in the game, or go further away from being ready for that matter, but there's no longer any training pressure this summer -- I still plan on training, and hopefully I can keep on improving, but I am no longer under the gun for the late-July due date. This also frees me up for a bunch of other things, like maybe that trip to Vermont, and maybe a bike tour with Anne (though she already has planned, and it looks to be a girls-only event). We shall see...
 
They Are Penn State Actual quote from accused pedophile Jerry Sandusky's lawyer, part of his opening statement: "Jerry loves kids so much that he does things most of us wouldn't think of doing." Well, that's kind of why he's in court...  I guess this proves that even his lawyer hates him.
 
(Meanwhile, there are still a lot of JoePat sympathisers here, moaning about how he was dissed -- that saintly man! winningest coach ever! railroaded! --  and how this was what finally broke him and killed him. I think that they're putting the cart before the horse here: he kept the lid on this scandal for years, for as long as he still had all his faculties, and the scandal broke when it did because he, with his health failing, was no longer able to squash it.)
 
One more decision made: I found a lightweight XML library for C, which I think I'll use to write a translation program, from an XML-style data file to the old-school punched card input format used by that FORTRAN program. This way I can either hand-write my own XML input file, or make one (or more!) input programs to create this new-style data file, then just pipe the data file through the translator and into the original program. I'll probably write a second translation program to go the other way, that is a card->XML translator as well as an XML->card translator, for the sake of completeness.
 
Tonight I'll be hitting Sals, maybe chasing after some of the VMB crew, who will be starting earlier on a group ride. Brew Works afterward...? The South Side Film Festival is also happening this week, maybe we'll go see a few movies tomorrow or Friday.
 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Memento Moritori

Whew! Emotionally tough weekend -- I won't get into it now, but I am actually glad to be back at work this Monday morning.
 
FORTRANNING: I got that program up and running for real now, it seems to work for any data set I give it, though the data I give it has all been generated in the past -- I have yet to create my own data set and run it. Data input, especially the fact that was designed around punched cards, and so the input file is very difficult to read/edit, is the Achilles Heel if this program right now; I think my next task will be to either rewrite the program to deal with a better input format (my inclination is to leave it alone), or (more likely) write some filter that takes a more user-friendly input file and translates it into the old format. I was also thinking of building a graphical user interface to create/edit the input files, and started playing with Glade to see how that might happen, but that will probably be a winter project.
 
Riding/Training: I am still on the fence about where I stand in terms of fitness. On the one hand, my monthly miles and hours took a dip in May, and fell off the cliff for June, and on that same hand I find myself off the back and hurting even on fairly easy rides. On the other hand... well there really isn't much on the other hand, except that now and then on a ride I feel good about something I used to have trouble with. I can see that there have been improvements, but I am nowhere near where I was two or three years ago, and more to the point, most of my improvements occurred in the Base training section -- when it came time to take it to the next level, my training regimen fell apart, and now I am nowhere near where I need to be. I worry that I will not be ready for W101, and may need to make the decision, within the next few days, to bag it.
 
Listening: I downloaded Blunderbuss the other day, and though I do like it, it's really just "meh, more Jack White." I downloaded the first Florence + The Machine album at the same time, and find I like it a lot more, though I do still like Ceremonials better. Anne said the other day that she needs new music, which she felt was more like she needed to find some new music to want, and get it, and I think I am in the same boat. Any suggestions out there?
 
By the way, I just posted the photos from Sarah's wedding on Flickr this weekend. Enjoy!
 
 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Newport: There She Sat

We were in Newport this past weekend for a wedding. It was the daughter of some of Anne's friends, to a young man with an apparently wealthy family, since the wedding and reception were at his aunt's summer home, and by "summer home" I mean one of those bazillion-dollar-mansion "cottages" that Newport is famous for -- we were in fact next door to the famous and exclusive Bailey's Beach, and just down the street from The Breakers and The Elms. It was really nice, a very pleasant setting and not as over-the-top as it might have been, and the reception was a total blowout. Photos to follow -- stay tuned.
 
(I'm mostly caught up with photos by the way, just posted a few oven shots on Flickr the other night. I have basically just a few gnome home shots from a recent ride -- don't ask, you'll have to wait and see -- and the wedding shots I took over the weekend, and I'll be up to date.)
 
Away from the wedding, the rest of the town of Newport was not as impressive. They make a big deal of of their history as the center of Gilded Age summer-home society, and they expend a bit of effort keeping the place quaint -- and there are a lot of really fine old Colonial-era houses that are still up to code and in use in town, in addition to the preserved Gilded Age "cottages" -- but the vibe in town was relentlessly tourist-trap commercial, a more upscale version of the Jersey Shore. The tell (and something I first spotted in Florida, likewise in a wharfside setting): lots of nice-looking pubs and bars and restaurants, but no good beer. Luckily, we found one exception...
 
Friday was a travel day, including a lunch visit with Anne's sister in Milford CT, Saturday was some touristy exploration followed by the wedding, and Sunday was more touristy exploring with some friends, a hike along the cliffside trail that runs behind the mansions, before the drive home. Traffic was typical for New England: awful.
 
Computer Fun: I've been trying to get an old FORTRAN program to work on my laptop, and I ran into some difficulties when some subprograms couldn't be found; I decided after some Googling that my best bet was to just rewrite them from scratch. Two of them just looked like old-timey "standard library" routines, and were fairly easy to emulate, but the other two seemed to be custom subroutines, part of the program and probably in some missing file, and it took a little sleuthing to even dope out what they did... (Basically, they were poorly-conceived workarounds, written to ease the transition from punched cards to file I/O. Yeah, it's an old program.) Anyway, I was messing with these over the weekend, planning & researching at the B&B, and the wharfside coffee shop, in between our other activities, and then last night I sat down and wrote the subroutines, and they worked fine -- if not on the first try then at least before I went to bed. The rest of the program is still hanging up, but that might be because of calls to some missing database, a project for another weekend.
 
How's Your Bike Training Going? Don't ask...
 

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

It All Turns On Affection

Morning weigh-in: 182#
 
"We know enough of our own history by now to be aware that people exploit what they have merely concluded to be of value, but they defend what they love. To defend what we love we need a particularizing language, for we love what we particularly know." - Wendell Berry
 
So we went down to Washington the weekend before last, to see Wendell Berry give this year's Jefferson Lecture, and we decided to make a long weekend of it, Saturday through Tuesday evening. (I had Friday off, and we were contemplating maybe playing one night in Philly beforehand, but I had a bunch of weekend chores and Anne had some 24-hour bug, so we kept it to four days.)
 
We took the bus to Philly on Saturday morning and hopped the train to Union Station in DC, where we met Emmi. Lunch was at the Native American Museum.
 
Dinner was at the Bier Baron, a rathskeller-type place we found last time we were in town. Our dinner guest was Liz H-D, and she was vivacious as ever, and she seems to have acquired a new poise or confidence -- she seems to be thriving in DC, and we were graced with an hour or so of exciting conversation between the garden party she was coming from, and the "Nineties Party" she was heading to. ("Nineties Party" -- am I really that old?)
 
Sunday was rainy, and we spent the day at the National Gallery of Art -- two big wings, hundreds of famous paintings both modern and classical/historical, lunch in the underground passageway/cafeteria between wings, and they let you take pictures... (BTW I already posted most of those pics over at Flickr, go wild.) It was awesome but in the end exhausting, and I had little energy left when we hit the African Museum afterward -- and not much time either, we got there with only an hour left until closing. It was Earth Day on the Mall, and in our peregrinations we caught bits and pieces of it but the rain put a serious damper on events: even Cheap Trick attracted just a handful of stragglers.
 
That night we had dinner with Emmi's old college friend Amanda and her partner, at another awesome local place called Meridian Pint. This was Amanda's recommendation, but I'd done my homework and knew that it was considered one of the best beer bars in DC, and it didn't disappoint: food and brew choices were both unbelievable, and the service was both casual and top-notch. Amanda, outspoken and vivacious in her own right, also seems to have matured, mellowed even.. It was really nice to catch up with her, she with her newly-minted admittance to the bar and Emmi with her own brand-new PhD.
 
We hit the Smithsonian on Monday, but just the Museum of Natural History. (Another overwhelming experience, stay tuned for pictures.) Anne and Emmi went shopping beforehand, so I found myself in a DuPont Circle institution -- Kramer Books -- bought Bill Bryson's Notes On A Small Island, and kicked back for a while in their coffee shop. The girls joined me for lunch there, and then we were off to do the museum thing. We were there long enough, even just scratching the surface, that were pressed for time getting to the Kennedy Center for the lecture.
 
Tickets were free, but you had to reserve them months ago, and then claim them an hour or so before the lecture or they'd give them away to someone else. We got there in time and retrieved our tickets (walking through literally hundreds of people camped out waiting to grab unclaimed tickets), then we had some time to check out the Kennedy Center -- I mostly sat on the stairs outside the auditorium, where Amanda joined us again. (Anne's friends Lois and Mary Lou were also in town for the lecture; they drove down together that day from the Lehigh Valley, but we didn't see them until afterward.)
 
The lecture was titled "It All Turns On Affection," which was itself a quote from E.M. Forster. (You can find the lecture here.) It really was very moving, and he was quiet and soft-spoken and seemed to become choked up from time to time -- maybe he was rallying his resources, he's not a young man -- and he held us spellbound in our seats for the duration. The lecture ended on an ironic note when the head of the NEH came out and announced that 'the opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the US Government or the NEH." (More on the lecture here.)
 
Afterwards we (Anne and me, Emmi, Amanda, and Mary Lou and Lois) all had dinner at Meridian Pint's sister establishment, the Smoke and Barrel. This was another of Amanda's recommendations, and it was a good one (though I think Meridian Pint was the nicer of the two), and we also got to see some of Anne's old neighborhood from when she lived in DC.
 
Tuesday morning it was finally nice out again, but we were heading home. We said goodbye to Emmi, who was off to a job interview in Maryland, grabbed breakfast in Union Station, and took the train for Philly. We had some time to kill there, so we walked around, hit a few bookshops, and had a long lunch at the White Dog Cafe. One last bus ride, a quick hike across town, and we were home.
 
I have to say, I really liked that train ride.
 

Monday, April 30, 2012

On The Beat Down Beat

I raced yesterday, once more unto the Michaux Maximus... I took it as a training  race, which was good not only because I could use the experience -- it's been two years since I raced, or participated in any large-scale cycling event for that matter -- but also because if I had to take my results seriously I'd be pretty upset: I basically got my ass kicked, if not dead last then close to it, even in my age group.

It was a fun day though even considering the smackdown: the weather turned out to be perfect, and course conditions were as good as I've ever seen them there, dry (for the most part) but still pretty tacky where you needed it. The course itself (you can see my GPS track here) started a little different than the way I remember it, but it still hit many of the familiar trails: the Huckleberry, and the Fuzzy, and Dead Woman Hollow and Three Mile Trail, and it finished with the usual climb up the Log Sled Trail.

I really can't complain too much: my biggest problem right now is fitness (which I knew going into this, and which this is supposed to help address), followed by a general aversion to riding too close to other people -- I stopped a few times to let riders pass, and often paced the guys in front of me rather than muscling my way through -- but I think that this aversion could also be attributed to the fitness thing, since I blew up whenever I put out a truly competitive level of effort, especially in the first section, where there was a rapid succession of short steep climbs, so that ""fighting i n the pack" mentality really wasn't working ofr me.

I was more than a little gratified though -- shocked, even -- at how well I did on the technical stuff, especially in comparison to the people I was riding among. This was a real switcheroo: I used to be pretty bad at technical riding, and made up for it with better climbing ability;  yesterday, I struggled to keep my place climbing Dead Woman Hollow, got passed by a few guys, but then I utterly dropped them, and a few others, on Three Mile Trail.

They all caught me before the end though, either on the long, rolling dirt road stretch that came immediately afterward, or when we were climbing the final mile on Log Sled Trail, or at the point  in between, probably the easiest part of the whole course, when I suddenly needed to pull over and hurl. (Apparently I still have a few kinks to work out. When I got back I skipped the free meal...)

My ride time was about 3:15 and my time on the course was probably around 3:30, no worse than I expected but I do see I have some work to do. About par for the course.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Brown And Green And Pink

Morning weigh-in (Monday): 184.5#
Morning weigh-in (Tuesday): 185#
 
Those were the colors I saw on the way in yesterday morning: off to my left at the bottom of Jugtown Mountain was a plowed field, sort of rolling ground, with just a nap or fuzz of green poking through, looking almost like folds of multicolored velour. The earth was a wet-dirt brown and the green was early-spring green, and just to my right was a tree, maybe a dogwood in bloom, the light flowers almost like cherry blossoms. The sky was blue with white puffy clouds, it was beautiful.
 
So I got in a good ride on Sunday after my trip to Arizona, and Saturday's do-nothing-as-the-rain-falls-fest. (I missed 100 miles for the week and 300 for March, but I was just too tired to go out for a training ride in the cold rain. Oh well.) It was a good tempo ride, 75 minutes in Zone 3 -- I got down past Wy-Hit_Tuk Park and back to the Forks of the Delaware before my time was up -- then did a nice mellow bike path ride before meeting up with the towpath again at the public boat launch. Three hours or a bit more, thirty five miles, pretty nice and the day was very pleasant.
 
 I was pretty happy with this ride's HR zones after my last ride, which was supposed to be the cruise intervals -- the new workout for this period -- but was a disaster: HR not going up after the first interval, and the workout not being properly set up on my Garmin; I ended up doing an easy ride out after the first interval, and a series of standing sprints on the way back. An OK ride for what it was, but not what I had in mind... Tonight is another go at the cruise intervals.
 
More on Arizona in a later post...
 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Back To The Old Nose And Grindstone

Morning weigh-in: 184#
 
The second rest week is behind me -- last night was an hour of towpath E2 on the Turner, and tonight will be this new period's first new training ride: M2 or "cruise intervals." I'll be doing three 10-minute intervals in Zones 4 and 5a, two minutes easy spin between each one, and will probably follow it up with another hour of Zone 1/Zone2 spinning. Each new period ups the intensity a little...
 
Luckily for me, this is the first week of the new period, thus a low-volume week, since I will be out of town for work starting tomorrow morning -- the trip is to somewhere in Arizona, north of the Apache National Forest, for a plant inspection. I'll be home Friday night though, and should be able to do a longish tempo/endurance ride on Saturday, and a real MTB ride Sunday, maybe American Standard. If all goes well, I should break 100 miles for the week despite the trip, and break 300 for the month of March.
 
I'm blowing off a few things this week to make room for the trip, and a few others to make room for the rides that I don't want to blow off because of the trip; one thing that must go overboard is the VMB board meeting tonight. I feel a little guilty, but I really don't have time to do everything I need to and still make the meeting, so I have to skip the meeting, ride or no ride, and I might as well get my ride in. However, I was at two officer meetings last week when I should have been doing other things, including trip preparation I'll be doing tonight, and I made one of two trail maintenance days over the weekend, so I don't feel too bad. I played catch-up a bit with my club secretary duties last night too, posting preliminary copies of the minutes for the February general and board meetings.
 
(It was kind of cute, Anne and I typing away on our laptops at the dinner table last night, me on the minutes and she on her latest project, which involved her taking notes from the handwritten transcripts of the Molly Maguire Trials.)
 
Meanwhile, on the computer: Over the weekend I became a bit obsessed with the question of how much a tee (tee as in piping) weighs, based on a weight take-off for work, which I did with a quick and dirty estimation of the weight of two intersecting hollow cylinders. I got to wondering how accurate my estimate was, and what the actual, exact volume of intersecting cylinders would be. I could have found the volume by integrating, but thought that someone must have worked this out before... Googling took me first to a whole lot of nothing, then to pages and pages about Steinmetz solids (close but no cigar), and finally to a general formula for the volume of two intersecting cylinders.
 
The formula is straightforward enough, but unfortunately it involves elliptic integrals, and I could find no elliptic integral functions in any spreadsheet program I owned. This looked like a job for octave, but my version didn't have the functions either -- they were available through a package, one I hadn't installed, that accessed the GNU Scientific Library. OK, install the package, a "learning experience" in its own right, figure out how to use the elliptical functions, and... the actual computation I was trying to do, once I got this far, was a piece of cake. The final result: weights based on my quick-and-dirty estimation method were about 1% off from the exact solution. Which is probably why no one ever bothers to use, or even talk about, the pain-in-the-ass exact solution.
 
See you in a few days.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Hold Steady

Morning weigh-in: 183.5#
 
There may be a bit of suppression of a different kind in that weight: I ran out of steam last night, ate a bowl of cereal and crashed. No ride, but there's not supposed to be a ride, it's a rest week. Tonight is Taco Night at the Brew Works, and I suspect that number may go up a bit by tomorrow's weigh-in.
 
 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Time For Another Rest Week

So last week was the third and final week for Base 2 training, and I think I'm finally getting the volume up where it should be: 105 miles, 9:25 ride time; I was in the saddle six days last week. It was a good end to the period, and now I'm more than ready for a well-deserved rest week.
 
Saturday's tempo ride worked out just fine (as did the beer brewing), then Anne and I stayed in, skipping the St Patrick's Day festivities in favor of some reading and an early bedtime. I'd sent out a text to a bunch of  friends about riding in JT, but got no bites except Greg H, who said he was riding Prompton in the early afternoon with a few people, and I was welcome to join them. I wanted to do American Standard to basically check out the map I'd made, see how accurate it was, but I also didn't want to ride alone, so...
 
Sunday morning was cold and overcast, and it looked like rain, which was completely different from the forecast I saw Saturday night, but the revised forecast said that this would all burn off and the day would be warm and sunny, so I went anyway. I met Greg at his house, then followed him up to the meeting place north of the Poconos -- sure enough, the day changed dramatically as we drove -- and there we hooked up with the rest of our crew: Robin R, Rich B, Jay, and Greg's friend Mark. We parked some cars, consolidated the bikes and riders, and continued on to Prompton, which is sort of northeast of Scranton.
 
It was a beautiful day. Prompton State Park is basically an artificial lake with some of the surrounding land included, and the main trail circumnavigates the lake, with several other trails looping off the main trail. The terrain is rocky, and somewhat hilly, but very rideable -- in some ways it reminds me of Allamuchy. I was worried that I would get stomped by the rest of the riders, and for the first half hour or so I was sucking wind at the back, but after that I was fine. We were all in the same early-season boat anyway, and considering that it was still winter I think we all rode rather well... We were out for about 4.5 hours, of which only 2.5 were spent actually moving, so there was a lot of social time in there as well. We finished at around 6:30, just as the afternoon was starting to wind down. Most of those guys were going out to eat -- they all lived a lot closer, no biggie for them, but I just drove home and met Anne at the Brew Works. (She had been over at Steel Stacks to see "Bicycle Dreams," which unfortunately I'd completely forgotten about.) A chicken cheese steak, a mug of the new Pilsener, and it was time for bed.
 
I'll do a recap of this training period some time in the next few days, but suffice to say for now that things are working out rather well.
 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Fun With Map And Calendar

Morning weigh-in (Thursday): 183.5#
Morning weigh-in (Friday): 184#

Happy St. Patrick's Day! -- or, as the bartenders call it, "Amateur Night."

Monday night was a "recovery ride," about an hour of easy spinning on the towpath, then Tuesday I did my 75-minute "muscular endurance ride," 24 miles in just under 1:40 total time (probably close to a personal best for the last year or so), and last night was an hour of E2 ("aerobic endurance") towpath spinning on the singlespeed, which almost drove me nuts with all that hamster-leg spinning, but it was also the first after-work ride of the year where I didn't even bring lights. Unfortunately, Sunday night was a chicken cheese steak at Brew works, Monday night was a regular (ie beef) cheese steak, same place, and Tuesday night was two-brew Tuesday, though I did eat at home. Baby steps, but one of my problems is obvious...

Bottom line though, I was lighter Thursday morning than I've been at any time since last July, and I feel a lot stronger on the bike than I did even a month or so ago.

Thursday night I was exhausted, and the ride was an easy on the towpath, mainly Zone 1 on the Turner, and again without even bringing lights, and I cooked myself tuna and wilted spinach over rice for dinner -- Anne was out with Donna -- before passing out. Yesterday had rain in the forecast, so I made it a rest day: got a haircut and did dry cleaning, the usual usual Saturday-type chores so I can ride today. (Of course the evening turned out fine, but my decision was the right one.)  It's beautiful out now, and sometime today I'll be getting in my last tempo workout (90 minutes in Zone 3) for the second Base period; tomorrow I'll probably so some real off road riding, like maybe American Standard, and then comes my second rest week.

The rest of today is being taken up with brewing; we're actually making two 5-gallon batches, one an Orval clone and the other an Irish red ale.

My quest for good training/analysis tools continues, or rather I should say it got complicated by new information. In a reply to my post about that TCX to HR zone data converter I wrote, someone mentioned a program called Golden Cheetah, so I downloaded it. It's very power-meter centric, but seems to have a lot of really nice analysis tools built in, especially when it comes to graphing ride data, though it doesn't quite do what I want it to do. I did notice though, that my favorite web tools, and my favorite programs in general, seem to involve maps, or calendars, or both. (The training programs all have both, for what should be obvious reasons.) I wonder if there's a market for something like that, a diary/blog program, with geographic data capabilities and a user interface that includes both map and calendar. I'm not sure what a program like that would even be expected to do (other than maybe be used to record rides and analyze training), but I know that I'd love to play with it.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Back From Knoxville

Not giving my morning weigh-in...
 
Four day weekend, and we had an awesome time visiting Emmi in Knoxville: Ben came down from Massachusetts on Tuesday, then I took Thursday off, and we piled in the car and left for Tennessee in the morning. One loooong drive later -- even though we made good time this time, that trip always feels like forever -- and we were there in time to meet Em for dinner. It was a bit awkward, since her dad and his girlfriend were also in town (and at dinner), but it was nice to see her.
 
Friday was the day we came down for: Emmi gave a public presentation of her research on the Tree of Heaven. (Actually, I should say that this was the public presentation of her research; it wasn't quite her doctoral defense, which is coming in April, but something similar and a major milestone on her way to her PhD.) Her housemate and another student also gave presentations that morning, shorter and less formal ones involving temperature response (her housemate) and hearing response to predatory bird calls (the other student) in invasive lizards, and we checked them out too, then after lunch came Emmi's presentation, which was about an hour long plus some time for questions afterward, and was totally amazing.
 
Her fellow grad students took her out for a beer afterward, and we tagged along for what was some very esoteric bar conversation, at least by our standards, then Emmi's advisers took us all out for a celebratory dinner that night: Anne and I, and Ben, Emmi and Matt, and Em's roommate Laura, and her colleague Mark, and her dad and his girlfriend, and of course her advisers Jen and Joe, who were just as proud of her as the rest of us. Strangely enough, dinner conversation was mostly about music.
 
Saturday was a ride day, Anne and I on our mountain bikes with Ben on my 29er. We did some road and some paved bike path then found ourselves at the "Forks of the River WMA," where we played on real singletrack for a bit. Lunch with Emmi and Matt, then I went back to the hotel and took a nap while Anne did some shopping with Ben and Emmi -- I caught up with them later for dinner in Old Town.
 
Sunday we said our goodbyes, drove all day, and were home by about 7:00 -- in other words, before dark. Daylight Savings!

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Hump Day

Morning weigh-in: 185#
 
Lunchtime.  I get through this afternoon and tomorrow, and I'm done for the week -- we are heading down to Knoxville, to see Emmi's presentation on her invasive species (Tree of Heaven) research.
 
Fed Up: I finally had enough. I have an older relative who doesn't email much, but his emails are inevitably of the "FW:FW:FW:FW:LOL!"  and "NEW SCAM ALERT (confirmed by snopes)" variety that have been rattling around the Internet since 1998 or so, always bullshit and usually very annoying. Well, I just put in a filter on my account; from now on, any email from this person that also contains a "FW" anywhere in the subject, gets tossed in a dead-letter file without me ever having to see it. I sure hope he doesn't send anything important...
 
Anyway, last night I did a decent tempo ride on the towpath, 45 minutes nonstop in Zone 3 (plus another hour in Zone 2 on the return). Tonight is an aerobic endurance ride on the Surly followed by a visit to Brew Works, and tomorrow is another tempo ride. Weather and ground conditions are excellent right now.
 
Speaking of feeding, this weekend I had two of the best cuts of beef ever: Saturday was a steak of some kind, and Sunday was some round cut cooked in the pressure cooker. (I had leftover steak sandwiches last night.) This has been going on for several weeks, ever since we split that cow with Donna -- best idea ever, a freezer full of local meat.
 

Monday, March 05, 2012

Walking On Springtime

Walked out the door this morning, and it was a beautiful, springlike day -- a bit cool, but sunny and the air felt like May or June instead of March. Everything is still sort of brown bit it's pretty obvious that we are starting -- starting! -- to leave winter behind.
 
In terms of training, last week was a disappointment: I got in one good "tempo" ride, then had bike club meetings after after work Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday I was too tired to ride after work, and when I went out Friday night, supposedly for another tempo ride, I couldn't get my heart rate up, and bagged the ride after about a half hour. I rode Saturday but skipped Sunday, and other than a few Saturday errands, drycleaning and oil change and such, it was basically a lost weekend: going out late, sleeping in and being coffee-starved and headachey all day. I've been burning the candle at both ends lately; I think I'll have to let a few things go if riding is what I really want.
 
One thing I did finish was that Perl script to extract heart rate summaries from my ride data. I'll be going back over the past training period and getting my analyzing done soon... Tonight is another tempo ride, tomorrow is aerobic endurance, Wednesday is tempo again, and on Thursday we're off to Knoxville to see Emmi's dissertation defence on Friday. We'll probably get a ride in on Saturday (I hope).
 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

So Far So Good, Part Eleventy-Bazillion and One

Morning weigh-in: 184#
 
I guess I was pretty used to those towpath SS rides, where my legs would spin out trying to maintain even a moderate pace, since I was really worried about last night's "tempo" ride, but it turned out to be surprisingly easy. (I was on the Turner, of course...) Higher gears and I'd move along, just below needing to breathe hard; my speed wasn't too high The plan is to do 30 minutes, then 40 at my next tempo ride -- there are supposed to be two of these rides each week -- then 65 and 75 minutes next week, and both tempo rides for the third week will be 90 minutes. I should be running out of towpath by that point, even if out and back are both in the training zone.
 
Speaking of the Turner... I'd been having progressively worse and worse a time with the rear shifting -- didn't seem to be the cables, or that pain in the ass derailleur I have on there, or anything I could find -- then at Trex a few weekends ago the rear wheel started making amazing rubbing/grinding sounds. Intermittent but loud, it sounded like the rear tire was rubbing on something (a sound I associate with a broken frame), but there was nothing I could see rubbing... Home and on the stand, I gave the cassette a little wiggle and found out my freehub was shot. Luckily, I have a spare rear wheel, so I moved my cassette and tire over, did a little brake adjustments, and now everything seems to be working out fine.
 
Yesterday was supposed to be a rest day, but I did today's ride last night because tonight is the monthly VMB meeting. It should be a real shit-show -- stay tuned...
 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Break Time's Over

Morning weigh-in: 185.5#
 
Yesterday was the only ride I did last week, which was the rest week for my first training period; it was also my opportunity to do that Lactate Threshold test again (I plan to do the LT test monthly, basically as part of each period's rest week), and I found my heart rate at  LT has gone up by 6 beats per minute, from 159 to 165 BPM. I guess that's good news... I haven't really seen, or been able to figure out, anything, one way or the other, about changes to LT heart rate, whether up or down is good or bad or whatever, but hey -- I had a number, I trained, and the number went up. I win!
 
Tonight starts my first night of Base 2 training, and it's the first ride with the new (harder) HR zones based on my new number, and the first training ride outside of Zone 2: I'll be doing a "tempo" ride on the towpath, 30 minutes or so in Zone 3 after my warmup. We shall see.
 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Grabbed My Coat And Grabbed My Hat

No morning weigh-in today: I overslept and was in "run through the house with my hair on fire" mode, trying to get out the door this morning, so there was no time for the niceties like coffee, breakfast or the scale. It was all for naught though, since there was an accident on Jugtown Mountain, the highway was a parking lot, and I was a half hour late to work anyway. Oh well, I'll make up the difference tonight...
No ride last night -- and there will apparently be no ride tonight either, since I forgot to charge my lights -- but I did have some success with the elevation profiles I was playing with. I haven't quite figured out how to use all of Gnuplot from octave, but I output my data to a file, which I used inside Gnuplot to make the exact plot I wanted. I then made a quick plot of my map, and combined the two for a really decent mockup. I'll post it here tonight.
After that it was Miller time, or at least, Brew Works Type A and fastnachts time... I met Anne and the crew (Donna, Erin, Brian, Jen, Nick, and later Matt and a friend of his) down there, pleasant evening.
Not sure what tonight will bring, maybe some laundry and some bike TLC -- the Turner and the Surly both need cleaning and lubing at the very least.

UPDATE Here's that map/profile:
 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Back To The Plotting Table

Morning weigh-in: 187.5#
 
Happy Phat Fastnacht!
 
So how did I spend last night, the first evening of my first rest week? Plotting more elevation profiles, of course! Part of what I want to do is use the more powerful Gnuplot features, and I also wanted to use octave to do any post-GRASS processing -- conveniently enough, octave uses Gnuplot to do its plotting, so that's two birds with one stone. (I also refined my method of getting the data out of GRASS and into a more standard CSV file, basically by piping it through an awk one-liner. In the end I might just use a simple awk script to do all the post-processing on the fly, and just pipe that output to Gnuplot. We'll see.)
 
Meanwhile, back at the ranch... On Sunday I chose Trex after all, and it was good but in some ways it may have been a mistake: despite the "Trex is never wet" hype, big sections of the place were a muddy mess, the trails were too short, and too steep, for the real "long slow distance" I needed. It was fun though, and I ran into a few other guys riding, as well as a kid on a unicycle, and Andrew, the guy building the trails. Beautiful day too.
 
Tonight is maybe a short recovery ride, or maybe more plotting fun, then it's Taco Night at the Brew Works.
 

Monday, February 20, 2012

February Recap

Morning weigh-in: 187# (not good)
 
Today starts the first rest week in my training program, so I thought I'd do a quick recap of where things stand:
 
Week        Workouts    Hours     Distance   Calories
1/23-1/29         4           5:02         52.0         3413
1/30-2/05         3           4:30         53.1         3412
2/06-2/12         4           8:14         81.6         6645
2/13-2/19         4           7:34         78.0         5531
 
(There are four weeks in there instead of three, because I started my first "week" early to make up for training time lost to a business trip.)
 
Not too shabby, though I notice two things:
 
1. I seem to max out at four rides a week (my plan currently calls for 5-6 rides a week). This may be because it's not the best time of year for riding right now, with weather, daylight and other outside conditions putting a damper on my available ride time, or it be just how my schedule works out -- I have plenty of time on my days off, but not so much during the week. I suspect that both of those come into play, but at bottom it's a motivation issue. We'll see what happens as the weather gets nicer.
 
2. Right now I should be putting in my biggest weekly hours in the saddle, with lots and lots of low-intensity riding to get me ready for the tougher stuff coming (which will be shorter, harder, and need more rest days). My target is about 500 hours for the year, but if these are my "above average" weeks in terms of hours, I'm in serious trouble.
 
Well, things might not be as good as I'd want -- especially considering that this kind of training is less effective, in fact it might even be counterproductive, at lower training volumes -- but here's a look at my February stats going back a few years (to when I first started using the Garmin):
 
Year     Workouts      Hours       Distance    Calories
2009         12             13:37          127.6         8894
2010           5              6:21            88.8         6462
2011           6              6:44            54.4         3075
2012         11             20:26          212.7       15588
 
So in terms of volume, I'm pretty much on target right now to double my best distance/hours/calories from the past few years...

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Funny How Things Work Out

Morning weigh-in (Friday): 186.5# (oops!)
Morning weigh-in (Sunday): 186#
So Thursday night I had an itch to scratch, and ended up playing with the computer instead of riding. Oh well, but at least I managed to get some results, as well as managing to break Topofusion...
Our Story So Far: What I want to do is take a GPS track and create an elevation profile of it, sort of what you see here or here or here. For the geekier cyclist, it's now normal to ride with GPS and upload the ride's data to some website, where you can see the data analyzed (ie graphs of elevation, heart rate, speed, etc), maybe even compare it -- read: compete -- against the rides of others. That's all good in its way, but what if you want to create your own standalone graph, maybe for use in some other project, and screen captures just won't do?

There are a few options. One of the best programs around, for playing with maps and cycling data, is a thing called TopoFusion. It can read ride data from a variety of formats, draw routes, and analyze either one in terms of elevation, distance etc. Unfortunately, it's a Windows program, and though I got it to work on my Linux laptop, recent upgrades caused it to become pretty flaky -- and then my attempts to fix the problem caused TopoFusion to stop working altogether.

(There is another problem with TopoFusion: GPS tracks consist of a bunch of individual points, and TF finds the elevation for each of those points and then makes a "staircase" graph of those individual data samples. When there are enough data points, like the GPS track of an actual ride, it's not noticeable, but with only a few data points the profile looks like a staircase. Worse, if you define a track by two points, say miles apart, with a mountain and valley between them, you will not get any of that profile, just the elevation at the first and second points.)

My next plan was to use an open-source program called Quantum GIS, which is supposed to be pretty good, with all sorts of functionality that can be added via plug-in modules. Unfortunately, it had no direct way to generate a profile, and the plug-ins I could find to make profiles refused to run without more added software, usually versions of stuff not easily available to my Ubuntu distribution -- for a variety of reasons I am deliberately behind the times with my upgrades, and this is one of the few times it worked against me.
Anyway, I finally punted, and went with the thing I initially had a lot of resistance to: GRASS. It took me a long time to get the hang of GRASS, and I still think that the interface is a pain, but it's big, and flexible, and programmable, and though it never "just works," when you do things right it can be very powerful.

I did some Googling and found some people dealing with similar problems, and I eventually found a way to do what I needed. It involved some indirect steps (convert the track into a series of points, adding extra points to fill in the spacing as needed when my original points were too far apart, then interpolate Shuttle Radar elevation data to convert the 2d points to 3d points), then I had to dump the results of that into something else for the actual graphing -- the example I followed used the statistical program R, which worked fine but wasn't very pretty, so I eventually switched to a spreadsheet. It was exactly, or almost exactly, what I need, though I may use GNU Plot to do any final graphing. It was strange to me that the clunky workhorse that I'd tried to avoid was just the thing that got my job done. Another life lesson I suppose...

Anyway, that took up a chunk of Thursday night, and the other half was taken up with a trip to Brew Works. Anne had gone up there to see Deb and Donna, first time in while that the old crew was together, and it was raining out, and I hadn't seen Deb in a while either... and there you have Friday morning's weight.

Friday night I hopped on the bike as soon as I got home, and did a moderately long towpath ride, then we went down to Black & Blue for dinner with Donna again, plus a few friends from out of town. Turns out it was Kelly-Jo's birthday, and they had cake and cupcakes, and we sang, and it was good. Yesterday I got up early, did some chores and hit the towpath again, this time doing about 34 miles of mixed towpath (Lehigh and some Delaware, though it was in bad shape) and bike path.

Right now I'm tending the bread oven's fire ( I just put some more wood on, and I can see the fire from the living room window), and debating what ride to do today. My choices revolve around doing more towpath (blech, but probably the smartest and best choice), a road ride (meh) or a real MTB ride, maybe at the relatively bomb-prof Trex. Tomorrow starts my first rest week, and I'm stuck between going out with a bang, or going out with more of what I'm supposed to be doing.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

These Things Go In Cycles

Morning weigh-in: 184.5#
 
Played around with the computer last night, more frustrations but I think I'm at least eliminating possible problems from my checklist... I was fooling around until about 8:00, didn't get riding until a half hour later, but still managed to get in a halfway decent towpath ride, another "singlespeed E2 on the towpath" ride as I label it: "singlespeed" for the bike, "E2" because it sort of follows "endurance workout #2," and "towpath" because... 14.08 miles in 1:18, more than an hour in my "aerobic endurance" zone. I need more, like a lot more ride volume, but I was glad I could get myself out. Tonight is more towpath, same ride only longer.
 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Next Steps

Morning weigh-in: 185#
 
Skipped the ride last night, did some computer stuff -- I tried some new things to get TopoFusion to work right, which didn't work -- then worked on the bikes, Turner & Surly, mostly just cleaning and lubing. We ate at home, went out for drinks a bit on the late side, and ran into a few friends at Brew Works, but still managed to make an early night of it. Tonight I'll be hitting the towpath; I've already missed one day on my highest-volume week in my first base month so I might make this a longish ride.
 
Meantime,what else? Uhhhh...
 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Word Salad Surgery

Morning weigh-in: 185#
 
Happy day, all you lovers!
 
I looked at my "Garmin to spreadsheet" perl script last night, and I think I spotted the problem: if I'm not riding according to a specific workout, the Garmin will temporarily stop recording whenever it thinks my motion has stopped for more than a few moments, and when that happens, each lap in the TCX output file contains multiple sets of tracks within each lap, one for each separate period when it thought I was moving. My program assumes that each lap has only one set of tracks, which is true for most of my training rides, since "stop recording when not in motion" is almost always disabled -- everything worked fine until I did those "Stop And Smell The Roses, Or At Least Catch My Breath" rides this weekend.
 
So I now know what the issue is, I just have to think of a good way to fix it. Maybe this weekend.
 
Last night was also pick-up-my-pants night -- I'd gone to the local Men's Warehouse last week, and the new dress slacks I'd bought were ready to be picked up last night. I spent so much time playing with the computer that I almost missed closing time, but managed to get in under the wire, and now I have increased my work pants inventory by 50%, not counting the bottom halves of my suits, or the corderoys I also wear to work but plan on phasing out. I'm not really upgrading my image, but I did need to upgrade the quality of my work pants, and those cords were no longer cutting it.
 
Dinner last night, brisket sandwich, on rye bread from Anne's Sunday baking. Tonight is usually knitting for Anne followed by Tuesday Taco Night at Brew Works, but since it's valentine's Day, and knitting is cancelled, we might just stay in tonight.
 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Oh, The Woes

Morning weigh-in: 186.5#
 
I've been looking for better cycling training software for a while now, but I've been finding that most of what's out there is either a bit "meh," or unavailable on Linux, or both (usually both), and the web-based stuff seems just as lame -- I've tried a few of the free-on-a-trial-basis ones, and none have impressed me enough to want to upgrade to the paid version.
 
All I really want is one more feature than what's already present in Garmin Connect, PyTrainer or SportsTracker: I want to be able to see a breakdown of my heart rate data by heart rate zone, basically how many minutes in each zone, on a lap by lap basis. I was fooling with a Perl script I found online that converts Garmin data to Excel file format, trying to get it to work -- of course it didn't at first, it was poorly written -- and while I was on my new voyage of discovery I realized that a rewrite of this script would be the best way to extract the data I wanted.
 
It took me about two days, mostly because I didn't really have a big enough block of time to just sit down and do it, but I finally had something that seemed to work well with my sample data, and gave me the results I expected. Then yesterday I tried it on my actual training data, and got incomprehensibly wrong results. Oh well, back to the drawing board tonight, good thing today's a rest day.
 
Meantime, my new computer upgrade did wonders for TopoFusion, which as a Windows program needs to run in an emulator (and I guess the new emulator works a lot better), but then I did something and -- TopoFusion is all out of whack, and now maps and GPS tracks don't line up. I tried removing and re-installing wine (the emulator), and upgraded to the latest version of TopoFusion, but got very little relief. This is all happening now that I've committed to help Bob and Doug with mapping duties for an upcoming race, and I'd planned to use TopoFusion to do that work.
 
There's still always GRASS, or maybe QGIS.
 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Comeback Kid Goes Lactic

So it's been about two weeks of training, two weeks of about twenty eight. I am already seeing results -- and of course I am already deviating from what I should be doing...

I'm mostly following Joe Friel's The Cyclist's Training Bible, and that means that right now I am doing a whole lot of "base riding:" lots and lots of easy rides (difficulty measured in terms of heart rate), and one day a week of spinning drills. I'm finding that, here in hilly Bethlehem, I can't go easy enough on the road to stay in the lower heart rate zones, so I've been doing a lot of cruising up and down the towpath; I kill two birds with one stone by riding my singlespeed, getting in a good, moderately-high-RPM spin workout while I'm out. Back and forth, night after night, by myself after work, up and down the towpath with the  hamster legs going and the heart rate monitor beeping at me to take it easier -- I'm already sick of it, and there's three months total of base work...

So this week I mixed it up a bit. I had Friday off, and took the Turner down the towpath to Easton, where I met Larry and we did a bike path loop. Social pace, maybe a bit faster than the training would have allowed, given the occasional hill and Larry's running slick tires on his bike, but really a nice break in the routine. I took the towpath home again, and followed the rules.

I skipped riding yesterday, and today I was going to meet Arnie and some others for another towpath ride -- and probably another violation, since those guys are usually on 'cross bikes and like to push the pace -- but instead I slept in, and later took advantage of the cold temperature and frozen ground to go ride Sals.

Technically, this ride was another violation, though I took things easy, and stopped whenever my heart rate went above my lactic threshold -- which means I stopped a lot, but it was a beautiful day, stopping to enjoy the view wasn't the worst thing that could have happened. The ride felt awesome, conditions couldn't have been better and I had a blast, and when I completed my usual loop I decided I wasn't done, so I hopped on the towpath and got in an hour or so of the training ride I originally should have done. Bonus! -- Though I suppose that was really more like eating diet food along with your nachos.

But: A month ago, a towpath ride like Fridays (but shorter) beat the tar out of me, and I actually had to bail on a Sals group ride about the same time. Some observations:

1. There really was a pulmonary issue going on, and a few weeks of that new maintenance inhaler has made a big difference. Today I was out in all my trigger conditions: cold, windy, and I was breathing hard, but I had no "incidents."

2. It wasn't all lungs: I'd been getting further out of shape the longer the asthma issue continued, and we're talking almost a full year here, so this new inhaler hasn't enabled me to pick up where I left off; I still have to start over at the bottom, only now I'm healthy.

3. Concentrating on "aerobic endurance" early in the season, lots of easy rides designed to encourage the cardiovascular system to prepare now for the harder workouts later, is already paying off. Maybe I'll mix a little fun in now and then but, despite the boredom involved with this phase, I am on the right track.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Whistler Past The Boneyard

Morning weigh-in: 186#
 
Wassap...
 
Reading: I'm working through a shit-ton of books right now, mostly Christmas presents. Ta-Nehisi Coates's The Beautiful Struggle and James Wolcott's Lucking Out, two memoirs from Baltimore ex-pats -- Wolcott looking back at his twentysomething years in late-Seventies NYC, when was writing about movies, punk, porn and ballet for the Village Voice, while Coates writes about coming of age in Baltimore, at the height of the Crack Years in the Eighties -- are the two main reads right now, the bedroom and bathroom books, but I'm also working through an economic-travel-detective-journalism story by Michael Lewis (Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World), and a lit-crit look at Thomas Pynchon as a writer of historical fiction. There's also a primer on open-source GIS in there, and a couple of novels are on the back burner. So of course I picked up Gravity's Rainbow again, and began re-re-rereading...
 
Actually, what I'm really reading is The Flame Alphabet, by Ben Marcus, a novel in which children's speech becomes toxic to adults. I just started it, at Anne's insistence, after she wolfed it down in about three days -- she found it compelling, beautiful and disturbing, and it was interesting to watch her be totally absorbed  (and freaked out) by the book. I think it's interesting too so far, but I'm definitely not as freaked out (so far) as she was. Then again, I never had kids, and I am not the word person she is. We shall see.
 
Listening: More Christmas presents here too, mostly Anne's presents from me, at least for the new stuff -- I've been getting myself a whole lot of 70's AOR, Bowie and things like that, from E-Music lately. Of Anne's new music, most of it was stuff Emmi played for us, back at Thanksgiving when we all visited Ben: the latest from The Builders and the Butchers, The Tallest Man in the World, and a "folk opera" by Anaïs Mitchell called Hadestown -- my own personal favorite.
 
On the way in this morning, Jethro Tull's "The Whistler" came up on random play, and I cranked it.
 
On-The-Bike: Yes, listening to "The Whistler" means that I am back to training, or "training," as the case may turn out. I've been reading and studying up, mostly Joe Friel's stuff, The Cyclist's Training Bible and things I find online. My goal, as in past years is to do well, or "well," at the Wilderness 101. (Long time readers may remember that last year, and the year before, I didn't even register, while in 2009 I had my only DNF ever at mile 89.) I'd like to break 10 hours, my target the last time I did it, but I think it's more realistic to say "my goal is to finish, and breaking 12 hours would be a bonus."
 
I think my biggest problem these past few years has been lack of time in the saddle: I should be putting in 400-500 hours a year, meaning I should be riding 5000-7500 miles a year. I've been doing about half that since 2009, and I think that things like that "time-crunched cyclist" plan were no substitute for chamois time. Unfortunately, finding time to train might be my biggest challenge -- I was thinking of starting my regimen next week, and so of course I am now scheduled to go on an emergency business trip next week...
 
Last night was the first step though: I did a towpath ride, one in which I did a simple test to find my lactate threshold -- 10 minutes warmup, followed by a 30 minute time trial. According to the Internet, my lactate threshold should be close to my average heart rate over the final 20 minutes of the time trial. The towpath was a muddy mess, there was creepy barking in the woods where I recently saw dogs kill a deer, and I took the road home, but I came home with a number: 159 beats per minute, close to my guess of "about 160."
 
Computing: So if we're talking training we're talking heart rate, and that means Garmin, maps and plenty of data crunching. I've found some Excel templates online, plus a few programs to extract HR data in spreadsheet-usable form from my Garmin's TCX file format, and I've broken out both PyTrainer and SportsTracker -- both of which work much better after that system upgrade -- but I have found no real, comprehensive, training analysis software for Linux (yet). Maybe Training Peaks? Strava?
 
I have, however, downloaded more mapping software.