Tuesday, December 31, 2013

That's Notta My Boat

Running the year down, this post gives me one more than last year's low of 44 posts, not great but at least I'm trending in the right direction...

That program I was working, you know the one that was "finished?" Yeah, about that... I decided to add a few more features, mainly getting material properties from a database. This meant learning how to "do" databases, such as MySQL, hence that book Learning MySQL.

Getting off the ground proved to be remarkably difficult, I had a lot of trouble just starting the program and connecting to the database engine (the mysql daemon runs on my machine as part of the system) -- it didn't help that I apparently had already played with MySQL some time in the past, set a password and then forgot it. Luckily, it was easy enough to guess, and once past this learning-curve road-bump it was smooth sailing, in fact using SQL is so easy I'm now surprised it had me intimidated.

Right now I'm doing some experimenting with the API for C, before my next big step, which is to build a materials database -- a small one, just a few common materials  with their temperature-dependent properties -- in preparation for re-doing the materials portions of the header program.

Anyway, Happy New Year! See you in 2014.

Snow Ride

I haven't been out on the bike since November. Part of the reason is that it's not in the best of shape, with brake problems (the pistons are sticking), shock problems (the stanchions are worn, and the forks are too obsolete for easy replacement), in addition to general maintenance issues: I just replaced the shifter cables and housings, which improved shifting 100%, or would have if the rest of the bike weren't in pieces...

I've slowly been trying too get this situation under control, and brought the brakes over for service, ordered new tires, started looking into getting new brakes, and -- started shopping around for a new bike. I stopped by Cutter's Bike shop and picked up their Specialized 29" full-suspension demo bike yesterday, with plans to ride "first thing" this morning.

Well, one thing led to another, and I didn't feel well this morning (allergies/sinus/asthma/headache, but mostly headache), and it was all I could do to get out of the house by 2:00 -- I was immediately glad I did, despite the cold, the weird "not my bike" feel of the demo, and the painful realization of how out of shape I was. My headache disappeared almost immediately, my nose and chest opened up as I got warmed up, and the day itself was beautiful, with just a dusting of snow on the ground and flurries falling through scattered sunlight. (I rode at Sals, by the way, which could explain both the beauty and the beatdown.)

The bike? It took some getting used to, it certainly doesn't corner as well as the Turner (it held a wider turn radius than I usually intended, and I didn't really feel confident enough to get aggressive), and the shifting/braking were a little different, but by about halfway through the ride I started to get comfortable with it. I have it for another day or so, and I'll see how we adapt to each other over the next few rides.

This is only my first test bike. I have a feeling I'll be getting a 29-er, so this was a good way to test the waters, but we'll see what further research brings.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Four Books

By the way, Merry Christmas everybody!

Also by the way, I've been posting lots of pictures to Flickr. I don't think I'll make my goal of getting my photos up to date by the New Year, but I suspect I'll be done with our Ireland photos by the time I go back to work on the 6th. Enjoy! And stay tuned for more...

I've been trying to teach myself a few now computer skills lately, and my main teaching resource has been O'Reilly Publishing. I got myself Learning Java about a month ago, and have been working my way through it, then the other day I got myself Learning MySQL, then my mom & dad got me Learning Python (freakin' huge book) as well as Learning PHP, MySQL, JavaScript, & CSS.

I think I'll be busy at my laptop for the next several months at least...

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Three Books

Another day, another book report, but first: It's a rainy day here, but I got up full of pep anyway, resolved to do, among other things some laundry, some yoga and weights, and some dusting & vacuuming -- the vacuum, busted for a few weeks, just got fixed and the general dust/dirt is enough that even I noticed (that's bad).

Anyway... jumped out of bed, tossed in some laundry and got the coffee going, and then Anne, washing some spinach for breakfast, noticed that the water coming out of the tap was brown. Brown! Blech. She called the water department, and they said there was a water main break that they were trying to locate & fix; in the meantime we shouldn't drink or cook with the tap water (not that we would have...). OK, throw out the coffee and tea, start over with some stored water from the basement, and get on with our day, resolving to redo the laundry when the water's fixed.

Some recent reads, in the order I read them:

The Twilight of the Elites, by Chris Hayes
The Victory Lab, by Sasha Issenberg
The Signal and the Noise, by Nate Silver

The first two were sort of recommended by various political blogs; I knew that the likewise blog-celebrated Nate Silver had a book out and bought it without any additional recommendation when I saw it (at Penn Books, during our last foray into Philly).

Long story short: the first was meh, the second maybe even meh-minus, but The Signal and the Noise was (or is -- I'm not finished yet) awesome.

I got Twilight of the Elites (subtitle: "America After Meritocracy") maybe a year ago, expecting to read about the problems caused by our current power structure and how it maintains itself. That's pretty much what the book delivered: problems such as baseball scandals and the housing bubble are analyzed in terms of what happened, who screwed up and why, and who did or didn't get held accountable; the main premise is that our "meritocracy" -- or as I'd rather put it, our "so-called meritocracy" since some of the supposedly meritorious things are really just class markers or the result of unexamined privilege -- leads to an elite that is overly competitive (too ambitious, too envious of the next level of success), prone to cheat (since incentives are based on measurable "performance," which can be gamed), and convinced that they are truly the elite since they won their positions based on "performance." He further points out that existing power structures use their positions to work the system in favor of their own members (think private day-care undermining the level playing field of education), which I guess gets back to my point about privilege.

So far I'm with author (though the problem as he puts it looks more like an example of what's wrong with Management by Objectives than anything else), but somewhere in there he seemed to lose focus, and the second half of the book really lost my interest; I had to push to finish it. Too bad really, because the end of the book had some prescriptions for fixing things, including the idea that more equality would help a meritocracy work as it should -- though my own feeling was that meritocracy itself is fundamentally flawed.

Anyway, I finished the book, which is more than I can say for The Victory Lab. This was the story of how the Obama campaign used new concepts from Big Data (automated polls and constant monitoring of the electorate's mood, microtargeting, etc) and an emphasis on evidence in campaign decisions. All well and good, but my expectations was that it would be about the data and tools, and it turned out to be about the people involved, which consultant came up with what insight that led to the idea of microtargeting in some other campaign etc, with only the vaguest idea of what the actual methods were -- just a few Time Magazine-level examples and oversimplifications, like "algorithms" being defined, essentially, as weighted averages. (Poor old Time Magazine used to hit a nerve all the time with me whenever they had an article touching on something I knew anything about: their descriptions and explanations were so plausibly written, but were oversimplified to the point that their meaning was the opposite of whatever the case really was in the thing they were explaining. Drove me nuts.)

The author also had a maddening habit of introducing new actors into the story, then going through long digressive backstories on the new guy's history and CV. The constant jumping back and forth broke up what should have been the straightforward flow of the narrative, and it also eventually became hard to keep track of all the characters involved, both of which made a fuzzy story even fuzzier -- once again, the author couldn't maintain focus.

I got most of the way through before I started skimming, and finally just managed to "finish" the book by plowing through the last few pages in a row. I guess The Victory Lab would make a good read if you're interested in the Obama campaigns themselves and especially the personalities involved, but that's not my cup of tea, and it wasn't what I was looking for in this book.

Luckily I saved the best for last: I picked up The Signal and the Noise on a whim, and before I was done with the introduction I was hooked. Nate Silver is a very smart, personable guy, with a good grasp of the concepts he's writing about, so it's not a surprise that he could write clearly on his subject -- if poor writing is a sign of poor thinking, the converse is probably also true -- but even above that, he's an accomplished and engaging writer.

The book itself is about predictions and forecasts, why so many go wrong and why some don't (to paraphrase the book jacket), and he breaks the book down into two main parts, the first being a description of the problem (bad predictions) over several chapters, and the second part looking at a way to improve the situation (Bayesian statistics). The problem chapters are case studies of political punditry, baseball -- two subjects in which the author really made a name for himself -- weather forecasting and earthquake forecasting, and so on, all totally fascinating. The start of the Bayesian part is where I am now, and it looks to be at least as good.

I can say that I see the appeal of the first two books, and I can see them being enjoyed by the right personality, but The Signal and the Noise is the one that gets my wholehearted recommendation. Take my advice and read it.

(By the way, I finished Bleeding Edge, and I have to say I'm glad I did.)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Two Books

Books, books books, I gotta lotta books for Christmas, better get on it...

What I've been reading lately is Thomas Pynchon's Bleeding Edge, basically a historical fiction, semi-detective story about"Silicon Alley" in New York, in the era between the dotcom crash and 9-11. I'm not so sure I like it: it started out slow, then got really good towards the middle, but it's now winding down and it doesn't seem to be coming to any conclusion -- or maybe climax/revelation/resolution would be a better way to say it, unless "life goes on" is the conclusion to the book, and the ending just peters out to the new post-911 normal.

It kind or reminds me of his latest before this one, Inherent Vice, which was also historical fiction (the 60's), and a detective story, and was so -- can I even say this blasphemy? -- boring that I didn't even finish it. I promised myself I'd finish Bleeding Edge, and if it seems worthwhile after that, I might even go back to Inherent Vice. We'll see. I often think he alternates between good and mediocre books, odd=good/even=meh, but this is now two in a row. I still love him, and maybe this is a deliberate branching out, into a better art that I can't appreciate, but this isn't (as far as I can tell) the Pynchon of Gravity's Rainbow.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Odds & Ends

Still here, doing some computer organizing -- among other things I just put up our wedding photos. You can find them here. Enjoy!

(The music -- on my squeezebox, which I spent quite a bit of time trying to get working again after setting up a firewall here -- just seg'ed from Titus Andronicus's "A More Perfect Union" to M.I.A.'s "MIA." Nice.)

Anyway, carry on. It's still snowing, BTW.

Tuesday Snow

So the Sunday snow morphed into a "wintry mix" as expected. I drove in yesterday and the roads were pretty icy, especially the side streets, but things got a lot better as the temperature climbed and the mess turned to plain rain and wet roads. My carpool buddy asked if I wanted to drive today, since we were expecting more snow -- a real snowstorm this time even if accumulation wouldn't be much -- and I was fine with that, I prefer my own car, and my own driving, to his in this weather. But then...

We both started smelling a car burning oil on the way home. I thought it was the car ahead of me, then some other car ahead of me, but no, it was me. Got home, checked the oil, and there was none. Uh oh...  Googling gave me a bad case of car-hypochondria, and I took today off to bring it in to the shop.

Just got the the estimate. Basically everything I was worried about came true: Subaru's do tend to develop oil leaks over time, and mine got pretty much all the ones my old Outback had (rear main seal, oil pump, head gasket), except all at once instead of happening over a period of years. Bottom line: $2500. Ouch! I'll take the hit this time, the rest of the car seems OK, but I guess I'll have to start thinking about a replacement sooner than I expected.

The snowfall had slowed a bit, but now it looks like it's picking up again. Sure wish I had a car that would drive through this stuff right now...

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Sunday Snowfall

Hanging out at home, watching a really light snow fall. It's not expected to last though -- this stuff is supposed to morph into a "wintry mix" (ie sleet and freezing rain) sometime this afternoon. Oh well, maybe they'll be wrong.

So last time I checked in (other than my two two clean-out-the-closet posts prior to this one), I was working through a bunch of books, and since then I of course bought a few more...

We went into Philly with our friends Donna and John last weekend, meeting them at the White Dog Café for lunch, and then hitting Penn Books, which is just around the corner, before checking into our hotel. Anne got a bunch of books, but I limited myself to three: Bleeding Edge, Thomas Pynchon's latest, Nate Silver's The Signal and the Noise, and World War Z. So even though I finished that giant book of SF short stories (also purchased at Penn Books, by the way), I am behind the eight-ball once again, at least in terms of my reading.

(The rest of the weekend: Nodding Head Brewpub and Local 44 on Saturday night, and Sunday brunch at Sabrina's before hitting the Philladelphia Art Museum.)

This weekend we stayed pretty local: we tried Aria, that new Afghan restaurant in Allentown, with Doug & Lori and Scott S on Friday, then met Sally & Joe last night at Black & Blue. Errands and chores in the mornings, naps in the afternoons...

Think I'll go out and stand in the flurry fall, which sadly looks like it's already ending.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Another Blast From The Past

This, like the preceding genealogy photoblog, is an orphaned post I found on Blogger from last year; it was originally titled "And So This Is Christmas Eve." It's obviously unfinished, and I was going to toss it but I liked the turducken photos.

Well, it's getting a bit quieter here, though the bread is still a-baking and the table is still covered with food. We're down to Emmi and Ben: Jaime left for Pittsburgh the day after the ""end of the world" party, and Amanda just took off for Washington about an hour or so ago. So we're now just winding down to a silent night...

Me and the Turducken

The turducken came out great by the way. Here's a shot of the turkey getting stuffing, with the duck waiting in the wings, so to speak, and one of the chicken still waiting in the brine:

We got a huge new pan to cook it in, one that just barely fit in our oven, and the turducken barely fit in the pan. Here it is before cooking, with my head for comparison -- we estimated we had about 35 pounds of meat and stuffing to cook.
Turkey Getting Stuffing
Brining the Chicken

The final result was beautiful.

The Finished Turducken
Turducken: A Cross Section
Anne and I had started the cooking and other preparations the day or so before, with a firing of the oven to do some slow cooked ribs, and of course going to the Allentown Farmer's Market to get the ribs, turkey, duck, chicken, and other supplies... Anne boned all three birds and we put them in brine to soak overnight, got the ingredients ready to make stuffing, and by the time we put the ribs in the oven it was past 1:00 AM. At 6:00 AM we got up, did the stuffing and Anne sewed the birds back together, and the birds went in the oven maybe around 9:00.

Blast From The Past

These are my maternal grandfather's paternal grandparents: Heinrich Barth was born in Leese, Germany. He was a 30-year-old a sailor living in New York when he got married in 1869. His bride was Helene Euschen, a 23-year-old originally from the tiny German village of Moringen. They look a a bit older than that in this picture, but I have no idea when it was taken.

This other photo is of Heinrich Barth, much later in life and probably taken in Brooklyn.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Being Thankful

Don't want to get too earnest here, but do I have a lot to be grateful for -- don't worry, there won't be a list! Sometimes though, it's good to just register in your mind how good you have it...

Remembrance Of Skills Past

I didn't really have a reason to do this, but I decided to see if I could get that program to run on my SDF shell account. It shouldn't be too hard, SDF is pretty similar to my home computer, but since my program makes use of the Mini-XML library (non-standard,  and not installed on SDF), I would have to find a way to get that installed -- without administrator rights, and without messing with any part of the SDF system outside my account's little turf. This also shouldn't be difficult, I'd done similar things before, but I just didn't remember how.

Here's how: In my home directory I made my own "bin" and "lib" directories, then I downloaded and unpacked the compressed mini-xml files, and then did the configure/make process with my home directory as target. That got the new libraries installed in my "lib" directory.

The next step was to download my program code and make the file. No problem, though I changed my Makefile to know about my lib directory.

The final step -- the one I forgot, and the one that took a while to find with a Google search, since most instructions assume you have root access and are doing things in the standard way -- is to set the library search path to check my personal lib directory as well as the others:


(I also put that in my profile and exported it.)

Anyway, it worked like a charm, and now I can play with my program anywhere I can access SDF -- like my phone, thanks to ConnectBot and much to Anne's chagrin while we were out last night...

(Hopefully, if I need to remember how to do something like this again in 10 years or so, or if someone else looks for a solution to the same problem, this will come in handy.)

The Book Of Lists

Here's a list of the books I'm reading:

The World Until Yesterday, by Jared Daimond
The Victory Lab, by Sasha Issenberg
Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson
The Year's Best Science Fiction (30th Edition), ed by Gardner Duzois

On deck:

Thirteen, by Richard K. Morgan (a loan, so I better get it finished)
The Game of Thrones series (also  a loan)

Recent Music:

Lately I've been downloading music I hear on Radio Paradise, so recent acquisitions include Younger Brother, Alt-J, VAST, and Beth Orton.

This is in addition to recent efforts to round out my collection: the B-52's, Radiohead, Negativland, Big Star, Midnight Oil, and the Stereo MC's.

Also: Australia's Triple-J brought me to Seth Sentry and Art vs. Science.

Reviews of all the above to follow, eventually. Maybe.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Cafe Redux

Back again at The Joint,  waiting for Anne to get here from the library. Let's see...

I applied to Northampton Area Community College yesterday, and went this morning to the "Open House" at their main campus. My plan, or maybe rather aspiration, is to get some new skills -- we're talking mainly programming and applications development here -- so I can be ready to change careers if I need to; my first order of business was to have been learning Java, but after looking at the course catalogs I think I might want to take a few other courses as well, like databases, client-side scripting (ie Javascript), and server-side scripting (PHP), which are all parts of their "web applications" program.

Unfortunately, at the Open House I found out that the Java course is not available in the spring semester, the other courses will be be available but not at night, and the only one in the program available online -- thus the only one I can take next semester -- is the "intro" course, which I  was thinking of trying to get exempted from having to take...

All is not lost however: I talked to the Computer Info professor, and the intro course doesn't sound too bad, and covers a bunch of stuff I think I'll be interested in, and needing, so I might take that in the spring, as well as an introductory accounting course (just because, and also because it's online).

Meantime, we went into Philly yesterday afternoon. We stopped in at the Penn bookstore, then met Ben at the White Dog for a late lunch. Afterward we hit a few other bookstores that Ben knew about, and also visited Jaime at the coffee shop where she works. All in all, a good way to spend a rainy day.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Coffeeshop Ramblings

I'm sitting in "The Joint," a somewhat new coffee place in Bethlehem, opened by friends, and local restaurateurs, Bill and Tabitha. It isn't all that new anymore, but I got out of the habit of hanging in cafes after I left Easton, and when Wired closed I really lost the habit, so this isn't my usual Saturday routine -- let's call it, if not quite "new to me," then "outside my usual third-space options." Anne probably eats lunch here once a week though, and I can see why: I just got a sandwich, and it was excellent.

Blogging Will Be Somewhat Light Last Quarter My usual habit for years was to blog during lunch at work, usually just a few short paragraphs a day, but trying for every day. They eventually blocked blogs at work, and blogger.com, but I found a way to email posts from my Gmail account, and so the lunchtime posts continued, more or less, for quite a bit longer. Within the past few months, though, they started blocking Gmail as well at work... I guess if there were a will there'd be a way, but my blogging interest has waned, and so I haven't done much to find alternatives.

What's (Been) Up: Well, Anne and I spent much of the post-Ireland summer training, and we ran the VIA Half-Marathon in early September. I came in around 2:30, and Anne beat me by about 15 minutes. Once again, something I had a great deal of trepidation about, but when it was over I was glad I did it -- I may even do another one, but not for a while. One bad side-effect was that the biking suffered during the training period: I just didn't feel like going out for rides in the afternoon/evening after getting up and running 5 miles extra-early in the morning. Luckily, my cardio didn't suffer, though my technical skills sure did.

After the run I made a push to get my bike mojo back, doing a number of MTB rides in Jim Thorpe and other places, and having some fun watching the change of seasons from inside the forest.

Also: Just before the half-marathon, Anne and I got in one pretty big bike ride, a cycling tour to Philadelphia. Our original goal was Rehobeth Beach, but we had such a miserable time in the NJ towns south of Trenton (creepy and depressing, weirdly impoverished, no places to eat, skeevy motels, and on and on), and we realized on the second night that we'd have just enough time to cross the state, touch our destination and come back through the misery zone, that we changed plans and went to Philly. Great idea (though the ride through Camden was hot and unpleasant), and we spent two nights there, avoiding some rainy days and visiting with Ben & Jaime. The home trip was a bit tough, about 70 miles in one day (remember, we were fully loaded with touring stuff, clothes and camping gear etc), with hills. I was glad to be home!

'Puter Time: Remember that program from work that I was trying to understand? Well, the biggest problems with it were that it was written to accept data from punched cards -- no lie, it's that old, and the data formatting was never updated -- so the input format was cramped to the point of obscurity to fit in 80-character chunks, and major parts of the program were huge hodge-podges of nested IF blocks and GOTO statements mainly to parse that data, so I decided to look into rewriting these parts (in the original FORTRAN), and that eventually snowballed into rewriting the whole thing in C, taking XML data as input and producing output similar to the original program, but in a somewhat improved format. That's been going on for months, maybe for the whole past year, and lately I've gotten to the point several times where it was mostly done, except for maybe a bit of tweaking here and there... Well today I basically realized that it was done, it worked exactly right and did everything that the original program did, and more. (I added other connections, like our newer weld styles, and organized the program so that other new styles could be added easily, an impossible task with the old program.)

So now that I have it, what am I going to do with it? Not much! I've tried the program with a bunch of example projects, as well as some test cases (to see how well it handles bad data), and I'll probably play with it at home, using actual real world examples from work, but that's about it. I realized that I don't want to show it to anyone at work, because to show it -- show the code, that is; I don't think the program would run as-is on the machines at work -- is to basically give it away, and I think it'd be pretty hard to get them to pay me for this thing I did in my spare time. (I'm fine doing it for nothing, as long as I consider it an at-home professional development learning experience, but if it's to be used in a production environment I'd expect to be renumerated.) I'm also sure that the actual programming could be a lot better, and despite what I said about completeness, it's really not ready for prime time -- it matches the core FORTRAN  program, but there's no user interface, and no database lookup of material properties, things that we have at work thanks to a sort of "wrapper" program that prepares jobs for and runs the core program. Maybe that can be something I can work on now.

Meantime, I'm hanging out here, about to get my next cup of coffee. I'm on my own for the weekend, as Anne is off with her sisters and sister-in-law at a knitting convention. I went out last night with Doug & Lori, and Scott S; we went to Black & Blue, and had so much fun I think I might stay in tonight. I'll probably try to get in a ride somewhere tomorrow, as well as some autumnal yard work -- did I mention that Anne and I just built a shed? Well, she built it, but I helped...

Saturday, October 19, 2013

My First Race...

...was the 1992 God's Country Classic, near Coudersport in Potter County, Pennsylvania.

I was pretty into riding by that point, even though I'd only started that spring, and my friend Mike and I decided we wanted to try a race. I have no idea how we picked this one, or even found out about it -- racing was popular at the time, even if we didn't know much about it, and there were tons of races closer to home, but this was the one we found and did. My guess is that Mike saw something about this one, maybe an advertisement somewhere, and it piqued his interest.

Flashback to a few weeks before the race: I spent a lot of time riding the towpath that summer, and a few other, similar places, and I was fitter and stronger, after a summer of rising and losing weight, than I had ever been before -- but that was a low bar, and I also didn't know much about "real mountain biking," as in what I'd now call singletrack, or more technical terrain and how to handle it. So what I d was sign up for something called the "CAM Fat Tire Rally," put on by Cycle Across Maryland, ie CAM, which I think is now defunct but they used to run charity rides across Maryland (get it?) to fund helmets for inner-city kids; this was their first offroad event, and it was held at Patapsco State Park.

Me at the CAM Fat Tire Rally, 1992 

I actually got there a little early, and ended up helping with minor setup, mixing the energy drink jugs etc, then as things got started I met a few people to hang out with -- they all called me "Jersey" after seeing my license plate -- checked out some workshops on safety/etiquette/nutrition/technique/trail maintenance/etc, then went out with the "beginner" ride.

That was pretty cool, but it seemed a bit basic to me. After lunch -- tuna sandwiches, and a speech about what CAM does, which included a homily on MTB helmet safety -- I hooked up with the "intermediate" afternoon group ride, and was pushed beyond my skill and fitness level, almost losing my lunch before letting myself get dropped. All in all a good day, and I remember being exhausted on the drive home.

That was mid-September. In mid October -- Friday night of the weekend of October 10th, to be exact -- Mike and I drove up in his van, camped out with everyone else in the fields around "Potato City Airport," and on Saturday morning we went down to register.

Me at the God's Country MTB Classic, 1992

The guy who took our registration forms was in one of those "broken neck brace" halo thingies, which gave me a few qualms, and I also remember looking around during the racer's meeting at the fancy bikes -- I'd seen my first full-suspension bike at the Fat Tire Rally, but now I saw more of them, as well as plenty of suspension forks -- I was riding my fully rigid Giant Iguana with toe straps, and wearing sneakers, tube socks, really-old-school baggies, my lucky Jaegermeister tee shirt and a windbreaker, plus helmet and gloves. I thought I looked obviously out of place, and remember checking out some guy's disk wheels and feeling really clueless and inadequate...

Finally the race started, and started with the only section of actual trail on the course, about 50 yards long and complete with mud puddles and one rider already down, I mean face down in a mud puddle, with a pool of blood spreading through the water from his face while other riders were crouching and saying "You OK? You OK?" - yikes! I started thinking harder about that guy with the broken-neck halo at registration...

The rest of the course was actually pretty easy, jeep/snowmobile trails, and somewhat wider than doubletrack -- it was pretty much the towpath with elevation changes and turns. I started feeling better and more  confident (though the long climbs were tough), and at the halfway point we came to the "mandatory" stream crossing -- there was a bridge right next to where we crossed, and course officials making sure no one used it -- and I went through the stream without a problem just behind Disk Wheel Guy, who hit the water and was immediately swept away by the current. Bonus!

Immediately after the stream crossing was the biggest hill on the course, and I ended up walking, but I felt OK, and took the opportunity to carb up with my damp, rock-hard Snyders of Hanover pretzels. The rest of the ride was pretty much more of the same, climb and descend on wide dirt roads, and finally there was the finish line: my final time, something I couldn't tell you for almost any other race, was 3:03:01. Twenty-five miles or so, and about 3000 feet of climbing according to the advertisements, and I'd done it.

Mike finished about an hour later -- he told me actually took a nap on the course at one point, he was so whooped -- then we went back to our campsite and exchanged vainglorious tales with the guys in the next tents, whose names, strangely enough, were Donald and Kevin. The next day we hit the road for home, and we were so stoked we decided to do the race at Allaire State Park, practically in our backyards compared to Potter County, in November.

Epilogue: Mike and I raced Allaire together, but he didn't go with me again to God's Country; I went the next year and finished in 2:45, and the year after that I did it in 1:45. My last time there was when I went with Brian in maybe 1998 or so, after the race start/finish had moved from "Potato City," whatever that even was, to Lyman Run State Park. My time was about 1:40.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

How/Why Did I Start Mountain Biking?

Morning weigh-in: 188.5, 12.5% BF
My right calf was really sore after Tuesday's run, so yesterday was a rest day: after work I got a little further along on that big program I was writing -- remember that? I almost forgot what it was I was doing -- then I took a nap, and then Anne and I installed the bedroom air conditioner -- the hot weather finally broke us, and last night was our best night's sleep in probably a month... This morning was a 4 mile run, and tonight I may do the towpath.
Here Is My Story: I saw several interesting questions recently on the Mountain Bike Review Forums, with some cool answers in reply, so I thought I'd play along here... The first two questions were: when and how did you get into mountain biking, and what was your first race?
I started bicycling in March of 1992. I'd been living in Easton for a bit over a year at that point, and working in my "career" job, my first job after college, since 1990. I'd never been active, and I became less so in college, and even less so after I moved out on my own and started working, but I never thought of myself as "out of shape," even when I was pretty much shaped like the Pillsbury Dough Boy. Until one day...
I was on a site visit with my 65-year-old boss, out to a power plant that had just come offline a few days before, so it was still pretty warm. I had to climb inside some enclosed space to take some measurements, up and down ladders and through crawlspaces etc, and I was pretty hot and exhausted when I was done. I was sort of fantasizing that my boss would be waiting with a soda and a "good job" when I got out, but when I did get out I found that he'd been swinging around the furnace, hundreds of feet up, in a bosun's chair -- a job that was, if anything, more strenuous than anything I'd been doing. I realized then that it was me and not the activity, and my lack of fitness was actually becoming a threat to my health, to say nothing of being an impediment to my work.
So that's the set-up. While I was worrying about all that I noticed my upstairs neighbors going out on bike rides, and I asked them what it was all about. Steve and Jane were a few years older than me (we're talking 32 years old to my 28), and were somewhat like yuppie mentors, and it came out that they liked to ride the local bike paths on their hybrid bikes. They had an extra one, and one day they invited me on a ride... I remember it was probably early March, I was wearing jeans and we rode out to the locktender's house on the north side of the Lehigh bike paths, and I remember keeping up, and even sort of sprinting on the small hills back up to Southside, and I thought "This is fun! I can do this!"
I borrowed that bike a few more times, then I decided that I needed my own bike, so I went to Genesis, the main bike store in Easton. Steve and Jane told me to get a hybrid, since you really didn't need more than that to ride the bike paths, but while I was in the store I started looking at the "real" mountain bikes, and how they seemed so much more sturdy and well made than the hybrids, and I finally settled on my first bike, a 1992 Giant Iguana, which I still have, and which I rode just this Sunday.
That spring and summer I rode and rode and rode, starting with Steve and Jane but eventually farther afield and without them, on all the bike paths near Easton, and along the Delaware Towpath to Reigelsville, and the Lehigh Towpath to just before Freemansburg -- the Lehigh Towpath was a very different thing back then, being mostly what I later learned was called "singletrack," and it was probably a good thing I had a real mountain bike. In the early spring I found out about the migrating Canada geese (and I still remember a dream I had -- in color -- involving the geese), and I saw more and more of the slow unfolding of the natural world all around me as I rode.
I lost 30 pounds that summer: I went from 185 pounds to 155, it completely changed the way I looked, and after that I was hooked.
Next up: my first mountain bike race.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Monthly Diary Entry Sez

Morning weigh-in: 189#, 12.5% BF
The weigh-ins are back, at least for as long as there's good news...
Did a short ride last night, about 15 miles on the towpath (to the new boat launch and back), didn't go nuts with dinner, and did a three mile run this morning. There may be some suppression weight loss in there, but it's better than the opposite -- like Sunday morning, after our party and a weekend of chores instead of exercise, when the scale said I was 192 pounds.
Party: Yes we had our "wedding party" this past Saturday, mostly in the afternoon though I don't think the last guests left until after midnight. We spent Thursday, and Friday, and Saturday morning getting ready -- this included gardening, mowing and straightening up the house, hitting the Allentown Farmer's Market for meat on Friday, getting more wood for the oven, firing it up Friday evening, and getting up before dawn on Saturday to get a huge amount of ribs, pork shanks and brisket slow-cooking for later. We also had a keg of homebrew, a case each of cider and blueberry ale, the fixings for mint juleps and gin-and-tonics, and the usual soft drinks plus well over 200 pounds of ice. Add 60 guests or so, stir, and it was quite a bash.
Training: Needless to say, in all this prep-and-party, and also with all the brutally hot weather we've had, last week was a bit light on the exercise, but otherwise the training is going well: we're up to Week 4 of a 12-week training regimen to prepare for the VIA Half Marathon, and I think I'm starting to see results: last night I was riding faster than usual, with less percieved effort, and this morning's run was a bit faster than other recent runs. (I'm not worried about speed, as long as walkers don't pass me in the half-marathon I'll be fine. My big goal is to have the endurance I'll need -- I've ridden hard for 15 hours straight, but this race is triple my longest run.) Anyway, tonight is probably another towpath ride if the thunderstorms hold off.

Monday, June 24, 2013


OK, here's the situation...
A few weeks ago a friend asked me about the kind of GPS / heart rate monitor I was using, and I sent him a fairly long email about my choice of the Garmin Edge 705, its suitability for biking but not for other things (I think he's looking for something to use with running), and why I went with the 705 rather than the newer Edge 800. My reason: "I went with the 705 because its data files are basically XML while the 800 uses binary files."
What that means is that the 705 produces output that is basically alphanumeric text, readable/editable by any text editor or word processor. Granted, the text is a bit hard to follow, but the basic idea is just a version of extensible markup language, like:
        here's the data
        here's more data
It's structured almost like an outline, except instead of numbers and letters for headings and subheadings, there are named "tags" like <Track> and <HeartRateBPM> and <Location>. A little bit of patience and you can find your way around most XML-based files, and there are also may programs and tools that recognize XML and can work with it as structured data.
By contrast, the (binary) file created by the Edge 800 is something that isn't in any human-readable format: it's just a bunch of ones and zeroes, meant to be read and understood only by specially designed programs. (Other examples of binary files would be things like image files, or MP3 music files.) In other words, I couldn't just fire up a word processor and look at my ride data, and -- more to the point -- I couldn't put together my own simple programs to find or extract data from the files, at least not easily.
This decision, to go with the text-using 705 rather than the binary-file 800, was one I made a few years ago, when I needed to replace an earlier Edge 705 that I'd lost on a ride. Partly it was because I would be getting an exact replacement of what I'd already had, but my main reasoning was ideological, as in "Information wants to be free!" I wanted to see my data without anyone's help.
After writing my friend though, I got to thinking about my decision, and realized that my reasoning really didn't carry much weight: after one or two experiments, I almost never actually looked inside my data files, or analyzed them with my own home-made programs. I would upload my ride data to the Garmin site, or use standard training software like everybody else. Being able to "look under the hood" of my data files was a nice option, but I no longer had the desire, or need, to actually do it.
Anne and I did a road ride a week ago on Saturday, and for some reason the Garmin website wouldn't recognize the data, and neither did any of the training software. Uh-oh. I Googled the problem and found out that sometimes the Edge 705 doesn't correctly record certain pieces of data, and so one of individual data records was screwed up and the file was "corrupt." The solution is easy: just remove the offending record -- you'd lose one second or so of ride data, but otherwise the file would be as good as new. I opened up the file in Emacs, found and removed the offending record, and things worked fine from then on. So OK, maybe it is useful! -- though it would be even more useful if the 705 didn't create corrupt files.
Since I've had the "new" Edge 705 for a few years now, and since I also have a spare, after someone found and returned the one I'd lost, the question was mostly academic, but we did a ride yesterday in Jim Thorpe on some rocky, overgrown trails (we did Green Blaze), and my Garmin popped out of its mount somewhere along the way. When I noticed it was gone I considered going back to look for it, but it could have been anywhere, under rocks or in the brush, at any point along a 10 mile section of trail, so forget it man, it's gone. So, now I'm down to the spare GPS and a handlebar mount that I no longer trust -- and the Edge 800, and the even newer Edge 810, both have a better mount -- and binary file be damned, I think it's time for an upgrade, especially since they stopped making the 705.
"Chi Wên Tzu used to think thrice before acting. The Master hearing of it said, Twice is quite enough." -- The Analects

Monday, June 17, 2013

That's All In The Past Now

Busy weekend, mostly errands and chores and such like, playing catch-up from being on vacation:
I had off Friday, which was spent shopping for food and other things (ie getting propane for the grill at Lowe's), doing laundry and cleaning the house etc; since we had the grill working again we grilled sausages and veggies for dinner, then hit The Mint with Doug and Lori. Saturday was lawn and garden stuff, followed by a medium-level road bike ride (30 miles or so, about two hours -- the GPS data file was corrupt so I couldn't document it) and dinner at Black & Blue, where we told Larry & Kelly-Jo about being married... Sunday was a brewing day, which meant a lot of downtime, so Anne spent some more time in the garden while I organized our vacation and wedding pictures, and Debbie came over later in the afternoon with her bike -- I cleaned it and lubed it and generally gave it some TLC while they pulled weeds. We did some grilled chicken for dinner, then ended the weekend with a trip to Brew Works.
Uh, Wedding? Yes that's right, Anne and I got married. (We did it secretly back on April 19th to avoid the fuss and commotion of a conventional wedding, then when we were in Ireland we picked up wedding bands so the secret is now out.) It was a simple but very sweet ceremony: Anne's sister and her husband were our witnesses, and a good friend of hers officiated (we got married in Philadelphia at the Federal Courthouse, where her friend is a judge), and after that we celebrated with an evening in Philly. Not much more to tell about the event but it was nice. Pictures to follow...
Yikes! Anne talked me into running a half-marathon with her in September. We have about 10 weeks to train, and our first training run was this morning. Pretty easy so far, 2 miles at a very slow pace, but that's likely to change soon enough.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Clare Days, Ennis Nights

On the train again, heading for Dublin and our last night in Ireland. I've had a great time, but last night I dreamed of leprechauns and I'm really starting to miss home.

Ennis turned out to be nicer than my first impression. The town is walkably small, with the town center, a commercial district in among medieval streets and lanes, being only a few blocks long and wide - this was not a tourist district, though there were plenty of pubs and restaurants, but the place where locals (probably including people from the nearby countryside) conducted their business. Downtown is where we rented our next bikes - clunkers again, unfortunately - and where we'd begin and end every day, with breakfast from a bakery and dinner in a pub.

During the day we'd ride our clunkers out into the Clare countryside. We had two days: our first day was an exploration of my maternal roots, going from Ennis to Killmihel on the tiniest roads I've ever seen, then on to Milltown Malbay on even smaller roads. We had lunch in Milltown Malbay, then returned to Ennis via a road crossing called The Hand, actually the mailing address of distant relatives even now. (There is no one and nothing there except a road marker, and I wasn't looking people up anyway.)

That was about 54 miles, and our second day was much less ambitious: we rode out to an unusual, rocky terrain called The Burren, and did a loop through the national park there. We took our time, stopped at a few archeological features, and took lots of pictures.

Evenings, which started and sometimes ended in daylight since the sun doesn't set until after 10:00, were spent checking the local "trad" music scene. We would grab dinner in a pub, and some musicians would wander in and start playing, our we'd find some bunch of people playing in the back of some bar. The music was uniformly good, and a lot like the stuff we'd heard in Dingle, but there was a political edge to Ennis that we didn't find elsewhere. It seems kind of silly to hear an Irish version of "We Shall Overcome," until you see newsprints on the walls from the 1916 uprising, and the statues of O'Connor and De Valera in the town squares...

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

And So This Is Ennis

A nice-enough town, and a nice central location for the last day-rides of our trip, but it's not a big town, or a tourist or college town, and after Dingle it seems a bit lackluster...

Luckily we stayed an extra day in Dingle. After all my bragging about how easy it was to navigate the bus/train lines, we came up hard against an unexpected setback: the June "bank holiday." Anne heard people talking about it and was curious, looked it up and found we had no public transportation out of Dingle on Monday (this was Friday might). So, we re-finagled our lodging arrangements, and made today our travel day.

More Dingle Daze: We got in two more rides in Dingle, one a climb up Conor Pass - like Blue Mountain, only on a tiny goat-path of a road, with two-way traffic, and since there are no trees you can see everything you have to climb - then back to town, and the other a ride through the interior of the peninsula, stopping at an ancient "oratory," or monastic chapel, made of corbelled stone, then doing our Slae Head loop in the opposite direction, and stopping again at the little tea shop overlooking the Blasket Islands for tea and scones.

In between those rides was a sort of wet and drizzly day, so we did a hike, which actually took us partway back up to Conor Pass before heading off into sheep country.

The Night Life: Most evenings we would walk around Dingle town, maybe going into a pub to catch some music - real Irish music is more like folk, and much better than the crap I was expecting, and the best place to catch it was Tommy O'Sullivan's - or to grab a bite and a pint. (A pint of what, you ask? We had our obligatory pints of Guiness, which truly is better over here, but we also sampled a few beers from several craft brewers on the peninsula, and our go-to drink actually turned out to be Bulmers Cider. One freaky night we got a bottle of wine with seafood. Me, seafood, wine, this place is full of surprises...) Once or twice we stayed out a bit later, and one night we had a lovely conversation about genealogy - the guy was researching his relatives who'd emigrated  to the US, who knew they did that? - with a couple from Galway.

Last night was another awesome meal, but the crowds, which had grown huge, were now thinning, you could see that the bank holiday was winding down.
We left town this morning, on the 7:15 bus to Tralee.

It took us until 1:30 (and it took us three transfers traveling by train, including one transfer we almost missed), but now we're ensconced in The Rowan Tree, an awesome hostel in the middle of town. We got some lunch, walked most of the town (it didn't take long), and now we're almost done with our laundry and itching to hit the local scene. Tomorrow we ride to my mother's ancestral homeland.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

An Daingean

We've been on the Dingle Peninsula, staying in the town of Dingle (An Daingean), since Thursday afternoon; yesterday was our first full day and our first bike ride.

(I have to say, this idea of taking public transportation, then using bikes for day trips, has worked out well. The rail infrastructure is really well done, and it was nice to sit and watch the landscape roll by. The only part we couldn't do by train, Tralee to Dingle, was a bus ride and the perfect opportunity for some serious people-watching. The whole thing was one big, fun adventure - I'm really surprised more tourists don't travel this way.)

The biker part: we rented some tourist/touring bikes for several days, better than our Carlow bikes but not by much, and yesterday we rode out around the end of the peninsula. We rode out to a place called Slea Head, then around the north side and back in a loop (called the Slea Head Loop, appropriately enough).

It was beautiful, in fact it was almost silly how beautiful it was. The sky, and the water to our left, and the landscape to our right, were all constantly changing, and each bend in the road revealed another breathtaking vista more beautiful than the last. We stopped twice to explore some ancient ruins, and twice for tea or snacks, and a whole bunch of times just to look around.

The ride was about 33 easy miles, and took us a total of maybe five hours. We got back in time to pick up our laundry at the cleaner, grab yet another amazing dinner (the food here in Ireland is very good), and catch a folk concert - I was surprised by how much I liked this - in an abandoned church. Afterward we stopped in a few pubs on the way back to our B&B, and caught several more amazing musicians. Our latest night out so far, but completely worth it.

Thursday, May 30, 2013


We are leaving Carlow now, taking an early train to Dublin as the first leg of our trip to the town of Dingle - our first Irish Rail experience giving us the confidence to try the rail transfers and a bus ride, rather than renting a car...

Our trip yesterday was by bike. We couldn't find any rentals anywhere in Carlow, but a small bike store basically loaned us two second-hand childrens mountain bikes, and off we went to Bunclody, a town about 20 miles away (via the tiny, and busy, main road) which was my father's paternal grandfather's birthplace.

The ride was uneventful, though Anne kept having to readjust her slipping seatpost, and the town itself was very pretty. (It's hard to believe anyone would ever want to leave, until you factor in the starvation and political oppression.) We spent an hour or so exploring, got some lunch, and ride back to Carlow.

Once "home," we hit a pub whose owners may have been related to my great-grandmother (Byrne is a common enough name, especially here), toasted our adventure with some cider, then showered, got some dinner, and hit another pub for some Guiness while we helped the locals watch the England-Ireland soccer matchup. We left after a while, walking outside to a beautiful evening sky - the sun was just setting, though it was already almost 10:00. It was light out when we went to bed, but we had an early start planned.

When we awoke (just before 6:00) the sun was already high up and shining brightly in a cloudless blue sky. I have a sunburn from yesterday - this place is much sunnier than I expected.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Carlow Town

We got up a bit early this morning and, after breakfast and a final walk through Saint Stephen's Green, we checked out of out hotel and took a taxi to the train station. About one hour later by intercity rail, and here we are in Carlow (pop 20,000), with the approximately half mile walk from the station,  to our hotel in the center of town, giving us our first feel for the place.

Carlow is not your typical tourist town: about an hour by rail southwest of Dublin, it had a bit of a boom as a bedroom community in the Celtic Tiger days, it's a bustling enough town with plenty of nice old buildings, and there are a number of amenities but they're mostly for home use. There's a few pubs, and at least one B&B, so we're good.

We're in Carlow mostly for genealogical reasons. My father's paternal grandmother was from a village, now absorbed by the town, called Graigecullen - it's basically what's on the west bank of the River Barrow, which divides Carlow. No looking up graves or relatives, I just want to walk where she once walked. We did that this afternoon, walking along the riverbank, and tomorrow we'll bike the 20 miles to Bunclody, the village where my father's grandfather was born.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Dublin Days

Day two in Dublin - it's 9:30 here and we just got back from breakfast, and are about to do some more tourist things: buy an umbrella and a cheap local phone, visit the distillery...

We arrived yesterday morning, got through some fairly laid-back customs and took a bus into town, then walked over to our hotel, which is on the edge of a party-tourist-commercial zone (Temple Bar, Grafton Street), near Trinity College. It was still too early to check in, but they us leave our bags, and we went out and got some breakfast - we both got mini-versions of the Complete Irish Breakfast, which was awesome, even including the sausage items we we advised to avoid (black pudding etc).

After breakfast we went exploring. It was a beautiful day. We walked around town,  checked out Trinity College and saw the Book of Kells exhibit, strolled up and down Grafton Street, visited a pub for some real Guinness (definitely better here), and then went back to our hotel and took a nap. Out to a brewpub for dinner - I didn't realize they had brewpubs here, thought it was Guinness/Smithwicks or nothing, but these guys were awesome - then back for another "nap" that lasted until morning.

Today we awoke to what I think is more "traditional" Irish weather: it's a bit cool and a light rain is falling. We just got back from breakfast as I said, and soon we'll be heading out for some sightseeing, including a visit to the Jameson distillery.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Failte FAIL

We are now in Terminal E, on the "good" side of Security at Logan Airport, waiting with boarding passes in hand for our rescheduled flight, six hours from now and 24 later than what we were supposed to catch...

We got to Philly, and then Boston uneventfully, the only snag being that we couldn't get our boarding phases in Philly for our second flight. No biggie, or so they told us, but then when we got here we had to go to the Aer Lingus booth for the boarding passes, and there we were told (with an hour to go before our flight) that "the flight was closed." They probably hadn't even started boarding yet!

No amount of argument got us, or the other people there, on our flight, no hotel vouchers or apology, or even an explanation that didn't change from minute to minute; it was all we could do to get on this flight. Fuckers - they probably overbooked, gave our seats away, and wouldn't admit it.

So it was off to rooms at the nearby Airport Hilton, and dinner and drinks at the hotel bar with a very drunk woman sitting next to us, telling us her life story. This morning we got up and did some breakfast & sightseeing in Boston's North End, before getting here good and goddamn early and ready for a fight at the Aer Lingus counter.

Well, things went a little better this time, and all we lost - I'm counting my chickens before they hatch - was one day in Dublin.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Hard Boiled Language

We listened to a "book on tape" while traveling to and from Knoxville. I'd never done this before -- it had never occured to me to do something like this, and after this experiment I'm not sure I'll do it again -- but Anne knew people who did this all the time and wanted to try it, and she'd picked one up from the library for our ride.
The book was Phantom, a Norwegian detective novel by Jo Nesbø, and the ninth and latest in the "Detective Harry Hole" series (though we knew nothing of any of this before listening). It was riveting, and exhausting -- driving twelve hours each way through heavy rain, trying to concentrate on both the road and the story -- and it lasted for the entire trip down and back, the Sunday drive to Jim Thorpe and back, and an hour or two at home Sunday night. (I though I was going to die on the way down when, after several hours and several CD's -- there were 13 of them, but I didn't know that until later -- Anne puts in the next CD and the narrator said "Part Two...")
The story was a classic hard-boiled crime drama: former detective Harry Hole, back from Hong Kong after several years away, is in Oslo to help clear the son of his ex-girlfriend of a drug-related murder he may or may not have committed (she was the one great love of his life, and the boy, now a junkie, was once his surrogate son). This investigation drags him into Oslo's seamy drug underworld, and onto a collision course with the Russian mob, with brief forays into government and police corruption, including possible double-agents among his ex-colleagues. Plenty of violence, some doomed romance, and enough plot twists to keep the suspense level pretty high for more than twenty four hours. Two thumbs up!
There was one weird thing though: it was a translation of course, with a British actor doing the narration. He would do the mobster voices in a heavy Russian accent, but otherwise it was impeccable British English. Until... personal and place names were still in Norwegian, and the narrator would do those with near-perfect (to my untrained ear) Norwegian pronunciation. After a while I was hearing those Norwegian names in my sleep -- I woke up this morning with the word "Trondheim," with rolling "R" and a dead stop between sylables, as my morning earworm. Was it even in the book?
This was the same thing that happened to me as I researched Ireland.  I managed to drive Anne crazy with my constant joke of an Irish brogue, but in truth the sounds and cadences of the diifferent place names started to get to me, and the words started to show up in my dreams. A lilting language, dancing quick...
Parting gift: here's a neat website of one American expat's experiences and insights, living in the Netherlands, Spain and Ireland.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Ten Years

Happy Mother's Day!

Today is also an anniversary of sorts: it's the tenth anniversary of my first blog post. It seems so long ago now, but that's only because it is... Anne and I have been together for more than five years now, and it seems like just yesterday in comparison, though in truth that point is closer in time to that first blog post than this one. Time is a funny thing, and time perceptions in our memory are probably logarithmic...

Knoxville: That's where we were this week. Travel day Wednesday and Friday, and Thursday in town for Emmi's commencement ceremony - she graduated last summer, and her official "cap and gown" walk down the aisle rolled over to this year. Beautiful day, and we had a great time hanging in K'ville, going to the commencement and having dinner with her old advisers afterward. Exhausting, rainy drives before and afterward though, and we spent most of a rainy day yesterday just recuperating.

It's a beautiful day today, and we're going up to Jim Thorpe, for a Mother's Day celebration with Anne's family.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

I Tell Them About My Weekend But Nobody Gets A-Skeered

Well, the weekend -- what did we do Friday night? Anne was up in Ithaca for the day, and when I got home I got in a pretty solid towpath ride, then did a little recreational programming until she got home, we managed a short night at the Brew Works after that. Pretty crowded as I recall, it took us a while to get seats at the bar. I finally got to try their "15th Anniversary" double-wit, which was -- as I'd been told -- better than expected; still not my cup of tea or mug of beer but at least I can say I tried it.
Saturday was a beautiful sunny day, but it was also chores and errands day. We both had tons of laundry, so we took turns with the washing machine -- it ran continuously for about 7 hours, and Anne did a bunch of gardening while I worked on the bikes, and the washing accumulated on the lines... We also did a Wegman's run, and later we hit the PPRAC fundraising party in Allentown: full house at the West End Youth Center, standing room only (almost), plenty of food, good beer, two bands, and a bunch of old friends and PPRAC comrades... We hung out there for a while, then stopped by Caruso's, a new -- new to me, at least -- place just up the street, with John & Donna. Pretty nice place too, good beer choices and a nicer atmosphere than many Allentown venues, though when we left, around 11:00 or so, it looked like they were getting ready to close. Quiet, unassuming, boring to troublemakers: is that what it takes to be a "nice place" in my book these days?
Sunday was another perfect day. Anne did a run, and I got in an abbreviated Sals ride in the morning, then we went up to Jim Thorpe for her Mom's birthday. We took her out to dinner, along with Anne's sister & her husband, at the restaurant at Penn's Peak. A nice day, and then we came home and read -- we were in bed by 9:00.
Right now Ben and Jaime are home, passing through on the way from Florida to Massachusetts by way of Emmi's place in North Carolina. They arrived yesterday; I'm not sure how long they'll be around, but we'll all be having dinner tonight with my old work/bike/yoga friend Scott, so we'll have a full house at least for another day or so.
Reading: I picked up some "Portable Voltaire" reader in Philly the other day, and I'm working through that, as well as that collection of Cthulhu-inspired short horror stories (which I picked up in that same bookstore, several months ago), and the latest from Mark Leyner: The Sugar-Frosted Nutsack.
Listening: For some reason I went on a Negativland binge the other day on E-Music, and that led me to get a few King Missile songs too. I'm pretty sure that I'm the only one in the house that likes them.

Friday, April 26, 2013

A Shining Star For You To Call Wormwood

Happy Chernobyl Disaster Anniversary! Of course, that means it's time to revisit the Kid -- Of -- Speeeeed!!!!!
(Just as an aside, "Chernobyl" is supposedly Ukranian for "wormwood," or close enough, which brings to mind Revelations 8:10-11:
And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven,
burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters;
And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood;
and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter. -- KJV
Wormwood is also the most famous ingredient in "real" absinthe, which I once drank in Russia. It's what's supposed to make absinthe so potent and dangerous, but I suspect it was the 60% ABV.)
Meantime, work's been really busy, and this whole week has been a blur. Our Sunday ride last week (towpath to Easton & back, and across the Minsi trail Bridge to the new Greenway for the Earth Day celebrations) was great, but ended in my chain literally exploding -- it broke into multiple pieces, it was totally unfixable, and we ended up walking the last little bit home. I picked up a new chain Monday night, but there were planes to catch and bills to pay, yadda yadda, and I didn't put it on until last night. Tonight we'll see if I did it right...

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Goose And The Hawk

Did a morning run along the canal with Anne, where we saw several families of geese, complete with goslings. The geese get aggressive when they're nesting, but we were all just sort of tolerating each other there on the canal, some sideways looks but mostly "don't mess with me and I won't mess with you"... until one set of parents started with the aggressive displays (opening up their wings, hissing, bobbing their heads) while we were still quite far away. One kept up the display while the other herded the babies into the water and sheltered them against her body, and then we saw the real reason for their behavior: a huge hawk glided over and landed on a tree branch just across the canal from the geese.

We didn't stick around to see the drama, but on our return leg we saw what looked like the whole family swimming along, so the hawk must have left empty-handed.

By the way, we spent Friday and yesterday in Philly with Anne's sister and her husband, sightseeing and window shopping. Drinks at Nodding Head, Tapas at the mid-town Continental, breakfast at the Reading Terminal Market, lunch at the White Dog...

We just had an awesome breakfast, which included dandelion greens and wild onions from the yard, and now we're about to go on a mountain bike ride. It's spring, and it's beautiful out.

Happy Earth Day!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Maybe Thick Socks Are The Answer

Morning weigh-in: 191#, 14.5% BF (I'm pretty round right now, so I'd take that BF with a grain of salt.)
I got new shoes last week, along with two new suits, some shirts and ties etc, my annual trip to Men's Wearhouse. What can I say? I needed a new suit, but I went with Anne, and she and the salesman ganged up on me... My old "dress shoes" were pretty ratty, but they were comfortable (like an old cliche), which is not what I can say about my new ones: they're killing me, or they were until today; today I am wearing extra-thick socks, and they provide just enough extra cushioning to keep me sane. Hopefully they'll break in soon enough.
Nature Journal FAIL: I was all set to check out the Aurora Borealis, which was supposed to be spectacular, and visible even in Pennsylvania, on Saturday night.I put on some warm clothes and went to the top of South Mountain Park near Lehigh, where there's an open field at the top of the hill; I arrived a bit before sunset, and was eventually joined by a bunch of tweens with chaperones (think like Cub/Boy Scouts, but it was a mixed gender crowd -- a school Astronomy Club?), and some college kids, but we all were disappointed, there was nothing to see.
In Other News, It's April: Sunday morning I was up in Jim Thorpe. I rode the American Standard Trail, and did some exploring on the Young American, a new-ish set of additions/alternates to the main route. I was completely alone, the whole mountain was like a ghost town -- it was windy, and much colder up there than it was at home, at least at first. The trail conditions were awesome though, and despite feeling skittish (I'd been fooling with suspension shock settings, and the bike felt a bid weird), I had a really good time. Towards the end though I started feeling pretty ratty, and I was running out of steam on a lot of the climbs. One more wake-up call, bike season is here and I'm not ready.
Tonight I finish my taxes, right on time. I did them myself, for the first time in probably 15 years.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Halftime Report

So here I am today, the big Five Oh. Doesn't feel any different. I remember the hearing the adage "Forty is the old age of youth; fifty is the youth of old age," but I was told this weekend that fifty is The New Forty (or even The New Twenty according to one friend), so we'll see how it all works out.
I mentioned this to a few friends when the subject of milestone birthday crises came up -- "OMG you're fifty are you freaking?" -- but my big crisis year was actually when I turned 29. I always thought that my freakout had something to do with it being my last year in my twenties, one more year and it's all over etc, but looking back now I wonder if it wasn't something else: I remember at that time realizing, after years of physical inactivity, that I was fat and flabby and falling apart -- I'd been exhausted by the minor physical labor of a plant inspection not too long before, while my 70-year-old boss had breezed through it, and I bought my first bike only a month before my birthday. I suspect that there were other things in the air too, since I'd been out of school and into my new career, and independent living in a new area, for about two years; I liked these things, but I wasn't doing much with my life other than working, and I was starting to realize there was more to life and if I didn't find it before time passed I'd miss it. That's pretty much guaranteed to bring on an early "midlife crisis."
So anyway, my life changed over the next few years, and my thirties were much better than my twenties, and much richer, and things continued that way until about five years ago, when I met Anne and my life got richer still. And now...
By the way: rode last night (towpath), and may ride again tonight (Sals?) if the weather holds. Spring is definitely here.

Monday, April 08, 2013

After The Ball

Well the party's over, but I'm still forty-nine for one more day...
A good time was had by all by the way, and we had some really good eats and drinks -- we did a bunch of shopping at the Allentown Farmers Market on Friday, and started the bread oven Friday night to build some residual heat then had it going all morning Saturday, and after some amazing loaves of bread we roasted a huge piece of beef, and a leg of lamb, and some ribs. Meantime, Anne made me a huge birthday cake (four layers of chocolate, with coffee-cream-butterscotch icing). And of course, we had our sixtel of Irish Red ready to go in the backyard.
People started arriving just before eight, and by 9:00 or so we had a packed house.  Many friends from the biker crowd and some from other circles, and It was good to see my brother and parents too, who came out from NJ. Most people brought desserts and veggie appetizers, so we were in good shape there, otherwise it would have been a very carnivorous spread, and great fun was had when Donna broke out her cupcakes with the X-rated decorations... There was a lot of drinking and carousing, but the basic format was "dinner party," and most people took off around say 11:00 or so, with a core group staying until a bit later. We did an abbreviated cleanup after the last guests took off, and were in bed by about 1:30.
The next day, Anne and I got up at the crack of 11:30, had eggs over the pork and beans that were the last thing cooked (over Saturday night) in the oven, did some more cleaning up, and then hit Nockamixon for some mountain biking -- it was a beautiful day, warm and pleasant though greenup still looks a week or so away, and the trails, though not overcrowded, were definitely getting their share of use. Home after that, for leftovers (roast beef and lamb sandwiches), a quick nap -- hey I'm old now! -- and a trip to Brew Works, for the punctuation mark at the end of a great weekend.

Saturday, April 06, 2013


Here I am on the front porch, waiting for my birthday party - my 50th birthday party - to start, just chilling, watching the flowers bloom and trying a little experiment: I'm blogging from my phone using the dedicated app.

It's a bit laborious despite Swype, and the laptop is stored away until after the party, so I'll catch you on the Flipside...

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Watersleep To Firewaking

Well, we're past the Green Cusp of Springtime, though you wouldn't know it from the dusting of snow on the ground around here this morning. Like the weekend's snowfall, and also Monday's, it'll probably disappear by afternoon.
Yesterday was a nice enough day, but I did pretty much nothing when I got home from work -- we'd been up late Monday (I picked up Anne at the bus stop around 11:00), then again on Tuesday (the VMB meeting -- my last as secretary -- and also Taco night at Brew Works, and a big chunk of the old crew was there), so last night was a night in, and an early one at that. Hot dogs for dinner, then I spent some time cleaning a whole bunch of music from my phone that I'd become tired of, and nhen putting a whole bunch of new stuff on, including a few of those eMusic samplers I got around Christmas, and one SXSW-themed sampler I downloaded last night.
Speaking of SXSW: How come Musikfest isn't cool like that? That's an example of a rhetorical question.
Anyway, no idea what we're doing tonight, but I have tomorrow off.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Spring Is Around The Corner

At least, that's what I keep telling myself -- we are now back in a winter wonderland thanks to yesterday's freak storm. Accumulation looks to be an inch or less though, so this should disappear after a couple of warm days, if we happen to get any soon.... I drove home through the depressing weather, felt like I was skunked again in terms of riding, but when I got home I said "aw, screw it" and went out anyway. Just a towpath ride, and shorter/slower than usual because of snow resistance but it was fun and I'm glad I went. Hung out with the laptop afterward, working more on that program among other things, and then picked Anne up at the bus station when she got in.
Anyway, I've been posting some pictures onto Flickr, working my way a few at a time through the backlog (I 'm now into December I think). Enjoy!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Still Winter

Saturday morning, and I got up sort of early (for a Saturday); I did some laundry, then took off for Easton with a stop at the drycleaner on the way. Right now I'm in the Terra Cafe, the old coffee shop I used to visit, Saturday mornings back in the day -- it's  changed hands, and names, over the years, but it has remained a nice place.  I don't recognize any faces though, on either side of the counter.

I had breakfast here, and did a little web surfing, then some programming and now some blogging; I'm almost done with my second cup, and then it'll be time to take off, out into the snow. (Just flurries, for now.) My next stop is the Nurture Nature Center, where I'll hit the Easton Farmer's Market, then ensconce myself in the next coffee shop and wait for the start of the Nature Journaling class at 1:00.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Killed To Make A Lenten Holiday

Just a quick note between bites on my tuna sandwich: I managed to not burn the house down last night, but then I also forgot to eat dinner... I went out on a windy towpath ride after work, then got so absorbed in some internet genealogy -- I think I found my mom's paternal grandmother's baptism records, among other things -- that I got nothing else done. I'm now obsessing over the kettle: did I turn it off after making coffee?

We get out of work today a bit early, so I should be able to start and end tonight's ride in daylight. After that it's time to party.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Alone On Christmas

Happy Pie Day!
Got up extra early this morning and took Anne to the bus station, so she could get to Philly in time for the one train a day that goes to North Carolina. She's visiting Emmi for the weekend, coming home late Sunday, so I'm basically on my own through St Patrick's Day. Uh-oh, wonder what trouble I can get myself into...

(Actually, it's funny how boring and lonely the night life can seem when I go out alone now; some places we go are "hers," and others are "ours," and it stands to reason that I don't feel quite right going to those places by myself, but even my old pre-Anne hangouts aren't the same without her.)

I'm going to another Nature Journaling workshop in Easton this Saturday, so maybe I'll grab lunch there, and maybe breakfast as well -- just like the old days! Breakfast out, breakfast home, either way it probably won't be worthy of a photo. I'll probably keep things low key on Saturday night, even if I decide that I want my shoes puked on by a stranger I'll keep it local. Saturday afternoon: chores & maybe some home projects, and I'm hoping for a JT ride on Sunday. Tonight and tomorrow will be the towpath.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

An Evening With The Laptop

Well, no yoga last night: I got home from work, sat down in front of the computer and just started typing away -- I had a few things I needed to do for the VMB, and I also wanted to start research on a biking-and-genealogical trip to Ireland, so of course what I really did was start rewriting that header calculation program. I just touched on what I needed to do there, and I did manage to get my actual tasks done, but I did also manage to use up a lot more time than necessary.

By the way and speaking of the VMB, I have decided to resign from my position as Club Secretary. I'm just not feeling it anymore, and I'd rather do other things -- like ride -- than run the club, especially since there's a new set of officers who are much more enthusiastic about, and willing to work on, club business, and I'd rather have my position filled with someone more in tune with the rest of them. Anyway, my resignation will be effective sometime in April, so I have one (or maybe two) more meetings to deal with. 

Ireland: All I really did so far was look at round-trip airfare, look into bicycle touring packages, and googled "things to do" / "bed and breakfast"  near Bunclody, one of my ancestral towns (my dad's grandfather was born there). There's not much around, but there are a few hiking opportunities and a few local pubs, plus of course a trip or two to local graveyards and historical societies or whatever. I need to do something similar for other ancestors if I can find the information, then we can put together some kind of plan.

Tonight, if the weather holds, will be the towpath. Conditions were awesome Sunday, but I don't expect to find them that way tonight, not after last night's rain.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Noble Experiment

Two of them in fact, and both died a hard death... I was going to write more here, which hasn't really happened, and I have been avoiding what was once a daily routine,  writing a quick daily update on my lunch break -- I've been really busy (and getting busier) for more than a year now though, and lunch minutes seemed to be just a bit too compressed for blogging. But if I want to write at all, I will have to make some effort to make it happen, and make some space for it to happen, and the lunchtime moratorium will have to go.So I'm back to my noontime habit, at least for now -- as I've said often enough before, we shall see.

So what's been going on? Well, this past Saturday, Anne and I went into NYC, and met my parents and uncle Pat at the Metropolitan Museum -- we hopped the bus in southside Bethlehem, then took the subway, and finished with a walk across Central Park, which was packed with joggers and cyclists etc; we hung out on the front steps of the Met, listening to a sidewalk doo-wop group until everyone else arrived -- it was a beautiful springlike day, warm and crowded on the steps, people eating hot dogs, seemed almost a shame to go inside, until we got inside... My mom was excited to see the Matisse exhibit, and Anne especially liked an exhibit of some 17th century French painters working in Italy, but my favorite was the archaeological stuff: Greek and Roman statues, Egyptian things, all the way through Late Roman, Migration Period and Byzantine artwork and jewelry. We got home around 9:00 ate at Lehigh Pizza, and basically passed out -- it was a long day spent mostly on our feet, and we'd had a lot to process.

Sunday morning we slept in for a bit, but I eventually went for a Towpath ride. I took advantage of Daylight Savings to do a long ride, going to Easton and then continuing on the Delaware towapth all the way to Raubsville before turning around; the whole ride took about three hours, and my final distance, out and back, was around 37 miles. I'm not quite in shape right now, and I really felt it towards the end of the ride, and also all day yesterday.

Tonight we may do some yoga, then we'll be planning our summer vacations.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sunday Night Wrap-Up

So here I am, relaxing after an awesome Sals ride, and listening to the song that made me a Democrat: Temple of the Dog's "Hunger Strike." (Well, that and a book: Carlyle's History of the French Revolution. And the '92 election.)

I'm also blogging this while using a new (to me) browser: Chrome, the one marketed as Google's browser. I'd been getting more and more frustrated with Firefox crashing all the time -- it seems to have a lot of trouble with video, though strangely not with YouTube -- and Googling the problem seems to show a lot of people asking the same questions, and getting what I consider a runaround, like: "are you using the latest version? have you tried using safe mode?" and other bullshit like that. (The questions run the gamut of technical sophistication too, from "my Firefox crashed" to "the culprit seems to be X_ShmPutImage," which is what I'm getting when I look at the crash report.)

It got so I could reliably crash Firefox by going to certain websites, mostly news sites where a video might be playing when you get there, and I finally had enough. Chrome was pathetically simple to install, and it loads my favorite sites quickly and seems to display them correctly; I'm not sure I like the bare-bones look of the browser itself but I figure I'll get used to it. Maybe there are extensions, add-ons or other eye candy that I can use to gussy up the place.

Anyway, the rest of my weekend:

Friday morning found us going over in Easton, where I picked up my car -- finally! -- and we went out to breakfast. The place we ate was a bit of an experiment, and it was decidedly meh so we're probably not going back but I'm not going to name it here... Anne took off for work, and I, after some errands, took off to go skiing at Blue Mountain. This was the first time I'd gone skiing in years, and it didn't come back immediately but it did mostly come back -- I stuck to the easier slopes, and left after about an hour and a half, when the after-school crowd started coming in.

Yesterday we were in Jim Thorpe, a family get-together at Anne's mom's house. We started with White Russians and a viewing of "The Big Lebowsky" and finished with pinochle, Anne and me vs her brother Joe and his wife.

This morning we got up, not particularly early but we went for a run before breakfast, 2.68 miles in 28 minutes, for a 10:34 average pace. For some reason I was hurting, it was a tougher run than usual for me. Some breakfast and some at-home BS (Anne had to go into the office), and I rallied in time for my ride at Sals.

Which, as I might have mentioned, was awesome. There was packed snow on the trails, but traction was surprisingly good -- which was good because I found myself really depending on good traction, just about the same time I would realize I was on an icy rock, more than once today. I wasn't riding particularly well today, the weeks of slacking have taken their toll, but the riding did not feel too difficult, and the trails, and just being in the woods, were extremely pleasant. I ran into Joe G, on foot with his dogs, talking with Rob L who was riding some fully rigid singlespeed. They were the only people I saw, though there were tracks everywhere, even relatively unused trails were covered -- I tried to take a nonstandard route, but nothing looked very out-of-the-way today.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Meanwhile, At The Writer's Workshop

Anne and I did a nature journaling  workshop today, at the Nurture Nature Center in Easton. The class was on writing about, and drawing, clouds, and was run by a very enthusiastic (and competent) woman -- she was a published author, and graphic artist, and her hobby was tornado chasing, so she had all the bases covered.

The drawing part was in the second half of the course: drawing clouds, using graphite pencils and other drawing tools, and was mostly a "how to draw" seminar. I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would, but it was definitely not my strong suit -- I was there for the words, and that was all in the first half of class. The teacher started with several examples of writing about weather, and ended with a slide show of different types of clouds and interesting things about them -- some of the photos were spectacular, almost unreal -- and in the middle we did a few writing exercises.

Here's my first exercise, a haiku:

Thunder clouds at night:
flashes in a darker dark,
a show from the porch.

This was meant to be something from our lives, some weather that we particularly remember. My example was from when I was a kid: thunderstorms would often concentrate over Freehold, a few miles southeast of our house, and sort of the direction our porch faced. It would be kind of fun to sit on the porch, dry and safe, and watch the faraway flashes. I was thinking after class that the last line was unsatisfactory, and thought it might read better as "I watch from the porch," but now I like it again the way it is.

The other writing exercise was prose, another experience of weather, in one paragraph, and this time we were supposed to make sure we engaged as many of our senses as we could. My story was from a mountain bike ride on Gauley Mountain in West Virginia, though I wrote to deliberately obscure what I was doing there (like maybe I was on a hike), got caught in a storm and almost got hit by lightning.
I was on an old dirt mountain road when the storm came in, warm rain at first but it got colder. I was up just high enough that the rain clouds were bumping the trees around me, then lowered and I was in fog, and then I started to hear the thunder. There was really nothing to do but keep going, until a loud CRACK! and flash to my right sent me scrambling over the embankment. I lay in mud and wet cow-itch, laughing at myself and my bad luck, for the next hour while I waited for the storm to pass.
Anyway, that was my Saturday. How ironic that the day started without a cloud in the sky!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Fun with CAD

I kick myself sometimes for doing this, but after a long day of engineering at work I like to relax -- by playing with engineering software at home. I recently found this program called FreeCAD, and once I got it up and running I've been having a lot of fun trying to get things done, or at least drawn, using it.

A View Of The Tee In The CAD Program
This first picture is something I slapped together pretty quickly, a reinforced forged tee like one we might use on a header. I used cylinder and cone primitives to make the tee body, another set of cylinders to cut out the inner parts, put in some critical fillets, and then sketched out the bore used it to create a shape to cut the end preps. This all seemed pretty straightforward, especially creating and combining the 3-D shape primitives.
The Tee As Seen On A Drawing

I then used the drawing creation utility to start a drawing. I got a nice side view (except that one line wouldn't show up), and added a projection. I have no idea (yet) how to add dimensions or text. The problems may be me, or it may be that FreeCAD isn't quite done yet.

What hasn't been so successful is creating bent tubes and pipes. I've been drawing the tubes in QCAD -- I've been using it for a while, and just sprung for the professional version -- then trying to import them into FreeCAD and turn them into 3-D objects, with very little luck. There are several laborious ways to make tubes, but none that just convert from polyline to tube the way I want.

We'll see how it all works out.