• Independence Socially Distant Quartet

    Happy Fourth Of July! I can’t believe I’m saying this, because I have always loved Independence Day fireworks, but there have been so many fireworks in the neighborhood in the past month that I’m heartily sick of them.

    Anyway, we celebrated this morning by getting together for the first time with our new quartet: Jeff and Anne on violins, Digg on viola, and me with the cello. We met at Jeff’s farm, outdoors and socially distanced but under a barn roof to block sun (and rain — luckily there was none). I was the “new guy” in this bunch, and also by far the weakest player, so had a bit of trepidation but we all took to it right away and played fine. We spent a bit of time on a Mozart quartet, then worked on portions of one by Schubert, and before we knew it three hours had passed. We’ll probably do this again in a few weeks, an I can hardly wait. What a fun morning!

    Tomorrow is a road ride down to Milford.


  • More Summer Biking

    I’ve been cycling about 110 miles a week over the last month, a mix of on- and off-road, with mileages running between 15-40 miles a ride — my fitness is starting to build back up, though I do need to build endurance for longer distances. There have been plenty of mellow group road rides with friends, plus my adventure with Doug the other day, and a whole lot of toodling up and down the towpath.

    Today was an afternoon MTB ride at Nox with Renee and Hope. They are both much faster/fitter than I am, but both were on hard-tails and Renee was nursing a sore back from landscaping, so I had a shot at keeping up, especially since it was more a social ride than anything else — I hadn’t see either of them, in real life and on a bike, in quite a while. Here’s our ride, a fairly standard Nox loop:

    The pace wasn’t difficult, but we didn’t dawdle either, and the ride passed fairly quickly. It was nice to catch up with those guys and hear the latest news — Hope is now a grandmother! (The kid is now 5 months old, so I guess this counts as old news to everyone but me.) There were plenty of other people out too, no one I knew but there were a whole lot of parent/child groups, which was pretty cool to see.


  • Sentimental Journey

    Doug and I did a really nice ride yesterday, starting out on the Switchback outside Jim Thorpe, then doing a hike-a-bike up one of the descents and into the strip mine trails on top of Pisgah Mountain. My agenda was to look for and photograph some mountain laurel before the opportunity slipped away, since I was still mad at myself for not going at all last year; Doug I think was just up for a decent ride.

    mountain laurel blossoms
    Mountain Laurel Blossoms

    Neither of us had been in that particular neck of the woods in quite a few years, and though we started out with a vaguely-formed plan to check out “the Blue Ponds” — old quarries, hundreds of feet deep, that had filled with water and were now swimming holes, and I’d guess I hadn’t seen them in maybe 15 years — we eventually were just in “hey this trail looks cool let’s take it” mode. We saw some ponds, but not the ones we started out to find, but we were having too much fun to worry about it.

    bicycle in flowery forest
    The Ridge Top

    Eventually we stopped to look around and realized we were probably lost — everything looked so semi-familiar! Like we’d maybe been there, or someplace just like it, only a few minutes ago, or years, or decades… Actually we were kind of lost, but my GPS had maps that seemed accurate enough, and though we were far off from where we thought we were we could find our way back. We continued on.

    That’s when the rain started, which fogged up my glasses and totally flummoxed my GPS unit’s touch screen; the going was a bit tougher but we were still making progress until we found some more cool trails, which really didn’t go the right way but were awesome… The sun came back out, we rode on, and eventually worked our way back to the Lungbuster and down to the lake. What a great day!

    So anyway, that was our ride in words and pictures, here’s a map of what we did:

    Open that map and you’ll find plenty more photos, which are connected (on the map) to the locations I took them.


  • What Is Your Quest?

    I’ve been moving forward with the additional D&L access and amenities points for my project, but the trail sections south of Riegelsville are terra incognita, especially when it comes to trail access, so I relied on GIS to find access points: I split the road network into “trail” and “not trail” sections, and intersection points (that aren’t at bridges) made for pretty good access candidates; some closer map inspections verified a few obvious trailheads, and weeded out some things like private drives. A lot still needed to be verified via “ground truthing” though, and so the other day I went out for a ride, starting from Riegelsville, south along the towpath to Tinicum Park.

    I had my candidate points loaded in my GPS so I could see on the map when I came upon one; I could add locations I’d missed, and delete false positives as I spotted them, and by the time I was done I should have a pretty good idea of how to get on and off the trail. This method worked really well, and the only real problems were judgement calls at what seemed like private access points. (Things are a little different in Bucks County, there are some wealthy homes between the trail and the river, with their own driveways and footbridges, and while some crossings are obviously marked “Private – No Trespassing,” others were maintained, and painted, as if they were park property.) Judgement calls, and I think I made the right calls, but for the most part it didn’t matter — all these these access points were too far from any amenities to be useful.

    It was easy and pleasant work, and I took pictures on the way back:

    Total distance, out and back, was about 24 miles, and the ride took about two and a half hours. I have the new access points and amenities incorporated into my map.


  • A Movie Recommendation

    It was a total fluke, I just happened to note it among several movie reviews on Vox, but The Vast of Night caught my eye the other day, and since it seemed like something we both would enjoy we watched it over the past two nights.

    We were both riveted, leaning in (along with the main characters) as some old woman tells her creepy tale, bedazzled by incredible camera work, and totally sucked in to what might have just been conventional sci-fi if the story were told less skillfully. But it was told skillfully, almost hypnotically, and the real story was more about the characters and atmosphere than any “and then this happened next” plot, even though that part was pretty good too.

    I suppose it’ll be in theaters eventually, but we saw it on Amazon Prime. See it there, or on the theater, or maybe at a drive-in for that full Fifties vibe, you’ll be glad you did.


  • Make Room For Cellos

    I got in about an hour playing yesterday (not counting my Zoom lesson), and about another hour this morning, which are good things because cello sometimes to seems to sink to the bottom of the priority list, and the day moves along and suddenly it’s too late to play, or I’m too tired or other things are going on… So I have to make the time, preferably in the late morning when I’m fresher.

    I’ve been making some pretty good strides lately though, working with some books of exercises (fingering positions, bowing), which have helped with my two “ambition” pieces: Miska Hauser’s “Berceuse,” and “Bouree” (I and II) from Bach’s Cello Suite in C Major. “Berceuse” is coming along, and I’m starting to feel I’ve mastered the piece, or at least I’m getting there, but “Bouree” is still a struggle. Yo-Yo Ma is doing a live show of all of Bach’s cello suites tomorrow, so I’m hoping for a bit of inspiration.

    Meantime, I did a bit of cleanup on that new map — fixing some bugs and adding features, and changing the marker icons to more closely match the ones in my original QGIS project. I also did a bit of housekeeping here, adding a new menu item at the top for non-blog projects (like the map).


  • Trail Project Update

    I got those new amenities into my D&L trail amenities database — it was a piece of cake, once the data was cleaned up. The whole process went smoothly, even the main database report (done through Jaspersoft Studio, which can be a pain in the neck to work with) digested the new information without any glitches.

    But I couldn’t leave well enough alone after that: I decided to add the amenities between Allentown and Northampton where the trail is incomplete. My original feeling was that the trail would be too vague through here — where are the “access points,” the intersections between the trail and the wider world’s road network, if you’re riding on the roads and there is no specific trail? But I’ve been riding this section a bit more lately, since it’s not been inundated with users like other sections, and discovered that much of it is only “unfinished” in the sense that it’s not up to the specifications of the rest of the D&L; it’s perfectly rideable on a mountain bike, and actually more fun than the more polished sections. If you don’t mind riding the rougher stuff there’s not much trail missing, and the remaining road portions are remote enough that there’s no need to worry about nearby amenities.

    So, I repeated the process for the incomplete section: identify trail access points, import amenities from OpenStreetMap (and then clean them up, by far the most laborious part) and finally tie access points to amenities using that routing distance matrix script. Again, it worked like a charm.

    …and then I started thinking about what I might want for output. That Jasper Studios report is nice, but the current output is a PDF — ugh, not very net-friendly — and I thought it might be nicer to get a more straightforwardly data-oriented output, something I can massage and format as necessary in a browser, something like JSON. Unfortunately, though Jaspersoft can do JSON output, I couldn’t quite figure how to get it to do what I wanted. Postgresql, the database I’m using, has JSON capabilities of its own, and final-product-straight-from-the-database seems like a better approach, but I didn’t know much else about those capabilities, so I sat down over the past few days and doped it out. The learning curve was pretty steep, more like a brick wall, and my code is pretty convoluted but I did get it to work. Of course, this success is just a lead-in to another escalation: if I want a web page I now have to code out the rest of the stack.


  • Speaking of Eating

    We’ve been eating a lot of salad greens, and also turnip greens (that come with the turnips), and I turned to an old go-to recipe: pasta and tuna with wilted greens. I learned the “tuna in olive oil over pasta” thing from my work friend Vito, probably more than 20 years ago at this point, and over the years I modified the recipe to add spring greens. (I actually wrote up a vegetarian version — sans the tuna — for a recipe exchange once.) We had it with tuna one time this week, and another time I made it with smoked mussels. Both were excellent…

    Meantime, this is what I wrote ten years ago.