• Finally Something To Chew On

    So we finished Devs (which, after all that buildup, ended on a disappointing note), and we just started Community, but I’m not really feeling it yet. I’m a reader and I don’t expect to be engrossed by any show for long, but even reading I’ve been struggling to find something I actually like right now. I picked up a few new sci-fi novels recently, but found most of them juvenile and annoying; re-reads of old favorites, in any genre, end up testing my patience…

    Luckily, my streak ended with Hilary Mantel’s new The Mirror and the Light, the final book in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy. I’m about a hundred pages in, less than a quarter of the way through the book, and I’m totally engrossed. The story picks up just after the execution of Ann Boleyn, where the last book ended, and though I know how it all ends — after all, everyone in it has been dead, and buried in the history books, for centuries — it’s amazing to watch Cromwell’s virtuoso performance, like someone juggling on a high wire, trying to keep Henry VIII’s kingdom from imploding.

  • Some Projects

    We’ve been watching our shows, and getting out when we can for walks and bike rides, but what else have we been up to?


    I did a bit of cleanup in the front, but we’ve been mostly working in the backyard, and most of the gardening so far has been food rather than ornamental: last week we ripped up the weeds in our old garden and worked in a bunch of compost. Anne had planted things like radishes a few weeks ago in a separate raised bed, which are coming up nicely, and with the old garden back in play we have three more beds starting to sprout.

    We also have a bunch of day-lilies I planted a year or so ago — they were gifts from when Lorraine thinned her own garden — which I had given up for dead, but this year they came up strong and hardy, and look to be in good shape. So, I cleaned out the weeds that might choke them, and also put, in the same spot, a few potted herbs we had languishing in the kitchen. We’ve had a few freezes since then, so we’ll see how the herbs fare.

    Here are a few photos from the backyard:

    The Coffee Table

    This was purely Anne’s project. We have a coffee table in the living room that I got from my parents when I moved out in 1990. It had originally been a gift from my Aunt Kathleen and Uncle Ed, and they probably gave it to my parents in the early 1970’s; family lore had it that it was made from “driftwood.” (I believe that it’s a merchant shipping “hatch cover” similar to the ones shown here.)

    Anyway, the table’s surface has been getting worse over the years, and Anne, who often sits at the table and gets splinters, finally decided to do something about it. So, she took took the top off, planed and sanded it (much easier to say here, it took her days of hard work), then stained and sealed it (more days, more work), and then we put it all back together yesterday. It looks beautiful, better than it has in decades.

    coffee table
    The old coffee table, sanded, stained and sealed.


    It turns out that the homebrew store is still open — you can order online, and (several days later) when your order is ready, you drive down and get it placed in your trunk. So that’s what we did last week, ordering the ingredients for two batches of beer. We picked up the ingredients on Saturday, and brewed the first batch — our Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale clone — yesterday. There really wasn’t much to say about the process, just the usual cooking and cleaning, but now we have several gallons bubbling away in the corner of the kitchen. It should be ready in about two weeks, and we’ll be making our next batch — our Rye IPA tomorrow morning. I documented some of the process:

    Towpath Amenities

    This is what’s actually been taking up most of my time and energy lately. I have a database of access points along the Lehigh Towpath, along with nearby “trail amenities” like bathrooms or restaurants, from an earlier project that has evolved over time. What I want to do now is expand it to include all access points and amenities along the entire D&L. I broke this up into three parts: the first part being everything north from Northampton to White Haven, where I would also develop (and document) the “work flows” a little better, then the second part would be the sections from Riegelsville south to Bristol. (The final task will be adding the undeveloped sections — from Allentown to Northampton, and from White Haven north — but I suspect that these areas will need a bit more re-conceptualizing first.)

    My first steps were pretty easy: I used an OpenStreetMap search plugin in QGIS to get all the roads near the river, then did other queries to get all the nearby amenities I track that are known to OpenStreetMap — this time I kept copies of my actual queries so I can reproduce them. I combined all the amenities into one layer, then used some spatial queries (and a list of official trailheads) to find all the access points where the surrounding roads contact the trail. So far so good…

    The next step would to identify all the amenities that are actually accessible via local roads, and this part wouldn’t be as easy. I wrote a script to do this when I did the original project, but that script is no longer compatible with the newer version of QGIS so I had to rewrite it. That (aside from typing errors) turned out to be more straightforward than I thought it would be, though it still took several days, especially tracking down and debugging those typos. Along the way I also made it more general, added improvements etc, and now it works really well.

    I haven’t done the final step yet, which is to move the selected amenities over to my database, because I’m not yet happy with the quality of the new amenities data. “Garbage In, Garbage Out,” as the saying goes, and the OpenStreetMap amenities turned out have a lot of missing contact info, outdated info like closed restaurants, and amenities I know about that are just plain missing from the data. So I’ve been slogging through the list, searching Google Maps and Googling for contact information, to try to raise the data quality before I can add this stuff to the database. In the end, and especially because I eventually might want to update OSM, I think I’ll have to check it all out for myself on the ground. Someday.

  • The Way We Live Now

    Happy Birthday to me! It was my birthday the other day. We didn’t do anything in particular about it; Anne made a cake and we ate it while we did a video chat with my parents. We’ve been doing a lot more of that kind of thing lately: I had a cello lesson on Zoom this morning, we’ve done several “virtual happy hours” with friends — our weekly Sunday nights are now online — and we both have been using internet video to keep in touch online with our families.

    I’ve also been riding, mostly road with Anne but some towpath as well. This (bicycling, or even just being outside) isn’t so great right now because the pollen is pretty bad, but the masks Anne made seem to help there. The other day I did a towpath ride and saw a bald eagle, not ten yards away, flying low over the canal, probably looking for fish or frogs or something. I also saw mounted police riding through the neighborhood when I came home, something I’ve never seen before but possibly part of some social distance enforcement.

    The town has cracked down on gatherings in the neighborhood parks. We have been allowed out to get some socially distant exercise, like the rides or daily walks we do, but people have also been playing basketball, and playing on playground equipment, so the baskets have been disabled and the playgrounds are covered in “DO NOT CROSS” police tape. We do a daily walk if it’s nice enough, and we still see plenty of other walkers but the playground crowds are gone.

    Meantime, we don’t need to do much shopping. We’re pretty well stocked with staples, so all we really need is fresh fruit & veggies. Friends of ours are farmers; they are the “farm” for a bunch of high-end New York “farm-to-table” restaurants, but those restaurants are now closed so they’re selling their produce to neighbors like us. They do things like baby lettuce, arugula and bok choy, so we’ve been eating tons of really good salads, as well as a lot of really good bread. Anne and a few friends are making bread to give to neighbors, through Donna’s “Little Free Library” which is now doing extra duty as a “Little Free Pantry” and “Little Free Bakery” to help ease food insecurity.

    Some Things To Watch

    We just saw the Season 2 finale for “Killing Eve,” and the latest (the penultimate) episode of “Devs.” Wow! No spoilers, but both were pretty shocking.

    Right now I’m re-reading The Girl With All The Gifts.

  • Interesting Wake-Up

    Posted on by Don

    Anne usually gets up a bit earlier than I do. This morning she got up around 7:00, and I was just beginning to stir about half an hour later when we heard a crash outside. In my sleepy state I just thought some snow had fallen off the roof (by the way, of course there’s been no snow), but Anne runs in, looks out the window and says “someone just took out our fence with their car!”

    I jumped up, got dressed, and joined Anne out back in the corner of our yard, where the car was stuck on a part of our fence that’s still standing. One of the fence posts is snapped off, and some sections had fallen over. Anne was talking with the driver, a woman from the neighborhood; she had stopped on the way to work (to drop off cloth for people to make face masks), but she had neglected to engage her parking brake, and her car had rolled backwards down the alley and through our fence. She was pretty distraught, and also late for work…

    We took some pictures and got some information, then (after breakfast, with some help from John & Donna) we got the fence back up and reasonably together, enough at least for a few days until a contractor can take a look at it.

    And that was our morning!

  • They Can’t All Be Good

    So we saw The Hangover the other night — it stank. I was able to sit still from the beginning to the end, but that’s about all I can say good about it.

    We are now watching Devs, on Hulu I think. Much better, though the acting isn’t the best. (Actually, the acting and actors are fine, it’s the script that could use work.) This is the one to watch.

  • Every Night Is Movie Night

    Like probably everyone else in America, we’ve been doing a bit more TV lately. Luckily we got both Amazon Prime and Hulu for Christmas (and we still have Netflix). Some things we’ve watched this week:

    • Fleabag (season two)
    • Knives Out
    • Blazing Saddles
    • The Men Who Stare At Goats

    We’d seen Blazing Saddles and The Men Who Stare At Goats before, and we’d also seen season one of Fleabag, but Knives Out was new to us. Emmi recommended it, so I think we’ll probably be watching her other recommendation — The Hangover — pretty soon.

    Any other recommendations out there?

  • Just Under The Wire

    We took a trip down to Philadelphia last Saturday, just before the great lockdown. We went down to visit Ben and Candace, and as a concession to the epidemic we decided to just go for a bike ride and then eat lunch at their place. This was too bad, because they know so many really cool little hole-in-the-wall neighborhoods and eateries, but it was still a beautiful day and we wanted to see the cherry blossoms; lunch was bound to be awesome either way and we could take a raincheck on their new restaurant discoveries…

    Anyway, we arrived around 11:00 and, since Candace had to take a work-related call, we did a little visiting at their new place first. (New to me at least, since I hadn’t seen it yet — it’s a beautiful, light-filled apartment with an enormous kitchen.) We got rolling around noon: through the neighborhood, out onto the bike path along MLK Drive, then across the Falls Bridge and into Manayunk via the Schuylkill River Trail. We did some riding on the paved path at Wissahickon and visited the Flat Rock Dam, then made our way back along Kelly Drive. Plenty of people out and about here: bikers, hikers, runners, it was actually almost too crowded for comfortable cycling. (I’m guessing that, like us, everyone else decided to avoid other people by doing an outdoor activity.) Once back in the neighborhood we stopped for take-out at a place called Taco Taco — huge burritos and some chips with salsa, so we got our restaurant fix after all, then we hit the road.

    Awesome visit, and here are some photos:

  • The New Normal

    We’re now deep into the first week of our national “social distancing” experiment. Anne took to it pretty well, and I think that, except for the obsessive hand-washing, I was born for this. We’ve been finding things to do while staying in, and getting out for some avoid-other-people walks and bike rides. I’m not sure how long this will last or what the end game might be, but we at least are doing OK, so far.

  • Pale Rider with Crown

    I just re-read World War Z for the umpteenth time, and now I’m re-reading Fighting the Plague in Seventeenth-Century Italy, a small book (a monograph?) from a historical demographics elective I took in college. Not sure why these are my reading choices right now, must be something in the air… Both books are interesting, WWZ for its pass-the-popcorn tale of an apocalyptic pandemic (especially the early denial, and then panic, phases), and the plague book for its look at public health measures and policy, once the unthinkable becomes the new normal — by the 1650’s, plague had been endemic in northern Italy for two centuries. The comparisons, from each book, with our own situation are very insightful.

    In other news, I was down visiting my parents for a few days, to help out while my mom got a procedure done. I went down Thursday night and came home Sunday, and I brought just about everything I could think of: some books, the laptop, a scanning printer, and the bike.

    The procedure was a success, though it took longer and involved more waiting than I would have liked; it didn’t help that I disliked the book I brought (Rama II by Arthur C. Clark “with” someone else; I should have spotted this as a red flag). It was so annoying I couldn’t even hate-read it… I spent other time down there hanging with my parents, helping my mom with some IT issues, and scanning old photographs. (I was going to post some here, but I’m not really happy with the scan quality. I may have to re-do them.)

    I tried riding Allaire Sunday morning, it’s not far from my parents’ house, but realized (once I got there) that I’d left my cycling shoes back at their place — D’OH! Oh well, I got in a decent towpath ride yesterday, down to Riegelsville for lunch, for a round-trip total of 40 miles.

  • Tired of the Flats

    Posted on by Don

    So I got the Iguana’s rear flat fixed pretty quickly, it seemed like probably just a puncture or pinch from the towpath. I also took the time to do some deferred maintenance; now the bike is looking good and performing well.

    I then took off the Cannondale’s front wheel, removed the tire, and found what I suspected but couldn’t originally spot: there was a tear in the sidewall. Luckily I had a spare tire waiting, so I put that on with the new tube, and — BANG! That tube popped as well. I was done for the day…

    I looked at it a few days later and the most likely cause seemed to be “operator error” when installing the tube, no other problems or defects were visible so I replaced the tube and gingerly pumped the tire, with many stops for bead inspections etc… everything was fine. I let it sit for a few days, but heard no sudden gunshots in the basement, so I took the bike for a short ride Monday. All is good.