• The Other Snow Toys

    For what was probably this winter’s last hurrah, I met Doug and Lori at South Mountain on Thursday to get in some snowshoeing. The conditions were pretty good for the most part, except on some of the South-facing slopes — the snowshoes gripped fine, but the upper layer of snow itself would shear off and slide down like mini-avalanches (we’re only talking like 6″ or so), making the hills a bit slippery. The sun was out though, and the temperature was pleasant and the sky was a deep blue, and we had a grand time in the fresh air.

    Snowshoeing is inherently less exciting than other winter activities, but it’s good exercise and a good way to enjoy the scenery, and in the interest of equal time I thought I’d post some of my recent snowshoe photos to go along with my skiing post, so here are some shots I took on a recent hike at Sand Island:

  • Snow Crash

    Hi. I’m back. How fares the world?

    I haven’t posted much lately, because I haven’t felt like I have much to say, but I have been up to things and getting them done: I finished that SQL course, I got all my photos through the end of 2019 onto Flickr, and… uh, well I guess that’s about it.

    What else have I been doing? A lot of shoveling, and a lot of XC skiing. We got hit with a huge storm a few weeks back, with maybe 30″ of snow dumped on us, and we’ve been getting another 3″-4″ every few days ever since, and up until yesterday also we’ve had really cold temperatures — ideal conditions for skiing. I got out maybe two or three times a week this whole past month, and (until yesterday) the conditions were spectacular.

    Here are some shots from the early storm:

    After another storm I got out for some more pictures:

    I got in some snowshoeing as well, but that’s never as much fun… Sunday I misjudged conditions and blew off skiing to trudge around Sand Island, then had to see all the Facebook posts of awesome XC fun. I tried to make up for it, and went out yesterday in the snowfall, but things were so warm and sticky I broke my boot…

    It might be for the best: the air feels like spring and the light looks like spring, and the temperatures will be almost 50 by the end of the week — the XC season is probably over around here. But it was good while it lasted!

    And with that I will leave you with another GoPro masterpiece on YouTube:

  • Organization Man

    It wasn’t quite new-year’s-resolution level, but I’ve been having a sustained burst of productivity lately, or if not productivity then at least activity: I have been much better about cello practice; I’ve been more on top of bills, and housework, and exercise (i.e. morning calisthenics, not the biking); I’ve been making progress on learning SQL; and I’ve even chipped away at the greater part of my Flickr photos backlog. And I’ve managed to get all this done, to become my new, more organized self, through the use of my simple, lowly to-do list.

    I’ve written about my to-do list before. It’s basically just a text file; in the morning, or sometimes the night before, I’ll write what I want to get done at the top of the file, then as the day progresses and I do things I can mark the tasks done. If I don’t get to something it’s no big deal, it’s just not marked done and I can add it to the next day’s tasks (or not), but at any idle moment during the day I can see at a glance what I could be productive about, and the process gives me a chance to think about what I want to accomplish, what I ought to be doing, what might be more or less urgent, etc, for any given day. I also add specific appointments (a doctor visit, an afternoon ride with someone) to the end of the list, so I remember to budget my to-do tasks around them. The structure is pretty simple:

    Sunday 1/17/2021
    exercise (done)
    dishes (done)
      phone (done)
      gas (done)
      electric (done)
    study sql
    blog (started... running notes go here until it's marked done)
    @1:00 group road ride (done)
    Saturday 1/16/2021
    dishes (done)
    exercise (done)
    cello (done)
    study sql (done)
    flickr (done)
    work on bikes

    And so on.

    (I also keep a separate file, a spreadsheet that I call my “food diary,” where I keep track of everything I eat each day, but that does not get used nearly as much as the to-do list. It has a different pedigree, being something I saw once about behaviorist approaches to dieting, and has been much less successful in keeping me engaged enough to use it.)

    I find that I am more energetic in the late morning or early afternoon, but that may also be because the morning is when I’m selecting my day’s tasks, and therefore thinking more about them, rather than it being an issue of afternoon energy levels. The one thing that does sap energy levels — the thing that wrecks any given day’s remaining plans — is biking. Any day with a longish bike ride, nothing seems to get done after the ride…

    Anyway, here’s a product of one of my previous to-do lists: my first cycling video, posted on YouTube. The raw GoPro video quality is very high and the files are huge, so I spent some time learning how to process the clip into a format with reasonable values for both quality and file size. It looked great, but YouTube has taken to throttling quality to conserve bandwidth during this COVID-level use era. Here it is:

  • Remembering Professor Cochin

    I saw this bit of craziness today, small potatoes for a day full of crazy but there it was:

    Next thing I know I’ve gone down a rabbit hole of stupid… apparently this really is a thing, especially on TikTok — “if she was blind and deaf, how could she possibly learn to read and write?” It’s weird and a bit scary that people could be like this, but it’s also pretty laughable, especially since I had a blind and deaf professor in college.

    I just Googled him, Professor Ira Cochin, and saw that he’d died only recently — his obituary says he passed away at 91 in 2016, but he already seemed a million years old back in the ’80s when I had him. (I was young.) According to the internet, he was a leading authority on optics and gyroscopes,and eventually became a professor. Years later he went blind, then a few years after that he lost his hearing. (If I remember right, he lost one eye in an accident, then eventually lost sight in the other from diabetes. I forget what caused the deafness.) Each time, he stepped back and reconfigured — this included a stint at the Helen Keller School for the Blind and Deaf — then kept on going.

    He was not my favorite professor — he was irascible, and paranoid, and had a taste for annoyingly bad multilingual puns, but he also managed, better then most professors, to keep his classes engaged. He constantly solicited yes-or-no feedback by having us rap on our desks (which he felt in his shoes), he had invented a lot of devices to help the disabled handle various tasks, and he had assistants who communicated with him with a form of tactile sign language modified for blind people. Granted, he wasn’t disabled from birth like Helen Keller, but he was still pretty amazing. I still have his textbook on dynamics somewhere in the house.

    So here’s to “Dr. Ira,” because nothing stopped him in this world.

  • Looking Forward

    Morning weigh-in: 180#, 8.5% BF

    An official weigh-in!

    That’s not something I’ll be doing much going forward — I’ll weigh myself occasionally, but probably not be documenting it obsessively the way I used to. I put it here as a marker of where I am right now: back in November I was 172#, and I was pretty happy with that number, but that weight really was because of the gastrointestinal thing I was dealing with. I am back up to my “correct” current weight, which is way lower than it was a year or so ago, but I do want to see my weight — the real, “correct healthy weight” number — go down another 10 pounds. I guess that counts more as a wish than a resolution, but there it is…

    As for actual resolutions, I guess I’ll stick with my usual ones: bike more, exercise more, play the cello more. I also usually put in something about “use the computer less,” but this year I don’t think so, instead I’ll just resolve to spend a greater percentage of my computer time in more guilt-free, productive ways: learn some skills, do some mapping projects, that sort of thing. I what I really need is another hobby, like the mapping, that uses the computer.

    Speaking of being productive with the computer, I’ve been doing a lot of photo curating lately. Slowly but surely I’m getting them organized & categorized in my computer’s photo app. I’m now done through 2019, so I am now just about a year behind, which doesn’t really sound impressive but it’s a big improvement from the mess I used to have.

    The other part of my photo curation — where I upload my selected “best photos” to Flickr, and then give each one a title and description — that’s also moving forward. I now have uploaded photos through June 2019, though I’ve only got them annotated through April. Still, I am making progress. (By the way, I now have 9,925 photos on Flickr — I’m closing in on my 10,000th photo!)

    Meanwhile, back in meatspace… I’ve been doing morning calisthenics, with some weights and yoga added in. The biking is pretty dead right now, though I’ve been getting out with Anne almost every day, for short rides around the neighborhood. Part of the problem, at least for mountain biking, is that it’s cold (and wet), but not nearly cold enough: trails are muddy and mushy.

    There’s also this: the bikes could use a little love right now. The Santa Cruz needs a bushing for the rear shock, and maybe some new shifter cables, and will need new tires soon especially in the rear, while the road bike could just use a good solid overhaul after this summer’s long rides.

    A few more for the to-do lists…

  • That Was The Year That Was

    Whew! Happy New Year’s Eve, 2020!

    I haven’t had much to say here, and still feel I don’t, but I guess I can do a little news update:

    • I bought us a new stereo receiver, which came today. It wasn’t quite a Christmas present… We’ve been without a stereo for more than a year, and I was messing with our system a few months ago and realized that the problem was that the receiver had crapped out, everything else still seemed to work, all we needed was a new receiver. And that’s the way I left it, until a few days ago when I finally ordered the one I’d selected back then. Some fussing with speaker wires — this was the closest I came to bourgeois Christmas assembly, probably ever — but it all went together and we are rocking out right now.
    • I got a GoPro video camera for Christmas from my Uncle Pat. I took it out on the towpath yesterday (my last ride of the year), and got one or two good videos at the start of the ride, but I must have banged the mount somehow because the rest of my clips were of the handlebars. I guess it’ll be a process…
    • I have not been outside for too much activity lately, but we got snow a few weeks ago and I managed to get in a few days of XC skiing. Twice with Doug & Lori, and once with Scott & Kellyn, all over at the municipal golf course.
    • I’m still working my way through those SQL courses. I’m almost done with the second one. In the meantime, I felt bad that I couldn’t even run my material take-off and header calculation programs anymore, so I got the code from my old laptop and got busy porting it to this machine. The MTO program worked out just fine, but I need to switch the header calc one to use Postgres instead of MySQL, which shouldn’t be too crazy.

    Anne got a bamboo steamer from her sister, and she’s making shrimp dumplings right now. We’re planning for some pork ones (with homemade kimchi) tomorrow, and that’ll be our pork & sauerkraut for the coming year. Tonight we’ll do jello shots to ring in the new year, and hopefully get in a bike ride tomorrow. Happy New Year!

  • New Project

    I’m coming to a close on the Trail Amenities project — rather, I’m running out of things to do with it — and I’ve been feeling a bit tired of all things GIS lately, so I’ve been looking for a new project, something that will teach me some new software or skill.

    My first thought was to get a better grasp of R, especially R graphics, and to do that I’d work with CDC COVID data. Early in the pandemic I was doing a lot of downloading, analyzing and graphing of case and death data, in a sort of “play along at home” mode. In a way it helped me get an emotional handle on things, in analyzing it myself I felt I regained a bit of control over the situation. At the time I was using the LibreOffice Calc spreadsheet.

    Anyway, when things started getting bad again I returned to looking at the data, and I used it to explore R, but I found I didn’t have the motivation or focus, though I did manage to get more of a handle on graphics. Part of my loss of focus was that the data magic was gone — I had COVID fatigue — but part was also that I constantly bumped up against realizing that the data manipulation would have been easier for me in SQL.

    I switched from the COVID data back to working with my trail amenities data, which gave me a chance to practice accessing my database from R, but in the end I realized I’d rather play with PostgreSQL than R so I decided that my new project would be to really learn how to work with PostgreSQL.

    And that’s what I’m doing. I found a series of free online courses on databases and SQL, from Stanford via EdX, and I’m working my way through them — I’m currently on the second course. This should give me a good handle on using SQL; the other half of what I want is database administration, which so far I’ve just been able to pick up in pieces here and there.

  • Seven The Hard Way

    About two weeks ago, I managed to lose seven pounds in a week…

    It all started with the donuts. On our D&L ride, we stopped for a bite in Jim Thorpe, but every place was packed so we just grabbed some junk food at a convenience store. I got some chocolate milk, which I almost never drink, and a bag of those small chocolate donuts you can only get at gas stations, with the plastic “chocolate” icing, one step up from Twinkies. We ate our “lunch” near the new bridge — I ate most of the bag and a a whole lot of chocolate milk — and continued on our way home.

    I felt fine, if a little stuffed, when we got home, but by the next day I had serious GI issues: bloating, constipation, abdominal pain, and it never let up. I looked online for possible causes — big mistake. I went to the doctor, who questioned and examined and prodded me, gave me an antibiotic (for what looked to her like an ear infection — no connection to the stomach), and advised Metamucil. So OK, Metamucil and an antibiotic.

    My GI situation kept up like that for more than a week afterward. I was in extreme discomfort, and with food going in but nothing going out I expected my weight to be ballooning up, but I actually lost seven or eight pounds over the course of the week.

    Then one morning, all of a sudden I felt like myself again. My body returned to its normal function over the course of the day, and the bloating and pain went away. I guess that whatever it was had worked its way through my system. I’m still taking the Metamucil “just in case,” and I am never, ever eating those donuts again…

    My weight has bounced back a little, but it’s now stabilized at about five pounds lower than it was. I’ll take it, but I wouldn’t recommend this as a weight-loss regimen to anyone.

  • Stop. Cthulhu Time!

    So we heard a few weeks ago that The Strand Bookstore was in trouble because they weren’t getting the foot traffic anymore, so — like thousands of others, apparently — we came to their rescue and ordered some books online. Dealing with their website, I can see why they were having trouble. But that’s another story…

    I ordered two books, which came in separate packages. The first, which arrived just over a week ago and which I just finished, was Other Minds, a book about octopus behavior and consciousness by science philosopher Peter Godfrey-Smith. He mixes his own experiences as a diver, scientific results from behavioral studies, and the natural and evolutionary history of cephalopods, using these as a springboard to talk about consciousness and its origins, the awesomeness and mystery of cephalopods, and, towards the end, the wonder and fragility of the world’s oceans.

    The second book came Monday. This one is Her Body and Other Parties, a collection of short stories by Carmen Maria Machado. I’ve already read the first three stories, and they are really good: clever and creepy, pure “weird fiction.” I think she’s one of my new favorite authors.

    Last night we watched “My Octopus Teacher” on Netflix.

  • Breathe

    What a week this was! The election was stressful enough but the follow-up was no better…

    We were worried about COVID so we applied for mail-in ballots back in August, but they took so long to come that when they finally arrived we dropped them off in person at the courthouse in Allentown. That was maybe 2-3 weeks before the election.

    Then on election day and after, there was a lot of talk about not counting those kinds of votes, so Anne made signs and we went to the courthouse to make our voices heard. We did that Wednesday and Thursday, and on Thursday we met others who also wanted every vote counted, and we joined them for another demonstration in Bethlehem. Friday looked much calmer, vote counting was moving forward, so we stayed home.

    On Saturday we did a bike ride up to Jim Thorpe from Slatington, and just before we arrived at the trailhead we heard that Pennsylvania, and therefore the election, had just been called for Biden. The ride would have been good “nature therapy” for recent stress anyway, but it was such a relief to have that burden removed.

    Things aren’t over yet, and a lot of damage has been done (with more possibly to come) which might never be undone, but I think the end is in sight.