• The Bullet, Bit

    Posted on by Don

    I’m not sure why or even how this happened, but ever since I upgraded to Mint my web server had been dealing with PHP in a very unsatisfactory manner: as long as the PHP file was in the main website area (/var/www/html) it worked fine, but I usually keep my web stuff in my own “user directory,” and in that directory any actual PHP was just totally ignored when the file was served up.

    This, for security purposes, is basically the default behavior, and there is supposedly an easy way to change the behavior, which involves minor changes to the configuration files. But, when I made those changes to the configuration there was no corresponding change in behavior… A week or so of Googling for answers, and (in the end, almost random) fiddling with the configuration files, file permissions, etc etc, got me nowhere, so I decided to just live with it for a while.

    Fast forward to Saturday night. I have no idea why I decided to mess with things again, but in the end I got so frustrated that I just completely uninstalled both the Apache server and PHP, and did a clean reinstall of them both, just before bedtime… Actually the reinstall went reasonably smoothly, to my considerable surprise. I broke a few other things along the way, PHPMyAdmin among them, but the server was up and running, correctly — after making those configuration changes that refused to work before — before I went to bed.

    Yesterday I spent a little time fixing and rebuilding, and today I got the last error messages in PHPMyAdmin to go away. Anne was joking that I love a challenge, but playing with PHP would have been the challenge, and this was more like finding my bike tools needing repair (and in the end, replacement) before I could even work on the bike, to get ready for a challenging ride.

    Mixing metaphors: I feel like like I’ve been putting off dealing with a toothache, and am now kicking myself after the dentist visit, for putting it off so long.

  • Racing The Storm

    Posted on by Don

    Morning weigh-in: 186.5#, 13.5% BF

    So I decided to start doing some longer rides, and I would work my way into doing that with longish road rides (working up to century-plus mileages), and yesterday was my first attempt. My original plan was to follow a course I made on the Garmin site, one that takes me over Blue Mountain at Little Gap, then along the far side of the ridge on Mountain Road and crossing back for the return at Wind Gap. My total distance would have been about 66 miles.

    I got the course loaded on my Garmin, but then when I tried to use it I couldn’t read the map or directions while riding — my riding glasses are about 5 prescriptions out of date — and while I know the general way, I forgot or didn’t realize I’d created this particular course with a non-standard start. Ride up the street — BEEP! — stop to scrutinize the directions, 50 yards and off course already! Followed directions to get back on course, loop back to the house — BEEP! — “congratulations you’ve finished the ride!” WTF?

    Turned off the course and started over, going the way I already know and everything was fine after that. I took it fairly easy too, doing a lot of coasting on the descents; my heart rate wasn’t all that high except when climbing… There was a fair amount of climbing, eventually, but that was the point, and eventually I ended up in Danielsville at the base of Blue. The south side isn’t too long or brutal a climb, but I took a break when I got to the top — and that’s when I got a good look at the storm clouds blowing in on the other side, and felt the suddenly-chilly wind picking up, in that way that comes just before a thunderstorm.

    Change of plans: I didn’t want to drop down into the storm and spend the rest of the day being dumped on, so I turned around and dropped back down the south side, and took the most direct route home. I pushed my speed up a bit, because I was now literally racing the storm — I was right on the edge of it, and it was moving about the same speed and direction as I was; every time I relaxed I’d end up getting wet. (It really caught me once, when I got stuck in traffic behind a school bus dropping kids off, but then came several long fast downhills back into sunny weather.) I got home and pulled into the yard just as it started spitting again.

    Total distance: 50.15 miles, a little short of my original target but my legs were telling me this distance was plenty. Total time was 3:48 for an average speed of 13.2 mph, nothing to brag about but OK for an easy ride. Total ascent: 2904 ft. Total calories: 1618.

  • It’s Always Something

    Posted on by Don

    My bike has been driving me crazy for about a month (maybe more) with a creak down by the bottom bracket every time I stomp on the pedals. I tried lubricating the rear suspension pivot bushings, since one of them was near the bottom bracket, but that did nothing so I’ve been stuck with it. Last Wednesday I did a group ride at Lehigh though, which required a fair amount of stomping, and my bike — which was the oldest there by far, and probably the only 26″ bike in the bunch — was squeaking and creaking to the point of embarrassment. Oh, the embarrassment…

    The next day I decided to do a recovery ride at Jacobsburg, and I did something a bit different: I broke out the singlespeed. What was I thinking? The trails there are pretty mellow, but the SS, with its single gear and its lack of suspension, bring them back to “challenging” again. The truth is, I was thinking I didn’t want to hear that creak, but that meant forgetting about “recovery ride,” I had to work pretty hard.

    (Aside: I think  the singlespeed is a great training bike, very helpful to build leg strength, improve cadence and spin, improve technical handling, and improve overall ride smoothness and momentum conservation. However, it does not teach any of those skills, it merely incentivizes learning them, because until you do learn them you’re going to take a beating. I did OK, but the first few minutes were an eye-opener.

    The other side of this hard work is that once you do figure it all out, even if the ride doesn’t get easier all your effort makes the ride faster, and you zip right along. There were other riders at the ‘Burg, on some pretty high-end bikes — the riders themselves looked like Soft Boys to me though — and I tooled right on past them. It didn’t hurt that they quickly spotted that my bike was fully rigid and had no gears, which blew their minds. Neophytes. They could probably have ridden as fast as I did, but their bikes allowed them to go slower and so they did, while mine wouldn’t allow me so I, uh, didn’t.)

    There were other things going on over the weekend, so on Monday (before all Monday’s “other things” caught up with me) I did a morning towpath ride, again on the singlespeed. I thought I was going to go mad from all the spinning: an easy flat 25 miles, it felt like my hamster legs were whirling as fast as possible and I was hardly moving. Still, cardio- and leg-detox-wise it was a great ride.

    Fast forward to this morning. I got up, not particularly early but I had a mission, and I accomplished it: I took the cranks off, took out the bottom bracket, cleaned and lubed everything near the BB, including the pivots again, and put it all back together nice and tight. No creak! As a bonus, the bike, whether because of my previous SS rides or the smoother lubed linkages, seemed to ride really well. I rode in the afternoon at Sals, and I felt like I could do no wrong — I climbed really well, rocky sections and other technical stuff were no problem, and I rode my entire “traditional” loop, something I hadn’t done yet this year (I usually get tired and hop on the road to shortcut the last part).  Some of that I’ll attribute to recent saddle time, and some more to ramping up the difficulty level of the trails I’ve been riding, but some of it was because of my bike, riding like new, and the sheer joy of riding it like that.

    In the way home, the creaking started up again. I guess it — that creak, or another like it — was inevitable…


  • Scenes From A Recent Hike

    Posted on by Don

    We both had a free afternoon the  weekend before last, the rain had stopped and the sun came out, and we were thinking of maybe doing a bike ride but the day seemed windy. So, we decided instead to go for a long, mushroom-hunting hike at an undisclosed location. Anne was hoping to find some morels, but since I can’t eat mushrooms I was just going along to look at the scenery and greenery…

    Yellow slime mold on twig
    The animated chewing gum of plants.

    It wasn’t very green, and this first piece of mushroom-related flora is not particularly edible (as far as I know) but its bright yellow color was very pleasing. I’m pretty sure it was a slime mold of some kind, which means it’s a symbiotic mix of fungus and algae, and it’s one of the few plants that can actually move. It seemed pretty immobile to us — maybe it was resting, or trying to hide, or maybe it really was chewing gum.

    I think of slime mold as a “processing” plant, turning other dead plants back into soil, and we saw a bunch of them in various places, working away. I took it as a good indicator that there were so many signs of vegetation decay, even to where you could smell it — every so often you’d get a whiff of composting or whatever, along with a slightly warmer puff of breeze. The detritus on the forest floor was definitely being processed. The rainy weather was probably a good thing for all those micro critters, and so maybe it would also be a good thing for regular mushrooms.

    Jack in the pulpit.
    They were everywhere, and each was unique.


    The rain had also driven the green-up, which in this unusually cold spring seemed slower in coming, into overdrive, and there were many plants and flowers in bloom that were not around just a week earlier, especially along the forest floor. (Granted, we were looking down a lot more than I usually do, so I could have been noticing more at ankle level than I usually would. Also, I was with Anne, who has a greater affinity and appreciation — and eye — for these plants than I do, and knows all their names.)

    Anne really likes Jack-in-the-pulpits, and she spotted this one early on, as well as many more hidden under the taller plants. Some were a little farther along in blossoming than others, some had slightly different colors or patterns; it was strange to see how much they varied one from another, even as they seemed identical from even a short distance. I took photos of the first several –“ooh! there’s another one, and so different from that last one!”– before I got Jack-in-the-pulpit burnout, so I’ll stick with just this one photo, which I  think was a pretty good representation of our discoveries.

    A morel on the forest floor.
    This was the only one we saw all day.

    Pay dirt! We really weren’t too far along into our hike when we saw this beauty. No one really knows what morels like or don’t like, but they do seem to appear on hilly slopes, on sunny spring days just after rain, so we had our hopes up, and here was confirmation.

    Unfortunately, this was the only one we saw in 12 miles of searching.

    View of river and valley through trees.
    Across the river and beyond

    Not long after our single morel discovery, we came to the first cut through the woods, which I think is an old telephone line. I took the picture deliberately in this direction not just because this view was so pretty, but because, behind me as I took this, was where the power company had been refurbishing their own lines — bulldozers, gravel, a huge, mile-long scar maybe a hundred yards across…

    Anyway, in his view you can see the Lehigh River through the trees; in the background is the Lehigh Valley, with Blue Mountain at the horizon. A few more steps and we were back in the woods, and back to looking down at the ground…

    Close-up of two may-apple blossoms.
    Up close and personal.

    If you can see the ground! The may-apples are usually among the first things up, and they can get pretty dense. They form a knee-high simulacrum of the tree canopy above us, a mini-canopy which hides the  world just below. Up until a few years ago I didn’t know that may-apples even had blossoms, since they form about midway up the stalk, hidden under the mini-canopy, which is a shame because they actually are very pretty flowers. Here I stuck my camera through the leaves and close to the ground, and got a nice close-up two of them.

    May-apple blossom
    A single may-apple blossom.

    There were other places where the may-apples didn’t grow as thick, and you could see individual plants without too much trouble. Here’s one with its upper leaf and its blossom.

    Underneath the may-apple, you can see a bunch of even smaller plants, forming yet another canopy on an even smaller scale. In many places these plants — violets, garlic mustard — were very thick on the ground, the main plants in that area, and formed an almost velvety-looking ground cover.





    May flowers and last year's leaf litter.
    May Flowers

    Here are a few of the smaller plants, a regular violet and maybe some white violets, spread out and a little more isolated from any others. There were all sorts of little flowering plants everywhere you looked, these were just a small sample.



    Looking up a tree trunk to the sky.
    Tulip poplar? Oak? Definitely tall and straight.

    With all that looking down, I think ‘ll add one shot looking up at the real canopy. I’m not sure what this tree is, but there were many like it here and there, and they were impressively tall, with long straight trunks before you got to the first limbs. Maybe this is what it looks like to a bug under the violets, or a chipmunk under the may-apples.

    We were on our way back at this point, and getting a little tired and sore — when we got home we realized we’d walked about 12 or 13 miles. A nice little walk in the woods!

  • Worn Out!

    Posted on by Don

    Morning weigh-in: 187.5#, 11% BF

    Holding steady, which is good because yesterday sure wasn’t a ride day — dreary, rainy, and I was too tired. Anne had things to  do, so I got up and futzed around with the computer and some house projects, then later in the afternoon we went to her office and I helped her with some painting. Last night was a retirement party for a friend in the neighborhood, and the weather had cleared up (it turned into a beautiful evening, actually) so we walked over. Very nice, and we slept like the dead when we got home.

    This morning we both went to volunteer at the Bike Smart Easton bike day.  Anne worked registration and helmets — every kid gets a new free helmet — and I helped with bike safety checks. It was a very busy couple of hours, and we just got home a few minutes ago.  We had plans for this afternoon, but I think our next step will be a nap.

    Tomorrow we go to visit her sister and family in Tamaqua, and Monday we’re helping Donna and John move, into a house right around the block from us.

  • Things I Remember

    Posted on by Don

    When I was first born, my parents lived on Cortelyou Road in Brooklyn, but in 1964 they moved to 155 East 35th Street (also Brooklyn), which is where we lived until we all moved, in 1967, to the house in Englishtown where my brothers and I grew up. I was four when we moved from Brooklyn, but there are a few things I remember about East 35th Street. I happened to look up the address the other day in Google Maps, and here are a few memories it triggered:

    • If you went out the front door and turned left, there was a much busier road (Church Avenue, according to Google), and on the corner was a small deli or general store, with a small group of older kids typically hanging around outside. Maybe the place/kids had a disreputable nature, or maybe it was just what a mom would tell a 3-year-old, but I was instructed not to go up to the corner.
    • There was a small, somewhat grassy backyard, longer than it was wide. Looking from the back of the house, the far back left corner was a bit of a jungle, and the next door or rear neighbor may have used his part of the corner as a yard-waste pile. There were sometimes fallen blossoms on the ground (purplish, like maybe rose-of-Sharon) from a bush right there, and sometimes a rotting-vegetation smell, not your typical one but one I’ve smelled, rarely, on other occasions, and I have associated it ever since those backyard days with “silkworms.” I was fascinated by that section of the yard.
    • Looking at the house from the backyard, there was a small, cement stairway on the right, down to a basement entrance. The building superintendent or maintenance guy lived down there. He was Italian, I’d guess now, maybe in his late 30’s or early 40’s, but thin and a bit sickly looking, with thinning hair or maybe a widow’s peak, and dark or sunken eyes. I guess he freaked me out a little, like how a little kid would be nonplussed about a stranger. I remember making eye contact with him once as he came up the stairs — the shocked recognition in his eyes as he saw me being freaked, and the air of defeat in his face and body as he averted his eyes.
    • I remember Kevin and I once playing on those stairs — maybe I was down a step or two and he was in the grass, on a hobby horse or something — and we were arguing about whether I was still older, even though we were now both three.
    • I remember the kitchen. (Just the other day I saw the same chair with built-in step stool we used to have.) I remember being in the kitchen when my dad got home from work, and sometimes he’d have  little toys for us.
    • I remember my mom was giving my brothers and I a bath — this may have been Englishtown — and I remember our questions, and I remember her trying to explain the Vietnam War to us.

    Looking back, it seems that my memories were mostly visual. I remember what people may have said, but I have no real auditory memory, or maybe just the vaguest hint of any sounds. I also remember a lot of thoughts of my own, or at least having those thoughts, which internally expressed were semi-verbal, but they never came out of my mouth.

  • Almost-Weekend Update

    Posted on by Don

    Morning weigh-in: 187.5#, 13% BF

    Just thought I’d check in, and brag (I was pushing 200# in March)…

    The Sporting Life: The bike training continues apace, by the way. I’ve seen some definite improvement, in strength mostly. Endurance, not so much, but it should be coming. I have started riding Lehigh and Sals again, and I even broke out the singlespeed last night for Jacobsburg. What I really need is long road rides, sigh.

    Meantime, Anne and I also signed up for the Hersey Half Marathon in October. Her sister, and a bunch of her nieces and nephews are doing it too. I should — hopefully — be ready in time.

    Reading: I just finished The Mathematician’s Shiva, by Stuart Rojstaczer. Very good book, an awesome, well-written and well-structured read, with a great story — by turns funny and heartbreaking — with a lot of interesting math and science tidbits thrown in. It’s the story told by a professor of his mother, a towering figure in the world of mathematics who passes away, and the chaos that descends on their family when all her former students, acolytes, and adversaries come to pay their respects. There are also many jumps back to her early life, her work in mathematics, family history and dynamics, and academic and international politics. Just a really good book.

    RIP Joe Martin: I had a funeral of my own to go to recently. My cousin Joseph Martin passed away a few weeks ago. He’d been suffering for many years with Huntington’s Disease, and had been institutionalized and bedridden for probably the last fifteen, and now his struggle is over.  So sad, he was one of my older cousins, just two years older than me, and was the one I studied, as a pre-teen and teenager, for what “cool” was supposed to look like for me in a year or two.

    The wake and funeral were both in his home town on Long Island, and many of his old friends and hockey teammates came, as well as a large portion of the Long Island side of my Dad’s extended family. The funeral home was just up the block from where Joe grew up — the last time I was there was 2002, for his mother’s funeral, and he was buried in the nearby cemetery with his mother. My cousin Wayne came up from Florida; he brought the ashes of his parents, and after Joe’s service we had a small ceremony at the cemetery, where they will be buried with their daughter, my cousin Suzanne who died at 19 in 1967. (We stood around and marveled at the massive trees that weren’t even there when she was buried.) A sad day, but one with a bit of closure, and it was good to see so many of my relatives, and hear so many stories…

    GRAMPS, QGIS, Postgres: All that family talk, and all the photo albums that were bandied about, got me thinking about geneaology again, so I got that GRAMPS program up and running, and started updating what I had in there. I have about 250 people listed, but for many of them I don’t have much information other than where they fit in the family tree. Birth dates, death dates, where they lived or worked or got married, even for relatively close relatives I’m missing information. Working on it, along with everything else I’m fussing with.

    It’ll be a whole other post, but I’ve also been playing with Geographic Information Systems using GRASS and QGIS (mostly QGIS), and that led me to start messing around with databases. I’d already installed and played with MySQL for a while, but even if it’s everywhere MySQL is not all that advanced (especially for GIS), and so I also got PostgrSQL/PostGIS up and running.  I played with those for a bit, but sort of ran out of interest. Until…

    I started thinking again about one of my pet peeves (lack of information about old family photos), and since I was hyped up about metadata after reading a book about it, I thought I should be able to do something to capture or store that information, especially electronically, when or if they got scanned. (I’m talking about who took the picture, when/where it was taken, who are the people in the photo, stuff like that.) Anyway, there are all sorts of methods, including embedded metadata in the image files (like EXIF data for digital photos, only these are XML-based and show different info); even GRAMPS could be used with a little work, but I finally decided on a Postgres database using LibreOffice Base to be the front end. I have been on a steep learning curve — mostly LibreOffice, and mostly YouTube tutorials with droning voice-overs, so I do it when Anne’s not around — ever since.

  • Wrong On Many Levels

    I was driven indoors with all the recent snow and cold weather, and set up my road bike on the trainer in the basement. I hadn’t done all that much so far, but the other night I decided — dammit! — to finally get in a workout, and to make it more palatable I’d listen to a RadioLab podcast.

    Big mistake. I should clarify that it wasn’t a terrible failure in terms of riding the trainer, since it did make the time go faster, but I was forced to a realization I’d been moving towards for a while: I just don’t like RadioLab all that much. Back in the day, it seemed to have a good premise, and the shows seemed interesting and scienc-ey, but there was always something that seemed off, some side comment that they liked good stories better than the truth (what science buff would say that?), and their production habit of letting a guest speak a few words before fading out and having the hosts radiolabsplain, and their slow drift from science-related stories to whatever it is they’re now pushing.

    The podcast I listened to was about a woman hired in the 1960’s to teach dolphins to speak English — she actually lived in a half-submerged apartment, with an adolescent male as her subject and roommate. The institute doing the research was led by  a former physicist, who had once heard what he thought were human-like sounds coming from captive dolphins, and who was also an enthusiastic consumer of LSD for “research purposes” — one of those guys, in an era full of them…

    Pure hubris and ineptitude. Dolphins can hear and make many sounds, but they are not physically equipped to make the sounds required for human speech (a fact that these guys bumped up against, apparently without noticing), and no matter what their intelligence, their psychology is not human psychology, and “if a lion could talk we wouldn’t understand it,” as the saying goes — a meaningful conversation with a dolphin might not even be possible, in English.

    It was fairly obvious that these people were not really trained in animal research, and eventually there were ethical lapses: the woman managed to keep her boss from giving the dolphin LSD, but she herself had a “sexual relationship” with it. (Bad enough, but if they really thought that the dolphin was a sentient being like a human, then their test subject was a prisoner and their experiments were psychological torture, and the whole thing was an ethical failure.) I wasn’t surprised to hear that the funding dried up…

    Mind you, this whole story was told from a point of view very sympathetic to the researchers. I got off the bike thinking “WTF did I just listen to?”

  • Cairo and Lua and Conky, Oh My!

    Screenshot at 2016-02-14 18:59:19I’ve been playing a lot with the “eye candy” aspect of my computer setup lately. Not sure why, but I really got into the Compiz “window cube” decorations — I now have a whole bunch of medieval alchemy images hiding behind my ordinary screen (a close-up of the Crab Nebula), revealed when I spin the cube.


    I also decided to put a bunch of screenlets, or desklets, or desk accessories, or whatever they’re calling them these days. I found the screenlets program and I really wasn’t all that impressed, but it led me to the program called Conky, which does pretty much the same thing, only much more impressively. The only problem is that Conky has an unwieldy, text based configuration, which in turn can call the Lua programming language to do fancy effects, and Lua in turn uses the Cairo graphics library. I had no idea any of these things existed…


    Screenshot at 2016-02-14 18:58:37So I spent some time learning something about these new languages, and now, besides the floating clock screenlet in the upper right, and a few screenlets for RSS feeds floating here and there, on the right side I have a simple conky reporting my laptop’s hardware stats. I don’t know if I need more than that, but may play with it some more just as a learning experience, and to candy-coat my screen some more.

  • And It Came Down, It Came Down Like…

    It’s coming down like it did 20 years ago, almost to the day — “it” being the snow, and it’s been dumping here since last night around 9:00. I just came in from a second shoveling of our sidewalk and porch, and I’d guess that we already got 24″, though it’s also very windy too, and straight snow depth is hard to tell because of all the drifts. I haven’t even tried digging the cars out yet.

    (The papers have all been talking about the “Blizzard of ’96”  lately, and contrasting it with this winter, which has been snow free and relatively warm up until today. Well, we got our party…)

    Today has mostly been sitting here, playing Internet radio and playing with the computer, and occasionally shoveling. We may try snowshoeing tonight, or cross-country skiing later (or tomorrow), though the snow seems like the wrong consistency. We shall see — tomorrow is pretty much going to be “Winter Wonderland” time; going out right now seems too much like work.