Feb 24

There are only 29 days, so let’s get through February quickly

Here’s that three berry granola — “sweet strawberries” and “bold blueberries” and plain ol’ no modifier needed “cranberries” — that I tried yesterday. It was maybe almost too sweet. So, today, I added raisins. The raisins helped.

So now I’m wondering if raisins should be added to the list of highly versatile foods that make most anything better. Should they?

Right now the list is bacon, honey and … maybe raisins? Their universality is probably ranked in that order, too.

Anyway, tomorrow’s new granola is the fourth in the series, the final new variety in this first round of the experiment. The key ingredient is the humble, yet exotic, blueberry.

Today, I did the first-of-the-month computer chores. The Desktop needs to be cleaned. And so does the Download folder. I updated the website’s spreadsheet, which I only get around to doing every four or five months or so. It’s more satisfying that way, watching the hits climb more quickly.

The original version of this spreadsheet was just one column of monthly data points, but this is a column recording almost 20 years of numbers, and has become unwieldy. So I broke this up into years. It’s easier to do pointless comparisons that way.

For instance, now I can easily see that 689,000+ visits rolled into the site last year. (For reasons that will always escape me.) Last year was my best year yet! And my third consecutive years of a half-million plus. I can quickly see that 2021 was better than 2022. I guess everyone got busy again when they stopped pretending Covid was behind them. I can also see that I’ve been over a quarter-million every year of the last decade. And my three best months all took place last year, October, July and November, respectively.

Would you like to know which January was the best January of all time around here? Last January, of course. January 2024 was the third best January. And now I can determine all of that at a glance because I spent a few moments formatting the cells of the spreadsheet to include commas.

All of those things I learned in a class somewhere along the way in high school or college are coming right back to me.

Speaking of statistics, spreadsheets and numbers that don’t matter to anyone but me — and to me, only barely — it’s time to tabulate what I did on the bike for January. This chart represents simple mileage accumulation.

That red line shows what I did in January of last year. Last year was my most prolific year in terms of miles. And January 2023, the output ever so humble, was my second most prolific month ever. (Bested only by November, of last year …) The green line represents a simple projection: the mileage I’d accrue if I rode 10 miles a day.

The blue line is reality. As you can tell, I’m well above the 10 miles per day average, and charging toward the 2023 trend line.

I wonder what this ridiculous little chart will look like at the end of the year.

I don’t have 11 more months of photos from our recent trip to Cozumel. But I still have quite a few that we’ll see together. And, then, I suppose we’ll just have to go diving again. Maybe she’ll breathe on the next dive.

But, before that, another filefish on the Palancar Reef.

Here’s some coral that is, sadly, dying.

Staghorn coral is some of the fastest growing coral in the western Atlantic, up to eight inches a year, and there have been some encouraging restoration projects underway. While we’ve lost a great deal of their population in the last 40 years, there is some encouragement that they can repopulate, with careful attention.

Here’s another great stoplight parrotfish, or, as I like to think of them, the inspiration for 1990s sneakers.

If I knew anything, anything at all, about that industry, I would absolutely start a line of shoes that were reproductions of reef fish color schemes.

I call this one “Sand.”

I’m not sure why I took that, but it’s near the end of a shallow dive, and there was nothing there. So, you see, it was a profound statement on a day without diving.

Is it time to go diving yet?

Jan 24

That was some sunny day

It got up to 42 degrees here today. And, for the best part of the day, it was sunny. This, I think, is why I have the unshakeable and mistaken feeling that spring is just around the corner. It’s the sun. I’m in recovery from years of the midwest’s monotonous gray skies. Right or wrong, early or on time, I look outside and think, it’s coming.

“It” being spring.

But it’s not. Not yet. We could be two months out from spring, somehow, but I see green grass and blue skies and shadows and I smile. I smile and I wait and wonder.

Where I park on campus I have to go through a little security checkpoint. There’s a guy in a hut and he’s looking for a sticker on my car. The guy that works the evening shift is an older gentleman. Quick with a smile and full of good patter. Every time I see him my goal is to make him laugh. I don’t think he gets a lot of that in his work role, because he’s always the one delivering the cheery spiel and the interactions may be plentiful, but they’re necessarily brief. So I try to bring a joke, or an unexpected reply to a gregarious man who has one-liners down to an art. But when you get him, he’s got a fantastic laugh. I asked him if he, too, thought it felt like spring. Two more months, he said.

I was afraid of that. But I smile and I wait and wonder.

Tonight in class we talked about some of the work of Lev Manovich and Jurgen Habermas. The students get Habermas pretty well. Manovich is a bit of a mystery, but they come around. We also talked about Photoshop, because that’s coming up in class.

I start this spiel like this. You don’t have to know everything about Photoshop for this class. You do need to some things, and we’ll touch on many of those. We have terrific tutorials available to you online, and I’ll try to one-on-one with you, if it might help you. I tell them they can follow along on the incredible tutorials and spend 19 hours and be well-versed. I tell them the way you learn this program is by doing, and that there are several ways to do the same thing, which comes down to preference and your efficiency. I tell them I have been using Photoshop for a quarter of a century, now, often on a daily basis, and I don’t know how to do everything. Don’t sweat it. You learn as you go.

I say, if I were a gambling person I would bet you a dollar that I will learn something about Photoshop, this program I’ve used for 25-or-so years, in the course of this class. And so then we do a few things on the big screen — which the students tolerate, I’m pretty sure.

In the new version of Photoshop there are mini-tutorial videos built in. You mouseover a tool or a panel and this little box pops up. You can play a short video that gives you an overview. It’s well done. I point out a few of those. And then, on the third one, I actually play the video. It runs 52 seconds. Tutorial demonstrated.

And then I say to the class, “Remember how, about 10 minutes ago I said I would learn something about Photoshop? Just did.”

Big laugh. Human element of the class instructor established. Another thing crossed off the To Do List.

Back underwater. It is a mild winter here, but I’m still in Cozumel in my mind.

Check out this anemone, which the divemaster is helpfully pointing out.

Look who is strong!

In an upcoming post, I have a great and impressive anecdote to share about strength underwater. So keep coming back to look for that.

But, for now, here’s another mysterious brown bowl sponge.

Or, if fish are more of your thing, here’s a closeup of a sergeant major.

And this is the saddest site you can see on a good dive. You’re tank is running low, and you’re having to ascend on an afternoon dive.

I’ve got another good six, eight minutes of air there, guys.

(For some reason, I suck down the first third of a tank like I’m never going to breathe again, but I can stretch out that last 1,000 or 1,200 for longer than anyone would think possible.)

It probably has to do with heart rate. So let’s talk about cardio. Since I last talked about riding my bike, last Wednesday, I’ve covered 164 miles, and am on a nice little streak of six consecutive days with a ride. My legs are starting to notice, too.

One of those rides was in virtual Scotland. I saw the virtual aurora borealis.

A friend of a friend has a wife who seems … I only met her briefly, once, several years ago. She leaves an impression and it might be the wrong one altogether. Anyway, we were talking about Alaska and she was talking about the shopping there and what there is to do and what isn’t there, and all of those sorts of conversations are insightful about a place, because you can learn new things, and a person, because you can learn what they value.

She found the aurora borealis to be utterly boring. And the malls, too.

I have never seen the aurora borealis in person, but whenever there are photos, videos, when a news story pops up, or when I see them in virtual Scotland, I get a good laugh.

So boring.

Anyway, with any luck, in a few days I’ll set a new personal mark for most consecutive days riding. This is the sort of thing that means nothing to anyone, but the person doing it. Eventually, it won’t mean much to that person, because there will be other goals to achieve.

If my legs keep working.

Tomorrow, we’ll see how January worked out, mileage-wise. The cycling spreadsheet returns for 2024.

Jan 24

I am trying a new thing, a shocking new thing

I’m trying a new thing. That’s unusual. But let me back up. I don’t know anything about this. But let me back up further. Maybe two Christmases ago, I got a gift package from the Butterfly Bakery of Vermont. It was the Guster tie-in, you see. I had received the Gustard the year before, and it was good. I didn’t think I would like it, but it’s great on burgers. The complete gift package includes a hot chocolate, the Gustard, the Fa Fa Fire hot sauce (maple rum chipotle) which I’m working up to trying and Gusternola.

Let’s learn about Gusternola.

We made this warm hug of a granola in collaboration with Ryan Miller, Guster’s lead singer and fellow high functioning weirdo. A portion of all proceeds benefit Zeno Mountain Farm, one of the greatest places on Earth.

Organic gluten free oats*, pure Vermont maple syrup, organic coconut, organic coconut oil, organic pumpkin seeds, brazil nuts, organic quinoa, vanilla, organic brown rice flour, sea salt, organic cinnamon, organic ginger, organic cloves, organic cardamom, organic fennel, organic fenugreek, organic nutmeg. Contains nuts.

A few weeks ago I finally got around to trying it. First off, it’s a 9.6 ounce bag, and the service size is ridiculously small. I got a couple of breakfasts and an odd late dinner out of it.

But the granola was quite tasty.

I was about to order some more from the bakery in Vermont — and I will — but I decided to try some other granola varieties, because Gusternola was my first ever granola.

So, yesterday, I went to the grocery store and stood in the breakfast cereal aisle and studied the offerings. There was a whole section. I got several different kinds. Today, I tried one, which is the first one I picked up.

I tried it first because I picked it up first, and firsties mean something. Also, I figured, it would be most like the Gusternola. And it’s pretty close.

It’s not as good, but pretty close. It’s mass produced, and cheaper. And the ingredients list is close, but there are a few things missing that is in the now high water mark of Gusternola. Plus, it is made somewhere in Oregon. I’m sure Oregon has great granola, but what if Vermont’s granola is just better?

If anything, the syrup here might be a bit too sweet. (This is a big note coming from me.) It is almost acrid. But I have an experiment to try to counteract that for tomorrow.

Anyway, I picked up four different types of granola. This should give us something to dissect for a week or two.

Unrelated, we sure do get some strange looking icicles around here.

We heard one of those fall, during a particularly intense part of a television show — the new and overwrought True Detective — and that didn’t set every human sense to “hyperalert” or anything.

But wait’ll you seem them melt!

This is the 22nd installment of We Learn Wednesdays, where I ride my bike across the county to find the local historical markers. This is the 41st one we’ve seen in this series.

And this place is named after John Fenwick who opened the first English settlement established in this region. He came from money, got married, had three kids, lost his wife, got remarried. He landed here in late 1675. Three days later, on October 8, 1675 Fenwick, a Quaker, recorded a land deed with the local Lenape Indian tribe. He gave his new home the name of New Salem, meaning peace.

It wasn’t always named after him. This place was built as Ford’s Hotel in 1891. In 1919, it was converted to Salem County Memorial Hospital to memorialize WWI soldiers and sailors. The hospital was opened with 30 beds and 12 physicians and surgeons worked there. They treated 1,093 patients in their first year. The hospital was moved in 1951.

In 1989 the building was renovated as the “Fenwick Building.” It’s used now as county government offices. Thirty-five years is a long time after a renovation for local government office space. But it has the all important plaque.

In the next installment of We Learn Wednesday’s, we’ll visit the location of an old jail and market house. If you’ve missed any markers so far, you can find them all right here.

Before that, though, let’s go back underwater. Here, you’ll find a ray, a puffer, a butterfly fish, a black triggerfish, a beautiful scrawled filefish and much more!

If that isn’t enough, we’ll have more photos from the waters off Cozumel tomorrow.

I haven’t mentioned it, but I have been able to spend a fair amount of time on the bike recently. On the bike, which is on the trainer. Anyway, 80 easy miles in the last three days, which isn’t that much.

Twenty of them were in London yesterday, 43 of them were in a fake world, today, but I did a very real 20 mph pace over the route which, for me, is substantial. Tomorrow, then, is a rest day. After which, I’ll try to achieve another long streak of consecutive days in a row — a humble number I set last November. You will, no doubt, be riveted.

Jan 24

A long bike ride, shallow fish and old history

I’m trying, now, to slip back into the ol’ routine. We got back into town around midnight on Sunday, and at about 3 a.m. I was able to get to bed. I have no idea why everything took so long that night, but that meant Monday was a day spent moving through syrup. Plus the snow. And then Tuesday was a bit more of that. The last part of my sinus allergies, something I brought home from Cozumel, started to … de-allergize themselves yesterday. Breathing is fundamental.

Also, there’s the usual series of small things that need to be done. House things. Work things. Prep things. And so on. It’s amazing how quickly the little things will fill a substantial chunk of a day.

Also, I got in my first bike ride in 10 days. I did 50 miles, which gives you a lot of cool sites. Some of them are views I am sure that are new to me. I feel like I’d remember Mr. Crank’s Crab Shack.

But nearby, a lighthouse that I’m sure is familiar.

New on Zwift, or new to me, at least, are these climbing portals. I tried one, and entered into a quantum realm. I’m not sure the point, except for “up.” I think I climbed about 3,000 feet. Trainer feet. That’s not a real climb. You just keep turning over the pedals, no matter how slowly, and grind your way up. It’s never as much of a grind as a real climb. And I can’t fall over.

Not in the quantum realm.

Here’s today’s quick return to the underwater realm. And here’s Aquawoman. Still no bubbles; still not breathing.

I’m pretty sure I’d intended to just take a photo of this brown sponge bowl. I noticed the purple sponge cluster in the foreground, but I didn’t notice the one in the background until just now. And I’ll never know what was inside of that one.

The scrawled filefish, (Aluterus scriptus). It can be found all over the world, the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, and in that Caribbean-Gulf of Mexico region too, of course. Typically, this is a shy fish, so we’re lucky here.

It also has a toxic chemical inside, the scrawled filefish, that is significantly more potent than the puffer fish. The likelihood of it causing you problems is more from intravenous introduction, rather than digestive, so don’t let that fish give you an IV.

Here’s another beautiful reef dweller, the queen triggerfish, (Balistes vetula). Carl Linneaus described it in 1758. It can be found all over the Atlantic and, in the western hemisphere, from Canada to Brazil and beyond.

That fish might also be in the quantum realm. It may have come to that reef directly from that other plane. It did seem to suddenly appear, and never let me get close. I have three shots, of the queen triggerfish, and that’s the best of the bunch.

But I was more interested in what was hiding among the coral and sponges anyway. Behold, the giant sea anemone, (Condylactis gigantea). This is an animal, not a plant.

Anemone are often not mobile, but these can move around. And they look delightful, but they can sting predators and prey. The anemone is, itself, a predator. But it’s also a cleaning site for other fish. Smaller creatures will hang around here to clean bigger ones. The smaller fish eat the irritants of the bigger fish. And, also, they provide a bit of protection for the anemone itself. It is a great big set of circles in the underwater ecosystem.

This is the 21st installment of We Learn Wednesdays. I’ve been riding my bike across the county to find the local historical markers. Including today’s installment, we’ll have seen 40 of the markers in the Historical Marker Database. This one marks a home that dates, in part, back to the 17th century.

This is the Alexander Grant House, which dates to 1721, and the Rumsey Wing goes back a few years before. Some of the walls were put up for an earlier structure, so you could say it dates to 1690. This is the home of the county’s historical society. There’s a colonial artifact museum inside, along with the home’s original woodwork. (The historical society is also in three other adjoining buildings.) The Rumsey Wing has some restored features, comprised of some of the original work from other nearby old homes, in the 1950s. All told the historical society maintains thousands of artifacts, displaying a wildly broad array of history, some of it believed to be thousands of years old.

It was originally a one-room home. The first room became a kitchen when Alexander Grant bought it. Finding out about this man is a bit tricky. I did discover his will, dated 1726, where he’s listed as a yeoman. Seems he had 118 acres in a few different locations. I believe he died in 1734 or so.

But let me tell you about John Rock, who was mentioned in that first sign. This is an impressive man. Born a free man in 1825 to parents of few means, they put him through school, which was rare for any child in those days. A teacher at 19, he worked with students eight hours a day and then spent his evenings studying medicine under two doctors and apprenticed for them. He studied dentistry and apprenticed in that field and then opened his own practice. After that, he got into medical school, and became, in 1852, one of the first black men to get a medical degree in this country. By the time he was 27 he’d earned himself a reputation as a teacher, dentist, physician and abolitionist. By 1860, his health failing, he gave up medicine and the mouth and started reading the law.

On January 31, 1865, Congress approved the Thirteenth Amendment. The next day, Charles Sumner, a Massachusetts senator, introduced a motion that made Rock the first black attorney to be admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States. Writing for The Supreme Court Historical Society, Howard University professor Clarence G. Contee had a fine historical summary.

“By Jupiter, the sight was grand. ‘Twas dramatic, too. At three minutes before eleven o’clock in the morning, Charles Sumner entered the Courtroom, followed by the negro [sic] applicant for admission, and sat down within the bar. At eleven, the procession of gowned judges entered the room, with Chief Justice Chase at their head. The spectators and their lawyers in attendance rose respectfully on their coming. The Associate Justices seated themselves nearly at once, as is their courteous custom of waiting upon each other’s movements. The Chief Justice, standing to the last, bowed with affable dignity to the Bar, and took his central seat with a great presence. Immediately the Senator from Massachusetts arose, and in composed manner and quiet tone said: `May it please the Court, I move that John S. Rock, a member of the Supreme Court of the State of Massachusetts, be admitted to practice as a member of this Court.’ The grave to bury the Dred Scott decision was in that one sentence dug; and it yawned there, wide open, under the very eyes of some of the Judges who had participated in the judicial crime against Democracy and humanity. The assenting nod of the great head of the Chief Justice tumbled in course and filled up the pit, and the black counsellor of the Supreme Court got on to it and stamped it down and smoothed the earth to his walk to the rolls of the Court.”

Benjamine Quarles in Lincoln and the Negro concluded the ceremony; “A clerk came forward and administered the oath to Rock, thus making him the first Negro ever empowered to plead a case before the Supreme Court.”

The Boston Journal, the home town newspaper of Rock, was also able to feature the admission of Rock. The correspondent of the paper wrote that: “The slave power which received its constitutional death-blow yesterday in Congress writhes this morning on account of the admission of a colored lawyer, John S. Rock of Boston, as a member of the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States.” The paper noted that the faces of some of the older persons present at the ceremony were knotted in rage. Even papers in England mentioned the admission of Rock into the bar of the Supreme Court. Most of the observers who reported on the act saw it as a giant step in the repudiation of the Dred Scott decision of former Chief Justice Taney. It was evident that John S. Rock had set a great legal precedent. Before the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, Rock had obtained one highly prestigious symbol of the citizenship status of the Negro in 1865.

While in Washington, Rock had attended a session of Congress; he was the first Negro lawyer to be received on the floor of the House. Congressman John D. Baldwin of Massachusetts, former editor of The Commonwealth and of The Worcester Spy, had escorted Rock to a seat. Baldwin was a close friend of Charles Sumner and Henry Wilson, also a Massachusetts politician of some influence. Rock was warmly received by some of the leaders about to shape Reconstruction policies. Unfortunately, as Rock was returning to Boston, he was brought back to reality when he was arrested at the Washington railroad station for not having his pass. James A. Garfield, a Congressman from Ohio and later a President, thereafter introduced a bill that abolished required passes for blacks.

It appears as if the direct illness that brought Rock’s remarkable career to an end began the day before Rock was admitted to the bar of the United States Supreme Court. He had attended the Presbyterian church of the Reverend Henry Highland Garnet, a famous black leader and abolitionist, the day before, on January 31, 1865. He caught cold. He was already in a weakened state of health, and to catch cold in the winter in those days was serious. When he returned to Boston, he had to appear at gatherings honoring him and in the interest of his race. His health continued to deteriorate rapidly.

He never argued before the court, however. In ill health anyway, he died in December 1866 of tuberculosis.

He’d done all of that by the age of 41.

Contee wrote much more about Rock in the Journal of the National Medical Association. Still can’t find more on the mysterious, colonial, Alexander Grant, though.

In the next installment of We Learn Wednesday, we’ll take a glance at a 19th century hotel. If you’ve missed any markers so far, you can find them all right here.

Jan 24

All a part of getting things done

I got so much done today. Had a nice long chat with a colleague, a man passionate about the work he’s doing. And for good reason. It’s important work, and I share his enthusiasm. We talked for 80 minutes, and I think he would have gone on a fair amount longer if I didn’t give him the ol’ “Thank you for your time. This has been helpful, and you’ve been so generous.”

All of that is true. Everyone I am working alongside here has been all of those things, generous with their time and efforts, helpful to a pleasantly surprising degree and very much invested in the work they do. I suppose I have, on balance, always been quite fortunate in this respect. Here, it seems like a constant. Having colleagues like that always makes your work easier. And so I am grateful that a guy who could have done anything else with his Thursday spent almost an hour-and-a-half letting me pick his brain about the minutiae of particular assignments.

I also updated a syllabus and coursework for the new semester. Started looking for new reading materials for a class. And on and on like that for most of the day. It always takes a little longer than I think. There’s always a little more to do than I realize. I inevitably have to put some of it on the list to deal with on my next pass. There’s only so much you can do at one time.

Perhaps the best news is that I’ll only have to redo perhaps 15 percent of the work I’ve done this week.

Small victories can sometimes be found in the smallest obstacles.

Like, for instance, this bike ride I did this evening.

Strava says this was the sixth biggest ride I’ve ever done in terms of elevation gain. It was 3,501 feet. Virtual, of course. But my top five rides in terms of elevation gain have all been virtual. Two of those were in one weekend last February. The other three were from the winter of 2021.

None of that means much. Virtual elevation gain is taxing, but it is hardly the same as doing the real thing. For one thing, there’s no risk of me falling over, which will definitely happen on a real climb one day when I am too tired to get my shoe unclipped in time. For another thing, you just keep turning the legs over, no matter how slow that is.

This evening’s first two climbs were fast. After that, it got slow in a hurry.

None of this is pictured from my time in virtual London this evening. But, during yesterday’s ride, I got this from virtual France. I do enjoy seeing that lighthouse.

Yesterday’s 40-miler was faster than today’s 30-miler. More speed on the valley floor yesterday. Virtual climbing isn’t the same as the real thing, but it will sting.