Tuesday


19
Jan 21

Snow video and cats, what the web was made for

I said it would snow, because the meteorologists said it would snow. And so it snowed, light flurries pretty much all weekend. We got maybe two inches out of the deal. Here’s some video proof:

And here’s some slow-mo snow, ponderous precipitation, facile flurries:

It was melting away in the early afternoon, yesterday, but more flakes fell, amounting to little of nothing and that will be the last of it for a while. Sun and clouds for the next few days. And Thursday we might hit 46 degrees! A delightfully mild week seems like just the thing, doesn’t it?

Let’s check in with the cats, who are a handful and just fine, thanks.

Phoebe is checking out something on that first sunny day we enjoyed after a long stretch of bleh.

Fortunately she was able to work in a bit of sunbathing into her busy schedule.

Poseidon spends a lot of his mornings contemplating the deeper things in life, like ‘What is spotted ball?’

He, too, enjoys the sun. Sitting on the cat tree lets him be taller than you, and he can really fill the frame.

Sometimes I think he understands the idea behind camera sense. Sometimes I think he’s a philosopher cat. Usually, he’s just … we call him high spirited.

Had a great bike ride, going up the Alpe du Zwift. I am so very slow, and it takes me forever. But I did hold off a couple of people the whole way up the mountain. They were the other slow climbers, like me.

Scroll around and look at this climb:

The map looks reminiscent of my Alpe D’Huez shirt, which I am wearing this evening in honor of my massive video game accomplishment. I found the photo function on Zwift, because on a long slow climb, you can discover new things. This is right after the summit:

This was on the descent:

That’s my second hors categorie, or beyond categorization, climb. I am so slow. It actually snowed on the climb. The app showed little drifts of snow scurrying across the road as I huffed and puffed. It has a lot of detail to it.

Twelve mile climb, 3,753 feet of elevation, and an average gradient of 8.5 percent yesterday, and a punchy little workout today, means I will feel them both tomorrow, too.


12
Jan 21

The sun, in all its muted glory

The photosphere is about 10,000 degrees, Fahrenheit, but it’s cooling at that level. In the chromosphere, scientists figure, it is about 7,800 degrees. The light and heat has to travel the 93 million miles here. It takes a little more than eight minutes. And, sure, we’re pointed the wrong direction, but we’re turning back the right way. But, still, despite all of that, the nuclear fusion can’t burn away the clouds for days, days, on end.

Finally, today, as promised, the sun:

Saw that for a few minutes. It was chilly, but bright. If you can only one weather condition in January, you take sunny, because it’s always going to be cold.

There was a meeting! And it was filled with things both new and old! Decisive and not! And nothing will be reframed in such a way that requires any of the substantive articles of the meeting to change! I took notes and everything! A few of them will make sense to me in a month or so.

So … like every 90-minute meeting you’ve ever enjoyed. And then also a lot of email, and some demo reels to review, and a few other light chores to address. So a normal day. Except the sun was out, and so everything was great.

Tomorrow morning starts with another meeting, so we’re back in the swing of things, is what I’m saying.

In the spring of 2019 Wright Thompson came to campus and, at the end of his visit, he talked about his collection of sports stories, The Cost of These Dreams, which had just been released the week before. Someone gave me a copy of his book and I finally got around to pulling it from the To Read bookcase. Yes, I have an entire bookcase of books waiting to be read. Doesn’t everyone?

I keep those books well away from the Have Read bookcases. We can’t have intermingling of texts. It would get too confusing. Why, just this weekend I had to go through all of the books to see if I already had a book I was considering online. (I did.) It was in the To Read bookcase, so I picked that one out for my next read, along with a few others. They’re now sitting on my nightstand, part of a multi-stage on deck system to ease the complaints of the To Read bookcase which is groaning under the weight of paper. It’s a beautiful sound.

I digress. It’s a shame I waited all this while to get to Thompson’s book. He is easily one of the best contemporary sports writers. Take, for example, this little tidbit in a longform story about the New Orleans Saints, which is really about Katrina, which is really about New Orleans, which is really about inequity.

This is part of an 11-graph sidebar arc you could use in a master class. I read it over and over the other night, just to dissect it, to imagine, as you often do, how the story part of it came to be. It would be inappropriate to share the whole sidebar, but here’s the return, where Thompson is describing Charity Hospital. It was a teaching hospital and was, you might recall, utterly neglected after Katrina.

He gets all the details, like any great feature writer. He gets the best quotes and writes about all of the moments in a contemporaneous way, so it’s difficult to determine if he was in the room, or heard about it later through the course of his reporting — which is terrific. The next time I see him I’m going to ask him this: You get people to tell you things, for publication, that you say they have never told to anyone. How?

Sometimes it’s simply because you ask. A lot of it is about the relationship, which is about time. How much time do you have to spend with someone to get them to talk to you like their oldest friend? How long until it no longer seems strange to them that you’ve asked? How much listening does it take to become a professional confidant? This is a particular kind of reporting. Thompson is great at it.

If you like stories and people and storytelling and A-plus writing, buy this book. It’s incredible at every turn. (Except the Urban Meyer story. Some characters are just beyond the redemption of soulful prose.)

Just don’t read it all at once. Read a story, put the book down and come back several weeks later. This isn’t a criticism. Indeed, the writing is easy and the subject matter draws you in. You want to keep reading. Problem is, Thompson, like all great writers, has recurring themes. Being a great writer, they are some of the big ones. So space it out. Think of it as a textual indulgence.


5
Jan 21

A-ha!

This is a lightbulb. I saw it in a bulk mail advertisement and thought I would give them a try. So we got a few for stocking stuffers this year. They are called fireworks lights. They don’t move or make big sounds or change shape or color or anything. They do throw a nice, colorful, half light around the small space of a half bath. So I got a few more and put them in the stairwell. You can still see the stairs, it’s better than a standard yellow light. Now it feels like you are in a movie theater, and so far this week I haven’t stumped a toe. Yet.

Lightbulbs are symbols of brilliant ideas. And so today, having photographed a lightbulb, it seemed important to have an idea.

This evening I did the first stage of something called the Tour de Zwift. I think it’s simply a come-see-the-place kind of gimmick. Ride in many of our venues! Try different styles and distances! That sort of thing. Mostly it’s just a good way to see how slow I am compared to everyone else.

Anyway, the first round of stages are the shorter parts of the Zwift environment. Makes sense. But that’s not long enough for a day’s ride. So after seven quick miles, I figured that was a warmup, and why not do something else.

So I went up.

Which, if you’ll see on the road markings, is the only way. I’ve only had a smart trainer and a Zwift setup for a couple of weeks. And this weekend I went a third of the way up the biggest climb on Zwift, a faithful recreation of Mont Ventoux’s Bedoin ascent, which is universally regarded as one of the more challenging mountain climbs in road cycling.

Which is where I should say a few things. I’m no climber. Also, as noted, I’m slow. And especially so when going uphill. Furthermore, Zwift is fun and probably helpful to the overall cause, but in a few important ways it’s not exactly the same as riding on a road. For the purposes of this discussion, I never feel like I’m about to fall over when slowly trying to go uphill.

So riding up Mount Ventoux wasn’t easy, but most assuredly easier than most assuredly easier than doing it in real life.

Finally, after a long time, because I’m slow, I saw the weather station at the famed summit up close.

It’s just 13 miles up, a little over 22 kilometers, but it’s a long and steady up, up and farther up. These are the average inclines.

KM     Avg gradient        KM     Avg gradient
1     1.9%        12     10.1%
2     2.8%        13     9.2%
3     3.8%        14     9.4%
4     5.8%        15     8.8%
5     5.6%        16     6.9%
6     3.1%        17     6.6%
7     8.6%        18     6.8%
8     9.4%        19     7.4%
9     10.5%        20     8.3%
10     10.1%        21     9.1%
11     9.3%        22     10.0%

It’s not a leg breaking kind of climb, hills shaped like that aren’t especially hard to find. The difference is the distance. And this is definitely cumulative. The distance, the unrelenting nature of the thing, that’s what taxes your muscles. There aren’t many places on the way up where you aren’t asking your legs to pull you up something that isn’t a strain. I spent most of the time in my lowest gears.

Two other things about a trainer ride aren’t quite right. I, of course, stayed at 760 feet above sea level the whole time I was climbing. If I’d gone all the way up to a real-life altitude of 6,263 feet, I would have felt it. Though, to be honest, late in the ride it seemed like the room was thinning out.

What you also don’t experience on Zwift is the wind. Ventoux is a variant of venteux, which means windy in French. They’ve recorded wind speeds as high as 200 miles per hour near the summit. It blows in the upper 50s for two-thirds of the year. And if you get a headwind, good luck. Me, I was dealing with an underpowered ceiling fan.

But I did this. I climbed a digital representation of a legitimate mountain.

On the descent I came back down the giant fast, again feeling nothing like the real world. I’m old enough now to feather the brakes. At about 60 miles per hour Zwift was having trouble rendering some of the graphics during the descent. I just couldn’t wait for those trees to appear, I was ready to be off the bike, cleaned up, have dinner, do the dishes and enjoy some time quality time with the compression boots.

So I can go do it again.


29
Dec 20

Today, some history and a big bike ride

Slept in this morning to the agreeable time of 9 a.m. That had not been my intention. The original plan was to begin the day in the dark, just to get a moving start on the day. Manufacturing enterprise!

But it was after 3 a.m. this morning and I was still manufacturing insomnia, so that played a big part of the sleeping in. The cat, the cat, woke me up. I took him downstairs, so he would not be a distraction. Put him on the cat tree. He promptly went to sleep. Jerk.

I went back upstairs and was wide awake.

So it was a late breakfast/almost-lunch. After which I helped planned dinners since The Yankee was going to the grocery store. Planning out the shopping list is the second worst thing we do every two weeks. Going to the store is, I think, the most annoying thing.

I listed off four or five things and felt like I’d at least contributed to the effort. Manufactured enterprise, finally! Probably she was hoping for 10 or 12 items to add to the list.

While she went to the store, I vacuumed. I tried to vacuum. It was quickly apparent that our over-engineered Dyson was stymied once again by the necessity of sucking things up through the system’s intake port. There’s a little button on the side of the over-engineered Dyson which usually fixes the problem caused by running over something more than 3/16 of a micron. But the button on the side did nothing. Well then. Turn the whole thing off, having its many over-engineered elements break down into their constituent parts in my hand in the process. Turned the vacuum over and realize that my wife, who I’m fairly sure used the vacuum last, actually killed someone with this appliance and tried to dispose of the evidence by the ol’ vacuum-it-up method.

So I performed surgery on the vacuum, cutting out just gobs of hair from the roller where everything is meant to begin, but really ends with this machine. Gobs of hair. I was fully prepared to be grossed out by finding a scalp, while wondering who had been to the house, and what happened to their service vehicle, and how I’d managed to also miss any authoritative followup visits.

Finally the vacuum was cleaned up and freed to suck up debris to an impressively average degree. Kitchen, library, dining room, foyer and living room would now pass inspection, if necessary.

Who inspects things these days?

Just as I finished with the floors The Yankee returned from the grocery store. I confronted her about what I’d seen, and admitted I might now be a willing — or at the very least, an unwitting participant — in something nefarious. (But also clean!)

It was a delightful interplay of conversation, the sort of thing you live for, while you’re putting groceries away. We have a system for that. We bring them both in from the car. She stands at the fridge and I present her all the cold stuff while making silly statements about the haul. When the fridge and the freezer are stocked she stands by the large cabinet where all the dry goods go. The cats, meanwhile, try to climb in the bags, chew on the plastic or sneak into the cabinets.

After everything is stocked, of course, comes a round of furious hand washing.

Then we take Clorox wipes and clean the handles to the fridge and the freezer, the little silver knobs on the cabinets, the door knobs to the garage, the sink fixtures and the button that closes the garage door.

This is my favorite part of the grocery system. Maybe the scientific understanding continues to conclude that contact issues aren’t the biggest concerns with Covid — which, hey, one less thing! — but I’m keeping this part of the system in place. I didn’t come into this thing a germophobe, and hopefully, I won’t emerge a germophobe. But I find that simple act of wiping things down to be a romantic gesture: we are taking an extra step to keep each other safe.

That’s always worth doing.

Here’s something I wonder about. Consider how the family name is an identifier. You might be a Jones, but you are also a Morrison, each of your biological parents family names. You inherited the genes and the good habits and you inherited the names. Now, consider your two grandmothers. Depending on the size of your family, how often you see people, whether you attend family reunions and the like, you might also consider yourself an Adams and a Williams, as well. What about your great-grandmothers maiden names and their own biological families? Are you also an O’Toole and a Glenn? And how far back with this should you go? Biologically it’s all there. But eventually, after just a few short generations for most of us, you probably don’t even know the names.

And it probably doesn’t matter. Names are just identifiers, after all, and only one of them at that. Besides, by the time you get interested in this stuff you probably have a somewhat decent handle on who and what you are. Sure, it’d be nice to have seven generations of medical history to fall back on, but those 19th century diagnosticians were only so helpful.

Anyway, I’d like you to meet Michael. He’s from the commonwealth of Virginia. Lived briefly, perhaps, in Kentucky. He was also a resident of northeastern Alabama for a time. Not sure when he arrived, but he was there in 1822, making his branch of my family tree one of the last to arrive in the state. He moved again and shows up in Illinois in the 1830 census. He died there some years later and is buried in a small, discrete, country cemetery. I discovered him on the web this weekend. And if the Internet is to be trusted (Bonjour!) he would be one of my great-great-great-great-great-great grandfathers.

The other night I followed one of the matriarchal lines and got back to that picture. He was born in 1751 in colonial Virginia. He was drafted into the militia twice. He was at Yorktown, where Cornwallis surrendered. Turns out my great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather helped guard an estimated 500 British prisoners after they quit the field.

He died at 93 in a part of Illinois that, even now, is quite rural. The history of the community doesn’t even go back that far, so it was surely isolated when he was living. That photo, if it is indeed the man, would have been taken sometime in the first five years of the Daguerreotype style of photographs, and he would have been between 89 and 93 there.

You can find digitized versions of these guys wills. To my daughter I leave some land and my pony. To my son I leave some land, and a new sword. To my other son, I leave the land he now lives on and a skillet. That sort of thing. It seems Michael’s father, another man named Michael, sold some land to George Washington’s father. But I bet everyone said that after a time.

I looked up the place where he’s from in Virginia. It’s a nice bit of countryside not far out of modern Washington D.C. I traced his family lines back a few more generations to Ireland. The man that departed the old world for the new apparently left a wide spot in a narrow road outside of Dublin for the wilderness of Virginia. If you keep going farther and farther back on the genealogy pages you learn they were Anglo-Irish. There are a few Sirs. One was a Chief Justice of the Common Pleas for Ireland.

And you can keep clicking, farther back, and farther back, and farther back still and, eventually, time has no meaning and they all came from the Normandy region of France and, before that, some dude who lived in 8th century Norway.

At what point do you start questioning the validity of a well-intentioned, random genealogy site, anyway?

Michael, who’s family name I’d never heard mentioned in relation to my own, until Sunday night, is buried just three hours away from where I’m writing this. Perhaps one day next year I’ll go see the little cemetery where he was laid to rest. I’ll never know what prompted him to move from the places he was in to the places he wound up — people directly engaged in the research have done the heavy lifting and have only found so much information. I’m just skimming websites. Probably the usual reasons: they thought there was something better there at the time.

I got off my bike on the trainer this evening and stood in a puddle of sweat. It was my sweat and no less gross because of it. I was happy to get 30 miles out of my legs tonight.

After 132 miles this last week and 300 miles this month, I am feeling a bit fatigued. These numbers aren’t impressive. I’m a wimp.

I’ve been running a spreadsheet since early November, charting my progress for the year, relative to previous years. At the bottom of the spreadsheet I started doing math. You should only do math of this sort while in the most awkward conditions, but I was in a chair, and so goals were set. And then another, and another. Ultimately, five 2020 goals in all.

The first was always the next century mark, a goal that kept changing every few rides, giving the gratification of achievement and progress. Second, I wanted to set a new personal mileage best for the year. I blew right by the old mark, as I knew I could once I looked at the math.

Up next, I wanted to move mmy annual average from 10 years of bike riding over the median. Crushed it.

So I am now aiming at the fourth goal, getting beyond a big (for me) round number. Then, I’ll aim for a mileage mark that raises my annual average of the last decade to a nice even number. After tonight I have 10 miles and 48 miles to go, respectively, to hit those two marks.

Which is a good reminder to set goals. Acknowledging them makes them achievable, even late in the game.


22
Dec 20

My back. My shoulder. My shoulder and my back.

Pretty low key day around here today. And a pretty day, too. I sat and enjoyed the sunshine streaming through the windows at midday. And we had a nice three-mile walk in the late afternoon, getting back to the house just before the sun went to hide and the real cool temperatures moved back in. It was, during the day, about 45 degrees. It was nice in the sun while you were moving around.

I’m trying to move around a little right now, you see, but only a little. I’ve been nursing some back and shoulder thing, brought on by an awkward sleep on Saturday night. It’s a frustrating and sometimes recurring issue. Also, it hurts a fair amount. But today it has started to improve somewhat! Maybe tomorrow, maybe Thursday, I’ll feel more like myself again.

Fortunately, I am not missing much right now by sitting still — it’s one of those, “it doesn’t bother you if you sit perfectly still, until it does,” sorts of musculature issues.

The cats are great, and seldom sitting in one place for long. This is our weekly check-in with the two Felis catus that run the joint.

Phoebe is really into wrapping paper this year.

She’s a seasonal kitty. Or maybe she’s just into being covered up and hidden. Difficult to tell.

Poseidon has been spending a lot of time climbing on me. Here he is, just this evening, standing on my (good) shoulder and contemplating the ceiling.

And looking down upon us, as a cat is sometimes wont to do.

Everything here is grand. Quiet. Slow. Reading a lot. Resting a fair amount. Accomplishing little else and sometimes pleased by that. Happy to be safe and healthy, and fortunate that so many people we know and care about are healthy, as well.