Jan 21

Achterbahn is German for rollercoaster

Meetings this morning. Bike ride this evening. Odd bookends for the day, really.

We tried Innsbruck, on Zwift today. I hadn’t been on that course before. Innsbruck, in Austria, hosted the UCI World Championships in 2018 and now its big climb, a 4.5 mile long category 2 hill, is hosting me. There is a certain course here that’s called Achterbahn. And I don’t know if I’ve ever ridden a German rollercoaster, but you have to admit: now that we’re here talking about it, you’re curious.

This climb averages out as a 5.4 percent incline. It gains 1,311 up to the top. It’s steady. You just put your head down and grind it out. It looks like this. And the larger route I rode today looks like this:

I am, predictably, slow, going up this hill. Delightfully slow. I touched 58 miles per hour on the descent though.

It’s going to be a useful January of base miles. Zwift was a gift, and helps keep me from being miffed about the winter. I don’t have to ride through snow drifts. Also, I can’t ride off any cliffs. When the month is done I may have more January miles in the saddle than I’ve ever recorded for the first month of a year. Wouldn’t that be something?

Some things going on back home. This is one of those Have Nots kind of stories:

That’s just 50 miles from the biggest city in the state, and it’s world class medical system. And from another Haves part of the world, just 129 miles to the north:

Several cities were up to host the Space Force, as you might imagine. And Huntsville makes all the sense in the world. You also can’t help but wondering how deeply Mo Brooks has been involved in this lately.

Speaking of Congress, one of the new members.

His replies are something else. It’s one of those times I wish there was a sorting function. I’d like to see what his constituents were saying his stream. You can imagine the rest, and they don’t matter to a junior member of congress anyway Which is why he won’t reply to this, because I’m genuinely curious.

Sometimes I wonder about the value of ignorance as a positive attribute. Anyone working on that foundation always comes with some combination of self-righteousness, historical illiteracy, contempt, and the utter confidence of perpetual adolescence.

One wonders how people ever trafficking in this stuff ever get elected. A former newspaper publisher friend of mine had the best idea about that. Essentially, he said if you beat down an electorate enough over a long period of time, they figure this is the best they can do. This is what they deserve. Ignorant representatives.

It is its own sort of rollercoaster, but with fewer thrills.

Jan 21

Sing and sing and sing and sing

I finished reading Jon Meacham’s Songs of America. Yes, Tim McGraw is listed as a co-author. He did contribute some sidebars. They were included in the book. For the most part it wasn’t clear why. Meacham doesn’t need the help with history, and maybe twice McGraw contributed something to our understanding of the music. (And he’s certainly capable of doing that, but it didn’t really pay off here.

It was a lot more like the guy at the next table over just offering his opinion on a song you just played him. Maybe he knows it well. Maybe it sparks a memory from long ago. Maybe he’s hearing it for the first time. And he figures, well, since you’re talking about it and played it for him, he should probably offer a paragraph or two of thoughts on the matter.

And that’s what Tim McGraw did. I wondered how this arrangement came to be. It’s Jon Meacham. Which kinda diminishes McGraw, who has three Grammy wins and 17 other nominations among his other honors. He knows music, this is not a matter of dispute. He’s apparently written five other books, and one of those was a bestseller. But here, why was he here if a few sidebars was all he was going to contribute.

And then, at the end, they mention it. They are neighbors.

Anyway, it was an interesting book. You’re going to learn about songs you know. You’re going to discover important songs you haven’t even heard of before. Here are two little excerpts, from Meacham.

Susan B. Anthony had gone down to vote in the 1872 Grant-Greeley election. She was arrested and taken before a federal judge. The judge asked her if she had anything to say after her conviction for … voting.

Ward Hunt was on the U.S. Supreme Court. History doesn’t remember him especially well. He didn’t let her testify, read aloud his pre-written opinion, told the jury how to vote and immediately overturned motions for appeals. Anthony was charged with a fine. She told the judge she would never pay. She never did. Probably you’ve never heard of Judge. Hunt. Everyone learns about Susan B. Anthony, even if only a bit, in grade school.

Just go ahead and play this video while you read the text in next image.

In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution refused Marian Anderson’s participation in a concert at Constitution Hall under a “white performers-only” policy. Ultimately, a lot of DAR members left the organization, including Eleanor Roosevelt who would get the ball rolling for this Easter concert in front of the Lincoln Memorial. The contralto was in full force, a global star. No one knows how many thousands or millions listened on the radio, but one of the estimated 75,000 there in person was said to be 10-year-old Martin Luther King. (I’ve seen one reference on this, but I am struggling to find more.) He’d speak in front of Lincoln 24 years later, of course. She sang from the same spot that day, too.

Senator Mike Braun is from Indiana, and I have a question for him and the others who found themselves in this rickety position this week regarding the cynical political pandering of which he was a part. This was his message last week, and for quite some time:

And then yesterday happened — prior to which he was face-to-face with people in a way that rarely happens and he formalized his Arizona objection — but after the deadly assault, he wrote this:

So, senator, do us all a favor and explain this. You were certain, prior to the seditious raid on the U.S. Capitol, that this objection was something that needed to be done. Now, not at all. You withdrew your objection to the formal vote certification. So which is it, senator? Did you feel the wind change? Or are you that easily persuadable?

And which, in your estimation, is a better attribute for a United States senator?

Nov 20

The cat pictures are at the bottom

I dreamed of my grandfather. I know we aren’t supposed to talk about our dreams because they mean little and hold no interest and this one is going nowhere anyway, but it’s my dream and my site. So, I dreamed of my grandfather. He was coming in the front door of his house. They had a smallish house, but big for its time. And it always looked larger from the outside. I suppose everything does from the perpetual memory of youth. He was a young grandfather, and healthy. He was probably still strong and working.

Most of my life that wasn’t the case. He had a few brain aneurysms when I was in junior high and it laid him low. He was working on his truck, he drove 18-wheelers late in his working life, and something between his brain and his heart just couldn’t get along. I suppose it was often like that for him. He recovered a bit, took some therapy, but I don’t think it really took to him, and that was it. For the rest of my life, into my 30s, he was there in almost every way, but couldn’t care for himself. He’d get dizzy if you stood him up to fast. Someone had to walk him even around the house he built. He was sometimes difficult to understand, which frustrated him, because everything was all in his head, he just struggled getting it out.

It made him nicer, in some ways. More patient. As if understanding his own limitations made him understanding of other things. He was pretty much always nice to me, even as a young grandfather, but I have stories that he’d been a hard man to deal with sometimes. But, after his own body humbled him and he became homebound and his working man’s hands grew soft, so did his personality. He was lovely, and yet still humorously opinionated in the way that old men are.

I wish I could tell you I had some conversation with him in the dream, that he gave me some insight or a sign or a tip on next weekend’s games. (He’d pick Roy Jones in that fight, though, and tell you boxing just isn’t what it used to be, and he’d be right.) But it was just a few images and flashes. It was their house, and I was there, but not modern me. Maybe a me out of time. And the furniture wasn’t really right. And the room was brighter than it ever was. The living room had a dark wood panelling and faced the east and was only light by lamps and the TV. It didn’t matter. Everything that happened in that house happened happened in the kitchen. I assume that’s where my grandmother was in the dream, in her kitchen, but I don’t know.

My uncle was there. And he looked like a younger adult in the dream, too, which meant it would have been the louder, cocksure version of himself, rather than the quieter cocksure man he’d age into. The younger uncle stood at the corner of my grandparents’ living room, where the hall and the kitchen and the living room meet. And for some reason, he had a garden tiller in the house, just sitting right there on the carpet.

Like I said, this dream went nowhere. It’s notable only because I seldom remember dreams, and this is the rare case when I do recall a dream, and it included an important person.

And that’s how my off week begins. It isn’t how my holiday started.

This is a story about the windows in our house. Really, it’s a story about our blinds in our house, which means it’s a story about our house.

I was just talking with a friend recently about the condition of some things. We bought this place from a family of eight. There two kids and a newborn, and some of the walls and doors prove it. I was saying that, some of the scratches and gouges and things, I’d leave, because they tell the story of the place. But some should be fixed, if I had the wherewithal, or a good Wherewithal Guy. One day some of them will be repaired and disguised, but the trick would be deciding which few to leave, to honor the kids that used to be here.

It’s a silly thing, probably, but it seems important somehow.

Anyway, a lot of the windows have blinds we inherited. Blinds are great! Precisely until the moment when they are the worst thing in the world. In the master bathroom there are three windows and in the last year or so I’ve replaced all three sets of blinds. One broken down with age and sunlight exposure — or kids rappelling off the wall — and one of the cats broke the other two sets. I hung a few sets of blinds elsewhere in the house, and that was fun.

You shouldn’t call that fun, because that would be a lie, and your house might be more perceptive than you imagine.

So let me try again. I hung a few sets of blinds elsewhere in the house, and that was a horrible, no good experience that I still dwell on when I’m underneath them.

And so it was that, today, we decided to replace the blinds in The Yankee’s office. Because one of the sets had decided that string tension was no longer a desirable attribute.

Having installed the six sets of blinds described above I can tell you this about blinds: the technology has changed since the last time you went blind shopping. You can’t get those with the raising-and-lowering strings on the right side anymore. These days, you adjust the height of your blinds with your mind! And also your hand, which you place along the bottom of the blinds, which somehow correctly interprets which way you want them to go. Also, whatever old school system of installation your blinds have, is now obsolete. Remember how I just told you I’ve installed six sets of blinds in this house? Well now I’ve installed eight. And there are three different sets of hangars at play.

And since I knew those things, we decided to not just replace the failed set of blinds in her office, but their companion blinds, as well. May as well bring both windows up to code.

What could follow is five paragraphs about today’s chore, detailing the moving of the desk, the removal of the old blinds, the removal of the old installation system — which involves breaking plastic and a stripped screw that I removed with a ratchet. I would have told you all about trying to figure out how the new brackets work with the new blinds, because while I hd two sets, only one came with instructions and, wouldn’t you know, they were in the second box. There is also the discussion of the installation of the new style of brackets, still awkward angles, still aching arms, still eight screws, and at least that many dropped screws.

But I won’t tell you those things. We’re already at 1,200 words and there’s still so much to go!

Somewhere during the evening, though, I remembered the blinds in my office window were also ruined. And maybe, juuuust maybe, the still working blinds from her office would fit mine. Not every window is the same size. That’s something you don’t often think about, but that’s something you can ponder the next time you’re locked down.

So, I retrieved her used-but-good blinds, which were ready to be disposed of, and tried them in my office. Same hanging system, meaning, quite possibly for the first time in the history of window covering systems, an easy installation. And here they are:

They look great in my window. I think I’ll keep them, and never touch them so they can’t break.

On Mondays in this space we check in with the cats. I am pleased to report they are both doing splendidly. A few weeks ago Phoebe enjoyed some time in these old grocery sacks.

And two weeks later Poseidon discovered them, as well.

I’d fold up the sacks and put them away for some future use, but they clearly belong to the cats now.

More tomorrow. Until then, did you know that Phoebe and Poseidon have an Instagram account? Phoebe and Poe have an Instagram account. And don’t forget to keep up with me on Twitter and on Instagram. There are also some very interesting On Topic with IU podcasts for you, as well.

Nov 20

A semester’s production wrap up


Nov 20

A note 10 years in the making

On Saturday we went for our bike ride and it was 46 degrees. I had on a pair of full finger gloves, two pairs of socks, a wind jacket and a DIY gaiter I made out of a toboggan. In perfect pitch with the season, it was gross and rainy. But right on this stretch of road something neat happened.

So every mile for the rest of the year — including the last three or so on that ride — marks a new personal best.

Why, yes, I do have a spreadsheet charting these things. Doesn’t everyone? Previously, 2013 was the best year. We did a lot of racing that year and I was starting to pile up solo miles to make up for losing out on the second half of 2012. And, I think, somewhere in those solo miles I started to see my riding as something that was mine, a carefree interlude from the rote things that control so much of our lives. Because of the triathlons I was in the pool twice a week and running several days a week and riding as much as possible. Between that and excessive work hours and the ridiculous commute I came to think of it as My Own Time. Which is, I know, a radical way to think of one’s free time.

I remember the view from the ridge I was on when the realization came to me: this is you carving out something for yourself. It was a disproportionately powerful realization; this thing that you do for fun is something you actually do for fun. It’s a conscious realization of agency you’ve always had.

One day it’s going to take, too!

Clearly the endorphins were out of whack that day.

A person’s interaction with their bike can be one of the most passionate relationships they have. It can sometimes be a mercurial one. A few years ago I ran cold on the idea of bike riding. It was something to be checked off the list before I could do other things. Almost sounds like a chore, doesn’t it? It got to that point and, suddenly, the thing that used to be an interlude was an interruption. It wasn’t my thing. It was, of course, interrupting nothing. I saw it, recognized it, and knew it. Still haven’t remedied it, but clearly I’m tapping out a rhythm to my own drummer over here.

By a curious coincidence that same year, 2017, was when my form, such as it ever was, started to vanish. It was subtle, but obvious. Couldn’t go as hard for as long, or as fast as suddenly as I once did, and so on. These are all things that are, of course, very relative. The important thing is that it happened and I noticed and it’s never been recovered.

But hey, that’s age, and not enough talent, or time. And, like any relationship, you have to put in the time. It doesn’t hurt if you bring a little innate talent to the thing, or want to work on it, besides.

I go back and forth a lot; its a thing on the list, it’s a thing I do. It’s a thing I have to do; it’s a thing I want to do more. Still trying to figure it out. I always take the ride, but the consideration always seems to be there. This isn’t, perhaps, about my bike riding at all. A year or two ago (who can even tell?) I made a Things I Want To Do List. The idea being these weren’t the tasks one must muddle through to achieve, but the things one does because they are pleasant. I spent some time on the list. There were a few drafts, as I found the proper rank order for all the common contingencies and considerations, because you should do that for your list of enjoyments. At the top of the list was “Ride your bike: whenever the weather is good.”

Maybe the solution is a lot more of those long, meandering rides that take place just because they can.

So, almost any sunny day we get for the rest of the year, because I’ll have some availability and because I am now in every-mile-is-a-new-record mode, I hope to have a little time in the saddle.

It will take many pairs of socks.

I say sunny because, otherwise, you’re just going to get glorious views like this.

Isn’t that inspiring? Doesn’t that make you want to get out there and do … something?

Like install blackout curtains through mid-March or so?

This week’s forecast includes some actual sun. I’ll be sequestered in the office. I was on work from home duty today, but tomorrow it’s back to campus. And next week, I’ll be back at the home office, or at least at the house.

Today I edited an interview I’m publishing tomorrow, caught up on email, and generally prepared for this last week of in-person work.

Most crucially, I started charting out what the next several weeks of work from home will look like. And, happily, there will be things to do. There are always things to do.

OK, perhaps that wasn’t the most crucial thing. I also had a Zoom meeting about some upcoming stories that students are reporting on. I think I may enjoy those more than they do, but I hope my participation is at least in some way useful for them.

Also, I got two new tires for the car today. I’d developed a slow leak in one that was going bald anyway, and the other wasn’t far behind. So I drove over to the tire place and put on my mask and nodded at the “Must wear a mask” sign on the door and walked inside.

And I immediately noticed that a good mask does not filter out the peculiar smell of unused vulcanized rubber. A guy was on the phone in the back office. He saw me, finished the call, hung up and put his mask on. The Boomer sitting in their chairs waiting on his car to come down off the lift did not have a mask on.

I’ve really had it with this sort of thing.

So the guy working there asked me what I needed. We went and looked at the car. He drove it into their work bay. I said, You know, it’s a nice sunny late afternoon. I’m just going to stand out here if you need me.

“I don’t blame you,” he said.

What I didn’t say, and I don’t know if he inferred, was Because I don’t want to sit around that guy, or your unmasked coworkers.

But I took his response to mean that he knew what I was on about.

So I enjoyed the sun in a medium-light jacket and caught up on some current events and began wondering if I should scale that Sisyphean exercise back next week, when my car came down off the work lift. Inside, to pay, I saw that the unmasked Boomer was thankfully gone. Two of the unmasked employees were right there. And I mean, right there.

So I left just as quickly as I could. Used their hand sanitizer — I see it like water in the South, now. If it’s on offer, you take advantage of the opportunity — and got to the car and used mine, wiping down the wheel and the door features and so on, just to be sure.

I rolled down the windows, because it was, in fact, a lovely afternoon, for a few blocks to let any cooties escape. And I listened to the hum of four good tires on the road.

By the time I got back to the house it was growing dark once again. So I set about doing a few household things until dinnertime. It was the productive Monday I’ve been trying to have for the last several Mondays, really. And there’s some satisfaction in that.