Saturday, December 31, 2011

paternal obsequies and poetic truth

My father's memorial service was today, the last day of the year 2011. He died on his eighty-first birthday, December 16, 2011. By my count, about 200 people attended the memorial service: mostly friends, some family and acquaintances. My mother is getting a lot of support from her Asheville friends; still, I understand she is planning to move to the Buffalo, NY area to be closer to her daughter, my sister Susan, her only other child. Still, it is good to see all the friends and support she has.

My sister and her husband, my uncle, one of his children (my cousin), and her daughter are visiting, and two couples particularly close to my mother also came to the house this afternoon. After all but family had left, we were talking about how things had gone (for both the death and the ceremony), and there was general agreement that it could have been worse. Someone said, "It could have been worse, but it still can suck," and my mother, who is not given to profanity, said, "Yeah. It sucks underwater."

She was tired, I'm sure, and the phrase "It sucks underwater" might not make literal sense. But there is a poetic sense to it that feels right, and it was my mother's response to the moment. I think it's perfect.

It sucks underwater.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

mug explodes; excellent keyboard believed dead

It's become a tradition in our house that the excellent wife makes chocolate milk or hot cocoa, depending on the season, for the two of us. Last night, I brought my cocoa up to my upstairs computer, and while holding it over the keyboard, the mug of the handle broke. The cup was in mid-air and had not struck anything; I am baffled by why it chose that moment to break, but break it did, spilling cocoa all over my desk and my computer keyboard. I cleaned up the desk, the floor, and myself, and tried to resuscitate the keyboard... but in this last endeavor, I appear to have been unsuccessful. This morning, the CTRL, ALT, and ESC keys are not working, and I cannot open the keyboard to attempt to do a better job of reviving it.

"But Jim, keyboards are, like, $12. Why do you care?"

Because this was not a cheap, disposable keyboard. This was the Unicomp Customizer 101, a descendant of the excellent IBM Model M keyboard, made (in the USA) by the company that bought the rights and machinery to build the old Model M when IBM sold it off.

It's heavy, solidly built, and the keys click with the old buckling spring technology that made the original IBM model M's sought after (and expensive). And it's $79 plus shipping.

And it was a birthday gift from the excellent wife years ago.

I did not need this to happen at this time of my life.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

bike video

One of the riders on the Christmas Eve ride made a video:

(Original here.)

Cool, of course... but I think he's taking us WAY too seriously. (There are good shots of the antlers and that idiot with the long cap, though...)

And, of course, excellent send-up of that piece by Clement C. Moore.

memorial service & family stress

My father's memorial service will be this Saturday, New Year's Eve, at 11:00 am, and that, and the other issues around my father's death, are bringing out the worst in our family relations. Mother and I had an argument over when the excellent wife and I would go down, and she called at 5:30 in the morning yesterday worried that we had decided to come a day later. The excellent wife and I are arguing engaged in continuing discussion about how and when to set some limits with my mother (the limits are going to be set; the question is largely when - how long to wait - and how I'll manage to do it without bursting into a raqe).

I've been telling the excellent wife that I think my family was like a Strindberg play. As far as I can see, he didn't write drama, he wrote documentaries.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

xmas weekend

So far, so good (it's about 2:45 pm Christmas Day as I write this). Yesterday out for a pickup ride with OLPH, about 42 flat miles on the easy side of Route 1. Windier than I would have thought (some of the eleven who started appeared to have trouble in some of the headwinds; with the ones who split off, we ended with seven), and cold: I don't supposed it got above 42F, but it was a good ride nonetheless - and every mile I ride is another four minutes or so that I don't feel too crazy.

Perhaps giving the lie to that "not feeling too crazy", below is a picture of four of us before we left for the ride. The two ladies are wearing antlers in their helmets, the guy on the right has tights loud enough to recharge his cell phone, and the idiot in the red in the middle has wrapped his long, knitted cap over his bike helmet. Who would do that?

Later, off to the Polish parents-in-law for Wigilia (the Christmas Eve celebration that my eighty-or-so-year-old mother-in-law has made her own), with the opłatek ceremony, and the singing of koledy (I can read music, and hammer through the phonics of the Polish without any idea of the meaning; nonetheless, it tickles the parents-in-law to have their Anglo son-in-law singing their old carols), and opening of presents after. Ate too much (well, DUH) and left some of the food behind that we were supposed to bring home - but there's always so much that we're supposed to bring home, I actually got forgiven for the omission. (If we ever have a fight with a Polish family, we're doomed; they'll just "hospitality" us to death. Next time I see you, I'll tell you the only honest Polish joke I know, and it has to do with hospitality and food.)

This morning, up for opening presents prior to going out to breakfast at a local diner (a tradition in our house when we have a holiday we're celebrating alone with each other). I want to brag about one of the excellent presents from my excellent wife. Constant readers of this blog may remember that she went off to Poland this summer while I was cranking through the Anchor House Ride. She couldn't find anything excellent to bring back for me, based on her criteria that it must be Polish, good quality, and not made in China (apparently, the Polacks are farming out all of their grunt manufacturing just as we here in the US are doing). However, while there, she found this logo:

Bank BGZ is supporting a bike team, and the Polish at top translates to, "I love the bicycle". Could she find it on a t-shirt? No; apparently they're not marketing every single minor thing over there yet. So instead, after she came home, she found a t-shirt printer, and had the dratted thing made; the printer found the logo, shaved off the Bank BGZ stuff at bottom, and printed on a t-shirt of the right color gold. I'm just thrilled.

She also get the latest Polish Bike Team jersey:

... as well as assorted other nifty stuff. In return, I got her stuff like a potholder that's also a cow puppet. I definitely got the best of this deal.

Then out to the Washington Crossing Park Re-enactment of Washington crossing the Delaware to take Trenton. We had gone years ago, and it was quite entertaining, despite the fact that river conditions that day made the actual crossing impossible. We went back today with high hopes, which were dashed: the speaker about historical matters was boring and ill-prepared (although his facts were probably good), the actor who played Washington was not engaging (as Washington himself almost certainly was; the excellent wife is an amateur Revolutionary War historian, and quoted evidence that The General was a charming, entertaining man), and they could not get their acts together about the boats - late start, only four oars plied in a boat meant for eight (so the slow progress was probably unusual). I doubt we'll be back.

Soon to dinner for a Christmas meatloaf (which is not a tradition yet, but I wouldn't object if it became one). I've left a message for mother, who is having her first Christmas (and first holiday) alone since the death of my father. Tomorrow not working, but back to the grind; I'll pick up a new pair of glasses (not as scratched as these I'm porting now) and a garage door opener, if the sale is as good as it looks (not to install till the weather warms, but a sale is a sale). Then perhaps to the new Sherlock Holmes movie. It's not really Sherlock Holmes, if you're a fan of Conan Doyle, but it's an afternoon's entertainment.

Here's wishing the best of the holiday to you.

Friday, December 23, 2011

churches closing for christmas?

At the very least, it's counterintuitive, at least to me.

Newsmap is running an article from USA Today saying:

Because Christmas falls on Sunday this year, some churches are opting to close that day so that families can spend the morning together at home.

Among the nation's top 20 largest Protestant churches — as ranked by Outreach Magazine — three will be closed on Christmas, and 10 will be having only one service, The Tennessean reports.

Sure enough, this page from LifeChurch.TV shows services at their locations on Christmas Eve, but not Christmas, and, as I write this, the home page of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta has this text:

Christmas Eve Services
Gather your loved ones and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ with us at one of our Christmas Eve morning services, at 10 a.m. or 11:30 a.m. No services on Christmas Day.

So who, exactly, is taking the Christ out of Christmas? Don't blame it on us atheists!

Or maybe it's a sign that the world really is going to end in 2012.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

the other side

I have this posted on my office door:

"If I could work my will," said Scrooge indignantly, "every idiot who goes around with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips should be boiled in his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!"

... in an effort to make sure all points of view are represented. Solely in the interests of equal time for minority sentiments, I assure you.

a city on a hill

That's what's great about America. It makes me proud.

(I wish I didn't like that picture as much as I do.)

I got it from OurSignal, but there really does appear to be a site at UgliestTattoos.Com, although I went through fourteen pages (before I just couldn't take any more) and didn't find this one. (Now that's tireless research, if I do say so myself. Fourteen pages of ugly tattoos, solely in the interests of proper attribution.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

the true meaning of ...

That's too small, of course; original here.

I've posted twice before from the Calamities of Nature comic, and there's a link in the list on the right. Tony Piro, the originator, has complained that people have stolen and altered his image with neither permission or attribution, and asked that we re-blog. His work is cool enough that I'm happy to oblige.

memorial service stuff

The memorial service for my father is scheduled for Saturday, December 31, 2011, at 11:00 am at St Eugene's Church in Asheville, NC. In lieu of flowers, people are asked to make charitable donations. My father was partial to the Salvation Army, but you may give to your favorite in his name instead.

I have been asked to give an elegy eulogy (an elegy is a poem). Below is my first draft:

Every person has many aspects, and I would like to talk about three aspects of my father, Bill Brittain:

First, he was a teacher. He taught school on Long Island prior to retiring and moving to this area years ago, and then, of course, he taught at the College for Seniors for years; he had students who took courses for no other reason than that he was the one teaching. And, as you think of him, ask yourself: was he ever not a teacher? Even in small groups or in single conversation, he'd start talking about something or other, and a few minutes in, you'd realize that he'd just given you another idea about how things were related, or how one came from another, entertaining you all the while.

Second, he was a writer. Even if you haven't read any of his writing, those of you who knew him as a teacher won't find that hard to believe! The story he told me was that he had read stories in pulp mystery magazines, and decided he could do as good a job, or better. So he tried, and he did, although he gathered a ream of rejection letters in the process. He got good enough, though, that dozens of his mystery stories were published, and later fourteen thirteen of his children's books, one being awarded a Newbery Honor.

Finally, he was my father. He and my mother sent my sister and me to college, and raised us to be the people we have become. That father-child relationship is always complicated; it is never the simple, ideal relationship that Disney would have us believe. But he was there for us. I know that he had a troubled relationship with his own, distant father, and resolved to be engaged more in our lives than the father he had. And I tell you as I stand here, he made good on that resolution. I told him before he died that I hoped that he was proud of what he did for, and gave to, his two children.

My family and I thank you for your presence and your support. We hope we may continue to count on you all.

Feelings are close to the surface in my family; I have argued with my mother, and I expect that my sister will take sides. I expect we will reconcile before the service. And it has taken this long, all of these three-plus days, for me to think anything about my father except how angry I was with him; it is only now, and with effort, that I have been able to remember fun times, or even relaxed times. I did not expect that.

Edit 12/21/11: Mother likes the eulogy; it's a wrap.

Monday, December 19, 2011

christmas blessing

I was going through my old backups from years ago, and found this. I got it in English, and it was clear that the original was Latin, so I translated it back:

There is nothing which I can give you which you have not already, but there is much that, while I cannot give, you can take.

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take heaven.

No peace lies in the future, which is not hidden in this present instant. Take peace.

The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. Take joy.

And so, at this Christmas time, I greet you with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks, and the shadows flee away.

Here's the Latin:

Ave. numquam est quod vobis dare possum quod non habetis, sed multi sunt quod, quamquam non possum dare, potestis capere.

Caelum non nobis venire potest nisi cordia nostri quietum hodie in illo inveniant. caelum capite.

Pax non est situs in futuro quod non in praesenti occultus. pacem capite.

Tristitia mundi praeter umbram. pone hanc, sed intra captu nostri, gaudium est. gaudium capite.

Itaque, in festo nativitatis Christi, vos saluto cum prece quod vobis, nunc et semper, die illusceant et umbrae fugeant.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

thanks for the ride, & stuff.

After hearing the news last night, I really needed a ride today. Our Lady of Perpetual Headwinds had one scheduled, and was planning to do a wicked hilly ride, but showed some mercy with this route (if a ride with 2800 feet of climb can be described as "merciful").

My thanks to her, and to Jen, Joe, John, Matt, Mike, and Ron. I needed a ride today.

On the break, we were met by Dave, who I first met at the Covered Bridges ride, and with whom I've been corresponding. He hasn't been able to ride recently, but he came out to see us anyway. Wow.

Later, I called my sister, who let me in on the plans that my mother has been making to move up near her (these plans have been developing over some time, apparently, but they've been kept secret from me [I don't know why]), and my mother, who appears to be doing everything that needs to be done, surprising herself (but not me).

(And as I was typing this, I've had two emails, two or three calls, and a neighbor visiting with condolences and support. I'm gratified)

Friday, December 16, 2011

he has died

My father died today, his 81st birthday, in the hospice to which he went yesterday.

I updated his Wikipedia page to show his date of death, and to change some tenses to simple past.

I expect there will be a memorial service in the Asheville, North Carolina area after Christmas, to which we will go. My mother is in a bit of shock, as I may be.

I ask my friends and acquaintances to look out for me, and I thank you for your company and support.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

weeks... and not many

Dad's in the hospice now; mother's been told he probably has "weeks... and not many" to live. He sleeps most of the time; he doesn't eat much.

However, mother's relieved and relaxing. She's now worrying about whether (and how) to fix the phone answering machine. She slept through the night last night, she says, for the first time in weeks.

She went to the facility, and likes it. It's got a chapel, gardens, a stained-glass window in the room where my father is. Mother is honest enough to say he's past caring about such things (or possibly even noticing them).

The excellent wife is off to her folks tonight, so I'm having a bachelor night; out to get some junk food when I finish this post. Work tomorrow (Payday! Yay!), then a ride with OLPH Saturday, and maybe another (maybe alone) on Sunday if it warms up enough.

I'll be glad to have something else to write about.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

... back to the place from whence you came, and from there ...

My father will be transferred tomorrow from the rehab center to a hospice. He has declined transfusions and chemotherapy. I have not spoken to him.

My mother seems resigned and relieved. I have been able to make her laugh. She seems grateful for my calls.

The excellent wife thinks my father was keeping it together so that the family could have one more Thanksgiving together. I think she is right.

third time

Still trying to avoid talking about my father, who may go into the hospice today.

Today is one of my Wednesdays off, and got a bunch of chores done: a visit to the Harbor Freight store in Ewing (spent less than $40, which is a success - I go up and down the aisles as if it were a grocery store), then to sign forms to transfer the condo bank accounts (TD Bank is not just nickel-and-diming their individual customers with annoying little fees; corporate accounts are getting pinched, as well), then to Sears to try to order glasses (and how can they have an optical department and not have an optician there? And no evening optician hours? I'll have to scoot in after work tomorrow); then to library.

Home before 1:00 pm, so got a bike ride in today, and Mr. Garmin tells me I just did the Coppermine loop at 19 mph for the third time since summer.

Brag, brag.

post-first-bike-ride speech

THAT was inspiring. Rock And Roll!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

freakangels webcomic

Mostly because I just can't put in another post about my father without gibbering, I want to plug another excellent webcomic. Freakangels was set up as a weekly comic, but I can't keep my interest on something that moves that slowly, so I'd save it up for a few months and read a bunch of episodes at once. It's written by Warren Ellis, a name to conjure with among comics fans, and the visuals, by Paul Duffield, are yummy.

There's a novel called The Midwich Cuckoos, which dealt with a number of telekinetic children all born at the same time; it was made into a movie called Village of the Damned. The argument of the webcomic is this: what happens when all these kids become young adults?

It's been completed for a few months, and it rocks. Check it out.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

won't be coming home

My father's illness is apparently bad; we put him in the hospital the day after Thanksgiving, and despite my mother's telling me he seems to be better, it's pretty clear from talking to her today that he's not. He went from the hospital to a rehab, but he's not eating, and, while he perks up when he has visitors, he sleeps most of the time. Now she's talking about putting him into a hospice. There is no phone he can use, and it's not clear he could use one anyway.

Mother told me he said that he's accomplished what he wanted to, which sounds to me like he's trying to decide his attitude about dying. Mother is scared, and responds well to the small talk that my wife and I provide when we call. She has the support of many neighbors.

My father had a poor relationship with his father, and got little support from him. I had my differences with my father; ours was not an easy relationship, and will never make a 30-minute feelgood TV special. Nonetheless, he did far better for me than his father did for him. I don't know what he would say his accomplishments are. I hope he is proud of what he gave to, and did for, his two children.

weekend update Dec 10-11

Friday 12/9 was an early-out day (one of the perks of my nine-days-in-two-weeks work schedule is that I leave at 2:15 ever other Friday), so I went for my eye exam prior to getting new glasses (I have a benefit that gives me a generous reimbursement every other year). At the eye exam, I was told that although my prescription hasn't changed much, I'm starting to get cataracts. Oh, sheesh. First I'm put on meds for blood pressure (despite losing over 40 lbs and getting all athletic and stuff), then a colonoscopy earlier this year turned up some abnormalities, and now this.

Oh, well. I had heard from Out Lady of Perpetual Headwinds that a friend of hers, transplanted from the Left Coast (worse yet, from Berkeley) was finding all the wrong roads to ride his bike on, and was coming home with fear in his heart and shreds on his left elbow from where the cars were skinning him; OLPH wanted to show him some of our good rides around Sourland Mountain. She asked for some company, and I went along to sweep. We went through a few of our best roads, and stopped at a deli at which there were a few hunters; it turns out they're also interested in land management, not just in nailing Bambi (and several of them eat their kill, which I support).

In the evening, a date with the excellent wife at Five Guys, which she's been craving - she even suggested it for New Years', since we don't go out late, but that's not enough of a date for me). After that, we watched the video of Pittsburgh from the Air, sent to us by high-school friends of mine whom we plan to visit in the spring. If you don't live there, it sounds like a bore, but it had an oddly meditative quality, and I loved it.

Today was cold - colder than yesterday - and Winter Larry, who seemed to make noises like he was coming to lead the ride today, didn't appear. So OLPH led a pick-up route. Some of Larry's regular crew were there, but also three younger guys including two who raced for Rutgers. One fellow left early; he'd underestimated the cold and his gloves weren't up to the weather. The rest of us kept it together until after the break, when we split into two rides: the (mostly younger) fast guys, and those of us who kept it to about 16 mph average (rated speed for the ride).

One more perk: with today's ride, counting my road bike and commuter bike miles, I'm up over 4,500 miles for 2011. That's a lot. I don't know if I'll be able to do that again (there may be life changes; watch this space for details). And the Anchor House ride accounted for only an additional 300 miles: I'm sure I would have done the rest on my regular weekend rides.

Home now; laundry's in, and a chicken is likely to roast later. There are worse ways to spend a Sunday.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

do not try this at home

You may want to crank the volume down a bit.

Skilled, virtuoso BMX riding. I do not ride like that.

(I love the urban skate/bike park in the first part of the video, complete with the excellent graffiti. I wish they were everywhere.)

Friday, December 9, 2011

i love this shirt

From the xkcd store.

(How can it be that I've never plugged xkcd on this blog? It is THE comic for snobs, science nerds, & language geeks. Don't worry whether or not you'll always understand it; you won't. It's OK. Go look up the references; it won't break your brains to go learn something so you can laugh a bit. And if you still don't get it, don't worry; I won't tell. But you WILL get it often enough to make it worth the three-times-a-week visit... or you wouldn't be looking at THIS blog!)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

climate change gloominess

I’ve been in a bleak mood recently, which is probably why the tone of this post will be so dour. I’ve been thinking about climate change, and how America seems to be the only industrialized nation in which a large number of people dispute either the fact of global warming, or that humans cause it, or both. (America is also the only industrialized nation with such a high number of evolution deniers, but I digress.) (I digress! Imagine that!)

This leads me to two lines of thinking. The first is about the hypocrisy of the left on this issue. We regularly spoof the righties on the inadequacy of will-power solutions to the problems of unwanted pregnancies (such as virginity pledges) or drug use (such as the “Just Say No” campaign). Yet we expect people to embrace a will-power solution to the climate change problem – smaller cars, lower temperatures on the thermostats, whatever. And in developing countries, these solutions would mean that these populations might not ever get to what we in the developed world consider a normal standard of living.

I heard an article on yesterday’s Here and Now about Wal*Mart and the Chinese coming to some agreements about greener manufacturing procedures. Now, I doubt that either Wal*Mart or the Chinese government or manufacturers are all that concerned with climate change… except that both are probably concerned about their images in the world, and, right now, an ecological response is probably good business PR. (The linked article does not include a discussion, which I seem to remember, about Wal*Mart’s motives and history.)

I suspect that when there is a solution to climate change, it will not be based on will power or behavior change. I suspect that there will be a technology change. Technology changes have reduced or eliminated certain diseases, widespread hunger, and the likelihood that the human race would die out due to lack of numbers. Technological solutions bring their own problems, but those problems bring their own solutions.

Or they don’t. The other line of thinking is about whether it’s important to avoid changing the climate at all. It’s not that I think that the climate is not changing; it is. It’s not that I think that the change may make the earth uninhabitable for humans; I think it will.

The issue is about whether it is worthwhile for humans to exist at all.

If the climate on earth changes, and humanity dies out, it is not at all clear that all life will end. In fact, discoveries of life in odd, dangerous places suggest that life not only will go on, but we might not be able to stop its going on. (I note that the odd, dangerous places are only odd or dangerous to us – certainly not to the creatures that live there quite comfortably, thank you.) So here are the options, as I see them:
  1. It is possible that we will arrest and manage climate change, and humans will survive.
  2. It is possible that we will not manage climate change, and humans will still survive.
  3. It is possible that we will not manage climate change, and humans will die out. In this case,
    1. Either there is life elsewhere in the universe, and they will find our remains. If they are smart, our experience will serve as a lesson to them – perhaps we will be a byword, the way the “Tower of Babel” is for us.
    2. Or there is no life elsewhere, or the life that there is will never find us. In that case, self-aware life on earth was simply a dead end.

I can’t say that any of the outcomes in 3 makes me sorry. For now, I'm just gonna ride my bike.

anchor house video party (& video)

The video distribution party for the Anchor House Ride for this past summer was held at the KatManDu the other night. My tummy was a bit off after too much yumminess at a work holiday party that day, and I was in a misanthropic mood, so I just stopped in to get the video and left. (I suspect the reason I didn't stay was much more the latter than the former.)

The actual video was distributed on a disk with much less plastic material in it than the usual DVD (for ecological reasons, the disk says). It feels just that bit flimsy to me, so before I played it, I copied it to a writable DVD (and played that, instead).

I remember enjoying the ride. I remember not meeting many people (and worry about not having to be social with folks I didn't know well that was preying on my mind for several days before the event; I hate that kind of gathering), although I also remember making friends among the SAG volunteers. I remember our reaction to the death of one of our riders.

I watched the video last night. They did a good job of dealing with the death. They also cut out all the boring stuff, and included lots of fun stuff (some of which I didn't remember at all; I must have missed it). And I have a speech in the video, which feeds my ego. It ignited my desire to do the ride again (and maybe do it better this time - not faster, but engage more in the non-riding activities).

The video will be something to watch over the winter when I'm not riding. I wonder if Anchor House would consider selling the videos for the rides I don't do?

I want to do the ride again. You should consider it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

people we don't know

The two or three of you who are regular readers of this blog will know that insomnia is a recurring affliction, and when I don't sleep I tend to ruminate, and some of those meditations become posts on this blog. Recently, I've come out as an atheist, written about my confusion about some southerners, and reported an article (from Canada! Home of tolerance and politeness!) on people's mistrust of atheists.

I think there's a relationship between the southern gal's friendliness to people she knows, and the mistrust of atheists. I've just finished Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point. One of the things he argues is that people seem to work better in groups of up to about 150; after that, groups become unwieldy. He makes reference to Hutterite communities, where groups will separate off when they get larger than about that size, and the Gore Corporation (makers of Gore-Tex), which tries to limit its corporate groups to about that number of employees. I suspect that this is a limit size for people's ideas of who's in their community.

Edit 12/8/11: That 150-person limit is also known as Dunbar's Number, which apparently ranges between 100-230.

Here's the relationship that I suspect: People know that the people within their groups are reasonably honest (see the brief discussion of people belonging to groups in my "coming out as an atheist" post, linked above). But they also know we live in a world that is sometimes dangerous. There's no way to determine if the people outside our group have the same values as the people inside. So for the people we don't know, it's better not to trust them with our tax dollars, or anything else. And since we can't count on them having values of compassion or reason, to inform their interactions with strangers (including their interactions with us), it would be better if they were at least afraid of divine punishment.

Atheists, however, don't have that. Further, if one lives in a culture where everyone is a churchgoer, atheists have the further disadvantage of being just weird. How can anyone trust them?

The solution, probably, is for atheists to become more common (as I think it was for LGBT folks; it turns out EVERYBODY knows LGBT folks; they're not as rare or strange as we thought).

Well, I'm one of those atheists. You can decide if I'm trustworthy or not.

Monday, December 5, 2011

there is a brotherhood... of man...

Atheists, rapists top list of people religious believers distrust the most, UBC study finds

So I'm a member of the group least trusted by religious believers.

From the article:

The researchers found that religious believers thought that descriptions of untrustworthy people - people who steal or cheat - were more likely to be atheists than Christians, Muslims, Jews, gays or feminists.

Gervais was surprised that people harbour such strong feelings about a group that is hard to see or identify. He opines that religious believers are just more comfortable with other people who believe a deity with the power to reward and punish is watching them.

"If you believe your behaviour is being watched [by God] you are going to be on your best behaviour," said Gervais. "But that wouldn't apply for an atheist. That would allow people to use religious belief as a signal for how trustworthy a person is."

Oh, well, I guess you're just not gonna be able to trust me, then.

far away & beyond control

In speaking to my mother over the past few days, I've learned that my father's now in a rehab facility, learning to walk again with some assistance, getting visitors from their friends and church community, and seemingly in good spirits. Mom says he's doing well.

Mom said she thinks of herself as a realist, who likes her truth unvarnished, but both my excellent wife and I were struck speechless when we heard her describe herself this way. I think of her as a person who thinks that if you ignore an unpleasantness long enough, it might go away; who thinks that if people were more polite and stopped using so many swear words, the crime rate would plummet overnight. So I have no idea what "he's doing well" means.

She's bought my father more flannel pajama pants, which suggests he's not going to need the khakis he's been wearing for decades. She's also discontinued the internet access that only he used. How well is he doing?

However, she has good support from friends. A neighbor who managed an appliance store is going along with her to buy a replacement for her dryer that has chosen this week to die. She's told us about some other friends who have come to her aid. But she also spoke today about eating lunch alone in a coffee shop, and how tired she is.

They're almost 700 miles away. It's a burden, but (lord, in whom I don't believe, forgive me) it's also a relief.

almost made it...

I just remembered: I had a goal of riding at least once in every calendar month in 2011. I made 'em all except January. (I'll keep the same goal for 2012. The Brit fella who missed the ride on Saturday is making noises like he wants to do a ride on his birthday at the end of January, so that might be my excuse to ride in January next year. I've popped for the expedition-weight layering shirts I'll want if we do go out riding in the frigidity.)

AND I've made 4300 miles so far. I might make 4500 before the champagne flows and the ball drops - but don't put the mortgage on it.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

mostly bike weekend

Although we did get the Christmas tree up on Friday night - we still use the 3-foot tree I bought when I was divorced; it's just enough celebration for the two of us (and when the presents are beneath, they seem SO MANY because of the limited circumference of the lower branches), most of this weekend was about riding & the Freewheelers.

Saturday, we did a short (for the Hill Slugs), 37-mile around the hills ride. Early on, we went up Poor Farm Road, which has two memorable uphills (about 17% grade) separated by a whippy downhill. I'm not courageous on downhills that are not straight, so I was the last one down the hill. Later on, after stopping at Baker's Treat in Lambertville, we left town via Swan Road Rocktown Road, a long uphill that just doesn't break for miles.

While I always have fun on the Hill Slug rides; there were two disappointments: first, a Brit I met on the Covered Bridges ride had hoped to come, but after a relapse of a lung ailment, he couldn't. Second, a rider who initially came along decided not to when he saw who was going; I had hoped the Hill Slugs did not have a reputation for being so competitive.

Saturday night was the Freewheelers Holiday Party. I suck at parties, but I had decided to go to this one weeks ago, and Regina definitely wanted to meet some of the people I've been talking about. Many were there, they were all easy to talk to, and we met some others (also easy to talk to) when there wasn't room at the tables of the people I usually ride with. And Regina got a $50 gift certificate to Economy Bike Shop. One single cloud around all this silver lining: I saw the fellow who had left the ride that morning, and spoke to him... and got the impression that I was among the people he had hoped to avoid. I'm sorry if he feels that way. However, that's not been my intention, and I had a good time, both on the ride and at the party, otherwise.

Today was one of Winter Larry's Sunday rides, memorable because a friend (who I think rides with the NJ Major Taylor club) broke 5,000 miles for the year today, despite a cold (and the cold), and leaving my 4,300 miles in the dust. Second, because as we were returning though the Assunpink, we came across some of the worst stretches of paved roads I've ever seen outside of Queens, NY (I've not been there recently, but people who went down Douglaston Parkway in the mid-70's will know what I mean). Still, another rider who's not been riding much, and who had a tough day yesterday on the Hill Slugs ride, had a very good day riding today.

Another friend who lives in Pittsburgh sent a video of Pittsburgh by air, and if we can get our act together, the excellent wife and I will watch it tonight. It's been too long since I've contacted him, and this will give me an excuse to do so.

Friday, December 2, 2011

contrarian cyclismus

I overheard a couple of members of the Freewheelers complaining about various ride leaders (didja ever notice that 80% of the complaints come from 20% of the people?), and a complaint came up about Our Lady of Perpetual Headwinds, that her rides were too long.

Sheesh. That's one of the main things I like about her rides; they're long enough that they're worth the time & effort of packing up the bike and driving to the start. If she could only find a starting point with a public toilet, they'd be perfect. (No accessible public toilets? Now that's a credible complaint, especially for this pushin'-60 rider who drinks way too much coffee of a morning.)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

I met this southern gal...

When I was down visiting my parents in North Carolina, a girl who has worked as my mother's house cleaner came to visit. She'd heard about my father's illness, and wanted to offer her sympathies, as well as whatever tangible help she could. My mother pointed out that northerners don't do this the same way southerners do.

I don't get how southerners will bend over backwards like that, but vote against any kind of organized help, over and over again, even when it will be to the benefit of themselves and the same people they would be willing to help in person. Of course, I also don't get how some lefties I know can be so thoughtful in their political sympathies, and so rude to their friends and acquaintances.

While doing my morning workout today, I played a podcast from This American Life about fracking for natural gas. While there is a huge amount of natural gas in the northeast (enough to satisfy US energy needs for years), there are real concerns about whether the gas can be gotten safely. I was reminded of our arguments about global warming: America seems to be the only industrialized nation in which a group of citizens of any size disputes the dangers of global warming, or the fact that it is human-caused. Perhaps we will cause our own destruction by this short-sighted greed. I'm beginning to think it will be a small loss to the universe when we do.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

pittsburgh hill race

Defying the Dirty Dozen: Cyclists take on steepest of steep hills

It's a bike race in Pittsburgh up thirteen of the steepest hills in the city.
"I'm so glad you came," he shouted to his girlfriend's mother, Becky Gannon, over the cacophony of cow bells, air horns, and shouts of "Go! Go! Go!" Nearly 200 spectators lined both sides of the 100-yard-long cobblestone street to cheer on other cyclists trying -- many in vain -- to climb the 37 percent grade hill. "This is what the Dirty Dozen is all about."
I'm just twisted enough to want to do it, even though it needs more organization:
Though the race has grown steadily, its previous record attendance from 2009 was still just 185 participants -- already making it Pittsburgh's biggest bike race.

But last year the race caught the attention of WQED public television's famed documentarian, Rick Sebak. He brought two cameramen to the 2010 race and produced a show that ran on WQED's "It's Pittsburgh" series in January....

Largely as a result of that publicity and the great fall weather, Saturday's race broke the previous record by more than 60 percent with about 300 riders.

37% grade?

... bring it.

Monday, November 28, 2011

over the river & thru the woods

On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, our Sunday ride leader likes to go by his "grandma's", which includes a spiffy downhill at Nolan Road (and you don't get many spiffy downhills on the flat side of Route 1 in Central Jersey). Check it out. We started with 10, including two "fixies", picked up one along the way, and ended with eight, as three of our number decided to go their own ways home. I added eight miles or so by riding in from Plainsboro and riding back; on the way back I had company: a rider who will have 5,000 miles for the year by the time he puts the bike up for the season (he only had about ten more to go after yesterday's ride, so it's a safe bet he'll make it!).

As for me, with the freight I've been carrying recently, it may have been my most necessary ride of the year. Thanks, all of youse all, for letting me ride with you.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

after thanksgiving

So the excellent wife and I are back from our Thanksgiving visit to Asheville, NC, where my parents have retired. My father was diagnosed with leukemia less than a month ago, and he's deteriorated rapidly; when we first saw him on Tuesday, he had lost weight and was barely eating, was not grooming, and this author of children's books and mystery stories was barely able to speak, probably due to brain hypoxia. During the several days we were there, he deteriorated further, to the point where he could barely dress himself and slept most of the time. He's soon to turn 81; my 81-year-old mother is scared.

On Wednesday, he had a treatment and a transfusion, and came back and went immediately to bed. On Thanksgiving, we were able to do Christmas presents (we do them because we are all together) and he could eat something, but then he went to bed.

He spent all of Black Friday in bed. During a visit with my mother there on Friday, we went in to see him, and found him on the floor next to the bed, unable to speak and with a terrified look on his face. My brother-in-law (my sister and he had arrived the day before) and I got him back into bed, and my mother called the doctor. My sister works in a medical office and has had some nursing training; my wife has worked in adult protective services; they were able to coach my mother on what to say to the doctor. By 9:00 pm, we had gotten him into the hospital.

My wife and I came home the next day (yesterday). I called twice yesterday; mother told me he's able to speak now, and the treatment plan is being changed to a less aggressive one. But she knows that he'll never be the same. He may need nursing home care. Initially, I thought he'd never come out of the hospital, but I no longer think that's the case.

After avoiding discussing the situation up to now, he finally told the doctor that he does not want extraordinary measures used to prolong his life. My mother may talk to him about doing the Five Wishes document, a living will/durable power of attorney questionnaire that's among the most useful and easiest to understand that I've seen (you can download the document from the "Preview a Sample..." link on that page; it says sample, but it's the whole document my mother showed to me; it can also, apparently, be completed online, except for the original signature, witness signatures, and notary, if your state requires one). She may talk to him about completing that, if the right moment presents itself.

While I'm not in tears over him, I noticed that I'm stressed and easily moved to tears by other stuff (an acquaintance forwarded a link to this video, which had me weepin' into my coffee this morning). I'm having a hard time feeling thankful.

I'm off to do a ride this morning. I need it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

annual donation plan

In this Thanksgiving season, the excellent wife and I are making our donation plan for 2012. Some of our donations are tax-deductible, and some are not, as we believe that making donations to political causes to bring about the kind of country and world we believe in should be part of our plan. The causes to which we donate include charities, public radio, local causes, and art, as well as monthly donations to the Montclair Friends Meeting, of which we are members. In 2011, our donations equalled about 4% of our gross income.

An advantage to the donation plan is that we have a ready response to those who come calling for donations: if they're not on the plan, they probably won't get a check. On the other hand, we keep some money available for donations we did not foresee. Except for charity rides, we research our recipients to make sure the money is going where it should: as far as possible, we want to be sure it is neither diverted, nor eaten in administrative costs.

For 2012, our plan includes:

out of the closet?

It's been rattling around my head that it might be time I came out of the closet. It's not that I'm gay, it's that I'm an atheist.

I grew up Catholic, and was serious enough about it that I spent my college years in a Catholic seminary studying to be a priest. When Catholicism didn't work anymore, I went to the Quakers, and joined, first Montclair Meeting, then Princeton Meeting. (I continue there because they don't care if you come to meeting as an atheist, as long as you show respect for the beliefs of others. Since I'm not a Dawkins-style militant atheist, this is not a problem.)

I've thought and read a lot about religion, in additon to my studies. I don't think that anyone who knows me can say that I don't know enough about religion, and that's why I'm an atheist. And I don't think the specific details of my change in belief are important here.

All my life, I've thought about the problem of the existence of
suffering, what C. S. Lewis calls The Problem of Pain. Neither his work, nor When Bad Things Happen To Good People, nor the book of Job, nor any other God-centered solution to this problem ever worked for me. But when I gave up belief in God, the solution was clear: suffering just is. The solution to it is what we are going to do about it.

As for the "Where did it all come from?" question, the God solution is no better than the scientific one, or any other. The scientific one at least has the advantage of being predictive; the God solution is not. Petitionary prayer, for example, doesn't seem to have any appreciable effect on outcomes. (This doesn't mean I think all prayer is unimportant. As I've said elsewhere, there is place for prayer in atheism, in wonder and forgiveness. And it is probably helpful for people to know that others care for them and are thinking of them.)

As for the source of morality (some theists say that without God, there can be no morality), I think that the stuff we call morality comes in a few types. First, there are the things we do because they work best for human groups, and these are generally common among all humans. Not killing, not stealing, respect for marriage and family, for example, seem to be among these. These could have evolved as humans did.

Other things, it seems to me, are about ensuring the propagation of humanity, which, until the industrial age, was not a surety. Forbidding masturbation and homosexuality seem to fall into this category; if you're doing that stuff, you're not makin' babies. (I think there's also an "ickiness" factor that comes into morality: it what you're doing seems icky to me, then God forbids it. Piffle.)

Other things, though, are just things that separate my team from yours. My team doesn't eat pork, or meat on Good Friday. My team wears this kind of hat. This brings up what is, for me, one of the biggest purposes of religion (not God), and one of religions' biggest failings.

Most people need to belong to groups. If the group is too big, it will subdivide into smaller, manageable groups. That's not a problem; it's normal: if you look at young adolescents, you'll usually see large, same-sex groups hanging around together, and some of this behavior, with appropriate changes, carries on throughout our lives. Religious groups, however, will often demonize people who are not members of their groups. This is one of the problems with religion, and one of the reasons why there is a small group of people arguing that religion should be abandoned. (Do NOT outlaw religion. Some of those people are ALREADY nutballs; can you imagine what they'd be like if they had the added cachet of being outlaws?)

I've read somewhere, that I've never been able to find again, that there are more men than women in corporate boardrooms and high political offices, but also more homeless and criminal men than women. Male behavior tends to be more extreme than female behavior. I think religious behavior tends to be extreme, as well. It's true that there are horrendous things done in the name of religion. It's also true that there are wonderful things done. Much healthcare in this country is through religious systems. Many people trace personal heroism to their religion. Some of the energy that is spent on religion is about the religion itself, so nit may not be clear that this energy is a good, but I think the people who want to abandon religion are lookng at only one side of a many-sided edifice.

One of the things I like about the kinds of liberal Quaker meetings I attend is that they are radically welcoming. (This can also be a flaw, though; Quaker potlucks suck, because people make food that will not irritate anyone's allergies or upset the most arcane food preferences. What we tend to get is a lot of bland, low-salt vegan gruel.)

I think the people who get most upset about atheism, and the removal of religion, are the people who want to believe that there is something special about humans (or about their particular kind of humans, like the "America is a city on a hill" folks). While I don't go as far as these people, I would not say there is nothing special about humanity. Humanity is reponsible for loads of destruction, but we are also responsible for heroism and meaning, for creating and understanding beauty. We didn't need God for that.

Monday, November 21, 2011

weekend before thanksgiving

Remember how the excellent wife has been celebrating her milestone birthday in increments, thereby extending the celebration? Friday night we had dinner at McCormick & Schmick's, on a coupon from a club offer that doesn't appear to be available any more. I will attempt to remember the seafood soup; it was just the thing on a blustery night.

Saturday, went out on a ride with the Freewheelers. The leader was hinting about 30 miles or so, due to the cold and wind (of which there was plenty), but we wound up with about 40 (the last tail on that route, which you'll see if you click the link, was my ride alone to the strip mall where I park the car; I didn't do the controls correctly on the GPS to separate that part. When we leave from Cranbury, I park in Plainsboro, have a couple of fresh bagels for breakfast, and ride in the four miles to the start; after the ride, when I ride back, there is invariably a headwind of varying intensity). C-c-c-cold; I couldn't feel my toes at the start, although we warmed up with the exertion by the end of the day. Ira, the leader, took us along a stretch of Agress Road, which has some of the only challenging hills in that part of our ride region. I had fun, but some of our number appeared seriously challenged by those hills.

Sunday we went out on a ride to pass the old Ocean Spray factory in Bordentown (well, Thanksgiving is coming, why not?). The day started much warmer than the previous one, and wormed up from there, but I was dressed for a cooler day (after my experience the day before) with heavy gloves and too many layers; I ended the ride with the gloves in my pocket, sleeves rolled up, and sweating like July (despite a head wind for most of the way out). Bordentown, however, is a pretty town, with buildings from the 19th century (cranberries must have been lucrative, or something). On this ride, we had two tandems, which always get looks. I was sweeping at the back, as i usually do, but at one point, Larry the leader said I should go have some fun for a couple of miles to the next stop sign. With a tail wind, I was whippin' along in the mid-20-mph range on the flat. Not bad, for the second 50-mile ride in as many days!

Now off for a few days. Some work weirdness in one of the other offices (a feud over work space); I'm supposed to cover there in a few days when I return to work, so I'll keep in touch with the admins, despite being out of the office, to see what I'm going back to. There is no bottom to my geekiness; I check my work email, even on the weekends and days off. Hrmph.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

supporting an indie novelist

I first "read" Darusha Wehm's* stuff over at Podiobiooks, where I was downloading .mp3 podcasts of her first novel, Beautiful Red. I finally decided that listening to books on .mp3 wasn't working for me (my mind wanders, and then it's hard to go back and re-listen to what I'd skimmed through; it's much easier to turn back pages), so I wound up getting read-'em-on-a-screen editions of her next two books, Self-Made and Act of Will (I think I got the first as a gift for flogging it on my other blog; I remember buying the second at Smashwords).

She's coming out with another one, called The Beauty of Our Weapons. I'm poppin' for some support, because I've liked the books, and because I think authors I like should be supported, and because she asked me to. Her work reminds me of cyberpunk William Gibson stuff. Like him, she writes about a future cyber-dystopia; like him, I don't think she gives enough attention to most people's desires for families and children (a flaw, I think, of those of us who have chosen childlessness); like him, she writes stuff that keeps me turning the pages.

I went for a level of support that will get me the e-book in a format I can read on my old-style Nook. I'm looking forward to the new book.

*Didja click on that link? She had a great look; I love the multicolor-neon hair and the sly look of the eye. The new video shows her with a more mainstream hairdo - but she lives on a sailboat now, and there may not be regular deliveries of magenta hair dye to the distant corners she visits.

Friday, November 18, 2011

symmetry, balance, humility blocks, navajo carpets, and the nature of creation.

As a distraction from the ennui of my morning exercise routine, I listen to one of a number of podcasts. This morning I was listening to an old Radiolab on symmetry, and I got to thinking about what I thought was an urban legend about crafters intentionally adding flaws to their work, in their belief that only God can create perfection, It turns out it's not an urban legend: quilters have a tradition of humility blocks (scroll down the target page for the entry).

This, we are told, comes from the idea that since only God is perfect, making a perfect quilt is prideful. Thus the "humility block" was an exercise in Biblical decorum. Sometimes the story is more elaborate: the "humility block" appears at the lower right corner, or we're told that if a bride made a perfect quilt, her marriage would be unhappy, or that the practice began with the Amish or the Native Americans.

Evidently, Navajo carpeters have the same tradition (scroll down for "spirit string").

(This tradition is disputed [also here]).

I don't know if crafters are doing it on purpose. But if they are, it suggests they are not careful observers of nature. I'm not going to link to a gazillion pictures to prove my point, but I'm going to ask you to think. Think first of natural objects on the "macro" level: rivers, trees, flowers, leaves, and so on.

Now think of symmetry - that which is exactly the same on one side as the other (or through a certain number of degrees of rotation, or through a certain amount of shift, or whatever). And compare that with balance.

When I think of symmetry, I think of man-made, manufactured objects. I have a deskful of them. When I think of natural objects, I don't think of perfect symmetry; I think of balance (sometimes; other times I am overwhelmed by the absence of balance).

If you're a crafter, do good work. Do the best work you can (that's how this guy started). Don't be seduced by romances like the "spirit string" or the "humility square". If your craft is one in which a certain amount of asymmetry is unavoidable as part of the process (for example, hand-blown glass), I understand that's part of the piece. If the roughness of your work is part of the piece, I understand that as well. Perfect work can be done by machine, and few people are going to care that an object is hand-made when it is indistinguishable from a manufactured item (unless there is a sentimental attachment). But you are still responsible for doing the best work you can do.

That's a complaint that's been banging around the back of my head for years.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

what i got from chopin class

The excellent wife and I are taking a class at the Princeton Adult School on the music of Chopin. He's not my favorite composer: he wrote mostly for piano, as opposed to other instruments or ensembles, and, in general, the Romantics are not the guys for me.

We did a unit on the Etudes, "studies" in particular musical or pianistic techniques. I've got to give it to Chopin: they aren't just didactic (although they are that), they are real music.

I was taken with this one (if it won't open, try this Wikipedia page; it's the Donald Betts version of number 2). I've saved the file to one of my computers, and reformatted it as an .mp3 (that link that might not work is an ogg-vorbis open-source format that may not play on proprietary operating systems; sorry).

I keep coming back to that piece. I can't stop playing it. It's not his greatest, but it has completely arrested me.

fedora upgrade on the PC

In my last post, I admitted that I had secretly upgraded the netbook to Fedora 16 (it dual-boots; it came with XP), and the upgrade had gone without a hitch. Not so with the desktop; I tried the recommended "preupgrade" method, and it seemed to install, but wouldn't boot. With forethought that is not always characteristic of your correspondent, I had backed everything up, so I did an install-from-scratch, and then did all the upgrades and re-installs that I need to do to get a computer to the point I like it.

The "install-from-scratch" didn't take as long as I'd thought, so I'm thinking that every time I do an upgrade, I'll plan in advance to do it both ways. I'm keeping notes on a document in my Dropbox account so that I'll be able to do it more conveniently in future. The computer is running fine now; I've done my daily finances, downloaded the GeekSpeak podcast, and I'm now typing this on that computer.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

excellent wife celebrates a birthday

OK, I was off Friday for Vet's Day, and did about 40 bike miles with the old guys, an about the windiest day imaginable, so I'm taking double credit. Yesterday, I did a 50-plus-some-extra between Cranbury and Delicious Orchards, and it was only windy on the way back, although there were two spiffy hills on the way. But that's not what I want to talk about. (I'm up to 4100+ bike miles for the year, but that's not what I want to talk about, either.)

What I want to talk about is the way the excellent wife is celebrating this, her ?0th birthday. I had thought that she was trying to avoid a large celebration because of the number of the birthday, but I was wrong; she's much more canny than that. It turns out she's arranging to have many smaller celebrations, spanning a period of weeks. She was out with one set of girlfriends last week; on the actual birthday we'll have some cake and do the presents, next weekend we'll do a dinner out for the two of us.

Today was the party for the local friends. The two of us, and four guests, had a brunch that started at noon (OK, more like about 12:30). Regina, as is common for those of Polish descent, cooked enough food for about fifteen: a quiche, grits (yes, a Yankee Polack can make righteous grits), biscuits, two kinds of sausage, potatoes, and who-knows-what-all else. Coffee for those who wanted, hot and cold cider, juices. Crême fraiche for the baguette (and the biscuits too, I guess), which I'd never had, but I'll tell you, it beats plain butter all hollow. And a cake from Whole Foods (Regina would normally bake the cake herself, but one, she thought she was doin' enough cookin', and two, doncha think somebody else oughta make your birthday cake for you?).

We thought the guests would leave by about 2:30, but it got to be after four, and folks were still holding forth and complaining about the lesser classes, which means pretty much anybody that doesn't see the world the way we do. Much discussion of health problems (we're of an age where such things are common, and, if common, they will be common topics of conversation), of politics local, of the scandal at Penn State.

This is a woman who knows how to do a birthday. I will not question her wisdom on that score again.

(In the midst of it, I was sneaking off to do the upgrade on the netbook to Fedora 16, which went off without a hitch, and I think I got away with it without upsetting the excellent wife about playing with the computer while guests were here).

Saturday, November 12, 2011

bike advocate letter

There's a new bike advocate for the Princeton Freewheelers, and he's sent out a request that members write once a year to the local newspapers suggesting more people ride bikes. I can certainly come up with a letter once a year... below is a copy of my first draft:

Bicycle season is ending, and I've been riding a lot this year, and thinking about why more people don't ride. I love to ride: it's huge fun, and has a host of health benefits. I can think of four objections people make to riding a bicycle, and I'd like to list and answer them:

ISN'T IT DANGEROUS? Well... no. Not really. If you ride dangerously, it's dangerous. But it doesn't have to be. There are far more automobile accidents than bicycle accidents each year, and according to one source, swimming and waterskiing are both more dangerous than bicycles. And when you compare the long-term health benefits of regularly riding your bike, the REALLY dangerous activity is sitting on your couch eating chips and watching “Jersey Shore”.

BUT THERE'S NO PLACE TO GO! It's true that North Brunswick, the town in which I live, is riven by three major thoroughfares: Route 27, Route 130, and US1. I'd never recommend riding on Route 1 unless you absolutely have to, but there are sections of the other two where a short ride is manageable, especially if it gets you to another place where you can ride further OFF those roads. And North Brunswick is full of areas where rides are not only possible, but pleasant. In fact, with a bit of imagination, a trip to your bank or post office might be a neat bike ride.

ISN'T IT EXPENSIVE? Well, if you're going to go for the latest-and-greatest, Tour de France special, yes, it is. And some of us have those bikes (one of mine isn't quite that expensive, but I did pay more for it than I did for my first car, all those years ago). But you can get a usable bike for a lot less than that. In fact, you (or one of the neighbors) probably have one in the basement or garage that is ready to go, except the tires are flat as pancakes. I'll tell you a secret: bicycle tires leak air. After a year or two, almost all of the air can leak out of that tire, making the bike look like an un-ride-able mess. All it might take to bring it back is a $20 pump. And you may want to lube the chain. Don't use WD40; it evaporates too quickly. But almost anything else will work: motor oil, transmission oil, spray oil... you might even try Vaseline or canola oil, and you probably already have those around the house.

BUT I'LL LOOK STUPID! Well... uh... like... well, yeah, you will, especially to your adolescent kids. Although you might look way cool to the neighbors' younger kids. You'll especially look stupid if you go all-out and get those skin-tight jersey setups the pro's and club riders wear – save that for if you really get hooked, and decide to go all-out (and you plan to buy that Tour de France bike I talked about before). But I'll tell you when you won't look stupid: when you've dropped a couple of pounds; when you've got the increased strength, flexibility, and balance that comes with riding regularly (like when you don't groan every time you have to get something out of that lower cupboard); or when you can have that second piece of pie because you've ridden the miles to earn it.

I've sent it to The Excellent Wife to get her input. We'll see what actually goes in.

EDIT 11/16/11: I got input from a number of folks, and made some changes, and submitted it to the Home News Tribune today. Further developments as they arise.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

ezra jennings on psychopaths and corporations

Jennings said, "The first line of the Wikipedia article on psychopaths this morning includes these words: "Psychopathology (pronunciation) is a mental disorder characterized primarily by a lack of empathy and remorse, shallow emotions, egocentricity, and deceptiveness.

"Well, if a corporation is a person (especially a large, publicly-owned corporation), that person is a psychopath."

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

how i wish i had voted

Mississippi's "personhood amendment" "was rejected by more than 55 percent of voters, falling far short of the threshold needed for it to be enacted." I didn't get to vote against it. I wish I could have. And I promise not to slander Southerners for the rest of the week.

And "[b]y a nearly 2-1 margin, Ohio voters repealed a new law that would have severely limited the bargaining rights of more than 350,000 teachers, firefighters, police officers and other state employees." I didn't get to vote against that, either. Unions may have deteriorated sadly, but they are still the first line of defense against the predation that is the major characteristic of large corporations (when an entity's sole responsibility is to the bottom line, as it is in a public corporation, what other choice does it have?).

Well, those outcomes have improved my outlook today. Maybe there is hope for America.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

how i voted

I live in the 17th NJ election district. Our state senator supported Bob Menendez for US senate, just before Menendez supported Bush's torture bill. I'm told our state senator also represented a developer in a legal case against the township in which I live. I voted for him anyway.

The person he was running against represents the worst of Republican arrogance, selfishness, and exclusivity. Voting against Jordan Rickards is like sex. You never forget your first time, and even when it's not great, it's still pretty good. I'm glad Rickards lost, but even if he'd won, voting against him would make me feel noble,


I'm not sleeping anyway, so I may as well write up a post about some of the reasons why. the first one is obviously first, but the others are in no particular order:
  • I heard from the folks last night; my father's leukemia is apparently of a type expected to respond well to aggressive treatment, and there are six treatments lined up for the next ten days or so. My parents both sound much more hopeful than they have recently.
  • I have a netbook computer that I've set to dual-boot Windows XP (which was pre-installed) and Ubuntu (which I installed). After an automatic update, the Ubuntu side won't start. I've tried downloading the USB installer twice, and have had problems with both downloads (although a Fedora download looks successful). I've had problems with the Ubuntu downloads in the past, so I may just switch to Fedora on that computer, too (I switched to Fedora on the main box some time ago). The computer is still useful as long as the XP boots, although it takes a long time to start up. Still, XP will be supported until at least April 2014.
  • I went up to the aunt's memorial service, and it wasn't awful, and some of it was actually pretty cool. Now I have people lining up around the block and taking numbers to regale me with variations on, "I told you so". Sigh.
Off for Election day today. Probably a ride later. The excellent wife will be working the poll as a Dem challenger for half the day (for next to no money, at a fairly unimportant election, which is why I'm not doing it).

Edit 8:09 am

  1. I installed Fedora on the netbook in the space where Ubuntu was (my Fedora installs generally go much easier than my Ubuntu installs), and it's working; I've spent a couple hours tweaking & installing. So now I can go back to worrying aobut my dad.
  2. Three of the most recent posts have been middle-of-the-night or early-morning. Hmmm.

Edit 6:50 pm

And two rides today: about 5 miles to vote and get razors, then a 20-mile-including-Coppermine-hill on the road bike, on which I broke 19mph average speed. I probably would have been 19.1, but I had to do a U-turn at a closed road. Grumble, grumble. Now off to Chopin class in a few minutes.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

early-morning funerary reflections

Another one you can skip.

I'm in my room in the Super 8 in Webster, NY, waiting to go to the memorial service I've referenced in other posts (two separate links there). Neither of my parents are here because of my dad's illness; it was to satisfy them that I decided to come, and that's still the reason, even though they're not here. I'll do the service and the lunch, see some relatives, and go home; I hope to get a ride in tomorrow.

It was a long drive from Central Jersey to the Rochester, NY area. I went through the Poconos, and watched the trees show fewer leaves as the elevation rose, then more again as we came down; it was like traveling back and forth in time a few weeks. The GPS led me by Interstate most of the way, but the last 70 miles or so was on a state road. I had nothing but time, so I didn't bother going to the Thruway, and it was not an unpleasant road - but almost all of the businesses along much of it had something to do with cars: sales, repair, gas, car washes. Those that didn't were mostly fast food. Is that all these people do?

Got to the hotel, checked in, looked for dinner. Despite my best intentions, I ate at Empire Hots, a local hot-dog place, because when I went to look, they had "white hots", white hot dogs I remember from my youth. I gave up healthy eating for nostalgia.

Then back to the hotel, and called the excellent wife. She's improving upon the time of my absence by visiting people that she usually sees without me in tow. Then a read, and to bed. The bed is remarkably good. I've found no correlation between bed quality and hotel cost; I've wound up with terrible backaches at high room rates, and vice versa. The Super 8 has few amenities: besides the bed, it has a bath, a hanging rack (not a closet), internet access, and no visible vermin. It's good enough.

It's now about 5:30 am, I've been awake for about an hour, which is not bad for me. There are loud noises from what must be the plumbing in the adjacent rooms, but I mostly slept through the night. I'm not looking forward to the memorial service (mostly, I'm not looking forward to the lunch afterwards); while I know that a few people will be happy to see me, and many more will have no idea who I am (nor will they care), I'm sure I'll do something that will disappoint my folks. Even though they're not here. (There really is no bottom to my craziness, is there?)

Maybe more later.

lucky find: dropbox

Dropbox appears to be solving a number of nagging problems for me. I've been looking for a place where I can put files that I would like to be available for download from this blog; I used to be able to use my free Verizon web space, but Verizon pulled the plug on that (they say security issues, but the space is available for people who pay extra for web space - perhaps they have research that shows that paying customers are less likely to be criminals).

I stumbled across an article on the CRN site about free web storage offerings. Several of the offer Linux clients (the computers I use most frequently at home all use Linux). I couldn't get my first choice, Zumodrive, to work (ymmv), so I decided to look at Dropbox, which I remembered some reference to in the past.

They have software for Linux, Mac, and Windows (in fact, Ubuntu has the client in the repo's). Users get 2GB free (I am all about the free stuff). Dropbox puts a folder on your local computers for the stuff to be saved to your account, and you can generate a link to stuff in my shared folder that you can use for downloadable files. But there's something else cool: files in your Dropbox folder are updated across all the computers on which you have a Dropbox folder. This means that stuff like my calendar and address book will be updated, and I won't have to worry about carrying a USB drive - and if I update when I'm offline, Dropbox will update again the next time I'm online. And, since I can add Dropbox to my work computer, I can use the same program there (my scheduler/contacts program is Essential PIM Free USB, which is written for Windows, but the free version works in Linux under wine; the gods at EPIM have decided not to provide a Linux version).

So I get:
  1. Online backup of critical files, that is then
  2. sync-ed across all the necessary computers, as well as
  3. a place to host files I want to share,
  4. for free.
I'm looking for the downside.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

ezra jennings on the rising tide

Jennings said, "Look, I can understand that there are some people who genuinely believe that interfering with the free market unleashes forces we can neither predict nor control. What I don't believe is that this is an excuse for doing nothing."

"I also can't buy that Reagan-esque BS about decreasing taxes generating a net increase for government funds. There is not an ethical economist on either side who will say that. The only people who DO say that are pundits and politicians, and we all know what excellent predictors of financial outcomes THEY are."

Jennings continued, "And don't get me started on 'A rising tide raises all boats'. We've had plenty of experience of both rising and falling tides. And while it's true that falling markets affect everybody, they affect the ones on the bottom far worse than those on the top. And nobody has ANY evidence that better economic times have helped anybody other than the ones at the very top. The 'rising tide' is the wrong metaphor."

recent insomnia

You can skip this post. It's basically working out why I'm not sleeping.

I've had problems staying asleep at night for years, but recently I've been up in the middle of the night more frequently; this is the second time in the last three days that I've been watching the clock number change between 1:30 and 3:00 am (which is what I was doing a few minutes ago before I fired up the computer and started writing this). I usually go to bed around 9:00 pm. My alarm is set to go off at 4:50 am, and I usually turn it off fifteen or twenty minutes before that. On weekends, when I'm planning to sleep late, I'm sometimes good for 6:15 or so, before my back reminds me that it, too, is 56 years old, and could use some movement so that it can put all its parts back in place.

The insomnia is usually related to an anxiety attack, but that's not happening this time. I suspect that it has to do with my father's illness. Recent news is that he's really got leukemia. My sister, who works in a medical practice, is steeping herself in leukemia knowledge. I'm not - I think I'm still not facing that my dad is sick. In fact, I suspect that part (maybe all) of this midnight wakefulness has to do with worrying, or not worrying, about him, or not knowing what to do, or even how upset to be. Because I'm still not as sad or worried as I think I should be (maybe that should read, " I think a proper son should be").

On Saturday, there will be a memorial service for my mother's sister who died, six hour's drive away. I've taken off a day to go there, and that's also a source of stress. I'm uncomfortable in family situations. I have not kept up contacts with those family members (I don't keep up contacts with people whom I don't see regularly), and I don't know how to talk to them. Dad won't be going. Mother might go, if she can leave dad for the weekend. I don't think he'll be too sick to leave - he's had two transfusions in less than a week, and sounded strong the last time I spoke to him - but he's scared (he made reference to thinking he's dying when last we spoke on the phone), and they might decide it's better for my mother to stay. It's the right thing to do for me to go. My mother is disappointed that I'm coming back after the funeral and not staying for Sunday. But I'm not close to my relatives, and, frankly, I'm hoping to be back to get a group ride in on Sunday.

I've been eating a lot of junk. The excellent wife reminds me that I need to continue to take care of myself, especially when I'm stressed. She's right, but it's harder to do the daily exercise routine when I haven't been sleeping (see this post about my exercise routine and keeping track of my weight - and was that really over a year ago?). With winter coming, and less riding, I've been looking for more podcasts to listen to while I do the exercises (where on earth did that come from?).

I'm getting tired again. Maybe it's just being tired, but I think it has to do with getting some of this stuff written.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

finishing the winter maintenance

Snow, snow, snow on the ground today, and 34F when the sun rose. Ain't no road-ridin' goin' on today, so I figured I'd use the day to finish the road bike rebuild.

Take off the wheels, take out the brake shoes, put in the new ones. They don't go in easily, and the brake shoes will need to be readjusted where they hit the wheels. Early on, it was too cold to open the garage door, and I just couldn't get the front set correctly. When it warmed up, and I opened the garage door and wheeled the bike over to work in the sunlight, the adjustment was easy. Sometimes, the difference between a job you can't figure out and an easy job is just getting enough light on the subject.

Take all the cables off, take all the housing off (but save 'em to measure the new pieces). This time, I remembered to re-set all of the barrel adjusters before I cabled up again! Also, I replaced that under-the-bottom-bracket cable guide; the old one didn't quite fit right, and the bracket had a mark where the cable contacted it. I don't know if it would ever cut through, but the guide is, like, a $2 part, so it's a good idea to put on a new one.

I also readjusted the height of the shifter controls (moved them a bit higher). It's a bit more comfortable now, although my default position is about 3/4" less "aero".

Took off the stem, took out the headset bearings and re-greased everything, then replaced the whole stem-headtube-handlebar assembly. I thought there would be rust inside to attend to (there was last time), but I didn't see any (good!).

Now all the cabling is back on. The front derailleur has already needed an adjustment, and will probably need another by mid-week. But the shifting and brakes are all smooth and working for now. Last thing is to tape up the cabling to the handlebars (my brake and derailleur cables are both routed along the bars) and re-wrap the bars. I put black tape and cable housing on the brushed-titanium-grey frame, so one of the big decisions is what color tape to finish the handlebars with. This incarnation is blue and green. That tape, and the bandanna I hang from the seat bag, are about the only spots of color on the bike.

Later this week, I'll plan to adjust the cables, and go over all of the bolts with a torque wrench. But other than that, this bike is ready for another year.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

snowy day in central jersey

Good heavens. It's not even November first, and we've got three-four inches of snow, traffic tie-ups, tree branches down, power outages, and who-knows-what-all.

So what do The Excellent Wife and I decide to do? Of course! We're going to drive the fifteen-miles-or-so to Princeton University, where there's a show of Hogarth prints at the Firestone Library with the wonderful name of Sin & the City.

And to make the trip just that much more wonderful, we'll drop in at the University Art Museum to see the John Singer Sargent An Interior In Venice that's on loan.

After that, we'll go to a romantic, secluded hideaway for dinner - how about Whole Foods? (We were thinking about going back to Conte's for pizza, but your correspondent is feeling fat, and the scale is agreeing with him these days.)

On the way back, we got behind drivers going 12 miles per hour in the snow, and then had another driver follow us into our condo association so he could yell at me about how he disliked my driving. I couldn't hear him through the closed window, and I still don't know what I did, but I hope he feels better.

(My coworker had no end of laughs about our last date to the Whole Foods for a bone scan, then Conte's. I can only imagine what she'll say about going out in the treacherous snow to see Hogarth and Sargent, then dinner at an upscale grocery store.)