7.30.2006

blog hiatus until the move is over!



My posting to this blog will be sharply curtailed until sometime after Aug. 8. I'm moving and have too much to do. I don't know if this blog has any regular readers (and I suspect 'not'). The above picture is from my living room this afternoon, a lovely summer day, not hot and humid like many days this summer -- Vermont is going tropical, buy your maple syrup while you can -- which I spent boxing up books and paying bills. It's daunting how much I have to do between now and August 8.

Till then if anyone wants to drop me an email here's the link. My response may be delayed but I will get back with you.

I have many topics about blogging and social networking that I want to write about so expect a whole long series of semi-serious posts in the future. I also want to take a series of photos of my condo being emptied: too much excitement I know.

Till later -

And my commute shall be carbon free...(sometimes, mostly)


Using my trusty Garmin GPS I made a track of my commute on Friday and plotted it on the above image using GPS Visualizer (great web site -- a web application that proves that the Internet is more than just mindless dreck & terrabytes of porn) and Google Earth.

Every work day since November I have been driving 75 miles/day. I hate this! Really. So I am uprooting my life and spending lots of money to move from Burlington to Waterbury. I have some profound misgivings about this (I am selling at the top of the market, but I am buying at the top of the market as well.)

But the reasons I am doing this are many. Once I am settled in Waterbury I am going to make a concerted effort to commute to work by bike as much as possible. This means that I won't save much time on the commute when I figure in the time to ride (c. 9 miles in the morning) and then change into work clothes, but I will feel much better physically.

I think the climate is changing...fast. I hope to be able to make a small difference by example. I know that it is hypocritical in that I will still be driving into Burlington quite frequently but I know that I will be able to cut back on my total miles driven quite significantly.

Here are some of my reasons for commuting by bike:
  • Will make me feel better physically
  • Won't contribute to sprawl/need for road improvements
  • Will save significant amount of money / gas and wear and tear on car
  • Will reduce pollution and carbon emissions
  • Will reduce my contribution to oil company profits and $400M 'retirement packages' for their CEOs
  • Will reduce my contribution to propping up unsavory regimes in parts of the world full of people trying to kill me (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Libya, etc., just so I am clear)

I have managed to ride a bike to every job I've ever had with one exception (I have never had to really dress up for work) and I am looking forward to continuing to ride. I think that the days of reckoning will soon be at hand and hard choices will need to be made...

One less car!

At some point I will write about the implications of recreation that requires driving (or flying) to get to an area.

7.29.2006

Like using a sledgehammer to drive a thumbtack...


Or some similar simile. We have a new website at my employer and I installed Google Analytics on it... another powerful free Google service. They acquired a web tracking product named Urchin and now give it away for free. Google sees this as a value-add for their Adwords product which is how they make most of their money these days.

So this Analytics product allows for tracking of multiple sites... & one thing led to another and voila! I have installed it on "Midnight Modern Conversation".

I see this site as at least partly as something of an ironic commentary on blogging and social networking so the lack of traffic doesn't particularly discourage me... now at least. And I have been very scattered since starting this project and hence there is no consistent theme at all, it bounces from bike racing to movies to deer in my backyard. And it is quite silly to install a powerful and fully featured web site usage package on this tiny, inconsequential blog.

After I get settled there is a chance that I will try and fold this project into something more ambitious, I am still considering what I want this to be. But now at least I can track the lack of visitors in extreme detail!

7.26.2006

Winooski River Bridge#2

The lack of posting (I doubt anyone has noticed) is caused by my impending move. I'm tired and stressed. I started a post tonight, but I am falling asleep even though it is only 10 pm. Maybe tomorrow.

Kind of an interesting photo taken on Sunday afternoon, using a railroad spike as a crude tripod.

Like gerbils on an exercise wheel....but at least they race clean (I think), or more Floyd


From the way I carry on about this move, one would think that I am relocating to Florida or California: Instead I am moving about 25 miles total! It's not the end of the world.

A couple of weeks ago I went to the local bike club's practice criterium race on Tuesday night, mostly to give some equipment to the race organizer, but also to revisit the scene of many hundreds of laps of Tuesday night racing. I am so old that I can remember when the GMBC practice criterium was held in Taft Corners on the loop where Home Depot and Wal mart are today! Anyone familiar with this loop now would know the absurdity of riding a bike through there today, let alone holding a bike race there.

In the course of my career I raced many dozens of these races, and at 45 (short) laps a race, I easily raced thousands of laps. It was a prime source of summer entertainment for me. When I started racing I was in the 'B' race (as pictured above) and couldn't imagine being successful in the 'A' race (for faster, experienced licensed riders).

However repetition taught me how to ride these events and I became quite proficient at riding criteriums, even managing to win one of these events once in front of a fairly large and active field. I know it's pathetic to dwell on these things but I did beat someone who was very cocky and vain so it was quite satisfying to make him the 'first loser' of the night. I also got to race with much more talented riders -- Andy Bishop, Kevin Bouchard Hall, Darby Thomas, and assorted other strong fast people.

To go from the sublime to the ridiculous, it was all over the news outlets today that Floyd Landis tested positive after his epic stage win in the Alps that put him in position to win the Tour de France. On one hand, I find this profoundly disappointing, however, I'm not entirely surprised. I remember reading on cyclingnews.com after the stage, and they were quoting another rider (Cadel Evans?) who described Landis' attack on the first mountain of the day as if he "was on a motorcycle" which made me wonder then and there what the story was... Plus the Phonak team has had many doping scandals.

I haven't really been riding at all lately but as soon as I move I will make a dedicated effort to commute by bike as much as possible. Maybe getting in shape again will tempt me to race once more... I kind of miss the social aspects of the sport, one of the great things about the Tuesday night races was that it brought a wide range of people together (college kids to 50+ masters racers) and we would all hang out together.

7.20.2006

Only those who dare truly live, or Floyd resurrected


I could go back and edit yesterday's 'Jour sans' post but I won't because I was far from the only one saying Floyd Landis had no chance of winning the 2006 Tour de France but today he woke up pissed off and rehydrated... and proceeded to singlehandedly shatter the race and move himself back into contention. The exploit is really unprecedented in the modern era and recalls the 'giants of the road' and is an exploit for the ages. It's why bike racing is a sport worth watching... and this race has been extremely unpredictable.

To do what Landis did today takes an iron will and immense self belief (and a willingness to put it all on the line, and accept the consequences of maybe failing). I pretty much sucked as a racer but racing did teach me to be a little bit cocky and have more confidence than I would have had otherwise.

7.19.2006

The meaning of "Jour Sans", and Floyd shows some class



"Jour sans" is French for 'a day without' and in bike racing it means a day of emptyness and bad legs. Today Floyd Landis, the rider leading the Tour de France, demonstrated this in spades. This race might be one of his last ever as he is racing with a dying hipbone and the joint will be replaced as soon as the race is over, and his future career as a racer is uncertain. It is pretty amazing that he is riding at all let alone being strong enough to lead the race and to be in a position to possibly win the overall. He is an American and is a refreshing change from the Lance Armstrong era in that Floyd is kind of a flaky and off beat guy and has a sense of humor about him -- Lance Armstrong was never called a flake...or known as a funnyman of the peloton.

Yesterday on Alpe de Huez (kind of silly article about that climb here) Landis covered the attacks and put time into most of his rivals. Today, however, on an epic stage through the Alps...he had nothing. The finishing climb was 18 km long and in the end he was totally spent and alone as his rivals sensed weakness and left him far behind. He has no chance of making the podium now as he lost too much time. This is the last race he will ride before he has hip replacement surgery and if the procedure doesn't go well it might be his last race ever...

In an earlier post I made some derogatory comments about pro bike racers and the culture of the sport but they are tough guys with or without doping... and there is a rough kind of stoicism about them that is appealing especially when compared to loudmouthed primadonna athletes in other sports. I don't know if Floyd Landis is 100% clean or if he has been replenishing his blood each night back at the team hotel (and he races for Tyler Hamilton's old team, which has had numerous doping incidents) but he did give a pretty classy, sardonic press conference tonight after the events of the day...which he really didn't have to do. The transcript is up on Velonews and can be read here.

Graham Watson's Tour de France pictures are pretty awe inspiring.... I wonder if I go back and look at his archives if I can trace the Alpine glaciers retreating over time!

7.17.2006

Hypertext my brain, or I managed to read a book!

I have been using the Internet for good, bad and indifferent purposes since May of 1995, when I started working at a local ISP. I think that it has shortened my attention span and lessened my ability to write coherently: Everything is just a link a way, and argument online usually consists of a witless unsubtle put-down. It's almost worse than television!

So it was a good sign for me this weekend when I read a list in the WSJ ("5 best books about moguls") and for some reason a book by Pete Hamill,"Why Sinatra Matters caught my eye, so I was in the library, they have a copy... and I sat down and read it cover to cover over the weekend. It's pretty slim but tried to put Sinatra into a greater cultural context in terms of American 20th century male urban experience and was quite interesting.

I know this is very trivial and of no interest to anyone except myself but this is an experience that is increasingly rare for me so maybe it's a good sign. My television watching has declined precipitously to almost zero as well.

But, on the other hand, all this compulsive blogging, and reading books, and watching DVDs (I also got Ed Wood out of the library) is just procrastination on the task at hand, namely moving, which is currently scheduled for Aug. 8.

7.16.2006

Apocalypse Now: The consequences of our choices

One of the themes that I have not really developed here is my general distaste for the "American Dream" as defined by car dependent life in the suburbs. I grew up (mostly) in these environments and for the most part didn't like it very much at all. I feel like a hypocrite because in my previous job I was on a pace to drive 30K miles/yr (in a company car) and in my present job I have been driving a regular 400 miles/week which I have not enjoyed at all. After I move I will make a determined effort to commute to work by bike as much as possible (c. 15 miles/day).

Yesterday was the kind of day here that may be a portent of the future: A gray smoggy sky, little sun, but oppressively hot and humid. I think I saw that most of the US was over 90 degrees yesterday: Coincindence?

Today's Guardian has a column, "Our wasteful ways will finish us off"on these subjects that makes points that I totally agree with.

But the fascinating point for students of synchronicity is that the approaching energy crisis is going to force green standards on us all. It won't matter what Charles Moore or Dick Cheney think about the science of climate change. In a couple of years' time it will be second nature, for example, to regard the waste generated by supermarket packaging and the ferrying of strawberries and mangoes from one end of the planet to the other as irresponsible, let alone ludicrously uneconomic.

Actually, as George Soros made clear during a discussion at the LSE two weeks ago, the crisis is upon us. It is possible that world oil production has already peaked: no giant oil field has been found for decades and some of the big oil companies have been forced to restate their reserves downward, while others report declining production.

The second strand of his argument is that with major supplies of oil and gas either being run by ambitious men such as Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Vladimir Putin, or being threatened by turbulence in the Middle East and west and sub-Saharan Africa, the West could suddenly find itself with just a few months' supply.


I think that the time is coming when 'national security' interests and 'environmental issues' are going to suddenly coincide but by then it will be too late. I find it appalling that no politician (left, center, right) wishes to address these issues in a bold and truthful manner. Are we smarter than yeast? Probably not.

7.15.2006

Urban Wildlife


I live in the largest condo complex in the state of Vermont -- over 200 units in 9 dorm like 4 story buildings, located in state's largest city (granted it's tiny), but located in the heart of a very developed county, suburbs and sprawl all around.

Today I was hiking up the path behind my building to UVM to take the shuttle bus downtown (it's free) and right there, at 11 am in the morning, was a doe and her fawn. They were slightly separated and the fawn was bleating loudly for its mother. I was only about 25 feet away from the fawn...

There's lot of wildlife around: I once came upon 3 juvenile moose in the woods behind the local Costco (about 3 miles from here) and the only buck I've ever seen worth shooting was in the Intervale (basically my backyard).

The picture of the bee was taken at Winooski Falls and the unmodified original can be seen here. I have spent a lot of time learning how use Gimp as of late. It is complicated progam and the lack of formal documentation makes learning an adventure.

Summer in Vermont

It was a 90 degree day in Vermont yesterday so I stopped by Bolton Potholes on the way home. Lots of teenagers drinking beer and smoking and throwing themselves off of the precipice. It's a shame that like 50% of the people there smoke (at least) and the rocks are covered with butts... pretty gross. The world is not your ashtray bozos... especially a beautiful natural spot like that.



I had my little p/s digital with me and tried to take some pictures. The camera isn't really fast enough for action shots. On auto settings the camera wanted to use a slow shutter speed because of the dark shadows but a slow shutter speed wouldn't capture the diver in motion.... so I was trying to get it to work.

7.13.2006

Addendum: More Films at the Fletcher Free Library

And rather than going back and editing my list of films worth seeing at the Fletcher Free Library here are a couple of other suggestions...really, if you have big holes in your film literacy as I do, there is plenty to keep you going:

  • Pulp Fiction (another 'of course' selection: I love the diner scene that opens/closes the film, especially when Samuel L. Jackson starts riffing on Happy Days.... "What's Fonzie Yolanda? That's right, he's cool... So we're going to be three little Fonzies Yolanda...." I actually used to think of this in bike races when it got really hectic and dangerous.... quite the bike racing theme this evening.)

  • On the Waterfront (how could I put Run Lola Run on my 1st list, and leave this off? Young Brando!)

Two films that were part of the collection but got lost or destroyed before I could see them were Scorsese's Mean Streets and American Splendor.

Hat's off to the folks who assembled the collection over time and it certainly kept me entertained. I hope they catch whoever has the defective DVD player that is systematically destroying the collection of DVDs....

Great minds think alike, or has Sam Abt been reading my blog?

Samuel Abt is a journalist for the IHT/NY Times based in France. His usual beat I think is European business... but he covers cycling on the side. He has covered the last 30 editions of the Tour de France!

There is a video interview with Mr. Abt up on Velonews.com and he makes exactly the same points that I made in my earlier post entitled 'Tugboat burns in Hell'. He talks about how there are no more heroes and how while the sport of cycling is beautiful it is also corrupt and ruled by a code of silence about 'dopage'... and this is someone who has seen a lot of bike racing in his lifetime, and has interviewed both stars and watercarriers (name of a famous cycling film).

Now I know that NO ONE is reading this because I look at the hit reports but I just thought I would point it out. And I certainly hadn't seen the interview when I wrote my post.

The strange thing is that I am suddenly afflicted by a desire to race my bike again. I am in terrible physical shape right now and feel like crap... I am not getting any exercise. Dinner tonight consisted of 1/2 a cucumber with salt.... and two molasses cookies with milk. And I am not the slightest bit hungry. We will see. When I move the first order of business will be to start commuting by bike -- this is a big reason why I am moving.

7.09.2006

Hot patootie, bless my soul / Long Live the Fletcher Free Library video collection

More movie memories....I first saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show in high school while on a short trip to London with my family... they went somewhere else, I went to a movie. This was back in the early 80's and I don't there was any audience participation in the theater ('theatre' in the UK) that I remember...staid Brits?. The film made some impression I guess, and parts of the film (come do the time warp again...) are certainly part of pop culture even today, but I have never attended a midnight showing equipped with rice, newspapers, toilet paper etc.

The library in Burlington has a strange video collection: Not many current titles, but enough films to keep one amused through the gloomy seasons of Vermont (lately encompassing spring (rain), summer (rain - it's killing the farmers) fall (rain), and winter (rain - it's killing the ski areas...)). They have a DVD of Rocky Horror, which I watched last night. It's still a lot of gender bending fun and the musical numbers are inventive and hilarious. I confess, I am kind of a sucker for this kind of stuff, perhaps it was the experience of living in Germany, land of fruity lederhosen clad androgyny, I like Cabaret as well, and strangeness in general. (Props to the Spielpalast Cabaret, a local cabaret troupe for putting on a good show in May, I thought the 06 production was a lot livelier and more entertaining than the 05 version...)

But watching Rocky Horror made me think of the libary's film collection: It's yet another thing I'll miss after I move. I have been trying to think more coherently about movies and am trying to broaden my viewing experiences. I am particularly interested in why critics like things that I think suck (or at least feel very lukewarm about): And the nature of the Internet makes it easy to read lots of reviews and critical responses. (This was partly sparked by my seeing Lost in Translation and Sideways, two widely praised movies that I didn't like much at all.) Sometimes I will watch a film, read reviews, and then go back and watch scenes again to see if I am understanding what is going on. What can I say, I live alone & have too much time on my hands. Maybe I'll subscribe to Netflix in the fall to get me through the pissy rainy dark Vermont winter.

So without further ado, if you live in Burlington, here's my list of films that are worth checking out of the library, in no particular order except for my #1 choice.

  • The Godfather (of course)
  • Midnight Cowboy (great on location shots of NYC)
  • The Last Picture Show (young Cybill Shepherd)
  • Annie Hall (Woody Allen in his pre-adopted stepdaughter period)
  • The Third Man (I've seen the Prater, where the famous ferris wheel scene was filmed)
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind (I had never seen this until recently)
  • Brideshead Revisited (more adrongyny: there's a scene about 2/3rds of the way through this, a critique of the protangonist's art and life, set in a seedy gay bar, that is amazing.)
  • Hud/Cool Hand Luke ("Even Hud gets lonely")
  • Dr. Strangelove ("No fighting in the War Room!")
  • Run Lola Run
  • The Singing Detective (a huge influence on me)

and, my number #1 pick:

REPO MAN: Truly one of my favorites. "It's better on a plate" "People just spontaneously combust, it happens all the time".... The Malibu as the quest for enlightenment....Bud and Miller... "The life of a repo man is always intense"....

Put the old beat up tape in the VCR and Iggy Pop comes blasting out and it still rocks even though it's 30 years old....

This is by no means an inclusive list but just represents a random selection of interesting titles that I have enjoyed.

Most of the musical numbers from Rocky Horror are on you tube, a quick search will bring them up.

7.06.2006

Flickr is humbling / An excellent photo stream



I post photos to flickr and some people have told me that I have a 'good eye' and take nice pictures.

Flickr is really humbling however. I did a search for 'sunsets' because I took a photo of the sunset on Lake Champlain and I found a photostream that really surprised me from a guy in the Maldive Islands. I take pictures with a little entry level Canon Powershot A60 (2 big megapixels!) but the pictures in Ahmed's photostream are taken with an PS A95 which isn't a hugely more capable camera than what I have... and the photos are much better! Check them out.

I find flickr much more interesting than you tube, I have not found much on you tube that holds my attention, and people's behavior is so bad that it is sort of funny in a sick way.

7.05.2006

Slides on Dix

Taken exactly 363 days ago. I dragged a full pack up and over Dix which was probably a mistake (also brought too much stuff). I was totally exhausted by the end of hiking out the next day.

I hope to spend some time in Adirondacks this fall (or maybe the Whites, they will be a little closer to me in Waterbury.)

7.01.2006

I may have sucked, but at least I raced clean, or Tugboat burns in Hell

As I noted, I raced a bike pretty ineffectually for a long time... spending many hours and many thousands of dollars not winning low level amateur bike races. One thing that distinguished my approach to racing was my distaste for supplements and various forms of enhancement that are available even to scrubby low level athletes like myself. When I was racing I didn't like to eat any solid food at all on the bike and rarely used fancy energy drinks...I used Coke in lots of races...Caffeine and sugar!

Part of my racing experience was following the pro racing scene, reading bike porn (glossy racing magazines), cycling websites and the notorious rec.bicycles.racing newsgroup. In 1989, I was living in Randolph VT in a small apartment that came with free premium cable (HBO!) for some reason. I remember watching ESPN on a Saturday night, the penultimate day of the Tour de France, and they congratulated Greg Lemond on a 'fantastic comeback' for finishing 2nd (he had been in a hunting accident a few years prior, and almost died). The next day, Lemond famously won the final time trial to win the race overall. At the time, such events really inspired me.

Pro racing, however, is a sport rife with all sorts of cheating: races are bought and sold and powerful drugs and systematic doping programs assist the riders: European pro racing is a tough, working class sport, more like boxing than anything else, and quite different than the scene in the US, where it is kind of a bling bling upscale sport (one of the reasons I got out of it). Euro riders get into the sport because it offers an escape from working on a farm or dead-end factory job. Drugs used improve performance included veterinary drugs, hormonal treatments for menopausal women, Chinese knock off EPO, etc. And, as has recently been revealed, blood transfusions are also part of the doping arsenal. It is a deeply ingrained part of the sport.

In July 2003 I was unemployed and depressed and living an "Odd Todd" sort of life, right down to spending days in a ratty bathrobe. July, TdF happens, covered live on various websites, and Danish TV streamed their video feed live on the web: It was very low-fi, but it was live, as it happened coverage. Tyler Hamilton, native of Marblehead MA, crashed and broke his collarbone (I've done that!) early in the race, but managed to 'heroically' continue in the event. What drama! What courage! What a tough guy to suffer through the pain and persevere! Lots of media coverage by journalists masquerading as fans with typewriters. In the tour's last mountain stage, Hamilton escaped the peloton and improbably won the stage in epic solo fashion. I remember watching this at home on the tiny video screen, reading the text feed on cyclingnews, and emailing friends with jobs as it was happening. It was thrilling and inspiring!

Alas, our heroes often have feet of clay (I owe that phrase to a letter to Velonews). Hamilton won an Olympic gold medal in 2004 and was busted for blood doping shortly thereafter. He has always maintained his innocence, however his reasoning has always reminded me of OJ Simpson's defense. His defense included swearing on the grave of his dead dog "Tugboat" that he was innocent... and also swearing on his WIFE's life that he didn't do it: Wags on Rec.bicycles.Racing soon posted: "Tyler wants Haven (wife) dead!"

Now a major doping scandal has broken out again in Spain, the top riders of this year's TdF have been ejected before the race began, and Hamilton's name is again brought up once more, included on very incriminating documents...

I still have a vague interest in all of this but as I've grown older I am certainly more cynical about pro sports, it's a business, driven by advertising, and there isn't much idealism left. The pros are the gladiator class and are both deceitful and exploited by the teams and the team directors. It's a pretty rotten system. But I also think that cycling is no worse than major American sports (esp. baseball and football): Barry Bonds, probable perjurer, is still chasing the HR record...