Blogging Bob Dylan: What is popular?

Most of the time, this blog is much pretty ignored by the wider world -- it's too self-absorbed, obscure, diffuse and lost in a vast sea of similar self-created online dreck (I've come across other personal blogs that are much, much better than this one, but others that are much worse). In this context, it's hard to stand out, most months, this blog averages about 150 visitors, and 200+ page views, total.

There have been a few events (cabarets and bike races [and here]) that I have written about that have attracted some small bits of attention, but this is more the exception rather than the rule. I also don't usually post about politics, guns, sex, or other exciting and salacious topics. I once read an article about "How to have a popular blog" and it held up as a model to emulate, a rather witty blog about movies and the film industry, that was liberally sprinkled with images of topless starlets...

My post about the recent Bob Dylan Wannabe Contest, however, was somehow picked up by Expecting Rain, a Dylan fan site that publishes a daily user-compiled list of Dylan links... and this single link resulted in 250 vistors to this site on Thursday, coming from all over the world (lots of Scandinavians & Eastern Europeans). I am sure that this was an anomaly but this shows how the right topic can get picked up and visitors will find it.

The more long-term question is, I suppose, will any of these fleeting and far-flung visitors return? Or did they end up here once, take a quick look, and resume their online wandering in pursuit of information about the enigimatic Bob Dylan? I don't know, but this seems likely to be the case.

In the off chance that anyone does return to take a look, here are some more images from the event, and there's a longer snippet of video up on YouTube as well that includes two complete and very funny performances -- it's worth checking out.


Would the real Bob Dylan please stand up? 4th annual "Bob Dylan Wanna-Be Contest", Montpelier

We went to the 4th annual Bob Dylan Wanna-Be Contest in Montpelier on Saturday, I'd heard of this event before, but this was the first time I had attended. It was also the first time that admission was charged -- the event was a fundraiser for an as-yet unbuilt central Vermont YMCA -- and about 350 people turned out. The performances ran the gamut from very good to campy (a Dylanesque cover of "YMCA" by the Village People) to more amateur and awkward but it was a fun (if long -- there were 19 Dylan wanna-bees) evening.

The winner, "Visions of Johanna", a pretty dead-on Dylan nasal cover, shut your eyes and it was like listening to Blonde on Blonde -- but I'm not sure I would have had this as my #1 performance.

2nd place, she had a good voice, and sang "Don't Think Twice it's Alright". There were only two female performers all night and they both covered this song.

3rd place: A hilarious (and good) cover of "Man Gave Names to All the Animals", see video clip below.

A very campy nasal cover of "YMCA" also very funny and apropos.


Something wild: Moose in Little River State Park, Waterbury

Hiking in Little River State Park in Waterbury on Saturday, I figured that I would be safe enough even though this is the last weekend of deer hunting season. I saw lots of signs of hunting groups in the woods but didn't meet anyone, and like last weekend, didn't hear any gunshots (see here for more about why caution is needed in the woods at this time of year).

This area is prime moose habitat, I encountered a moose in almost exactly the same spot earlier this year, and it's very mucky, so moose tracks are usually plainly visible in the mud.

As I worked my way uphill I saw a yearling calf browsing out of the corner of my eye, and instead of rushing right over to take a look I managed to get organized, get my camera out, check the settings, and worked my way through the thick underbrush, snow cover made it easier to move relatively quietly. As I got closer I realized that the yearling was not alone: Mother emerged from behind an evergreen to check me out. These pictures don't do justice to how big this animal was: I was looking up at her. My presence eventually did disturb the pair and they moved off but not before I managed to get these pictures.

I consider myself very fortunate to live so close to a big patch of undeveloped public land, it is one of my favorite places to get away from crowds, noise and the distractions of my life (image from World Wind and my GPS).


Post mortem

Unlike many people I had to work today but truth be told I really didn't mind too much, I had no intention of going anywhere near a shopping mall today and the weather was cold and grey with snow flurries and a biting wind, very wintry. I did attempt to go for a walk around lunchtime -- the idea being, to burn off some yesterday's excess -- with my camera but it really was too cold to be out for very long without gloves.


Peace out on Thanksgiving

Just an image from my trip to Nepal, I want to read up on the iconography of Buddhism, but the idea of Nirvana is appealing when surrounded by all kinds of excess -- too much food, family, shopping (something in which I will not partake).


Still time to ride

Sunday afternoon in Waterbury. There is a dusting of snow in the woods and it's still hunting season, but somewhere along the way I acquired a bright orange jersey with fluorescent yellow trim, and with this pulled over a couple of layers of winter gear I figured I would be plenty warm enough as well as highly visible (no chance of being mistaken for a deer) -- and this proved to be the case. I met a couple of hunters but they were friendly and respectful and also saw plenty of tracks in the woods, but heard no gunshots.

This trail has a series of short steep climbs and descents and the non-traditional setup of my mountain bike means that climbing is very taxing (I am thankful that I didn't get a single speed -- I think that it is too hilly around here for that to be very practical); being maxed out on a climb will warm you up in no time at all. This is one of my favorite times of year to ride in the woods, in the summer it would be wet, buggy, sticky and very hot.

The image (from NASA's World Wind program) shows some of the changes in the Vermont woods. There's a loop on the top of Blush Hill that is lined with large new houses on big private lots -- this development is plainly visible from the summit of Camels Hump. There's also a new development going in on the lower slopes as well. I really wish that land use patterns were more efficient and conserved more of the land: People aspire to live in big houses on big lots out in the woods.

I recently read an article on the decline of hunting in Vermont that noted how many dirt roads have been widened and improved and now development has spread further out from town and village centers. Sometimes I mock myself for my condo-dwelling existence but at least it is high density housing and I can walk or bike to the grocery store, bank, library, etc. unlike these places in the woods where a car is pretty much mandatory to do anything.


Cyclocross coverage from the archives: October 2006

Getting viral (as in 'viral marketing') with it: I sent a link to the video I put together of the West Hill Cyclocross race to the folks at the West Hill shop, thinking they would have an interest, and they posted both a link to the video on YouTube, and a link to this blog, on their site, which has led to a surge in visitors. Who would have guessed that the website for a bike shop in New England gets visitors from the deep south (Alabama, Louisiana) and the far west (Wyoming)?

Since creating new content is hard, one content management strategy is to recycle what you have. In October 2006 I took some pictures at a cyclocross race hosted by Catamount in Williston; it turned out that Vermont's largest newspaper (that's not saying much) was doing a story on this fringe sport... which they illustrated with some of my images. The posts about this are here and here.

There is also extensive coverage of the Green Mountain Stage Race on this blog as I am involved with promoting that event -- it's my one ongoing involvement with competitive cycling. See the September 2007 & 2006 archives for these posts.


Shave and a haircut (in Kathmandu)

A funny sequence of pictures sent to me by Emily Stebbins, who was part of our trekking group in Nepal. I planned on getting my hair cut short prior to leaving the US because I figured that showers might be kind of rare in the countryside. As it turned out showers were common at lodges where we stayed, it was hot water that was scarce. Ongyel, the trip organizer, encouraged me to wait until I arrived in Nepal to go to a barber... for the experience. These photos were taken on a very rainy Saturday in Kathmandu, we left on the trek early the next day.

A vigorous face massage precedes the shave. Ongyel, in the background, is engrossed watching a cricket match being shown on Indian television. This was taken late on a Saturday afternoon, I had last shaved on Wednesday morning before leaving the US.

The cricket match proved more interesting than my being shaved with a large straight razor -- there's a first time for everything, this was a first time experience for me.

After the face massage, shave, haircut, the whole procedure concludes with a brain-rattling scalp massage, it was like the barber drumming on my head. It's too bad there's not a video clip of this because it made an impressive amount of noise -- loud pops and cracks.


Real cyclocross action: Video from World Cup #3, Pijnacker, NL

It's late autumn, the trees have lost their leaves, it's cold, wet and very muddy, and the guys leading the race are Dutch and Belgian.... Very cool (and, for web video, high quality) Euro cross action found on YouTube:

Props to Katie Compton for winning the women's race in the slop, the video does give a good sense of how tough the conditions are on such a course in the wet.


The definitive 2007 West Hill Cyclocross Race video

Actually it's not, but this is the best I can do with the equipment, software and brain that I have, and then the end result isn't very much at all... the title of this post is just a shameless bit of "Search Engine Marketing".

Each time I try to put something like this together I do think I get a little bit better at it but I am still not sure if the results are in any way compelling.

I use Windows Movie Maker to put videos together and it is a very crude tool but I have learned to adapt to some of its quirks and limitations. Also, my laptop is getting old and full of god knows what spyware etc. and video processing makes it almost grind to a halt, it takes considerable patience to output the final product, and then uploading it to YouTube (not my favorite website) is a whole separate process, and the crisp clear video ends up being compressed into murky and unrecognizable dreck.

Anyway, after all that complaining, here it is:

UPDATE: Check out the high res version of this video hosted on vimeo, it's much clearer.


West Hill Cyclocross: Women over the barriers

Just a snippet of video & some images from the Women's race at the West Hill Cyclocross 11/11. I'll add more over time from the other races... but it will take some time for me to get organized.


Velo retro part III: Return to West Hill, Putney, Vermont

In the spring of 1993 (if memory hasn't failed me), the 4th bike race I ever entered in my life was the Tour of the Valleys, hosted by the Putney (Vermont) Bike Club and starting and finishing at the West Hill Shop, a very funky old school emporium for cycling and cross country skiing in southern Vermont.

Later, when I was ineffectually racing cyclocross, I raced at the West Hill Shop sponsored cyclocross race two or three times... I never went very fast, slogging through the cornfield in an industrial wasteland by the banks of the Connecticut River (I also raced at the Putney-hosted mountain bike race, back when this was still an ongoing event -- I doubt their are many folks who can claim to have participated in all three of these races -- it dates me badly).

Anyway today -- it's hunting season, the woods are full of hunters, so I didn't want to go for a hike or a mountain bike ride, too much chance of being mistaken for a deer by someone with a hangover and high-powered rifle -- I drove down to Putney just to hang out again at the cyclocross race. I saw some people who knew me from back in my racing days and just watched other people suffer. It was a perfect late fall day for racing, sunny but quite cold, and the course was relatively dry. Attendance was a bit sparse: I overheard someone say during the "A" race: "Back in the day, there would be 100 people here watching..." but it was still a fun event. Even though the West Hill Shop has new ownership and a fancy brand spanking new post and beam building it is still a pretty funky place unlike most retail establishments I have been in and they did preserve the some of the old original shop, so it's still worth a visit.


Nepal: Mule Trains and Porters

There is little in the way of infrastructure in the Annapurna region of Nepal, roads are few and mostly unimproved. Villages in the mountains are connected to the valleys via networks of paths made up of thousands of steep and unforgiving stone steps. Labor is cheap and animals still carry goods into and out of the region.

In our guesthouses, in the early morning (like 5:30 am) we would hear the sound of mule and donkey trains heading out for the day, it was one of the most characteristic sounds of the whole trekking experience, the animals wear bells similar to the cowbells in Switzerland.

Porters are also common: Men who eke out a living simply by carrying goods to and fro with very minimal gear. I keep adding images to my photoblog account from the trip; here are links to more images of mule trains and porters.


The thief

After a warm October the weather has turned colder and there is snow on the surrounding hills, which is somewhat reassuring in light of all the news about the coming environmental apocalypse. Needless to say, attempts to feed the local birds have been short circuited by a poorly designed bird feeder that serves as a buffet for squirrels (and flocks of blue jays): One of this weekend's chores will be to try and find a feeder designed for smaller and less ravenous creatures.


I want to move to Portland...

Monday the New York Times ran an article about the bike culture in Portland Oregon... and today it is the most read article on the site. Why? In this era of congestion, sprawl and $3/gallon gasoline are people all over the US (and worldwide) yearning for an alternative to cars? Or are lots of Oregonians emailing the article around and skewing the results? Or does the NYT's (a slightly left-leaning publication) audience correlate well with the bike-commuting set -- though I doubt bike commuters make up a large enough online audience to make a particular article #1 on the busy NYT site.

Anyway I'm pretty happy with my scene in Waterbury but one thing that does bother me is that it is rural/suburban and everything is very spread out: To use a bike to get around takes a pretty high level of commitment. This past Saturday morning I did throw on some cold weather cycling gear and ride to Waterbury to do some errands (bank, library, 2 items from the grocery store) but I find that there isn't that much that I want to do close by... which means using a car to get around.

I did commute by bike occasionally this summer but not nearly as frequently as I would like. It's only a little more than 8 miles one way but it is on an unpleasant road to ride on and it is a long gentle uphill which means the morning ride takes more time and considerably more effort than the trip home. But these are feeble excuses and I know that I should make more of a commitment to this: It makes sense from an environmental, fitness and 'personal political' level (I think that a case can be made, that driving a car is immoral on several levels...). If I ever pursued a "do what you love, the money will follow" career path I think that I would be quite happy working in the area of transportation alternatives.


Skin (empathy for the mangy bear in PA)

There's debate raging online about this image: Is it a junior sasquatch -- or merely a bear with mange? I will not weigh in on this debate, except to say, that if it is a bear with mange (as seems likely), the beast has my sympathy, and I know how it feels...

To explain: I'm at a juncture in my life where I should be stable and happy: I'm not looking for love, work, or a place to live, and some of the past catastrophes in my life are somewhat receding. Just when I should be relatively carefree -- at least on the micro-level, on the larger, macro scale, there's always plenty of depressing problems to consider -- something has come up that is threatening to upset the little apple cart that is my boring, ordered, suburban life.

It started about this time last year: Small bumps appeared, much like poison ivy, on the inside of my left elbow and like poison ivy, the bumps itched severely. This was diagnosed as eczema, for the first time in my adult life, and soon spread to other parts of my body. This condition has waxed and waned in past year, but never entirely gone away. When this condition is bad I'm not in pain but it is very uncomfortable and I am unable to be at ease in my own skin, and sometimes scratch myself until I bleed. Expensive prescription medications have not cured the problem. Also my eyes are frequently irritated and are itchy and tear profusely for no good reason, and the persistent irritation and subsequent rubbing has aged the skin around my eyes noticeably: I look a lot older now.

In August 2006 I moved into my new place, the total distance involved was only about 30 miles. Something, however, in my new environment seems to have triggered a quite severe and ongoing reaction in my body. This past week I had one awful night at home (a very bad night -- if nights like that became the norm, I would have to move, or live in a plastic bubble), so consequently I am seeing an allergist next week to have some tests run.

Hopefully this visit will result in a simple, inexpensive (I don't have expansive medical coverage) and straightforward diagnosis and treatment plan, but I anticipate that this will probably not be the case. One idea that I am still getting used to, is seeing a doctor about this situation, spending money, taking drugs, and yet nothing really changes...it's very discouraging. I'm starting to feel like the protagonist in the Singing Detective.

[I know, that if a prospective employer was to come across this post, it could be concluded that I am a bad insurance risk, someone with a body riddled with various chronic conditions. That really isn't the case, until this point in my life, I have been quite fortunate, both in terms of injury and illness -- which makes my current predicament all the more difficult for me to deal with. I'm not used to living with incurable conditions other than bad eyesight.]


It was Halloween

This surprisingly impressive pumpkin was a freebie from the local farmstand.... pies for Thanksgiving were being ordered, and the proprietor said "help yourself".... We also ordered a fresh Vermont turkey yesterday from a local farm (we didn't look over the flock and say, "let's have this one") but I don't doubt that our bird is still strutting around the farmyard: November 14th is "Turkey Processing Day". I think our Thanksgiving will be a surprisingly large production this year and I'm sure it will be documented here.