September 15, 2012

Which do you believe, the map or the GPS?

If you read my last grumpiness regarding Nike+, you probably know that the answer to the above question is, “It depends.”

It turns out Strava has the same problem as Nike+ when it comes to using the GPS in the iPhone to track runs. Simply put, both apps trust that the GPS track from the phone is 100% reliable; once a run has been tracked, there is no option to correct the track or replace it with something generated from a map.

This would be wonderful if the GPS track was, in fact, 100% reliable. But for some reason in the last few weeks, my GPS tracks have been consistently bad. I’ve had seven-mile runs marked as two and a half, two-and-a-half mile runs marked as three… it goes on and on. I don’t know if the problem is the phone hardware, the apps, local topography, local weather, solar weather, or some combination, but it’s pretty consistently bad.

And it highlights the problem with using GPS tracks to get run distance (or much other run data): GPS as a technology is much more precise than it is accurate. Put another way, like email, GPS is a “best effort” technology (much like email). It can be wrong, and if it’s wrong it will not apologize nor necessarily admit the error.

So why don’t either of these logging systems accept an alternative? All they need is an option—it can be on the website, it doesn’t need to be right in the phone app—to indicate for a given run if the GPS track is actually correct. The user could have the option to upload a .gpx file with a better map track if they want to generate one with another app. (It’s hypothetically possible to use the Gmap-pedometer to create a gpx file, and use that to record a new run with Strava, but so far the gpx files I’ve tried uploading to Strava have failed.)

Introducing this option of human oversight is a simple way of accounting for GPS’s lack of accuracy. I’m sure most of the app developers want to avoid that degree of complication, but in doing so, they’re placing more trust in a fallible technology than it really deserves.

ETA: So the issue with my GPS inaccuracy turned out to be the iPhone and not the apps. Still, how do I correct the logs?

Posted by pjm at 1:40 PM | Comments (0)

January 7, 2010

Sidewalk pavers

Like most, the parts of my current running scope which have sidewalks* tend to have ordinary concrete slabs. This makes me a bit more aware of the different ones. Today I noticed a few sections in North Troy and Lansingburgh with what appear to be slate sidewalks. (I haven’t done a full minerology work-up so I’m guessing.)

But the absolute best, in my mind, is a very small section of an obscure little street in Watervliet which has four or five sections of what appear to be marble sidewalks.

* In discussion today with another runner and resident of my town, he told me that the official town attitude towards sidewalks is, “You live here in the country. If you want sidewalks, you should live in the city.” I guess that explains our atrocious walkability scores.

ETA, 19 January: The Times Union on sidewalks in our area. Siena’s recommendations would all be great for running.

Posted by pjm at 9:47 AM | Comments (0)

November 11, 2009

Magellan GPS not recommended

For years, I did my geocaching with a Magellan Meridian Gold. Its PC interface was a laughably obsolete serial cable, but I could write waypoints to an SD card which the GPS would then read. Eventually, it died an ugly death involving leaking batteries and corrosion, and I went to replace it. I picked up a Magellan Triton 400 from L.L. Bean, figuring that was the natural progression and that a newer model would be better. Hey, the Triton actually had a USB cable!

Turns out that development goes backwards at Magellan. My Mac would not recognize or talk to the Triton, but that’s more of a disappointment than a surprise; MacCaching, a cache manager for Macs, explicitly specifies that it doesn’t work with the Triton series (and so do a surprising number of 1-star reviews on Amazon). What’s more, it turns out the Triton won’t use the SD card for waypoints, only for “media”—photos and sound clips. (This model of Triton doesn’t even have a camera, making this limitation even more laughable.)

I figured I’d try my usual “doesn’t work with Macs” back door, a Parallels VM running Windows XP. Except that Magellan’s software then refused to connect with the GPS, even though Parallels was quite definite about taking charge of the USB device. The Triton just wouldn’t make a connection.

I had hoped today, with a day off and nice weather, that I could spend some time outside hunting tupperware in my new area. Instead I spent two hours plus fighting with the GPS just to load waypoints. I could’ve keyed them into the GPS in that time. Finally I gave up and put everything back in the package and drove it to the L.L. Bean retail store in Albany.

Point one for L.L.’s Albany outlet: they took back the Triton (which was in a box with one of their price tags, but which I bought maybe two or three summers ago despite my lack of time for caching) and gave me a store gift card for the full value on the price tag. (No credit for the Maine sales tax, but I suppose the state has long since spent it anyway.)

Point two: an enthusiastic young bike mechanic not only went through the specs on a stack of Garmins, but pulled a pair out from the back room and let me test loading waypoints on them. I had brought my MacBook with me, because I wasn’t paying a cent for a receiver until I had seen every step of the “load waypoints to GPS” use case working. We spread cables and receivers and laptop out on a counter in the bike shop as I first slurped the default waypoints off the Garmin, then loaded a dozen or so Watervliet and Troy waypoints.

So I walked out with an eTrex Venture HC, which actually cost (tax and all) about $15 less than the Magellan. It’s pretty basic, but it works so far and we’ll see how it plays in the long run.

But I will underline this point yet again: If you’re a Mac user, Magellan doesn’t care about you. Don’t waste your time.

Posted by pjm at 6:04 PM | Comments (0)

July 15, 2009

And this was how the giant buoy got anchored in the tiny pond

This morning I was thinking it would be cool if there was a website showing conditions at Puffer’s Pond. Water temperature, air temperature, maybe a wind reading.

Then I figured you could probably hack together some kind of home weather station with a cell card and a buoy, and have it “phone in” its data on a regular basis—just check in hourly with a quick blip of data. Then you could build a website to store the data and show stuff like daily temperature curves, a trailing average of temperature at a given time of day over several days, air/water temperature gradient, and maybe start predicting swimming conditions based on current conditions and the weather forecast.

Then I realized what I really wanted was for GoMOOS to plant a buoy in Puffer’s. Is that so wrong?

Posted by pjm at 7:36 PM | Comments (1)

February 23, 2009

There were no signs

I mentioned this when we lived there, but it turns out it wasn’t just a hunch. The Amherst DPW cited our old street as the most-stolen road sign in town.

Posted by pjm at 9:19 PM | Comments (0)

January 11, 2009

Cats are better

I returned from a bitterly cold run yesterday to find Iz basking in front of my parents’ woodstove. He didn’t even get up to come greet me.

“Iz,” I said, “On days like today, I’m glad you don’t need to be walked.”

He looked back at me with a level glare which said, “Bub, on days like today, I’m glad you can run by yourself.”

Posted by pjm at 12:04 PM | Comments (1)

October 23, 2008

Scientific equipment

When I’m on my bike, I feel like I frequently bend over while waiting at traffic lights, to pick up dimes.

Perhaps this is the remnants of some hardware testing at the stop line?

Now Playing: Goin’ Out from I’m a Mountain by Sarah Harmer

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October 5, 2008

Wood-splitting for fun--and an axe?

We went up to the Conway “Festival of the Hills” this afternoon, a cool pocket fair held on recreation-department fields in the center of that pretty little hilltown. There was a lot to like there, including a hilly 10-K (I didn’t race) and a small corral of goats, sheep, ponies and llamas patient enough to be patted by a swarm of fascinated kids. A series of bands played on the tennis courts; on one edge of the field a small group of people gazed thoughtfully as two people and a hydraulic contraption the size of a boat trailer carefully sliced up a good-sized log, a portable sawmill.

Next to the sawmill was the wood-splitting contest. Yes, competitive wood-splitting. It took me a few go-arounds to figure out what was happening here, other than that people were taking turns splitting wood.

In fact, there was a store of wood of firewood length (about 18”, but I may be wrong about this) which needed to be split to stove size (defined, roughly, as one end fitting through a ring set up nearby). People (men and women) signed up for two-minute segments splitting as much wood as they could with an axe. Everything split to acceptable size by a competitor was put on a big scale and weighed; sticks which remained too large or not completely split were tossed on the pile with the previously-weighed firewood of previous competitors.

The biggest total wins, and to be really competitive, you had to split over 150 pounds of wood in two minutes. The winner was over 200 pounds. Judging from the guy I saw wandering around with a shiny-new axe afterward, either the winner gets an axe or this guy brought his own equipment. (The 2007 champion defended his title, for those who are close followers of the competitive wood-splitting circuit.)

We watched two splitters, one pretty good and another not so much, and three weigh-ins, and figured some strategy. You have to hack at each stick long enough to get it down to size; it pays to not lose much work to the “too-large” pile. It also pays to be up early in the order, with a good selection of heavy logs to cut. (If you’re experienced, you know which sections will weigh more.)

Of course, strength pays: if you can quarter a log with just three chops (once through, then splitting the resulting halves) rather than wasting time on an axe stuck three inches into a log, you’re going to get more wood on the scale. The better of the two guys we watched was splitting the log on nearly every swing; the worse had to take two or three swings for every weighable chunk he got, and a lot of his chunks were rejected as too large.

You definitely don’t want to be a rookie in this sport. These guys threw the axe around like a lacrosse stick, but if you can swing an axe that heavy, that quickly, you’re risking toes if you aren’t precise with your placement. (This is why woodsmen wear steel-toed boots.)

Whoever supplied the original timber probably got two or three cords of mostly-split firewood in the end. Not a bad deal.

Posted by pjm at 4:59 PM | Comments (0)

July 26, 2008


I have a lot of pictures from today, but these two may be my favorites. The original un-cropped shots are also on Flickr; these were taken with the “point the camera where the subject may turn up, mash down the shutter when you see it” method, so I’m surprised they came out this well. If I’d had A’s hardware setup, I’d be selling the photos to whale-watch outfits for promotions.



We got a closer look at a big old seal on the return journey, but he didn’t give us quite as many photo ops. The whale, we were guessing, was probably six feet across the beam.

Update 7/28: Consensus seems to be that it was a minke whale.

Posted by pjm at 9:06 PM | Comments (0)

July 23, 2008

Looking out different windows

Backyard deer

When I was hanging a load of laundry on the lines behind my parents house, I thought, “This isn’t how I usually spend my on-line time.”

About an hour before I went out to take the laundry in (it’s been sprinkling all afternoon, so far) we looked out the window to observe the local wildlife. In Amherst I’m used to watching squirrels, occasional bunnies, and the neighborhood cats in our yard; here, it was a deer picking through the back-yard salad bar. I got this photo out the window as the deer considered picking some fruit from the crab-apple tree at the corner of the yard where the brush comes closest to the house; shortly afterward, my movement behind the window spooked it enough that it bounded over to the farthest end of the yard, and finally vanished.

And I’ve been getting reports for months of the local “flight school.” The bald eagles who nested on the other side of the island had their nest blown down in a storm a few years ago, but they’ve returned and the new nest is much more visible to passers-by. “Junior,” the young eaglet, has recently been out on his first flights, and it won’t be long before his parents kick him out and force him to find his own territory to forage for food. This pair (if it’s the same pair) have been nesting on the island for several years, so the area apparently represents good eagle habitat despite the human population.

Posted by pjm at 3:05 PM | Comments (0)

July 11, 2008

Time to share the road

There’s a new ghost bike in Washington, DC this week. Not somebody I knew, but somebody people I know knew, a recent graduate of the College. 22 years old, all ready to save the world, and for whatever reason that’s all ended now, with no explanations.

I’ve seen a lot of bicycles on the road recently. Obviously Eugene and Portland were swarming with them, but I feel like there have been more than usual in Amherst, as I’ve mentioned, many of them new commuters. I’d like to see more, I’d like to see more bikes replacing other fuel-burners and honestly I’d rather not see us placing any more ghost bikes. But there are so many cars on the road that even a noticeable increase in bikes doesn’t represent a noticeable decrease in cars.

So if you’re riding—or, for that matter, if you’re driving where there seem to be more riders than before—remember to read the Bicycle Safe page, which I’ve linked before. (And wear your helmet, too, because there are more ways to fall off a bike than just getting hit by a car.)

Posted by pjm at 5:37 PM | Comments (0)

June 27, 2008

The town that cranks

I did notice pretty quickly that there appear to be more bikes about in Eugene than I’m used to seeing in Amherst. And, parenthetically, I’ve seen more bikes than what seems to me to be usual in Amherst this summer. I think it’s a gas-price thing, because many of the riders have backpacks or panniers (i.e. they’re commuting) and many of the bikes make the sibilant grinding sound that means the chain hasn’t been lubed in two or three years.

Eugene seems to have taken this to a new level, even though they’re not terribly good at wearing helmets. Aside from the Pedal Junkies we met last night, apparently tomorrow one of the features of the Eugene 2008 Festival is going to be the Track Town Power Station: “citizens cycling to create energy.” If I’m reading that right, there’s going to be a bunch of people generating electricity with stationary bikes.

Which is a kinda cool idea, I suppose, but I’m not sure that leg power is really our #1 untapped renewable energy source for electricity generation, you know?

Posted by pjm at 3:18 PM | Comments (1)

Pedal shuttle

I am three hours east of whatever time is reported for this, so it is still Thursday here. Although I’m reaching that state of fatigue where time zones are sort of irrelevant.

Anyway, on our way back from parking the car at a remote shuttle spot, we got picked up by Wayne (I’m guessing) from Pedal Junkies, two guys working on starting a pedal cab service in Eugene.

I don’t know how crowded the bike path between the parking lots at Autzen Stadium and Hayward Field is going to be for the Trials, but if you want to ride to the track in style, you could do worse than to give them a call.

Posted by pjm at 12:55 AM | Comments (0)

June 10, 2008

The Dungeon

As everyone who may care is undoubtedly already aware, it’s been disgustingly hot in the U.S. northeast since about Sunday. “Disgustingly hot” means high 90s; apparently we cracked 100 today. This is not unheard of around here, but generally it happens in late July and August, not early June. We’re due for thunderstorms any minute now to break the heat (high 80s forecast for tomorrow, low 80s on Thursday, much more seasonable).

This house is good at holding on to its cool air during the day, providing it gets any; this is useful considering there’s no air conditioning. We keep the windows shut to keep the hot air out, then open them up and run my big box fan at night as soon as the outside temperature dips below inside. It’s still crawled up into the mid-80s yesterday and today, driving us to head for Puffer’s Pond (which is still cool but warmer than one would expect this early in the year.)

Today I caved and retreated to the basement, which is at least ten degrees cooler than upstairs, possibly much more. I have a little table (too low) and a chair, and a direct ethernet connection to the router, which is down here. I also have to put up with a musty smell, but I prefer that to having sweat drip off my nose and on to the keyboard.

Posted by pjm at 9:37 PM | Comments (1)

June 8, 2008


One thing I’d forgotten about long rides away from the main roads, especially on steamy-humid weekends like this, was the way the combination of speed and exposure highlights the pools of warmer and cooler air, and greater or lesser humidity. You flit through pools of cool, dry air like passing through a shower.

Posted by pjm at 12:33 PM | Comments (0)

Fixing it myself

I discovered, as I was getting ready for a little geocaching expedition yesterday, that I hadn’t used this particular GPSr since 2006—the Mt. Washington expedition, specifically. Unsurprisingly, the batteries had leaked, leaving a white film of corrosion around the battery compartment.

Four years ago I might have given up on the unit—sent it in for repair or just pitched it and bought a new one. Yesterday I brought up the small-size screwdrivers and got the back off. A few minutes with some fine-grit sandpaper and some canned air cleared most of the grunge out and allowed it to power up with a new set of batteries.

It took the better part of half an hour for it to find all its satellites and figure out where it was, but it was functioning fine… except for the buttons. Some of them worked, some didn’t, and those which did, didn’t work all the time. (The last time I turned it off, I had to do so by popping one of the batteries out; the power button had failed.) The most frustrating part was that without the “Menu” button, I was unable to load the waypoints I had carefully stored on the SD card, which meant I could only hunt caches where I had printouts showing the coordinates.

So this morning I opened up the unit again, and this time I went at the other side of the pressed circuit card. I took apart the button assembly and dusted all the pieces carefully, sometimes employing a damp paper towel, and dried them all in a sunny spot on the table. Back together, voila! It works!

Now I just need to make the two-hour one-way bike ride up to the Wendell State Forest again to go after this big blob of caches. Again.

Posted by pjm at 11:07 AM | Comments (0)

March 20, 2008

The turkeys of South Pleasant Street

I was coming up the hill towards the College on 116, passing my Favorite View in Amherst® when I spotted some large birds flying low over the road ahead of me.

“Hmm,” I thought, “I wonder why those geese are having so much trouble getting altitude from the golf course.”

Then I realized that I was watching a flock of turkeys—well over a dozen, maybe twenty—crossing the road. I’d seen groups of turkeys (generally fewer than this, of course) hanging out in the nearby woods and sometimes browsing the hayfields where the cross-country course goes, but never this many this close.

And I have to say, there’s nothing that flies quite like a turkey. They fly the way novices ride bicycles: tentatively, in short segments, sometimes crash-landing.

Now Playing: Fortunate Son by Bruce Hornsby

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February 12, 2008

Unemployed and on the streets

You see a lot of litter when you run. Generally it’s of the beer-can-and-McDonalds-bag variety, but the odd stuff sticks out.

Today I spotted not one, but two 5 1/4” floppy disks, about a mile or so apart. They did appear to be from the same box (at least, they were the same color.)

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Posted by pjm at 8:36 AM | Comments (1)

February 9, 2008

Silly car story of the day

Starting my run today, I was waiting for a walk signal in downtown Amherst when I saw a guy drive by in a dark-green Miata. He had on a winter hat of the kind the Russians call a shapka, with the ear flaps down.

I know this because he had the top down on the Miata.

I wonder if it was stuck down, or if he thought the current weather was relatively balmy? I hope the second, because it started snowing a few minutes after I saw him.

Now Playing: World Party from Fisherman’s Blues by The Waterboys

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January 21, 2008

Icy tree

On my way over the Winnegance causeway last night, past 10 in the evening, I could’ve sworn I saw someone out on the ice. On my morning run, I saw that it was not a person, but someone’s Christmas tree, hauled out and “planted” in an ice-fishing hole.

Icy tree

The ice on the lake is so perfect you could almost fool yourself, from the house, into thinking it was still water. This afternoon I got out my skates and, with my camera in my pocket, went over to get a shot of the tree.

My skates are literally rusty and my skating skills somewhat more figuratively so, but most of the time I went sprawling on the ice it was because I caught a blade in a crack. In the sun, the ice flexes and burps, and the surface (which isn’t often visited by a zamboni) is seamed with the cracks of its flexing and with the tracks of the ATVs which cruised the lake while it had more snow on it. At night, the plates rub together at the cracks, and the ice pops and sings with an eerie howl. Once down on the surface, it shows a definite texture, both wind ripples and the slight hills and valleys that come from the cracking and crunching of its plates. I’m a little surprised that I managed to keep from smashing my camera on the ice.

Now Playing: Mothership by Drop Trio

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January 17, 2008

Make your own treadmill

Though I have access to the treadmills at the College when I’m in Amherst, I’m less well situated in Somerville. I can wave my (expired) University ID at the guard and get in to the indoor track there, but I haven’t tested the attentiveness of the fitness center attendants, who actually take your ID when you check in to use the treadmills there.

Cold doesn’t bother me nearly as much as poor footing (ice and packed snow) so finding places to run when the sidewalks are bad is a matter of finding low-traffic areas, good sun exposure, and/or responsible sidewalk-shovelers. Cemeteries are often a good bet, but they usually involve multiple repetitions of the same loop.

I found a route I call “the Arlington treadmill” which features slightly more variety and excitement than the indoor kind. After crossing the Alewife Brook Parkway into Arlington on either Massachusetts Avenue or Broadway, there’s a series of one-way streets between the two, starting with (yes) Marathon Street and going west to Palmer Street, nearly in the middle of Arlington. Excepting Bates Street, which is two-way, they alternate direction all the way.

By running against traffic, I can see all oncoming cars well in advance, which means I can choose between the roadway or either sidewalk depending on which offers the least traffic and the best footing. The homeowners on the side streets are pretty good about shoveling their short patches of sidewalk, with a few notable exceptions (mostly on Broadway) and by zig-zagging west, then back east again, I can get in an hour or more of pretty clear road without hitting the same sidewalks more than twice, encountering many cars, or even stopping for major road crossings. It’s not half bad. There’s even a distant view of the Pru on the return leg (heading east on Mass Ave.)

I sort of wonder why more people don’t do this.

Now Playing: Little Mascara from Tim by The Replacements

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January 13, 2008

No wonder it felt so much warmer

I’ve been using the little weather Dashboard widgets supplied by Apple to keep an eye on the unseasonably warm temps, and for some reason in recent days the temperature in Boston has been showing as notably warmer (as in, twenty to thirty degrees warmer) than other locations I follow in the area, e.g. Amherst.

Today I got suspicious, because everyone is buzzing about this incoming storm, and yet my Boston widget was showing clear weather both today and tomorrow. So I clicked through (the widget gets its data from Accuweather; I tend to use the National Weather Service myself) to figure out what was going on.

Turns out that a recent upgrade, either from Apple or from Accuweather, requires the widget to use both city and state. My widget, which was requesting simply “Boston”, was getting its forecast and conditions from Boston, Georgia, which I assume is alphabetically first on the list of Bostons, rather than, oh, most likely to be what people mean when they just ask for “Boston”?

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January 9, 2008

Talking about the weather

Let the record show that I did a workout on the University’s outdoor track in a light rain today, in spikes, with no ice on the track. Or snow, for that matter. And I was wearing shorts and short sleeves. And sweating. I’m pretty sure it’s still January, though.

Now Playing: See You from The Colour And The Shape by Foo Fighters

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Posted by pjm at 7:21 PM | Comments (0)

Riding bright

It’s been my experience that, at least where I’ve lived, drivers tend not to hassle a biker if they notice them in time (and if the biker isn’t doing anything egregiously stupid, of course). So aside from Not Being Stupid, the key is making sure they notice you, and of course, the biggest problem is getting noticed at night.

Given that Boston-area drivers sometimes fail to notice vehicles like ambulances and police cruisers which are actively trying to get their attention, I figure the sky’s the limit when it comes to lighting my bike. I work with these rules:

  • Blinking is better than steady
  • LEDs are better than incandescents (more efficient and usually brighter)
  • Any light is better than a reflector
  • A reflector is better than nothing
  • More is better, period.

I’ve had a headlight and taillight since the town of Emmaus required them, lo these many years ago, but lately I’ve been upgrading. Last year I swapped the Cat-Eye incandescent headlight (no longer available, I think) for a bright, blinking white LED I can’t look at for long, from Planet Bike. I lost my forward-looking lighting, but it wasn’t really all that effective anyway, and at least once I had some local toughs convinced that the cops were on to them (for a few seconds).

I got a front-and-back LED set from Planet Bike for Christmas, so last week I put the new, much brighter headlight on the handlebars right next to the old one. I let that one blink, and leave the old one steady, hoping maybe to get some visibility out of it, but maybe if they strobed out of phase I could really mesmerize oncoming drivers. The new one is bright enough that I could probably go deer jacking with it, if I did such things.

I also moved my existing taillight from the seat post, where it was sometimes obscured by my shoulder bag, to the back of the cargo rack, using some fittings from the new taillight. The new light clips on the shoulder bag sometimes, but optimally I’d like to figure out a better way of attaching both taillights, plus maybe the original red reflector if I can find a spot for it.

Combined with the Scotchlite band I use to hold my trouser cuff, and the standard-equipment pedal and spoke reflectors, I feel like I could compete with an ambulance if the siren wasn’t counted.

I completed my overhaul by adding a new rear fender which actually fits in under the cargo rack and should keep a few more drops of road gunk from flipping up on me. It came with a front fender which offers better coverage than my current one but doesn’t attach to my front fork properly. As with the second taillight, maybe more hardware would solve this problem.

Now Playing: Four Leaf Clover from Strangest Places by Abra Moore

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January 1, 2008

Angle of repose

Speaking of mild Pennsylvania winters reminded me of the less-mild winter we had somewhat later in my time there. I was sharing a duplex with Z at the time, and naturally we were responsible for shoveling our back walk to the cars, the front steps, and the sidewalk in front of the house. We were not technically responsible for shoveling the alley between us and our neighbors to the east, but since they were both retirees—the wife worked for Rodale when its primary business was electrical switches—we shoveled the alley and their sidewalk as well, unless one of their adult children managed to beat us to it.

The back walks were not much of an issue, but the sidewalks posed a storage problem. We couldn’t shovel the snow into the street—the snowbanks there were a problem by themselves—so our yards were the only realistic snow repository. These “yards” could be mowed in less than three minutes with a reel mower, and ours had two enormous shrubs encroaching from the porch side. It was not long into the winter when the mountain of snow in our front yard, containing the snow from an area roughly twice its own (and yes, we shoveled the neighbors’ sidewalk onto their lawn, not ours) obscured the view from our front window.

The view not being much to cheer about, this wasn’t much of a problem, but we had other issues. The biggest one was that the snow pile was so large, about half of any shovelful thrown up on it would simply avalanche back down onto the sidewalk. We started pushing all the snow in the alley back into a similar mountain at the head of our back yard, which expanded to the point that it didn’t finish melting until well into April.

The heap immediately to the west of the end of our Amherst driveway is looking much like that now, even after last week’s melting spree. It’s as tall as I am, if not taller, and yet I must throw a significant fraction of the snow from the driveway up on it. I try to pitch the snow over the peak and in behind the pile, but some of that is starting to roll back out into the street. The problem is similar to the one we had in Emmaus: when the snow goes to a relatively small area, it doesn’t take a very big storm to lead to a big snow pile.

Yesterday and today, I also went across the street and shoveled out our neighbor’s sidewalk. She’s not home, I think, but when the big storms came through earlier this month she didn’t really shovel, and the sidewalk got pretty bad. I figured someone had to do it. I spotted a roving band of kids with shovels this afternoon, though, and I’m wondering if I can pre-pay them to shovel her out for the rest of the winter.

Now Playing: Columbus from Heyday by The Church

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Posted by pjm at 7:20 PM | Comments (0)

Loose at the heels

I remarked to A this morning on our run that I probably became more consistent in my winter training after college because I had better equipment. By that I mean running jackets which actually kept me warm, running pants which weren’t tights, and the discovery of shirts which weren’t cotton.

Thinking about it more, though, the first few winters after college were pathetically mild even for Pennsylvania; I think I lived in Pennsylvania two or three years before we got a snowfall I would even consider significant. I spent plenty of time in those years chasing Adam Bean and Mark Will-Weber around the hills that cradle Emmaus to the south and west.

Mark used to wear Sporthill pants with a stirrup, though I remember the strap almost always flapped loose around his Achilles tendon, soaking up slush. (Since I was almost always lagging behind Webbs, I had a lot of time to contemplate his heels.) I got a few pairs of the same pants, wearing them with the straps on. (Having cuffs snug around your socks keeps your ankles warm. You’d be surprised what a difference this makes.)

As I get in better condition and my stride moves up to my forefoot, I find that during the course of a run one or both of these stirrups will make its way back over my heel and pop out the back of my shoe, to dangle like Mark’s used to. I wonder if that’s what happened to him; his natural stride was much closer to his toes than mine is, so maybe he just couldn’t keep them on?

Now Playing: Sands Hotel from Dead Air by Heatmiser

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December 17, 2007

This is the payoff

I sometimes grumble about having a black car during the summer, when its interior temperature ranges from ‘uncomfortable’ to ‘broiler’.

But on snowy days like today, I can give it a cursory sweep-off to expose its blackness, and let the sun do the defrosting. By the time I need to go anywhere, it will almost certainly be clear.

Now Playing: High And Dry from The Bends by Radiohead

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December 14, 2007

How we treat our neighbors

Around Boston, we like to kid a bit about how in Southie, they’ll slash your tires if you park in a shoveled spot that’s marked with something—a chair, a garbage can, whatever.

The idea behind marking the spots is that the person who did the shoveling should get the benefit. But various municipal officials (mayors, etc.) make noises about having garbage trucks pick up the markers, because parking gets wicked tight when there’s nowhere to throw the snow; you wind up losing one in every three spots (if you’re lucky) just to stack the snow.

It looks like Somerville is a lot closer to Southie than I thought. As I walked up to work around lunchtime, I saw a lot of trash cans and sawhorses marking spots in the street. And I spotted something too large to be a ticket on a car window. Amused, I snapped a shot with the phone:

Hmm, that's not a ticketUnsigned note

And then the owner came out. Thomas told me he had lived up the street for ten years, but this was a rental car so his neighbors must not have known it was his. He noted that there should have been room for two cars where he was parked, but that only one spot had been shoveled out. And then, folding the note up, he said, “I’d take a note like this more seriously if it was signed. They don’t sign because they are cowards.”

I can sympathize with wanting to have the spot you shoveled available when you come back, but aren’t anonymous notes a little… I don’t know, passive-aggressive? There’s plenty of street out there, folks, even if you can only park on one side of it right now. Shovel a bit more of it (but hurry, it’s going to set up like concrete tonight.) Pitch in for other people and maybe they’ll let you park in their spot someday. That’s the benefit of sharing, instead of staking out your own little patch and hissing at anyone who comes near.

(And maybe we should all consider fewer cars and more alternatives. I wouldn’t want to take my bike out last night, but today it was fine.)

Now Playing: Never Enough from Show by The Cure

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December 8, 2007

Sunset day is coming

I’ve been getting antsy, anticipating the arrival of Sunset Day. It appears to vary a bit from year to year; according to a program called SunGraph, it looks like Sunset Day in Massachusetts this year will be Monday, eleven days before the actual shortest day and much later than last year. Since I’ve been notably bad at getting up with the sun lately, Sunset Day will be the real start of more daylight for me.

SunGraph also gives me more geeky data than I expect to ever have a good use for—for example, here in Amherst, though the actual sunrise was at 8:00 AM, first visible light was at 6:36 AM and Civil Twilight started at 7:28 AM. Which leads me here: first ever song about the time “between the sunset and certified darkness.” (I imagine this is a much bigger deal in Winnipeg.)

Now Playing: Civil Twilight from Reunion Tour by The Weakerthans

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November 26, 2007

This never happened in my research

It seems that Bernd Heinrich, University of Vermont professor emeritus and author of a few books I have on my shelves, is missing some ravens he raised from chicks for his research. (I suppose the fact that this makes the AP wire is a testament to Heinrich’s eminence.)

Now Playing: It’s No Reason from Hindsight by The Church

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September 30, 2007

Autonomous toys

There was yet another mouse last night. I heard a ruckus in the bathroom and got up with a flashlight. Iz was easy enough to find, and as he came to the door to greet me (“Hey, want to sub in?”) I flicked the light around the room to see if there were any corpses. Iz moved to reveal another small, grey mouse frozen on the floor, and then corralled it like a hockey player with a loose puck. After smacking it a few times (whereupon it would squeak and change direction) he chased behind the door for a moment and emerged with the mouse in his mouth.

He carried it out into the dining room and dropped it next to my bag, then stepped away a few feet, apparently hoping I was up to give him breakfast. The mouse sat, frozen, for a few seconds, then bolted in to the kitchen and under the stove (clearly the source of all mice.) Iz pounced too late and found himself with both front paws under the stove and no mouse.

I’m developing a theory now that Iz really does have a problem killing the mice. Pardon the blunt images, but cats kill their prey by biting down hard near the neck, snapping the unfortunate critter’s spine. I can vouch for Iz’s jaw strength, as he has sometimes clamped down on me so hard I’ve imagined the bones in my hand rearranging under his teeth. He just doesn’t seem to know that’s what to do with mice; his M.O. seems to be playing with them until they expire. (A thinks he doesn’t even realize they’re alive, and that he considers them a self-propelled version of his faux-fur toys. There’s something to that.)

Another, related theory centers on the fact that so far, he’s only killed mice when I’m in Amherst. The idea is that my reaction is generally positive (I take pictures of the “trophies”), while A seems a bit disapproving of the dead-mouse concept. This theory suggests that he needs a “father figure” around to really mature as a mouser.

Either way, I’d rather have him here keeping the rodent population in line than relying on traps or poison.

Now Playing: Begin from Dulcinea by Toad The Wet Sprocket

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September 29, 2007

Two down

After Iz’s previous kill, there were some predictions that it would not be the last. In fact, we heard the little tiger tearing around last night and maybe some squeaking. I remember thinking, “It doesn’t matter whether he catches them and kills them, or just scares them to death so they move out.” At any rate, when I got up to feed him this morning I opted to sweep my path with a flashlight rather than step on something. Sure enough, mousie down at the side of the kitchen door.

Again, I got a photo of his trophy (which, again, I won’t post.) This one was smaller than the first, with less white marking, and looked a lot more like the one we’d initially seen in the house. It also wasn’t quite dead, and peeped as I swept it up in the dustpan, which was a bit disconcerting. As we discovered with his bats, Iz is fine at catching, but he has to get better at killing.

It took Iz a little while to get used to this house, but now I’m guessing he thinks it’s the best place he’s ever lived: the toys are great!

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September 26, 2007

Grape season

It’s grape season. Or, it’s slightly past grape season. Since returning from Japan, I’ve been continually noticing the scent of grapes on my runs—not just while running through vineyards but in the middle of the woods in Amherst, last night in the Breakheart Preserve in Wakefield, this morning on Battle Road in Lexington. I can seldom pin down the source of the scent, but suddenly the air will smell thickly and unmistakably like grape juice. (I’m running, and therefore probably thirsty, so grape juice comes to mind rather than, say, jelly.)

Last week our coach picked clean the grape vines in his back yard and brought “the last of the grapes” with him to our workout, then sent them home with us. I had a few I hadn’t consumed before I going to Germany, and I thoughtlessly left them out on the counter while I was gone. On my return, the container (and, consequently, the trash afterward) smelled strongly of wine.

Now Playing: Closing Time from Feeling Strangely Fine by Semisonic

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September 17, 2007

We're so proud

Iz brought us a little present this morning. When we got up to run, there was the mouse in the bedroom doorway, dead as the proverbial doornail. “Food nnnnnow?” Iz asked: the mouse was, aside from a puncture wound, undamaged. (Which is good, since I’ve heard that other cats tend to bring such presents in a headless condition.)

So I took pictures of the trophy, which I won’t include here (surprise! dead mouse in your blog feeds!) and then disposed of the body. This is, of course, far from Iz’s first catch, but it’s the first time he’s both caught and killed his prey entirely unaided.

I’m hoping this was in fact The Mouse and not just a mouse. The one we saw seemed smaller than the one Iz caught, but it was moving a lot faster, so maybe I’m a poor judge. But if there’s more than one, I guess Killer will have the situation under control eventually.

Now Playing: Black Gold from Grave Dancers Union by Soul Asylum

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September 13, 2007

Talk to Strangers

Street writing in college towns has always been more iconoclastic than simple vandalism. (I recall the square of sidewalk near Davis Square which I once saw admonishing me, within a meter or so, both that “Santa is real” and “Doritos is people”.)

In Amherst, they like rising above simple traffic direction (a sign modified like this one) or simply being subversive within the traffic-direction medium. Consider this crosswalk, one of several so marked in town:

Talk to Strangers

Now Playing: Starlight Motel from Tarantula by Ride

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August 19, 2007

Brake for moose

It’s getting so driving on 202 is always an adventure. Tonight, there were lots of flashing lights north of New Salem. As I crept by, I was looking to see which of the various cars pulled on to the shoulder was damaged, and almost didn’t see the large animal lying in the southbound lane. Next up was a Jeep with heavily starred windshield in the northbound lane; I didn’t see what other damage it had (there must have been some.)

The animal… too skinny to be a cow or even a horse, far too big for a deer. I’m guessing moose; I’ve heard some hang out in the Quabbin reservation, though I’d never seen one there myself.

Growing up in Maine, of course I’ve seen moose before. (If you reach a certain span of residence in the state without seeing one, natives start taking you on long drives in boggy areas in hopes of spotting one to show you.) Most often, though, I’d seen the “Brake for Moose! It could save your life!” signs common on the way out of the massive suburban sprawl zone around Boston. This was the first time I’ve seen a moose (if that was what it was) lying on the road.

The signs, at once comic and deadly serious, don’t point out the primary problem with hitting moose: they’re tall. Hit a deer or a cow, and both the animal and your car hood are going to take some damage points. Hit a moose, and you’re going to sweep its legs out from under it and probably catch the body across your windshield, which looks like what happened to this jeep. (My car would probably wind up with the moose on the roof, which would be equally distressing.)

Now Playing: Blackout from Human Cannonball by School Of Fish

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August 2, 2007

The bowfisher

I’m used to seeing anglers along the Mystic when I run on the river-bank path to Arlington, even though the river is placid enough to be a bit unappetizing. However, today I spotted a young guy standing on a rock at the water’s edge with what seemed to be a home-made bow and a long, unfletched wooden arrow. He had it nocked, but didn’t pull it back while I was in sight; maybe he just didn’t spot anything to shoot at.

Modern bowfishing gear usually involves a barbed head and a line attached to the arrow, so the archer is essentially shooting a large hook into the fish and then reeling it in. This angler didn’t appear to be using any such hardware, so I wonder how he was retrieving any fish he managed to shoot.

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July 30, 2007

Not exactly plodding

In flight

I guess the thing that’s missing from the NYT article about the lobster boat races is the recognition of how unique this sort of thing really is. You can’t really compare it, for example, with racing work vehicles on the road (e.g. pickup truck races) because the nature of the water is different.

On the road, the minimum requirement for a functional vehicle is that it roll. The minimum requirements on the water are a good deal higher (it has to float, it has to move efficiently through the water, and yet it should resist being pushed off the course it is steered on, for example) and that dictates the form of both pleasure boats and work boats to a greater degree than on land.

So a lobster boat has a lot more in common with a speedboat than it would appear. “Bulky, plodding boats” doesn’t really describe what’s going to the line in these races.

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July 29, 2007

"Not just $1,000, but bragging rights..."

“…as the fastest lobster boat in Casco Bay.”

This announcement on the marine radio was followed, after a beat, by the comment, “No more messing around, now, let’s see that thing haul some ass.” Apparently someone forgot which channel was the trash-talking channel.

After all, traps are more commonly hauled than ass by, for one, Motivation out of Boothbay, or Cry Baby with the straight-six which was nearly the fastest non-diesel boat at the Harpswell races we went over to see today. This was my first time going to the races; I got sunburnt despite massive and repeated application of sunscreen. We considered taking a swim to cool off, but we put off that idea by heavy spectator boat traffic and the fact that the water, at 62 degrees, was notably colder than where I’d dipped in the New Meadows when I finished my run.

It’s hard to describe these races without showing them; this New York Times reporter tried and pretty much failed. (Apparently not someone who really understood what he was watching.) This video does a lot better; we saw a lot of the boats in there race today.

There are a lot of things we do in my state that they don’t do anywhere else, that’s for certain.

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The other side of berry season

After my raspberry glut the other week, I enjoyed my berries in a completely different way this morning.

I had set out on a long-ish loop in my hometown along a course I’d never run before. I was around an hour and ten minutes out, and since waking up I’d had only about two-thirds of a squeeze-bottle of Gatorade. (I’d stashed the bottle and remaining contents in the weeds under a stop sign when I started the loop, and was about a half-mile from retrieving it.) I was under a self-imposed time deadline for the run.

When I saw the telltale leaves, I looked quickly for blueberries, and saw a few ripe ones. A quick stop can’t hurt, I reasoned, so I stopped for about thirty seconds. I picked and at maybe a dozen berries—not quite a mouthful, for low-bush blueberries—and ran on.

Those few berries were everything I needed; I could’ve had a quarter pint and achieved the same feeling. I had the taste in my mouth and all the feelings that go with it, and I’d grabbed it in an impulse stop by the side of a lightly-traveled road.

Immediately after retrieving my Gatorade bottle, I saw another, bigger blueberry patch, with ripe berries practically screaming out from under the leaves at ten feet away. But I had somewhere to be, and I didn’t stop. It turns out I had had time, but I can’t imagine that more berries would have been anything more than the few I had picked.

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July 26, 2007


Leaving out scattered dog-walkers, the biggest organized use of the park across our street is softball. The lit fields are in use pretty much all year, from “warm enough” to “too dark.” The softball players come from all over, take up all available street parking, and often hang around drinking beer and setting off fireworks when their games are over.

Next comes soccer. Our neighborhood has a large Brazilian population, and I frequently see massive pick-up games going on, generally using portable goals about the size of a lacrosse net.

Sometimes there is a crew playing flag football in a season roughly corresponding to the NFL season. They play on Sunday mornings, rain or shine, and tend to rip up the tuft a lot when it’s “rain.” Also, the local Catholic school doesn’t have fields of its own, so they use a corner of this park as a practice field every fall, rendering it essentially barren by Thanksgiving.

Last Sunday, though, and again this morning, there has been a small group playing cricket out in the middle of the field. For some reason, this tickles me immensely.

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July 22, 2007

Paddling on the Mystic

We discovered a few weekends ago that the Mystic River boathouse on Shore Drive near Assembly Square, run by the Somerville Boys and Girls Club, rents canoes and pedal boats at $5/hour. So yesterday we went down to check it out. We made two trips, actually, since the first time (shortly after 1) there was a sign on the door saying, “7/21 hours: 3 to 8”.

On our return, they took my license (collateral), gave us life jackets, and pushed a pedal boat off the dock for us.

In hindsight, a canoe would’ve been a better idea, but I was fascinated by the idea of the pedal boat. It turned out that the rudder in a pedal boat is largely ineffectual (it appeared to have two bearings, “veer left” and “veer right,” without much room in between,) and also, the work one does in cranking the pedals is inefficiently applied to the water—in other words, working harder doesn’t move you faster.

Nonetheless, we probably set a range record from the boathouse. In the hour and a half after we set out, we made our way down to check out the dam on the southeast side of the Orange Line bridge, and up to the Revere Beach Parkway bridge. (I suspect this inlet has a name, but I don’t know what it is.)

The day was pretty nice, but we probably would’ve had a better time in a less balky craft. Alas, I neglected to take pictures. The majority of the visible wildlife was avian; ducks, a flotilla of geese returning from a shopping trip to Target (or Petsmart?), several smaller, busy guys (terns of some sort?) and a larger bird which may have been an owl; I didn’t get a closer look.

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July 15, 2007

Neck deep in raspberries

I didn’t think it was possible to eat enough raspberries that I felt sick, but you really do learn something new every day, I guess.

One of the hangups of fruit and vegetables—particularly the organic grew-it-in-my-yard variety—is that you get none for a long time, and then suddenly you get a lot, all at once. (Zucchini is a great example of this. There is no such thing as enough zucchini, if you’re growing it yourself; there is either none, or too much.)

A’s parents have a raspberry patch, about the size of the fenced-in play area we had in our backyard when I was very small, and when the berries start coming ripe you can pick a liter in about half an hour, probably in excess of a gallon of berries every day. And that’s with a significant amount of the picking going directly from bush to mouth, with no stopping in the picking container. And then, after dinner, you can sit at the table with the container in front of you and eat raspberries until you feel sick, knowing there will be more tomorrow.

Berries—raspberries in particular—are really a stupendous idea, evolutionarily speaking. The plants put a pretty big percentage of their annual energy budget into producing these sweet little fruits surrounding their seeds; then they wither. Untouched, the berries re-seed the patch for another pass next year, but they’re also attractive to a wide variety of animals, from birds to bears. Those animals get a caloric boost and return the favor by (unintentionally) spreading the seeds. It’s a gorgeous system right there, but the berries work another strategy: they ripen in stages (if a deer gets all the ripe ones today, there will be more ripe ones tomorrow) but they all ripen over a short period of time and glut the market (so there are more berries than any one host can monopolize.) There may be some competitive advantage here, too, where the seasons are staggered with other competitive food sources in the area; it forces the berry-browsers to shift around to different sources of food rather than exploiting one past recovery.

Trees do this, too, but the strategy is different. Their seeds tend to be damaged by animal consumption (acorns eaten by squirrels seldom become mighty oaks, though if the squirrel caches them and forgets them they may yet do well.) The trees have “mast years,” where after three or four (or a dozen) years of light seed production, suddenly they will flood the seed market, trying to produce enough seeds to get a few past the consumers.

I wonder, though, if I’m inventing this idea while looking at a relatively artificial (if organic) berry patch. The blackberry and black raspberry patches my father finds on his walk home from work seldom produce at this volume, but they aren’t as large, either. I remember being able to kill ten or fifteen minutes picking wild blueberries in certain spots along the coast, when I was younger; I had a bear’s nose for blueberries then. I was able to spot some atop Katahdin, but not enough to flood any consumer market; I could’ve picked most of the Katahdin patches bare in four or five minutes if I could’ve reached them safely.

Now Playing: You’re Still Beautiful from Gold Afternoon Fix by The Church

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July 13, 2007


My family sometimes refers to the Canada geese becoming more common on the lake behind our house as “tourists” or “immigrants,” mostly because of their name, but this morning in Medford I saw a real non-native hanging out in the sun.

We were walking back from running with a grad student over at the University, and I looked over at the open door of an art studio along the way. Sitting on a table outside the door was a massive lizard, easily on the order of four feet long. I assumed it was prop of some kind (I think there’s a scenery shop in there somewhere) until it moved.

Pugsley - Iguana iguana Based on my web research, I think it was an iguana, not unlike this one, but larger. It was a little surprising to see, and I found myself wondering how fast an iguana can run.

Now Playing: Sooner Or Later from Bang! by World Party

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June 28, 2007

Nothing wrong with being early

Somerville, apparently, has fireworks early over the Independence Day holiday, and with the holiday itself coming on Wednesday, everyone else claims this weekend, and Somerville launched tonight. We live in a part of Medford which is practically Somerville (I have joked that you could throw a baseball into Somerville from here, and it might be true if there weren’t so many houses in the way; certainly Breaux Greer could get a javelin over there) and the Somerville fireworks are nearly on the Medford line, so we can hear them from the house; this year, we opted to walk up and watch.

I tried taking some long-exposure photos, but I was sabotaged by the twin problems of neglecting a tripod and there being significant shutter delay on my camera. Most of my photos showed the dim embers of fireworks, if they showed anything at all. The others are so busy they’re nearly psychedelic.

But I expect if I wanted to learn from my mistakes, I could probably find a few more fireworks shows between now and next Wednesday.

Now Playing: Burnin’ from Tarantula by Ride

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May 21, 2007

Battle Road

A and I ran this morning on Battle Road in Lexington. For a runner, Battle Road is exactly what Boston doesn’t have enough of: five miles of rolling trail, groomed pretty flat (translation: few roots and rocks) but with rolling hills, turns, and lots of good scenery. The Winchester Fells could be like this if anyone cared to take good care of the trails, but instead we wind up running on a lot of concrete sidewalks.

The “road” itself follows pretty closely the route taken by the British soldiers returning from Concord, via Lexington, to Boston on April 19, 1775, and the surrounding land has been kept in (or restored to) pretty much the same configuration it had in 1775. In addition to the usual park-service signs illustrating various events and helpfully explaining how long it took a British grenadier to load his musket, there are numerous smaller markers, saying things like, “Several British soldiers are buried near here,” or, at the far end of the trail at Meriam’s Corner, “Boston Harbor 16 miles.”

It’s one thing to run those miles in light clothing on a pleasant May morning, carrying nothing but your clothes and moving briskly. But these little reminders make it easy to think about what a different thing it would be to march sixteen miles in heavy wool clothes, carrying a sixty-pound pack, keeping step and keeping the column dressed, and with other people shooting at you. (This point is brought home particularly when rounding a stone-walled corner and seeing the sign labeling it “Bloody Angle.”)

(Kenneth Roberts made the point quite neatly over fifty years ago in Oliver Wiswell, that one of the reasons the British lost was that their military leadership was, on average, pretty dim; why did the regulars have to carry their full packs to Concord? Similarly, why did they march on Bunker Hill with full packs?)

It’s also sobering to consider the families living in the various houses along the route, and imagine what it may have been like for them to see the British column marching through their yards—assuming they were still there when the column came by.

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March 19, 2007

What I did on my spring break

I went skiing.

No, really. When life gives you mid-March snowstorm(s), you go up to Windsor and ski Notchview. It was the first time I’d been skiing since I moved to Medford, and it was great. They had eighteen inches in the woods (who knows what that means for the groomed trails) even though most of the other areas in this end of the state are closed. (The conditions page showed a lot of, “Sorry, we didn’t expect this storm and we’ve already shut down for the year.”)

When I only had classical skis, I was all strength and no technique. (And lack of technique makes strength pretty irrelevant.) Since I bought skate skis, I still have the clumsiest form on the trail (I imagine) but boy can I fly.

Skating requires at least a little technique to move at all, and the more you practice the more you learn. Today, I actually pulled my hands out of the pole straps and carried the poles for long stretches, forcing myself to use only the skis rather than poling like a demented gondolier; it was slower, particularly if there was a hint of an upgrade (on a real uphill, I needed to get back in the pole straps) but I felt smoother if I limited myself to occasional stabs at the ground. Also, on the downhills, it was much easier to keep my poles from dragging!

On the way home, I stopped for a few photos. This abandoned ski area in Cummington has always intrigued me; there’s only one run and a lift visible from the road, but it jumps right out in the satellite photo.

Overgrown ski area

Now Playing: This Is the Sea from This Is the Sea by The Waterboys

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February 14, 2007

Don't diss the storm

So, despite the sensationalized coverage from the local meteorologists, we only got, what, two, three inches? Hah! The storm missed us!

Well, yeah, it did, but I just came in from clearing our sidewalk, and let me tell you, I’d rather have shoveled eighteen inches of powder.

The snow shifted to rain in the early afternoon. This meant slush in a lot of places for the bulk of the afternoon, but now, with temps dipping back under freezing, any place where the snow was able to soak up water is now setting up like concrete.

Let’s assume it hasn’t frozen yet. Those two or three inches are thoroughly saturated with water; it’s still concrete, just the wet variety. It’s heart-attack snow. I did a first pass of our neighbor’s sidewalk, because if he tried doing it himself (unlikely) he’d die on the sidewalk; otherwise it’s going to set up and be unwalkable until St. Patrick’s day.

I actually broke the handle off one of the shovels, hacking through the frozen crust and chipping the stuff off the sidewalk. There’s a storm drain in front of our house; it was snow-clogged early in the day, and now the water running off our roofs and off the street is pooling where it should be draining. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be able to skate out there. It will take someone with a pick (or a mattock, but a sledgehammer or splitting maul will do in a pinch) to clear that storm drain now.

While I toiled, I listened to police cars creeping up and down Main Street, with their speakers squawking: “There is a snow emergency in effect. All cars must be removed from both sides of Main Street, or they will be tagged and towed.”

It’s a disappointing storm for kids at the sledding hill, no question, but the trouble created by a winter storm can’t be measured in inches.

Now Playing: Lullaby 101 from Five Stories by Kris Delmhorst

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February 6, 2007

Another reason to dislike micro-caches

Family email this morning, originating with my cousin the cop, brought my attention to the geocacher who is wanted in Portsmouth. (I love how “geocacher” is in quotes in the article headline.) It seems he left a micro-cache made from an Altoids tin and a magnet on an electrical circuit box behind a grocery store. The store found it before anyone else did, and called the police—“suspicious item on our electrical box,” of course.

Overreaction, in the light of the lite-brite hysteria in this area last week? Not really; the store wasn’t evacuated, and the fact is the cache was on store property without permission. It’s a silly place for a cache, no better than if it was actually attached to something inside the store. Which has been done, no doubt, but that doesn’t make it a good idea.

The thing that really frosts me is that the game (which, I’ll admit, I’ve had little to no time to participate in over the past year and a half,) doesn’t need another lame parking-lot micro-cache.

There are three of these in the Amherst area, which appeared either shortly before I left, or right afterward. They drive me nuts, because they fail on every point of what I consider fun about geocaching. The hunt should (a) take you somewhere you wouldn’t ordinarily go, or show you something unusual about a spot you do know, and (b) should include a hunt which requires a certain (perhaps low) level of dedication and involvement. A micro in a parking lot does none of those things; it’s just mindless thumb-twiddling, an expense of energy which could be better used in planning, preparing, and placing a good traditional cache, a challenging puzzle, or even a multi-cache. The lure of an easy find draws people away from the really pretty, rewarding locations and into a dash to find as many bits of semi-hidden litter as possible.

In the article, the hider is quoted saying, “[I]t’s hard, in an urban setting, to find good hiding places.” Right. That’s not an excuse for using bad ones, is it?

It also leads to negative interactions with the non-caching world, as this shows. Nice job, bub. Way to make us look good.

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December 28, 2006


The Quabbin is spectacular right now. On today’s run I had a few minutes, listening to a small stream rushing down towards the reservoir and looking at the fire road winding through the trees over a background of downed-leaves brown, where I was really happy to be there.

Not much wildlife, though, I was thinking. Then, at the end of the run, I spotted a white chicken crossing the road. (Yes, a chicken crossing the road. No, there is no punch line.)

I scooted back up to the car and grabbed my phone to document this sight. I assumed this was a rooster because of its comb, but my only reference for sexing chickens is Richard Scarry books, so maybe I’m off-base and we’ve got a hen trying to raise a flock of free-range chickens in the reservation. It wouldn’t let me get close enough for a good shot, and while I stalked it, I also listened to a woodpecker working on a nearby dead tree. After a few taps, I picked it out, high on a limb, but there was no point trying to get a photo of it.

Quabbin Rooster photo

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November 14, 2006

Uninterrupted sleep

Last night was the first night in two weeks that I didn’t wake up scratching at some point in the night. It’s been improving steadily since the middle of last week, but this is a sort of milestone, I think. The bumps have gone away, the marks are still there on my legs, easily recognizable to anyone else who suffered through this absurd little plague.

I wouldn’t share this, but it seems this site keeps coming up high on searches for “NESCAC rash.” There’s hope, folks, and apparently for the people with worse cases than mine “hope” is spelled “prednisone.”

Now Playing: Basement Apt. from You Were Here by Sarah Harmer

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October 25, 2006


One thing I did while in PA was make a new cat-face jack-o-lantern. I was remembering the 2004 edition, but I didn’t have the picture to work from, so it’s similar but not quite the same. We lit it on the evening of the parade, and then I brought it home with me. We haven’t yet put it out in Medford.

Tiger 2

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August 18, 2006


I heard the telltale “Sssss” of the liftoff last night, and looked out the window to see smoke in the park across the street: someone else was launching rockets in the park! I looked up, but didn’t see it come down; I did hear what I thought was a little voice saying, “Daddy, do it again!”

As I made dinner, I picked out the man doing the launching, and what was probably his son sitting on the ground not far from the launcher. I watched them fuss over something which was probably the rocket; I saw the streamer. Eventually they had it set up to launch again, and I thought, it really looks like they’ve got the pad at quite a dramatic angle, don’t they?

Well, apparently they weren’t *ahem* exactly rocket scientists. (Granted, most hobby rocket launchers aren’t, myself included.) I watched it launch, then flinched even though I was across the park from them: it did a tight loop, then drove straight into the ground about twenty meters away from them, still blazing. Then it puffed smoke (the tracking smoke) and popped the ejection charge. Don’t know what that did; I expect it may have ruptured the body tube. I heard someone shouting; there were others on the field, who probably weren’t too thrilled to have this landshark flying nearby.

There are some pretty cool photos of this sort of thing on Flickr; this is the best one, and contains a pretty good explanation of what happens:

… Luckily, that setting perfectly captured the full trajectory of this chaotic flight of instability. The rocket had too heavy a motor in the back, a J-class motor in this case if I recall.

For those of use who have set off a bare Estes rocket engine as kids and watched it skip randomly through space, you have a sense of what happened here. You can add a nose cone and some fins to a motor, and it will be still be unstable. You need a proper balance of weight and thrust vectors. … To be stable, the rocket’s CP (Center of Pressure) should be one or two body diameters behind the CG (Center of Gravity).

The fins are there to streamline the flow of air and provide a large surface area and help to keep the center of pressure below the center of mass of the rocket.

This is why I didn’t fly my newest rocket this week; I don’t know where the center of gravity is, and I haven’t tested its stability yet.

Now Playing: Americans in Corduroys from Ghost Repeater by Jeffrey Foucault

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August 11, 2006

The Midnight Softball Society

An hour or so ago, I noticed that the lights weren’t on at the softball fields. I assumed there were no games tonight, so they hadn’t turned the lights on. Or maybe there was some kind of regular night off, it being a Friday, after all.

But just now I looked out and saw two teams milling around the benches, presumably wondering how to play softball in the dark. Or, perhaps, conducting some kind of experiment to determine if the beer is as good without the game beforehand.

There was a summer program I attended while in high school which attracted, shall we say, more than its fair share of eccentrics. Among the many things I had forgotten (until I recalled it just now) was the Midnight Croquet Club, an organization made up (necessarily) of faculty and staff for the purpose of playing croquet at midnight. Somehow I suspect midnight croquet is somewhat less dangerous than midnight softball.

Update: Fifteen minutes later, the lights are on. This is going to be a late game.

Now Playing: Fumble by Frank Jordan

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August 7, 2006

It's not even work

We were anchored in Quahog Bay (as my father puts it, we had “dropped the lunch hook,”) near the rope swing at low tide, doing the most sensible thing to do in that situation (i.e. picnic lunch and swimming off the boat,) when the marketers cruised by.

And I do mean, “cruised.” It was a mother and son team, the mother piloting a medium-sized Boston Whaler and the son holding up a sign reading, “Cookies for sale.” They had a good-sized black dog sitting in the bow.

On their southbound pass, we waved them over, and while the dog investigated our boat for sandwich scraps, we bought two “blondies” for a buck apiece, following the “always patronize lemonade stands” dictum.

Now Playing: Strangest Places from Strangest Places by Abra Moore

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July 24, 2006

Swept away

A few hours after we left for the wedding, our area was hit by a fairly intense thunderstorm. Judging from what I’ve seen on this morning’s run and a short errands walk this afternoon, nearly every tree shed something, from small twigs to entire limbs.

We ducked a bit of a disaster ourselves. Our driveway was home to one of those pipe-framed tentlike pseudo-garages, which is actually visible in the satellite photos if you know our street address (and know that Google slightly misplaces our street number.) In the windstorm it apparently caught a rogue gust and went airborne. According to the landlord’s narration this morning, it clipped a corner of the house, chipping a single shingle. It then hurdled my car cleanly (not a scratch) but took out a section of picket fence immediately behind the car. It then vaulted a significantly higher chain-link fence at the back of our yard, missing a large collection of potted plants in the neighbor’s back yard but eventually smashing a second-floor window and coming to rest standing on end beside his house.

The neighbor and our landlord disassembled it with a Sawzall, and it’s now awaiting the week’s garbage collection next to our house.

This episode strikes me as particularly fortunate considering this neighborhood’s proven history of car disasters for absent drivers. On the other hand, had A’s car been parked where it usually is, perhaps airflow might have been sufficiently different that the canopy would not have taken flight?

Now Playing: Almost from All of Our Names by Sarah Harmer

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July 16, 2006

Cleared for liftoff


There are a lot of portrait-framed images in the Flickr Rockets pool. And some really cool stuff, if you like the idea of building stuff and then launching it hundreds of feet in the air. (Multi-engine clusters?)

I had a successful launch this morning, my first in decades, with a smaller-sized engine (an A8-3.) Engines are graded according to total thrust (the letter,) average thrust in newtons (the first number), and the delay between the end of the burn and ejection of the recovery system, also in seconds (the second number). Each letter step indicates a doubling in total thrust, so the B6-4 I’m planning on launching this afternoon will provide twice as much lifting force on the same rocket—plus the slightly longer delay before ejecting the chute should let it “coast” a bit longer, which is useful with such a small rocket. However, there are softball games going on in the park, and I think I should wait for a window in their play before I go out and launch higher. Recovery of this one almost ended in a tree as it was, because I went to an unoccupied corner of the park. (See the video.)

I discovered, in surfing around to links found via the Flickr pool, that anything flying with an E engine or lower is rated a “low power” rocket. I never flew anything bigger than a B myself, but there’s a lot of interesting stuff out there!

Update: Great launch this afternoon with the B6-4. Unfortunately, in the recovery phase (i.e. coming down with the ‘chute open) it drifted out of the park and onto the roof of a house that abuts the park. I can see a bit of the rocket in the gutter, and the ‘chute hanging out. So that’s a loss, and my fault for not selecting my range well.

Now Playing: Not The Same from Rockin’ The Suburbs by Ben Folds

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July 13, 2006

An impossible dream

Iz’s birthday, we figure, is just a few weeks away. Right now, he’s telling me in his most beseeching tones that what he really wants is one of those pigeons hanging out on the roof of the next house over.

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July 9, 2006

Two or three of forty-eight

The Worst Weather in America

I actually managed to break the first rule not once, but twice: first, I didn’t have the GPS on when we stashed my car in the Pinkham Notch Visitor’s Center lot on Friday night, and second, I forgot to waypoint the trailhead of the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail until we had already been walking half an hour. Fortunately, we didn’t need either, not getting off the trail by any appreciable amount; also, some wise souls had placed geocaches at or near some of our major stops (the Lakes in the Clouds Hut, the Mt. Washington summit,) so I had those waypoints near where our trips were taking us. (Fortunately, I say, since part of our “training” for this trip was reading Not Without Peril.)

I also discovered, in the breach, rule two: always have your camera battery fully charged. With the chance of it dying always in the back of my head, I didn’t take as many photos as I might have. I did manage to find 40 to put on Flickr, if you’re curious.

And I hit three geocaches. Would’ve been five, if I’d done my reading and arranged for someone to help us do the webcam cache at the summit.

My brother has unilaterally decided that we’re trying for all the peaks over 5,000 feet in New England. Since we toured the Lafayette Ridge before we were old enough to drive and did Katahdin last summer, we’ve actually hit a significant fraction by now, since we made a side trip to Mt. Monroe on our way up. I don’t know the list—honestly, I don’t want to become an obsessive peak-bagger and I know how easily I could become one if I let myself spend too much time looking at the official list of the 48 peaks over 4,000 feet in New Hampshire—but I think Boott Spur might count as well. (Apparently not…)

Still, most of the rest are there in the Presidential range. On our way back around to pick up his car at the first trailhead, he pointed to a sign for a trailhead with 2.5 miles to Mt. Jefferson and said, “Remember that. We might need it.”

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July 7, 2006

First rule of hiking with a GPS

Always waypoint the car.

Now Playing: Undertow from New Adventures In Hi-Fi by R.E.M.

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June 6, 2006

Some things never change

During the reunion weekend, we took a walk by our old street. The street sign was missing. Of course, the one that used to go missing was at the bottom of the street, and this time they’d swiped the one at the top.

Now Playing: Chaos from Priest = Aura by The Church

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May 30, 2006

Early summer scents

All weekend, the air in this residential neighborhood smelled like lighter fluid and charcoal briquets.

Tonight, I dragged out the baby Weber that’s been with me, unused, through the last three moves (two apartments without lawns,) and fired it up for what may have been just the second or third time since I moved back to New England. While I waited for the coals to be ready to cook, I breathed in the scent and reminisced. (I’m getting good at that. I’m practicing to be old, I guess.)

In the house where I lived with W and Z, we grilled a lot. W was stereotypical carnivore, but some time after he moved out, Z fell off the vegetarian wagon in a big way, and we would grill three or four nights a week. We had some basic plastic furniture and a low-end hammock set up on the concrete apron behind the house, and we’d sit around the baby Weber with our supplies, watching the coals in the chimney-starter get pumpkin-red before we dumped them in and started cooking: burgers, pork chops, fish, corn on the cob, whatever came to mind.

I’d sit sideways in the hammock with a beer and dinner, and afterwards we’d skewer marshmallows on bamboo kebab-skewers and toast them over the remaining coals as the neighborhood got dark. We’d discuss our plans to get out of our jobs and that house, our relationships or lacks thereof, and whether the lawn needed mowing. (One blistering summer, it never did; the only moisture it got was when I discovered that our six-pack of Catamount was skunked, and split it between the lawn and my garden plot.)

We hosted one party involving half-liter bottles of Hacker-Pschorr (my, was that ever good beer,) party food from the grill, and marshmallows; I remember the then-editor of Men’s Health idly burning skewers with no marshmallows like cigarettes he couldn’t smoke.

At this remove (by this time five years ago, I had already interviewed for my next job,) there’s a pretty high tinge of nostalgia going there, but there’s nothing wrong with remembering the past fondly as long as you don’t prefer it to the present. Tonight was a good dinner, even though I don’t have any marshmallows in the house.

Now Playing: The Day I Let Glory Steer from This Town Is Wrong by Nerissa & Katryna Nields

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March 15, 2006


Clearing out some of the email that had stacked up in my inbox during the last push, I came to one from an Amherst area geocacher who was also prominently featured in the Hampshire Life story a few months ago. Since last summer, he and I had been discussing potential maintenance on my two caches out there. I’d been hanging on to them out of some kind of sentimentality, but after the last few weeks I faced up to the fact that it would be weeks, at best, before I could attend to any problems with either hide. They needed to “belong” to someone who could take care of them.

So today I “put them up for adoption.” The site has a facility for offering ownership of a cache to another user, and I spent two minutes putting Bub’s cache and the Misty Bottom cache up for adoption. They’re not mine anymore, probably for their own good, but it’s still a bit tough to give them up.

It is gratifying to see the number of people who’ve visited both hides, and their comments. Misty Bottom, in particular, is one of my favorite places in all of Amherst, and it’s a lift to read the comments from all the people who went down there to find a box, and found a hidden little natural place as well.

Now Playing: Basement Home by Jesse Malin

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February 27, 2006


ChainedLike my niece, who can’t eat ice cream without getting it in her hair, I seem to be incapable of getting my bike out of the basement and on the road without smearing my clothes with chain grease. I’m wondering if the long-term wear-and-tear reduction on the bike due to regular lubrication is going to be worth all the clothes I’ll need to replace if the stuff doesn’t come out. Unfortunately, I’ve only found one way to get the bike up to the door and out, and it requires me being on the chain side of the bike.

Now Playing: Clean Up Kid from Songs From The Other Side by The Charlatans

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February 12, 2006

Increased demand

I’ll admit to a little admiration for the two boys who have (twice, already, today) rung our doorbell and offered to shovel the steps and the walk. They’re cruising the street for business which has been pretty slow, so far, this winter, and they’re out in the worst weather pursuing their business.

That said, though, not only is the snow still coming down (and the forecasts I’ve seen suggest we’re in for five or six more hours,) but it’s blowing like mad, and there’s as much drifting as there is falling. Any work they do now is likely to need re-doing in just a few hours. Certainly that’s a renewable resource from their point of view, but it also suggests that now isn’t the best time for me to be investing, if I was going to.

Meanwhile, our neighbors, who were out of town when the snow was forecast, have had their cars towed. I feel somehow responsible, though there was no way I could’ve moved the cars myself.

Now Playing: Listen Like Thieves from Listen Like Thieves by INXS

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January 7, 2006

Means to an end

There was an article on Geocaching in the Hampshire Life section of Friday’s Daily Hampshire Gazette. I’m quoted extensively. It’s mildly amusing, since I believe I’ve done fewer than five caches since I moved, and only one close to home; I’ve done more in Indiana than Massachusetts lately.

I actually went as far as to propose a similar story to the same editor a few years ago, but never wrote it. I think they got a better author to finally do it, because I would’ve written a pretty straight ad for caching, and this writer came in questioning the point of the whole activity. “Do we really need to hide things in the woods to make the woods worth visiting?”

We brought him around eventually, of course.

By now, it’s becoming clear that in geocaching there is something else hidden besides that plastic container or ammo box. What that is, I’ve finally discovered, is the idea that the cache isn’t simply an end, but a means to an end.

Sad to say, the Gazette is subscription-only, so if you aren’t a subscriber and really do want to read the article, drop me a line (or comment) and I’ll use their “send this story to a friend” feature.

Now Playing: Is It Like Today? from Bang! by World Party

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December 30, 2005

Snow hunting

With highs in the 40s for the past few days and green grass on the park across the street, of course I’m thinking about cross-country skiing! Except that my favorite, Notchview is now an excessively long drive for an hour or two of skiing. So I’m doing some research on where to go around here.

A few years ago, A and I read Bill McKibben’s book Long Distance: A Year of Living Strenuously, in which he sets out to spend a year training hard for ski racing. Not long into the book, a familiar theme of athletic-training stories cropped up: training conditions are less than optimal. Runners’ books tend to be litanies of injuries kept at bay during heroic racing seasons; McKibben’s could have been subtitled “The Quest For Snow” if it hadn’t been for other family issues which came up in the course of the year. McKibben’s choice of coach also intrigued me: Ray Browning, co-author of Serious Training for Endurance Athletes.

Anyway, in snowless winter, McKibben sometimes mentions the Weston Ski Track, a 2K loop in the Boston suburbs where a small team of dedicated maniacs with snowmakers maintain a 2K loop throughout the winter. From their website:

Our snowmaking and grooming expertise means that under almost any circumstances you can cross-country ski on our trails. … Even though your backyard is green, our teaching area has plenty of snow.

He made it sound roughly as attractive as a twenty-miler on an indoor track, but looking at the site now, they seem to have quite a bit of trail out there—even if they’ve only got 1K open right now. I’ll have to swing out and check it out sometime soon. All the other interesting places seem to be in New Hampshire: next on my list is Windblown.

Now Playing: 0408 from El Momento Descuidado by The Church

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December 9, 2005

We were always out shovelling

We did not, in the end, get an inordinate amount of snow today. However, the hour or so in the middle when it shifted to rain, then back to snow, means there’s an inch-thick substrate of slush underneath, and all the streets are glazed with a packed and frozen layer the plows just can’t scrape up.

In other words, this weather is why God made knobby tires for bikes.

However, I need to look in to some form of indoor storage for days when it’s actually coming down; spending five minutes blowing on the lock to thaw it enough to insert the key isn’t my idea of time well spent, right now. I think I also need to look in to winterizing my ride a little better.

Now Playing: Rain King from August & Everything After by Counting Crows

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November 18, 2005

Think before you drink

Think before you drink For all the un-autumny weather we’ve had this fall, I’ve been lucky in that I’ve only had to drive to campus (rather than walking or biking) twice. I’ve even done a fair number of my errands by bike. However, I discovered today that I can’t really do spur of the moment grocery runs on the bike; I need plenty of carrier space, and improvising only gets me so far. Yes, that’s Doc Bronner’s soap in my bottle cage. Fortunately, I wasn’t so overloaded that I needed to put a frozen burrito in the other one. Good thing I don’t need fluids on these short-haul rides.

When I run out of cargo space, I wrap my coiled cable lock around my left arm. It hangs there pretty comfortably, but it also makes my arm into a small mace, what with the heavy lock and all.

Now Playing: Dangerous Type by Letters to Cleo

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November 13, 2005

No ducks in our house

Through a survey A. and I picked up from a box at the end of this morning’s Quabbin run, I have discovered that the state Department of Conservation and Recreation maintains a Quabbin Watershed Advisory Committee.

Yes, the QWAC.

Now Playing: The Loved One from Kick by INXS

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October 25, 2005

More data (rainfall soundings)

I don’t want to be one of the people whining about the weather, so I’ll just offer a few observations.

  • This cross-country season must be a wreck. I’ve been to two meets so far, and neither have been safe without umbrellas.

  • Today’s storm, whatever you call it, was sufficiently nasty that I drove to campus rather than walking or riding. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s the first time I’ve actually parked my car on campus in over a year—since my visit last October, in fact. (Makes me wonder about the $200 commuter parking permit.) This was only practical because the commuter lot is directly across from the CS building; if I was required to park elsewhere, I’d be just as wet as if I’d walked from home.

  • They stopped playing softball in the park across the street a few weeks ago, but now they’ve given up on flag football and ultimate as well. Reason: there’s a small lake out there, and some ducks have joined the usual gulls.

Now Playing: Weirdo from Between 10th And 11th by The Charlatans

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September 22, 2005


There’s a fire truck blocking our driveway, with the lights on.

See, our apartment faces a park, with lights and multiple softball fields. I don’t know how many leagues there are in this town, but it seems like there’s been a game six nights a week since we got here; the lights stay on until eleven.

Not too long ago, I looked out, and there was a man lying on the edge of the infield between first and second bases. He was sitting up, but people were clustered around him; someone ran up with a towel. Now the EMTs have arrived. Actually, since I started writing this, an ambulance has pulled up in right field, and they’ve got him on a stretcher. I think someone’s going in for a few scans.

Thing is, he’s not wearing the obligatory t-shirt of either team.

What happens when the game is called because someone plunked the umpire?

Now Playing: Tomorrow, Wendy from Bloodletting by Concrete Blonde

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September 15, 2005

Overmanned side

In the ghostly light spilling over from the floodlit all-weather field, a few more than a dozen geese are strung across right field, near the western goal of the soccer field. There is no other team present to play against them.

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September 1, 2005


There are pigeons on the roof sections visible from the dormer windows on the third floor. Izzy appears to be taking this transgression personally, though screens prevent him from properly patrolling his territory.

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August 30, 2005

Two thousand words (with links to fifteen thousand more)

Scale The Knife Edge from the east

It’s not really practical for me to write about the Katahdin trip here. There are too many details, too many little stories (the time I left my GPS on the hood of the truck for ten miles of rough dirt road; the col between Pamola and Chimney Peak; the crowd on the Baxter Peak; etc.) It would be twenty little entries or one unreadably-large one.

Plus, the story is not entirely my own, and as the Scoplaw so vividly illustrated yesterday, telling it becomes somewhat less than simple. I will probably try to narrate the whole thing into a letter to my former roommate, a one-time camping companion, who will enjoy the tale.

The best way I’ve found to present it as a narrative without injecting too many digressions, details, and/or false (or personal) melodrama was the photos. I’ve put about seventeen in a set on Flickr, a sliver of the 120 or so I saved and the two hundred plus I have (since I grabbed copies of my brother’s shots as well.) If you want most of the story, start there, then ask questions.

Now Playing: Antenna from Starfish by The Church

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August 29, 2005

Another layer

I’ve washed off most of the goo and returned to Medford, but after last weekend I feel like I’ve had a layer of my home state applied to me like a lacquer. I haven’t had such a strong accent in years. When I talked to A on the phone last night, she told me, “You’re talking funny.”

Posted by pjm at 5:48 PM | Comments (1)

August 28, 2005


Plenty to filter through before stories emerge. Until then, a puzzle: I have not showered in (roughly) sixty hours, during which time I have committed strenuous exercise and deployed substances like bug repellent and sunblock. (Not enough of the latter, I’m afraid, particularly for having a mile less atmosphere than usual.)

In such circumstances, am I sticky, or greasy? Discuss.

118 photos to download.

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August 26, 2005


Good grief, that’s a lot of groceries. Hard to believe three of us will consume that much over five meals, but I suppose it’s possible.

I’ll be off-grid for a few days. Hoping to get my 200th cache.

Posted by pjm at 11:02 AM | Comments (1)

August 25, 2005

Base Camp

I am printing out maps from my topo map software. Unlike the usual maps which show clusters of geocaches waypointed on the page, this has only one: the Baxter Peak of Mt. Katahdin, the high point of Maine but better known to most people as the northern end of the Appalachian Trail. The trail across South Peak to Chimney Peak is known as the Knife Edge. It’s not a fun place to get lost, hence the maps and the packing list which includes multiples of items like GPSrs and compasses.

The territory up here is not only rugged, it’s not often traveled. Evidence: while most of the heavy black labels on the topo map are typeset, the elevations marked on the isobars are apparently hand-lettered.

I have a packing list to work through.

Now Playing: Sheltering Sky from Cherry Marmalade by Kay Hanley

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August 8, 2005

The novelty is wearing off

We had Bat #3 last night, around 12:30. Izzy cornered this one in the bedroom and “helped” me trap and release it. I’m not sure if it wound up in the bedroom because it fled there, or if Iz was trying to bring it to us to show off what a good job he’s doing. I think the carpeted room made this one a bit harder to scoop up than the first two, though. The poor little thing was clearly terrified of both Iz and my flashlight, and chittering like it could hold us off with sound waves.

I hope it is hoovering up mosquitoes in gratitude.

Now Playing: Empty glass from I’m on my way (EP) by Rich Price

Posted by pjm at 8:21 AM | Comments (1)

July 27, 2005

They can tell when I don't have my camera

As I turned off route 116 onto route 9 yesterday, I nearly ran my car off the road when I saw the huge red-tailed hawk sitting placidly on the power cable, back to traffic, looking out toward the bike path.

Now Playing: Lullabye from Bloodletting by Concrete Blonde

Posted by pjm at 8:44 AM | Comments (2)

July 25, 2005

It's a cheap plastic kite

…from the Winnegance Store. But it was good enough while it was in the air, and I didn’t miss it once it plunged into the riptide of the Morse’s River (no kidding) and all we got back was sandy string.


Posted by pjm at 10:03 PM | Comments (1)

July 10, 2005


Interesting stuff happened today, some of which I’ll tell you about tomorrow. But the milestone was this: I archived my first cache. I’d planted it well over a year and a half ago, in the park across the street from the apartment building we used to live in. It survived much longer than I expected, but between finds in May and unsuccessful hunts in June, someone apparently thought it was litter, picked it up, and either threw it out or took it home. We checked on it this afternoon, and it was definitely Gone.

It’s timely, because I would have to be finding someone else to do “maintenance” (i.e. check out reports of problems) once I moved. Now I don’t, and the area is clear for someone else to think of a different hide. (By the rules, caches can’t be too close together, so this one was “blocking” other potential downtown Northampton hides.)

Posted by pjm at 9:55 PM | Comments (0)

July 5, 2005

GPS and the Mac

I mentioned back in May how I’ve had trouble transferring geocaching waypoints from the batch files I download from the website on to my GPSr (a Magellan Meridian). The problem is that I use a Mac, which lacks a serial port, and a lot of GPS technology is closely tied to serial ports; the technology itself has not been designed to be USB-friendly.

This weekend, I finally hit on a workaround which doesn’t involve Windows software. It happens that my GPSr has a card slot which accepts the same size cards as my digital camera. So, the process works like this:

  • Get a batch of waypoints, either in .gpx format, or .loc format.
  • Put the smaller “spare” flash card in the camera and use the USB cable to plug the camera in to the Mac. As a result, the card turns up as a removable “drive” on the Mac desktop.
  • Use MacGPSBabel to convert the waypoint files into the Magellan flash card format, and save the output to the card.
  • Disconnect the camera, remove the card, and insert it into the GPSr.
  • Power up the GPSr, and issue a few menu commands to load the waypoints from the card. And we’re in business.

This actually ends up being the most efficient way to transfer waypoints to the GPSr that I’ve used yet, including the Windows-based workaround. I was pretty proud of myself for figuring it out, but naturally, nearly everyone else is unimpressed.

Now Playing: Friction from A Box Of Birds by The Church

Posted by pjm at 3:19 PM | Comments (1)

July 1, 2005

Friday cat blogging, blood sport edition

I woke up last night when the whir of the box fan was joined by a high chittering noise. Again. I could hear Iz in hot pursuit, so this time I had a pretty good idea what was going on. As I closed the bedroom door, I picked up an empty recycling bin as a potential holding pen.

It took a few passes to locate Iz. Our apartment has a staircase down to the second floor, ending at a door about an inch and a half from the edge of the last step. Iz loses toys into the gap between the door and the stair-tread all the time. Following the curious mews, I found him down there, fishing in the gap. Cautiously, I opened the door, and found a bat, wings furled, huddled in the bottom corner of the door-frame. Mark up number two for the Iz; he might not have caught this one, but he certainly cornered it. (Continued…)

Continue reading "Friday cat blogging, blood sport edition"

Posted by pjm at 10:28 AM | Comments (3)

June 29, 2005

Shaking the map

It appears that this new API means that one no longer needs Greasemonkey to do annotated Google maps (which looked broken for a while anyway.)

It’s too bad that the database doesn’t allow public use of its query data, or easy RSS/XML exports, because I could imagine dozens of maps popping up showing “all my local caches, with found in red and unfound in yellow,” or something of the sort.

Update: And there’s a Yahoo! Maps API, too.

Now Playing: Everlong from The Colour And The Shape by Foo Fighters

Posted by pjm at 3:10 PM | Comments (0)

June 25, 2005


I’ve had more sun in the last 48 hours than in the rest of the months of May and June combined.

Maybe April, too, come to think of it.

This morning I walked in to the Pacific up to my knees and stood there while the breakers whisked the sand out from under my feet. I stepped to the side and admired the eddy I’d made. I may do that again tomorrow. I probably need a nap more than I need to stand in the ocean until my ankles go numb, but then again, maybe not.

Posted by pjm at 2:26 AM | Comments (3)

June 20, 2005


A little over a year ago, I posted photos of the demolition of two dorms on the Amherst College campus in preparation for their reconstruction. Since then, I’ve posted more photos at, but if you’re interested in following the continuing saga of dorm renovation (I know, I know, you’re twitching with excitement,) I’ve got a photoset on Flickr with a few dozen shots of the buildings under renovation.

Posted by pjm at 9:37 PM | Comments (0)

I like it here

This weekend has been a spectacular time to be in the Pioneer Valley. We’ve had neither the stifling humidity of two weeks ago nor the curiously prolonged cold bleakness of May, but a nice, breezy, sunny, weekend.

Ten years ago, I spent my last pre-graduation summer here, and discovered more of the area than I ever had before, running between Mt. Toby and the Notch and swimming for the first time in Puffer’s Pond. I knew then that summer is the best time to be here. Now, I’m rediscovering my larger back yard on the way to leaving it once again.

A. and I went up to North Leverett yesterday to run on a section of the M-M Trail (more popularly known as “The M&M Trail”) which I had discovered while caching on Brushy Mountain last summer. The trail section has a Quabbin-like feeling, because for a while it runs in the tracks of a centuries-old road between field-cleared stone walls. We ran out to where Jonathan Glazier’s pre-Revolutionary homestead is marked by a faded sign and a cellar hole in woods miles from modern civilization. Most of North Leverett was cleared for farming in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, but as the Midwest opened, many of the farmers headed west, and Brushy Mountain, like almost all of the less-traveled sections of New England, reforested. The result is achingly old in a way the carefully preserved ruins of Europe will never be.

At the end of the run, we toured the Rattlesnake Gutter, a small but dramatic gorge which holds one of Massachusetts’ last stands of old-growth forest; it’s simply too rugged to log.

Rattlesnake Gutter and Brushy Mountain topo map

This morning, I rode to work by a slightly different route, and took pictures of the waterfall over the dam that makes Puffer’s Pond, and a fog bank over the river. The river is full, now, with chilly rain water spilling out of the ponds in Vermont and New Hampshire, and it cools the air above it until the humidity condenses into fog.

Puffer's Pond dam

As my loose shirt rippled in the breeze of my own passing, I watched the outlines of my shadow shifting and blurring.

It’s not perfect here. I miss the ocean, and I am not close to my own roots. But when we visited the Eric Carle museum yesterday with my nieces, at the base of the Holyoke range, I wanted to point to the sun on the mountains and say to my brother, “See why I like it here?”

Now Playing: The Hideout from You Were Here by Sarah Harmer

Posted by pjm at 12:43 PM | Comments (0)

June 19, 2005


Something I never thought I’d do with my nieces: catch frogs (with a net.)

They liked the hunt better than the success; if they’d ever actually netted one themselves, they wouldn’t know what to do with it.

Posted by pjm at 9:39 PM | Comments (0)

June 13, 2005


50 minutes in the Quabbin = 5 ticks (one on me, 4 on A, probably because I was riding and she was running.)

I am not one to whine about the weather; I live here because I like it, and if it’s unpleasant sometimes, that just means I don’t have to deal with a few million others who want to live here too.

But the dark and wet May we had is still kicking us in the shins. The “red tide” that has shut down shellfishing around the state (and, presumably, elsewhere in New England, though you’d never know reading our papers) is a direct consequence of low sunlight and cool temperatures in May; that’s what brought on the algal bloom. And you can’t venture ten steps into the woods without first drenching yourself in Deet, because there was (is) plenty of standing water for insect breeding. The hum of mosquitoes was audible whenever I stopped to snap a picture: not the whine of a single insect, but a background hum of millions of the little things.

I blame the humidity on May, too.

I just hope there’s some insectivorous upside. Ooh, maybe Iz will get another bat.

Update: The sixth tick was found on A’s running shoe this morning. The problem with the ticks is that once you find one or two, every itch or tickle feels like another one. I was feeling phantom ticks all night.

Posted by pjm at 9:59 PM | Comments (0)

June 6, 2005

Early exit

We were doing the walking loop of my errands this afternoon when we spotted a few people apparently sitting on the sidewalk on South Pleasant Street, near the new restaurant in the space which used to be Il Pirata (which used to be a bank, and the vault is still there.)

As we walked around them, I noticed a grey heap of feathers and fuzz on the sidewalk between them. It flopped. Bird? Tame bird? One of the three people got up and moved on, looking sad. Another hurried off purposefully.

I happened to have my camera with me. (Good habit, which I’m working on developing.) I got it out and looked more purposefully at the bird. At first, I thought he’d been hurt, but on closer inspection it was clear that he was simply too young to fly. The remaining man said, “My girlfriend went to get a box for him. We think he fell out of his nest, or something.” I looked up and spotted a pigeon looking over the rooftop. I imagined some twigs and grass poking out. I pointed. “Up there, I’d bet.”

Then I took a few pictures. Hey, when a kid takes his first steps outside the nest, someone should take pictures.


Posted by pjm at 10:02 PM | Comments (0)


The Great Northern Tier Geocaching Tournament is in the planning stages, and is almost certain to combine two things I really enjoy: geocaching and the Quabbin. It doesn’t hurt that it appears to be hosted by The Trustees of Reservations, the only conservation organization I actually belong to; I’ve done numerous caches on their land, and Notchview, where I skied all winter, is one of their properties.

I wonder, though, if the competitive aspect might not be enough to kill the fun of it. I think a lot of what I enjoy about caching is being out in the woods alone, and imagining others slipping up to the hides quietly, little blinks of activity in an otherwise placid site. The idea of a few hundred people dashing around… I don’t know. Could be not-fun. I wonder.

Now Playing: Harmed by Film School

Posted by pjm at 1:17 PM | Comments (0)

June 5, 2005

After business hours

Sometime early on Saturday morning, there was a lot of screeching outside.

Animal screeching, I could tell. Iz was a bit jumpy, and followed me while I walked to our one window which faces the yard (long story, never mind) and scanned the garden with a flashlight, like a guard in a watchtower. Nothing.

I’m not sure it was in the garden; maybe it was the grove of trees directly behind the house, but the flashlight would not penetrate and the screechers had fallen silent.

I suspect a return of our local bandits. Iz remained nervous, but I had to sleep. So no pictures, this time.

Posted by pjm at 10:24 PM | Comments (0)

June 2, 2005

Limited use of tools

I’m a poor vacation photographer. I took few, if any, photos last weekend (excepting a few hundred of the marathon with A’s camera,) and I took none on April’s trip to Nantucket. I’d plead rain as my excuse for that second one, but Brian was there the same weekend and took plenty.

I take more photos of what’s around me every day. The shots I’ve posted here and on Flickr are either part of my daily round, or day-trips to relatively familiar places.

I think the reason for this is that I’ve stopped taking photos as an attempt to capture a moment, and I’m less ambitious in my attempts to capture views. I find myself trying to take photos which will make good pictures. That’s not going to happen every time I trip the shutter, of course; you have to take a lot of bad pictures to get a good picture. But I’m composing my shots more, and thinking about how the image will look on a screen or printed on a 4×6.

I might take more scenery shots if photos could resolve objects at the same distance my eyes can, I suppose, but I know that the big view photos will never match what I’m seeing. Maybe I need to get better at shooting (and cobbling together) panoramas.

Now Playing: U-Mass from Trompe le Monde by the Pixies

Posted by pjm at 11:19 AM | Comments (0)

May 30, 2005

Vacation == no laptop

And I’m sure you’re all disappointed that I haven’t stacked up a long weekend’s worth of posts, right?

Posted by pjm at 9:00 PM | Comments (0)

May 27, 2005

Geek glee

As a Mac-using geocacher, I’m somewhat outside the geocaching technology mainstream. GPSRs which play nicely with Macs are few and far between; apparently the GPS architecture is wedded to serial ports at a very low level, and USB connecters are dicey. (I’ve got a USB adapter for my GPSR; it doesn’t work. Maybe I should buy a new one, with Bluetooth?)

The result is that I can only add cache waypoints to my GPSR by keying them in or by taking it to work and sending a batch through the serial port of my Windows box there. This can be a drag, because it makes spontaneous caching nearly impossible. Ideally, in any given location, I’d have a few dozen nearby waypoints already in the GPSr, and when I had a spare hour, I’d check to see which is closest. I can do this for places like Fayetteville, which only have eight or ten caches handy, but what if I’m going to Boston? How can I decide which caches I’m actually going to hunt?

This brings me to the next hint: there’s more to the cache than the coordinates. There’s other data, ranging from a description of the container to an encrypted hint for the hide. If I’m looking at a limited number of caches in an area (or I’m planning an expedition from home,) I print the pages from the website and haul the paper along with me. But this weekend I’m going to be in a cache-rich environment, and don’t know where or when I’ll have the time to go looking. I can’t print them all out.

Enter Pocket Queries, which are a paid feature of the website. Anyone can download search results as an XML file (a format they call .loc) but paid members (like me) have the option of getting search results as an e-book. Coincidentally, the e-books can be loaded on Palm organizers… and I happen to have one handy. So I’ve got several dozen description pages loaded up and ready to go! I’m unnaturally pleased with this.

Even better, of course, would be if I could have the descriptions on the GPSR itself. I suppose if I was determined enough, I could parse the .loc files into the XML format for custom Google maps and overlay the cache markers on a satellite photo more-or-less automatically.

(This is exactly the sort of geeky thing that makes people glaze over when I talk about it, so I have to post it here.)

Posted by pjm at 9:49 PM | Comments (0)

May 24, 2005

The shot that got away

I’ve been carrying my camera with me for a while, hoping to get a shot of the red-tail hawk(s) along the state route I follow back and forth to work.

This morning I saw one, and unfortunately it was right next to an access ramp where I could not pull over and take a picture. It was being harried by a pair of smaller birds as I approached, and I watched it perch on the road sign informing me that tractors, pedestrians, and farm animals were prohibited on the divided highway. It stayed there, looking ruffled, as I cruised by not five yards away, unable to get the picture.

Now Playing: One More Song The Radio Won’t Like from Failer by Kathleen Edwards

Posted by pjm at 9:38 AM | Comments (0)

May 19, 2005

Looking backward

There was a rabbit on the rail-trail today, keeping an eye on me as I rounded the corner, and more cyclists than usual, possibly headed to the breakfast in Hadley.

My run led me around a field south of the College and its “bird sanctuary,” where a boarded-up farmhouse looks out over an impressive view toward the Pelham hills. I was able to pick out the Mt. Orient overlook, and realized I was seeing the reciprocal view to this photo. I wished, a little, for a camera that I could carry while running; the only one which seems portable enough, actually, is a phone-quality camera in one of the toys I got on loan last week.

Now Playing: Best Imitation Of Myself from Ben Folds Five by Ben Folds Five

Posted by pjm at 10:29 AM | Comments (1)

May 5, 2005

In the lost towns

A. and I went over to run in the Quabbin Reservation this evening. Well, she ran, I rode my bike and took pictures. I’ve discussed my fascination with the Quabbin before, but this was the first time I was able to take pictures of it. There are some quietly dramatic parts, like the infrequent empty cellar holes alongside the trails—heck, the trails themselves are a bit eerie, tracing between farms and towns which no longer exist, with practically nobody there.

We’re not sure why so few people use the trails; we’ve barely ever seen anyone in the Pelham sections, except for their one-day hunting seasons and, once, ice-skating on a pond in the reservation. People are more common in the New Salem sections, and since New Salem is so sparsely populated itself, it’s not surprising that there are few people walking the old roads.

Nothing, however, is quite as spooky as roads which run right down to the water’s edge… then go in.

Lots and lots of Boston drinking water.

Posted by pjm at 9:37 PM | Comments (0)

April 27, 2005

Who's the turkey now?

The turkeys are back. Today they are posing quite nicely on the lawn, in a light rain, so the contrast is excellent. They must know that I left my camera on too long last week, while I was trying to diagnose a USB issue, and consequently the battery is dead.

Now Playing: Stupidly Happy from Wasp Star (Apple Venus, Pt. 2) by XTC

Posted by pjm at 12:41 PM | Comments (0)

April 26, 2005

Annotated Google maps broken?

Last month, JM and I gushed about annotated Google maps. At the time, I didn’t have an itch to scratch, nor any spare minutes, so I didn’t make one.

Today, I was going to try to map Razorback Ranch for Barb, who is in Arkansas now… but for some reason, it’s not working on either Mac or PC.

I had to update Firefox to 1.0.3, update Greasemonkey, and grab the latest map script, so the problem could be with any of those three or with Google Maps itself. (Maybe they somehow disabled this capacity? Somehow that seems un-Googlish. Maybe they just disabled Greasemonkey?)

I could make the marks show up on the right column, but the map didn’t center and zoom according to those numbers, nor did any of the icons go on the map. The “Display Points” link which used to appear, no longer does. I checked with JM’s examples, and they didn’t work either, so I don’t think it’s just my XML.

Ideas, anyone?

Now Playing: Big City Girls from SXSW 2005 Showcasing Artist by The World Provider

Posted by pjm at 2:18 PM | Comments (2)

April 22, 2005

Weird, prehistoric birds

There’s a small wild turkey flock (about five) browsing outside our office. Actually, outside my window. I’ve tried to take some pictures, but I didn’t have my camera ready fast enough for the great turkey-on-the-lawn shot, so I’ve been getting obscure turkey-in-brush shots, or turkey-in-background shots, which I can’t quite zoom in enough to make the turkey clear in the image.

A few minutes ago I tried to go out on the lawn and get closer, but instead I got equally distant turkey-running-away shots. I wish I had A.’s big lens.

Now Playing: Frozen And Distant from A Quick Smoke At Spot’s by The Church

Posted by pjm at 10:50 AM | Comments (2)

April 11, 2005


That’s what my younger niece says when she wants to ride on my shoulders again. We took the girls with us to Reid State Park while hunting another cache; they like geocaching because there are often toddler-grade toys in the boxes. Due to closed gates in the park, the short walk to the cache became a nearly two-mile hike down and back on One Mile Beach (which is actually somewhat less than a mile.)

The pink ladies were pretty patient with us, but anyone who writes a personals ad with clichéd phrases about “long walks on the beach” should try taking them along. Sasha was pretty good, but that might be because she was able to manipulate her uncle into carrying her most of the way on his shoulders. She wanted to get down when it looked like her sister had found something interesting on the beach, and back up when we were back on the move. My back was quite sore the next day. While up, we would sing marching music; I covered the beat and most of the brass, and she would keep time on my head. The only march I could remember end-to-end was Anchors Aweigh, but I filled the gaps with half-improvised bits of all the Sousa and R.B. Hall we played in the Municipal Band.

We had a deal where I would hold on to her ankles and she would hang on to my head, but as she got tired and flopped forward over my head I would first see her little fingers curling over the bill of my hat, then come down and latch on to my sunglasses.

It was, of course, an absolutely stellar day, with both Seguin and Damriscove islands visible from the beach, not to mention Newagen, the Cuckolds, etc. I think my father was itching to get the boat in the water.

Now Playing: Fireplace from Document by R.E.M.

Posted by pjm at 11:04 AM | Comments (0)

April 7, 2005


It’s not good when you wake up at 5:15 AM to screaming.

But let me back up a bit.

Yesterday was a warm day, warm enough that I tipped open the two roof windows in an attempt to cool off the bedroom enough for sleeping. I would’ve opened the side window, but we didn’t have the screens up yet, and we were concerned that Iz might try going after a squirrel—not a good idea from the third floor.

When my eyes popped open at 5:15, what I saw right over my head was a cat butt and tail slipping out the roof window. You can bet I bounced out of bed in a hurry. The particular segment of roof with these windows extends down over the second floor to end in a gutter just one floor up over the garden; I think of it as the third fire escape route. And now Iz was out on the roof, emulating his neighbor. I don’t know if he saw a bird, or another bat, or if he just wanted to explore.

Iz has been an indoor cat as long as we’ve had him, but he has been an adept of the art of the catbreak, so much so that our phone number is embroidered on his collar, Just In Case. Normally, he only manages to escape the apartment as people come in or go out, and is retrieved from the hall or stairwell. For a while we considered putting up a child gate inside the door to give us a buffer zone, but this is a cat we’re talking about; we’d need a six-foot-high gate.

I bolted for the other room, where another roof window would provide access to a different segment of roof; at worst, I figured I could go outside and intercept him at the bottom. But I didn’t make it out of the hall; A. called me back. Apparently Iz decided the outside world was too cold, and hopped right back down on the bed. He purred around my ankles, wondering what the fuss was about.

We pulled the windows closed, then tried to go back to sleep. I wonder if Iz noticed that every time he came up to wheedle for feeding, I had my hand on his collar.

The screens went up before I left for work.

Now Playing: Weakened State from You Were Here by Sarah Harmer

Posted by pjm at 1:24 PM | Comments (1)

March 30, 2005

Dinner to go

The swooping crow led my eye to the red-tailed hawk (I think) stooped on something about five meters off the side of the road, as I whipped by on my way home. By the time I had pulled the car over and had my camera out, it had picked up its meal and left for somewhere it would not be bothered by either scavengers or photographers.

Posted by pjm at 6:09 PM | Comments (0)

March 29, 2005

A title isn't going to add anything

It was raining this morning, but I think that just added to the picture.

Click for larger flowers image [Flickr]Click for larger flowers image [Flickr]

Posted by pjm at 10:00 PM | Comments (1)

March 26, 2005

Embargoed for warmer weather

I’m not, generally, one to complain about winter weather. I don’t like it, but it’s the price we pay for living in an otherwise great place. However, I don’t think I’ve realized just how bad it’s been this winter.

See, yesterday I found a Boston Sunday Globe outside our door, with a note that it had just thawed out of the driveway snowbank.

The date on it was January 23rd.

Posted by pjm at 3:36 PM | Comments (2)

March 24, 2005

Making deals with the moon

I turned on the porch light, but I probably didn’t need to. The moon lit everything, both brighter and more shadowy than any flashlight, diffused through a thin scrim of cloud. I stashed some stuff in the car, then pulled my skis and poles out; it’s going to be parked somewhere this weekend where I don’t want them showing in the back seat. I debated whether I had the hands for the snowshoes, too, and decided to leave them. (So, keep your eyes open for a little black coupe with snowshoes in the back seat.)

I almost stayed myself. I didn’t have my to-do list with me, couldn’t see a clock to tell me how up-late I was, nor the inbox of email awaiting reply. The only bags full of plan-ahead were the finished ones I stowed in the trunk. The moon was out and I could imagine stars, imagine following single-track paths through the half-lit woods until I fell asleep in the passenger’s seat.

But the cat was watching from the apartment window, and he needed to be saved from his door-mousie. (He’s not to be trusted with string toys. He gets wound up, both figuratively and literally.) The lights were on, music was playing. And I was still wearing my slippers.

This is my compromise.

Now Playing: The cat, with the door mousie

Posted by pjm at 10:38 PM | Comments (0)

March 23, 2005

Raptor alley

The stretch of state highway which I travel back and forth to work (when I’m driving) seems to be popular with raptors, or at least one raptor. Yesterday, on my way home, I spotted a bird sitting in a tree near the road which looked like the red-tailed hawk which gave us a show back in January. I’ve seen him a few times in the last few weeks; this stretch of road is surrounded by farms, so the road’s right of way is the narrow strip with trees. I imagine he can sit there and keep a good eye on the open ground, looking for small animals poking out to check the snow depth and evaluate their foraging opportunities.

Then I saw another one very much like him, not a half-mile down the road. How many hawks can one road support? Maybe I’m mis-identifying some vultures waiting for road-kill?

Now Playing: Empires from SXSW 2005 Showcasing Artist by The Snake The Cross The Crown

Posted by pjm at 3:17 PM | Comments (0)

March 19, 2005

A klister day

Ski wax has two big classes: glide wax and kick wax. Skate skiers only use glide wax, which is meant to help the ski, well, glide on the snow. Classical skiers also use kick wax on the center of their skis, to grab the snow when they push down and back. Both kinds come in a spectrum of colors and hardnesses for different temperatures and conditions. Glide wax is forgiving; since it doesn’t have the dual role of both sliding and grabbing, if you pick the wrong glide wax you can usually get by. Kick wax is murder, because you need to hit the sweet spot where it slides forward and grips backward; too far in either direction, and you either have no traction or no glide. This is a gross oversimplification; I believe there are PhDs in waxology who claim they are still learning.

Klister is a specific kind of kick wax, less like wax than like glue that never dries. It is gooey, sticky, and more contagious than plague. It comes out for warm weather and/or icy snow, and today I saw a klister box in the wax-room trash can. I’m surprised I didn’t also see a matching pair of klister-fouled mittens.

I had my softest, warmest wax on as well, and even with that I was all over the skating trails. I was gliding wonderfully off each push, but the fast, hard snow also made it hard to get an edge; sometimes the ski would go sideways, or snag in someone else’s rut and send me sprawling. I felt like the tails weren’t always following the toes. Notchview is expecting snow tomorrow and next week, so today might not even have been my last skiing day.

On the trip up, I wished I had my camera to make a little slideshow of the trip for you. There were two sugar shacks steaming like teapots in Williamsburg, then another one cold in Goshen (improbably located in the Goshen Stone Co. yard.) A sign nailed to a telephone pole promised “Corn Ahead,” and in Cummington the bones of an old ski lift mark the bottom of a rank of masts up a mountainside. Any ski trails are long since overgrown. The roads are starting to show frost heaves as the ground under them melts unevenly, and the freezing and thawing of water makes the surrounding soil churn and bubble like a geologic stew. As I bounce over the road like a small powerboat, I imagine glacial-till boulders percolating up in the fields to annoy the local farmers.

Now Playing: Nobody Girl from Gold by Ryan Adams

Posted by pjm at 8:16 PM | Comments (1)

March 14, 2005

Here now

The trees are starting to show that brown haze which will be leaf-buds soon. In a few weeks that will be a greenish haze, and then the leaves will be here before we’ve noticed the change.

Until then, I am thinking maybe I have one more weekend’s ski session, and I am enjoying how I can look to Mount Toby on the drive in to work, and see the true contours of the mountain relieved in snow and the sticks of its trees.

I ran across this quote: “The difference between success and mediocrity sometimes consists of leaving about four or five things a day unsaid.” No attribution. I’m trying it out, but it’s more like “un-posted” than “unsaid.”

Now Playing: Everything Changed from Everything Changed by Abra Moore

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March 11, 2005

Audacity, always audacity

So, I’m on the outskirts of Fayetteville, Arkansas, hunting caches before we have to head to the NCAA Indoor Track championships. I’m at least two tenths of a mile in to the woods, out of direct sight of any development. I’m also several dozen yards off the trail. The GPS says I’m fifty or sixty feet from the cache, so I start looking around, asking myself, “If I was hiding a cache around here, where would I put it?”

In the mailbox, of course.

Mailbox geocache

(Notice that the flag is up for pickup.)

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March 6, 2005

I could swim faster if I wasn't so tired (reprise)

Skiing for an hour thirty probably isn’t the best way to rest in advance of a swim meet, but the time was available and there was plenty of snow on the ground at Notchview. I did need to scrape the skis and put on red wax (for above-freezing temperatures; the last few times I’ve been up there, I used purple below-freezing wax,) but otherwise all was well. The four times I fell, it was mostly clumsiness, not speed. I stopped before I got too tired. I think.

Today’s meet was a two-hour affair in which I swam the same three events I did at New Englands last spring, but in a slightly different order. I seeded myself with my New Englands times, both because they’re my last competitive marks, and because I figured I was faster now, and it’s nice to beat your seeds.

That said, though, after the petty nervous agitations of thinking I was late (I wasn’t) and getting off-course (the directions called for leaving the Mass Pike at Exit 2, West Stockbridge, but West Stockbridge is not Exit 2,) I got a decent warm up and settled in with just one thing to worry about: getting three decent starts which didn’t involve my goggles coming un-sealed. (Details in the extended entry…)

Now Playing: Untitled (bonus track) from Green by R.E.M.

Continue reading "I could swim faster if I wasn't so tired (reprise)"

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March 5, 2005


Driving to Notchview from Amherst requires a trip through Williamsburg, up the Mill River from Northampton. Much of the drive along Route 9 is alongside the river, and there are a few little memorials along the way. The memorials are from the flood described at this cache.

To summarize, a reservoir dam upstream in Williamsburg ruptured, the first recorded dam failure in the U.S. The dam was entirely swept away, and a twenty-foot flood wall swept down the stream through downtown Williamsburg, Haydenville, Leeds, and Florence. 138 people died, and it was the biggest industrial catastrophe in American history until it was (sadly for all concerned) dwarfed by the Johnstown flood in Pennsylvania a few years later.

Nowadays, aside from the markers in the towns along the flood’s path, you wouldn’t know it ever happened. The dam itself has been swallowed by the forest, and many of the mills were rebuilt. Once you know about it, though, it’s hard to drive that little corridor without imagining the wall of water sweeping down. It’s a little chilling.

Now Playing: Capsized from You Were Here by Sarah Harmer

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March 4, 2005

Bucket brigade

The sap buckets are out on the maple trees by the office, and the tube networks have spread like plastic spiderwebs through most local sugarbushes. (I learned last year that a “sugarbush” is a stand or grove of maple trees.)

I didn’t see any smoke coming from the sugar houses on Route 9 last Sunday when I drove up to Notchview, probably because the weather hasn’t been right (yet) for a good sap run. Apparently the best season is when the days are above freezing, and the nights below.

Now Playing: Army from Ben Folds Live by Ben Folds

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March 3, 2005


March is the waiting time. The town’s attitude towards snow, a large helping of which we got on Monday, has altered significantly with the turn of the calendar page, from resignation and acceptance to a mixture of despair and hope. The concrete manifestation is the shift from carefully scraping our sidewalks and driveways bare of white stuff, to grudgingly clearing the absolute minimum of space and waiting for the extended sunlight hours to melt the rest.

The astronomical “first day of spring” is on the same calendar page we are, along with Easter. We know the warm stuff is coming, and that promise is what’s carrying us through the “chance of flurries” graphics which litter the forecast.

Inside, things aren’t much different. I am in that time when graduate programs I have applied to might be responding to me. None have, yet, but they aren’t late yet, either. I know I’ll be moving forward in the fall, but until I know how, there’s not much for me to do but noodle around with transient little projects. I can keep my hands busy, but I feel like rot is setting in somewhere around the ambitious part of my head.

It’s likely to get worse before it gets better. But it’s March, and that means April is right around the corner. Right? Let’s just not discuss mud season, for the moment.

Now Playing: Telepath from Forget Yourself by The Church

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February 27, 2005

Teed up

On Route 9 in Windsor (eastbound) and Cummington (westbound) there is a white bubble visible on a mountaintop. As best I can tell from my topo maps, it’s in Cummington, atop Bryant Peak, 2,070 feet up. The map, which is somewhat less than current, says there is a radio tower there, but this is unlike any radio tower I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to get a sense of its size; it looks a bit like the Peace Pagoda, but it sticks up much farther above the trees. It looks more like a scoop of ice cream fallen from a really massive cone. My bet is that it’s actually a doppler radar system inside its protective bubble.

But it looks like nothing so much as a giant golf ball, teed up and waiting to be played.

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February 23, 2005

More banditry?

We had a dusting of snow overnight, good for showing tracks. The second one out the door this morning, I saw two distinct sets. One was four toes and a distinct pad; I suspect it belonged to one of the neighborhood cats. The second, however, had four toes, three of them quite long, and though one of our neighbors thought it might have been a skunk we agreed that it could also be one of the raccoons.

There were some other clusters of small footprints, which I think were squirrel.

I took some pictures:

Raccoon tracks?

Now Playing: Uniform Grey from You Were Here by Sarah Harmer

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February 21, 2005

Ski the conditions

Yesterday, just for kicks, I scanned the conditions at the cross-country ski areas. Despite the tremendous melting of the last few weeks, Notchview was open. It surprised me at the time, but on further reflection it’s not so shocking; down here in the Valley, we’re around 250 feet of elevation, whereas the Notchview parking area, way up in Windsor, sits at 2,000 feet.

With more snow forecast for last night, I figured I would take my day off as a ski day, and put my pieces together to head for the hills right after breakfast. (Our more local area, Northfield Mountain, is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.) When I woke up, though, A. deposited the cat on me and told me the snow was still coming down. Best to wait until they’d had time to groom the trails. And plow the roads, I suppose. The cat purred, and he and I went back to sleep.

We wound up leaving for Notchview shortly after noon, though between the drive, waxing skis, and other preparation activities, we didn’t actually head out on the trails until after two. As a member of the Trustees, I can ski for free at Notchview, but for some reason I hadn’t gone before, probably because they advertise fewer trails groomed for skating than Northfield or the now-defunct Hickory Hill. I think I visualized myself doing innumerable little laps around a single field. I should’ve done the math; 20K of skating trail at Northfield is probably more than I can ski in a day, and 8K at Notchview was plenty for A. and I today.

We did one big, hilly loop and established that both of us are pretty decent on easy grades, but neither of us can hold form while climbing. I can bull my way up with all the muscle I’ve built swimming and lifting, but it’s not pretty. I also discovered that one of my poles has somehow been twisted, such that the basket is about 90° off. I wouldn’t have thought that would make a difference, but it was hard to get a good push off that pole unless I held it “sideways” in my hand, so the basket was lined up properly. That brought home to me how much energy I’m putting in to driving with my poles, though I suppose my tired shoulders could have given me the message if I’d chosen to listen.

Another thing we discovered was that most of Notchview’s trails weren’t groomed as wide as Northfield’s are. It’s probably hard for racing skaters to pass on the side trails; with our wide climbing stances, we could hog an entire trail from edge to edge if we were going uphill. Fortunately, even though the staff thought they had a big crowd, there weren’t many people on the trails at all, from our point of view. I think I could count on one hand the number of times I had to give way on the trail.

After a cup of tea in the lodge, we went back out for two smaller loops around the “circuit trail.” The circuit trail is wider than most others, and aside from two healthy climbs features a lot of easy rollers and the sort of gentle descents you can really fly down. Starting the first loop, I saw something scooting across the trail. At first I thought it was a squirrel, but on second look it was too long. I think it was too small for a mink; weasel seems more likely.

At the lodge, I overheard another skier discussing the area with one of the staff. On the website they point out that they’re usually ten degrees colder than the valleys; apparently this translates into reliable skiing through March and into April. “Sometimes we can ski on the first weekend of May,” he said conspiratorially.

Hmm. On the way up, I’d been congratulating myself on getting to ski more than once this winter. Now I’m wondering if I can get up there once or twice more, now that I know my way around a bit.

Now Playing: Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before from Strangeways, Here We Come by The Smiths

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February 19, 2005

Spring is in the air

After nearly two weeks of unseasonably warm weather (highs in the 40s) it is February-cold again. But there’s no question that spring is in the air.

Case in point: returning from my swim this morning, I heard a loud chittering as I put my key in the door. I looked up to see what bird was chastising me, and instead saw a raccoon in the front yard tree. Make that two raccoons—one on top of the other. Make that two raccoons, mating. In broad daylight, sixteen feet over our front yard.

Between A.’s camera and mine, we now have a pretty good collection of raccoon porn. (Note: Potentially not work safe, though it depends where you work.)

I think the little bandits are still there; the only obvious escape route is down the tree, so they’ll probably wait for dark.

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February 12, 2005

Pay no attention to the time stamp

My watch and my computer are still on East Coast time. I think I am somewhere between Central and Mountain. I’m physically located in Pacific.

I walked from our hotel over to a place called Columbia Shores, a massive (to me) condo development about a mile and a half up the river. I was hoping to sit for a while at the café I’d seen there last night, but it wasn’t yet open. There’s a McMenamin’s there which I can only spell thanks to Google and I am only mentioning to make Nicole homesick.

It was dark when I started the walk, and when I passed under the I-5 bridge there was a lot of chittering. I suspect it was bats, which made me think of Austin. I spooked a larger bird with bars across its tail feathers; I suppose it could have been a barred owl at the bat buffet, but I saw it flying, not perched, so I’m not sure. Any other suggestions?

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February 7, 2005

Holes in my feet

So I did manage to ski on Saturday morning. I wasted too much time in the waxing shed determining that the problem was the electrical socket, not my iron, but once I had all the bits together I was able to get out on the trail without having to dodge snowshoe racers.

I was pleased to find that I still know how to skate, even though I didn’t get out at all last winter. It took me a few minutes to get the coordination back, and I’ll have to go back a few more times before I feel like I’ve begun to smooth out my form, but I remembered most of the important bits.

It took a bit longer to remember which side to pole on. Skate skiers double-pole all the time, so it matters which ski they’re kicking with as they pole. You’re supposed to pole “on the uphill side,” which means you’re pushing on your poles as you push off the lower ski. This occupies some focus, because it’s not always obvious which ski is lower, but once I was aware of it I could switch sides with somewhat less thought than I use in changing lanes on the highway. If I was on the wrong side and switched to the right side, I could feel myself getting more glide from each kick after I switched.

They told me that the further up the mountain I went, the better the trails would be, so I angled for uphills wherever I could find them, which is nearly everywhere at Northfield. I didn’t make it to the top of the mountain, but I did get high enough to scare myself several times in my descent. As the morning got later, not only did the snow get stickier and/or icier, but I started making silly slips because I was too tired to hold form.

Once, scooting down off a forest trail on to the access road, I snagged a ski in the classical track and went down. Then I found I was unable to get a ski underneath me (the first step in standing up again) because my legs would cramp when I tried to skitter them around. I sat there for a minute or two waiting for the cramp to pass and had to wave off one would-be rescuer who no doubt thought I’d broken a leg, or at least torn a ligament or two.

I thought I’d be sore from skiing again, but it’s nowhere near as bad as I expected. What is bad, and I should have anticipated, are the nickel-sized raw spots on the inside of each foot, where my bulging navicular bones rub on the insides of my boots. They’re not really blisters; they started that way, but then the skin rubbed off and just kept abrading. I need to remember to put blister-block pads on there before I ski again. Odds are they will heal before I get another chance; there’s even less snow at Northfield now than there was on Saturday.

Now Playing: Unsatisfied from Let It Be by The Replacements

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February 5, 2005

It's my fault

It has been unseasonably warm for the last few days. (Unseasonably warm in February is about 35° to 40° F.) Yesterday, a patch of grass became visible outside my window.

I have finally figured out that this started when I began planning to ski at Northfield today. Three years ago (or so) when I first bought these skis, we had practically no snow, and I was only able to ski when we drove up to Stowe.

Still, the snow line is reporting five inches on groomed trails and twelve inches elsewhere. That’s from yesterday morning; I’m still awaiting today’s update. Clearly I’m tempting fate here; it is my destiny to ski on slush.

Posted by pjm at 8:25 AM | Comments (1)

January 27, 2005

We have it easy

This has been one of those weeks when it’s tough to live in the northeast, when you’re cooped up inside or struggling with the snow-clogged streets and biting wind outside. It’s been pretty easy to feel sorry for ourselves.

Outside my office window this afternoon, however, a little drama played out that made me happy for my heated caves and internet connections.

There’s been a rabbit out there all week. Most of the time he was very still, in a bramble or at the base of a tree, looking like a rock, but occasionally I caught him popping up and nibbling on the dead branches. I haven’t been his only spectator (we’re into that here) and someone wondered why he was out at all. “Rabbits are out at night,” he said. One theory was that he was caught outside his burrow by an owl, and couldn’t find his way back; maybe he was wounded by the owl.

I was watching him today, noting that he was still hanging around. Then, earlier this afternoon, I saw more movement than usual from his area. I borrowed a pair of binoculars (do you know three different co-workers who keep binoculars in their offices?) and saw what was pretty clearly a red-tail hawk, feeding amid the drifting snow.

My department head said he’d seen the strike out of the corner of his eye while on a conference call. There were five or six of us watching for a while, with a sort of sick fascination.

Then, as we started to drift back to our offices, someone said to me, “I guess we’ve got our next server name.”

Now Playing: Say Say Something from Wah Wah by James

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January 24, 2005


The Illustrator spent the morning and part of the afternoon yesterday packing down his ski track, with such unusual grooming tools as a canoe and some pallets. I went over late in the afternoon and tromped around it a few times; he thought that after a nice night below freezing it should be pretty firm today. I’m wishing I was going to have some time to go down and do a few laps.

As were were snowshoeing, he explained that he’d been on it for four or five hours. “The process is more fun to me,” he said. I thought to myself, “That sounds familiar.” “Are you sure you’re not an programmer?” I asked.

I think there’s a twilight condition we try to live in when we’re working on a project. On one side is the fun of developing something and seeing it take shape with your effort. It’s a pretty powerful feeling to watch the pieces come together, and it’s why I like to have a runnable prototype of whatever I’m doing as soon as possible. The other side is the fun of sharing the finished product, of having created something useful and functional.

You can’t really have it both ways, though. You can share your progress on an incomplete project with others, but the most likely reaction is a sort of disinterested “Eh.” And you can infinitely prolong a project with additional features and refinements, but then you’ve never really created anything. (The Dark Side is when you declare something complete which really isn’t; the users find and judge the incompleteness, and never see what you really intended.)

I’ve been working on a project at home, in my “spare time,” for two or three weeks now, trying to create a simple, flexible, and dynamic photo gallery to save A. some work time. (Never mind why I’m doing pro bono development for sites which could theoretically pay; it’s an involved story and not to the point.) I did pretty well displaying images and moving around the gallery, but captions were a bit of a puzzle. I played around with a few different methods of storing them, including an included PHP file and (at Brent’s suggestion) as JPEG metadata, but eventually settled on XML after Julie provided the clues to get me through a confusing patch.

With most of the flashy parts solved, now, I have a few gritty back-end things to fix before it’s really done and I can hand it over. And I’m not anxious to do them. I don’t know if it’s because they don’t look fun, or because I know that if I do them, the fun will be over. It’s like I don’t want it to be done. I don’t know if that’s because I’m fearing that it won’t do everything it’s supposed to, or be a disappointment, or if it’s because I don’t want it to be done and out of my hands.

I suppose I could continue offering upgrades.

Now Playing: Seen Your Video from Let It Be by The Replacements

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Good In Snow

It wasn’t quite as dramatic out here as it apparently was in Boston. We got about a foot, give or take (depending on where in the drift you measured.) A. and I tromped around on snowshoes Sunday morning as the last flakes fell, watching people poking their noses out and starting to shovel and snow-blow. The part nobody is mentioning is that in addition to a heaping ladle-full of snow, it’s also damn cold. Nothing is melting; if it’s not scraped up, it’s getting packed down (or blown to where you scraped it up.)

Yesterday, I had a longwinded post started detailing my adventures driving back from Worcester (one of those interviews.) To condense it, we gambled that we could get there, talk, and get back before the roads got bad. We lost; the roads got bad faster than I’ve ever seen before.

I got my driver’s license at the height of a Maine winter, so I’m fully appreciative of the unique challenges of driving in snow. I learned (formally and, uh, informally) how to use both transmission and brakes to control my speed, how to handle a car in a skid, and how to avoid being a car in a skid. I learned to feel when any of my wheels weren’t gripping the road. As a consequence of all this, I drive with a pretty high level of confidence. (That doesn’t mean, “fast.” The First Rule of Driving in Snow is that you do nothing quickly. You don’t turn quickly, you don’t accelerate quickly, and you don’t brake quickly. In order to avoid braking quickly, you don’t drive quickly.) (The Second Rule of Driving in Snow is to give a lot of space to drivers who don’t know the First Rule.) (The Third Rule of Driving in Snow is to stay the &$%# off the road if you can’t follow the first two rules, for whatever reason.)

I had the opportunity to ride with Brent last night, and he underlined the point; like me, he drives a relatively lightweight two-wheel-drive vehicle, but his Minnesotan experience gives him the confidence to take it where it needs to go (though he’s a bit more willing to let it skid than I usually am.)

On my way home Saturday night, I saw two cars which had obviously spun out on the side of the Mass Pike. Both were SUVs, presumably four-wheel-drives and presumably meant to be Good In Snow. One was nose-to the snowbank; the other was completely turned around, and the passengers looked quite shaken.

The lesson: Good In Snow is not something you buy. It sits in the driver’s seat.

Now Playing: Counting Blue Cars from Pet Your Friends by Dishwalla

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January 16, 2005

No vehicles

The other week I was shaking my head over the ideological battles in graffiti in Amherst, but sometimes I wind up with the more depressing opinion that people are going to bicker no matter where they are; the differences in places are just the differences in the issues they’ll argue over.

This weekend, my father and I went down to hunt a geocache at the Totman Preserve in the town where I grew up. It’s a pretty chunk of land, a wooded road leading down to a picturesque little beach with picnic tables, ledges, and a view out onto Casco Bay. We agreed that it was A Good Thing that this was now preserved public land, and hadn’t been chopped up into private waterfront lots, carefully fenced and landscaped to give the illusion of a private retreat while cramming as many lots in as possible, and in the process locking out anyone and everyone not wealthy enough to buy one of said lots.

Instead, it’s open, preserved by the local land trust with a healthy financial boost from the town. And that’s where the fun begins. For one thing, there are signs noting that the land is open to town residents and guests, with an implied “only.” (I doubt that will stop the geocachers, but never mind. I was a guest of a resident.) That’s the town’s contribution. Next come two or three signs reminding visitors that vehicles, including (implied, “especially,”) ATVs. That’s the land trust’s contribution. There were several ATV tracks in the snow, and it didn’t look like they even slowed down to read the signs. There are gates at the top of the road and midway down, and apparently there was some dispute over when the gates were closed and locked. The townspeople figure that the land is, essentially, theirs, and they should be able to drive right down to the beach (where there is a small parking area.) The land trust is worried about vehicle traffic damaging the road, and perhaps hoping people will enjoy the whole preserve by walking down. (We did note that in the current wet and icy conditions, vehicles would rip things up quite a bit. But there was a dead tree blown down up at the first gate, so we couldn’t have driven down even if we’d wanted to.)

They joke about Amherst being “a town with a foreign policy,” but up here we epitomize the cliché about all politics being local. It’s not as easy to distinguish between red and blue at this level.

Posted by pjm at 5:20 PM | Comments (1)

January 12, 2005


Everything in town is etched in ice. A few weeks ago we were enjoying how warm the winter was; now, we’re seeing the downside. Each snowstorm comes with a helping of ice in the form of freezing rain and freezing melt-water. I periodically remember one winter in college when we got a storm in early January, about four inches of snow, followed immediately by rain, followed immediately by a cold snap. All winter we had a layer of white ice beneath whatever other snow arrived. B&G struggled all winter to clear the foot paths, but aside from a few small sections where the paths ran over steam lines we didn’t see bare pavement until nearly April. (One persistent house custodian cleared the twenty-foot front walk of his building and managed to keep it clear all winter, but he was an exception.)

With that in mind, I sometimes wonder if they could save some effort by running all the steam lines under the foot paths, but since the lines cleared the snow quickly, they also gave us the first and greenest grass of the spring.

As I walked and slithered over to the gym this evening, I saw a few limbs down, all from the pine trees. Trees, from an evolutionary standpoint, have all made different bets. The deciduous hardwoods, which are now nicely cased in a plating of ice, drop their leaves in the fall to avoid having to carry a load of ice on their limbs through the winter. They do this at a cost of slowing their own growth, and having to invest in a new set of leaves every spring, but it’s a conservative evolutionary choice they made. The evergreens, on the other hand, evolved thin leaves and flexible, forgiving (and load-shedding) limbs, and bet that winter couldn’t bring them down. Most of the time, they’re right, but in a winter like this one they are running pretty close to the edge, and we see dropped limbs everywhere.

We’ve got similar bets to make ourselves. We can clear the driveway and risk turning it into a skating rink when the next rain freezes, or we can leave the snow and risk having a basement layer of hard, white glacier that lasts late into March. We can shovel for a smooth icy space, or leave the slush for bumpy ice. It’s a tough guess to make. I park nose-out, walk when I can, and wait for mud season.

Posted by pjm at 8:59 PM | Comments (1)

January 10, 2005

Adding insult

I am informed by email that the Illustrator and his girlfriend have “groomed” a few short tracks around their yard in South Amherst, including about 275y of skating track. BYOB, no trail fee. If only I’d known yesterday… if only I didn’t have a square inch or more of raw heel. (Though skating tends to give me blisters over my over-prominent navicular bones, where I lean in to get an edge, rather than on my heels. Still, I should heal first.)

He’s even got a logo done up, which I suppose should come as no surprise.

Now Playing: Bullet Proof…I Wish I Was from The Bends by Radiohead

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January 9, 2005

Dancing in the snow

Yesterday afternoon, with the pool closed, I decided to embrace the weather to the extent of going out on snowshoes. I plowed right across the lawns of the College, down Memorial Hill, and out into the Bird Sanctuary, then across Misty Bottom (noting for the first time the signs renaming it the Emily Dickinson Trail, as though Emily Dickinson would go outside and walk along the Fort River,) and up 116. The loop is probably around five miles, and it took me an hour and a half. On one hand, I was moving pretty steadily. On the other, the surface left a lot to be desired. When I put my foot down, it would sit on top of the snow, but as I shifted my weight to it, the shoe would crunch through the crust, so I wound up with a jarring double-bump ride with most steps. By the end of the walk, I was envying the skiers on the rail trail, who looked like they were gliding along so much more easily than I was.

Today, I got my own skis out for the first time in nearly two years. I would have preferred to skate-ski, but I figured my odds of finding a groomed trail were pretty low, so I took the classical skis over to the rail trail, where I knew there would be a track, even if it wasn’t set by a groomer.

Skate skiing is more fun, since I got the hang of it; it’s more like flying and very much like speed-skating except that the snow is softer than ice. Figuring out skate skiing has made me better at classical, though, because it taught me how to shift weight between the skis and get a good push, even if I can’t get an edge. I found myself passing most of the people on the trail. I used to go out here and flail, passing everyone else just because I was working harder, and at the end of my run I’d be hanging from the poles. I resolved not to get too aggressive with my effort today, because I’m not in the kind of shape I might think I am, and when I turned around at Station Road my shoulders were tired from poling. Still, what I’ve lost in bull-headedness I’ve made back in form, and I’m easily as speedy as I used to be, and much quieter.

Skiing is probably as close to dancing as I’ll get on a regular basis. Like rowing and swimming breaststroke, it rewards a good rhythm and punishes those who try to rush. It requires some coordination and balance, as well, and trying to maintain that while coping with an irregular track is enough to fully absorb almost enough of my mind that I can let the rest spin free.

Poling was pretty tough today, though. Sometimes I’d get a good plant, other times the poles would skid across the crust, or punch through and have to be yanked out. By the time I turned around, I could tell my baskets were in pretty tough shape, and both of them tore free completely on the way back. (I stowed them in my pockets rather than leave them on the trail for the thaw.) Once the baskets were gone, I was punching through the crust and grating on the pavement underneath with each plant. I understand that ski racers frequently break poles, something which hasn’t happened to me yet, so I figure I’m still doing pretty well. However, since my skating poles are much longer than practical for classical skiing (they’re used differently,) I’ll need to either replace the baskets or the poles before I go out on that trail again.

Not that I’m in any big hurry, since I found the heel of my sock soaked pink from a snowshoeing blister ripped open by the ski boots.

Still, if I could ski every day, I wouldn’t miss running as much, particularly at this time of year.

Now Playing: Sunshine/Nowhere To Run from Tarantula by Ride

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January 7, 2005

The right tool for the job

Having lived my entire life in the Northeast, I’ve developed an appreciation for snow removal done badly. I’ll leave out snowplows and the D.C. area for now; today, I’m thinking shovels.

When I was not quite full-grown, I judged shovels by how well I could lift the shovels themselves. This predisposed me against, for example, my father’s coal shovel, and towards the sort of flat, wide-scooped plastic shovels which are better for plowing than real shoveling.

Once I got older, I preferred brute-force shovels, the ones with really deep scoops that would let me pick up a huge volume of snow and pitch it into the middle of the lawn. (Not always much of a pitch; in Pennsylvania, our front lawn was slightly smaller than a king-sized mattress, and one winter we had real trouble finding enough space on it to store all the snow.)

I feel like I’ve reached more of a connoisseur position now. I want the right shovel for the job. The wide, flat-scooped shovels are great for fluffy or not-deep snowfalls. They can be useful for wet snow, but only because the flat edge can be used to cut the snow down to something manageable before scooping. The brute-force shovels are great for causing heart attacks.

And on a day like today, when we’re figuring out what to do with three or four inches of fluff which then soaked up a lot of rain and froze? When I keep seeing people with flimsy plastic or thin-metal scoops chipping at an inch or two of crust on their front walks? Today, I’m thinking about Dad’s coal shovel.

Now Playing: Born of Frustration from Seven by James

Posted by pjm at 1:48 PM | Comments (4)

January 1, 2005

More Quabbin time

For various reasons, A. had to improvise for her run this afternoon, and we ended up driving out to Pelham with my bike in the trunk and doing some more exploring in the Quabbin reservation. If you’re following along on your official M.D.C. map, we entered at Gate 11 in Pelham and went pretty directly down to Gate 6 on the Belchertown line.

It’s always a little spooky to be on the roads in the reservation. On the one hand, it’s wilderness. Nobody has lived on the Quabbin land since the Depression, and in that time even the wood lots have been harvested more than once, some quite recently. The area is as wild as wilderness gets this close to the northeastern metroplex. Yet we were cruising along well-maintained dirt roads between stone walls which clearly marked someone’s former fields. For two hundred years (give or take a few decades) before the MDC took the land, someone was building those walls with the rocks that percolated up with the frost and stubbed the toe of their plow. Now, it’s empty.

Thanks to a few unseasonably warm days and relatively light snowfall this winter, the roads were mostly clear, if wet. There were a few snowy patches, but for most of the ride the worst traction I had was the dry leaves uphill from Gate 6, which spun out from under my tires as I tried to climb the hill.

Most of the ride. Within a mile of the car, I slowed to walking pace and tried to roll directly over a small patch of ice blocking my way; instead, the tires slipped, and I ended up dropping the bike. (I kept my own feet, but I wonder if I would have done as well if I had been clipped in.)

I wound up carrying a lot of Quabbin gravel home on the tires and frame of the bike.

Now Playing: City Rain, City Streets from Love Is Hell by Ryan Adams

Posted by pjm at 9:17 PM | Comments (0)

December 31, 2004


Sometime last summer, an enterprising (and somewhat mean-spirited, I think) graffiti “artist” used a stencil to apply a slogan to a number of spots on Amherst’s downtown sidewalks. The message, applied in red, was something like, “The head of a woman is a man,” with the enigmatic citation, “The Bible.”

Now, before we get too jacked up about the implied message here, let’s consider the delivery. First, “normal” and believable citations of Biblical verses usually carry a somewhat more specific citation, like “Romans 1:15,” indicating the fifteenth verse of the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome (or some other book.) The implication is, “Don’t believe me, look it up.” Further, quoting small verses from the Bible without benefit of context is like saying that the Constitution protects my right to a handgun without considering the implications of my membership in a well-organized militia. The context is everything; this could have been a statement of a misguided Biblical character, soon to be put right by the voices of Good.

In short, without context or citation, it was a pretty silly thing to spray on sidewalks. Unless, of course, you’re just trying to piss people off, which is not hard to do around here.

Before the graffiti could be removed, someone reached several of them with a cruder message. In hand-scrawled black paint, it suggested one perform an obscenity I hadn’t thought possible with a book, using an imperative which left it unclear whether the reader or the original spray-painter was supposed to be following through.

Both messages had to be covered with white paint, leaving a number of white rectangles scattered around the downtown sidewalks.

We’ve had a few snow-and-ice storms this winter, and the town has been diligently sanding and applying ice-melt to the sidewalks. Combined with foot traffic, the white paint is beginning to flake away. The red paint of the original stencils is coming with it, but the black-painted reaction isn’t. If this continues, rather than a vague and poorly-argued slur against the intelligence of women, we’ll have only a quite direct and obscene dismissal of religion.

You have to laugh at the way we fight fire with fire around here. Otherwise, you’d cry.

Posted by pjm at 5:28 PM | Comments (0)

December 16, 2004

Baa, no humbug

I am more wakeful than usual at work today.

There’s been a flock of sheep pastured behind our building for most of the last two weeks, a shop’s worth of raw socks and sweaters on the hoof. I couldn’t actually see them from my office, but whenever I passed a window where I could, I had to stop and watch them for a little while. Often you could spot the dog which was keeping a watchful eye on them. This morning, they gathered up the flock and trucked them off.

I can only say “a flock,” though. I never did finish counting them.

Now Playing: The Old Apartment from Born On A Pirate Ship by Barenaked Ladies

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December 8, 2004

The darkness is receding

The email came today. I think it was the best thing that happened all day, aside from occasional re-plays of my new favorite video clip. It’s Sunset Day.

Every year, a member of a running list I’m on sends the message out about Sunset Day. Essentially, today is the earliest sunset of the year. For those who actually see the sunset, from here on in, you’re getting more light in your day. I know the shortest day is yet to come; what’s happening, actually, is that we’re losing daylight in the morning faster than we’re getting it back in the evening, at least until the 22nd. The latest sunrise doesn’t come until early January.

When I was in Pennsylvania, running at lunch, this wasn’t an issue. I walked to work in the dark (or dawn,) worked away from windows except for my hour (or so) outside, and walked home in the dark. Between November and March, I got most of my daylight on weekends. Moving here and running in the mornings, I became acutely aware of sunrise time; in my first winter back, there was quite a while when I started my run carrying a flashlight, and could watch the sun come up as I finished.

I haven’t run outdoors for months. I have an office with a window. I want those sunset hours back, now, and I’m happy they’re on their way.

Posted by pjm at 9:52 PM | Comments (0)

December 6, 2004

Local tourist

One of the topics of discussion on yesterday’s ride was geocaching. The illustrator had a GPS but hadn’t used it for much, and we rode near two caches (one I’d found, and one I hadn’t.) He hit immediately on the appeal of it: he wanted to know how many there were near Amherst. (It turns out there are eighty within fifteen miles of downtown.)

When I first started geocaching, it was fun to “discover” caches in places I knew; I’d look at the listings and say to myself, “Hey, that must be in…” and I’d go there.

Then, for a while, I thought it would be fun to look for caches in very different places. Whenever I traveled, I would print a quick list of possible caches to look for, and try to make time to hunt them. I managed to find every cache on the island of Bermuda last winter (at the time, there were only six,) and that took us to some interesting places on the island I might not have visited otherwise. But on some trips—to the marathon Trials, to Austin—I couldn’t get excited about hunting caches.

Since the summer, I’ve been working on finding the caches nearest my “home coordinates,” and I think that’s been more rewarding than anything else. When I’m in a new and different place, I have other navigational concerns. Here, I have a pretty good idea where things fit together. So when I set out to find a cache, what I’m doing is looking for a spot someone else thought was worth sharing; in some cases, like the “Stopping by Mt. Toby Woods” multi, an entire journey. I’ve been discovering my area through the eyes of others, a tourist in my own neighborhood.

There was an article a few months ago which included a cacher in southern New Hampshire telling about how he’d found everything out to eighteen miles from his home, a significantly tougher task in the Boston metroplex than it is around here, and another who recently found every cache in the state of New Hampshire. One quote from the article:

“People think going and sniffing around in the woods for a hidden box is kind of peculiar,” said Geiger. “The actual physical find isn’t so much what we’re looking for. Finding interesting places we haven’t been before that we’ve been driving past for 20 years, that’s the fun of it. We’re really discovering our own back yards.”

Now Playing: Wrong from School Of Fish by School Of Fish

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December 5, 2004

The northern tier

After a morning of plowing through more application yip-yap (I’m going to have to go home sometime this evening and have a session with my printer) I met up with the Illustrator in North Leverett for a ride. (I’m winding up with some Scoplaw-esque pseudonyms here, but as usual, I’m not trying to hide identities; I’m trying to avoid being a Google result for the proper names.)

He used to be a runner, and much faster than me (a state champion when I knew him in high school, actually,) but he hasn’t run for about five years. Instead, he mountain bikes. In bike-magazine jargon, I was riding a twelve-year-old rigid frame with slicks and traditional pedals; he was riding a fully-suspended recent model with disc brakes, clip-in pedals and knobby tires. He gave me some breaks on the trail.

We rode north through the hills (in Leverett, it’s pretty much all hills) on dirt roads that eventually got too gnarly for cars. We came out at the entrance to the Wendell State Forest and spent some serious time bombing around the fire roads in there. I labored up the hills, quads burning, and lagged going down, because if I went too fast the rocks would bounce my feet right off the pedals. He would take a little rise and hop into the air; I would hope I remained attached to the bike. The first big downhill was quite dramatic; I reached the bottom pretty quickly, convinced I had, in fact, actually done some living today as I wondered what would happen if I didn’t keep the wheel straight. The second was so rough I had to pick my way down, peering for good lines through the sweat dripping on my sunglasses. Some of the roads would have been drivable; some of them were tough even for bikes. I think we stuck to the easier ones.

At some point he asked how long I wanted to ride. “Until I fall off the bike,” I said, with the mental addition, “Which might not be too much longer.” I’m not sure I could trace our route on a map, but I wasn’t ever too lost. We told some war stories, discussed what we liked and didn’t like about the Valley, and “shopped for houses.” (“I think that one’s what the realtors call a handyman’s dream.”) He may also be going to see Josh Ritter on Thursday, so if I pick one, that will probably be it; I won’t need to go alone. We wound up riding for about two hours, but it definitely did not feel that long. Well, maybe when I was working up some of those hills. He was pretty pleased that we got that much good riding time in December.

Afterward, being in the neighborhood, I dropped by the Montague Bookmill (motto: “Books you don’t need in a place you can’t find”) thinking I might get a hot drink at the Lady Killigrew. Instead I warmed up browsing the overheated fiction room. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on perspective—I’m trying to prune my book collection) I didn’t leave with anything.

Posted by pjm at 6:03 PM | Comments (0)

December 4, 2004

Traffic control

I’m dog-sitting, again, for the famous dog. He’s due for a walk, and I’ve been thinking that instead of his usual lap around the local elementary school, I should take him a little way down one of the nearby trails, a sort of single-track nature trail with a trailhead at the school.

The problem with this idea, though, is the dog’s size. Anyone meeting or passing us would have to get by a dog who easily fills the width of the trail, and is tough for me to handle because he still significantly outweighs me, even with my recent endomorphism. I’ve been the pedestrian in these canine-human meetings before; the dogs mean well, but they don’t really understand what’s up.

I’m thinking we would need someone to walk in front of us with a red flag, like they used to mandate for automobiles on public roads in Britain.

Posted by pjm at 12:14 PM | Comments (0)

December 2, 2004


The views of the Valley are changing now that the leaves are down. The ridges which used to be solid green canopy are now visibly furred with tree trunks, the light showing through. (This will become more pronounced when the snow falls.) On my drive up to Sunderland, I can sometimes pick out the fire tower atop Mt. Toby, and other times a glimpse of the Peace Pagoda, normally so hidden in the woods that the “reveal” as you come out on its lawn is breathtaking.

This morning, I thought I could see through the branches from our third-floor apartment across the hump of Amherst downtown and over the Fort River plain to see the first bits of light over the Pelham hills. I’m pretty sure I was imagining that, though.

I am looking forward optimistically to getting out snowshoes and cross-country skis; however, I read in Tuesday’s paper that my favorite touring center, Hickory Hill in Worthington, has closed (or, more correctly, won’t be opening again.) They groomed more trail for skate-skiing than most areas do; many, like Notchview, only groom a small fraction for skating and just lay track for classic skiing on the rest. I’m OK with classical skiing, but skating is so much more fun—more like flying.

Now Playing: Ring The Bells from Getting Away With It… Live (Disc 2) by James

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November 11, 2004


Strikeout. I went after three caches this afternoon, and didn’t find any of them.

The idea was to take my bike to the Ashley Reservoir in Holyoke and ride around this multicache, picking up another cache on the way. Then I’d get another one which was on my way home.

I found the first two stages of the multi, but was completely stumped by the third. Finally, I gave up on it and went to try and spot the single cache nearby. I must have walked circles around it, but the leaves were ankle-deep where they weren’t calf-deep and I probably didn’t even spot the good hiding sites. The sun was setting by then, so I finished my lap (stopping back at the second stage of the multi to make sure I hadn’t mis-read the third-stage coordinates—I hadn’t.) It was a nice day for riding, actually; I would have really enjoyed it if I hadn’t generally failed at everything else I came to do.

So I went after the third cache, a micro… and went down swinging. (You’ll have to admit, it’s hard to make a thorough search in a high traffic area.) What a discouraging afternoon.

Now Playing: Clocks from A Rush Of Blood To The Head by Coldplay

Posted by pjm at 7:02 PM | Comments (0)

October 31, 2004

Jack the tiger

As promised, our lantern, unlit and lit.

Jack o' lantern cat face, unlit

Jack o' lantern cat face, lit

I got compliments. From people who don’t know me, even.

Posted by pjm at 9:06 PM | Comments (2)

October 30, 2004


Tonight was pumpkin soup, apple pie, beer and pumpkin carving at the house of an acquaintance of mine. I actually used to race him now and then in high school, but he was notably faster than I was. After a few years out in the midwest, he transferred to UMass, and his brother is now the coach at the College, so he’s been in Amherst ever since. His girlfriend is new in town, and I suspect the motivation here was to help her feel a bit more at home; it’s not easy moving somewhere and not knowing most of the people. There weren’t more than eight or ten people there at a time, but about fifteen passed through.

It was a really good time. The food was great, though the host’s family pretended it wasn’t. We were mostly runners, but that didn’t dominate the conversation entirely. Our lives overlapped in odd ways; we’d all run the same races different years, lived in the same towns at different times, gone to the same colleges in different years. We’d gone to the same concerts; I felt like the host’s music selection had all been lifted from CDs I’d keep in the car if I kept CDs in the car.

I was a little intimidated by the pumpkin carving (not that you’d notice from how I dug in.) Our host is a professional illustrator and I knew he’d produce some interesting lanterns. He did, and so did his girlfriend; in particular, he had a massive one which he used nearly all of in a bug-eyed gargoyle not unlike this one. I want to drive by their house tomorrow night and get a picture of it sitting out. I did a credible cat-face, which I’m actually a little proud of. I was worried that the rind was too thick and my cuts too thin for light to shine through, but we put a candle in it and it worked out all right. I brought it home; tomorrow I’ll light it and put it on the porch, and if I can get a good picture I’ll post it.

Posted by pjm at 11:08 PM | Comments (0)

October 18, 2004

A GPSr for Geocaching

JM asked about GPS receivers for “newbie” geocachers, which I don’t really have a good answer for, since I’ve only ever used one. (And practically wore it out, actually.) It happens to be a Magellan Meridian Gold (Garmin and Magellan (Thales Navigation) are the dominant companies in the field,) but I think you can do pretty well caching with any GPSr which has some of these qualities:

  1. It’s hand-held. You’re not getting far with the GPS in your car.
  2. It should resolve to thousandths of a minute of arc. (First you’ve got degrees, then minutes, which are sixtieths of a degree, then seconds, which are sixtieths of minutes. However, most caches show coordinates as XX° YY.YYY, that is, degrees plus five significant figures of minutes.)
  3. You should be able to store twenty or thirty waypoints. (Waypoints are coordinates used to mark a location, so you’ll set waypoints for caches you’re hunting and then use the GPSr to navigate to that waypoint.) Like digital cameras, the more the better: I tend to fill mine with a few hundred.
  4. It should easily connect to your computer so you can upload/download waypoints.
  5. It should be easy to find out the coordinates of where you are now, your heading (the direction you are or have been moving,) and the bearing to the cache (which direction it is from where you are.) It’s particularly useful if it shows a compass dial with heading and bearing indicated; then you can just follow the arrow.
  6. It should be easy to edit waypoints. (Waypoints downloaded from have an altitude of 0, and if the cache is a few thousand feet up, that introduces some lateral error; if I’m having trouble with a cache, I’ll frequently “fix” the altitude of the waypoint to get a little closer.)

In general, higher price brings two things: better reception (a more sophisticated antenna—GPS signals are weak) and/or better battery life. I do pretty well with a pair of AAs in mine, as long as I remember that plugging it in to the car jack automagically turns on the backlight and I need to turn it off when I unplug.

The website has a buyer’s guide which is nearly as general as this list. Among other things, they mention base maps; a good base map will keep you oriented to major roads nearby (mine lists most numbered state routes,) state parks, major mountain summits, etc., and a really good one will include more detailed topographic information. I’ve been supplementing my in-memory base map with topo maps I print from National Geographic Topo!; I can merge waypoints into the maps, so I’ve got a pretty good idea where I’m headed, at least in the part of the country I have CDs for. I’m not the only one, either; I’ve found Topo! maps that other cachers have left in caches. There’s one cacher near Boston who works entirely from topo maps, aerial photos, and other resources to locate caches without a GPSr.

Of course, once you’ve found the first stage of a multi, the map is of limited use. And now that I’ve explained how to select mid-range consumer electronics in order to leverage billions of dollars of military satellite technology for the purpose of finding hidden tupperware in the woods, I think my credentials as a raving geek are pretty much indisputable.

Now Playing: No Certainty Attached from Hologram of Baal by The Church

Posted by pjm at 3:09 PM | Comments (2)

October 17, 2004


I had an idea that I might go hunting caches yesterday, since I hadn’t planned anything else. I wasn’t feeling too motivated, so I picked a particularly intriguing one over in Ware, which involved retrieving a key from another (relatively) nearby cache which included the true location of the first hide, then using the key to unlock the cache itself. Then I had to stash the key, the rules being that it should be in another cache within 45 minutes’ drive of Ware. This looked like enough of a Quest to be interesting.

Once I was out in the woods looking for the first one, though, I was hooked again. Being back on the trail was nice. As I returned to the car with the key and was plugging the new coordinates into my GPSr, I noticed that there was another waypoint nearby. (I download big batches to the GPSr, something like “the 100 closest caches I haven’t found yet,” to save keying in every one I go after.) Well, how often do you get two caches in one reservation? (I was particularly gratified since I’m a member of the conservation organization that maintains the reservation.) So, I got back out and started walking again, but this time without a sheet describing the cache, or any of the hints, since I hadn’t expected to go after this one.

I suspected I might be in trouble when what I found was simply a small canister with more coordinates. I was on the trail of a multi-cache. Oh well, now I was started. I got a pretty good tour of the reservation, in fact, with a pretty big collection of glacial erratics (leading me to log, “This cache rocks!”) Then I finally headed down to Ware, birthplace of one of my favorite creatures, to finish the quest; I eventually left the key in Granby.

Even when you’ve got coordinates to a destination, sometimes I need to remind myself to focus on the GPSr in my hand and try to get right to the destination. It’s as though I’m training myself not to be distracted by another project. Sometimes, along the way, I have to chase another destination, though, and the impulsiveness isn’t always a bad thing.

At the Rock House Reservation

Now playing: Lodestar from You Were Here by Sarah Harmer

Posted by pjm at 12:36 PM | Comments (3)

October 15, 2004

Off the groove

They’ve been waxing the floors in the gymnasium at the College this week. While they dry, we’ve been entering and leaving through different doors. On the one hand, I don’t get to walk by the solemn, self-confident team photos from sports the College no longer contests, and wonder what happened to the players on the 1939 baseball team. (I’m in some of these pictures, but not in the part of the hall I pass going to the locker room or the weight room.)

On the other hand, yesterday I left by the back door and walked up the hill the way I used to after practice every day. The leaves are changing, and the view south from atop the hill was pretty spectacular. The College has maintained this view through some judicious land purchases and leases, essentially allowing the southern part of town to develop so long as it’s not visible from the campus. One of the results has been the preservation of a lot of very nice open space; another is this view, pretty much hills and trees straight back to the Holyoke range, where Bare Mountain and Rattlesnake Knob look back at the viewer. The hills in between, “Mounts” Castor and Pollux, were apparently named for twin maple trees on their crests when they were both cleared farmland. The northern twin is gone, or subsumed by other trees, but if you look carefully from Bay Road there is still a flaming red maple at the crest of the southern hill.

The hills look like a storm-tossed sea in a Japanese painting, or a seriously rucked-up rug. From here, there’s nothing placid about them, though you’d think there would be. I wonder how many students stop for a few seconds at the top of the hill when they pass by, and look out, and think about the world beyond the little microcosm they’re in. I know I used to look, but I can’t remember what I was thinking about.

Or do they at least look out and think, “Whoa.” Especially since they cut a row of tall pines on the first-base side of the baseball field, the view is pretty clear.

Jolted out of my routine, I managed to forget the half-full mug of tea I had left in my locker while I swam. I expect it will be iced tea when I go back tomorrow. I wonder if the under-dose of caffeine on the day is responsible for my current low-grade headache.

Now Playing: Weirdo from Between 10th And 11th by The Charlatans

Posted by pjm at 3:20 PM | Comments (0)

October 12, 2004

Turning, and turning out

The sign in front of Annie’s this noon noted that tomorrow is the last day to register to vote in the November election, in Commonwealth of MA. (Why I end up living in commonwealths, I’ll never understand; I prefer the sound of “Great State of…” much more.)

After hearing the reports of voter turnout in Afghanistan, and seeing the degree to which everyone I know seems to be exercised about the coming presidential race, I’m going to be sorely disappointed if we, as a nation, don’t top the 51% turnout we had in 2000. (Yes, you only needed to persuade less than a quarter of registered voters to turn out and vote for you in order to become president.)

I’m glad, actually, that I’m in a state so solidly partisan that we’re not the focus of a barrage of campaigning. The roadsides of Maine are thoroughly sprinkled with signs for local and national races in a way we’re not seeing here. Since I don’t watch television, I can’t be sure if they’re getting more drivel on the idiot box than we are. But that’s four electoral votes. Four. There has to be a better way.

Behind all the political litter, the foliage is spectacular in a literal way. From Cadillac Moutain, you could look west to Sargent Mountain and see red and orange trees creeping up the sheltered folds of the otherwise rocky dome. Here in the Connecticut Valley, not two hundred yards from Annie’s there was a car pulled over while the driver snapped a shot of a blazing-bright field with Mt. Toby beginning to change in the background. I remind myself to look up from the signs at the ephemeral posters autumn is putting up, as the broad-leaved trees cash in their summer investments and hope they saved enough for the winter. Is it too early to anticipate sugaring season?

Now Playing: “Not Fazed” from Going Blank Again by Ride

Posted by pjm at 5:04 PM | Comments (1)

Closed for the season

That’s a concept that seems somehow self-fulfilling to me. I’d say well over half the storefronts on the west side of MDI had a sign along those lines in the window this past weekend.

In their defense, it makes all kinds of sense. Why head in to the store and spend the day there when you’ll barely have enough customers to make it worth it?

On the other hand, it seems like one of the reasons there are no customers is that everything’s closed! We saw plenty of hotels with the “No vacancy” sign lit, and the trails around Great Head and Cadillac Mountain were crowded enough. In fact, downtown Bar Harbor (where nearly everything was open, of course) was so crowded it made me shudder to contemplate what it must be like in the summer.

Hmm… no sysadmin jobs open at Jackson Labs right now. (Or MBNA, for that matter.)

Posted by pjm at 10:55 AM | Comments (0)

September 29, 2004

Hunter's end

It looks like we’ve lost Harry. Harry was actually a character here; a few months ago, he brought me a present. But he’s been missing for two nights now, going on three, and in today’s paper there was a note about a bobcat sighting in his neighborhood.


I think dead cat posts are far too frequent on this site.

Posted by pjm at 8:29 PM | Comments (2)

September 26, 2004

Unexpected enthusiasm

I had a first yesterday: one of the Amherst high school cross-country runners recognized me and spoke to me on the street without A. around. (She’s the assistant coach, so I’m the utility chaperone and Allegedly Responsible Grown-Up.) She wanted to tell me how, on Friday’s run, they had stopped by one of my caches and done an impromptu geocache hunt. She gushed. “Now I’m going to need to get a GPS!” I explained about the guy out in Eastern MA who caches without a GPSr, using topo maps and aerial photos to get a good idea of where to look before going on-site and finding the caches with “the Force.” (More on that later.) Then I went in the post office and forgot to buy stamps.

The girls got interested in caching in August, when I was playing my utility-chaperone role at a weekend “camp” in the New Hampshire hills somewhere between Keene and Concord. They went for a run in Fox State Forest, and I went after Murphy’s Lookout. The previous afternoon, Sparky (not her real name, but that’s what the coach calls her) was inordinately interested in what I was planning to do, and made me explain it in detail.

I am, perhaps, overly sensitive to enthusiasm from high school kids; enthusiasm was something we made fun of when we were in school, and I’m cautious about displaying too much passion for something that might be used as a tool to mock me later. Still, it’s very hard to explain why I was planning on leveraging a few billion dollars worth of military satellite technology to locate a tupperware box full of plastic trinkets stashed under a rock without explaining that there’s a little emotional component in the satisfaction of hunting and finding. So when I found the box, I “traded” a pair of AA batteries for a bead necklace a bit too big for my wrist, and gave it to Sparky when we got back to the vans, figuring that would at least show I was in on the joke.

Apparently something about the idea stuck with them, because they talked A. into showing them the general area where I hid the Misty Bottom cache. They’ve never looked for one before, and from the sound of it they’re not yet tuned in to the sort of places a cache can be hidden (this is “the Force,” which I prefer to call “thinking like a cacher.” It amounts to asking, “If I was hiding a box around here, where would I put it?”) Still, yesterday, the one who stopped me outside the post office said they’re talking about putting it up as an activity for the high school outing club.

I am, needless to say, a bit surprised. Almost as much so as if they were professing a profound interest in, say, database normalization.

Now playing: Secret Agent from Sister (1998 Re-Release) by Letters To Cleo

Posted by pjm at 11:07 AM | Comments (2)

September 18, 2004

Romping around New Hampshire

Wow. That was remarkably damp. Even more so than in 2002.

My sleep-deprived brain is currently seeing any roadside reflectors as the bobbing headlights of approaching runners. I drive my little Civic like a fifteen-passenger van (and I’m startled at how well it handles.)

I think the representative moment was the Girl Scout at the New Hampshire Technical College in Laconia who was simply wandering around the cafeteria room asking anyone and everyone if she could help. Since I never saw her actually helping anyone, I expect we all felt like I did: in the face of her open willingness to pitch in, what little things confused our clouded minds (finding water hot enough to make tea, for example) seemed too little to burden her with. We wanted to give her a worthy project, like world peace, or directing traffic in the parking lot.

Now, a real bed for the first time in a while.

Posted by pjm at 10:37 PM | Comments (0)

September 14, 2004

White flags

I flushed two deer beside the road this morning as I rode in to work. When I was running in on a similar route, I used to see large-scale wildlife (deer or turkeys, as opposed to the usual squirrels) nearly every run. I didn’t spot these deer until they started moving, which makes me wonder how much else I miss when I’m watching the road.

I refuse to believe that they were spooked by my heavy breathing as I approached the top of the biggest hill on my route (a few hundred meters from this vista.)

Now playing: Honeyed Out from Five Stories by Kris Delmhorst

Posted by pjm at 1:01 PM | Comments (0)

September 9, 2004

Leaving home base

Yet another set of photos from last weekend’s cruise:

The dinghy, beached on Indiantown IslandOspreys in a day beacon

On the left is Whitecap’s dinghy, beached on Indiantown Island. (Yes, we then tied it to a tree; we’re not interested in being marooned by the tide. I could easily swim back to Whitecap, but the shore was pretty sludgy.) I snapped this shot on the way back from the geocache we did on the island. I like this dinghy; it has two sets of oarlocks, and unlike most of our dinghies, it is best rowed from the very frontmost seat (unless you’ve crammed three people in the boat.)

We normally name our dinghies; when we had Snowbird, the dinghy was Birdie, and Whitecap’s predecessor Second Wind had the dinghy Puffin. This dinghy hasn’t been named, but there’s always the name my younger niece wanted to give Whitecap: Red Ink. (She didn’t know why this was funny, but her grandparents were, naturally, captivated.)

On the right, a familiar sight: an osprey nest in a day beacon. Day beacons are practically an osprey habitat program; they serve as nest boxes on artificial trees, with a nearby fish buffet. I haven’t seen many day beacons without an osprey nest; most of the rest of the nests I’ve seen have been on telephone poles near the waterfront. This beacon was hosting (at least) two juveniles; they peeped at us as we went by. The parents, after feeding them to this size, were now following the usual tactic of clearing out until the kids get hungry enough to teach themselves to fly and fish. “You’re going to have to jump sometime,” I called back.

Now playing: The Day I Let Glory Steer from This Town Is Wrong by Nerissa & Katryna Nields

Posted by pjm at 8:20 PM | Comments (0)

September 8, 2004

Gongs and envy

Even more pictures from last Saturday’s cruise. (I’ll keep going until I run out of good shots, or someone tells me to stop.)

A gongBoat envy: A yawl off Georgetown

Since I referred to Tuesday’s bell buoy as a “gong,” sparking a discussion of buoys in Scheherazade’s comments, I feel compelled to post this clarification: that photo was a “bell,” which rings one tone; this one is a “gong,” which rings in several tones. If you look closely, or at the larger version, you can see three gongs in a stack; each is struck by a different clapper, so as the waves swing the buoy around, it plays like wind chimes. While the bell was red, because a mariner bound for home should keep it on their right, this one is off Popham Beach in Phippsburg, and is green to warn sailors bound for the mouth of the Kennebec to keep it to their left. (I think it marks Jackknife Ledge, but I can’t remember, here in Western Massachusetts, if Jackknife Ledge has a bell-buoy or just a can. This might be the buoy that marks the mouth of the river.)

The photo on the right is nothing more than a pretty boat. I snapped the shot as it was going by, and then my father and I made appreciative noises. I can’t tell you much about it, other than that it was off Reid State Park in Georgetown, that it’s a yawl (because the second mast is to the stern of the cockpit; if it was before the cockpit, it would be a ketch,) and that it’s pretty. As I turned away from it, I was thinking that the owner probably did a heck of a lot of work in the spring to get it ready to sail, and on Saturday he was out enjoying the fruits of his labor—I suspect he got his work’s worth just in the minutes we saw him.

Now playing: The Work That We Do from This Town Is Wrong by Nerissa & Katryna Nields

Posted by pjm at 9:35 PM | Comments (1)

September 7, 2004


More pictures from last Saturday’s cruise:

Dinghy under tow

When I was younger, I was fascinated with watching the dinghy bumping along behind the boat, like a baby elephant latched on to a parent’s tail. Now that we’ve got a powerboat, it’s much more like a little trailer. We tried adjusting the length of the tow rope so the dinghy was always running down the wave behind us, but once we started hitting more significant seas, it was pretty much a hopeless case. We wound up having to heave-to and pull it in at one point to lash down the oars and secure one of the oarlocks due to the knocking about it was taking, and it needed bailing when we got to Indiantown Island.

Seguin Island

I mentioned Seguin in my initial post. I think I’ll always recognize the shape of this island, the way I recognize my grandfather’s driveway; it’s the first boat destination I can remember, in my father’s Boston Whaler while I was about the age my nieces are now. The name is pronounced se-GWIN, and the lighthouse has some kind of historic singularity in the Coast Guard (highest on the East Coast? Last manned light in Maine?) This is the west side of the island, taken from the northwest (we’re in by Jackknife Ledge, I think.) On the northeast side there’s a small cove with a some moorings; visitors can climb the long ramp built to drag supplies up to the lighthouse and walk around the islands. The cove is too small for an overnight; anyone desperate enough to look there for shelter might find it hard to get in, and when the Kennebec and Sheepscot were shipping centers there were plenty of wrecks in the area. (Hence the lighthouse.) There’s a small maze of ledges in the area, so when the river pilot meets Navy ships coming in to BIW they generally meet outside Seguin.

Posted by pjm at 9:36 PM | Comments (0)

September 6, 2004

Warnings and consequences

Two pictures from the cruise around Cape Small.

Wreck at Sebasco Gong off West Point

My parents refer to the wreck on the left (there’s a dragger under there) as “our other boat.” Apparently the owner owed the business (among others) some chunk of money they’ve got filed now under “bad debts.” This is at the north end of Sebasco, inside Bear Island and north of Malaga (which has some interesting history of its own.)

The right shot is a “bell buoy” (marked on charts as a “gong”) off West Point. You can see the gong itself in the lower part of the buoy, with the swinging clappers which produce a regular “clank” in any kind of sea. The idea is to give an audible, as well as visual, warning of the ledge nearby, because in a good fog you can hear the buoy a lot sooner than you can see it. Above the gong and clappers are flat panels intended to reflect radar—a sort of anti-stealth—and a red flasher under (I think) a small solar panel to power it.

It’s hard to give the scale of these things. It’s a pretty massive piece of equipment. The superstructure above the hull itself (gong, reflectors and flasher) is well over ten feet tall.

Update: It develops that this is, in fact, a bell, not a gong. I’ve got a picture of a gong later in the series, so I will point out the distinction later, now that I know better.

Posted by pjm at 10:35 PM | Comments (0)

Around the Cape, again

My parents, planning to spectate at next weekend’s Shipyard Cup, wanted to move Whitecap around from its usual mooring off Birch Point to the Robinhood Marine Center in Georgetown. This allows them to hop over to Boothbay by crossing the Sheepscot and going through Townsend’s Gut, rather than hauling around Cape Small and Newagen. Heading East from the New Meadows river can be quite a slog even in a powerboat, due to the rough water off the mouth of the Kennebec, where the mountainous island Seguin sits like a turtle Manitou Kinnibec can’t quite swallow.

My father, uncle, and I cast off from Birch Point about mid-morning Saturday on this task, stopping for geocaching-by-dinghy once in the Basin and again on the Boothbay side of the Sheepscot. I took a lot of pictures, got a good bit of sun, piloted the boat in from Reid State Park through Five Islands and over to Indiantown Island, set the anchor (or, as my father puts it, “dropped the hook”) and weighed the anchor (quite a chore considering how well it was set,) sat on the bow as we came through Goose Rock Passage to Robinhood and watched the Pink Lady pass inside the ledges on its way to Boothbay (“Local knowledge,” shrugs my father,) hooked the mooring at RMC and rowed the dinghy in to the dock.

I’ll see if I can post some pictures over the coming week. They describe it better than I am.

Posted by pjm at 10:03 PM | Comments (0)


I played golf yesterday, with my late grandfather’s clubs. He was a few inches taller than me, but our stances differed enough (he had much more practice) that I still tended to skull the ball and send it skittering down the fairway—a “worm-burner,” my father calls it. At least I have mostly corrected my tendency to “slice” (that is, hit the ball straight off the tee, only to watch it veer right in flight.) My brother still does it, but compensates by teeing up twisted so far to the left that he appears determined to drive the ball as far out of bounds as possible. Improbably, this works, and he wound up just one stroke behind our father over nine holes. I was some twenty more back, but I pointed out that I got half again as much golf for my money.

That might be the cause of my sore shoulders.

Or it might be spinning my nieces in circles in their back lawn on Saturday night until all three of us were collapsed on the grass watching the clouds spin around above us.

Maybe it was helping stow away in Maine what furniture didn’t fit up the stairs into a cousin’s new South Boston apartment.

Or it might be the immense amount of time I spent in the car in a three-day weekend that ran from Maine to New Haven.

Posted by pjm at 5:17 PM | Comments (1)

September 4, 2004

Night drive

I remembered last night why, seven-plus years and 90,000 miles ago, I liked this then-new car so much.

I was whipping along 295 in Freeport with the windows closed and the sunroof open. The car was (relatively) quiet, and I could see the Big Dipper out my left window and put a free hand up and feel the cool air rushing by.

I’m sure I’ve spotted Orion out the sunroof sometime before (maybe when the car was new and I was doing this on the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike,) but last night I needed to keep my eyes on the road.

If I can finish this hare-brained grad school escapade with a job, perhaps I’ll buy myself a new car as a graduation present. Somehow I have renewed faith that this one will make it through.

Posted by pjm at 7:55 AM | Comments (0)

September 1, 2004


Other than an uptick in sidewalk traffic and a lot of out-of-state cars crammed to the rafters with dorm room gear, you might not notice that the students are back in town.

You can, however, spot the “first-year” subspecies by their characteristic behavior: they travel in herds, for security.

Now playing: Nietzche from Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia by The Dandy Warhols

Posted by pjm at 1:39 PM | Comments (1)

August 23, 2004

The risks we take

Sometime in the course of applying bug repellent a few weekends ago, some was sprayed on my wristwatch. Now the button looks like it has mange—I can’t tell if it’s lint attracted to sticky bug dope on the button, or if there’s simply a layer of plastic decaying away.

Either way, though: I sprayed that on my skin? I can’t tell if I should be disgusted, or proud that I haven’t corroded.

(Then we could consider the possible consequences of some of the insect bites I could pick up out there, and try to figure out which is the lesser evil.)

Now playing: Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) from Pleased to Meet You by James

Posted by pjm at 3:27 PM | Comments (0)

August 21, 2004

The show

I didn’t get the results at work. They were running late in Athens and there were ominous clouds and rumblings out my window, so I got on the bike and started cranking for home.

I stopped briefly at the top of the East Plumtree hill to look west towards Whately, but you couldn’t see it. It looked like the looming clouds had touched down near the river, obscuring everything beyond Sunderland and North Hadley. Definitely not a rainstorm I wanted to be riding a bike in, so I started sprinting down towards Amherst.

I made it to North Amherst before it started sprinkling, but the wind was pretty fierce. The cars on the road were slowing down as we passed Cowls sawmill, because the whirling dust blown off the mill yard looked like a small tornado. By the time I reached the light I had seen two branches blown down on the road in front of me, and I was pretty thoroughly drenched. Coming away from the light, I caught a tailwind and was up in the top gear before I was expecting to be. By the time I reached UMass it was barely sprinkling. Downtown, everything looked dry, and it didn’t rain all evening.

I woke up around 2:30 this morning to the sound of a downpour, and regular thunder. The lightning and thunder were coming so close together that you couldn’t match flashes to rumbles; it just flickered and banged, more or less constantly. I think I can safely say I’ve never seen so many flashes so close together for so long.

The rain has been tapering off, then picking up in squalls, ever since then, but whatever massive electric potentials got built up last night appear to have been discharged.

Posted by pjm at 1:06 PM | Comments (0)

August 17, 2004

Valley wildlife

Continue reading "Valley wildlife"

Posted by pjm at 4:39 PM | Comments (1)

August 16, 2004

Geek in the wild

I’m still working on finding all the caches within ten miles of the apartment. I’m down to four; one I tried and failed to find on Saturday, one is “temporarily disabled” until the owners have a chance to maintain it, and a third is a “webcam cache” where the webcam isn’t currently working.

I tagged another one yesterday because I felt like a real challenge. It was a “multi-cache” which involves finding a few micro-caches, each of which contain the coordinates to the next stage. This was a three-parter, but there was a hitch: the coordinates were encoded in a bar code. To get the coordinates for the next step, a cacher had to either have their own bar-code reader (a Cue Cat would do for anyone who still has/had one of those) or take the codes over to the nearby Leverett Village Co-op and have them scanned there. (The cache owner, in this case, works at the co-op, which is how he knew this would work.)

I took the third route: I did some web research on bar codes, figured out how to decode this particular format (and a few others along the way,) and did them by hand, on the fly. (Yeah, let’s get it over with now: “What a geek.” Moving on…) First, I knew the format of the codes; I didn’t have to check for all thirty-six possible characters which can be encoded in this format, just N, W, X, ., and ten digits. Also, since I knew the spread between the stages wasn’t going to be that great (maybe four square miles of area) once I’d decoded the first one, I really only needed to look at four characters of each subsequent one: the unit arc-minutes and the three decimal places. That simplified things tremendously.

Of course, all you need to do is goof once, and you’re a few hundred feet away in the wrong direction, and I goofed more than once. Fortunately, I was able to recognize when I’d screwed up, and recover.

And, in the end, it was pretty cool to be standing up near the top of Brushy Mountain, having walked hiked more than a mile from where I could reasonably leave the car, looking at a cellar hole with the owner’s name still on the sign in front. Judging from the size of the trees growing in the basement, the house had been gone forty or fifty years.

Curiously, I had more wildlife encounters on Saturday. I’ll post the pics if I have time.

Now playing: Little Wings from Five Stories by Kris Delmhorst

Posted by pjm at 9:49 AM | Comments (0)

August 14, 2004


Mount Holyoke does not discriminate based on age, race, national origin, or species…

Sign for dog guardians and dogs on Mt. Holyoke College trail

This gave me a laugh on my way to the South Hadley Cache before lunch today.

Posted by pjm at 5:00 PM | Comments (1)

August 8, 2004


Here’s an activity I never expected to find myself doing thanks to geocaching: book binding.

See, each cache has a log. That’s pretty much the definition of a cache: a hidden container with a published location (hidden so you won’t find it if you’re not looking for it) which contains a log; if you find it, you sign the log. You log online as well, of course, and since the online logs allow for including photos, etc. they can be more satisfying, particularly when the cache is a “micro cache” (sizes ranging from film canisters to Altoids tins) and the log that fits in it is small. Regular caches are generally gallon-sized or larger, tupperware or (best) ammunition canisters from Army-Navy stores; they’ve got “trade items” inside (take something, leave something, generally on the dollar-store value range.) You can throw in pretty much any notebook (though preferably something tough, because odds are good it will get wet) as a log.

Micros are like bacteria; they’re highly specialized to their location. One common micro container is a magnetic key container, like you’d use to attach a spare key to your car in some hidden location. So, there’s some art to making a log which will fit in a micro container. There’s a guy in our area who is very, very good at it, and I feel like [my one micro][2] (one of the round Altoids tins) should at least attempt his standard.

My original log was a stack of small-cut paper (two or three sheets cut down to several dozen smaller sections) with a staple driven through, and the staple end wrapped with duct tape. Unfortunately, it hasn’t held up; the last finder reported, “the log is a mess.” So this morning I’ve been making a replacement. Again, a few sheets of paper cut into raffle-ticket-sized strips and laid atop each other, this time to be folded to make a “signature.” This I actually sewed together with a needle and thread (wishing for a tougher needle, but it worked. Tougher thread wouldn’t be bad either.) I’ve smeared white glue on the binding threads, and I’m waiting for that to dry; once it’s done, I’ll put clear tape around the outside and a small strip of duct tape on the “spine.” Voila: a case-bound micro log. Hopefully it will last longer than the four or five months the first log did.

Actually, I just hope I can retrieve the container unobtrusively and replace it without being seen.

Now playing: About You from The Heat by Jesse Malin

Posted by pjm at 11:56 AM | Comments (0)

August 7, 2004


Well, that was disturbing.

I headed up to Greenfield and Deerfield today and did seven geocaches, which is actually a pretty good count for one day; even better when I consider that before I left I visited one of my own caches to do some clean-up, since the last finder reported it was pretty wet. Eight in one day—a few weekends ago it took me all weekend to find eight. I found some interesting spots (I’d never been through Old Deerfield before, for instance) and some great views. I hung out downtown for a little while and dropped some cash at About Music. (For the curious, the haul was: Dandy WarholsDandys Rule OK; Ryan AdamsDemolition; Jesse MalinThe Heat.)

One of the stops was a drive-in park with a nice vista across Greenfield. You could clearly see, on the other side of the Green River valley (this ridge separates Greenfield from the Connecticut) the tower offering a three-state view (MA, NH and VT; over nearer to Billsville and Mt. Greylock you can get a four-state view.) The tower appeared to be lower than where we were… and they charge admission for that tower, I think.

There were a few men hanging around there and they were watching me a bit too much, so I didn’t look to closely for the micro. Instead I went off to find the full-size cache hidden about a quarter-mile in the woods.

One of them followed me.

I think he was surprised to see me sitting on a rock writing in a notebook. He tried to make conversation. This spooked me. I’ve been cruised before, when I was younger and didn’t understand what was happening; I couldn’t figure out why strange, sketchy-looking men were trying to make innocuous conversation with me. I tried to convey the message that the notebook was why I was here, and I’ll be leaving when I’m done with that, thanks, by myself. He walked over to a nearby view and stayed there. When I finished my log, I tried to head out without him noticing. I got a head-start, anyway.

Nobody at the tower this time, whew. But wait, the guy sitting on the bench nearby watched me walk by. He looked at me but I was resolutely ignoring him. Open shirt, pierced nipples, way, way too much muscle mass; he looked like a wanna-be pro wrestler. I snagged the micro quickly (phew) and saw he was headed for the tower. Funny that he would decide to check out the view just now, after I’d gone in the tower. I went to the top as quickly as I could without running, signed the log in a hurry (thankfully, micros also have micro logs) and as he arrived at the top, I was folding the log and heading for the top of the stairs. He couldn’t follow me immediately; that would definitely spook me, if I hadn’t already been spooked. I was thinking about whether I had a knife in my caching bag. (In hindsight, I’m probably better off with the bits of Tae Kwan Do I learned a few years ago—not enough for a belt, but enough to make someone very uncomfortable if they don’t anticipate me.)

When I got in the car, he was watching me from the top of the tower.

Isn’t there some kind of “don’t cruise me” sign I can hang out? (This one is probably overdoing it.) Aren’t I entitled to go to a park without being followed? It really put a damper on an otherwise good day, and I’m still trying to parse it all out.

Now playing: Tomorrow from Demolition by Ryan Adams

Posted by pjm at 7:09 PM | Comments (1)

August 2, 2004

Waiting for the light

There’s an intersection on my bike route to work where I have to make a left turn. There’s a traffic light with a left-turn arrow.

Normally I’d be a good boy and wait for the arrow, but the early morning rides have revealed that me on my bike is not enough whatever to trigger the turn arrow. (It’s not clear exactly how the light is cued. Older lights use detectors embedded in the pavement, and you can spoof those with a bicycle by slowly weaving across the wires, but newer lights use motion detectors. Whatever this is detecting, it’s not seeing me.) If I’m going to be a good boy, I’m going to be sitting at the intersection until a car making a left turn pulls up behind me—pretty uncomfortable, since I’m not good enough to do a track stand.

Instead, I’ve taken to going when the opposing light (not really directly across, but never mind) gives that traffic a left arrow, or some other light configuration when I’m unlikely to wind up a hood ornament. It’s a morning puzzle: what’s the safest way to get across the intersection without waiting through four or five cycles of the light?

(The instructor of my systems course used traffic lights to illustrate state machines, which is probably why I sit at the intersection trying to figure out how to hack the lights instead of rolling down the hill to the town hall and simply asking.)

Of course, I wouldn’t be in this fix if I was truly a stickler for traffic rules, and didn’t ride a few hundred meters the wrong way on a one-way street to get out of my neighborhood.

Now playing: Just Wednesday from Devil Hopping by Inspiral Carpets

Posted by pjm at 9:36 AM | Comments (0)

July 28, 2004

More horizons

I wonder if there’s some coincidence to the fact that my favorite views in Amherst tend to look roughly east. Today, coming back from PT, I looked east from North East Street over the Amythest Brook conservation area to Mount Orient. You can’t actually see the mountain in this wet weather; though the visibility is good, the ceiling this morning was quite low, and the brook itself, normally invisible until it meets Fort River near the Pelham Road, was traced out in tendrils of vapor on the hillside.

It’s a stretch to call it a mountain at all, even from an east-coast perspective; it’s the front row of the Pelham Hills, and much more of a ridge. Like many hillside streams in New England, there used to be a small-scale vacation resort in there somewhere, in the days before trains and automobiles, and if you look in the right places you can find traces of the carriage roads. Along this stretch of North East Street, farms run back towards the hillside with nothing to block the vista. One of them has a llama pasture by the road, with a handmade sign: “Llama llookout.”

We used to run through the conservation area and the neighboring private-but-tolerant land in college; the Robert Frost trail goes up to Mt. Orient and follows the ridge into Shutesbury, but there are other trails which aren’t on any map that I know of. We called the RFT “Upper Ridge,” and there was also “Middle Ridge” and (surprise!) “Lower Ridge” which barely had any hills at all. I ran them looking alternately at the back of the upperclassman in front of me, or the rock I didn’t want to trip over, and found when those seniors graduated that I really didn’t know my way around in there. I could run Upper Ridge by following the RFT blazes, but the lower, easier and less rocky trails were as much of a mystery as a one-way back street in Boston. There must be branches of the trails which go more east into Pelham; I remember once emerging from the woods somewhere on Lower Valley Road in Pelham and running down, down, down the road into Amherst. It was one of my first runs with the team, and one of the longest runs I’d ever done; the twenty-fours I did for my 2002 marathon were a long way in the future.

Since we moved back to Amherst, I haven’t been in shape to run in Amythest Brook yet. No doubt it’s not as thrilling as I remember. But this morning, looking over the farms at the wisps of cloud tracing the contours of the hills, with the dry burning of the iontophoresis contact still prickling on my calf, I really missed being out there.

Now playing: Sit Down from James by James

Posted by pjm at 1:16 PM | Comments (0)

July 24, 2004

I'm a sucker for a vista

I think that spiritually, the difference between this

Looking north up the Connecticut River from the Mt. Toby fire tower, July 11, 2004

and this

Lighthouse at the Cuckolds, off Newagen, July 17, 2004

is that for the first, I had to walk a mile or so up Mount Toby and wait my turn to climb the fire tower, whereas the second sort is available more or less constantly from the time one heads out nearly anywhere in the Gulf of Maine.

Posted by pjm at 11:30 AM | Comments (3)

July 22, 2004

Head in the oven

Between moving around, giving blood and the consequent weakness, and the physical therapy schedule, today is the first day I’ve biked in to work for a while. Just now, looking out the front door at the hazy sunshine, I thought of an advantage to riding, this time of year. At the end of the day, I don’t have to go out and get in a car which has been sitting in the sun all day. And I don’t have to do the little dance with the windows: leave them open for ventilation? Close them against the thunderstorm which is forever hovering over the horizon?

No worries. Just stash the bike in the basement.

I seem to have lost momentum on replacing the bike. This has the advantage of saving some money, and perhaps reducing some overall consumption of natural resources. But perhaps I should replace the tires; I can see the cords in the sidewall of one of them.

Now playing: Blues For Your Baby from Too Close To Heaven • The Unreleased Fisherman’s Blues Sessions by The Waterboys

Posted by pjm at 11:18 AM | Comments (0)

July 21, 2004

...and a bat

(Remind me, someday, to tell the story of why this title is amusing to me.)

So, it was an eventful night.

Cat’s perspective: Best. Toy. Ever.

Cat’s staff perspective: The first clue that there was some rambunctiousness happening out in the big room was the crash which was one of the dining-room chairs falling over. I woke up, concluded that Izzy was up to some mischief, and went back to sleep.

A few minutes later, there was another crash, this time accompanied by loud chittering. At first, cloudy with sleep, I had mechanical thoughts: I thought Iz had managed to get something snagged in the box fan. Within seconds, I had more realistic thoughts: some other live creature was in the apartment. Armed with the flashlight (both as light and club) I looked out into the living room.

Sure enough, there was Iz, sitting proudly behind the bat he had brought to the floor.

(Remind me, someday, to tell the story of how shocked I was when Iz, a strictly indoor cat, caught a mouse.)

The bat flopped. Iz might be a great hunter, but he’s a horribly inefficient killer. (Last time, I was the one who inadvertently finished off his mouse.) I promptly shut the bedroom door behind me; previous experience with apartment bats suggested to me that any reduction in the bat’s available airspace was a good thing. Then I grabbed an empty wastebasket. Iz had re-cornered the bat under the dining room table. It was about eight inches, wing to wing, and the wastebasket dropped easily over it. Now I’d reached the ultimate reduction in airspace, and I’d also saved it from Iz. I’d far rather catch-and-release a live bat than dispose of its corpse.

Next I fetched my DeLorme Atlas of Massachusetts, and wiggled it under the wastebasket. There was some flopping inside the wastebasket, but eventually I had the bat on the atlas, then the wastebasket over the bat. (This is a macro application of the classic mug-and-cardboard trick for catching and releasing moths, another favorite cat toy.) I picked up the entire assembly, opened the window as wide as possible, held the wastebasket outside, and removed the atlas. I presume the bat then departed, since it wasn’t in the wastebasket when I brought it back in, nor did I see its body below the window in the morning.

I presume it had flown under one of our roof windows and found itself somewhat cornered; determining, incorrectly, that the “open space” was inside the window, it managed to get some of the screen up enough to wriggle inside. (The screens on the roof windows are cloth and attached to the window frame with velcro, so I can imagine a bat working some of the velcro up.)

I’m not sure about the extent of the bat’s cat-inflicted wounds. He definitely did some damage, but he didn’t kill it, and presumably it could still fly. I didn’t take the time to grab the camera, which he’ll probably resent later. (I didn’t get a good shot of his mouse, either.) The outstanding question, though, is rabies: could the bat have been rabid? It didn’t bite either of us, but Iz bit it.

I have to admit I’m a bit proud of him, though. After all, not only did he catch a mouse, he caught a mouse with wings.

Now playing: New State of Grace from Love and China by Nerissa & Katryna Nields

Posted by pjm at 10:34 AM | Comments (0)

July 19, 2004

Annie's sign

When I drive to work, I pass Annie’s Garden Center; they usually have a pretty good two-parter on their sign. This morning:

Southbound: I have a rock garden

Northbound: Today 3 of them died

Now playing: Less Than Useful from God Fodder by Ned’s Atomic Dustbin

Posted by pjm at 8:38 AM | Comments (0)

July 17, 2004

Around the head

You know how, in some cartoons, you see characters walking around with a little black cloud which only appears to be raining on them?

Today, it seemed like anywhere inland was overcast, possibly raining. Any anywhere on the water was sunny and beautiful. I hadn’t been around to Boothbay by boat for around twenty years. I think if I smile much longer my face will cramp up.

We were the first to find a geocache recently placed on Squirrel Island. Since you need to take a ferry out to the island, I think most cachers have opted not to try, but for us it was the excuse for the trip. The island makes Nantucket look like a crowded, booming metropolis. Dirt roads, sidewalk and boardwalk. My father pointed out that much of the boardwalk was done in mahogany, not pressure-treated pine. Easy on bare feet, but imagine what it must cost. We spotted three pickup trucks as the only vehicles on the island; kayaks outnumber cars by an order of magnitude, and probably outnumber bicycles.

You don’t see many “For Sale” signs outside houses on Squirrel Island. Probably when one goes up for sale, it’s advertised only in high-end magazines. Assuming it’s advertised. I think I would spend my summers there, if I won a lottery. Or two.

I don’t know enough about sailboats to identify the class (classes?) who were racing today, but when we came out of the island and headed for home, they had a good breeze and looked like they were having a roaring good time. There was a buoy out, but looking back after we passed through Newagen, I saw several out beyond where I would have expected the buoy was. Maybe they were headed out to Damriscove.

There are three juvenile ospreys in the nest on the day beacon in Newagen harbor. They can whine all they want, but they’re going to have to jump eventually.

When we came in to Cundy’s Harbor for gas, the dock attendants waved us off. “The power’s out,” they explained. Apparently they’d been dark since one o’clock, and they claimed the Wal-Mart in Brunswick was closed as well. Thunderstorms inland, probably, which we could hear from the mooring.

As I write this, there are swells under the chair I’m sitting in.

Posted by pjm at 9:15 PM | Comments (2)

July 13, 2004

So much for an early evening

The outside cat brought me a present. I don’t think he’s coming in until one of us eats it.

Continue reading "So much for an early evening"

Posted by pjm at 9:30 PM | Comments (0)


This being a college town, it’s not entirely uncommon to see student-occupied houses with their doors standing open. Most often it’s multi-unit house with the common door left ajar, but whatever. My curiosity bug gets the better of me, and I always look as I’m going by, like you’d look in a shop window without stopping. I like to imagine the layout of the house from the little corners I can see from the sidewalk. What’s it like to live there?

I was heading out on the ride to work a week or so ago and took a quick look at such an open door around the corner from our house. Peering around from the inside of the door was a squirrel.

Posted by pjm at 1:59 PM | Comments (0)

July 9, 2004

Under the porch

A drawback to time in the pool is that you can write off two days of sneezing as the effects of accidental inhalation of chlorinated water. By the time I figured out it was a cold, I’d missed my window of zinc opportunity.

I spent last night largely on the couch, finishing one book and starting another. Watching the cat sleep, and have his sleep be disturbed by thunderstorms. Drinking, sometimes orange juice. Taking phone calls for (and from) A. Rebuilding my blood volume.

I hope my ears stop popping soon. I have a caching binge planned for the weekend. I want to hit everything left within eight miles of home (six caches) and make a dent in the ten-mile radius (eight more, but several are multi-caches.)

Or, I could just crawl under the porch and come out when I feel better.

Now playing: Judas from Wonderland by The Charlatans

Posted by pjm at 11:47 AM | Comments (0)

July 7, 2004

Cheap date

After work this afternoon, I rode up to the new Sunderland Public Safety Complex for the blood drive.

I haven’t donated blood since I moved back up to Massachusetts. I had planned to in the fall of ‘01 (didn’t we all?) but then I heard that they didn’t need as much as they were getting—which was almost worse news than we had been getting, but that’s an old tale. Then I was training hard and racing well, and didn’t want to throw in the two-week speed bump that comes along with giving away a chunk of your oxygen-carrying capacity.

(For one or two days after donating, you’ve got a solid cap on your top-end speed; like a dog on an invisible fence, if you cross the effort line, you get zapped and might as well stop. But for a week or two after that, you’re still replenishing; you can do workouts and easy runs, but everything feels harder than it should. When I donated while training, before, I always thought of it as an oil change: I was giving away some used stuff and replacing it with high-test new stuff.)

So I fell out of the habit. Last week, though, someone sent an announcement of this drive around to the office, and I didn’t have any reason not to go.

Aside from the crowd (they set a goal of fifty, had fifty-three appointments, and most of the people waiting in line with me as we passed fifty for the day were walk-ins) it was uneventful. I was cracking wise with the attendants as usual (“I figured I’d give wholesale here, rather than retail to the mosquitos,”) and at some point made a comment about ten minutes spent horizontal being the best part of my day. “And we feed you, too!” they said. “It’s like a cheap date!” “Well, yes, but backwards.” I think I pumped half my packet full by laughing, which is just as well since they checked me out with a 50 bpm pulse and blood-pressure numbers that always sound low to me. I might’ve taken all day if they just let me sleep.

They were concerned about me riding all the way back to Amherst, even though I assured them I had a bus pass in my bag and the PVTA has bike racks on their buses this time of year. Still, problem solved—the guy on the table next to me was headed to Amherst for groceries, so after loading up on cookies, lemonade, and water, we slung my bike in the back of his pickup and he drove me home. Cheap date, indeed.

I probably could’ve made it on my own, but what would be the point? He’s burning the gas anyway, and it wouldn’t do me any good to get home in no shape to climb the stairs. (I did have all the gatorade dealers between Sunderland center and home mapped out in my mind…)

Now playing: Little Wings from Five Stories by Kris Delmhorst

Posted by pjm at 9:16 PM | Comments (0)

July 3, 2004

Not quite there

The day’s seal count, I think, was three.

There will, eventually, be pictures, including one or two of the boat my family had when I was much younger.

I didn’t get my hundredth cache yet. I’m stuck at 99. And I’m almost as tired and cranky as my little nieces. As a regular on one of the lists I’m on says, is it bedtime yet?

Posted by pjm at 9:17 PM | Comments (0)

June 24, 2004

Pick Your Horizon, II

A few weeks ago I posted about the views on my ride to work. Today is the sort of day which makes you happy to live outside the city—I almost wrote, “Happy to live here,” but I can think of other places I’d love to be on a day like today, as well. So I hauled the camera along on my ride in this morning. The hayfield which had been just cut with big rolls all over wasn’t as scenic this time, but I did get shots of the glorious desert-in-Massachusetts architecture of UMass, and the overlook from which you can see bustling downtown Whately.

I’ve put the photos in the “extended” entry as usual, so you only have to download them if you want to see them.

Now playing: Change The Locks from She’s The One by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Continue reading "Pick Your Horizon, II"

Posted by pjm at 3:58 PM | Comments (0)

Thoughtful morning

The way my bike is adjusted, the seat is fairly high, even though my legs aren’t very long. (Serious bike people might suggest that this means my bike doesn’t fit me well. I’d agree with them if I understood what they were saying.) The crossbar is just about high enough that it’s uncomfortable to stand over the bike with both feet flat on the ground.

This means that every time I start out from the ground, there’s this fractional second where I’m actually sitting in the seat, balancing, as my feet leave the ground and head for the pedals. “Well, of course,” you say, “don’t you always sit in the seat and balance on a bike?” No, not exactly; you put a good deal of weight on the pedals, through your feet, and balance that way. (This is subconscious, and it’s the reason recumbent bikes look scary to me: no weight on the feet.)

I wonder if other people do this, or if they’re more graceful as they get rolling.

In that fraction of a second, I get the feeling that always comes between the last day of something and the first day of the next thing—between graduation and the first day of work, between the last day of one job and the first of the next. I’m moving and being held up, but I don’t have my feet in yet.

The other thing I remembered this morning was the college classmate of mine who referred to my college bike as my “flying machine.” I’m still not sure why, but I think it’s because of the way someone riding a bike looks light and mobile, like a feather on a draft. It’s never that easy when you’re the one cranking, of course. I’ve noticed the same thing looking at people in kayaks; they always look like they’re flitting around atop the water like big bugs. Then you climb in, and you’ve got to push; it’s never as light as it looks.

Now playing: Polar Bear from Some Friendly by The Charlatans

Posted by pjm at 3:15 PM | Comments (0)

June 23, 2004

Summer has truly arrived

Puffer’s Pond is warm enough for swimming. I went back and forth, end to end, back and forth. I have no idea what kind of distance that represents, but it was around half an hour (give or take) and my arms are tired, which is enough for now.

Now playing: Kiss Me On The Moon from This Town Is Wrong by Nerissa & Katryna Nields

Posted by pjm at 6:38 PM | Comments (0)

June 22, 2004

I work with famous people

People I know keep popping up in the news lately. Yesterday, for instance, one of my current co-workers had her “other” work featured on Field Notes, a natural-history sort of segment that our local public radio station runs semi-regularly during Morning Edition. Scroll down to the section about the Graves Farm swallows.

Last Sunday, a bunch of my old training partners from Pennsylvania, including my coach, were featured in the Morning Call. When I first moved there, neither of the Marks had children and Colin was an infant. I suspect this reporter runs with someone’s wife—I might even have met her, but her name seems to have changed. It’s fun keeping up with them through the paper.

Now playing: Fired from Rockin’ The Suburbs by Ben Folds

Posted by pjm at 3:42 PM | Comments (1)

Morning sighting

As I pedaled up away from North Amherst this morning, I spotted a guy on the other side of the road. For the most part, he looked like a sort you see on the roads around here now and then—young guy, backpack, slightly dingy clothes. He looked like an AT through-hiker without the luggage, and I imagined him having recently spent the night “camped” at some roadside conservation area.

There was something funny about his backpack, though. When I was approaching him, it looked like he had a black garbage bag sticking up from the top of the bag and waving a bit as he walked. I looked back over my shoulder when I passed to confirm the impression, and realized that he had a grey tiger kitten riding on his shoulder, almost like a parrot. It had its front paws up on his shoulder to keep a lookout, and its back paws propped on the backpack.

It reminded me of the story last year about the subway busker in Manhattan who was arrested for having a kitten with him on the platform. Except I expect this kitten doesn’t have a criminal record.

Now playing: Color Bars from Figure 8 by Elliott Smith

Posted by pjm at 9:17 AM | Comments (0)

June 18, 2004

Rolling in

It’s been two days in a row now that I’ve sat up in the bed and wondered if riding the bike to work (abbreviated in my mind as “riding in”) is really the best idea. Once I’ve sat up, however, it’s not hard to get going. This self-powered commute is much, much easier to get motivated for than a daily run. Maybe it’s just as well that I’m not running. It’s too bad the schedule makes it hard to ride in and swim at the pool on the same day, but perhaps when Puffer’s Pond is warm enough for a stop on the way home, I’ll be able to wear myself out enough on a daily basis to prevent spontaneous combustion.

I could, very easily, take side streets from the apartment as far as UMass, and pick up my route there, but I usually ride through town. They’ve got bike lanes painted on the main road, and I feel like I should use them in an effort to keep them from going away. Still, when I sit at the left turn lane in the center of town, my bike and I aren’t enough to trigger the green arrow; I usually wind up waiting until a car pulls up behind me. I should probably go on the pedestrian signal, but I think I’m too bloody-minded for that; either I’m on foot and a pedestrian, or I’m a vehicle in traffic. I can’t have it both ways.

Both days, as well, I’ve been the first one in the office. I’ve been expanding the front-page design I rolled out a few weeks ago to all the sub-pages in the site, which has given me a chance to increase the modularization of the templates (it’s a good thing, trust me) and comb for obsolete or broken pages. I’ve been putting on the headphones and really digging in, which I haven’t done for a good long while. It’s fun to see it working, and in particular the design is much more attractive than it was previously. The whole site looks more professional. I wonder if I would have done as much if I didn’t have some momentum right away in the morning. I don’t usually have this much done by 10:30.

Now playing: I Know She’s In the Building from Bring ‘Em All In by Mike Scott

Posted by pjm at 10:30 AM | Comments (0)

June 6, 2004


Several years ago I was in Chicago for the famous “Cows on Parade” exhibit, where they had custom-designed cows installed up and down the streets. The next year it was duplicated in New York and now it apparently travels the world.

The idea was a great one, and as with most great ideas, it’s been ripped off far and wide, for better or worse. Yesterday, returning from Albany, we came through Pittsfield and saw the opening day of Sheeptacular. It must be seen to be believed, of course, but I think the name is really the crowning achievement.

Now playing: Top of The World from James by James

Posted by pjm at 1:46 PM | Comments (2)

June 4, 2004

Pick your horizon

When I came back here, I remembered it as a beautiful place, but I was mostly thinking about the southerly view from The College, bounded by the Holyoke Range and Mt. Tom, and perhaps the view southwest from route 116, just south of the college, looking across fields and the Fort River valley towards Belchertown and the Pelham Hills. Driving and riding north to Sunderland from Northampton gave me a daily vista of Mount Sugarloaf and the west flank of Mount Toby (which reservation makes up something like two-thirds of the land area of Sunderland.)

Coming up from Amherst, the Mt. Toby hills are the dominant feature of the landscape. With Mt. Sugarloaf, they squeeze the river near the Sunderland bridge (a very pretty place) and on many mornings they are shrouded with river fog even as Hadley and Amherst have cleared up. I imagine the fog flowing down the river valley and piling up on Mt. Toby like an avalanche on an outcropping. As I head up into Sunderland, it looks like a big skein of cotton pulled out and draped over the tops of the mountains. Nearly any northbound route out of Amherst will, at some point, show these mountains, but Amherst tends to look south to the Holyoke Range.

Since I’ve been riding to work, I’ve found another nice vista. If I take the low-traffic (but longer) route, I turn on to East Plumtree Road near where Leverett and Sunderland meet at the Amherst line. Marked with an “X 314” on the second map above, less than a hundred feet down East Plumtree you can look west right across the Connecticut River Valley. The river is invisible at this point, but it’s easy to spot the three (or so) white buildings that make up the center Whately (I’d call it “downtown Whately,” but I doubt this audience would spot the irony; it’s just the obligatory collection of civic buildings, town hall, library, church. There is no “downtown” to speak of in Whately.) Behind that, the green rollers of the “hilltowns” and the beginnings of the Berkshires. There are several nice houses there cleverly positioned to make the most of the spectacular view.

If I’d been there at the right time Wednesday, I might have been able to watch the gusher of a thunderstorm we had sweep across the valley. I keep meaning to bring a camera on my bike commute and document all the things I spot which somehow seem so interesting while I’m riding by.

Now playing: Stray from Dead Air by Heatmiser

Posted by pjm at 10:52 AM | Comments (3)

June 3, 2004

Just in case you were wondering...

…Puffer’s Pond is still too cold for swimming. I checked, but only made it about halfway across before wising up. I need about five more degrees.

Now playing: Next Lover from Seven by James

Posted by pjm at 7:55 PM | Comments (0)

Road hazard

When the alarm clock went off this morning, I could hear rain on the roof window. Not a good sign when you’re planning on riding to work because your foot aches so damn much. Two slaps of the “snooze” button later, I could tell it was tapering off. By the time I was dressed, fed and had lunch packed, it wasn’t raining anymore; in fact, I got out my sunglasses.

With the college students gone home for the summer, traffic is no longer an issue on my ride to work, just wet roads which left me with a fine layer of road grit all over by the time I got to work. As I was starting up the last long hill north of town, though, I saw a young girl and her father (apparently) standing beside the road. OK, I thought, they’re waiting for a school bus. Why’s she wearing a bike helmet? And why is her backpack nearly lying in the road?

As I got closer, I saw that her father was wearing a bike helmet, too. Then I saw that her “backpack” was a large, dead woodchuck (or similar animal.) Her father was explaining something to her, talking with his hands. I noticed the gestures for “running out in the road,” and “smack!” Their bike was one of those instant-tandem types where the child rides a sort of one-wheel “trailer” bolted on the main pipe of the adult’s bike. I’m still not sure why they stopped to examine the roadkill, but I’m curious.

Now playing: Only Teethin’ from Tellin’ Stories by The Charlatans

Posted by pjm at 1:37 PM | Comments (0)

June 1, 2004

On the plus side...

Having the ice around is a big help with the weekend’s collection of mosquito bites. They appear to have congregated at my prominent ankle-bones, again, and I think the only thing more comfortable than the ice would be a lit match.

With poison ivy, my trick is antihistamines of the Benadryl caliber (it’s an allergy, after all,) but that seems like overdoing it for mosquito bites.

Now playing: Sunshine/Nowhere To Run from Tarantula by Ride

Posted by pjm at 4:46 PM | Comments (0)

May 31, 2004

Breezy Sunday

Returning down the dirt road to the Bear’s Den on Sunday’s run, A. and I heard a crack, and something about the landscape in front of us looked shaky all of a sudden. When I realized it was the telephone poles wobbling, I swore and bolted for the opposite side of the road. They stopped shaking in a minute, but looked tense. Just a few steps more, and we could see where a decent-sized pine tree (I’d guess about a thirty-year pine) had uprooted and come down across the lines between us and the cottage. The power lines were holding it up off an SUV which was (at the moment) untouched. Startling, but not fatal.

We skirted around through some yards to get to the right side of the road. Of the five lines on each pole, two had snapped at the pole on the far side of our driveway and were coiled around the foot of the pole just on the near side. They didn’t appear to be live. The phones appeared to be working, but my cousin observed that the power in the cottage was out. We went out and watched the fire and public works people arrive and try to figure out what to do. One of the families more closely affected (next door to the tree) was buzzing around, with one man standing in the road watching the tree as though he could keep it from slipping more, and shooing his older female relatives who persisted in standing directly under the power lines (thought not under the tree.) Then, observing that we wouldn’t be showering or washing dishes for a while (gas water heater; electric pump) we headed downtown.

Downed Tree

My cousin observed that as more of the lots are bought by families who haven’t been here generations (as ours has) they get cleared for larger and more comfortable buildings than our modest cottage. (About two notches up from “shack,” I suppose.) With fewer trees, the root systems (especially in this sandy soil) are weakened, and fewer trees bear more of the wind like we had on Sunday. He expects more blow-downs. “Actually,” he said, “this house has been pretty lucky when it comes to fallen trees.”

Now playing: New Enemy from All of Our Names by Sarah Harmer

Posted by pjm at 9:08 PM | Comments (1)

May 27, 2004


Riding home tonight, I noticed a lot of drifting tree pollen. Fluff, actually. It looks like a very light snowstorm on a sunny day, and I passed one driveway which looked positively snowed in with the output of a nearby tree.

When I was in St. Petersburg (nearly ten years ago!) the city was nearly snowed in by the same stuff. I asked about it, wondering if it was something special. The answer I got was simply, “пух.” (Pronounce that like “Pooh,” but end it with a sort of “kh” sound like you’re starting to clear your throat.) It seemed like there was an inch of it everywhere, every day. When I got up to run in the morning there was always a fresh coat. I didn’t even run very early; despite the almost constant sunshine (at its longest, “night” lasted three or four hours while I was there,) Petersburgers are not ones for being up and about.

I don’t know the perfect translation for пух. In fact, when I see the stuff now, I think of it with the Russian word, because it seems more apt.

Posted by pjm at 7:41 PM | Comments (0)

May 21, 2004

The Rabbit

I have a weird fascination with the Quabbin. I think it was between my junior and senior years at The College, when I spent the summer here in Amherst, that I really began to feel the pull. The Quabbin is a massive reservoir to the east of us, created when the Metropolitan District Commission (read: Boston) dammed the Swift River (a tributary of the Chicopee River and therefore the Connecticut) in Belchertown and Ware, flooding (and forever erasing from the map) the four towns of Greenwich, Prescott, Enfield, and Dana. The water stored in the reservoir eventually flows through one of the longest tunnels ever built to become Boston city water. Large sections of the watershed around the reservoir are part of the Quabbin Reservation, a vast, restricted-access wildlife preserve intended to keep the water clean, I suppose.

I think the Quabbin is the real dividing line between Western and Eastern Massachusetts. Eastern Massachusetts is essentially a big suburb of Boston, out to the secondary center of Worcester. Western Massachusetts is more independent, sometimes more liberal (if you can imagine it,) vastly more rural and less populated, and significantly more ornery.

Part of the orneriness is a lingering resentment towards Boston for the removal of the four towns (and the maiming of a fifth; neighboring Pelham is geographically weird due to the borders of the reservation.) One of my employers that summer had framed maps of the four towns on the walls of his house. The primary dorms at Hampshire College are named for the four towns. And there’s a certain feeling that Boston did it once, they could do it again.

I’m not as fascinated as some people. For instance, there’s the UMass crew that got permission to go diving in the reservoir and make a film about it. Mark Erelli roomed with one of the producers, and wrote a song about it, “The Farewell Ball,” which we heard when he opened for Nanci Griffith at the Calvin.

Tomorrow we’re running a race in New Salem, northwest of the reservoir. The race is named for the railway line that ran down into the Swift River Valley from New Salem, the Rabbit. When you drive up Route 202 from Belchertown to New Salem, you see a handful of “ghost roads” crossing the route and heading down into the Reservation. Eventually, I imagine, they dead-end at the waterline. Apparently this race covers some of those roads, though there’s not a lot of race information around to tell where. I’m curious.

Posted by pjm at 8:05 PM | Comments (0)

May 19, 2004

Title excised (pun control)

I was playing “paddles” with Iz last night, so he was rolling around on his back. (That cat goes inverted more than any cat I’ve ever known. I think it’s because he’s so combative; on his back he has the use of 24 claws instead of 23. Plus teeth, of course.) He rolled one way, and suddenly I saw a tick on the floor. He rolls back, and it’s gone.

The game was called (too many players on the field) and some vigorous combing began. Being a typical boy who prefers grooming on his own terms, Iz was not cooperative; the kitten mitten was called in to aid in subduing him, but inevitably Iz was the only one not bleeding. Cleaning the brush, I found the tick clinging to the shed hair.

I found a bottle of hydrogen peroxide left over from sterilizing my stitches (with Iz in the house, it’s always a good idea to have something to sterilize stitches with,) poured about half a cup into a glass, and combed the tick into the peroxide. Oh, says the tick, disinfectant bath. He paddles around on the surface, obtusely unaware that he is the infection. Using an implement, I push him under. He turns out to be a diver. I hold him under. He climbs up the implement. I push him under again, then remove the implement. He stays under, but keeps ticking. Er, kicking.

After two minutes in the toxic kiddy pool I have determined empirically that ticks are not bothered by peroxide. I’ve heard that isopropyl alcohol is better, but I have no alcohol of any sort readily available, not that I would waste consumables on a tick.

Instead I decide on that all-purpose tool of the modern world, the microwave. Thirty seconds on high, and the eight legs curl up in a little tiny ball. Entirely more effort than it deserved, of course.

The unanswered question, though, is how it got in to begin with; Iz doesn’t go outside. Either it came in the house on its own, or hitched a ride on one of us. I’m not really comfortable with either option.

Now playing: Seen Your Video from Let It Be by The Replacements

Posted by pjm at 11:08 AM | Comments (0)

May 14, 2004


Two summers ago (I think) it was some wicked hot around 4th of July. Coming back in from Second Wind on two different occasions, I helped my father moor it, then stripped to shorts and swam back to the dock rather than take the dinghy (predictably enough named Puffin.)

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, in a pleasant-reminiscence sort of way. Maybe it’s because we got a taste, earlier this week, of how summer can be as unpleasant as winter in its own way. Maybe it’s because my usual pool is closed now. Or maybe because Second Wind had sea trials yesterday in advance of a potential sale.

Now playing: Walls (Circus) from She’s The One by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Posted by pjm at 4:27 PM | Comments (0)

May 2, 2004

Community watch

While I’ve mentioned geocaching in the context of a hunt and the reward of the find, a large part of it is community driven. There is something utterly different about standing in the middle of the woods, a fair way from anything deliberate, holding this (relatively) tiny box that someone hid, knowing that they told you the secret of where it was and now you’ve found it. Just as powerful is the thought of the people who found it before you and those who will find it afterward. My father and I both enjoy paging through the logbook at each cache we find. When you do a few caches in a particular area, you start to recognize handles, handwriting, and the kinds of trades people make. You start learning the styles of particular cache hiders. You wonder if people are starting to recognize these things in your logs and your caches.

It’s a funny community that develops, since we seldom actually see each other. Even on a busy weekend, it’s rare and faintly exciting when someone else visits a cache on the same day I do. We walk the same paths, but only rarely do we actually meet in person.

I did some caching with the community in mind on Saturday morning. I went up to South Deerfield and followed the Pocumtuck Ridge Trail from the Mount Sugarloaf auto road around the southeast shoulder of North Sugarloaf and up to the ledge that looks south towards Sugarloaf itself. There is—or was—a cache there called “Valley View Too” which hadn’t been found since last May, though with only one “Did Not Find” logged since then. (Curiously, the caching slang for a failed search, “DNF”, is the same as the runners’ slang for a failed race, where it indicates “Did Not Finish.”)

The caching community only knows the state of a cache by the reports on the website. A string of successful find logs means the cache is probably there and in decent shape (unless the logs indicate otherwise.) A string of DNFs should prompt the owner (who presumably can find it without trouble, since they remember where they put it) to head out and verify that it’s really still there, or, in the case of disaster, clean up the wreckage and list the cache as closed.

I wanted to add another bit of information to the collection about Valley View Too, and unfortunately it was another DNF to the list. I suspect the owner is no longer paying attention—the cache is now a year and a half old—so I requested that it be archived unless someone who knew its actual location could verify that it existed. I didn’t do this lightly; I searched feasible locations within a hundred-foot radius of the coordinates reported by both the original hider and the only later finder to report coordinates (not everyone reports where they find the cache, but considering how inaccurate these things can be despite their precision, I think it’s worth adding to the pool of data.) I spent between 45 minutes and an hour at the mountaintop.

It’s frustrating to log a DNF—I logged another in the afternoon—because it’s not always clear why you couldn’t find it. When you make a successful find, probability snaps into one scenario: successful find. When you DNF, it’s not clear why. Would I have found it if I’d searched just a little longer? Was I distracted by the snake or the flowers (I got pictures—what, I’m not going to enjoy my time in the woods?) and miss looking in the last place where it was hidden? Or is it simply not there, carried off by the owner, a non-cacher who stumbled on it by accident, or even a bear?

The advantage of this frustration is that it raises that question for the community. Hopefully someone else will see that question and set out to answer it.

Meanwhile, I got a great walk on a nice day, and went somewhere I hadn’t been before.

Now playing: Harrisburg from Golden Age Of Radio by Josh Ritter

Update: Two more DNFs were logged on Valley View Too on Sunday, making me feel a bit less incompetent. I am amused, however, that it got two visits in a year, then three on one weekend!

Posted by pjm at 6:05 PM | Comments (0)

April 23, 2004

The chase

TBP, esq. at Unbillable Hours went geocaching. He’s got commenting turned off, so I have to make my comments here.

I’ve played around with geocaching for nearly a year, though I haven’t been out much in 2004. (There was one weekend last year where I hunted up seven caches, which isn’t bad out here in Western Massachusetts but would be small-time in the eastern part of the state.) I’ve even placed two.

The appeal of geocaching is that it takes you somewhere you might not ordinarily go. For me, it pulls me out of the five or six miles between home and work and helps me explore this area by seeking out little boxes. It’s definitely an odd sport; there’s seldom anything in the caches you’d actually want to have, unless you’re the age of my nieces (and a lot of people do this with their kids, so that’s A Good Thing.) But there’s a brief rush of accomplishment when, for example, you’re staring at what appears to be a blank rock wall, and suddenly the one rock out of place practically jumps out at you and turns out to have a tupperware container behind it. I suppose that feeling must be similar to those Magic Eye things I could never see.

But I think it’s reasonable to say that I would never have explored places like the Keystone Arches, for example, without geocaching. And if running isn’t getting me outdoors as much as I’d like, well, caching will fill in the blanks.

Posted by pjm at 9:41 AM | Comments (1)

April 14, 2004

Straight from the bottle

Every spring, a farmer from nearby Leverett taps the maple trees next to the office. You know spring is inevitable when trees for miles around sprout buckets.

Every year, until it arrives, I forget that the “toll” paid for tapping the trees on our property is a pint of the good stuff for each of us. It’s on my desk now.

Mmmm. Lunch.

Posted by pjm at 10:21 AM | Comments (2)

April 8, 2004


I put out this cache, very near to where I work, on Tuesday afternoon, and listed it on the Geocaching website that night.

This morning, the first finder came by, and logged the cache around lunchtime today.

What I want to know is, what took them so long?

Posted by pjm at 1:35 PM | Comments (0)

March 17, 2004

That is the question

Well, twenty-four hours later (with some breaks, I’ll admit) there are still white flakes coming down, but no longer the it’s-going-to-be-going-for-a-few-more-hours type. The question in my mind now is, how fast will it melt? Or, to put a finer point on it, will I be caching this weekend, or skiing? A lot of the ski areas—including both of my favorites, the ones that groom for skating—have already closed for the season. Maybe I should be snowshoeing for caches?

Posted by pjm at 2:06 PM | Comments (0)

March 11, 2004


Ran for the 8:35 bus, missed it anyway, and waited for the 8:50. What is taking them so long with my car, anyway? Yesterday I was thinking I could get along pretty well without a car, but now that I'm wondering, it's bothering me.

Still, the pond at UMass was a vertiable traffic jam of Canada geese, presumably making a rest stop on the way back up north. And the sky is about as blue as we're going to see it in March. It's that kind of day.

Posted by pjm at 9:18 AM | Comments (0)

February 27, 2004

The picture

I've had a few mentions of the picture, so I should probably explain it a bit.

Chekhov version: that's not me. I took it, though.

Tolstoy version: Fourth of July, 2003. Maine's mid-coast was wrapped in fog for most of the weekend, which was better than oppressive heat but didn't save me from fading to third in the annual road race. After the also-annual cookout with extended family, my father offered a cruise in Second Wind, his boat at the time.

In the fog, you couldn't see from one side of the New Meadows to the other, but Dad has a GPSr and is happy to go "gunkholing" in the little anchorages along the river to see who (and what) is at anchor, like window-shopping for boats. After working down the east side as far as Sebasco, we crossed over to the Harpswell side and looked in at Cundy's Harbor.

There was a racous cookout going on one of the draggers, maybe two or three families. Grill and beer on the fantail, inflatable raft on the outboard (port) side. On the starbord side, they had the "wings" (I'll never remember the right phrase) which is used to spread the nets, rigged out wide. A line was run through the block on the wing and one end made fast somewhere on deck. The kids were climbing up to the flying bridge, pulling in the free end of the line, and using it as a rope swing out into the harbor. Once the current swinger had released the line, the next in line would reel it back in and take their turn.

I got lucky and snapped a shot as one hotshot was right at the top of his swing. Considering the conditions, I'm impressed that it came out as well as it did.

When I registered this domain (another story, another time) it seemed like the perfect illustration. Of course, now if you do a Google image search on Cundy's Harbor I come up on the first page...

Posted by pjm at 10:29 PM | Comments (1)

February 24, 2004

Paper nest

On the route I ran today, there is a paper wasp nest in a tree. When the tree is leafed out, the nest would be pretty much invisible, but right now it sticks out like a volleyball.

Having just finished Bernd Heinrich's Winter World (which also gave me the name for the FTP server I mentioned a few days ago), I'm now curious about the fate of the nest. If I remember correctly, abandoned wasp nests are recycled by other nest builders (birds, squirrels, chipmunks) which are in abundance around here; the paper is prized by some species. How do they know if the nest is abandoned? I can't remember if wasps overwinter in the nests (probably not), or if they just hold the queen, or eggs, or none of the above. Is any wasp nest in winter an abandoned wasp nest?

This kept me puzzling until the end of the run, when I noticed that, thanks to the amount of time I've been in the pool lately, I smell like heavy-duty household solvents when I sweat. The miasma might even be poisonous, but I'd have to confirm that with chemistry I recall even less than the ins and outs of wasp nests.

Posted by pjm at 9:13 AM | Comments (0)

February 22, 2004

I am the man...

Flying visit to Nantucket (out Saturday, back Sunday, ~24hr. from on the ferry to off the ferry in Hyannis) this weekend, sprung from a desire not to spend the whole weekend in Amherst.

Details may come later with pictures.

Posted by pjm at 10:43 PM | Comments (0)