Life browsing by category


Farewell Voyage

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

Given that bicycling is pretty much the only thing I enjoy that has anything to do with fitness, I try to indulge it when the opportunity presents itself. Which is how I wound up owning four bicycles, not including the stationary exercise one. And having not ridden the folding recumbent for quite a while, I was starting to think it was time to thin the herd.

I’d bought this one some time ago, when I had both a recumbent fixation and a desire to be able to get the bicycle in an airplane. Green Gear, out of Eugene, Oregon, offered just what I wanted, but at an outrageous price. I kept my eyes on the ‘closeouts’ page of their web site, and when the right deal came up I jumped on it.

The Sat-R-Day folding recumbent was sort of a ‘dancing bear’ item – what made it special was not how effectively it folded, but that it folded it at all. In about ten minutes it could be disassembled into pieces small enough to fit into a large black zippered bag. Somewhat unwieldy, but still able to fit in the back of a car or airplane. That bike and I visited perhaps a dozen airports in maybe half a dozen states, yet surprisingly, I think I only put about 700 miles on it.

A new bike better suited to longer trips surfaced a few years ago, and then, when a Brompton showed up on Craig’s list for a price that was only unreasonable and not completely absurd, that joined the stable as well. The Brompton is a marvel of engineering, a design refined over more than twenty years of incremental improvements. It’s lighter than the Sat-R-Day, folds into a much smaller package, and I can unfold it in about a minute. (There’s a guy on YouTube who does it in ten seconds!)

So the Sat-R-Day tended to be left behind when a trip requiring a folder came up. And no bike should be left gathering dust, so I reluctantly decided that it was time for this once pride and joy to find a new home.

Wanting to be sure that it was performing properly, I decided to take my signature ‘Shining Seas Triangle’ ride, about twenty-eight miles, the centerpiece being Cape Cod’s Shining Seas Bike Trail. The season, at least for me, is nearing to a close; as I left the house I was disappointed to see my breath fogging in front of me. RIP summer.

A few miles out, I’m cold, but not desperately so. The gloves help, nothing can make a ride as miserable for me as frozen knuckles. There’s close to zero wind, which helps. At one point I ride past a large open field that’s in direct sunlight. A warm mass of air envelopes me – nice. Its humid air and my glasses fog over immediately – not so nice.

The ride continues. It’s said that recumbents and conventional bikes exercise different muscles, or exercise the same muscles differently. Something’s definitely going on – I’m having a much tougher time of this than I expected. After about seven miles, I make it to the north end of the bike path. The next ten miles will be mostly level, through forest and cranberry bogs, past lakes and marshes, and even along a section of sandy beach alongside the Martha’s Vineyard Sound. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve done this ride, but every time it’s a delight. I slow down for a moment to enjoy the view across Fresh Pond in North Falmouth. I do a double-take at the dog statue dressed in a Halloween tee-shirt thoughtfully provided by a homeowner whose property abuts the trail. I jump on the brakes to avoid a chipmunk who darts across my path.

Eventually I make it to Woods Hole, and park the bike in front of my usual breakfast place. Standing up for the first time in ninety minutes, that thought about leg muscles and recumbents surfaces with a vengeance. Maybe being mildly sore doesn’t mean I’ve burned more calories, but it does make the pancakes incrementally easier to justify.

Heading back to the bike, the discomfort in my legs is even more obvious. The remaining ten miles back home will definitely take longer than the previous ten.

But a combination of patience and low gear ratios results in my pulling up in front of my garage about an hour later, very much alive, but not quite ready for another ten miles.

Mission accomplished. I survived the ride, and I can sell the bike in good conscience, knowing that, despite its age, its functioning well enough for a not-particularly-fit rider to knock out twenty-eight miles on a beautiful, clear Sunday morning. Hopefully its next owner will have as much fun with this interesting little machine as I have.


A Visit To The Fair

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

A not-so-recent article in the New York Times archive is making the rounds. It was originally written in 1964, by the venerable Isaac Asimov, at the time of the 1964 World’s Fair. The article speculates on what a World’s Fair fifty years in the future might be like.

It’s an interesting piece. When viewing works like this (and I’ll take a look at another one next week), it’s interesting to see where the masters hit, and where they missed. But the most obvious miss here is that there won’t be a World’s Fair of 2014.

Why? Well, probably lots of reasons. There’s a saying that whenever the question ‘why’ is asked, nine times out of ten the answer is ‘money’. And that’s surely a factor here. But there’s plenty of money out there. We live in an age where there are privately-funded space programs going on! So it’s really not about the money, but rather the will to spend it. And the bottom line here is that somewhere over the last fifty years, we, as a culture, stopped celebrating the future. Or, as a friend of mine who, as a child, witnessed the construction of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge put it, “People were in favor of progress back then.”

Consider the Dystopian Future sub-genre of science fiction. Probably the only major work in that realm that was around in the sixties was The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells, already almost sixty years old. Imagine a work like Blade Runner being released back then. The Nazis had just been vanquished, the biggest problem in Detroit had was fulfilling the county’s insatiable demand, and we were on the way to the moon. To say it wouldn’t have been popular would be an understatement. Today, with the threat of international terrorism, environmental catastrophe, economic collapse, and much, much more, well, the future just isn’t what it used to be.

Or is that really the case? Where today we worry about terror attacks, in the sixties we worried about Soviet nuclear attack. And for whatever their other strengths and weaknesses might be, the Soviets were definitely better armed than your average contemporary terrorist. Back then, millions were dying of natural causes in their sixties, of diseases that are routinely treated today. Somewhere between then and now, being poor took on a whole new meaning; what once meant missing meals, now means carrying a crappy voice-only cell phone instead of an iPhone. Bottom line: whatever is wrong in the world today, and plenty is, there are more people enjoying a higher standard of living now than in any other time in human history. That’s true of the United States, and it’s true of the world. It may not be true in isolated pockets of population in various places, but that’s far more an issue of local political forces than global phenomenon.

So how and why did we become such pessimists? Part of it may be that we can see so much farther now than we could fifty years ago. If you’re living in a peaceful bucolic small town, it’s easy to be optimistic. But if you’re receiving a barrage of television and internet news, intent on informing you of every latest disaster, it’s tough not to be affected. Consider an extreme example, the Sandy Hook shooting. Without in any way discounting the magnitude of the tragedy, its important to remember that if an event like that was to happen every single day of the year, the total number of lives lost would still be less than one percent of our annual death toll. But we’re wired to react viscerally to every piece of bad news as though it happened to someone in our village. I think we need to make a conscious effort to avoid this; to take the news with a pound of salt.

We also tend to be less prudent than we were 50 years ago. As evidence, consider the epidemic of consumer debt… or the fact that stockpiling food, something anyone in the Midwest would have been doing 100 years ago, is now considered by many to be a fringe ‘survivalist’ activity. I think that prudent people tend to be more optimistic, because they’ve prepared to weather whatever comes their way… or at least they think they are.

Which of course begs the question ‘Why are people less prudent now?’ And I’ll leave that as an exercise for another day.

First World Problems

Monday, August 12th, 2013

We had the good fortune last weekend to enjoy a well-performed rendition of Fiddle On The Roof at a local playhouse. (If you’re unfamiliar with the show, go here, read, and come back.) Mostly, Fiddler is about cultural change, told through the vehicle of the protagonist’s daughters choosing to marry for love, rather than accepting arranged marriages. But the back story resonated with me as well, that of an small village living in abject poverty, eventually being displaced by a decree from the Tzar.

Which got me thinking about a phrase that’s been getting some traction lately: “First World Problems”. If you’re reading this, you’re almost certainly one of the global one percenters; you live in a heated home, you’re more at risk for obesity than malnutrition, and its unlikely that you’ll be evicted by the Tzar any time soon¹.

But you’ve got first-world problems, instead. Examples:

When you travel with your children, you carry so much ‘kid equipment’ that you had to trade in your sedan for a mini-van.

With 400 channels of cable, there are three shows you’d like to watch tonight, but your DVR can only record two simultaneously.

Jet lag.


As annoying as these may be, they don’t include things like roving gangs of marauders killing you, raping your wife, and enslaving your children.

Does this make your first-world problems trivial? Of course not.

Well… actually, maybe it does.

Agreed, they may not seem trivial. But a bit of time reflecting on the way things once were, or perhaps could someday again be, helps breed sanity in dealing with the affairs of day-to-day life². I highly recommend it.


1- OTOH…
2- HT to Nevil Shute


Monday, July 22nd, 2013

I’m going to guess that more than half of the blogs out there consist primarily of regular entries beginning with “I haven’t been blogging much lately…” Well, guilty as charged. The last entry here was more than six months ago. You see, I’ve been busy with clients, traveling, tied up on other projects…


No excuses. I ran across this a few days ago: Now I’m sure that I’d need scientific notation to enumerate all the ‘advice to aspiring authors’ articles ever written. But one of Mr. Howey’s key points is to take the endeavor seriously, as you would any other thing of importance. So thanks for the kick in the tush, Mr. H.

And on to other things.

I was out of the country when Asiana 214 slammed into the seawall at the approach end of runway 28L in San Francisco. At first, all I knew of the event was the fuzzy picture of the burned-out hulk, as viewed on the ancient television set in the living room of our bed and breakfast in Bermuda. Tough to get any useful information, even allowing for the fact that there really isn’t much useful information to be had so soon after such an event.


This is traditionally the point at which we say that it’s improper to draw conclusions until all the facts are in. But I’m not an NTSB investigator, or an AP reporter, or a talking head on the television. I’m just an opinionated guy who flies the small stuff from time to time, weighing in with his two cents.

So, with those caveats taken care of, I’ll say that it sure looks like the crew of that airplane screwed up big-time. If you want the particulars, the Wikipedia article about the crash is pretty complete. But it left me thinking that this wasn’t a very ‘satisfying’ accident.

What I mean by that is that it wasn’t a case of a crew fighting against a major mechanical failure, or one that somehow wound up in an impossible-to-anticipate situation. It was just a couple of guys who, on a perfectly clear day with no significant wind, flew a perfectly-functioning 200 million dollar airplane into the ground.

And it’s even more troubling in context. Consider Air France 447; a highly trained crew stalling an Airbus 330 from 38,000 feet all the way down into the icy Atlantic. Or Colgan Air 3407, in which an admittedly fatigued crew managed to stall a Bombardier Q400 into the ground outside of Buffalo.

These are the sort of accidents that guys like me are supposed to be having, not the professionals.

And where it leaves me is with my view of the pros as steely-eyed aviation gods, with thousand of hours of experience and hyper-effective training, starting to erode. Could they perhaps be only human, and subject to the same foibles as the rest of us?

If that’s the case, and the evidence is increasingly pointing in that direction, then maybe this is as good as it gets, and we just need to expect an accident like this every few years. And all in all, it’s really not that bad, when you think about it. Asiana 214 killed three people; nearly that many die every hour in traffic accidents.

But it’s still troubling. And I can’t help but think that we’re missing something.

Getting Back On The Horse

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Last Saturday was one of those days that divides time into a before and an after. After sixty uneventful years, our airport experienced its first fatal accident. A landing aircraft, for reasons unknown, veered off the runway and crashed into a section of woods between two homes, killing one person on board and severely injuring two others. Being at the other end of the field, I didn’t know about it until several hours later.

Mercifully, I wasn’t one of the first on the scene, and don’t have images of explosions and burned passengers imprinted in my memory. In fact, I had no real desire to visit the crash site; I didn’t look closely until several days later, after the NTSB had been and gone. Beyond the charred trees though, there wasn’t much visible – when a fiberglass airplane burns, little remains.

The field reopened the next day, and as I had plans for a trip, I could see no reason not to launch. No logical reason, that is.

We all process our mortality in our own way. Most of the time, death happens offstage, out of the way, where we don’t have to deal with it directly. We’re not supposed to have our noses rubbed in it on a beautiful summer morning, amid blue skies and a pleasant breeze.

Our airfield is slightly less than half a mile long, and on takeoff there’s a fleeting moment when you start thinking that faith does play an element in this. Tach and manifold pressure normal, ground speed increasing, past 50 knots and I need 68 before I can fly… those trees are coming up awfully fast. Ease back on the yoke and we leave the ground; wheels up so we can climb as quickly as possible, and clear the trees by as much as possible. The airplane’s performance is documented and predictable – a table in the operating handbook tells what distance is needed to leave the ground, and to clear a fifty-foot obstacle. The engine and the rest of the plane are meticulously maintained, the fuel is proper and uncontaminated by water, and there’s nothing challenging about today’s weather. So why do I feel like I’ve cheated death?

Level at cruise altitude, autopilot on, new age music on the player, and some time to pause and reflect. Perhaps it would simplify things to remove this risk factor from my life. There would be financial benefits, too. I notice a small, lone sailboat somewhere off the coast of Newport, and I wonder if it’s pilot is having similar thoughts.

Most likely, I’ll be dead fifty years from now. I can run my life in a manner that will stretch that time for as long as possible, but the years would be unbearably empty. No bicycling. No pastry. No flying. And a bunch more nos that I can’t even think of right now.

All told, I think I’d rather spend the time Living, even at the risk of shortening it some. I push the disengage button on the autopilot and fly it by hand for a while. After all, that’s why I’m here.

RIP Neil Armstrong 1930-2012

Sunday, August 26th, 2012

What do you write in tribute for the first man to walk on another world?

It’s a tough act to follow, that’s for sure. If you’re of a certain age, you remember sitting in front of the television that night, gazing at the grainy black and white image, waiting, waiting, waiting… To this then-teenager it seemed like forever. And then, man’s first steps on the moon.

Being a techie, I can’t help but be amazed at what was accomplished with what they had to work with. The early 1960s: mechanical design done by hand, calculations done with a slide rule, and sitting atop close to five million pounds of kerosene and liquid oxygen hoping nobody dropped a decimal point. I read somewhere that when Kennedy delivered his famous speech in 1961 about “…landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth [by the end of the decade]”, the reaction of the rank and file at NASA was ‘What?! Is he out of his f*****g mind?’

But we pulled it off. And so my teen years were lived against the backdrop of Great Things happening. Sure, I was a child of a bunch of other things, too; the situation in Southeast Asia was nowhere near as inspiring. But that moon thing was tough to ignore. And it’s probably a factor in why I’m generally unsatisfied with status quos, even if they’re pretty good ones.

Not long ago, I came across this little gem:

The vaguely parabolic curve seems to unfortunately map to our achievement as a people over the same time period. Or maybe not; it’s tough to see into the future, as anyone alive on September 10, 2001 could tell you.

But its easier to do Great Things when Great Things are obviously happening around you. And it’s sad that the Great Things we’re doing today don’t have the panache of landing a man on the moon. Because some of them are pretty cool – miracle drugs that quietly save the lives of thousands who would otherwise have died of ‘natural causes’. New materials that make it possible to build structures, vehicles, and devices that would otherwise never have been built. The fact that we take it for granted that we can communicate with pretty much anyone, anywhere in the world instantly, and essentially for free. The list goes on. But it’s all incremental, and in a sense, expected.

I think a zeitgeist of Great Things happening around us inspires us to get more out of our lives. And that’s why things like the moon mission are important.

Thanks Neil. In addition to everything else, you made a difference for this kid.


Personal Limits

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

Menauhant Beach at 6:15 AM again. There’s a fisherman about two jetties to the west, but other than that and a few empty cars in the parking lot I have the place to myself. I wade into the water thigh-deep and then do my signature move for getting wet quickly: face the beach and fall backward. No time to change your mind. In a moment I’m floating on my back enjoying the temperate water and barely noticeable breeze.

A few hundred feet offshore there is a float marking the limit of the swimming area. Ostensibly it’s there to discourage boaters from mowing down swimmers. At this time of morning there are no boaters nearby and I’m the only swimmer.

I’m not a strong swimmer. I can keep my head above water and move around a bit, but its unlikely I’d ever win any sort of competition, at least in part because I’d never enter in the first place. But swimming out to the float has been on my mind since we moved here two springs ago.

Trying it when the lifeguard is on duty would seem the prudent course. I looked at a marine chart for the area last summer – once you’re away from the beach, the depth falls off rapidly to about twenty-five feet. Though once it’s a foot or two deeper than your height, does it really matter?

The water is calm, and I swim a bit further away from the shore. The float is now bigger, more tempting, and actually easier to reach – I’m already a third of the way there.

It’d be a shame to drown out here. If it went that way, the fisherman would probably hear my screams, but would he try to do anything about it? I can’t imagine the 911 responders getting there in less than the four minutes it takes for irreversible brain damage to occur due to asphyxiation.

Morbid thoughts. I continue swimming, telling myself that I’m just going to go a little closer. I can come back when a lifeguard is on duty to actually go out all the way, and maybe even ask beforehand if we’re allowed to swim that far. The float is even bigger now. Even more tempting. I can see some of the fissures in the red ‘Boats Keep Out’ diamond.

Seventy degrees, some high clouds, wind no more than a few knots. Not a bad day to die. Not a bad place to do so either. And everyone does, eventually.

The float is looming above me. I reach it, touch it, and shove off back to the shore. Mostly, it drifts away from my push and I get little additional momentum.

I sense that my respiration rate is up a bit as I swim back to shore, but nowhere near what I’d consider cause for concern. A moment later, I’m trudging through the muddy sand where water meets shore, and in another I’m sipping from the thermos of coffee that was in my bike’s saddle bag.

An achievement. Probably one that every teenager on the Cape has already realized, but an achievement still. There is a school of thoughts that suggests pushing past limits in one portion of your life empowers you to do the same in other portions. Which of course begs the question:

What boundary needs pushing on next?



Saturday, August 11th, 2012

If you would not be forgotten
As soon as you are dead and rotten,
Either write things worthy reading,
Or do things worth the writing.

– Benjamin Franklin


Its probably a bit late for #2, so I’d better focus on #1.

On achievements, and life

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

A recent article from my old stomping grounds tells of a fellow who’s been driving a 1966 Volvo P1800S since it was new, and is just a few thousand miles from reaching the 3 million mile mark. Since 1966 isn’t particularly old for an airplane, that got me thinking about the comparison.

A very high-time Skyhawk from 1966 might have as much as 10,000 hours on the airframe. At 110 knots (optimist that I am), that would equate to about 1.2 million miles. A clear win for the Volvo. Working the math the other way, assuming an average road speed of 40 mph, that three million mile Volvo was on the road for 75,000 hours, or about 4.5 hours a day, every day for 46 years. Or in different units, 8.5 continuous years of driving.

I’m quite impressed by what Mr Gordon’s accomplished. But I’ve reached a point in my life where I realize that I don’t have an unlimited amount of time here, and using it optimally is important to me. So without in any way diminishing his achievement, I do find myself asking whether, of all the things he could have done with that 75,000 hours, was setting this record the most rewarding of all possibilities?

Memorial Day Post

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

One of the nice things about moving is that all around you is new again. When we lived in New York, there wasn’t much I could see around me that I hadn’t seen thousands of times in the past. That’s not so any more.

Yesterday, I decided to take care of a self-imposed errand that had been in the back of my mind since we moved here – to bicycle over the Sagamore Bridge, along the north canal bike path, and then back over the Bourne Bridge. I’ve driven over these dozens of times, always lamenting that I couldn’t just stop and enjoy the views. Much easier to do so on a bicycle.

About a mile or so west of the Sagamore Bridge, I briefly noticed a monument of some sort above and to my right. I took several seconds to think through ‘I want to finish this ride, no, I’m not in a hurry, probably its not worth looking at, maybe it is…’ and screech to a halt. I turned the bike around, pedaled to the monument, and climbed the twenty or so steps to its base.


Quite the contrast to a beautiful spring day, the morning haze just starting to lift.

I imagine of all the ways to go, drowning in a breached submarine has to be among the worst. Small solace that a war was being slowly, painfully, won on the surface above.

The monument speaks of 3500-plus men who realized the importance of what they were doing, and did it. I’m indebted to them – if they hadn’t done so, I’d probably be writing this in German. Or given my religion, more likely not writing it at all.

I can’t help but reflect on what those men were at the age of eighteen, and what I was at that age. It wasn’t that many years that separated us – only about thirty or so. But somehow, they ‘got’ something that I didn’t, and I’m only beginning to understand now. Why? I’m not sure; it bears further investigation. But in the mean time, I can still be grateful for their deeds.

Rest in peace.