Walking

I’ve been walking, despite the weather (and the sometimes abominable condition of streets & sidewalks): about three miles a day, according to my pedometer.

The limiting factor in how far I walk isn’t anything I would have guessed, back in the days when walking two blocks would leave me winded. I stop walking – and head for the nearest bus stop – mostly because I get bored. Not tired.

(Well, yes, and also because my feet hurt; but that’s because my sneakers are wearing out. Perhaps next month I will replace them.)

Winter

…and here we are, five weeks into the winter of 2014 – 2015, with eight weeks (less a day) remaining.

One might argue that winter really began a month before the solstice, with an unexpected weeklong cold snap that brought single-digit overnight lows. That was the inflection point, when normal changed from autumnal (warm, with occasional cold) to wintry (cold, with occasional warmth).

It’s the sort of transition visible only in hindsight.

We’ve had a few storms. The last one dropped an inch or so of slush, that froze afterward into a treacherous glaze on sidewalks & secondary streets all over town. Perversely, the ice was worse where people had tried to clear the sidewalks.

The schools have taken two snow days – though it was subzero temperatures, not snow, that kept the kids home. A week later, it was just as cold, but school was on. Go figure.

I walk as much as I can, despite the weather. Putting 10,000 steps on the pedometer is relatively easy these days: more a question of opportunity and motivation than of stamina. The cold doesn’t bother me too much, though I wouldn’t turn up my nose a knee-length wool coat & a good scarf.

I’ve looked everywhere for a heavy wool greatcoat, but all I’ve found are costumes for military re-enacters and decades-old army surplus. (Some moth damage, the vendor confessed. Suitable for costume use.) Other styles – trenchcoats, topcoats, overcoats – seem mostly intended for twentysomething hipsters.

There’s nothing for an old man who’s tired of being cold.

So, until I find (and acquire!) the coat of my dreams, I layer up, minimize exposed skin, and think of spring: fifty-five days, and counting.

Baggage

Most mornings, I leave for work. (Some days, I stay home.) I carry with me a few things:

  • Wallet
  • Phone
  • Travel mug (contents: coffee, essential)
  • Lunch bag (contents: lunch)
  • Bifocals (for indoor / outdoor use)
  • Reading glasses (for computer use)
  • Fitbit One (for step counting)

That’s not so much, as gear lists go. I’ve heard of people who can’t face the world with less equipment than Lewis & Clark took up the Missouri, but I’m not one of them. Just the essentials, please.

I’ve tried over years a number of bags, backpacks, satchels, etc., etc., to carry all my stuff. A number of rejects – experiments that failed – are cluttering up the bedroom closet:

  • An old canvas briefcase. I’ve had it so long that I don’t remember any more where it came from. (The archives record that it came from Land’s End.)
  • A Timbuk2 messenger bag. (Most of the time, their prices are way over my budget; but once in 2012 their inventory-clearance prices dipped low enough that I could afford one.)
  • A backpack, picked up from Target way back in 2008.
  • Not one but two Wolfram Research tech-conference-swag “laptop bags”. (They’re identical. I’ve no idea how I ended up with two of them.)

I’ve settled for now on the lunch bag: it holds my lunch, with enough pockets left over for everything else. It’s not perfect, but it works.

That might change, if I were to acquire a sufficiently portable work computer. The one I have now – a fine example of the Soviet Architecture school of design – is far too heavy to lug around. It stays at work, and pretty much never leaves my desk.

Something smaller and (much) lighter, in a messenger bag large enough to accommodate lunch & travel mug – that would be nice. I have the notion to sit at the library, sipping a latte while vpn’d in to work, checking on builds.

Internet of Things

Much chatter of late on the so-called Internet of Things: connecting to the internet gadgets & appliances that previously weren’t connected to anything.

I suppose I’m participating, in a small and relatively private way, with the (ongoing, eternally unfinished) Yard-Cam project; but I’m not all that interested in providing internet access to the refrigerator, thermostat, washer & dryer, light bulbs, etc., etc.

What would I do with all these newly-networked devices? Adjust the thermostat while riding the bus? Start a load of laundry from work? (Can the Internet of Things move laundry from washer to dryer? Didn’t think so.) Flush the toilet from across town?

I don’t want my toilet on some Bulgarian botnet.

(It occurs to me that the U-verse router is already having problems, servicing the computers we’ve connected to it. Were we to pile on two dozen more wifi connections for light bulbs & assorted frippery, the wretched thing would likely melt down.)

Goodbye to 2008

This morning, I retrieved the 2008 archives from long-term storage (i.e., the closet in #1 son’s bedroom), and shredded everything: old bank statements, utility bills, insurance papers, even some medical records.

My cholesterol in 2008 was…normal.

2008 was the year I bought a Sidekick, my first phone that didn’t have a hinge in the middle. It had a gorgeous screen, a surprisingly good keyboard, and – best of all – a great camera.

I had a grand time with my Sidekick, until Microsoft managed to destroy both the company that made it (Danger) and the data center that it relied on.

Way to go, ’softies.

The accordion folder previously dedicated to 2008 will now receive the 2015 archives (which are currently piled on my desk, and very much in the way). A year from now, it will go (back) in the closet; six years after that, it will be time to say goodbye to 2015.

Archery

Jake had an archery tournament today, at Potomac Grade School, in…wait for it…Potomac, Illinois.

Potomac is (more or less) twenty miles east of Rantoul on US 136: just east of Armstrong, where Jake had a tournament last year (and, if memory serves, the year before). It’s a small town – population 681, according to the hive mind – with not much of a downtown area, but with a surprisingly large cemetery.

It’s across the street from the school, which seems an odd location for such a thing.

The lettering on the front of the building was in the same Art Deco font as the (much-photographed) power plant in Austin, Texas. I have pictures of the plant, so I took a few of the school & posted one to Flickr. (Art Deco needs to be encouraged, everywhere it’s found.)

The facilities were a bit limited, compared to previous tournaments: archers shot only from ten meters, because the school gymnasium wasn’t wide enough to shoot from fifteen.

It’s interesting, watching a new sport get off the ground. New schools come online, new tournaments are scheduled. In a few years, everything will sort itself out.

Jake shot well, or so I’m told; I haven’t seen the scores. The next tournament isn’t until February.

Flickr

I said a while ago that I would cancel my Flickr Pro subscription, and go with a free account. I haven’t done that yet. I dither. I procrastinate.

Why?

Flickr’s been a disappointment for years. Keeping it is just foolish. Paying for it is inexplicable.

The worst thing about Flickr is that I don’t know anyone there. I have a few Flickr friends, but most of them have long since abandoned Flickr – for Facebook, for Instagram, or just for life out in the real world.

I still post pictures to Flickr – I’m fourteen days into the picture-every-day project; it’s going well; thanks for asking! – but it’s hard to shake the feeling of futility that comes from seeing single-digit view counts on every one. As often as not, that single digit is…zero.

The question Why do I bother? comes to mind, as does Adept Havelock’s trenchant observation, “Ballocks! I’m wasting my time.”

Perhaps I should switch to Instagram. Or just not post at all.

On false dichotomies

Two things in the news have been bouncing around in my head for a while, and I thought I’d opine a bit.


Item #1: The Interview.

Some people made a movie about assassinating Kim Jong Un. When I saw the previews – sitting in a theater, waiting for some other movie to begin – I thought: So dumb. Avoid. And put it from my mind.

(The capacity for self-deception in the television & movie industries never ceases to amaze me. The most egregious tripe makes it on the air, or in the theaters, because nobody involved seems to realize that it is egregious tripe.)

The North Koreans were not so sanguine; they took umbrage. Sony was hacked, possibly by the North Koreans, and cowed into cancelling release of the movie.

A bit later, Sony released it anyway, leading to speculation that the whole kerfuffle was a well-orchestrated publicity stunt for a movie that otherwise wouldn’t have earned back its catering budget.

Somehow, the idea took root that going to see The Interview was taking a stand for freedom of speech, not to mention thumbing one’s nose at a loathsome dictatorship. To me, it just seemed like a waste of two hours.


Item #2: Charlie Hebdo

A French magazine published cartoons satirizing Islam and things Islamic (most notably, the Prophet).

I’m told they satirized everything, not just Islam, but nobody cared much about the rest of it. Most people didn’t care much about any of it, but a few people took umbrage. Two of them – or three, possibly even four; reports from Paris are as yet unclear – staged an armed assault on the Charlie Hebdo editorial office: twelve dead, twenty wounded.

I’ve seen the magazine covers, and the cartoons. Perhaps, if I remembered any of the French I learned in high school, I might have appreciated the satire. I have doubts. The images were so crude & vulgar that I can’t imagine any captioning clever enough to redeem them.

There’s a hashtag on Twitter: #JeSuisCharlie. To the extent that it means No, God doesn’t want you to kill people, I agree with it. (That doesn’t mean you’ll see it on my Twitter account. I don’t do hashtags.) But if it means I’m expected to read the magazine, or agree with / approve of its ‘humor’, in order to express my disapproval of violence & murder – no, thanks.


Freedom of speech is a subtle concept, that trips up people who think life is nothing but simple problems with quick & easy answers. (This particular species of mind-rot typically comes from too much of the wrong kind of tv / radio. Turn off the set and think for yourself. You’ll be a better person for it.)

People are free to make a movie like The Interview, to publish a magazine like Charlie Hebdo. I’m free to think anyone who does has strayed from the path of wisdom.

That doesn’t mean I approve of hacking Sony, or of shooting up the Charlie Hebdo offices. I don’t.

I see no contradiction in that. Just because two people disagree, that doesn’t mean one of them must be right.

Seedling

I went for a walk this afternoon: five and a third miles, on uncleared streets & sidewalks, through freezing rain.

Crossing the big parking lot on the northeast corner of Church & Country Fair, I noticed some trash on the pavement: an empty cellophane packet, with a grocery-store logo and the label Poppy Seeds. Nearby on the ground: a second poppy-seed packet. And a third. And two plastic bottles, also poppy seeds.

It’s hard to imagine any culinary use for so much of a (relatively) obscure spice (especially in the middle of a parking lot). I interpreted it as a desperate attempt at recreational chemistry, one that surely ended in failure. According to Wikipedia, poppy seeds “do not contain significant amounts of opiates”.

On my walks around town, I see quite a bit of trash. People are slobs, but sometimes I almost feel sorry for them: any fella whose trash includes an empty liquor bottle and a condom wrapper probably isn’t leading the sort of life his Mama had wished for him; but when he leaves them on an exposed stretch of sidewalk…?

(Or are the litterbugs women? That would be even worse….)

Recent reading

The other day, I bought The Year’s Best SF #1, edited by David G. Hartwell. I was between books, and this one was 99¢ on the Kindle store: a bargain.

I wonder, sometimes, about all those 99¢ Kindle books. Surely nobody involved makes any money, selling e-books so cheaply. (In all likelihood, 99¢ doesn’t even cover the cost of bandwidth to download it.) Maybe they’re loss leaders? Am I supposed to read The Year’s Best SF #1, then rush to buy the rest of the series?

They’re all 99¢, up to #11; then the price begins to creep upward. #18, published just last year, is full price ($9.99). I could buy the complete series, for about the price of a single hardcover edition. That’s quite a deal for me, but what’s in it for the publisher?

The first story in #1 is Think Like A Dinosaur, by James Patrick Kelly…which, as it turns out, I’d read once before: probably in Gardner Dozois’ Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirteenth Annual Collection, published in 1996, the same year as #1. (But I didn’t read it until late 1997.)

I suppose there’s always a bit of overlap between Dozois and Hartwell.

My Hartwell Number – if we can pretend for a moment that such a metric exists, and isn’t completely frivolous – is four: David G. Hartwell edits (has edited?) anthologies with Kathryn Cramer, who has (once had?) some kind of business connection with Stephen Wolfram, who owns the company I work for.

I suppose that says more about the three of them than it does about me, but I’ll take my self-esteem anywhere I can get it.