Yesterday I figured I'd go out with the Arlington group again. (Saturday's trying-to-beat-the-rain mob apparently totalled three; yesterday maybe 20 people left the shop.) Temperatures in the 40s, plus a significant headwind, meant that everyone was being slow and cranky; we lost our Charismatic Leader (and, somehow, three other riders) in Concord to his second flat tire of the morning. Then going up to Carlisle I again fell into the "I'm 0.5 mph slower than the back of the group so I can *almost* keep up" pattern.

After Carlisle the collective decision ("it's cold", "it's my first week out this year", "how does the PMC expect me to raise so much money", "it took me 9 hours to ride 130 miles", "the wind sure is annoying") was to head straight back to civilization via 225, so we did. This eventually resulted in a smallish group coming back down the Minuteman so at least there was some company there.

Anyways, 41.83 miles in all is less than I was hoping for, but I was definitely glad to get home. (Route map) With various scheduling conflicts I have only two more weekends before the CRW spring century, but in between being able to take rest breaks and hopefully being able to make a runtime decision on length it still looks attractive. So far this coming weekend looks good, so I again need to make a decision on whether to go for speed or distance, or trying to tack on extra length to the back of the Arlington ride again. Decisions...
2411 units, 71 prefixes, 33 nonlinear units

You have: 1 kg/L
You want: stone/smoot^3
Unknown unit 'smoot'
You want: stone/(5.583 ft)^3
        * 775.9862
        / 0.0012886827

Guesses yesterday were "22" and "80". ("What's the density of water, in stone per cubic smoot?")

(Asking Google directly yields a slightly different answer, probably because of disagreement on what a "foot" is.)

Those who pay attention to my biking endeavors may recall that last week I went on a group ride in familiar territory, but somewhat faster than I usually go. This week I went with the same group on essentially the same ride (added about 5 miles in Carlisle) and it went significantly better for me.

A bicycle trip )

When all was said and done my bike computer had 58.85 miles on it for the day. And I was still able to run around and do things the rest of the afternoon. This does make the goofy four century plan look a little more plausible. (Route map)

Last night's game at the Bridge Spot had a different electronic scoring box that they were trying out, the BridgePad. These are smaller and flatter than the BridgeMate (I can hide the BridgePad under my convention card) and with a larger, backlit screen (in "traveler" mode you get sixish hands at a time, not two). The director mumbled something about being able to do more on the server end with them, which sounded a little more like there was better server-side software than that the capabilities of the boxes were actually any different.

I think overall I prefer the BridgeMate. The BridgePad's "NEXT" button that gets used for everything is the bottom-left, not bottom-right, button, and that feels counter-intuitive; the 2x5 digit layout rather than a 3x3 keypad layout also is a little harder to use. Entering a contract BridgePad makes you push "NEXT" one more time (3, spades, NEXT, N/S) than BridgeMate. I didn't actually find the display that much better, and I heard some complaints going around about the smaller size. BridgeMate explicitly prompts North to have either East or West push "OK" to verify the score, and if you're new to this class of electronic scoring device I could see not realizing that was the correct mechanic with BridgePad.

This doesn't mean that the technology is a bad idea, and both products claim to integrate with ACBLscore (at the Bridge Spot this means the director mostly sits around at the end of the night hitting "reload"). If the larger screen is the BridgePad's big feature the client software could make much better use of it; I think BridgeMate has a better physical form factor and is somewhat more usable on a couple of axes.
At [livejournal.com profile] nuclearpolymer's suggestion I went to the Quad Cycles Fitness Ride starting in Arlington Heights. (Via means not totally understood by me I wound up abandoning everyone I might have known on the trip.) I'd describe it as a medium-core ride going to well-trod areas of Concord and Carlisle, with a couple of back-road connections I wasn't totally aware of plus a route back from Concord I hadn't found yet orbiting the back of Hanscom.

Did I say "medium-core"? I felt like the slow end of the group was maybe half a notch faster than I was; I could often keep up with the tail end of the half-dozen people I was following until I'd start falling behind, and I'd trickle last into the next rest stop. The group as a whole was large enough that there were lots of options, so if you wanted to go faster or slower or shorter or longer there were choices. (I think a very few people including myself took the longer option back from Carlisle through Concord, but it happened to include the group leader, so there was at least someone to escort me back.)

Shop-to-shop I rode 39 miles in almost exactly 3 hours, counting the short breaks, so a 13 mph average. Counting the ride to and from Arlington Heights, I got 49.07 miles...which isn't bad for aiming for 40, and especially isn't bad for March. The flip side of this is that my legs are sore and I'm awfully tired, but it's a good start. (Route map) It looks like they run the same ride Saturday and Sunday mornings, 10 AM tomorrow and next weekend and then starting at 9:30 and from their new store in April.

I've been sort of saying I want to do more "real" bike rides this year (especially after failing to do any organized rides at all last year). I think "do all three CRW centuries" is a bit of a pipe dream, but what actually is when?

  • CRW Spring Century, May 17. Looks like it's about a unit inland from the GSW Seacoast Century. I almost certainly can't do a full century then (both one and three weekends before I'm out of town) but the half or metric centuries could be interesting.
  • CRW Climb to the Clouds, July 19. Will I actually do it this year? The hard part would be preparing myself for Mile Hill Road, the distance itself is probably doable (especially if I do ramp up to 60 miles by two months before).
  • CRW Fall Century, September 20. I've eyed this before and it looks like it heads for the "northwest from Fitchburg" corridor, but never actually tried it. Reviews from before worked out to "somewhat scenic, rural, definitely easier than CTTC".
  • GSW Seacoast Century, September 26 or 27. This is the one I've actually done. Easy terrain, but miles 70-90 can run into a terrible headwind.

In theory nothing stops me from doing all of these. Matching it up with the bridge schedule could be exciting. It's already reasonably bikeable now, though (my bike computer already has about 50 miles for the season) and if I'm serious about ramping up I really could do this. But, it also means being reasonably serious about my weekend biking, and probably a little more planning my weekends around it and going out even in not-perfect weather.

I was tempted by the full-page ad in the Metro advertising direct BOS-SAN flights on American starting April 7, and a promotional $117 (*) fare through mid-May...tempted enough to mention it to my parents, even. I went and actually looked tonight, to find out that (*) that fare is Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday only, and something like "fly out Friday evening and take a red-eye back Sunday night" is still horrendously expensive; also, that unless I want to take multiple days of vacation the only 2-3 night trips that fare is actually available is the weekends of 26 April and 3 May, both of which (along with 10 May) I already have plans for.

So what this really works out to is that I'd need to spend $250, a day of vacation, and skip something I was planning to do here in order to see my parents for one day, or spread it out to the full weekend (and Friday and Monday) at the cost of two more vacation days. I think (having just seen them three weeks ago) that's not really worth it to me.
I took advantage of the 60-degree weather today to go on a little bike expedition. After a not-so-promising start involving breaking yet another valve on my tube, I headed out past the Mystic Lakes, up Washington Street in Winchester, and back home via [livejournal.com profile] fredrickegerman's crazy hill route. (Yes, the Arlington/Winchester line is just that obvious in the pavement.) 24.11 miles, 2 hours almost exactly, my back of all things is feeling tired, but hopefully a good start. (Route map)
We played 1856 yesterday, extremely quickly as these things go -- we started play at noon and finished around 5:15 PM. This is also the first time I've seen the game end by player bankruptcy, but it was a forced diesel train buy and so fairly close to the end of the game.

Let's review the basic sequence of events: government nationalizes major business; stock market crashes; large investors lose their shorts; game over.

This time we failed to pick up that there's a limit of one $100 government loan per company per turn. This doesn't really get in the way of the "use government loans to buy out your private company on the second turn" strategy, but it does make it a lot harder to use loans to do things like buy trains, and it certainly means you can't take out six loans you know you can't repay all at once to force the nationalization issue. My guess is that this means that the jump from "4" trains to diesels (destroying every train that existed before this point) happened a full stock round earlier than it should have, and the dividends that would have gotten paid out there would have helped to save the game.

More thoughts on initial strategy and nationalization )
An item in this morning's Metro pointed me to an op-ed in Saturday's Manchester Union Leader, in which Pan Am Railways CEO David Fink proposes not just that New Hampshire should go forward with its Lowell-to-Manchester commuter rail plans but that PAR should be the company to run it. This is fascinating given predecessor Guilford's general enthusiasm about not running trains (that long string of NHN hoppers next to I-93 exists because Guilford wanted to abandon its line to Ossipee, NH, and New Hampshire arranged a sale to Boston Sand and Gravel instead). It's somewhat consistent with the NS joint venture, where PAR wants to have good track but doesn't actually want to maintain it itself.

I'd be a little concerned where Fink states that "Pan Am has relied heavily on its past experience with...the Downeaster service from Portland to Boston". And, oh yeah, of course there's the little liability question, but nobody at all is even questioning renegotiating CSX's liability deal in Massachusetts (hint: it's a major block in selling the Framingham-Worcester line to the T). As I read the article he proposes going to Concord (the official NH plan stops in Manchester), and he hints at running trains through to Boston (the official plan requires a transfer in Lowell).
I'll regularly take the commuter rail home, "because I can"; at a 20-minute walk to North Station, 10 minutes on the train, and 10 minutes home from Porter, it's as fast as the subway, and slower but more pleasant than the bus, and knowing that I need to be on a train at exactly 5:20 or 5:40 helps me actually leave work. Yesterday I got to North Station at 5:39, ran across to (unusual) track 3, and was the last person on the train as it left. The conductor muttered something about "express" that I didn't catch but I didn't think much of it, since even the 4:40 "no stops" train stops at Porter before going direct to South Acton.

We pulled out of the station, and stopped, and waited for about another 10 minutes attributed to switch problems. (Probably at CP-1, which is to say, the switches "at North Station" as opposed to on the far side of the drawbridge.) The conductor kept making annoucements...yup, still switch problems...there's a crew working on it, we're talking over the radio...we're really sorry...in case you were thinking of getting off, they say they're not going to release the 5:40 train until we go, this is the 5:20 express, stopping at Porter, Waltham, Lincoln.

It was at this point that I realized that the train that I had run to catch, and that left North Station at almost exactly 5:40, was in fact the 5:20 delayed by 20 minutes. Oops.

We got to Porter at 6:05, 35 minutes late for that train and 15 minutes later than I expected. Somewhat to my surprise we didn't seem to do anything unusual with switching (using the left-hand track through Somerville is acceptable and signaled), and the next train wasn't trailing right behind. So now I'm kind of wondering what went wrong, if they caught up, and what options they do have if they get behind (can they plausibly cancel the 5:20 and run a 5:40 train that's twice as long?).
My parents seem to have decided that the thing to do while I'm in town is to cut down trees. So I've been spending some quality time with Mr. Chain Saw and Mr. Cart. And now there's about four fewer trees than a couple of days ago -- and nobody's lost any limbs, and the gas can didn't even spontaneously explode!
Off work to end of year. In California for most of the after-Christmas bit. Still to do: shop (umm), look into refinance options, deal with landscaping stuff, keep household fed. This isn't so bad, though the "need to deal" end of it is kind of front-loaded (shopping sooner is better, landscaping stuff has a relatively hard deadline next week and needs other people). Should try to routinely hit gym (only excuse really is weather).
(1) We have a desktop computer upstairs. It has two purposes, which are to run Quicken and to be a print server. In theory we could use it if we needed some database-backed Web app inside the house. This means that it gets used a couple of times a week at best, which doesn't really justify it being "always on"; is there a better solution?

(2) I've been sort of wanting an Internet Presence for a while (livejournal slightly embarrasses me, as does my MIT address eight years after graduation). This at the least involves email service, preferably with IMAP, and enough Web service to host a blog and some static content. I've been eyeing Linode for a while, and their bottom-end plan works out to just over $200/year plus my own sysadmin efforts. Is there a better answer?

(Digging through history I see two other instances of "I'm going to throw money at my problems" that I still haven't acted on, and I've definitely been mentioning (2) on-and-off via zephyr for years now.)
Most bridge players are familiar with the Blackwood convention, which asks your partner how many aces they have by a 4NT bid. This falls down when a pair is made up of two software engineers who understand numbers "zero", "one", and "many". (Yes, we did have not one but two hands last night where we miscounted/misbid the number of aces we had and so had a grand slam down one where the small slam was in, why do you ask?)
On the off chance that there are other rail signal geeks in Boston that actually read this, the bridge on Broadway over the commuter rail near Ball Square has long been one of my favorite signal spots, since from there there's pretty good visibility outbound and you can see the interlocking signals protecting North Somerville Junction. A month or two ago they turned on new bidirectional signals north of here on the Lowell line, which means trains can run both directions on either track. I'm not sure why but they're pretty actively using it and I've definitely seen approach medium displayed on both tracks (sometimes at the same time even).

(I thought I had seen medium approach medium displayed here driving past once but I wasn't 100% sure. It'd be exotic but not inconsistent with the B&M lines' use of "approch medium" to mean "advance approach"; any confirmation? That would be red, yellow, green reading top-to-bottom on one signal, the other would necessarily be red, red, red.)
The cover article from this month's Trains magazine is about snow-clearing efforts in eastern British Columbia by the Canadian Pacific. That's fine, every couple of months there's an article about some rail line crossing the Rockies or Sierras or Appalachians, and it's a 2% grade for 50 miles, and a third of that is in tunnels and a third in snow sheds, and it snows, and they clear it, except when they don't. Sure. This was reading like a pretty typical Trains article, complete with narrative about a cab ride, until I got to:

Since the completion of the Trans-Canada Highway through Rogers Pass in the 1960s, the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery has aimed 105 mm cannons at developing avalanches....


Not exactly the usual subject matter.
People up on the state ballot initiatives have probably noticed that there's an item on the Massachusetts ballot to end the state income tax. Ignoring details of whether this will actually happen if the measure passes, where does the money come from and where does it go?

At the state level there's a good summary of FY09 spending, totaling $23.2 billion. Almost half of state outlays go to "health and human services", with a huge chunk of that being state-funded health insurance programs. About $1.8 billion supports debt service, about $1 billion goes to the lottery. $6.2 billion goes to "education", of that $4.6 billion is primary and secondary education, $0.6 billion pre-primary, and most of the rest college-level. I can't find a specific line item for "assistance to cities and towns" but there are a number of things in the itemized listing that support that -- $3.9 billion for schools, $0.9 billion from the lottery, and a couple of smaller things. (I cannot immediately find the T in here.)

Information on the revenue side is harder to find, but this report has more comprehensive numbers. This talks about a lot of things, including money the state spends that's not in the budget proper. For FY2008 total revenue was $41.5 billion, of which $22.5 billion is "taxes" (pp. 32-33). (There's some scary-looking discussion of interest rate swaps on pages 65-66.) The table on page 314 finally gets down to the number I'm after: in FY2008 $12.4 billion of state revenue was from income taxes, vs. $4.1 billion from sales and use taxes and $1.5 billion for corporate taxes. At the end of the day, then, this is almost exactly 30% of state revenue.

Danbury's other attraction is the Danbury Railway Museum, located in a former New York, New Haven, and Hartford yard at the end of a Metro-North commuter line. This was a worthwhile afternoon in my book (apologies to [livejournal.com profile] narya may be in order though). A little less than half of what they have is New Haven equipment, but much of it is in very good shape. Several Budd RDCs, which the staff claimed actually ran; a B&M 2-6-0 that clearly didn't.

One interesting thing was that a lot of their equipment was open. You could walk through a CN caboose, for instance. (Which seemed to very comfortably seat eight bilingual railroaders; were that many people ever necessary?) The one RDC that was open had a very nice interior, though not apparently its original one.

Definitely the most interesting thing there though was a retired Sperry Rail Service car. A lot of the interior was crew quarters, with bunk beds, a small kitchen, and a common room. All of the exciting electronics seemed to be at the back of the car but there wasn't a whole lot of indication of what you could get from a bunch of gauges and a rack of electronics.

So a nice train setup, but quite a hike; probably a little far to go just for the rail museum (we spent a couple of hours there including an excursion around the yard and had pretty much seen the whole thing) but worth seeing if you're in the area anyways.

(For the record, note that when I say "Danbury's other attraction" there are no coffee shops at all in the downtown area. There are two Starbucks with Danbury addresses if you happen to be in need of such a thing, but bring a GPS to try to find them.)

[livejournal.com profile] narya has managed to suck me into her somewhat-regular bridge group. I feel like I'm getting up to "okay"; certainly I've figured out all of the core mechanics, and in bidding land I generally have a good feel for what I want to say if not how to actually say it. Playing last night I definitely noticed there was a difference between "I made a mistake" vs. "I just didn't figure out the puzzle". Mere ineptitude doesn't actually bother me so much, since I figure that if I play enough hands I'll start to get better at figuring out where the cards I need are. It's making active mistakes that can get in my partner's way that's bugging me more.

Three hands )

Colors

Aug. 20th, 2008 09:57 pm

I think this question is mostly for [livejournal.com profile] ilai. But it's a detail sort of thing.

Stand at the southeastern corner of Beacon St. and Somerville Ave., preferably after dark. Look at the signals on the commute rail; look at the traffic lights. Are they actually different colors? (And if so, why?)

Even though it's not a scheduled stop, there's a commuter rail platform at Oak Grove station at the northern end of the Orange Line. I was on my bike in the vicinity having approximately followed the line back from Reading at about the time the outbound train came through, and figured it would be a good chance to see what was up there and to watch the train come through.

Turns out that, even though it's not a scheduled stop, if the engineer sees someone waiting on the platform he'll stop the train. There was some waving at the conductors to try to convince them that, no, I wasn't actually interested in getting on per se.

After not really having been out for two weeks, I figured today might be a nice day for a bike plan that was "tackle Chickatawbut Hill in the Blue Hills, then go clockwise around 128 until I get tired and come home". I wound up taking the long way around in a couple of places (warning: all roads lead to the Arborway rotary), did just fine with the climb up Unquity Road, but had to stop partway up the steeper climb on Chickatawbut Hill proper. Once I got to the top I decided maybe "just go home" was a better plan, but then got to deal with little problems like the routing roach motel of Quincy. Did successfully make it back, for 41.04 miles in all in roughly four real hours. (Route map)

I did figure out that if you're in Central Square and want to head towards Inman, then you can turn right on Essex Street (the light before Prospect). This goes two blocks and forces you to turn right on Harvard Street. At the stop sign, you can turn left into a contra-flow bike lane, cross Broadway, and then turn left on Hampshire. This seemed much more pleasant than trying to deal with Prospect proper.

One thing that seems to be coming out of the current oil "crisis" is that people have been talking about alternate fuel sources for transportation. "Oh," they say, "if only we had electric cars, or hydrogen fuel cells, or ethanol, and all of our oil problems would be solved!" Petroleum's one big advantage is that, if only you can dig it out of the ground, it's already made of stored energy in chemical form; of those other things, they're really just ways to transport stored energy (ethanol least so, but effectively in the current world) and the energy ultimately has to come from somewhere.

Wikipedia's World energy resources and consumption article is pretty informative if you're starting to think about this sort of thing. It claims that current worldwide energy consumption is 0.0005 yottajoules/year, with 86.5% coming from fossil fuels, and that 0.4 YJ of fossil fuels (not just petroleum here) are remaining to be mined. Add in nuclear, which is still non-renewable, for another 2.5 YJ; other articles on the subject claim that both mining and producing power from uranium is quite a bit behind equivalent technology for oil, so one interesting technological option that adds on several hundred years to what we can dig out of the ground is moving towards more nuclear power. That some Wikipedia article claims that all renewable (principally solar) power together could add up to 3.8 YJ/year, which makes it seem like the obvious direction to go, ignoring concerns about how much of the planet's surface we'd need to cover to capture that energy.

This still all means that "somebody" needs to spend effort on improving alternate technology: improved nuclear is interesting if not permanently sustainable, improved solar is interesting, useful ways to turn electricity into stored energy into transportation seem essential. The US government, in my mind, has a horrible track record and just the wrong scale, since paths that reduce gasoline prices in the near term are more likely to lead to re-election than paths that will eventually get us off of oil entirely. TV commercials from oil producers aside, I'm not really convinced the free market has incentives to change either. We are seeing a couple of encouraging trends, like far-suburban real estate and SUVs not selling (20 miles at 50 mpg is much better than 50 miles at 20 mpg in a day-to-day sort of way).

Maybe the next administration will start thinking hard about energy policy, and transportation policy, and oil policy specifically, and maybe people will start thinking harder about useful urban design. I'm not holding out huge hopes.

A flat tire is not, in and of itself, embarrassing.

Two flat tires in two weeks is sad, but not embarrassing.

What's embarrassing is having two flat tires in two weeks, both while the bike is on the repair stand.

I might not do the Climb to the Clouds this year. I just don't feel like doing the training I'd need to do for it. I feel a little guilty for blowing it off, but I did kind of say at the end of last year that I wanted to do something else with my weekends than just bike.

Today is the annual meeting of CSX Transportation, the only one of the seven US Class 1 railroads to directly serve Boston. (They are the recurring source of angst and psychodrama on the Worcester commuter rail line.) Usually annual meetings aren't very exciting things, but a British hedge fund has caused this one to be in the news a lot.

Why and how, stuff that's already been in the news if you're into this sort of thing )

So there we go...an exciting intersection between the worlds of railroading, business, law, and derivatives. We'll find out what happens in tonight's and tomorrow's news.

Fast fifty

Jun. 22nd, 2008 08:43 am

I had this grand idea of taking the train to Fitchburg, riding outbound to Ashburnham, then back to Boston yesterday, but when I actually got there a variety of factors (time, nervousness about cell phone reception, not having been out for three weeks) convinced me to skip the initial loop. I instead recreated this trip from the DNC in 2004 -- if memory serves, my first 50-mile ride. Starting riding west a ways, then south to central Leominster, then back only seemed to add a little distance, and the whole thing came in at 52.24 miles; but where I say the earlier ride took six hours in all, I left Fitchburg just before 1:00 and got home just after 5:00. (Route map)

Getting out of the house was more exciting than I had intended. I figured I'd lube my chain and pump up my tires a bit before I left, but successfully exploded the valve on the rear tire. Oops. Frantically dealt with that, but was still okay on the train schedule, so I pulled the bike up to the door...and didn't see the bike computer. Ran around the house, didn't see it anywhere, finally found it in one of my bags, tossed everything together, and just barely made in on the 11:30 train out of Porter. The train has lost some of its enchantment, but Mr. GPS tells me it does get up to 60 mph in Lincoln (on jointed rail there) and outbound from South Acton.

Scenery-wise, this wasn't bad. Fitchburg is still a dump (though a dump with a Christian coffeehouse...?), central Leominster looked better. My grandfather was fond of saying of Chicago that there were two seasons, "Winter" and "Construction", and that was true yesterday, Leominster Road in Shirley was bare dirt with a grader and closed westbound, and several other spots had visibly brand-new pavement. And if you know where you're looking, you can see the remains of the New Haven lines from Leominster to Fitchburg and at West Concord.

The thing that impresses me about this ride though is how quick it was. Not as fast as [livejournal.com profile] chrysaphi, but still...I spent a good fraction of the ride between 16 and 20 mph, and while it wasn't a terribly hilly route the hills didn't bother me a whole lot either. An early climb out of the valley in western Fitchburg was effort but not that hard; I remember crossing 495 on Taylor Street in Littleton to be really hard but yesterday that climb didn't look bad and in fact I took it continuously in not-my-bottom-gear. Maybe spending a little time at the gym is doing something for me.

Over the past week I read through Education Myths: What Special-Interest Groups Want You to Believ About our Schools -- And Why It Isn't So by the (rightish) Manhattan Institute's Jay P. Greene. The phrase "special interest" is only really used on the cover, and inasmuch as organized groups are implicated at all in education's issues only the teacher's unions are specifically brought up. The book cites sociological research to make a point, largely that adding funding hasn't historically improved schools but current research on voucher programs suggests they help. This wasn't really a light fluffy read but it was still pretty well-written, and if the subject matter sounds interesting to you it's probably worth a read.

Criticisms )

In all, this seemed like a worthwhile book to me. It visibly has a position (which you can guess from the cover and table of contents). I don't have the background to really tell if it's covering almost all of the relevant research or a specific subset, or if the author's research is totally legit. Still, it made an argument supported by data, and there's always something to be said for that.

After planning out something too ambitious launching from the Fitchburg commuter rail, I combined the awesome powers of Google Maps and the Eastern Massachusetts bike map to combine together various scenic-looking bits into a 60ish mile route. (Where's my physical-virtual mashup when I need it?) I found another bad route across the Charles, down to Readville, across to South Street in Needham to Dover, then rode across back roads to Sherborn and Framingham. From there, carefully miss the neighborhood identified by Google as Lokerville, and instead go north along the eastern border of Sudbury, then back via Lincoln and Lexington. This came in at 63.2 miles (a metric century!) (Route map)

I think pretty much the entire corridor a town or two south of the Worcester commuter rail is pretty recommended. We've done a couple of rides down there, both west from Dover and east from Holliston, and it's quite prettily rural. Also recommended: Water Row in eastern Sudbury, which goes by the meadow part of Great Meadows NWR.

Not so recommended: most of Framingham, including the prison district. And whoever in the 17th century decided that putting the town of Lincoln on the side of a big hill was a good idea. Doing an extended climb after 50 miles wasn't so friendly...oh, wait, that's what I want to do in another month and a half.

Random rail observation: where Landham Road in Sudbury crosses the Central Massachusetts line just south of MA-20, the date on the bridge is "1970"; commuter rail service ended in 1971 (claims Wikipedia). It'd still make a nice bike path.

I wanted a longer trip than the one last weekend, but didn't really feel like planning, and since I cut last week's trip short and the first half was scenic I decided to try to do the whole thing. In the process I successfully orbited the (former, as it happens) B&M shops in Billerica and did find the way I was looking for to Carlisle. Came in at 48.88 miles in just over 4 hours. (Route map)

That all having been said, the effort wasn't really worth it. Pan Am "if we really wanted to run trains we wouldn't name ourselves after a fallen-flag airline" Railways has its headquarters in an abandoned yard, with a second condemned building with the old Guilford logo on it. The bike map makes Rangeway Road look like the better way between North Billerica and Carlisle, but Treble Cove Road, in spite of having an interchange with Route 3, is easier to find, has fewer annoying stop signs, and is less irritatingly industrial. Carlisle is still pretty, but there's probably better places to go from there.

Approximate stat: one water bottle seems to last me about 15 miles.

Why is it harder to buy pseudoephedrine than tobacco?

My goal for yesterday was to go about 40 miles without too much in the way of hilliness. I also didn't feel like planning a whole lot; looking at past attempts, I figured a good thing to try would be the plot of "get to Washington Street in Winchester, then go north forever, then go via North Billerica and Carlisle home". This went fine until I remembered an hour in that I had an evening commitment and maybe I should try to get home faster. Plan B was "okay, punt Carlisle, but take the route back via the Bedford VA Hospital"; plan C was "oof, still feels out of the way, go straight back via Middlesex Turnpike". Didn't die by the Burlington Mall, and in fact still came in just over 40 miles. Route map

I feel like I'm pushing myself a little this year, mostly because I'd kind of like to do the Climb to the Clouds century in July. That's good, really, even if I don't quite have my bike legs back yet. I was clearly slowing down as I crossed back inside 128, and biking on autopilot through Lexington was a little weird. I also need to figure out how to carry more than two water bottles' worth of liquid (not hard, now that I have panniers and not the backpack of three liters of water).

Those paying special attention to the map will note that I very carefully avoided the MBTA/B&M shops in Billerica. This wasn't intentional, honest! I had a route in mind, and I think next time I go that way I'll go around North Billerica rather than through it. The parts of the route that weren't 3A, the military-industrial complex, or the Burlington Mall were in fact quite nice...the challenge, as always, is getting outside 128.

This weekend I was hoping to bike "about 30 miles, with some hills". I set off towards the Fells while trying to avoid 93 with some success, and found this odd little neighborhood on top of a hill in northeastern Medford. (It has a park, and a church, and a firehouse, and...) I rode through the Fells on the obvious road route, took Montvale Ave. across to Woburn Center, and from there followed the Insane Hill Route up Turkey and Arlmont Hills. This came in, says my bike, at 23.52 miles. Route map

I clearly Wasn't Making It up Arlmont Hill, but I also didn't feel like I was pushing hard enough or something. I was definitely slower on the Concord Ave. back to Camberville segment, but I also didn't feel like I pushed and pushed and couldn't do it, more like I ran out of steam partway up, repeatedly. This clearly means something, probably that I need to get my endurance up and push myself more even on the relatively flat bits.

My goal for today was to bike 30 miles, but I didn't have a clear destination in mind. This is the kind of awkward distance where you're clearly Going Somewhere but the local geography makes it hard to find an interesting route. I wound up heading up through Winchester and Woburn, then up route 3A into Billerica, then back down towards the bike path, totaling a little over 34 miles. (Route map)

For next time I really should try harder to come up with a good plan. I wound up changing course midway because I decided the original plan was too short, but even so, the Main Street, Winn Street, 3A route was pretty much all pretty depressing. Heading southwest out of Billerica Center was pretty nice, though, and going through the VA Hospital grounds in Bedford was pretty worthwhile. And then...well, the Minuteman is the Minuteman, and around mile 27 I started wearing down.

I've also concluded that Japanese knotweed is the cue dot of the horticultural world: unless you know what you're looking for, you don't notice it, but once you do, it's everywhere. Like pretty much the entire length of the bike path.

Rumor was that [livejournal.com profile] fredrickegerman had this route that went past Horn Pond and then up Turkey and Arlmont Hills. I attempted this, and got misdirected in the middle, but still came up for 20ish hilly miles on a rather nice spring day. Route map

I had somehow gotten it into my head that, where Route 3 crossed into Arlington, there was a place to bear right and go up the hill. After not finding the turn I pulled out the map and realized that, no, that was entirely wrong, the correct answer is to go west on Pleasant Street in Woburn on the north side of Horn Pond, which I'd conveniently left several miles behind now. So I turned right somewhat arbitrarily and climbed and wandered around until I found the bit of Turkey Hill I recognized.

I don't quite have it back in my legs yet, but the Arlington side of Arlmont Hill is in fact significantly easier than the Belmont side. Also, Clifton Street in Belmont is paved pretty well, so zipping downhill at 30+ mph works just fine without worrying about dying in a pothole.

TTThhheee 888777 bbbuuusss ttthhhiiisss mmmooorrrnnniiinnnggg wwwaaasss aaawwwfffuuulllyyy bbbuuummmpppyyy...
Apparently I've had the two modules of 1825 for a while but we've never actually gotten to playing with the two of them together. We finally got to that yesterday, and it turned into a reasonable 18xx game (but remember, the kinder, gentler version with no company dumping).

My main criticism especially of unit 1 is that the game start is quite scripted; once you get through the scripted part, the game ends. The other 18xx games also have kind of scripted starts (1835 sticks in my head as having a fixed order of company starts) so this isn't so unusual. And in fact in the combined game there's a couple of companies you're forced to start first, but once we started the London and Northwestern and the Great Western and ran enough turns that people actually had enough capital, things opened up quite a bit. We were forced to stop just after a round where four companies were all floated together, with probably about two full rounds left in the game.

Strategy-wise, [livejournal.com profile] fideidefensor ran with the L&NW, and [livejournal.com profile] fredrickegerman ran with the GWR. I wound up on the outside of these but dabbling in other properties that looked profitable, and eventually started a northern railroad to build off of [livejournal.com profile] desireearmfeldt's network. Somewhat to my surprise, this got me just barely in the lead when the game ended; I think part of that is that, since the L&NW and the GWR are the first two railroads, everybody owns a little bit and it's hard to get a large consolidated position. I also seemed to do okay on not being too invested in railroads focusing on internal improvements at the expense of shareholder value.

Rules bits: maybe it'd be helpful to make up a summary sheet explaining how this game is different from 1830. You can upgrade small cities to large, and fairly promptly, but not downgrade them off the map. You can place two non-adjacent tiles during the build phase, and placing the initial green double-city tile counts as a build for this, but placing a green tile on top of a yellow board space with track is an upgrade. Labeling the chits with the names of the companies (especially the "green", "dark green", "mid green", and "green-but-really-pink" ones) was enormously helpful.

Lunchtime seemed plausibly temperate, so I tried pulling the bike out of the basement for a quick ride. I got to use the very exciting repair stand to pump my tires up from "flat" and apply chain lube as needed, and tried dressing up as warm as I have bikeable clothes for, and headed out in the general direction of Boston Ave. Let's say that I remember how the clipless pedals and the general bike thing work, and that I made it as far as West Medford before turning back for about 6 miles in all. It was windy, and I've kind of fallen out of shape a little over the winter, and I do need to act on that Hiveminder item to get warmer bike clothes ("high of 51" isn't that warm).

Still, if next weekend will be this warm (very preliminary forecast is that Saturday will be sunny with a high of 47) maybe I'll start calling it "spring" for biking purposes. Or else, I'll call it my last chance to go skiing this season. Hmm.

While away, ate:

  • Chicago pizza
  • Chicago hot dogs
  • Chicago Mexican

All of these met expectations.

A while ago, I achieved some Zen around the Monad type in Haskell; I could loosely describe it as "a value, with some extra class-specific goop that gets passed around", and I could write a state-tracking monad and a list-reading monad from scratch. So far, so good.

Read more... )

To reiterate what I've said in a couple of contexts, I think the Republican primary is all-but-decided, but the Democratic primary is still an interesting question and I intend to vote in it. I think that's a choice between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and they do both seem to have content on their Web sites.

Taking a read... )

Receipts

Jan. 27th, 2008 04:07 pm
For whatever reason, I have a deeply-held belief that it's important to keep copies of receipts. If I were a good person, I'd double-check the receipt against the credit card bill when it shows up. Of course, the problem with this theory is that (a) I'm not religious enough about it for any discrepancy between what I think the statement should say and what it does say to be a problem, (b) I don't actually go through and double-check, and therefore (c) the office is filled with a year's worth of little slips.

Excepting things where you actually care about having a proof-of-purchase, how is having a receipt useful to me? If my gas pump can send my PDA an expense record magically and my PDA can enter it into my accounting software, does the paper receipt matter? What if the Apple Store wants to send my a receipt by email (they do, and it's pretty cool, but I never actually printed it out)? Is there any value beyond just waiting until the credit card statement shows up? Why do I think this anyways?
There's a new release of the KDE desktop environment out, and in particular there's a test repository with packages for Kubuntu. It's apparently not just a point-zero release but the KDE maintainers are pretty unapologetic about it being a relatively raw point-zero release; "KDE 3 is fully supported and even under reasonable development, but nobody's really using a 'beta' KDE 4 and we need field bug reports."

KDE has gone in the "shiny" direction I had been hoping some mainstream Linux desktop environment would. The Compiz/Beryl/XGL/whatever X-over-OpenGL desktop effort has been pretty but it fundamentally is a concept demo that's Different From What You're Using Now. So KDE 4 has translucent-window support, some neat abilities to dim windows that have active modal dialog boxes, and some of the Mac-ish desktop effects like a window switcher that shows the current state of every open window.

The flip side of this is, well, that a lot of "normal-user" functionality isn't entirely there. I can't find the Debian app menu (which tends to be more complete than KDE's); I can't successfully log out; I can't add keybindings for "switch to desktop #5"; I can't change any characteristic of the panel; adding applets to the panel is non-intuitive. KDE 4's version of the Konqueror Web browser won't import bookmarks from the KDE 3 Konqueror and seems to find infinite loops no other browser does reading Livejournal.

Conclusion? It's definitely shiny, and if you're a bleeding-edge person and a KDE person it's probably worth playing with. But overall KDE 3 a lot more intrinsically usable than KDE 4 is at this point.
You know you're a grown-up when you go to dinner with a group of people you know from college...and exchange business cards.
Dear interwebs:

Please explain to me why the Commonwealth of Massachusetts needs detailed information on my health insurance, and furthermore, why it needs to collect it in a matter that's easily correlated with detailed information on my finances. (From what I can tell, MGL section 111M only requires me to say that I have insurance, not how or with whom.)

(I should probably ask similar questions of Ms. Provost and Ms. Jehlen, too, and soon.)

I spent most of a week visiting my parents in, erm, frigid San Diego. Where "frigid" means "it's between Christmas and New Year's, so the roses are blooming and people are surfing by the fishing pier".

One day trip was to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, a couple of hours east of my parents. It didn't quite fit my internal vision of "desert", mostly because I didn't expect there to be quite so many plants there. We took a couple of quick hikes five miles off a dirt road from the Great Southern Overland Stage Route of 1849. It was so cold. (Well, maybe it was a little breezy.)

One day I went to visit one of my coworkers, who had moved to San Diego. (Note to self: never tell parents that people in your group are moving from "all the way across the country" to "the city your parents are".) Fish tacos were had, work gossip was caught up on, surfers were watched, it was hoped that more of the city didn't collapse into the ocean. I also borrowed a digital SLR and played with it a bit; my general feel was that it was a bit more flexible and responsive than the camera I normally have, but it quite makes up for it in bulk.

We also headed for the San Diego Model Railroad Museum in Balboa Park. I've been there once or twice before, but I don't think I was quite so engrossed before. The larger HO scale layout captured most of our attention; it turns out that their goal in life is to reproduce the SP/ATSF Tehachapi Pass route circa 1952 as close as possible. Compare, for example, the picture at left with satellite imagery of the same location. Working, correct, approach-lit signals somehow called to me as well. We wound up staying about 45 minutes after closing watching a train crawl up the 2.2% grade and talking to the people running it (who make me look like I have only a passing interest in trains).

I have this week off of work, and yesterday's little adventure was riding the newish commuter rail line through Hingham, Cohasset, and Scituate to Greenbush Station. In spite of being armed with camera and GPS, this was kind of anticlimactic. A couple of the stations seemed to be in the middle of nowhere (including Greenbush). There was pretty good ridership coming back for a mid-afternoon weekday train, though.

Read more... )
It's been suggested that, if I don't like the way the wireless on my current laptop keeps falling over, I'd like a higher-resolution screen, and I'd like the whole thing to be lighter in general, I might consider laptop shopping again. I tend to do low-to-moderate-grade coding and playing (frequently graphics-intensive) Windows-based games. Dual-booting is a pain, but I can't deal with a pure-Windows environment. Leading contenders seem to be the 15" MacBook Pro and the Lenovo ThinkPad T61p with appropriate options.

At a first glance the MacBook is significantly more expensive. A lot of this is because it's just a nicer machine, though: 2 GB of RAM vs. 1 default on the ThinkPad, a bigger hard drive, Bluetooth by default, and so on. Beefing up the ThinkPad to roughly equivalent specs brings it to within $100 of the MacBook (and I probably want the extended battery that makes up the difference). The ThinkPad has a nicer screen (1680x1050 vs. 1440x900, both 16:10 aspect ratios), the Mac is far more likely to Just Work including things like suspend support where the ThinkPad is known to be particularly bleeding-edge here.

Any thoughts from the peanut gallery? Do I care about things like Bluetooth, particularly if I think there's an iPhone in my future too? Will I be able to readily install random software libraries and compilers on the Mac?
When visiting other parts of the United States remember to keep in mind that local weather may be different from what you're used to. For example, even if you've spent 20 years living in California, ordinary November evenings in Chicago do tend to drop significantly below the otherwise frigid temperature of 50 Fahrenheit. Please dress accordingly.

(Maybe my parents are getting scarves for $WINTER_HOLIDAY.)
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