Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What we (okay, I) did for summer vacation, part 1

We're back from the big family summer vacation.

Because of a minor scheduling conflict, my vacation started a day earlier than the rest of the family's. Hmmm, what to do on a day off without any obligations? If you said ride my bike a long distance, you're right.

 I chose to do my big ride of the year toward the confluence of the Vermillion and Wabash Rivers, or Cayuga, Indiana. I rode towards Homer Lake and veered south towards Fairmount and Georgetown.

After leaving home around 7:15, I got to Georgetown at 10am with two choices for a second breakfast: McDownalds or Casey's. I chose McD. I meant to get a sausage and egg biscuit, but the meal # I actually ordered was a truly disgusting "steak mushroom muffin". As a hungry person, I ate it anyway and headed out.

 The bluff just west of the Vermillion River was the best riding of the day. The gravel road went up and down steep (for this region) hills with a view of the valley about 100 or so feet below. I crossed the Vermillion on the covered bridge (blocked to car traffic). The only way I knew to get across the Wabash River was to ride the shoulder of Highway 63 to recross the Vermillion and then take 234. Somehow 63 has a decent amount of traffic on Thursday mornings.

I followed the flat, sandy road along the east side of the Wabash up towards Perrysville. I didn't want to ride on Highway 32 out of Perrysville, so I took a gravel road detour and ended up back on it near Danville. At this point I didn't know the roads, so I stayed on it all the way to downtown Danville. I had studied maps for several days prior to the trip but decided to not print any out (and I don't use a gps). My general approach was to head in the right direction (my compass came in handy a few times on the way back) toward the towns that I had memorized while avoiding the "major" highways. In every county outside of Champaign, this means riding on numerous gravel roads. They add to the adventure, but slow progress (despite my stupendous Boulder Bicycle with 35 mm Panaracer Pasela tires).

 I got stuck behind a long train on the main road in downtown Danville (what other big towns have a rail line that blocks the main street?????), which gave me time to realize that it was lunch time. I settled on Penn Station east coast subs!, which I had never frequented. My 8" philly cheese was fine, but not good enough for a return visit.

 After lunch I headed towards Kickapoo state park, initially thinking I would ride parallel to i-74 back home. But that road is straight and flat, so I turned south towards the hilly, gravel roads south of Danville.

 While on the way, I found the path to the Great Vermillion Rail Bridge. I hesitated before deciding to follow the path since I was still about 30 miles from home, but when adventure calls, sometimes you have to answer. Because of the remaining rocks of the rail bed, no plants grow in the middle but branches from trees and bushes on either side of the bed form a hobbit tunnel about 3 feet tall. I pushed my bike about 200 yards through the branch tunnel before deciding to stash it and continue on without it. Many cobwebs in the face later, I walked out onto the Bridge. It was glorious, just like the pictures I had seen (except that now I could see the drop to the ground far below. Since I hate to make Jill angry (she told me to never walk on it, which I took to mean that I shouldn't walk all the way across it), I only walked out a few tens of feet before heading back to my bike and the open road.

 I ran out of water at Homer Lake, but decided to not detour the whole 1 mile out of the way to refill my bottles in the park. This was a poor choice, and I struggled for the last 5 miles home and felt wiped out when I arrived.

 I rode somewhere around 130 miles in around 9 total hours. I'm pretty happy with that pace. If I bring more food with me (and water.  I brought only 2 bottles, next time I'll take 3) and avoid exciting detours like rail-less bridge walking, I can reduce the time a bit.

I felt fine until the end of the ride. I should have eaten a bit more food and refilled my water bottles. In my mind, I've been thinking that 40 years old is the age when I should switch from racing short distances to endurance riding. I'm on schedule.

I didn't bring a camera.  Which is a bit sad for the blog, but now you can use your imagination (or click the link to see photos of the Bridge).

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Bikes in the Cloud

Lots of happenings recently at my place of employment, Wolfram Research Inc.  A new version of Mathematica is now out, and we have released the Wolfram Programming Cloud (WPC).  Why the WPC, you ask?

I'm glad you asked.  Well, it's a very nice way to share fun Mathematica projects with friends, like you guys, like this one:

If the link is broken, I'm doing a bad job as QA.  The page should be something like this, but interactive.

Fun, right?  There are real numbers and equations behind the pretty picture.  Some things that may happen in the future include telling you the values that you selected, or other relevant measurements (saddle height, set back, reach, drop, etc.).  Eventually, I'll set up an API function which will allow users to specify bike size and body dimensions.  Then, I will be rich and famous and powerful.

That's basically what I spend most of my days doing:  writing fun stuff to make sure that our products work just fine.  It's not a bad job.

Update:  Joel reminded me that I can directly embed here.  Voila!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Happy 4th!

Clara and Janny are learning to share.  As expected, there are some regular conflicts (whose turn it is to choose the tv show, or to wear the sparkly shoes, or to drink from the fizzy-whizzy-cup).  The fizzy-whizzy-cup solution is somewhat reasonable.  When one has finished drinking at a meal, the other gets to drink from it.  The sharing that gets to me a bit is the toothbrush.  I had hoped that once we got rid of the red toothbrush, they would be happy to have their own again.  Not so.  Apparently, Scoobydoo is better than sponge bob, even though brushes are both blue.
 We have one less giant tree in our neighborhood.  Two quick days or working in rain or shine got rid of it.
 I got a couple of sweet ties for Father's day this year.
 Clara finally let us cut her bangs this weekend.  What finally convinced her was that she could spread her hair in the garden to keep the bunnies away.  Janny needed more hair cut as well after learning this fact.
Knutson estate farming continues to ramp up, by which I mean that within about 10 years, we'll really have something in our yard!  Because this summer has been plenty wet and rather mild (thanks, El Nino!), we can only blame ourselves for a small harvest.  Lessons learned so far:
1.  Our cherry tree did not care for last winter.  Not a single cherry to be had (same story with our neighbor's pair of trees).  The trees blossomed, but no fruit.
2.  Raspberry season has just ended.  I think more fertilizer is needed for the black ones.  Our cane diameter pales in comparison to the idea garden and to Eric and Amy's.  Red ones were pretty successful.
3.  Garden bed in general needs more soil enrichment.  Salad greens and herbs grow very slowly.  We're still thinking about how to do this.

Finally, I think softball season is nearing the end.  We had rainouts for the last two weeks, so it feels a bit removed.  We've won all of our games, though most have been quite close.  Runs continue to be a challenge to come by this year.  Our defense is stellar, and all other teams either have pretty good defense as well, or our hitting was terrible against them.  With the playoffs around the corner, I must believe that we'll get it going.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Farms and family

Life is coming at us about as fast as we can take right now.  Since my last general update, both sets of grandparents visited us, and we took a weekend trip to Michigan.  "Why is this vacation so short?" was Clara's question of the weekend.  We assured her that at longer trip is forthcoming during which we'll travel even further north.

On recent bikes rides through the farmland surrounding our fair town, I've wondered about the economics of corn farming.  Thanks to a quick internet search, I'm an agricultural economics expert.  Farm roads around here are generally on a mile grid, so that's what I'm using for the numbers here.  Granted this is far from 40 acres and a mule, but I have no idea when that was a typical size, and I don't know the typical size "family" farm around here.  The bottom line:  a square mile has about $500,000 worth of corn.  About $100,000 of that was spent on fertilizer, $200,000 on all other stuff (seeds, pesticides, tractor, etc).  If all goes well, the farmer takes in about $200,000, IF they own their land outright.  Not too bad, if you inherited the land.  If you want to buy that square mile of land in our county, consider paying about $6 million.  Which you will pay off in somewhere around 30 years (I've made a zillion wrong assumptions here, but it's probably close).  Or you can rent land to farm, but you'd be pretty lucky to make about $30,000 each year.  As a non-owner of land, I'm sticking with my desk job.

Since grandma K was in town, we have some great photos to share.

Our adopt-student family has a big overhaul forthcoming.  4(?) of our students graduated this year, leaving us with only Tariq the senior and Sean the grad student as actual students in the group.  We're planning to recruit Kim's younger brother and hopefully some of his friends.

We got to see the Smith/Whites twice in the last month.  Our trip to Michigan included Jill's cousin's son's high school graduation party, where we also got to say a belated happy birthday to great-grandma (we decided to not drive the icy roads to attend her actual party in winter).
We're in the middle of softball season now.  The squad is undefeated so far, with a couple of nail-biters and a couple of 10 run rule wins.  The wind was blowing in from left/left-center at about 20-30 mph for the middle two game, which made it very difficult to get hits.  We won those games 3-1 and 5-0 (pitcher Jim filled in for the co-rec team on of those weeks and pitched a shutout for them.  3 games, 1 run scored.  He's just unhittable!).  In last week's game, the wind wasn't blowing as hard and was blowing out to right.  To make up for lost time, we scored 15 runs in the first inning (also thanks to some poor defense by the CFC gang).  Then we didn't score again until the 5th inning.  Consistency is overrated.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Jack to go with Jill

Last year at about this time, Jarrod told me that there were some tandems at our community's used bike sale.  My mind started to think a little bit.  The girls are getting bigger, which means two things:  (1)  it takes more work to pull them in the trailer and (2) they could potentially contribute to our motion.

Fast forward to last week when I saw a nice tandem for sale on the internets, but it was in Knoxville, TN.  I inquired, and it turned out the seller has a sister in Savoy and was willing to drive it up here and pay a visit to her.  Done and done.

Here it is:
 A 1980 Jack Taylor touring tandem.  Jill rode with me up and down our street.  She didn't hate it.

That's a huge improvement from our last tandem ride.  We borrowed Kirk's tandem just before dusk and rode up the hill from White Rock to Los Alamos (1000` up).  We were about 2/3 of the way home when it started to snow, hard.  So we had snow, dark, and a bike that didn't fit all that well.  Jill hated not being in control.  Does that say something about her, or just the tandem?  [Ouch].  Probably just the tandem.
The tires are 32 mm, but eventually I'll put on some much fatter tires since there's room.  I ordered a seat post because the captain's post is too short for me.
The other big change will be adding some kid stoker cranks.  Hopefully, they'll be in the mail soon.  And Clara and I will be off on adventures!  Hopefully for years to come.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Bump bump bump

Clara and Janny have a chant for bumpy roads while riding in the trailer.  The chant can be repeated a number of times before the conversation turns.  It goes like so:
    Bump bump bump
    we we we
    mushroom me!***

*** an alternate translation:  mushroomy.  Scholars continue to debate both the phrasing and the possible meaning(s).  In fact, the first line may also be interpreted as bum bum bum.  However, external evidence (previously mentioned bumpy roads) strongly points to the first interpretation.

Recently, Clara suggested another chant, but it was far too complex for Janny to memorize it.  I enjoy it because it is reminiscent of the classic Oski yell first cheered at UC Berkeley (Cal, California, etc.) in the 1940s.
      Oski Wow-Wow!

Whiskey Wee-Wee!
Olee! Muckie-eye!
Olee! Berkeley-eye!
      California! Wow!
The University of Illinois (UIUC, U of I, etc) also claims a version of the chant, but I'm too lazy to look up the lyrics.  Also, there is no possible better final line than Cal's.  Wow!

Recently, Janny has resisted going to bed at night.  She says, "I need to go potty," and then sits on the potty for longer than I can stand.  So I carry her back to bed.  Before I leave their room, she has to go potty again.  On Sunday, I had enough.  So I moved the tiny toilet to their bathroom and told her she was on her own.  After watching our favorite show (White Collar), we decided to check on her.  Janny was silently sitting on the potty.  I think she is stubborn.

I'm trying very hard to get Clara riding her bike without training wheels this spring.  And by hard, I mean trying to be very patient and a little persistent.  She's doing great with her balance bike, but her pink bike is pretty intimidating still.  I took off the training wheels last weekend for a couple of laps around our patio.  Most of the time I was holding on to her seat, but she rode a short stretch on her own.
Jill continues to wake up unenviably early most weekdays.  Wake up is around 5am, but I couldn't say for sure for obvious reasons.

Spring is happening this year!  Jill planted some seeds.  Some green leaves are poking up.  We harvested our first set of chives to put in tonights peanut pasta dish.  I changed my big chainring from 44 to 48 teeth.  I bought new chains for our commuter bikes (interesting to me note:  the total cost for the 2 chains was around $40, which is quite reasonable I say.  I was quite surprised to find that my chain was $12 and Jill's was $26 (7/8 speed vs 9 speed).  Long live 7 speeds!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Janny is 3

Janny turned 3 a couple weeks ago!  To celebrate her birthday, we invited a few friends (plus Grandpa and Grandma S) over to eat snacks and have cake.  Janny blew out all 3 candles on her first try!  I can't remember who initially came up with the idea, but we are starting birthday parties at 10am and go to about noon.  That way, no one (read mom and dad) is tired yet.

Scene:  a toy is in mommy and daddy's room.  Dusk.  
Clara:  Mommy, could you turn on the light?
Mommy:  It's not dark.  Plus you can turn on the light yourself.
Janny:  Clara, I will help you.
Clara and Janny walk into the room together and get the toy.

 Today was glorious.  60 degrees and sunny.  We ate popsicles outside.  I think we earned it.
Janny can ride Clara's pink bike (today with an umbrella).  Clara is zooming around on the pedal-free bike.  I might have to start perusing craigslist for another kid bike.  Hopefully, Clara can get up to speed on a real kid bike without training wheels while Janny cruises around on a different bike with them.  Clara tried to crush my spirits recently by stating that she doesn't like riding bikes (I don't believe her, but words hurt).

TCBC basketball ended unceremoniously last week.  In the first round of the playoffs we rematched the team that beat us in the finals last year (CCC).  The teams had a couple of key changes from last year:  our superstar moved away, and they picked up a 6'6" skilled guy to go along with their 2 other huge guys.  We played well, giving them a bit of a scare with about 10 minutes left.  Then we stopped making shots, and they pulled away.  Overall, the season was a success.  We won every game that we should have and were mostly competitive is other games.  Upcoming.... softball.

In other church news, our small group now has 18 adults and 17 children (and sometimes a grandchild), 11 of them under 6.  Though we rarely we have everyone at a meeting, we are planning to split into 2 groups.  

It's interesting to see the number of young families continuing to increase at church.  Ideally, we want to maintain age diversity in our group but family's with older/grown children are scarce.  In fact, more young families want to join a group like ours because they want to know people who aren't drowning in child rearing (I can't say if the reverse is true.  I hope it is!).  This can lead to a Yogi Berra-ism; nobody goes there anymore because it's too crowded.  We need to step up our recruiting!

Finally, we'll conclude with Janny's prayer.  Repeating this may not grant you untold wealth and fame, or even nice sweaters.  But it might.
    Pray for everything
    Pray for goats
    Pray for everything
    Pray for God
    In Jesus name, amen!