Saturday, May 16, 2009

The End of Thinking

Where was this  when I was in school?  It will take derivatives, including showing you all the steps so you can show "your" work.  So much potential, and probably the geekiest way to waste time on the internet short of posting on comic book message boards.  "Who would win in a fight, Spider-man or Boba Fett?"  Maybe Alpha can answer that question...

UPDATE: Seriously, check this thing out.  Watch the overview screencast - it is breathtaking how much data is already in place.


Friday was Bike to Work Day, and with only a little bit of trickery I managed to take part for the first time.

I used to ride to work almost every day, when I worked at our DC office.  The company has a small exercise space and locker rooms there, and the garage has a bike rack.  Ironically, my current home office in Alexandria is built on top of a very large gym, which is just finishing a long refurbishing.  Too bad it ain't free, or I'd bike to work there, too.

So I haven't ridden to work since I left the assignment in Southeast DC.  Sarah is working at that office now, and she mentioned that she was thinking about trying biking to work, and asked for pointers.  That was pretty much all the excuse I needed.  Since we are working on the same project, I knew I could "hot desk" for a day at that office without much trouble.

I got up a little early so I could ride to Paul & Sarah's to meet up.  The ride in went really well - I know every inch of that route along Four Mile Run and up the Mount Vernon Trail.  We went to the WABA pit stop at National's Park.  Bagels, bananas, swag.  We didn't stick around long - who knows, we may have missed our names being pulled for the raffle.  We did see some Coasties we knew, who told us there was a CG-only pit stop at HQ - apparently the Commandant is an avid cyclist.  They were quiet adorable with their new baby and their matching USCG jerseys.  Pretty sweet.

The weather held, though it was a little sticky on the ride home in the afternoon.  I had forgotten how much I enjoyed riding to work - it feels like I'm getting away with something.  And I enjoyed riding with someone, since I almost always do solo rides.  I was very impressed with Sarah - she was flying right along even though she was riding a much heavier mountain bike.  I was also sorry I didn't get to see Jane  in action - it sounds like she did extremely well, especially considering 1) it was her first bike commute, and 2) she hadn't been on most of those trails before.  So kudos to both of my new fellow bike commuters, I hope they both keep riding.  And this may have convinced me to get the cheapest possible membership for the gym at work, just so I could start back up myself.

Yard of Mysteries

Odd appearances, strange comings and goings in my yard recently.

FIRST - The Metal Detective.  Last weekend, a man I did not know came to my side door (not the front), knocking as I was getting ready to go for a bike ride.  He explained he had spoken with my landlord about sweeping the lawn to look for... treasure, I suppose.  I explained that I had no problem with it, provided he didn't dig any especially large holes.  He's reappeared a few times, sweeping various sections of the yard.  He said he was hoping to find silver coins, since the property is pretty old for the area.  I don't think he's found anything.

SECOND - Beach Ball.  A cheap plastic beach ball, inflated, showed up in my fenced yard.  Not odd in of itself, but I couldn't figure how it got there.  The fence would keep most things out, and if someone threw it in, why wouldn't they come and get it back?  It probably blew in on a windy day; admittedly a minor mystery.

THIRD - Chutes & Ladders.  I'm impressed I even noticed this one, at first.  As I drove past the side yard on my way to back into the garage, I noticed an extension ladder, lying partially hidden alongside the house.  There's been a house going up down the street, and some painting crews working nearby.  But I could't figure for the life of me why anyone would just drop a ladder in my yard.  I figured the landlord had contracted for some work on the house.  Further evidence supports this theory - there are now paint chips in the yard, and the trim in those areas looks like it has been repainted.

For all the time I've been here, I've never known anyone to come into the yard.  Now in the space of a few weeks it is starting to seem like a public park.  Maybe I can get the city to mow the grass for me...

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Rolling like a droog...

...with my clockwork orange.  Windsor Clockwork, in orange, to be exact.  I've ordered the parts for Matt to begin construction up in Vermont of a Continuously Variable Planetary transmission version of the bike.  I think it will be an extraordinarily cool bike once he is done - nice road frame with no fixed gears.  I may have to swap out the tires, though - it comes with a road set, and I'd like to get it with some hybrid-style tires.  I'm not sure the really knobby cyclocross tires are what I'm looking for, or that they would even fit.  I just need something a little tougher, with a little bit of tread, that can handle the C&O Canal towpath and the gravel stretches of the Capital Crescent trail.

Regardless, I'm very excited about this project.  I hope Matt will be capturing the construction progress, or at least commenting on it, on his site  The last thing to figure out now is how to get the finished bike from Vermont to Virginia.


School's out, school's out
Teacher let the monkeys out
One was jailed
And one prevailed
Both asked God
"How have I failed?"
-Grad School chant (traditional)

Good stuff from Matt Groenig's book "School is Hell."

I've finished my first class towards my masters via the Virginia Tech online system.  It wasn't too rough; I think it did what I needed it to, which was reacquaint me with the habits of study and homework.  Now over the summer I'll be taking a course with material I've never taken before, Manned Submersible Design.  I'm looking forward to it - submersibles are what got me interested in this field in the first place.  You can draw a straight line from Peter Buonincontro buying me a copy of Seven Miles Down at the middle school library sale through my acceptance to the Coast Guard Academy to finishing my BS in Ocean Engineering and earning my PE in naval architecture.  And it looks like that line will continue with a masters in Ocean Engineering... in about 4 years.  At least I'm off to a good start.


I watched Into the Wild earlier this week.  I had never seen it before, nor had I read the book.  I'm usually pretty good about reading books before seeing movies based on them - the books are almost always better.  I think I may have to go back and read Krakauer's book - but not because I liked the movie.

It was a very interesting movie, but I found it frustrating.  Not the movie itself, but the story it tells.  As a technical exercise, the movie is very good - Sean Penn directed it and does a good job of giving the movie the visual scope it deserves, since so much of it takes place in the great wide spaces of the American West.  My trouble is one that many others have - the young man in the movie, Chris McCandless, was gifted and willful and capable and foolish.  He essentially walked away from his life and tramped for two years, ending up in the hinterlands near Denali National Park, where he eventually starved to death.  My reaction, over and over in the movie, was that almost every choice reflected staggering hubris and egotism.  From his surviving letters and journals, plus the recollections of the many people he met and befriended, McCandless was looking for a latter-day Walden experience, to live as Thoreau did.  This does not align with the spirit of Walden in some ways - Walden was basically a suburb of Boston, even when Thoreau was there, just out by Lynn, inside route 128.  He would often leave the cabin and visit town.

Though perhaps McCandless was more right than he knew; he benefited from the kindness of those he met on the road many times, and Thoreau was actually living on his friend Emerson's property.  Yet he still thought he could walk out into some of the harshest country known and survive on his own.  Even if he had the skills and wherewithal to do so, I think I may have a fundamental issue with his desire to isolate himself.  I prefer Donne to Thoreau:
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee
Krakauer himself has argued in McCandless' favor, saying that he didn't take a map so he could "create" a blank place on the map to explore.  I don't find self-deception sympathetic.  Others who agree with Krakauer argue that McCandless was trying to live in harmony with nature, and acted out of respect.  Nature is one mean mother, and respect first means you never forget that she is trying to kill you (and eventually will).  I feel like his actions were fundamentally disrespectful - he acted as one trying to impose their will on nature, to live as they see fit rather than as they can.  And lastly, for someone who has been described as being so personable and friendly, his willingness to walk away from so many people strikes me as cold.  Even in the movie's depiction of him, I found him selfish.

I have to admit, all I have to go on is the movie.  I have not educated myself on the facts.  So I will definitely read the book.  My real point is that the movie, whether or not you enjoy the story, is very good, because it forces you to form an opinion, to think about what you've seen.  I enjoyed that, and look forward to learning more.