Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Quiet ....

I've been really quiet lately.  I've been a bit sedentary and have been reading a lot.  I've only posted six times this month and that's including the one you are reading right now.

So ... what have I been doing?  I've been trying to ride my bike more but I have not been very successful.  I planned to ride three times a week, or twelve times for the month, but I managed only three bike rides.  I have been very successful at coming up with excuses.  Not very encouraging.  These rides are meant to be preparation for riding RAGBRAI next year.  Strange how the idea of riding RAGBRAI really appeals to me but I am not very enthusiastic about actually preparing for it.

My motivation has been struggling since our return from Africa.  I just can't get things started.  The couch ... and the television it faces ... has gotten a work out this summer.  When I'm not watching TV I'm on Facebook or Twitter.  In other words ... not being very productive at all.  The result is I'm not preparing for next summer and I've even gained a little weight.  Not that much actually but I am approaching the weight I was when I had bad blood test numbers.  I got my numbers down last time by losing ten to fifteen pounds.  I wouldn't want to have my blood tested right now.   I try to tell myself that the gain is because muscle weighs more than fat but my lack of activity lately doesn't jive with that rationalization.

That is just about it really.  Sleep, eat, do chores, surf the social web, watch TV, ... rinse and repeat.  Not the healthiest of lifestyles.

So I'm trying to regain some motivation.  I'm trying to get out more.  I've  started to walk once a week again.  On Saturday I went on a Backwood's led hike this last weekend at a park I'd never been to before (Neale Woods) - it was nice but buggy, a victim of the time of the year (it was a year ago I got all bit up at Waubonsie on another Backwood's led hike).

Sunday the Wife, her Sister-in-Law, her niece, and I went to the Brownville Flea Market and enjoyed a nice sunny day browsing rusty treasure.  (The ice cream I had there didn't help my weight situation much but it was oh so good.)

I will get on my bike and I will kill two birds with one stone - prepare for RAGBRAI and loose some weight.  Heck, I'll kill three - I would also be preparing for next year's Trek up the Tower.  October will be a more productive month.  I promise.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Book: Helene Wecker's "The Golem And The Jinni"

My latest read on my way to meet my goal of reading twenty-four books this year was a nice piece of fantasy fiction by Helene Wecker: "The Golem and the Jinni".

The book started out slow as Wecker first spun the fibers of several characters into more substantial threads in the first half of the book.  If I'd written the review at this point I would not say that I liked it.  It seemed slow and meandering.

This changed in the second half of the book when Wecker weaves the threads into an unexpected tapestry.  Everything that didn't quite make sense, now fell into place.  In the end I really enjoyed the story of the golem and the jinni.

The book is Wecker's first and the originality of the main characters - two very different creatures that, in most fantasy novels, would probably be the bad guys - and taking place in early 20th century New York was a refreshing change from the usual sword, sorcery, and mystical land fantasy I have read in the past.

I will have to keep my eye out for more of Helene Wecker's works in the future.

On to the next book.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Camp #4: Back To Hitchcock

For my fourth camp I returned last week to the location of my first camp (My First Camping Experience - Part One).  Hitchcock Nature Center has five backcountry campsites.  To change it up a bit from my first camp I chose another campsite on the other side of the park at the end of Fox Run Ridge trail.

The campsite is not far from the Nature Center lodge and the parking area.  After a very easy three quarter mile hike I reached the campsite.  The site was similar to the one on Westridge where I'd camped before.  There was a gravel pit for pitching your tent and a metal fire ring nearby.

I looked around the site checking out where I could collect firewood and put up my tent.  Last time I had issues with wind and problems getting my tent stakes to stay in the gravel.  This time I had no problems at all.  The wind was gentle.  The new stakes that I purchased after that first camp - longer than the ones that came with my tent and tri-lobed - gripped the ground tenaciously.  The tent was up in a couple minutes (at most ... didn't time myself).  I seem to be getting faster at putting it up.
MSR Groundhog tent stakes.

After getting the tent up I walked to the overlook located at the end of Fox Run Ridge trail and about 950 ft (290 m) from the campsite.  Along the way I noticed Monarch butterflies and lots of late summer flowers. A few years ago I'd noticed (Hiking Iowa: Hitchcock Nature Center 2011 Revisit) that the Monarchs came through here in August and September.

A Monarch butterfly along the trail.
The view from the overlook took in the farm fields and the start of the great plains.  At the bottom of the ridge a train track headed north and south.

A panorama taken from the Fox Run Ridge overlook.
I went back to the campsite and pulled out my tablet and read a little.  It was a bit buggy.  I decided not to eat a hot meal this camp.  I'd packed chicken and mashed potatoes but decided to not cook it and instead had a cold dinner of cereal, homemade trail mix, and a protein bar.

As I was at the campsite three people hiked passed heading to the overlook.  I heard planes fly overhead as they came in for a landing at Epply airfield.  I heard a train go by.  The train must have crossed a road nearby as it blew its whistle.  This campsite did not have the peace and tranquility I'd experienced on my last couple of camps.

I went back to the overlook to see if I could get a picture of a passing train but I was not patient enough I think.  All I got were empty tracks.

Train tracks about a thousand feet from my campsite.
As I waited I took pictures of flowers. There were tiny little clusters of white flowers everywhere.

Tiny little flowers a third of an inch across.
I gave up on getting a picture of the train and headed back to the campsite and started building a fire.  I managed to make a good fire but it took three cotton balls soaked in Vaseline to get it started.  I think this was my fault.  I think I was piling on too much wood on top of the burning cotton balls.  Next time I need to be a bit slower to add wood onto the flame so I don't smother it.  I have to learn fire starting patience.

You can tell Fall is getting here.  It is getting darker sooner.  The sun had set after 8:00PM on my first few camps.  This time the sun was down by 7:30PM.  It got dark a lot sooner.  I was hoping for a starry night - the sky had been clear when I got there - but the clouds rolled in just as the sun was going down.  I spent the rest of the evening tending the fire and reading.  That's one advantage of reading books on a tablet - you can read in the dark.

I didn't sleep that well that night.  I'd expected a colder night than I had and I was a bit too warm early on.  I don't sleep well when I'm warm.  It did chill down sometime after 4:00AM.  It's also hard to sleep when a train whistle blows every thirty to sixty minutes.  I did manage to sleep but I woke up a lot.  I may have to pack ear plugs next time.  It's kind of sad.  I love the relaxing sound of trains clickitty-clacking on the tracks but the whistles were just too loud.

I woke up around 7:00AM after a restless sleep.  This was later than I usually wake up while camping but sunrise is later now which probably explains it.  I packed up and headed home.

Not exactly sure where my next camp will be.  I am investigating a park in north-eastern Iowa near the Mississippi river - The Yellow River Sate Forest which has four backcountry campsites.  It is also over six hour away by car.  I'll make a decision over the next few weeks.

Pictures of the camp have been added to my 2014-2016 Camping in Iowa and Nebraska and my 2008-2017 Hitchcock Nature Reserve Google Photos albums.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Book: Michio Kaku's "Physics Of The Future"

When I was young(er) Carl Sagan was the scientist that you saw on the television.  He acted as a conduit between science and the ordinary person.  He died in 1996.  Since then the role of conduit has fallen to at least three people: Bill Nye (the science guy), Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Michio Kaku.

When I think of science I often find myself thinking about the future and the technology that will be born from cutting edge science.  I have always liked to read forecasts of technological progress.  Over the years I have seen many predictions come and go.  Personal Jet Packs?  Nope.  Flying cars?  Not yet.  Space colonies in the 70s and men walking on Mars by the 80s?  Not even remotely close.  I've been disillusioned many times but I can't help from seeking out the next prediction.  That's why I read Michio Kaku's "Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100".

Professor Kaku attempts to forecast the development of technology between today and the year 2100 using interviews with scientists, engineers, and observing trends.  You can tell that he has learned the lessons taught by other, less successful, prognosticators.  His forecasts are more conservative and in the process of writing this book he has gone after several sacred cows of many futurists.

I'm not sure how to describe how this book made me feel.  On one hand the realism Professor Kaku injects into his projections is refreshing.  On the other hand the sacred cows ... things like the singularity, sentient artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and other really cool technology ... are things I have always been excited about. It was a bummer to read a well written argument for why the cool stuff you hoped to see some day will not happen in the next one hundred years.

There's another thing about this book that reduced it's enjoyability for me.  I spend a lot of my web browsing time looking at technology and reading how things may progress in the future.  Because of this, most of the things Professor Kaku writes about I already knew about.  I don't think there was anything really new for me.  For someone who hasn't kept of with science and technological trends this book would be a useful overview.  For me ... it felt like a retread.  This isn't the books fault.  I just picked the wrong book to read.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

A First World Problem

I've been watching American Horror Story on Netflix.  There is a new season starting in October.  This resulted in a dilemma:  Should I DVR the new season or should I wait for it to get to Netflix?

Both options have advantages and disadvantages.  If I DVR it I will get to watch the show sooner but I would be limited to one episode per week and I would have to fast forward through commercials.  If I wait for Netflix to catch up I could watch the entire season in one binge and I would not have to fast forward through commercials but I would have to wait six months to a year for the episodes to be available.

I've been thinking about this problem for awhile and   ... I realized that my problem was a first world problem.

First World Problem:
"Problems from living in a wealthy, industrialized nation that third worlders would probably roll their eyes at." - From The Urban Dictionary
In a world where the sovereignty of a free Ukraine is threatened by a rearward looking authoritarian, the one sided death and destruction of Gaza by a so-called ally, the inhuman acts of radical religious and religious intolerant organizations like ISIS (or ISIL, IS, or whatever they want to be called), and the number of deaths from Ebola rapidly approaches two thousand souls, wouldn't it be wonderful if all our problems were First World Problems.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Book: Neil Gaiman's "The Ocean At The End Of The Lane"

This was a short one.  At one hundred and eighty pages it was the shortest book I've read in years.  This was my first book I've read by Neil Gaiman, a noted graphic novelist and writer.  "The Ocean at the End of the Lane" is a novel intended for adults.  Having said this, while reading this book, I had to double check that I hadn't checked out a young adult book.

The book follows the memories of a man who has returned to his childhood home where he remembers a harrowing time of magical creatures, magic, and life threatening danger.  The book reads like a cross between a fantasy novel and a fairy tale.  Gaiman weaves a magical tale hidden in a normal pastoral setting of the English countryside.

Gaiman captures the uncertainty of memory and the feelings of a young boy in his story telling.  There is a sense of wonder wrapped around the calm acceptance of all the strangeness the seven year old boy is witness to.  I enjoyed the way we wade into the strange world where a pond can be an ocean and shadows can devour you but I wanted for more.  The book is too short.  There is so much more that could be written but, in the end, it all remains a mystery.  I guess that's what makes a good book ... leaving the reader wanting for more.