Wildlife audience for our exercise

This is the grassy spot near the rear of our apartment complex where we do our taiji practice.

Today’s practice was special because we had an audience: a rabbit, a squirrel, three crows, and two juvenile groundhogs showed up to take an interest in our activity. They didn’t seem troubled (although when a guy came past with a dog on a leash, the rabbit most definitely took notice).

First thing in the morning I’d gone for a run and spotted a gazillion cedar waxwings. (Note: number of cedar waxwings approximate.) Actually, they would have been in this picture, too. Just past the little hill is the Copper Slough, and just across it is the path that runs around Kaufman lake, and it was just about here that I saw them.

I added a second lap to my usual run around Kaufman Lake, bringing the distance up to 2.41 miles—my longest run this season, and good progress toward getting back in shape.

After my run, Jackie and I went for a bike ride. We were testing both the route and ourselves for a possible ride to Philo in a few days. The ride to Philo, with a stop at the Philo Tavern for lunch, is our traditional first long ride of the year. Today’s ride covered the first half of the route to Philo, then headed back into town with a stop at Meadowbrook Park, making it a 17-mile loop. That went fine, so we figure the 28 mile round trip to Philo should be doable no problem.

We’re starting to get all sorts of wild ideas about possible long rides later in the summer. But our local wildlife audience is keeping things pretty wild right here at home.

Hiking and Viking at Forest Glen

Jackie and I went to the Forest Glen Preserve, a nature preserve in eastern Illinois, over near the Indiana border.

We scouted the campgrounds, because the local Esperanto group is planning to some tendumado. We found two, although there’s at least one more.

One is a pretty ordinary Midwestern campground with a mixture of tents and RVs. It was pretty full, but only as crowded as you’d expect on Saturday morning of Memorial Day weekend. It had showers and flush toilets, firewood on sale, etc.

Near that one (but far enough away that noise wouldn’t be a problem) was the “tent campground.” It was different in that it didn’t have parking spaces for the campsites. There was an area just a few yards away where you could leave your car for up to 20 minutes to unload, and then you were supposed to move it to a parking area that was still really quite close—I’ve carried my luggage further in a hotel. Still, it seemed to be enough to discourage campers. Even Memorial Day weekend, there was nobody there—sixteen vacant campsites. (It did lack flush toilets. Also, the recent rain had left some of the campsites under water, although the dry sites were also vacant.)

Once we’d scouted the campgrounds, we went for a hike. We picked the Big Woods trail, which a posted list had described as the most rugged of the preserve’s trails. We took that with a grain of salt. Here in the flatland, pretty much any change in elevation seems to qualify a trail as rugged,  but it was somewhat rugged. The train went down twice into ravines, then back up again, and ended at an observation tower at what I assume is the high point of the preserve.

We saw plenty of neat stuff—sugar maples and tulip trees, white oak, sassafras, ferns, various kinds of mushrooms. (I saw what might be the tallest sassafras tree I’ve ever seen. It was huge. I usually think of sassafras as being scrubby little things.)

The trail was muddy, but only very muddy in a few places (plus, of course, the places where it crossed running water). We ran into three very wet, dirty guys with tools who said they’d been doing trail maintenance.

The trail was only a little more than 1 mile, but out-and-back so we got in maybe 2 ¼ miles of hiking.

We left it at just that much hiking, because we still needed to go to the Viking Reenactment, which was the reason that we were visiting Forest Glen this weekend in particular.

Two of the reenactors seemed to focus on fiber crafts. One is a member of the spinners and weavers guild, and was using some of Jackie’s handspun yarn to demonstrate weaving with a warp-weighted loom. We had a fun chat.

The other fiber-crafty person told us about her theory of mud-colored peasants. Many reenactors, she said, end up with clothing in colors of sheep, because dyeing fabric is another whole skill that you need to learn—and making your own natural dyes is two or three more skills (growing or gathering dye plants, and learning how to prepare them for dye use). However, in her experience meeting actual modern-day poor peasants, even the really poor ones go to considerable effort to not be the color of mud. Hence, she proposed, actual Viking-era villagers probably wore clothing that was as brightly colored as possible, within the limits of the natural dyes that were available to them. (They had several sources of yellow, yellowish green, red, and purplish red. Blue was available. A really good green was tricky, because you had to get a good yellow and then overdye with blue.)

Despite her theories, all the other reenactors seemed to be wearing clothing in natural colors.

What with scouting and hiking and viking, it was already lunch time. We had lunch at Gross’ Burgers, then headed home (pausing just a bit at a rest stop to let a severe thunderstorm pass).

A good outing.

Long runs and rides

Bicycle on the side of a country roadI miss being in shape for long runs and long rides, so it’s great to finally be making some progress.

Since I always get out of shape over the winter (I’ve never been able to get myself to run in the cold), I’m always having to ramp up in the spring.

I’ve got a nice 1.5 mile loop that I use for my early season runs. An important milestone is when I’m first able to do a “long” run of longer than that—this year a 2.12 mile run last Sunday. Not very long, but I know from experience that, once I can do a long run, I can ramp the distance up pretty quickly. If all goes well, by mid-summer my “short” runs will be 2.5 miles (same as my short loop, except adding a second lap around Kaufman Lake) and my long runs will be 5 or 6 miles. Still short by distance running standards, but long enough for me to feel like I’ve gotten a good workout.

The biggest obstacle to making proper progress is a pernicious habit I have of letting the weather tempt me into deferring my rest days: When the forecast is for rain tomorrow, I’m inclined to squeeze in a workout today, even if I ought to rest.

That can lead me seriously astray when—as is common on the prairie—we get into a weather pattern with several days in a row where the forecast is for rain tomorrow. Each day I think, “I’ll go ahead an get in one more run today, then take a rest day tomorrow when it’s rainy.” A few days of that, and pretty soon I’ve got sore knees or sore ankles—something that can blight a whole season.

Happily, the rain actually did arrive today, so I’m taking the rest day I should have taken Monday or Tuesday.

I follow much the same pattern with long bicycle rides. All the more so, really, because they’re even more dependent on the weather than a run. But the result doesn’t seem as pernicious. I can wear myself out with a few extra rides on what should be rest days, but so far the result hasn’t been the sort of injuries that set back my training.

So, rest day today. The forecast is for thunderstorms tomorrow as well, but we’ll still get in lifting and taiji, even if we can’t bicycle to them. Then, Friday, back to outdoor exercise. We’re just about ready for our first long ride of the season, traditionally to the center of the universe, for lunch at the Philo Tavern. (That link goes to a post from 2005 about that year’s first long ride.)

Public meeting on backyard chickens

Chickens in chicken-wire enclosure
Sustainable chickens

There’s a letter to the editor in today’s News-Gazette from Clarence Surma advocating for legalizing backyard chickens in Champaign.

In addition, he’s announcing a public meeting on the topic at the Champaign County Farm Bureau on June 2nd at 6:30 PM.

I would have liked to provide some useful links, but the News-Gazette doesn’t seem to have letters to the editor available on-line, Clarence Surma doesn’t seem to have any web presence at all, and I couldn’t find any mention of the meeting on the Farm Bureau’s website. So, not much to link to. I’ve got email in to the Farm Bureau asking for details, and will update here I find learn any more.

If anybody has any links, I hope they’ll share in the comments or by email to me.

Illinois Marathon

Illinois Marathon runnings near mile 18
Lucie Mays-Sulewski in the lead near mile 18 of the Illinois Marathon

Several miles of the Illinois Marathon course run quite close to our apartment, so I thought I’d wander over and watch some of the elite runners go by.

The people who win a marathon run at about a 5-minute-mile pace. So, with the nearest point along the course being roughly mile 18, I figured they’d come past about an hour and a half after the start. My figuring was just about right, but I was a little slow getting out of the house, so the first two runners went by while we were still a block away.

We got to see the rest of the top men go by. They were pretty spread out—it doesn’t look like this is going to be a tactical race at all.

It was a grey, cool day. A bit windy for anyone hoping to get a great time, but otherwise perfect for running a marathon. It was, however, just a bit chilly for standing still. We watched runners go by in ones and twos until we saw the first of the women go by, then headed back home.

[Update: Checking the results, I see that the woman in the picture is Lucie Mays-Sulewski who went on to finish first among the women (and 24th overall) with a time of 2:52:54.]

Open Wireless

Both my brother and the local makerspace’s Brian Duggan shared the link to the EFF’s Why We Need An Open Wireless Movement. Steven, because he’s the only person he knows who actually does run an open access point for his home network, and Brian because the local meshing network access point project is already able to provide this part of the necessary functionality.

At the meeting last night with some of access point folks, we got a quick demo of how to configure an access point running OpenWrt so that it provided both a closed network with access to the LAN and an open network that only had access to the WAN (hence, no access to local servers, printers, etc.).

The demo didn’t go as far as to show how to configure the system with quality of service limitations on the open network (so that random strangers can use your network, but can’t suck down all your bandwidth). Figuring that out will be one of my next steps.

There’s some info on OpenWrt’s quality of service page, but it’d be really nice to have an example with some appropriate settings that would allow some basic email and web surfing while leaving most of the bandwidth of a typical cable or DSL connection available for the connection owner. I haven’t found that yet. (Actually, I think I understand why it doesn’t exist. The upload and download speeds are set in kBits/s, so the correct values depend on the speed of your underlying connection. Values that shared 10% of a fast cable-modem connection could consume a large fraction of a DSL connection. Still, it’d be nice if there were some suggested values for typical configurations.)

Maker fair

independent Media Center
Independent Media Center in Urbana

Jackie and I spent Saturday morning at the Maker Fair at the Independent Media Center in downtown Urbana.

I’m late to the Maker movement. Being very much not handy, I’ve always avoided making things. It’s part of the reason that both writing and software have always appealed to me—you don’t have to actually make anything.

Gradually, though, I’ve been coming around.

For one thing, I’ve come to appreciate two ideas: Getting help, and starting by learning the narrowest possible skill set (which can then be expanded if you enjoy the activity).

Me wearing the scarf I wove
Me wearing the scarf I wove (photo by Jackie Brewer)

For example, a couple of years ago, I wove a scarf. I say I wove it, and that’s technically true: I did all the weaving. However, I had quite a bit of help with the other parts. In particular, Jackie wound the warp and put it on the loom. (I came up with the design myself, based on some scarves that we saw for sale that were surprisingly inexpensive for handwoven. The key to the modest price was that they used fuzzy yarn set very wide—about 4 threads per inch. That meant that it both used less yarn and took less time.)

If I’d had to wind my own warp and put it on the loom myself, I doubt if I’d have made it. I’d have had to learn three new skills, and I’d have had to execute all three without making any unrecoverable errors. Instead I got gentle introductions to two of those skills, and actually learned the third. And I made a scarf.

The Maker Fair was great. There’s all kinds of cool stuff going on in Champaign-Urbana. We had great fun talking with Jonathan Manton who was making paper polyhedrons using Inkscape images of the flat shapes of the faces, software he’d written that added tabs and slots, and then a digitally controlled paper cutter to cut out the shapes. He called the whole thing the Large Hedron Collider.

One of the most interesting things that I hadn’t been aware of is the FabLab, a community facility sponsored by the University (and many other organizations) that has various fabrication devices—computer-controlled cutters, routers, engravers—available for use by members of the community. We’re definitely going to spend some time there.

Brian Duggan (one of the organizers, and a guy I know from work) told me that there was a group there working on deploying a meshing networking system, an important technology for protecting our rights. (See my recent post on whether civil unrest would threaten our network connectivity).

Lots of other cool stuff: model rockets, zines, art, music, etc. I’m going to have to get more involved with all this. In particular, I’m planning to start going on Thursday evenings to get involved with the meshing networks project.

Toured National Petascale Computing Facility

Jackie and I got a tour of the NCSA’s National Petascale Computing Facility at the University of Illinois today, where they’re getting ready to install the Blue Waters supercomputer.

This picture shows just the power stations—all the space between these units will, over the next few months, be filled with rack after rack of water-cooled POWER7 modules. (A big part of the building houses cooling towers to dissipate that heat).

There are a couple of supercomputers already installed at the other end of the room, including the EcoG, designed and built by students to enter into a contest for energy-efficient supercomputers. (It took 3rd place overall , and was declared the “greenest self-built cluster.”)

It was build on ordinary commercial-grade racks, which turned out not to be quite strong enough to support all the hardware they were installing—you can see where they braced it with two-by-fours.

A week earlier, we’d attended a tour of the NCSA’s Data Visualization Lab, where we’d been treated to a bunch of 3D videos (shown on a very large, very high-res screen) produced on various supercomputers. It was pretty cool, but I didn’t get any photos worth sharing.

Because I’m a big geek about security and related topics, I was particularly interested in the facility’s secure entry. Employees need to swipe a proximity card and submit to an iris scan. Only after the cylinder closes behind them does it open in front—and it won’t do that if a weight sensor suggests that there’s more than one person in the cylinder.

Secure entry at the National Petascale Computing Facility

Those of us on the tour just walked in through a door next to the secure entryway.

Doing Taiji backwards

The Taiji form that we’re learning is handed. That is, many of the moves are not symmetrical left versus right. That seemed odd to me. In Aikido, each move has a left version and a right version and we always learned them both ways. My instructor says that some schools of Taiji do learn all asymmetrical moves as both left- and right- handed, but that most, including the version he’d learned, do not.

He told us a while ago that he’d added some mirror-image work to his own practice, and we even did a little bit in class. Many of the students resisted this, and we only did it a couple of times. Still, doing a mirror-image of the form seems like an obvious win to me, so I’ve just recently started to do so in my own practice.

What’s most interesting to me so far is the way doing mirror-image work makes me a beginner again. Not that my study of Taiji is at all advanced, but I had progressed beyond beginner—until this.

It’s a very different sort of being a beginner. When I was learning this form the first time, the hard part was simply learning how the moves went. In the time it took to learn what I was supposed to do, I worked through my coordination issues for executing the move. Doing the moves backwards, my experience is quite otherwise. I know how the move is supposed to go, but executing it backwards requires developing a whole new set of muscle memories. The practice exposes a part of the learning experience that was largely masked before—hidden by not knowing quite what I was supposed to do.

The whole thing is interesting enough that I’m sure I’m going to want to repeat this exercise on the long form, once I’ve gotten reasonably good at doing our short (9-movement) form backwards. I’m also going to have to think about other variations that might let me rediscover being a beginner in other ways.

The obvious varient would be to reverse the form in time—do it from the end back to the beginning. I’m not quite sure what the reverse of the kicks and stomps would be, but for the rest of it, working each form backwards would be straightforward enough. It’d certainly make me a beginner again.

New water amenity

Our new "water amenity."

I was trying to come up with a word to describe the degree of progress they’d made toward finishing the landscaping here. The dirt is there, so it isn’t landless-scaping, and the contours are in place so it isn’t land-scapelessing. With only one remaining word fragment to work with, all I could come up with is landscape-ingless.

(I blame English for using “landscaping” to refer to both the changes made to the land itself and to features like sculptures and plantings.)

Every since they first tried to sell the community on turning Scott Park into a detention pond by claiming that “anyplace else it would be considered a water amenity,” Jackie and I have been using the term “water amenity” for any feature constructed to deal with the runoff from development.

There’s nothing like calling your ditches, impoundments, detentions, and retention ponds “water amenities” to class up the joint.