It’s hard to decide when to harvest flax. If you harvest early enough to get the finest fiber, you get no seeds. If you harvest late enough to get seeds to plant next year, you get coarse fibers.jackie harvesting flax

The books suggest various compromises. One suggested 30 days after the peak of flowering, if you mostly care about fiber, and two weeks later if you mostly care about seeds.

Flax flower

We decided to harvest half of our plants today. We think it’s early enough to get good fiber. Indeed, some of the plants are still in flower. But there are plenty of seed pods that look like they’ll be full of seeds.

flax seed pods

Depending on how things go, we’ll harvest the other half in a week or two. That may get us some more or better seeds. At least as important to me, it adds a bit of redundancy—if something goes wrong with the processing of this batch, we’ll have another batch that won’t suffer the same fate.

Jackie has suggested that we not try to save seeds to plant, but rather eat the seeds we get. (I assume she means to grind them up to use as flax-seed meal, which we do buy at the store and put in bread and such. Even if every seed pod turns out to be full to bursting with seeds, we’re only going to get a few tablespoons of flax-seed meal, but that’d be enough for several loaves.)

The first step to turn flax into linen, after growing the plants and harvesting them, is to dry them. The books suggest that you tie the stalks into bundles, then arrange the bundles into loose stacks for drying.

That’s where we are now:

sheaves of flax

I’ve experimented with various alternatives to Google Reader for quite a while now. I used The Old Reader for a while, and then Hive Reader for a while. Both had limitations. (Hive is still in beta, and isn’t quite ready for prime time. TOR is closer, but had various issues, probably the biggest being that it doesn’t get feeds updated promptly enough.)

I had earlier tried using tt-rss, which also isn’t quite there yet, but has a different set of issues.

It requires a server. Steve had tried to cobble together an instance that ran on the server where we host our websites. It had just almost worked, but kept bumping up into the limits of running as a cron job, rather than a daemon. It eventually had several bad days in a row (which we later traced to an unrelated heavy load on the server), and we gave up.

Now Steve has installed an actual server machine in his house, and is running a tt-rss instance there, and has made me an account on it.

Running on an (essentially) dedicated server with a (reasonably) high-speed connection to the internet, it’s now doing a fine job of keeping all my feeds up to date. I’m having some minor user interface issues, but nothing that would keep me from using it as my rss reader for the foreseeable future.

So, I have officially switched over. You can follow the interesting stuff I share via a feed from that site, and have updated the “interesting stuff” item in my sidebar to draw from that feed.

Genevieve at the Clarion Reunion meeting in 2002.
Genevieve at the Clarion Reunion in 2002.

I just learned that Clarion classmate Genevieve Kierans died earlier this month.

It was great to have her in the circle at Clarion. Nobody was nicer or happier than Genevieve, and her critiques were always gentle and often incisive and useful—and often different from what everyone else had to say. It was nice to know that she was somewhere ahead in the circle, when you started getting a lot of “ditto what the last three guys said.”

She’d already had ALS back in 2001, and wrote a number of stories that drew on her experiences with disability. Where she excelled, though, was in telling the story of a callow youth growing into being an adult. Each one of those stories left me with a “How does she do that?” feeling, and I’ve more than once gone back to reread one, trying to tweeze apart the structure of that particular character arc.

I’m sorry not have had the chance to read more such stories.

jackie-looking-back
Jackie looking back along the trail.

Jackie and I went for a hike at Forest Glen today.

There was a Spinners and Weavers Guild event there, and our plan was to go early, go for a hike that would take 4 or maybe 5 hours, and then get back in time for a late lunch and a couple hours at the event.

Turns out, our timetable was a bit optimistic.

For one thing, having failed to get all packed up the night before, we left an hour later than we’d intended. Plus, getting to the venue took a bit longer than we’d planned. So, instead of starting our hike around 8:00 AM, we didn’t hit the trail until about 9:15. On top of that, our hike ended up taking a full 6 hours, instead of the 4–5 we’d planned.

Our socializing after ended up being with just the last 6 or so die-hard spinners.

jackie-hiking-up
Jackie climbing a ridge.

Still, it was a great hike. Unlike our urban walks, Forest Glen is non-flat.

It’s kind of hard to see in that picture (click through for a larger version), but Jackie is there right in the middle, hiking up the side of the ridge.

There’s not a huge amount of elevation change, but the trail makes good use of what there is. According to Endomondo, we stayed between 407 and 644 feet above sea level, and yet we managed a total ascent of 1330 feet and a total descent of 1287 feet.

There’s quite a bit of wildlife in and around Forest Glen. In trips past we’ve seen owls, several kinds of woodpeckers, turkeys, vultures, pheasants, and deer. We saw several of those this trip as well, but we also saw something that was common when I was a boy, but has been quite rare in my experience for more than twenty years: a box turtle.

box-turtle-in-forest-glen
Box turtle just off the path at Forest Glen.

Apparently the Forest Glen box turtle population has been at some risk—a few years ago, tens of box turtles were found dead, all in the same area. They’ve done quite a bit of research on what happened without a definitive result, but the best guess is that some infectious disease took them, possibly passed to many individuals when a large number of turtles were caught and then held together for a local charity event that included a turtle race.

Apparently the local organizers have agreed to drop the turtle race, as a way to protect the turtles. (The race had been held for 49 years without incident, but so many dead turtles all at once was a strong sign that there was a problem.)

A great hike, albeit a bit tiring, and some very pleasant (albeit a bit brief) socializing after. Here’s the details on Endomondo:

If you’re familiar with Forest Glen, it might look as though we hiked the backpacking trail, but we didn’t—because that would have been against the rules, which require that you register a week in advance and pay a fee. Instead, what we did is scout several segments (well, all the segments) of the backpacking trail in advance of some future hike. Before trying this trail with a backpack full of camping gear, we thought it would best to know just how rugged it was and how hard it was to follow the markings. (And it’s good that we did. Our urban walking has not quite conditioned us adequately to manage this trail safely with camping gear. We’d have almost certainly made it, but several spots would have been tough—maybe even dangerous—if we’d been carrying heavy packs. Also, we did miss one turn. By the time we’d backtracked and gotten back on the trail, we’d added a good half a mile to our total distance.)

My sore calf never hurt throughout the hike, although I could just perceive the injured spot as slightly tight, slightly tender on some of the more aggressive downhill bits of the hike.

Tomorrow will be a rest day. If today’s activities don’t produce any soreness, maybe I’ll try a short run on Monday.

I’ve been very disappointed by many friends’ cavalier attitude toward both our government’s invasions of our privacy and its use of the most extreme forces of legal process against those who would tell us the truth about what the government has been doing.

One specific disappointment has been the various versions of “I don’t care if the government listens to my calls. I’ve got nothing to hide.” (Usually with some lame joke about how tedious it would be to listen to their conversations.) It’s as if they know nothing about what led to the American revolution. Didn’t these people go to high school? Don’t they know that each of the privacy-related rights spelled out in the constitution was there for good and specific reasons—because of actual abuses suffered by ordinary people?

The most disturbing of the recent revelations is not how much data that they’re sweeping up (pretty much everything) nor the incredibly lax standards they seem to have about exposing the data (my data and their own!) to a surprisingly large number of people. It’s that they’re sweeping up everything and then keeping it for years.

There are several problems here, but I want to focus on two of them.

It’s not okay just because it’s still secret

At one level, I understand people who trust the government enough to think that it’s okay (or at least less bad) to have the government sweeping up all their private information—as opposed to, let’s say, Google or Facebook or Microsoft (or Monsanto or ADM) doing it. I can accept the ideal of government as a force for good. We’re still reasonably close to having a functional democracy—a few tweaks to campaign finance law and we might very well get back a government that was responsive to the desires of its citizens.

But even if you trust the government not to use your information inappropriately, I think recent events prove that you can’t trust them to keep it secret. We’ve just seen a large leak of exactly the information that the government has been trying it’s very hardest to keep secret. But we only know about it because a brave leaker went public and because a free press published what they’d learned. How many leaks were not to the public, but instead to a foreign government or a criminal organization? We don’t know, because those leaks go unreported. We can’t know. Even the government doesn’t know, and if it did know it wouldn’t tell us.

If the government can’t keep the details of its own most secret programs from becoming public, why would you imagine that it could keep your details secret? For all you know, your information has already been leaked to criminal organizations, to foreign governments, to domestic corporations, to lobbying organizations and other influence peddlers—to anybody who could get an advantage by knowing secrets.

Maybe massive amounts of your information collected by the NSA have already leaked. The next time there’s an unauthorized charge on your credit card, maybe it’s because the NSA leaked your credit card number.

And of course that would just be true information about you. Maybe there’s a bunch of false information about you in the giant NSA databases. The next time you get turned down for a credit card or insurance or a job, maybe it’s because false information about you leaked to people who used it to make a decision about it.

And here is where we get back to why the idea that “I’ve got nothing to hide” is such a terrible idea.

It’s not okay just because you have nothing to hide

One friend made a short list of every “crime” he could remember having committed—a couple of youthful indiscretions, a couple of protests, a couple of harmless acts that were circumstantially appropriate but perhaps violations of some code or another. He was willing to own up to those—”If you want to prosecute me, go ahead!”

But, of course, that’s not how it works. The federal government doesn’t care about such things—or, at least, it doesn’t care until you become a “person of interest” in some other matter.

I don’t know whether my friend has committed any other federal crimes or not. But I do know that he has crossed international borders several times in the last few years. Did he fill out the requisite paperwork correctly each time? Did he carry anything across the border that he shouldn’t have, such as an agricultural product? Did he declare in the section on agricultural contacts that one of his running paths was also frequented by feral pigs? Is he sure that none of his financial dealings falls under the ambit of any federal laws?

In the real world, the federal government goes out and checks these sorts of things if they suspect you of something. Worse, they go and check these things if they suspect one of your friends of something (because it gives them leverage to get you to incriminate your friend). But now they’re going to have another whole bunch of things to check—all your phone calls and emails for the past 5 years.

And don’t forget that it’s trivially easy to convict you of conspiracy. All it takes is a single “overt act,” such as lending a friend bus fare or taking in his mail when he’d on vacation. (Well, technically it also takes an agreement and criminal intent, but apparently it’s okay if the only person in the conspiracy with those is the FBI informant.)

Don’t imagine that you’ve “done nothing wrong” just because you’re not aware of it. Unless you’re a federal prosecutor or defense attorney, you have no idea the vast array of actions that turn out to be federal crimes. One of our biggest protections has been that it’s a lot of effort to investigate and look for those crimes. If all your phone calls and emails are recorded it’s going to be a lot less effort.

As I say, I don’t dismiss out of hand the idea that the government is overall a force for good. I think our government (at all levels) has been pretty effective these last 150 years or so in reducing all sorts of bad things—there’s less poverty, there’s less casual violence, there’s less abuse of vulnerable people. But I don’t think giving the government audio recordings of all our phone calls, the texts of all our emails, or lists of every web page we visit will be much help in those things. And I think it will do real harm in those (fairly rare, but not rare enough) instances when people acting under color of law decide that somebody must be guilty of something, and make use of these new tools to prove it.

I recently came upon an old livejournal post about my struggles to get enough exercise.

It had been written in April 2008, some seven or eight months after I’d quit working a regular job, and was about how I’d always blamed the job for keeping me from getting enough exercise, and how I was unhappy that I hadn’t seized the opportunity that came from my new regular-job-free lifestyle to get into better shape. Here’s an excerpt:

The big advantage of not working a regular job ought to be that I can exercise anytime I want.  In the spring, I can run in the afternoon when it’s warm.  In the summer I can run in the morning when it’s cool.  I can pick the nicest day of the week for my long ride (minimize the chance of being caught miles from home in a thunderstorm) and then organize the rest of the week’s workouts around that.

I say “ought to,” because I haven’t taken full advantage so far.  Last summer I was still working until the end of August, and then I was trying to focus on my novel while still cranking out four or five Wise Bread posts a week.  I tried to get the running habit set up in the fall so that I could continue it through the winter, but didn’t really manage it.

Now, though, it’s spring, and I’ve decided to make exercise–that is, fitness–my number 1 priority.

Reading that post, I realized that I have, finally, succeeded. I now get enough exercise.

Brief aside: Except, of course, that I’ve scarcely run in a month, because of my injured calf.

I’ve tried three times to go out for a short run, and each time the result has been re-injury. After the third time, I realized that I was doing more harm than good, trying to get back to running as quickly as possible. I decided to wait until the symptoms were completely gone, and then give it at least a full week for further rest and recovery, before trying to run again. On that schedule, my first run would be roughly Saturday. In fact, it’ll be delayed at least two days further, because Saturday Jackie and I will go to Forest Glen and squeeze in a long hike in the morning, ahead of a spinning and weaving event there. (And not taking a day to recover from a long hike before a short run is how I hurt my calf in the first place.)

Basically, though, my calf is fine. It doesn’t limit either my walking (we walked 10 miles yesterday) or my taiji (I’ve taught my class on schedule every day). It has been completely pain-free, except when I re-injure it—then it hurts for a couple of days.

I wrote two years ago about my winter fitness regimen. (Three times a week I lift weights and then do an hour of taiji; the other four days I try to walk for an hour.) It proves to be satisfactory to maintain my weight and maintain a base level of fitness.

In the summers, I’ve been doing more. I preserve the lifting and the taiji (and much of the walking, which is mostly incidental to getting other things done) and augment it with running—before my injury, I had been running 7–9 miles most weeks—and have also added a weekly very long walk.

That livejournal post has a chart with the amount of time I had been devoting to exercise the last time I’d been in really good shape. Here’s a similar chart for what I’d been doing until a few weeks ago when I had to quit running:

Activity Minutes per workout Workouts per week Minutes per week
Lifting 30 3 90
Taiji 60 3 180
Short walks 60 4 240
Long walks 240 1 240
Short runs 22 2 44
Long runs 60 1 60
Total 854

The first thing that strikes me is just how similar this is to what I was doing in the past when I’ve been fit. I’ve replaced the bike rides with walking a very similar number of minutes per week. I’ve added the taiji, which adds 3 hours a week, and I’ve reduced the number and length of my short runs, to gain back maybe 50 minutes of that time. But the bottom line is that I’m now spending about 120 minutes a day on fitness-related activities.

Now, that’s great. Certainly it feels great—I feel great when I’m getting this much exercise. And having gotten here, I believe I’m prepared to declare victory, and say that getting and staying in shape is a solved problem.

But how could anyone with a regular job manage such a thing? And yet, much less exercise than this would not build and maintain the capabilities I want. If I want to be able to run for an hour, I need to run for an hour pretty regularly. If I want to be able to walk for four or six hours, then every week or two I need to walk for four or six hours.

I don’t really have an answer here for people who find that making a living limits their ability to be fit. I managed it temporarily a couple of times, but only by letting things slide temporarily—things that I couldn’t let slide permanently.

Still, just at the moment, I’m feeling pretty good. Thanks to the taiji, I move with more ease and control than I’ve ever had before. Thanks to the lifting and the endurance exercise, I have more power and stamina than ever before. I’m looking forward to Saturday’s long hike. And I’m looking forward (after a day or two to recover from that) to trying to run again. (Because, as Steven says, “Running is great exercise between injuries.”)

Last week I was perhaps a mile into a short run when I felt a sudden, sharp pain in my right calf. It hurt quite a bit, and hurt more on each of the two steps it took me to come to a stop without falling down.

My brother likes to say, “Running is great exercise between injuries.”

I’ve had pretty good luck with injuries. I did get hurt the first time I took up running, back in 1992. When I pushed my long run up to 6 miles, so I could run in the Allerton Park Trail Run, I upped the distance too quickly, irritating my Achilles tendon. It took over a year to heal completely, and by then I was no longer a runner.

I’ve taken up running several times since then, without injuring myself. When I gave up running those times it was simply because winter came and I couldn’t make myself spend enough time on the treadmill to stay in shape. Spring would come and I was no longer a runner. Some years I managed to get back into running shape. Other years I didn’t.

After I hobbled back home, I did a good bit of internet reading about strained calf muscles. The injury is most often caused by sudden changes in direction, such as in racket sports. My scenario is the second most common: even a very easy run, when the muscle is tired—I had walked 16 miles the day before.

I rested and iced the calf, and it got a lot better right away. By the second day after the injury it didn’t hurt to walk, I was able to lift weights (skipping calf raises), and I was able to teach my tai chi class without pain. After another couple of days, I was able to walk five miles without discomfort. Once the initial pain and swelling had passed, I’d been doing some massage of the injured spot, trying to minimize the adhesions that seem to be a problem for some runners with recurring calf injuries, and that had reached the point of being pain-free as well.

That all misled me into thinking it was more healed than it turned out to be.

On the fifth day after the injury I tried to go for a very short run, just to see if it was going to be okay. And it was. I ran a few blocks—maybe a quarter of a mile—and then back again, all without pain. Then, when I tried to turn onto my street: ouch.

That reinjury seems to be even more minor. A day of rest and icing and I think I’m back to normal as far a non-running activity goes.

Today I’ll try a mediumish walk, going 2 or 3 miles to lunch, with the option to switch to the bus if my calf hurts along the way. If it’s not sore at all after lunch, maybe I’ll walk home as well.

One of the web pages I read about calf muscle injuries said that after 10 days, scar tissue is as strong as muscle tissue. I’ll hold off on more attempts at running until 10 days after the original injury, and I’ll make sure there’s a day of rest after any other strenuous activity before my next run.

Then we’ll see.

first flax flowersJackie and I visited our garden today, where we’re growing flax with an eye toward making linen. We were pleased to find the first flowers on our flax plants.

Sorry for the crappy photo—I neglected to bring my camera, so this was taken with my phone. Worse, it was windy, so everything was moving. Still, it gives you a general idea of how our flax is coming along—close to knee-high, and very thick and lush. (Apparently growing very thick is preferred if you’re growing flax for fiber, rather than for seed. Thickly packed plants grow straight and tall without branching, so you get the longest fibers. More sparsely grown plants tend to branch out, which is fine if you’re growing the plants for flax seeds, but not ideal if you want textile fiber.)

Somewhat more successfully, I took this photo of some bison with calves, in a field behind the hotel where we stayed in Greenville for our Sharp family reunion.

bison with calves

Continuing our series of long walks to prepare for a possible through hike of the Kal-Haven trail, Jackie and I walked 16.72 miles today.

We walked to the University of Illinois’s arboretum, and then on through south Urbana to Milo’s where we had lunch. Then we walked to Meadowbrook Park and along the trail that goes along the south and west edges of the park, then through married student housing to the old Motorola building (where OLLI is now) to refill our water bottles, and then on home.

Jackie has asked that I specifically mention that we got a very close look at three juvenile Stufflesbeam (the plural of Stufflebeam, which is what we call ground hogs), just on the west side of the railroad embankment where Stadium Drive crosses Neil. One in particular stood just a few feet away, eating grass with great enthusiasm, close enough to give us a great view of his little nose.

Here’s what my tablet captured via Endomondo:

Jackie and I took a couple of pictures of one another with one of our favorite sculptures. We like this sculpture for various reasons, but one is that the very first time we came upon it, suddenly and unexpectedly as we took a turn in the path, we both had the same thought—and we both knew that the other was having that thought: “Anya wouldn’t like that!”

The picture Jackie took of me is pretty good—that’s what I look like. It’s of some interest to me because we took pictures with this sculpture a few years ago, and I didn’t like the pictures of me because of my weight at the time, and there was no way to crop the picture to hide my stomach and yet keep the rabbit sculpture.

I like this one better.

phil-with-rabbit

And, although Jackie just got an ordinary good picture of me, I managed to get a great picture of Jackie.

jackie-with-rabbit

It’s a perfect picture of the Jackie I know—the Jackie I’ve been married to for 21 years.