Walking to Mordor

A few years ago Jackie and I undertook to walk to Rivendell, replicating (the mileage of) Bilbo’s journey. We started, but we found that tracking the mileage in a notebook or spreadsheet didn’t really suit, and our venture rather petered out. (We got plenty of walking in that year. We just quit tracking it against Bilbo’s journey.)

Recently our friend Ashley Price started a walk to Mordor, replicating the mileage of Frodo’s journey from The Lord of the Rings, and it turns out that now there’s an app for that. You enter your mileage for each leg, and it tells you as you reach each milestone along the way. It also has a mechanism for “friends,” so you can see as they reach their milestones.

So Jackie and I are taking another stab at it. I installed the app, and for several days now have been entering our daily mileage.

If you want to join us, feel free to install the Walk to Mordor app yourself and friend me! (I’m in there as Philip Brewer, although perhaps I should have had some hobbitish name.)

Today we walked some in the University arboretum.

Unfortunately we got started just as the weather turned awful, so we haven’t been making very many miles per day so far. But as soon as it gets a little nicer, I’m sure we’ll start racking up miles as fast as our little hobbit feet can move us along.

Edited to add: We are also re-reading the Lord of the Rings. We meant to read along with our walk, but so far we’re reading quite a bit faster than we can walk. Maybe we’ll catch up at Rivendell where there’s a bit of a pause in the walking, but the prose carries on.

Adulting my to-read pile

For some time now I’ve found myself in the middle of an unusually large number of books. Actually, that’s not quite true—I’ve forever gotten myself in the middle of multiple books; what’s different lately is that I’ve found it difficult to crank on through to the end of them.

I recently figured out why, which led to me telling Jackie, “I used to be able to just sit down for four or six hours and finish a book or two or three, but I don’t seem to be able to do that any more.”

Jackie of course immediately spotted the issue, which was why I put it that way. “With your new focus on movement,” she said, “you’re much less willing to just sit down for four or six hours to do anything.”

I actually have data showing this. My new Oura ring has a feature to alert me if I spend 50 minutes sitting (or standing) still, but that nagging function is going virtually unused—I’ve gotten exactly one ding for a “long period of inactivity” in the past month. I just don’t sit still for as long as fifty minutes any more.

Getting in plenty of movement is great, and I certainly feel better for doing it, but until recently has had an unfortunate side-effect: I’ve found it very easy to waste those less-than-fifty-minute blocks of time.

In fifty minutes I can check my email, scroll through my twitter feed and my facebook feed, read a couple of articles people have shared links to, and check my RSS feeds. And then after going for a walk or a workout (or just making a cup of coffee), I can waste another fifty minutes.

But fifty minutes is plenty of time to get something useful done, such as reading a chunk of a book. Just lately, finally, I’ve been using those blocks of time that way. (Like a grownup!)

By applying myself to reading books, I am making good progress. I just finished Eliot Peper’s Borderless, which was excellent, and I’m more than halfway through Mathew Walker’s Why We Sleep, which is absolutely fascinating. I hesitate to start Sean B. Carroll’s Endless Forms Most Beautiful until I finish the sleep book. But, having made some progress, I feel like . . . . Well, not like I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. More like I figured out how to go spelunking in the book-reading caverns without bonking my head, scraping my knees, and getting a crick in my back.

It’s not like the old days, when I could curl up in a chair (or sprawl out on the floor) and read for hours. But it’s probably better.

Movement in 2018

This year’s review of my movement practice will be a bit less detail-oriented than last year’s, when I included a long list of exercises, and a long list of non-exercise movement that I’d engaged in over the year. This year I exercised a bit less and moved a bit more, and came to a balance that I’m pretty happy with—that I don’t feel much urge to analyze.

I continued the winter exercise regimen that I described a year ago for the rest of the winter, but then let most of it go in favor of less-structured movement. As I say, I’m pretty happy with what I ended up doing, although the result was a decline in some of the strength increases I’d made.

Summer included a lot of solo walking (mostly in natural areas very close to home) and a lot of walking with Jackie (in a wide range of environments, including natural areas somewhat further afield).

One major piece of our walking was our big trip to Utah, where we got in plenty of hikes in Bryce Canyon, Zion Canyon, and Arches. (See image at top.) The length of any particular hike was nothing to write home about (although we did write home a bit), but the ruggedness—and especially the steepness—made the hikes very different from anything we manage at home.

Basically, summer was great—lots of time spent in the sun, lots of walking, lots of time spent with my sweetie, lots of time spent alone.

As summer transitioned to fall, I had the same problems I usually do, perhaps slightly worse this year than average because the transition seemed more abrupt, with early fall being unusually cold. Happily, late fall was no worse than early fall, and what was unusually cold for early fall is actually rather mild for early winter.

One thing I have done this fall is get back to running. In the past I’ve always meant to establish a running habit that I can carry forward into the cold months, and I have nearly always failed. This year, so far, I’m doing okay, getting in a couple of runs a week, with long runs of 5 miles or more. With just a little luck (not too icy, not too much bitter cold) I’ll be able to carry a lot more aerobic fitness into the spring than I usually manage. That would make it possible to do a spring running event, if I want.

I’ve had very good luck this year on the injury front, managing to stay healthy though the whole year.

I still teach taiji, both the beginners class and a class for continuing students, and it remains rewarding it all the ways it has been—physically (I get my own taiji in), mentally/emotionally (I get my meditation in), socially (I gather with a group of friends several times a week), and financially (admittedly in a small way).

Looking ahead, I’m rather inclined to stick with a movement focus, spending more time doing stuff (moving) and less time preparing to do stuff (exercising).


Writing in 2018

My writing this year ticked along at a low level, so low I was almost tempted not to bother reporting on it.

I continued to work on fiction by fits and starts, but I don’t think I finished a single story.

I want to be sure to thank Elizabeth Shack whose Thursday evening writing group, even though I didn’t make it as often as I meant too, still got me writing more than I otherwise would have. (It’s not a critique group at all. It’s a way to make writing a little bit less of a solitary activity. We gather in a coffee shop and spend a couple hours quietly working on our own stuff, with a few minutes of conversation at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end. It’s all very companionable and I miss it when I don’t go.)

I can’t even say I’m disappointed in myself for not writing more (which I used to be): Every day I get up and do exactly what I want all day. Sometimes that’s writing, and when I write I really enjoy it. Other days it’s something else, which I usually enjoy as well.

I used to put a lot of effort into arranging my life with writing in mind—making sure I had large blocks of time to write, making sure I had time to write every day, making sure I could get started writing early in the day. I think that worked after a fashion, perhaps more so for the non-fiction than the fiction, but I have largely given up on fussing about that stuff.

Along about the middle of the year I got email from the admins at Wise Bread saying that they were “switching gears” and would “no longer be commissioning articles” as they had been.

Once again, I’m not really disappointed. I was much more suited to their old model where I wrote whatever I wanted and then posted it. There were good reasons for them to hire editors—and the editors they got were great—but the way you have to work when you have an editor didn’t suit the way I wrote. (If I wanted to pitch stories and work on deadline I could make a lot more money writing for magazines.)

Before that shift I did publish two stories at Wise Bread:

I also did a ground-up rewrite of my old post “Treasury Bills for Ordinary Folks,” which they published under the old URL but with inexplicable title Why Treasury Bills Are Always a Worthwhile Investment. (I say inexplicable because the whole reason it was worth a rewrite is that, after 10 years during which Treasury Bills were a terrible investment, they were were finally once again paying a competitive rate.)

I have one more post that they bought, but which hasn’t gone live yet. They say it’s currently scheduled for early January, so I guess I’ll be able to include a Wise Bread section in my 2019 end-of-year post as well!

One place I have been writing pretty actively is here on this blog. A quick count just now found 67 posts published in 2018, and I may post another one or two before this post goes live.

Some of that number are trivial status posts—for which I have the glimmerings of plan. I’d like to post everything which goes to social media here first, and then share it on social media. Working out the logistics has proven problematic, which gets me discouraged. (My glimmers of a plan involve my microblog at micro.blog, but I don’t quite have everything working yet.) When I get discouraged, I go ahead and post stuff on social media—but almost always I end up regretting it. That’s when there’s another small flurry of status posts here.

Besides those, there are plenty of more substantial posts here as well. Since you’re here reading this, I assume you don’t need me to link to those.

Minimalist wallet in use

I have shifted (most of) my wallet contents into a new minimalist wallet.

After seriously considering the Ion minimalist wallet, I ended up going with the Travelambo minimalist wallet. It was one-sixth the cost—cheap enough that I figured I could try it as an experiment, even if I ended up not liking it.

Mainly, though, I went with it because it has a transparent window for an ID card on the outside of the wallet. I flash my i-card as a bus pass multiple times per week, and up to now I’ve had to open up my wallet every time to display the card.

I’m looking forward to not having to do that just to catch the bus.

ID-window side of new wallet

I think I like it. I’ve had to eject three of the cards I’d been carrying (AAA, AARP, FOID), but I haven’t needed to show any of them in a long time (and I have the AAA card on my phone if necessary). My library card and health insurance card are in the pocket behind my ID cards. My credit cards are in pockets on the other side:

Credit-card side of new wallet

So far it’s been pretty satisfactory. I’ll update if I end up being especially delighted or disappointed.

Red bridge detention area

Jackie and I went for a hike at Lake of the Woods yesterday. One thing I particularly wanted to do was get a new photo of the red bridge in the Japanese garden area, and use it to illustrate an Esperanto-language haiku.

We parked outside the Museum of the Grand Prairie, and walked around back, through the botanical garden, to where the Japanese garden was, only to find that it is currently being renovated. The red bridge is there, but seems to be under detention for some reason:

Red Bridge Detention Area

And it wasn’t the only thing in detention. There was another big detention area seemingly devoted to landscaping elements of various sorts. I didn’t get pictures of all of them, but among them were these rocks:

Landscaping rock detention are

We escaped the detention area without being detained ourselves and walked a ways along the bike path, only to come upon the red bridge’s big brother:

I’m suspecting plans underway to mount a prison break, but you didn’t hear it from me.

At about this point Jackie checked out the map for the Lake of the Woods, which suggested that, aside from the bike path (which is paved), there aren’t very many paths on that side of the forest preserve. And reminded me that she particularly wanted to walk on some non-paved paths that day.

So we turned around, spent a few minutes walking on the (unpaved) path in the Rayburn-Purnell Woods, then crossed the road to walk in the Buffalo Trace Prairie. It has lots of (unpaved) paths, with signage suggesting ways to arrange your walk to add up to a variety of distances, up to 5 miles. We just hiked the main loop around the perimeter of the prairie, to cover 2.6 miles.

One the trail we met a cute li’l pupper who was momentarily standoffish, but when we and the owner paused to converse for a minute, the dog decided we must be okay, and trotted up for pets from me and then from Jackie.

The image at the top is of a circle of standing stones at the edge of the botanical garden. While admitting that I did not check, I do not think they are sun-aligned.

Make my phone more like email

I used to love email. I still do, except so few people use it any more.

I used to use email almost like people use text messages now. I’d write little, one-topic messages and send them to one (or a few) people. Most of the people I exchanged email with had their email on for most of the day, so they’d get the message in just a few minutes and then be able to respond (or not, if they didn’t want to). If they (or I) didn’t want to be available to be contacted for a period of time, it was easy to put the computer to sleep, or turn off email notifications.

It was also easy to get a little more fancy than that. For example, I often set my email client to check email every hour or every half-hour, instead of the default of every few minutes. I was still able to be responsive to people who sent me email, but I wasn’t constantly interrupted by random notifications from random sources.

That’s half of what I’d like to be able to get my phone to do—batch up alerts, and then give them to me on a schedule that I pick.

The other half is to shut up about telling anybody else about what I’m doing. My email didn’t send any information back to people, except the information I told it to send back. (Sure, my mail server knew when I was connecting and from what IP address, but it kept that information to itself.)

If I was going batch up notifications so that I’d only get them every hour anyway, I’d like my phone to disconnect from the network for the 59 minutes in between. There’s no need for anybody, including Verizon and Google, to know where I am in between.

(Of course if I get my phone out to check something I’d like it to quickly connect to the network so it can do so, but that technology works just fine.)

I could almost do that by just turning my phone off for 59 minutes and then turning it back on, except that obviously doesn’t do the trick unless I carry around another timing device to remind me every hour that I want to turn the phone back on. Plus it’s a lot of fiddling around for the hours in which I don’t receive any notifications (not that there are very many of those).

Admittedly, all kinds of things are made easier by being always connected, such as the ability to prioritize a handful of alerts to come immediately—phone calls, text messages from intimates, tornado warnings, etc. But for me, the mental model of email was vastly preferable to the stupid array of alerts I’ve got now.

I’m strongly considering setting a lychee instance. …

In fact, I’ve gone ahead and set up a Lychee instance at my site. I’ve just started populating it, but there’s a few recent photos there:

https://images.philipbrewer.net/

I’d be very interested to hear if people can see it when they’re not logged in as me….

Sad about Flickr

In a couple of months the new owners of Flickr are going to delete most of my pictures there, if I don’t pay up for a pro account.

That makes me sad. I’ve used Flickr as my main photo-sharing site since 2004. It was arguably the first social media site, and even though its various owners managed to waste its potential over and over again, it was the best photo-sharing site around—better in every way than Instagram, for example.

I haven’t decided what to do yet.

I could share my photos elsewhere.

I’ve been using the Flickr app to auto-upload my photos to Flickr, which has been very convenient—when a photo doesn’t need much editing, I could just share the photo straight from that auto-upload.

There are two other places that already get my photos auto-uploaded: Google Photo, and (via Syncthing) my home server. Neither of those is a perfect choice.

I’m already more dependent on Google than I’m entirely happy about. (I quit trusting them after they broke Google Reader’s sharing functionality, even before they eliminated the tool completely. Even before that I tried to make sure that I’d be ready to go Google-free at any time if necessary.)

My home server is currently behind some overly restrictive firewall rules that keep it from being useful as a sharing site, although that’s supposed to get fixed. Even then it’ll be a single point of failure, rather under-powered machine with the photos on a single consumer-grade hard drive. It’s just not ready to serve as a production photo-sharing machine, even for a single user.

The most obvious place to share photos from is here at philipbrewer.net, because it’s where I share everything else. The downside is that my photos don’t get auto-uploaded here, and I probably don’t want them to be auto-uploaded here. I can manually upload each picture that I want to share and share it, but it’s not nearly as quick or easy a process as sharing something that’s been auto-uploaded to Flickr.

It works okay, though. Here’s a picture I did that with: