Long walks

It happened this way: I suggested to Jackie that we might hike the full length of the Kal-Haven trail. She’s a long-distance walker from way back, so she said yes.

The Kal-Haven Trail is a rail trail. It runs from Kalamazoo to South Haven. It’s been around for a while. Steven and I bicycled it back when he was a grad student.

The trail has since been expanded into downtown Kalamazoo, but the part I’m thinking of has its eastern terminus just west of US 131 and runs 33.5 miles west to South Haven.

I thought about taking two days to hike the full length of the trail, but that seemed inconvenient. We do a mile in about 20 minutes, so the full length ought to a bit over 11 hours of walking (plus a couple of hours for lunch and breaks). We could probably find a bed and breakfast somewhere around the midpoint, but then what? Hike 6 hours the first day, check into the B&B, and then hang out for the rest of the day? Even if we had a very restful evening, we’d still be a bit tired and sore the next day, when we’d have to hike another 6 hours. Much better to just hike through in one go.

With that thought in mind, we’ve been doing some long walks to get into shape.

We do walks of 3, 4, 5 miles pretty routinely, so I came up with a plan that leaves those ordinary walks alone, but now includes a long walk each week. We started with a 3 hour walk a couple of weeks ago. The plan calls for adding 30 minutes each week. Today’s hike was supposed to be 4 hours and cover around 12 miles.

I find it easier to motivate myself to go for a long hike if there’s a meal near the midpoint, so we came up with a route that gave us a bit more than 2 hours of walking and ended at a favorite restaurant located where we could walk home in a bit less than 2 hours. And our result matched our plan pretty well:

We walked to downtown Champaign and through West Side Park (and stopped for coffee at Pekara Bakery), then meandered through north Champaign to Douglass Park (and visited the Douglass branch of the Champaign Library), then we made our way to Busey Woods and hiked a bit of the trail there (and paused in the Anita Purves Nature Center), after which we turned south and hiked to Crane Alley where we stopped for lunch and beer. From there we pretty much headed straight home, although we did visit Art Mart in Lincoln Square and pause at the Champaign branch of the Champaign library (where we got coffee again, this time at Latte Da) along the way. (Map and workout info from Endomondo. The datapoint with an altitude of 0 is a glitch of some sort from a point where we lost GPS coverage.)

The total distance was 12.1 miles, right on target. It took us just over 6 hours, including a leisurely lunch plus two coffee breaks, so total time walking was probably right about 4 hours, exactly as planned. Our first miles were done at just under a 20-minute pace while our last miles were done at just over a 20-minute pace, so I figure I’ve got the timing about right.

My plan has us adding 30 minutes to our long walk each week for another 8 weeks, after which our long walk will be 8 hours (and cover about 24 miles). I figure once we do that with some degree of ease, we’ll be in adequate shape to push on and cover the whole 33.5 miles. It’s a low-key sort of plan, though. I only want to hike the trail if it’s going to be fun. If the 6 or 7 hour walks start seeming burdensome rather than fun, or if one of us gets injured, we’ll abandon the plan.

This hike, though, was great fun. A companionable way to spend the day with my wife. And it’s good to know that we’re up for walking over 12 miles if we need to (or even if we just want to).

Teaching Tai Chi this summer

I’m going to teach a Tai Chi class for the Champaign Park District this summer.

Screen grab of the Tai Chi course description.
Screen grab of the Tai Chi course description.

The park district doesn’t put their course descriptions on the web except in the form of the pdf file of the course catalog, which wouldn’t be so bad, except that they also don’t put the pdf file on their website, but instead offers it through Scribd—which makes it excruciatingly difficult to download the file. Otherwise, I’d go ahead and link to something. But, as I can’t find anything useful to link to, I’ll just paste in this screen grab from their on-line catalog.

I’d encourage any local folks who are interested in an introduction to Tai Chi to sign up. It costs $50 for park district residents and $75 for non-residents. The first session runs from June 3rd through September 26th. The second session runs from August 5th through September 27th.

Champaign considers allowing backyard chickens

more-st-croix-chickensThe News Gazette had an article yesterday saying that the Champaign City Council has agreed to “schedule a study session” on the topic of legalizing backyard chickens.

Tom Bruno, who was the guy who offered me some encouragement when I inquired earlier seems ready to support the idea. Other members of the council sounded more ambivalent. The comments on the News Gazette article are decidedly mixed as well. (The people who object not because they think the chickens would actually cause any sort of problem, but because they’re afraid that it would make the area seem too “redneck” surprise me.)

So, it’s by no means a sure thing. Time to get organized.

Reducing poverty

I’m big on reducing poverty, both locally and globally. (I do worry that more rich people will use more resources, suggesting that reducing poverty isn’t an unalloyed good thing. On yet another hand, only rich people can afford things like sequestering carbon or preserving habitat. It’s complicated.)

Since I’m interested in reducing poverty, I was interested in Lant Pritchett’s recent talk Everything you think you know about poverty is wrong.

Pritchett and I see pretty much eye-to-eye on how to have a rich country, I think.

These well-off countries have a productive economy, a government that is responsive to the citizens, a capable bureaucracy, and the rule of law.

This has interesting implications for global development, because these are all things where it’s very difficult to improve someone else’s situation. If a country has government by-and-for the elites, or a corrupt bureaucracy, it’s going to be poor—and there’s very little outsiders can do to help. One of Pritchett’s points is that things that seem like they might help, such as improving education, seem to do more harm than good—perhaps because well-educated corrupt bureaucrats are worse than ignorant ones.

His solution is for rich countries to create or expand guest worker programs, which I think is a poor idea.

It’s not that I don’t think it would work. A poor worker who came to a rich country and worked a couple of years could both support relatives back in the poor country and save up enough money to return home and start a business. That would relieve poverty both immediately and going forward. It would also produce another person with first-hand experience of the advantages of a less-corrupt society (as opposed to merely seeing the advantages of getting in on the corruption).

The main reason I think it’s a poor idea is that enforcing a guest worker program eventually requires a police state. Somebody has to check all workers—it’s the only way to identify those who aren’t legally entitled to work. Somebody has to make sure those whose permission to work has expired get fired. Those whose permission to live here has expired, but who don’t go home, become an underclass with all the usual problems of an underclass—crime, violence, oppression, disease. I’ve written about this before (see Missing the point on immigration).

There is also the issue of how guest workers affect salaries, wages, and working conditions of citizen workers (short version: I think it makes them worse).

The ideal solution, of course, would be for every country to be rich enough and free enough that people from all over the world would want to move there. But that just brings us back to where we started.

First outdoor run of the year

I was generally pleased with the Merrill Road Glove shoes that I bought last summer, but they didn’t offer quite enough protection for running on gravel. Because of that, I largely quit running on the gravel road around Kaufman Lake, which had been my standard short run.

To expand my trail-running options for this year, I bought a pair of Trail Glove shoes. Today was my first chance to give them a try, and of course I did my old 1.5 mile Kaufman Lake loop.

It was a good run. I felt comfortable all the way through—no ankle or knee pain. I finished with some energy left, enough that I’m sure I’ll have no trouble running the 2.2 mile Centennial Park loop that served as my standard short run for the second half of last summer. I managed a 11:26 pace, solidly in the mainstream of last year’s runs.

I’m not quite where I hoped I’d be, because I just couldn’t bring myself to put in the miles on the treadmill. I did okay in the first half of the winter, but in the second half, I barely ran at all. Because of that, I’ll have to be somewhat cautious ramping up the distance. I have no doubts about 2.2 miles, but I’ll run that a couple of times before attempting longer distances. I ran almost 6 miles as recently as December, so expect I can recover the capability of running that distance again pretty quickly, but I don’t want to injure myself. Hence: caution.

Still, a good start.

The Trail Glove shoes worked fine—provided adequate protection against hard/sharp rocks while keeping most of the “barefoot” feel of the Road Glove shoes.

One risk: The forecast is for 6 straight days of nice running weather. I’ll need to take a couple of those days as rest days, which may be hard to do.

Bruce Schneier removing anti-security features

Security expert Bruce Schneier wrote last week about some changes he was making to his blog to remove some anti-security features. Reading over his list of changes, I was pleased to see that I’d mostly avoided adding anti-security features to my blog in the first place.

  • No offsite tracking. Although I’ve experimented with them a couple of times, I don’t have “like” or “share” buttons on my blog posts, so your visits here are not automatically transparent to Facebook, Twitter, Google, or other social media sites. It means you’ll have to copy the link yourself if you want to share my posts. I’d be delighted if you did, so I hope that’s not too onerous.
  • No offsite searching. Similarly, the site’s search facility runs right on the site itself, just doing an SQL query of the database that holds the content of my site. Doing a search here doesn’t expose your query to anyone else. (I once looked to see if I was logging queries and couldn’t find them; as far as I know, doing a search here doesn’t even expose your query to me.)
  • No offsite feed. I also run the RSS feed for the site right on the site, and always have. I thought for a while that I ought to use feedburner, but I never got around to it, and now it’s clear that laziness led me to the right choice.

Any attempt to keep internet activity private is probably hopeless, but that’s no reason not to try.

Thinking again about my own server

Student-built supercomputer at the National Petascale Computing Facility
Student-built supercomputer at the National Petascale Computing Facility

I ran my own server for a while. It was an OpenBSD box running on a cheap 386 board in a re-purposed PC case with an extra ethernet card. It sat between my cable modem and my home network and acted as a firewall. It also provided a few services to me in the outside world. In particular, it ran a little program for tunneling ssh traffic through the http hole in the corporate firewall, so I could get into my home network from work. (It was not, let me be clear, the supercomputer shown in the image to the right.)

I turned it off several years ago. Desktop computers got more secure, so the firewall was no longer necessary. I quit working at a regular job, so I didn’t need to tunnel my ssh traffic any more. But the main thing was that external firms started providing the sort of services that had previously made it seem worth going to the trouble of running your own server.

I use a bunch of those services. I share photos at Flickr. I host this website at Dreamhost. I post things on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter. I read RSS feeds using The Old Reader (and share things there as well).

I’d previously thought that it would be best to have my own server for all these things—in particular sharing stuff I wanted to share—my writing, my pictures, my calendar items, etc. But the commercial services were better than what I’d have had if I ran my own server. Flickr provides a much better gallery than I’d have managed to put up, if I’d had to host my own. (The idea of serving—and owning—your own data was the impulse behind Diaspora as well, of course.)

Just lately, though—especially since Google announced that they were shutting down Google Reader—I’ve begun to rethink things.

If I ran my own server, I wouldn’t have to worry that some giant company would abruptly decide that providing some service I was using “no longer aligned with corporate priorities.”

I’m not in any hurry to move from this new thinking to actually running my own server again. For one thing, it wouldn’t make any sense to try to run a public-facing server at home over a consumer-grade home network link. (Although maybe one of the higher-grade packages through UC2B would be good enough.) But I am thinking about it. I don’t like any of the calendar services out there; maybe running my own calendar service, just for me and my family, would be just the thing.

In any case, running a server would be a lot easier now than it was back when I did it before. The hardware is cheaper and faster. The software is more reliable and easier to use. Before, I had to painstakingly build everything. Now I could just do a quick install on a Raspberry Pi, maybe with Freedom Box software.

I’ve always known that with “free” corporate services I’m not a client; I’m a commodity being pimped out to advertisers and others. I’ve tolerated it, because the “free” services are often pretty good—better than I could manage if I had to roll my own. But it’s always bugged me. Now, between the hardware and software for rolling my own getting cheaper and better, and the increased visibility of the consequences of going with free services that get can get turned off on corporate whim, maybe I’ll get it together to make the jump to my own server once again.

Great writers versus great posts

I do most of my on-line reading via a feed reader. For years I used Google Reader, without even really worrying about the risks. After Google ruined it, I experimented with several alternatives. I’m happy enough with a couple of the options, so I’m not so unhappy with how things have turned out (with Google having announced that it is canceling Reader). But the surge in interest has prompted me to think about how reading feeds is different from reading things via social media. Social media helps you find great posts. Feed readers are for when you’ve found a great writer.

I notice this whenever someone shares one of my pages (either here or on Wise Bread). I’ll get a surge of traffic to one post. Some of those people will read another post, or even a few. Only a few seem to become regular readers of my work—and fewer now than before.

Back in the old days—let’s say, five or six years ago—there was more of the latter, and I think it was because more people used feed readers. It was wonderful to find a great post, but it was much better to find a great writer. Then you could add their feed to your feed reader and read everything they wrote.

I still do that. Every time I find a great post via Facebook or Twitter (or whatever), I look at other stuff the guy has written, with an eye toward adding the feed to my feed reader.

I’m puzzled that more people don’t seem to do the same. Finding a great writer is way better than finding a great post.

The wonderful Spurlock Museum

Plaster copy of Venus de Milo.
Plaster copy of Venus de Milo.

A hundred-odd years ago, a lot of towns and cities had their own museum. In those days, international travel was beyond the reach of ordinary people, and museums saw it as part of their mission to bring the great artistic and cultural works of the world to a place where ordinary people could see them. To support that, a whole industry existed making molds of the great works of European sculpture, and then casting plaster replicas of those works to be displayed in museums.

After all, the Venus de Milo can only be in one museum, but should only people who can get to the Louvre be able to see it?

A few decades later, fashions changed. Air travel and other changes made it possible for ordinary people to get to Europe after all, so they could see the great works of European art and culture. Rather suddenly, it no longer seemed like a great service to show people copies of the greatest works of art and culture.  Museums decided that they should show people originals—even if they could only afford 3rd rate originals.

julius caeser
Plaster copy of bust of Julius Caeser

Thanks entirely to great good fortune, at the time that this shift was at its peak, a budget crunch at the University of Illinois had virtually shut down the museums that are now known as the Spurlock Museum. They had so little money, they were unable to hire a director, meaning that there was no one in authority to throw out the plaster copies of the great works and replace them with 3rd rate originals.

At museums all over the country, an incredible number of these excellent copies—quite literally museum quality—were simply thrown away. But not those belonging to the Spurlock Museum.

Among other things, we have a fairly complete set of replicas of the Elgin Marbles, made from molds taken before an ill-fated attempt at cleaning did serious damage to the originals. Scholars come from all over the world to study our copies.

elgin marbles
Plaster copy of frieze blocks from the Parthenon

I was going to the Spurlock Museum today, to attend a meditation class by Mary Wolters (an excellent workshop, by the way), and decided to catch an earlier bus so I’d have half an hour to look around the collection. I’d several times wished I had a picture of one or another items from their collection to use to illustrate a Wise Bread post, and I figured this would be a good chance to get a few photos.

Having taken a few, I thought I’d share some here.

spurlock scupture

If you’re local, don’t miss the wonderful Spurlock Museum.

Ugh—hacked!

I got email this morning from a schoolteacher who shares links to my story structure article with her young students, telling me that the links out from my sidebar under the heading “Recently popular” were going to porn sites.

Although somewhat dubious, I went and checked immediately, and discovered that it was true. Ugh.

Those links were generated by a widget that (when it hasn’t been hacked) uses site traffic statistics to identify the most visited posts and pages on my site over the past week or so and link to them. It was still doing the first part—that is, the items under the heading were names of my recent high-traffic pages—but the links no longer went to my pages. Instead, they were going to porn sites.

I immediately removed the widget from my sidebar and disabled the plugin that provided it. I looked at other links on the site and didn’t see any similar problems elsewhere, so I’m hoping that was the extent of the hacking.

I also sent email to the guy behind the plugin, telling him about the problem and asking if there was any diagnostic information I can provide.

The stats package that I use also tracks outbound clicks, so I can see that a total of 4 clicks today went to one or another of those sites. I looked at stats for the past several days and didn’t see any other outbound clicks to illegitimate sites, so I’m hoping that (with the help of that teacher) I managed to nip this thing in the bud.

Apologies to anyone who got directed to one of those pages!

I’m still investigating, and will add an update if I learn anything further.