Category Archives: General Stuff

Watch out for bird nests

I recently had a really interesting cross-country trip. It featured virgins, dirt, avian invaders, and tractors.

Some local friends talked me into running the American Odyssey relay race: just under 200 miles from Gettysburg to Washington, DC, over two days. (Look for a race report in the near future.) Some of my teammates were flying commercial, and some were driving, but I found three hardy souls who volunteered to go with me. Jim’s a Navy officer who’s used to airplanes of all sizes, but neither Rese nor Melissa had flown in a small airplane before… so they’re the virgins in this story.

I’d planned to fly from Decatur to New River (PSK), fuel up with avgas and diet Coke, and then fly into College Park, MD (CGS). This would allow me to use my fancy secret code to fly into the Washington DC ring of restricted airspace. However, because we were staying in Harpers Ferry, it didn’t make sense to fly 60+ miles to the east just so we could have extra drive time going back to Harpers Ferry. I decided to go into Martinsburg (MRB) instead to avoid the extra driving.

We departed on schedule, with about 1500′ ceilings leaving Decatur. A front was on its way so my goal was to get us to our destination before the weather got bad. We benefited from an epic tailwind– my normal cruise speed is about 135kts but I was seeing over 200kts for a good part of the first leg.

208!

Unfortunately, with wind comes bumps.. so one of our crew (I’m not saying who) needed to use a barf bag. No major damage, thankfully, either to the victim or the airplane. Apart from that, the rest of the flight was uneventful– a quick stop at PSK for fuel and diet Coke and we were on our way. Potomac Approach made me fly the RNAV 26 approach even though the weather was VFR. Martinsburg is home to the 167th Airlift Wing, so there were a bunch of big gray C-17s on the ramp. Always a fun sight.

Aero-Smith, the local FBO, had prearranged a rental van. It was waiting, so we loaded up and off we went. The next couple days were a blur– I had a fantastic time at the race. All too soon, though, it was time to head back home, so I planned our flight to follow roughly the same route. While the big front had passed through, we were still forecast to have 20+ knots of headwind, so I tried to choose a more southerly route to reduce the wind penalty (spoiler: that didn’t work). I’d planned the first leg from Martinsburg to Ashe County, NC, then home.

We got to Martinsburg safely and turned in the van. The FBO lineman offered me a box of rubber gloves. “We saw a lot of birds on your airplane,” he said. “There’s probably some poop on it.” I’ll take “things you don’t want to hear at the airport” for $200, Alex!

I walked out to the plane, which they’d parked on the far edge of the (empty) parking area. I saw a few poop spots and used a gloved hand to remove them. Now, this next part is relevant: I usually start my walkaround by turning on the master switch, existing the forward passenger door, and walking back down the right side of the plane, around the tail, and up the left side– finishing at the engine. That’s what I did… except that when I got to the engine, I noticed what looked like a few pieces of grass sticking out. That certainly wasn’t there when I parked the plane, so I poked a flashlight into the front of the cowling and was surprised to see some more grass.

That led me to remove the upper cowling, whereupon I found this (click it to see the detail).

Bird attack!

Yep. In two and a half days, the forces of evil invaded my cowling and built two large, flammable nests. I started pulling out handfuls of grass and twigs, and the other three came to help. All this action attracted the attention of the FBO staff, and they brought us a handheld leaf blower.

Now, a brief note. Air-cooled piston airplane engines work on a principle called pressure cooling. Baffles inside the cowling drive airflow from top to bottom, not back to front, to cool the cylinders. When you look at the picture above, what you can’t see is that there are only a few small openings under the top deck for air to flow down– making it very difficult to get all the bird debris out with a leaf blower. We ended up having to spend 30 minutes or so picking little sticks and blades of grass out of the engine compartment. Here are Rese and Jim doing just that:

cleaning the bird damage

Once that was finally done, I wanted to run the engine with the cowling off, whereupon I discovered a failed cell in the battery.. so the plane wouldn’t start. This was not popular with my passengers. Or with me, for that matter.

The FBO staff was very reluctant to help start the plane. They claimed not to have a ground power unit, but I eventually talked them into bringing their tow tractor out so I could use my jumper cable. The problem with this cable is that after the plane starts, you have to unplug it, and the FBO guys didn’t want to do it “for liability reasons.” Thankfully Jim wasn’t a big baby like they were, and he volunteered to pull the cable after engine start. We deployed the tractor, got everything hooked up, and the engine immediately started up.

Getting ready to tractor-start

Once we got up to altitude, we got a 1-2 punch from the headwinds: it was bumpy, and we were only making about 105kts over the ground– so less than half of our groundspeed on the way out. After a little fiddling, I got permission to climb from 8000′ to 10000′; as we slowly climbed, we got bounced around quite a bit. To make things worse, the wind was even stronger at 10000′, so we went back down to 8000. It was a steady parade of mountain waves, something I hadn’t spent any time dealing with before. Frankly I didn’t much care for them.

As we got closer to GEV, the wind diminished a bit, although not enough to give us any appreciable speed increase. The Ashe County airport sits at about 3000′ above sea level, and the airport description helpfully notes “RISING TERRAIN ALL QUADRANTS,” so flying in means dealing with shifting winds funneled in various directions by the surrounding terrain. Despite the wind, I stuck the landing, and we were well and cheerfully served by the airport manager, who coaxed the balky full-service pump into working long enough to fill the tanks. I’d happily stop there again. (Note that KGEV has no AT&T cell service and no diet Coke in the soda machine, so plan accordingly.)

There was a good-sized line of storms stretching from south to north moving through Mississippi when we left. Our original plan was to get home before it arrived, but due to our de-birding time, there was no way we were going to make that. As we flew, it became clear that the headwinds were going to prevent us from making our alternate at Winchester, so I decided to stop in Chattanooga, which has rental cars, nearby hotels, and food.. just in case. We landed and found the ramp crowded with more expensive airplanes that had obviously stopped for the weather as well. Luckily the FBO had one crew car remaining, so we headed out to look for dinner and wait for the storm to pass. The city got roughly 1/4″ of rain in the hour we were at dinner, but it had tapered off to a light drizzle by the time we got ready to depart. I pored over the radar and it looked decent if we flew a little to the northwest, more towards Winchester, and then turned south, so that is what I planned for.

Once airborne, I quickly saw that the radar depictions didn’t give the full picture– they showed rain, all right, but the clouds were well above our altitude, so for most of the flight we flew through falling rain but still had decent visibility. The picture below shows what the radar depicted (they’re different, but that’s a topic for another post). After an uneventful trip, with mostly smooth air, we landed at Decatur, packed up, and headed home.

Which one’s right?

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Flying with Avidyne’s version 10.2 software

If you think updating the software on your phone is hard, try it with avionics.

Avidyne has been promising a new release of the software for their IFD line of WAAS GPS units for a while now. Originally announced on April Fool’s Day last year, version 10.2 packs a pretty impressive list of features, including synthetic vision, support for a bunch of new devices (including digital radar and FLIR cameras), display of more ADS-B weather and traffic data, and a new “IFD100” iPad app that essentially acts as a second screen for your IFD. They generously made the update available for free, but with a catch: it has to be installed by an avionics shop. The FAA lets aircraft owners make “minor repairs and alterations” (a phrase which has a very specific set of parameters around it), and avionics software updates aren’t considered “minor.” When they finally announced that 10.2 was available, the first order of business was to find a shop to install it. None of the local shops are Avidyne dealers, so we decided to head back to XP Services in Tullahoma. A quick phone call to schedule an appointment was all it took.

The flight to Tullahoma was pleasant, and the XP team had the upgrade done in about 2 hours– right about the amount of time Avidyne says it should take. The update procedure is very detailed and specific, with lots of dire warnings about what happens if you do it wrong, so I’m glad they didn’t. They also upgraded the software in our SkyTrax 100 ADS-B receiver, which will become important a little later in the story. I can’t say enough good things about XP’s staff: they did good work, quickly, at a fair price, and were very friendly. Be forewarned if you go there though: there are no vending machines nearby so bring your own snacks.

On the way home I got to start playing with the new features, but it wasn’t until last week’s Easter trip from Decatur to New Smyrna Beach that they really came into their own. Here’s a partial list of the new goodness in this release.

Let’s start with synthetic vision. The IFD540 doesn’t have a way to sense the attitude of the airplane, so its syn vis feature is limited to showing a “plane in trail” (Avidyne calls it exocentric) view of you, your route, and the surrounding terrain. In this case, I’ve programmed the ILS 18 Y approach into my home airport. You can see the magenta line indicating that I’m on the final approach segment. The white line-and-loop to the upper right is the missed approach procedure that I’d fly if I couldn’t land. There’s another airplane in the area, at 1900 feet and descending. The synthetic vision display makes very clear what the surrounding terrain and obstacles look like, and how my planned flight path would interact with them. This is not a huge deal in the flat riverine terrain near Decatur but in someplace like Montpelier, with more significant terrain, it could literally be a lifesaver.

heading for the approach

Another nifty new feature: temporary flight restrictions (like the one shown below, for firefighting in southern Georgia near Waycross) and winds aloft data (the little white flag-looking things in the second picture) can now be shown along with all the other flight data. You can see that we have about a 20kt headwind. It’s important to remember that, like all other ADS-B weather data, the wind data comes from the ground and may not reflect what’s truly happening in the air at that moment.

Don’t fly in TFRs unless you want to meet the FAA in person

The direction of the wind barb shows which way it’s blowing; the number of little flags shows how strong it is

Traffic display is greatly improved in two ways. First, you can now see trend lines showing you where a traffic target is going (along with its N number, if it’s transmitting one). This is really helpful in crowded airspace, like the area around the Daytona Beach airport. You can see that both airplanes on the display are headed in the same direction as we are, one at roughly our same altitude and the other descending.

In 10.2, you can see where traffic targets are going

I also now get traffic alerts when there’s a potential conflict, i.e. someone else is flying towards me. An aural alert (“bong! TRAFFIC”) comes first, then the screen changes to show the conflicting traffic. This is an extremely valuable feature.

When you hear “TRAFFIC,” you’d better start looking around

The IFD100 app does what it promises: it lets you control the physical IFD, but it also lets you configure its display completely independently of the one on the panel. It does about 80% of what the “real” IFD hardware does. For example, you can load a flight plan into the iPad app while the panel is showing you the map/weather/traffic page, then push a button and activate that flight plan from the iPad. You can see and tune frequencies (but not activate them), zoom in and out on maps, and in general act like you have a second IFD540. It’s pretty neat, although there are some quirks to it that I’m still figuring out.

Not quite a replacement for Foreflight

The IFD100 app isn’t a replacement for FlyQ or Foreflight though; it doesn’t let you anything that the physical IFD can’t do, so no looking up fuel prices or FBO reviews, no satellite imagery display, and so on. ForeFlight has all sorts of useful planning features like terrain mapping, wind estimation, and flight plan filing that the IFD100 doesn’t, and won’t. I don’t think Avidyne intends the app to replace a true electronic flight bag (EFB) app, but rather to give you more options and flexibility with using the in-panel hardware.

I haven’t been able to test one of the signature features of 10.2 yet, though: its ability to do two-way sync over Wi-Fi between the panel device and a tablet. I can already stream a flight plan, and GPS position data, from the IFD to ForeFlight or FlyQ. 10.2 adds the ability for the IFD to send traffic, weather, and TFR data (which means I won’t need my Stratus receiver to see that stuff in ForeFlight), but also the ability to load a flight plan from the iPad to the panel. That means I can plan a complex route at my leisure in my armchair, file it, brief it, get my expected route, and push the route to the airplane when I get to the airport with a single button press. That’s going to be glorious when it finally arrives.

It speaks well of Avidyne that they made this major feature release available for free, and I’m excited to see how they continue to build on the wireless connectivity built into the IFD line.

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Training Tuesday: 2017 35.1 Challenge

The second weekend in April here in Huntsville features two marquee races: the Heel & Crank duathlon (run by Team Rocket, our local triathlon club) and the Bridge Street Half Marathon, sponsored by our local Fleet Feet. Two years ago, the sponsors joined forces to offer a “35.1 challenge”– do both races back-to-back and you get some kind of swag, plus bragging rights.

In 2015, I completed the challenge,  barely: the duathlon was fine but the 13.1 was a bit of a grind, and I was super sore for the following week. Last year, I signed up for the duathlon and the challenge, but stupidly forgot to register for Bridge Street. One thing you should know: Suzanne Taylor, the RD for Bridge Street, absolutely does not allow transfers, deferrals, or late registrations. Period, full stop. So I didn’t complete the challenge.

This year I made sure to register for all 3 events. Dana had planned to return to the 13.1 world after a long layoff by running with our friend Teri… who managed to catch a stress fracture to her femur (how do you even do that?) just in time to be sidelined for the race. I told Dana I’d run with her instead, at whatever pace she wanted– like a really slow and not especially scenic date. Therefore, my plan ended up being to treat Heel & Crank as a legitimate race, then run the 13.1 more like an LSR. I ran that plan past my coach, who gave me a big thumbs up, so I was all set.

I also planned to volunteer for both races– for Heel & Crank, it was race-morning packet pickup, and for Bridge Street it was day-before packet pickup.

Prerace

Duathlons are easy to prepare for– it’s basically a bike ride (so you need bike gear) plus running shoes, with none of that pesky swimming stuff. I packed everything up Friday afternoon, made sure the ELEMNT was charged, and so on. I didn’t eat anything special for dinner; in the morning, I had a protein shake and a poptart, plus a dose of BeetElite, and headed out to the race. This was the first year for a new RD, and he did such a good job lining up volunteers that they didn’t need me; that gave me a chance to enjoy visiting with friends instead of working. I got transition set up, walked around chatting with people, and waited for the race to start– it was really nice to have plenty of extra chill time, instead of my usual MO of screeching into the parking lot at the last minute and then being harried. My friend Coop was kind enough to buy me a hot chocolate at JaVa.Mooresville, a really good coffee shop that coincidentally happens to be the only one anywhere nearby. It was about 55 degrees and clear just before race start.

Run 1

The run course at Heel & Crank starts on a paved street, which after 0.3mi or so turns into a hard-packed dirt trail. It’s an out-and-back; some of the trail is shaded, some isn’t. It’s almost completely flat. As you can see from the map below, a good portion of the course runs alongside farm fields, which add a lovely pastoral feel– you can literally see the grass (or whatever) waving in the breeze, when there is one, which there was. I settled in early on and tried to hold a steady pace, finishing with an 8:41/mi average in 24:37.

Heel and Crank run course

T1
Transition was completely unexceptional– I dropped my headphones, swapped my hat for a helmet, changed shoes, powered up the bike computer, and choked down a pack of Gu chews. Out the gate in under 2min, which for me is lightning-quick.
The bike
The course overlaps some of the familiar Jetplex course, so my plan was to ride it at a steady pace, in aero as much as possible. This doesn’t sound like a terribly complex plan, but I am still getting used to my tri bike, so I figured anything more complex would be pointless. I made a weighted average of 177W, certainly nothing to write home about, but overall good enough for a 6-minute CR and a PR on one Strava segment.
T2
T2 was even faster– helmet-to-hat, headphones in, shoes on, and out the gate.
Run 2
I was really leery of blowing up by going out too hard on the first half of the run, so I tried to keep my HR caged around 150. I actually ended up averaging 151 for the run; I possibly could have pushed a little harder on the outbound leg, but I was feeling good on the return and was able to hold right around 7:05/mi for the last half mile or so. For reference, my mile PR time is 7:11, so I was well pleased with this. Run 2 was done in 27:26.

Wraup and post-race
Overall, my times were good enough for a 1:52 finish, a 15-minute PR for this race. To say I was pleased would have been a massive understatement. I celebrated with a big plate of the post-race pancakes for which this race is famous, plus a glass of Rocket Republic Scotch Rocket served by my fellow cubano Warren. It was a pretty successful day for the Cubans, in fact: the relay team of Tony, Craig, and Warren placed second, and Lance won the Clydesdale division. I’m sure if Julio had been there he would have won something too. Hats off to first-time race director Paul Erickson and his staff of volunteers for putting on a fun, safe race with excellent post-race food and drink.

I headed home, showered, and went over to Dana’s. Dinner was a giant bowl of Nothing but Noodles‘ finest mac-and-cheese, always a solid pre-race choice.

Race day
We woke up about 530a, with a goal of getting to the race site about 630a. This turned out to be easy. One of the nice things about Bridge Street is that it’s held at an outdoor mall. There is plenty of parking and tons of porta-potties, as well as some nice indoor bathrooms. We wandered around to chat with people for a while, then queued up near the 2:30 pace group for the gun start.

Pre-race

After a rousing rendition of the National Anthem, the cannon went off and so did we.

I wish I had kept better notes on the race itself. The Bridge Street course winds through Research Park, which is pretty flat and not all that scenic for the most part. The course starts in front of Barnes and Noble, runs west for a bit along Old Madison Pike, runs north on Jan Davis and then on Explorer, loops around West Park, and then turns south again. Perhaps the most interesting part is the Double Helix path near HudsonAlpha, which is marked with educational signs about the human genome. It’s also interesting to note the incredible funk we smelled while running past one of Adtran’s buildings; it smelled like someone had bred a skunk the size of a VW Beetle, wrapped it in shrink wrap, and then boiled it in 10W40 motor oil. Truly a scent I will remember for a long time.

The Bridge Street course

It was cool at the start, and we made good time through the course. Dana had planned to do 4/1 run/walk intervals, running for 4 minutes and then walking for 1, but she pretty much ignored these intervals and ran most of it, holding right around a 10:44 pace. I just stuck with her (well, except for once when I let her go ahead while I hit the porta-potty, but let’s not get into that). We crossed the finish line in 2:23:50, quite a respectable performance for Dana’s return to the 13.1 world. We collected our medals and breakfast coupons, then found our friends to hang out and visit a bit.

race posse unite!

The race organizers had thoughtfully arranged for a free breakfast sandwich (which was about the size of a Clementine) at Bar Louie, which we supplemented with a genuine brunch (and, in my case, a couple of ice cream sandwiches). I also grabbed my 35.1 award, which now occupies a prize position on my dining room table until I can figure out what wall to hang it on. Kudos to Suzanne Taylor, the folks at Fleet Feet Huntsville, and the zillions of volunteers who chipped in to put on the race– Bridge Street is one of my favorite races because it’s so well organized, supplied, and staffed.

swag life

All in all, it was a weekend well spent, and I felt fine the next day, at least until I started doing squats… but that’s a story for another time.

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Speaking at 2017 Office 365 Engage

I’m delighted to announce that I’ll be presenting 3 sessions at the new Office 365 Engage conference, 19-22 June in Haarlem, The Netherlands.

With the death of TechEd and the product-specific conferences, Microsoft has more or less abandoned the broad conference market in Europe. They’ve hosted smaller, more focused events covering specific technologies in individual countries, but customers who want a broader perspective, or any degree of engagement with non-Microsoft speakers and experts, have had to come to the US-based conferences. Now the UnityConnect team, led by the redoubtable Tony Redmond, are hosting a full-spectrum event focused on all aspects of Office 365, including Teams, Planner, and Groups– not just the more established Exchange/SharePoint/Skype trinity (although there is plenty of that content, too). The speaker lineup is stellar as well; in fact, I wonder how I got in. Attendees will have the opportunity to hear from Michael Van Hybrid Horenbeeck, Steve Goodman, Michel de Rooij, Sigi Jagott, Brian Reid, Alan Byrne, and a host of other MVPs and Microsoft technology experts. The session catalog is pretty impressive.

As for me, I’m presenting three sessions:

  • The Ins and Outs of Monitoring Office 365 covers the fundamentals of monitoring such a complex service environment. Although it may be tempting to just say “let Microsoft worry about it,” the fact is that it’s critical to keep tabs on the health and integrity of the service and all its components, as your users depend on it and probably won’t accept “it was Microsoft’s fault” as an answer. The session will cover the basic tools that Microsoft provides and analyze how they compare to the monitoring needs imposed by dependence on a hybrid cloud service.
  • Windows Information Protection and Azure Rights Managment: Better Together. Normally I hate the phrase “better together” because it is Microsoft-speak for “buy more of our products,” but in this case it’s apropos. WIP and AzureRM work quite well together, and the combination enables some interesting data protection scenarios that I’ll cover here in depth.
  • Like a Megaphone: Skype Meeting Broadcast will cover the little-known, but quite useful, Skype Meeting Broadcast feature. As its name implies, Broadcast lets you take an ordinary Skype for Business meeting and scale it out to up to 10,000 attendees… but there are some caveats you’ll need to know about to use it effectively.

There’s a full slate of pre-conference workshops, receptions, and so on as well. Perhaps I can persuade Tony to do a live episode of Office 365 Exposed while we’re there– we shall see. Come join me! The conference team has given me a discount code, SPRPR469, which will save you 10% on the registration cost. I hope to see you there!

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Happy day: Windows Outlook now supports Focused Inbox

A few weeks ago I complained about the Focused Inbox feature. A big part of my complaint was that Windows Outlook didn’t support it. This morning, I updated my Windows Office installation and found that the Focused tab magically appeared.. sort of.

First, how I got it: I was already signed up for the Office Insider program, and my tenant is enrolled in Office 365 First Release. My Office installation showed up with “Current” instead of “Office Insider Fast,” though (to check yours, click File | Office Account in any Windows Office application). For some reason, on my unmanaged, non-domain-joined Windows 10 machine, this setting periodically resets, so I launched regedit and changed the value of the UpdateBranch key under Computer\HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\office\16.0\common\officeupdate to “Insiderfast”, relaunched Word, and checked for updates. After a few minutes of coffee break, the updates had downloaded. When I launched Outlook, I got the pop-up telling me that Focused Inbox was active.

This leads me to my “sort of” comment. This installation of Outlook has 3 Exchange Online accounts, 1 IMAP account, and a dozen or so shared mailboxes in its default profile. My home robichaux.net account is default. All 3 Exchange Online accounts are on tenants where Focused Inbox is available, and all 3 show the appropriate UI in OWA and Mac Outlook. However, only my work account shows the Focused tab; the other two don’t. Relaunching Outlook didn’t fix this, nor did rebooting, nor did waiting a while. At this point it isn’t clear if having only a single Focused Inbox is by design, a bug, or a temporary limitation. However, I’m happy to see the feature appear at all.

This must be a very new change, as the Outlook 2016 update history doesn’t include it as I write this. Perhaps Microsoft will update it soon to explain more about Focused Inbox support.

 

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Havana, day 4

(If you’re wondering what happened to day 3, that was race day. See the race report.)

I woke up the day after the race still feeling like a pile of garbage. “I didn’t eat much yesterday,” I reasoned. “A good breakfast will fix me up.” With that happy thought in mind, we headed out to the Parque Central hotel, where our Airbnb host alleged we could get a delicious buffet for 15 CUC.

A digression about money in Cuba. There are two currency systems in the country: “CUC” and “CUP” (formerly known as MN, for moneda naciónal). CUC is for tourists, CUP is for citizens. This is a practical restriction, not really a legal one; citizens are free to use CUC if they get any. The exchange rates for both are fixed; 1 CUC equals USD$1 equals a little more than 24 CUP. There are a few important things to know about Cuban money:

  • US-issued debit and credit cards cannot be used. This is thanks to the US economic embargo. Cards issued by banks in other parts of the world work just fine. That means if you want money in Cuba, bring it with you, because you won’t be getting any while you’re there unless you use Western Union.
  • As far as I can tell, no one in the US changes CUC. You can’t get it at the Atlanta airport or any of the online currency exchanges I found. There are currency exchanges at the Havana airport but you’re better off finding one in town. Many hotels have them, but Eric took us straight to one inbound from the airport.
  • There’s a 10% penalty when changing USD to CUC. In our case, we saved about 1.5% by buying Euros and then changing them to CUC after our arrival. However, when you change CUC back to USD, there’s no penalty.
  • Prices for many things are quite low by US standards– you can get an excellent meal with drinks for 15 CUC, for example. However, hotel rooms and taxis are not particularly cheap, nor are cigars.
  • I found that I could comfortably get by on about 80 CUC/day for meals, transportation, and incidentals. That doesn’t include lodging. If you eat less, drink more, or do more tourist-y stuff your mileage may vary.

Anyway, back to the buffet. The other guys all loaded up huge plates with omelets, ham, pastries of various sorts, and all kinds of other goodies. I picked at a hard-boiled egg, a couple of pieces of ham, and a roll… I just wasn’t hungry and was still feeling queasy and dizzy. Despite that, the two very strong cups of Cuban coffee I had were quite welcome.

Our next stop was Museo de la Revolución. Napoleon’s aphorism that history is written by the winners was clearly the inspiration for this museum, which is just as propaganda-heavy as you might expect. It’s housed in the former Presidential Palace, and many of the original furnishings and decorations are intact, as are the bullet holes generated by the armed band of students who attacked the palace as part of the Cuban revolution.

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Evidence that this was formerly the Presidential Palace

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View of the interior courtyard

As you might expect, the exhibits focus heavily on the revolution and its aftermath. Fidel Castro and Che Guevara are extremely prominent; Camilo Cienfuegos, who was really the true military mastermind behind the revolutionary army, gets relatively short shrift. I learned that he died in a mysterious airplane accident in 1958, shortly after the revolution. The exhibits are all labeled in Spanish but only a few have English translations, and those are mostly poor in quality and too brief to accurately capture the detail of the Spanish versions. Sometimes the propaganda quality was just over the top– the “Corner of Cretins” is a good example. The small plaques thank each cretin (Batista is the fourth, off to the left) for various things. The entry for George H.W. Bush says “Thank you cretin for helped us TO CONSOLIDATE THE REVOLUTION.” I mean, come on, guys, at least get someone who can conjugate verbs to help you write your insults!

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Cretins’ Corner

Interestingly, the museum itself contains three small shops selling random tourist crap. Not very revolutionary.

The ground floor has a small and well-hidden cafe where we stopped for a drink. This led to the highlight of my visit: reading the entries in the comment book the museum maintains for its visitors. I wish I’d taken pictures of some of the comments– there were people from eastern Europe writing (in beautiful English) that having the exhibits labeled only in Spanish was dumb; there were Australians and Canadians asking why the museum didn’t make a bigger effort to explain what was so bad about the pre-revolutionary Batista government, and one person (I think from Australia?) who said “Why are you selling Nestlé products in the cafe? They are the definition of imperialist devils!”

After the museum, I skipped lunch and went back to the apartment for a badly needed nap. When I awoke, everyone else had made it back and we all spent time washing our race stuff and hanging it to dry on the terrace. While this was going on, Anita, our housekeeper,  and her friend Rita were cooking us a Cuban dinner of slow-cooked chicken stew with pineapple, rice and beans, salad, and fried plantains.

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From L to R: Warren, Rita, Anita, Craig, and Julio

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Yes, I ate the whole thing

It’s true, I was very hungry at this point, but I have to say that this was the best meal I had while in Cuba, and one of the best I’ve ever had anywhere. The chicken was tender and flawlessly seasoned; the pineapple was naturally sweet, slightly caramelized, and a bit spicy from being cooked with the chicken, and the beans were perfectly cooked and seasoned. I had 3 plates worth and then had to quit before I damaged anything.

Our plan for the night was to go to FAC– Fábrica de Arte Cubano, basically a super-powered art gallery and party space. It’s only open Thursday through Sunday from 8p to 3a, so this was our last chance to go. We wanted to have drinks on the rooftop bar at El Cocinero, which is next door. However, when we arrived, we found the bar closed due to plumbing problems. That turned out to be OK; we got in line about 715 but by 730 the line was down the street and around the corner. FAC admits only 800 people each night, so if you don’t get there early, you might not get in.

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The FAC line

We stood in line chatting with other visitors, including a couple from Montreal who told a funny story. They were staying at an Airbnb owned by a Canadian and his Cuban boyfriend. Non-citizens can’t legally own real estate in Cuba though, and of course the Cuban government doesn’t permit gay marriage. How was that possible, I asked? “Oh,” laughed the Canadienne. “The Canadian married his boyfriend’s mother, and the apartment is in their names.” Nice workaround!

We paid 2 CUC for admission and got drink cards– to buy a drink, you show your card and the bartender marks it, then you provide your card at the exit to pay your tab. (Lose your card and it’s 30 CUC!) There are six or seven bars inside FAC, along with a large performance space, a video gallery, and wall after wall of art exhibits. The best way I can describe the overall vibe: noisy crowds of tourist hipsters. I’m not really an art person, and I tend to walk through art museums at a pretty brisk clip, so I didn’t really see anything that made a huge impression on me. (There was a nice gallery of small pictures of zebras chasing laser pointers, though.) The big attraction was being able to sit outside on the roof in the warm Cuban air talking with my friends and hipster-watching, but eventually I started getting more and more tired and decided to punch out and head back to the apartment.

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Lance marks the spot

I was awake for maybe 15 minutes once I got there– and getting there was an adventure, not because of the taxi we took (which was fine) but because of the stairs! My quads were still trashed from the previous day’s race and so I couldn’t make it up even half a flight of steep Cuban stairs without having to stop to catch my breath. Humbling.

 

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Havana, day 1

My first “you know you’re in Cuba when…” moment was the customs agent wearing fishnet stockings. Before that point, José Martí International Airport in Havana looked mostly like any other airport terminal. As we got in line for customs clearance, though, I noticed that all of the agents were female, and most of them were wearing uniforms that were considerably shorter and/or tighter than I’d expect to see on a TSA agent. Then Warren pointed out Agent Fishnets and I knew: I was someplace really different.Clearing immigration itself was very straightforward: I turned in half of my tourist card, had my picture taken, and was cleared out into the baggage claim area. Our bike boxes eventually appeared on one end of the terminal and our bags on the other, and we proceeded to the declaration line. No one inspected our bags.. well, except for the TSA.

Outside immigration we met Eric, the driver that Tony had arranged to pick us up. He had an immaculate gray 1952 Plymouth coupe for us, or at least for 4 of us, plus a friend with a van to take the other 2 of our party, plus all 6 bikes.


 Eric gave us a well-narrated tour through Havana, which simultaneously looked exactly like I thought it would (lots of classic cars, plenty of exhaust, bright colors, crumbling Soviet-era buildings) and nothing like I thought it would (packed streets, thriving businesses, a fair number of new-looking Chinese Geelys and other cars). Then we went by the big stadium, featuring this sign hailing Fidel as the “permanent inspiration of the best athlete” and showing him in various uniforms. 


Eric expertly navigated us to the Airbnb we’d reserved, “Casa Hendrik.” I can’t say enough good about this place– when I write the review it deserves I’ll post it here. Hendrik was a marvelous host and the apartment was perfect for what we needed. It doesn’t look like that much from the outside but had two marvelous terraces with a view of the water. This photo shows the view from right outside the door of my room, where there was a small porch, looking down onto the 2nd floor terrace; you can see water in the upper-left corner.


Next to the rocking chair is a small cage with two birds. Why? Because Havana, I guess.


The photo shows Craig and me on the top-floor terrace, which is reachable by a tiny and completely unsafe concrete spiral staircase. No handrail, nothing on the outside other than a 30-foot drop, and a stair pitch and size completely incompatible with size 13 feet. So of course I went up there as often as possible. 

Hendrik introduced us to Tia (Spanish for “auntie”), the 95-year-old woman who lives on the ground floor. Her vocation is neighborhood coffee lady, so whenever we needed a shot of her coffee, which tasted like what they must drink in heaven, we’d go see her. Little cups packed a big punch.


Lance quickly started putting together bikes on the tiny front porch, gathering a fair amount of curious stares from passers-by. Our neighborhood had a number of other casas particulares (private rooms that the owners are allowed by the government to rent), along with small shops and so on. It was a good mix to give us a taste of Cuban life.

For dinner, I’d asked Hendrik to make reservations at Paladar Torreson. Paladars are licensed private restaurants, often located in people’s homes (as this one was). Dinner was quite good; for about $12 US I had a plate of 3 small lobster tails, bread with an excellent hummus-like spread, arroz Moro, and a (watery) Cuba Libre.

  

Best of all, the paladar overlooked the Malécon, Havana’s famous waterfront road, so we got to people- and traffic-watch while we waited for the sunset… which was spectacular.


After dinner, we went to walk the Prado, one of the main drags in Old Havana. Most of the big tourist hotels are near there, as is the National Grand Theater and the Capitol building. It was crowded with skateboarding kids, strolling lovers, tourists, locals, and the occasional street dog.

This is a building whose name I forgot to write down:


And here’s the Hotel Inglaterre:


After the Prado, Craig and I went back to the Malécon to look for some of the famous wifi parks. We found some but couldn’t get them to work… more on that in another post.

One final note. Cubans are absolute masters at making stuff work with very limited resources, as evidenced by the light in our bathroom. There was a nice wall-mounted finial, but someone decided to add an LED can light… so they did. An angle bracket, some wire, and a plastic bag to wrap it in… done!


I hit the bed exhausted but intrigued by what we might see the next day. I was not to be disappointed.

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Test of my Havana setup

This is a simple test post to see how well my planned tech setup works. I’m typing this on a Logitech K380 Bluetooth keyboard, with my phone in a Stump stand. Wifi and cellular data are turned off. Here’s an embedded picture:


Why am I doing this? Well, Cuba doesn’t have much of an Internet infrastructure, both by design and by lack of investment. There are public wifi hotspots operated by ETESCA, the national PTT, and a functioning cellular data system. However, wifi access is limited to about 200 hotspots nationwide, and roaming data on AT&T is $2.05 per megabyte. My plan is to write blog posts and email while offline at la casa, then find a telepunto to upload and download once a day or so. I’ll still be able to send and receive ordinary texts and phone calls, but I don’t plan to given the expense. 

It’s an open question which real-time communications will work– I’ve read that consumer Skype and FaceTime are blocked, and that WhatsApp works. I don’t know about Signal, Facebook Messenger, or Skype for Business. My working assumption is that I’ll be reachable through at least one of these methods while I’m in wifi coverage, but if you really need to get a hold of me, use email.

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2016 in review: my reading list

Inspired by my mom, last year I started keeping a list of the books I read throughout the year. (See 2015’s list here). This year, I did the same, and I’m publishing it now in case anyone out there needs last-minute gift suggestions for a reader on their list. As with last year, I’ve added a brief summary for most of the books. Unlike last year, I’ve separated the books into categories, including a new “top 10” category. Although my list started in chronological order, unlike last year’s, it’s more or less random now.

Top 10

  • Boys in the Boat tells the story of the team that captured the Olympic men’s rowing medal at the Nazi-run 1936 Olympics. I never cared about rowing as a sport before. Riveting.
  • The Hybrid Athlete: the bible for concurrent strength and endurance training
  • Tyler Dilts‘ “Long Beach Homicide” series: A King of Infinite Space, The Pain Scale, A Cold and Broken Hallelujah, and Come Twilight. Superb writing and resonant, memorable characters.
  • Don Winslow’s two novels about the Mexican drug cartels, The Power of the Dog and The Cartel, are epic, almost literally (they aren’t poems, but they chronicle a hero’s journey). Except the hero is more of an anti-hero. Not light reading by any means, but rewarding.
  • Stephen King‘s Bill Hodges trilogy: Mr Mercedes (excellent audiobook, if that’s your thing), Finders Keepers, and End of Watch. This is King’s best stuff in a while— on a par with 11/22/63. King gives a master class in plotting, dialogue, and characterization throughout the 3 volumes.
  • Being Mortal: a difficult and thought-provoking read. Summary: we all die, so how can we make that process less wrenching for ourselves and our families?
  • Frozen in Time: combine the story of a doomed World War II bomber crew struggling to survive in the Arctic for months and the effort, 60 years later, to find their crash site, aircraft, and remains. Masterfully told.
  • Dave Hutchinson’s Europe trilogy: Europe in AutumnEurope at Midnight,  Europe in Winter. If you liked Gibson’s The Peripheral, you’ll love these. They’re far too rich and complex for my poor summarization skills to do them justice. Just read the first one, and you’ll see what I mean.
  • Redeployment: Phil Klay’s incredibly hard-hitting collection of short stories about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan should be required reading for everyone who’s ever put an “I SUPPORT OUR TROOPS” magnet on their minivan.

Nonfiction

  • You Are An Ironman: inspiring, but ultimately formulaic, chronicle of six athletes who train for the 2007 IRONMAN Arizona race. Still worth reading.
  • The Next Hour: The Most Important Hour in Your Logbook: if Richard Collins writes it, I want to read it. Not only is he an excellent writer, he is an extremely experienced pilot and this book taught me a great deal.
  • Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats: a memoir that juxtaposes the story of the author’s family disintegration and the growth of Rocky Flats… and the terrible pollution that followed.
  • Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman: a classic. I wish I could have met Feynman.
  • Masters of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany: I know a reasonable amount about aviation history, but until I listened to this book, I had no idea about the realities behind the bomber war in WW II. I am now doubly thankful for men like my grandfather, who flew and fought in an environment few of us can even imagine.
  • Thinking Pilots’ Flight Manual: interesting and useful collection of magazine columns. Some of the material’s not relevant to me (I won’t be landing ski-equipped airplanes any time soon) but there’s a lot of good stuff here.
  • Doper Next Door: summary: ordinary athlete starts testosterone replacement therapy. Hijinks mostly do not ensue. The author comes across as a self-involved man-child.
  • To Hell on a Fast Horse: meticulously researched history of the real story behind Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett. Pretty much everything I thought I knew about those two turned out to be wrong.
  • The Red Circle (audio): memoir of a Navy SEAL sniper. Tiresomely self-promotional and overall not nearly as good as I was hoping.

Science fiction

  • The Cat Who Walks Through Walls: one of Heinlein’s final books; sadly not as good as I remembered it
  • Farmer In the Sky: a Heinlein juvenile that holds up quite well 50+ years later
  • Imhotep: surprisingly enjoyable… think “A Connecticut Yankee In Pharoah’s Court”
  • Crux: terrific, complex thriller with tons of plot twists
  • Fold (audio): this narrowly missed my year’s top 10. I wish the protagonist were a real person so we could hang out.
  • Written in Fire: final volume in Sakey’s “Brilliance” trilogy. Superb.
  • Exigency
  • Going Dark: third volume of the Red Trilogy
  • Chains of Command: for my money, Marko Kloos writes better military science fiction than anyone else since Joe Haldeman
  • The Forever War: hasn’t lost any of its bite since its debut. People will still be reading this book in 50 years.
  • Rich Man’s War, Poor Man’s Fight, Dead Man’s Debt: Can’t pay your student debt? Join the military to work it off. Not as good as Kloos but not bad.
  • Ctrl-Alt-Revolt: skip this. Now I know I don’t need to read any more Nick Cole books.
  • Slavemakers: what if there’s an apex predator that threatens humanity’s survival? Gripping.
  • The Black: mysterious deep-sea life form emerges, starts tearing stuff up. Nice mix of horror and tech.
  • Flex: “interesting” is the right word to use here.
  • Year’s Best SF: a mixed bag. Three stars at best. Loved some of the stories, while others were super tedious (if I never see another Aliette de Bodard or Kelly Link story in this anthology, I’d be delighted).
  • Dave vs the Monsters: Emergence: completely implausible, featuring a crude and unpleasant anti-hero. Birmingham is a better writer than this would indicate.
  • Dave vs the Monsters: Resistance: worse than the first one.
  • Anomaly: more like a philosophy lesson than an SF book.
  • Something Coming Through: if aliens appeared on earth and said “we’re just here to help,” would you believe them? Should you?
  • Windsweptsurprisingly enjoyable tale of a labor organizer on a faraway planet. She’s a badass.
  • Extremes: tedious second novel in the Retrieval Artist series. Liked the first one, but probably won’t bother with the others now.
  • Stalin’s Hammer: Paris: novella set in the “Axis of Time” universe. Good, but too short.

Thriller / spy

  • The English Spy (audio): Silva never disappoints, and the narration on this is terrific.
  • The Fall of Moscow Station: I hope Mark Henshaw writes more books, and very soon. Terrific spy thriller.
  • The Wolves: Berenson’s yearly John Wells thriller. Reliably good.
  • Darknet: meh
  • Little Sister: if James Bond were a hacker, this might be a Bond novel. Enjoyable but lightweight.
  • Unforgettable: what if a weird quantum effect made it impossible for anyone to remember your existence? You could be a spy. But you probably couldn’t have a girlfriend. A clever idea, well executed in this book.
  • Tier One: a decent thriller, if predictable.
  • Ghost Fleet: naval and cyber war with China. Not nearly as good as I was expecting based on its hype. Poyer’s two Lenson novels dealing with the same topic are far better.
  • Traitor’s Story: a deceptively quiet but clever book
  • Disciple of the Wind: Steve Bain’s latest “Fated Blades” novel. Just as good as the others.
  • The Low Bird: novel of USAF pararescue operations in Vietnam. Quite good.
  • Onslaught: Navy Captain Dan Lenson and USS Savo Island are back on the job. Excellent depiction of battle at sea in the modern Navy.
  • Red Sparrow: very good debut by a former CIA officer. I look forward to more from him.
  • Lights Out
  • Hard Road

Mystery / crime

Other fiction

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Nifty new auto-vacation feature for Outlook on the Web

This is a great example of Microsoft bringing useful innovation to end users by deploying new features in Office 365:

Outlook on the web now makes it easier to clear your calendar and automatically decline meetings before you head out for some time away from the office. When you set an automatic reply in Outlook on the web, Outlook will offer to do the following on your behalf:

  • Block your calendar so people know you’re away.
  • Clear existing meetings on your calendar by declining/canceling them.
  • Automatically send a response to incoming invitations while you’re away.

Of course, Outlook and Exchange have long had the ability to automatically send an out-of-office (or “OOF”, from “out of facility“) message when you specify the dates when you’ll be away. These new features extend the traditional OOF behavior by adding some business logic to the OOF process– after all, when you’re out of the office, it is logical to assume that you won’t be accepting appointments during that time, and that you want new invitations to be automatically declined. (There are exceptions, of course, which is why you can turn this business logic off.) I’m not in love with the fact that this feature requires you to set your  works in Outlook on the web, but I’m hopeful that it will make it into other versions of Outlook at some point.

Apart from the specifics of this individual feature, it’s really encouraging to see the Outlook team invest in innovation like this. Given the large feature gap between Outlook on the web and Gmail (the only real enterprise competitor to Exchange/Outlook) it would be easy for the Outlook team to coast. Part of the ethos of building software at cloud speed involves iterating rapidly, and that in turn means sometimes you build something that turns out to get a lukewarm reception because it’s not as useful as first thought. (Tony argues that this is the case for Outlook’s support for likes and @ mentions.) However, sometimes you build something that turns out to be really nifty, and I think this feature is a good example– I look forward to seeing it roll out more broadly.

(for another time: I know not every tenant admin will want this feature turned on for their users without prior notice or permission, and Microsoft has a lot of room to improve the way they deliver features so that administrators can control user access to them.)

 

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I’m coaching Tri201

I’m excited to announce that I’m going to be volunteering as one of the coaches for Fleet Feet Huntsville’s Tri201 program. It’s designed to take people who are already at an intermediate level of fitness (including people who haven’t done a triathlon yet but have completed 10K or longer races and meet the de minimus swim and bike distance requirements) and prepare them to successfully complete the Rocketman Olympic triathlon in August. After completing Tri101 in 2014 and Tri201 last year, I’m really looking forward to share what I’ve learned in my short triathlon experience with a new group of athletes. If you live in metro Huntsville and are interested in triathlon, come check us out!

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Training Tuesday: just call me Sir Paul

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my plan to seek Knighthood. That’s how I spent Saturday, March 19th: on a bike, communicating with my fellow CHP athletes (including Rafe, who wrote his own Knighthood recap) via Skype and Facebook, and pedaling. A lot.

(Side note: if you don’t know what I’m even talking about, you might want to poke around the Sufferlandria web site, which explains the culture, customs, and traditions of that mysterious land.)

I set up my bike on the trainer in my living room, using a dog crate to hold my laptop (for communications), my iPad (for streaming video from the Sufferfest app), and snacks. It was cool outside, so I opened several windows and turned on the ceiling fan; one of my gripes about riding indoors is that you don’t get the cooling breeze from forward motion because there isn’t any.

The Sufferfest videos are organized into a few general categories: racing, endurance, climbing, and so on. They feature a mix of sustained riding at a predetermined pace, intervals at specific power levels, and race simulations (which include both). There are attacks, breakaways, climbs, and all sorts of goodies.

Here’s what happened, as best as I remember.

I got up, had a cup of coffee, checked all my equipment, and had a banana and a protein shake. The night before, I’d laid in a huge cache of supplies, including Oreos, beef jerky, M&Ms, and a bunch of other stuff I wouldn’t normally eat. I weighed in at 199.3 pounds, got dressed, and headed towards Sufferlandria.

(n.b. Cyclists take note: each of the video links below includes a description, a short trailer, and a ride profile showing the intervals and intensity levels.)

We started promptly at 0730 my time with The Rookie (55 minutes). This video’s theme is that you are the newest rider on the Giant/Shimano team, so you start riding as a domestique but actually get to lead a breakaway by the end through 3 10-minute race intervals. I rode this scaled to 75% of my FTP, so my threshold was 146W, and the app was smart enough to scale my performance targets accordingly. The ride went well– I felt good when I was done. Refreshed, you might say.

Next up was 48 minutes of The Wretched, the overview of which starts with “Perhaps one of the most difficult Sufferfests, The Wretched is the tale of a Sufferlandrian who has fallen from Local Hero to Zero.” The conceit here is that you’re simulating a stage of the Tour de France, so there are attacks galore. This one went well too; after finishing I had a few handsful of trail mix and a few Oreos, along with another shake (consisting of 1 scoop of Karbolyn and 1 scoop of Optimum Nutrition vanilla protein powder; I nicknamed this a “pain shake” after the famous Sufferlandrian beverage).

Video 3 was A Very Dark Place (51 minutes). I definitely felt this one.  It featured 5 4-minute high-speed intervals, each with a different theme (solo breakaway, holding onto the race leader’s wheel, etc), which provided pleasant variety in the midst of the pain. I hadn’t done this or The Wretched before, so it was fun experiencing them for the first time while watching Rafe, Todd, and Torrey suffering on Skype.

Power Station, video 4, is 50 minutes of climbing– low cadence, high-power climbing that will burn your quads to a crisp. I’d ridden it before so I knew what to expect. It’s a tough workout, especially after the preceding three, but I am lucky in that I have really big quads and hamstrings relative to the rest of my legs (or my entire body for that matter). That makes me a crappy sprinter and a comical rider at 100+ rpm cadences, but I can handle hard low-cadence work.

I had some more snacks. In fact, you should assume that I snacked in between each video because that’s exactly what I did.

Video 5 was Angels, which I hadn’t ridden before: 3 8-minute climbs, which were not fun even a little tiny bit. I had just saddled up when Dana came over with the kids… and more snacks. They kept me company through both Angels and Nine Hammers, the following video. Both were tough but the company made the time pass much faster than I would have expected. Lilly drew me two signs, one for each video, and Dana made me what I must say was the best PB&J I have ever eaten.

Coach Alex prophetically said “this will be the worst part of the day” about video #7, Hell Hath No Fury… 75 minutes in which you race 2 20-minute race intervals against professional female cyclists. a 20-minute race interval is no joke; two of them back to back even less so. I was certainly feeling the burn by the end of this one. By this point, I was starting to have some persistent discomfort in the IT bands of both knees, as well as an occasional twinge in my left ankle. My legs were burning more or less constantly. I’d been taking Sportlegs, in which I am a firm believer, and they helped, but I found myself muttering Jens Voigt’s famous mantra: “shut up, legs.”

Video 8 was Do As You’re Told (47 minutes), which I think was the first Sufferfest video I ever rode. Familiarity didn’t make it any more pleasant; this video is all intervals / sprints, so it was punishing. I hung on, grimly, and used every second of the 10-minute break to refill my bottle, snack up, and stretch out my aching quads.

Video 9 was The Best Thing in the World (48 minutes). This is a flat-out lie, as it contains two 13:30 race simulations, which are not even close to the best thing in the world.

We closed with Blender (1 hour and 40 minutes). That’s right: 100 minutes of various intervals at the end of the quest. Many of the folks in the Knighthood-attempt Facebook group were horrified that we finished with this instead of doing it earlier, but that’s how Alex rolls. I was really dragging during some of these intervals; the recovery intervals weren’t nearly long enough to suit me. However, I managed to struggle through, finally dismounting the bike after successfully completing Blender, to loud cheers from the cat.

I staggered around the living room for a bit, then sat down. This was a bit of a mistake, because it was mighty hard to get up again. Luckily Dana and her kids brought me a pizza, which I gleefully consumed along with a Belgian beer I’d been saving for the occasion. After dinner, I filled out the Knighthood submission form, and earlier today I was rewarded with mail from the Minions containing this beauty:

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I’m eagerly looking forward to the rest of the Knighthood swag I’ve earned, including some custom bike decals. More than that, I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to raise nearly $3,000 for charity along with my CHP posse, and to have completed the single most challenging athletic event I’ve ever attempted. Many thanks to all who donated or who supported us with moral support, snacks, drawings, or PB&J sandwiches.

On to my 70.3!

 

 

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Training Tuesday: get knighted or die tryin’

I have become a big fan of the cycling training videos from The Sufferfest. They provide high-intensity workouts with a nifty backstory: you are a citizen of the nation of Sufferlandria, a cycling-obsessed country with a completely unique culture. The videos present various entertaining scenarios, such as riding high-power intervals for an hour and forty minutes or trying out for the Giant-Shimano cycling team. The videos are well-produced, feature great music, and are damn challenging.

One feature of Sufferlandrian culture is their titled nobility: Knights of Sufferlandria earn that title by completing 10 of the videos, back to back with no more than a 10-minute break in between. This totals out to between 10 and 13 hours of riding, depending on which videos you choose. There are some other rules, explained at the link above, but the bottom line is that you have to Suffer, ideally while raising money for charity, in order to earn the coveted title. Only about 600 people worldwide have done so… so naturally, when Alex Viada suggested that we do a group Knighthood attempt at CHP, I was all over it.

On Saturday, March 19, I will undertake to earn my Knighthood (along with Alex, Kelly, my lifting buds Derek and Rafe, and about a dozen coaches and athletes). Our team is spread all over the US and UK, and we’ll all be riding at the same time. As a team, we chose two charities: Oxfam and Puppies Behind Bars. “Who?” you ask. Here’s what PBB does:

Puppies Behind Bars (PBB) trains prison inmates to raise service dogs for wounded war veterans and explosive detection canines for law enforcement. Puppies enter prison at the age of eight weeks and live with their inmate puppy-raisers for approximately 24 months. As the puppies mature into well-loved, well-behaved dogs, their raisers learn what it means to contribute to society rather than take from it. PBB programs bring the love and healing of dogs to hundreds of individuals every year. The dogs bring hope and pride to their raisers, and independence and security to those they serve.

I am excited by this opportunity and look forward to Suffering for a good cause. Hopefully we’ll be able to get a live stream put together, too. I invite you to consider donating– 100% of the proceeds are going 50/50 to our two target charities.

For more details on the event, and to donate, please visit this page.

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Why I donated to the Sanders campaign

So here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write: I just gave Bernie Sanders’ campaign some money, despite the fact that I disagree with many of his specific beliefs and policies. Why did I make a campaign contribution?

  1. Sanders has a high degree of personal integrity. I would rather have a person of character and integrity with whom I disagree as our President than someone who’s politically closer to me but lacks those attributes.
  2. Hilary Clinton is fundamentally, thoroughly, reflexively corrupt and dishonest. The thought of her becoming President, and thus sweeping her equally corrupt clique of advisors and hangers-on into positions of power, repels me. If giving Bernie money helps keep her out of office, I’m ready to write a check.
  3. If elected, I don’t believe that the non-interventionist Sanders will be actively dangerous to our country. I can’t say the same about Clinton or any of the Republican contenders except perhaps Rand Paul– and let’s face it, there is no chance in hell that Paul will win the nomination. Sanders’ economic policies are unlikely to get broad traction in a Republican Congress, so I’m not concerned that he is single-handledly going to destroy the economy and the American way of life.
  4. None of the existing Republicans have shown that they deserve my support. Most of them fail on points #1 and #2 above, and the few who don’t (Kasich and Paul, maybe the somnolent Carson) have no chance of beating Clinton in a general election.
  5. In fact, the entire Republican party leadership has shown that they don’t deserve my support as evidenced by their shameful failure to recruit and promote good candidates. If you could take the list of current Republican candidates and their resumes back in time and show it to Eisenhower, Reagan, Carter, Johnson, or Kennedy they would be horrified.
  6. Because of the way our electoral system is currently structured, early money has a bigger leverage effect. If Sanders wins Iowa and/or New Hampshire, that will make him much more competitive against Clinton on Super Tuesday.

I’m definitely soft on Bernie. I’d love to see a last-minute convention miracle on the GOP side (or a well deserved, but unlikely, federal indictment of Secretary Clinton for mishandling of classified information), in which case I’d reconsider my support. But until then, I’m in for Bernie.

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Flying Friday: a sample of instrument flight

Bonus! Two Flying Friday posts in one day (here’s the other one.)

There’s a difference between flying under instrument flight rules (IFR) and flying in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC).

When you fly IFR, that means you’re flying on an instrument flight plan, along a defined route, in communication with and under positive control of ground-based air traffic control.

When you fly in IMC, that means you are flying “primarily by reference to instruments,” as the FAA puts it. That basically means that you can’t see a discernible horizon. You can fly IFR in good weather or bad. If you’re flying in IMC, you must do so under IFR. If you’re flying in visual meteorological conditions (VMC, what normal people call “good weather”), you can fly under visual or instrument flight rules.

Actually, I should clarify just a bit– VMC isn’t necessarily good, it’s just that IMC is defined as “weather worse than the standard VMC minimum visibility and/or ceiling.”

This whole post is basically just an excuse to post a short video showing one example of flight in IMC. I took it while en route from Decatur to Tampa Executive; on that 3h40min flight I was in the clouds for just under an hour.

You can’t see a visible horizon, although the sun was semi-visible through the clouds. (If you take a look at the iPad screen, you’ll see why it was so cloudy.)  Surprisingly, on a sunny day, the inside of the cloud can be very bright with diffuse light, leading to the somewhat odd behavior of wearing sunglasses while flying inside a cloud that blocks the sun from the ground.

 

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