Grant Muller

High Lonesome 100: Race Report

High Lonesome

We staggered up the last few steps in the dark to the top of Monarch on the Continental Divide trail. A relentless wind slapped me in the face, and kept on slapping. A chill burrowed into me despite the wool shirt, rain jacket, gloves and buff. I couldn’t see more than three feet in front of me; it wasn’t fog, we were standing in a cloud. I turned back to Aaron, now nothing more than a diffuse headlamp glow and a voice in the dark.

"We gotta get the hell off this ridge."

We broke into a run, anxiety fueling our effort. We hadn’t eaten anything in several hours. We were wet with sweat in the cold, constant wind. Slowing down could mean hypothermia. The day before had been perfect.

How the hell did we get here?

5:45 AM, Friday

Hundreds of people milled around in the dawn chill at the campground on Mt. Princeton. Pictures were taken; all smiles. Seventy-three of this crowd were preparing to toe the line of the inaugural High Lonesome 100. I was one of them.

Dudes

This was my first one hundred. Hundred-miler. Hundo. Finally hunting some big game. A few months prior I had no intention of being on the side of that mountain, but a successful fifty-miler seduced me to strike while the iron was hot. Besides, all my buddies would be there, and who doesn’t like a little peer pressure. I got on the waiting list and within a few weeks I was committed.

At 6:00 AM, to the crack of gunfire, we rushed out of the campground in a mass and expelled our nervous energy on a steep downhill road towards the Colorado Trail. After a few miles the paved road degraded into a wide, flat, dirt path. We clicked off several quick miles before the real hunt began.

A steep ascent marked the beginning of the Colorado Trail. I’d be lying if I told you I remember it this way. I only recall this ascent the way back, with ninety-four miles behind me. It was an easy climb going out; it would be a quad-killer coming back.

We peaked out on the initial climb, and were rewarded with some nice, flat, runnable terrain of Colorado Trail. It didn’t take long to make it to Raspberry Gulch, the first aid station.

By now our group of runners, all flatlanders from the Atlanta-area, had split into their respective factions. TJ had spent the better part of a month in Colorado, and had acclimated well enough to take an early lead. We would see him only once more before the finish. We’d instructed our crew to get some sleep, get their supplies, and skip these first few aid stations; we’d catch up with them around mile twenty-five. We filled up on water, grabbed a few snacks (Nutella tortillas? Hell yeah), and headed out for our first big climb: Antero. 9 miles ahead.

It didn’t take long for the going to get tough. Aaron and I ascended the trail into ever thinner air. We came across flatlanders and highlanders alike, all struggling to make meaningful progress up the long hike. Our easy run was reduced to a power hike, and then a trudge.

"I gotta take a picture of this!"

That was my excuse anytime I wanted to stop and breathe for a minute, and the scenery made it easy. We were surrounded by mountains, bare on top, green on their slopes, rocky at their bases. White snow pack salted the peaks, gathering in nooks and crannies between folds of the ridge. The melting ice formed a half dozen creeks, streams and waterfalls that poured off the sides of the mountain, rushing toward flatter terrain. It was a mountain paradise.

Mountain Paradise

It was also a struggle. We worked with the mountain; we slowed to its speed. It might be the altitude talking, but by the time I reached the top I no longer felt spent. There was peace up there that I cannot describe.

Peace up high

At the top, we looked down the side of the pass onto a steep jeep road. Perhaps a dozen rocky switchbacks wound their way downward toward our next aid station. If the previous five miles were toil, this was an effortless fall into a forested abyss. The scenery remained stunning, and with smiles on our faces we strode in to Antero aid.

Into the Basin

We made quick work here. The trail continued to descend out of Antero onto a roughshod jeep road. We passed several trucks on our way down. Several times the trail coincided with a melting snowpack stream; a taste of things to come.

After several miles of descent we turned a corner to hear cheering. Were we at the aid station? Had we covered eight miles so quickly? No. Several members of our crew had found a spot where the road and jeep trail met, parked, and waited for us to pass. It was uplifting, even if it did mean we still had several miles to go until St Elmo.

"I think the worst is over," I commented to Aaron.

"I ran parts of this course during training," another runner interjected. "I think the next out and back from St Elmo is the worst."

We were ignorant of the course other than the elevation profile and map. On the topo map it just looked like a couple of hills. How bad could it be? We contemplated as we ran up the Alpine road and past the creatively named Alpine lake. It didn’t take long before we arrived at St. Elmo.

St. Elmo was supposed to be a ghost town; it looked anything but ghostly as we passed through. The hustle and bustle of runners, their crews, and race volunteers transformed it into a mountain metropolis again for the span of 24 hours. In the traffic we saw Anthony Lee and Mike Wolfe, the front runners, exiting on their way to Tin Cup and the rest of the race. They were hours ahead.

The aid station itself was on the trail about a half mile past the old town. Our crews had made quite a hike to get our gear from the parking area to the station itself, a thing which we’d hear a lot about later on. We took a quick break, our crew forcing us out after 5 minutes, and began the trek up and down to Cottonwood.

This was a low point. The rain hovered like an indecisive spectre. The clouds obscured much of the scenery. When you’re on cooperative terrain you don’t notice. But when the mountain feels like it’s working against you, the weather does too. If it had been sunny and hot, I’d still be complaining. There is no solution to the problem other than to stash your ego in a pocket and get to work.

The going was slow, even coming down the backside into Cottonwood felt like work. How could two little blips on the map compare to the pass at Antero? We caught up with TJ, making his return trip from Cottonwood, looking strong. After a few minutes conversation, we let TJ continue and struggled on. At Cottonwood, our break was short. We headed back the way we came.

Out and backs bend your mind. On the way out you might complain a little. Your way back is a gripefest. Now you know where to complain. You just saw this. You know that "this next section" is muddy, slippery and steep. You’re probably going to fall. There is that tree where the incline gets rough again. There is that clutch of grass that marks where all the damned rocks are. This kind of thinking is unavoidable on an out and back.

As we approached St Elmo, we caught up with Matt on his way out to Cottonwood. We did our best to lift his spirits without being dishonest about the beast in front of him. Forget the thin air and just keep moving. It was a struggle for everyone, and I know I learned something from it: on your way out, better to forget.

Approaching St. Elmo

After powdering my joints on the descent, we met our crew again at St. Elmo. I was burning up despite the dreary rain and stripped off some clothes. It was getting late; the sun would be down before we arrived at the next aid station, so we grabbed our night gear. A quick shoe change later and we were on our way.

The next few miles of flat road flew by as daylight expired. We hit the water drop at Tin Cup, signaling the end of the road and the beginning of the ascent over the ridge to Hancock.

"Hey Yogi!"

Aaron’s cry startled me. Our energy was flagging; conversation was limited to occasional grumbling. Sometimes about the knee-deep mud, other times the endless ascent over the ridge. It was getting too quiet, and we needed to make more noise to encourage our bear friends to stay far away.

"Hey BooBoo!" I called back.

"Go away, bears! Nobody likes you!"

"Nothing to eat here!"

"Fuck off, bears!"

It always devolves into profanity.

The bears weren’t the only things we were cursing. As the snow melts in the mountains of Colorado, rivulets of ice-cold water form and wheedle down the mountain. Sometimes they mind their business and gently cross the trail. Other times they get lazy and just share the trail with you. I don’t mind the occasional creek crossing, but after several miles of running in what can only be described as an "ankle deep kinda ice river", I was pleading for dry feet.

Speaking of snow, during this leg of the course we encountered our first snowpack. What’s snowpack? It’s a big slab of melting, soggy, but still somehow slippery snow that sprawls across the trail like Jabba the Hut. Its too big to run up-mountain of, and if you slip and fall you’re going to end up "down mountain" pretty quickly. In my first encounter I tried to gingerly prancercise my way across and ended up with one pole jammed into the downhill side of the trail, the other end under my rib in a feeble attempt to slow my roll. A few feet of butt-waddling and I was back on dirt trail, but it was a close one. On my second attempt at snowpack I didn’t even try to stay on my feet; I unceremoniously plopped to my ass and slid until I was across.

After several wet, steep, and muddy miles we arrived at Hancock, bear free. Mile 48.8. Halfway. Sort of.

We had expected our crew at Hancock, and were surprised to see that they hadn’t made it. We took a long break here to try and give them time to catch up. Wes, our pacer had planned to step in to get us through a couple of tough climbs. I needed some warmer clothes. Luckily both Aaron and I had packed a drop bag for Hancock in case our crew couldn’t make it. I switched into a long-sleeve wool shirt and stretched a buff over my head. On the verge of shivering, we dragged ourselves out of the comfortable camp chairs and dawdled to the exit. One last look around; our crew hadn’t arrived. It was just Aaron and I until Monarch Pass, mile 66.6.

The trail to Middle Fork, between Hancock and Monarch, was eerily similar to the trail from Tin Cup to Hancock. Oftentimes I found myself asking if we were walking back on the same trail.

Memory is tricky. I don’t remember much in here. I’m sure this portion of trail was difficult, fun, muddy, bear-free, but in retrospect what came after Middle Fork overshadowed it. I find it hard to recall anything that happened between Hancock and Middle Fork. I’m certain I found plenty of opportunities to worry about my pace, yell at bears, and curse the altitude.

I remember ending up in a forested area on switchbacks descending into a gap. I knew we were getting close. You could hear occasional cheering in the distance as a runner approached Middle Fork. When we arrived, there were many butts in seats. A volunteer told us that "visibility was pretty low, and we’ve gotten reports that there was some wind up on the ridge." We wasted little time here. Snacked and hydrated, we set out on what would become the most brutal climb of the race.

The ascent was immediate. The grade prevented anything but the slowest hiking. With burning legs and lungs we forced ourselves forward. As we ascended we came across other runners, flatlanders like ourselves getting our first taste of Monarch. I vividly remember crossing a bridge, a torrent of ice cold water beneath us. I remember looking up to see headlamps in the distance. I remember saying "Are you fucking kidding me?" when I realized how much higher those headlamps were. We were tricked multiple times by false tops and ridges, the exhilaration that we were done climbing into the thin, dark air rudely stamped out by the unfeeling mountain.

The effect of the high altitude and sleep deprivation on our minds and bodies was at its worst as we approached the top. We stumbled through the fog-thick dark, sometimes taking only five or six steps before sitting on one of the boulders that littered the trail. Delirium wasn’t far off. We didn’t eat. Eating meant chewing, and there was no extra energy for chewing. Who can chew and breath this air? The last few steps were agony.

And then we topped it.

In only a few steps we knew we were in a worse position than before. Exposed atop the ridge, the wind pummeled us, the cold mist chilled us to the bone, the air was still thin, and we were wet with sweat from the climb.

"We gotta get the hell off this ridge."

I must have repeated it a dozen times as we ran. Trail flags seemed sparse. Hell, the trail seemed sparse. One moment you think you’re on it, the next you’re running through a patch of bushes. Several times we stopped to check direction. Several times we ran in a direction not knowing if it terminated "down mountain". At one point Aaron lost the trail. I turned around to guide him back with my headlamp. I couldn’t tell if he was ten feet behind me or a thousand. I walked back until we were both on what appeared to be the trail.

"What do you boys say we get the hell off this ridge!"

It was Wes! He appeared out of nowhere. Our crew had arrived at Hancock fifteen minutes after Aaron and I had departed hours prior. Cary asked Wes what he wanted to do, and like a pro he suited up and jumped in at Hancock to catch up with us. He fought out there alone in the mud, in the dark, probably yelling at bears, up that damned climb and caught us just as we were at our lowest. His timing was perfect. Wes lifted our spirits, shepherded us along, and forced us to eat something. Soon enough we could see trees through the fog and knew we were back below tree line.

Things started to look up as we descended. Staggering delirium subsided and the trail opened up onto a wide ski run. On a high visibility night this would have been a godsend, but when you’re limited to three feet of visibility, a twenty foot wide trail is hard to keep track of, especially when you’re looking for trail markers. We split up three wide across the trail to make sure all sides were covered and we didn’t lose track of a turn.

As we shuffled down the pass a huge weight was lifted from my chest. No more high altitude. No more big climbs. No more exposed ridges. Once we hit Monarch Pass at 66.6 miles, the rest of the run would be no more than 10,000 feet. A blissfully oxygenated 10,000 feet. And we were way ahead of cut off. The combination of Wes’ arrival at the lowest point in the race and the knowledge that it was easy street from here renewed me.

We arrived at Monarch Pass at 5:45 AM on Saturday, almost 24 hours and 66.6 miles from where we started. Our whole crew was there waiting for us, and we took a much needed break to change shoes, clothes, gear and pacer. Brooke jumped in with the mandate to ensure we averaged less than 20 min miles no matter how much we complained. She would do much, much better than that.

The trail out of Monarch was significantly easier than any we’d encountered before now. After a short climb we dropped onto "Satan’s Slip and Slide", a steep, rocky downhill under power lines. Other than doing some damage to my quads, it wasn’t really much different than the rutted out rocky roads we run here in Georgia. We made quick work of it.

Brooke, patient but demanding, forced us to run more than we would have had we been alone. Several times I groaned but gave in, and found that I could run without too much trouble. With her help, the five miles from Monarch to Fooses Creek was over in a flash. We helped ourselves at Fooses Creek and rushed towards Blank’s cabin.

Most of this trail was wide and flat. I found myself reminiscing back to when I Mark at The Bear 100. It was early morning, slightly foggy, and the trail was nearly identical. Gravel gave way to dirt track, then road. Within a few miles we were back on the Colorado Trail, and into the home stretch.

The first few climbs on the trail home seemed daunting. 70+ miles into a 100 mile run, they were certainly tough, but nothing compared to what we’d encountered already, and certainly nothing compared to some of our climbs on the Duncan Ridge Trail. We trudged up quickly until we could get back onto flatter ground, where Brooke once again cracked the whip and got us moving again. In no time we’d arrived at Blank’s Cabin.

At Blank’s Cabin we caught our crew again. I felt like royalty; Brooke had run ahead of us to announce our arrival and everyone was ready for us when we waltzed in. I grabbed a Snicker’s and probably some other snacks. I only remember being interested in the Snickers. I ate a pierogi or two, which worked like magic. We set out again after a few minutes, ready to knock out the last 17 or so miles.

Shit got weird. At some point I got a little ahead of the group and out on my own. I remember waiting for a few minutes, but it could have been seconds. Time became elastic. I ran a lot more than I expected to run at the end of a 100. The patterns in the rocks started spelling words. Fish. Pepsi. Announcement. Asahi. All random. A few rocks looked like frogs. A pacer showed up in my peripheral vision. Nope, nobody there. This trail looks familiar, have I been here before?

Wait, I had been there before!

That broke the spell. I was on the return trail, the real homestretch! This was all ground I had covered before! If I’d done it once, I can do it again. The trail flattened out and I broke into a run. After passing through a cattle gate, I found myself in a field smattered with shrubs, on a flat, runnable trail. In the distance was the final aid station, Raspberry Gulch. Again.

Pacer Wife

At Raspberry Gulch my wife Cary was going to jump in with me to run it home. This was my first 100, and though Cary has always been the most important member of my crew, I wanted her to experience some the other side of the adventure on this very special run. In the weeks leading up to the race, Cary had joined me on the tail end of several long runs to get a feel for what it would be like. She’d done great! Her background as a gymnast and weightlifter lent itself to running, even if she is a self-avowed endurance hater.

Only a minute or two behind me Aaron and Brooke popped in. We were all set to conquer the last 7.4 miles together. Brooke went to the finish with the crew while Wes and Cary jumped onto the trail with Aaron and I. The run was on.

The first few miles were open and flat, and we made quick work of them. I remembered them from before, and had been looking forward to some easy work at the end to balance things out. Then we hit that steep downhill that I didn’t recall. My quads were wrecked. There was no way to take advantage of gravity without doing damage to ankles and knees, despite Wes’ insistence that "this is all runnable stuff really. Cha-ching, thats the sound of banking time."

We finally hit the flat open road and agreed to run for the sake of our pacers. We set some goals in the distance. "

"Run to that tree. No, not this tree I meant that one out there."

"Run to that dirt spot. You can’t see it? It’s right there on your left."

"Run to the last flag. I meant the last last flag, not the first last flag."

Brooke, who’d run back from the finish line towards us, found us with less than 3 miles left. Less than 3 miles of open road were all that separated us from the finish.

You might recall that the race started on a steep downhill road towards the Colorado Trail. Well, what goes down, must come up. We hit the final mile, a steep uphill toward the finish, at a solid, um, hike.

In truth we were making good time. Until now we thought we’d be taking a 34+ hour finish time. Until Wes announced that we had 0.6 miles to go, and almost 15 minutes to do it in, we hadn’t entertained the idea that we might finish in less than 34 hours. We picked up the pace, and as the hill leveled out, we settled into a slow jog. Brooke ran ahead to show us just how close the finish was. With 4 minutes to eek out a sub-34 hour finish, Brooke yelled "It’s right here!". Cones marking the entrance to the campground came into view. The horses smelled the barn, and we broke into a gallop.

3:57 PM, Saturday

Sprinting with everything left in the tank, Aaron and I crossed the finish line. I did more damage to my body in that minute than I had in over 34 hours of running. As I caught my breath, Caleb handed me a belt buckle and shook my hand. I’m not sure how many goofy smiles Caleb had already seen that day, but I hope mine was the goofiest. The buckle was beautiful. The finish was beautiful. That dirt patch I was sitting on was beautiful. The cheeseburger was beautiful. Oh god, I was tired.

At the finish

In the minutes after the finish nothing and everything happened. Some folks changed clothes, munched on food, and milled around talking about the race. I was spent. I walked back to the van, took off my shoes, and fell asleep in the passenger seat. Once I had released whatever mental control I had on my body, everything shut down.

But I swear I fell asleep with a smile on my face.

Like never before the race was a team effort. Four runners from the flatlands of Georgia, their crew and pacers, and 100 mountain miles. The volunteers, aid station crews, the race director, the forest service, search and rescue, everyone who has to be involved to make these things work.

I’ve never felt alone out there, on any race, but this one was special. Being out there with fellow runner Aaron, a 100 mile veteran made it seem easy. Being out there with our pacers Brooke and Wes, both 100 mile veterans made it seem easy. Being out there with my crew from Georgia made it seem easy. Most of all, being out there with my wife Cary, my constant supporter, crew, and now pacer made it seem easy. With all of that support, the mental part of the game takes care of itself. After that, its all physical, and thats the easy part.

Instagram Gets Surreal

A year ago on a trip to NYC I had the chance to view a piece of art by Jason Salavon that averaged portraits together into one portrait. The results are uncanny. A portrait is so predictable that the shape of the objects and negative space of the painting are so obviously a portrait that even expressed as the average of several it still reads as a portrait. Its as though you took off your glasses and stood far enough away that the face simply became blurred. Salavon has similar works, such as the average of Every Playboy Centerfold, and 100 Special Moments. Kids with Santa is particularly cool:

Kids With Santa

Salavon’s work inspired me to create something similar.

Instagram receives thousands of photographs a day. They’re liked, and some become very popular. Enough so that they hit the ‘most popular’ page on Instagram. I asked, what does the average ‘most popular’ Instagram photo look like? I started by using my client key to download a group of them and average it up with ImageJ. I quickly realized that the most popular list changes. Frequently.

To truly capture what the average most popular photograph on instagram looks like it must be done realtime, at the request of the user and in the moment. I wanted to try some client-side image-processing with Javascript so I set out to create a beautiful time-waster that would allow a user to get the most recent popular photographs on instagram, choose a blend mode, and see the average photo right now. The result was Surrealgram:

Screen Shot 2013-09-30 at 10.48.40 PM

Surrealgram uses my forks of some existing software, like Pixastic and connect-image-proxy, along with a jquery-mobile and backbone interface, with a super-slim node.js backend to handle proxied image requests (until Instagram supports CORS). Technology selection followed the sacred rule of “this is what I want to play with right now”. Using it is simple:

Go to surrealgram.com

The latest ‘most popular’ photos will load automatically. Check out the result.

To get the latest photographs, click ‘Refresh’

To change the blend options, click the toolbar in the top right-hand corner.

optionsbutton

You can adjust the blend mode, amount, and number of pictures.

options

16 is currently the max, but I’m working to get that up without angering the instagram infrastructure.

Save your photo. This can unfortunately only be done on a desktop browser for now.

It was a few hours of work, but its become and addiction to play with. Check out some of my surrealgrams:

DogBridge

Flight

Sunglasses

I have some additional features planned if I can find the time to implement them:

  1. Share to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, blah blah blah.
  2. Allow users to search by hashtag
  3. More pictures!

The code is under active revision, you can find it here

Coffee Sack Sound Baffles

Several years ago I began acoustically treating my studio for recording drums and mixing. I did some research and pricing; it didn’t take a spreadsheet to discover that acoustic paneling was both overpriced and hideous. I searched some more and devised a solution that was both economical and classy.

Acoustic paneling is simple stuff. You get some kind of absorbent material, optionally covered with sonically neutral fabric, and hang it on a surface. You can use spacers to increase the gap between the wall and the panel to increase the amount of absorbency, and of course your choice in material will affect the frequency range, amount of reduction, and all that. Let’s skip the science though and get right into the implementation.

You will need:

  • An Absorbent Material
  • 1″ x 3″ boards
  • 1″ x 2″ boards
  • Fabric (see below)
  • Nail or screw gun
  • Stapler
  • Dry wall fasteners (wing nut style)

First, select an absorbent material. You could go simple and use the pink stuff. You know, the insulation they sell at Home Depot with the panther on it. Good ‘ol R-30. This material is fine and all, but from the perspective of space it is far from ideal. It’s bulky, and in a space as confined as mine I wanted something that wasn’t going to shrink my studio by more than a few square feet. I went with Owens-Corning 703 but you’ve got some other options, like Roxul RHT 80, which is much cheaper. 

The material I bought comes in 24″ x 48″ x 2″ by default, but can be cut smaller using a razor blade. Wear gloves and long sleeves if you decide to cut it, unless you like that itchy feeling. I went the lazy route and planned my room sans cutting.

SoundBaffles 1

The next step was to build a frame to contain the panel. Sure, you could just duct tape it to the wall, but a frame gives it a cleaner look and allows you to space the panel away from the wall. The frame also gives you something to attach the fabric to. I used 1″ x 3″ cedar boards because they’re extremely light and inexpensive, and the panels fit perfectly in them. No need to get fancy with dovetail joints and wood glue, just cut some straight boards and join them together with a nail gun, stapler, screws, or whatever you have laying around. You’re dog might casually sniff your frame:

SoundBaffles 7


After your frame is built, you’ll want to attach your fabric. You have a lot of freedom here to dress these panels up, so long as you choose a fabric that will allow most or all sound through. Many tight weave fabrics will reflect frequencies preventing them from even reaching your absorbent material, which kind of defeats the purpose. I went with coffee sacks since I had a ready supply of them, they’re sonically neutral, and I think they look cool. Your dog might question your selection:

SoundBaffles 3

Using a staple gun or a fastener of some kind, stretch the fabric across the front of the frame and staple each side. You’re probably not going to learn to be an upholsterer here, but try to get a drum-tight frame across the front of the panel, leaving the back open. After you’ve stapled the fabric around the frame, stuff the panel into the it. Eventually your dog will get tired of whatever it is you’re doing an leave.

SoundBaffles 11

Your panel should look something like this:

SoundBaffles 15

And it probably looks something like this from the front:

SoundBaffles 17

Technically you could build a stand or mount of some kind and move this around wherever you wanted, but I opted to hang mine from the walls (and ceiling). I used 1″ x 2″ boards to hang all of my panels. A 1″ x 2″ attached flat to the wall provides a 3/4″ standoff between the wall and your panel when you hang it. First, I cut 2 1″ x 2″ boards just long enough to fit inside the back of my frames. Then, I drilled two holes and inserted a bolt appropriately sized for these wing nuts:

SoundBaffles 19

From there it is a simple matter of hanging the standoff wherever you want your panels to hang. Mark your holes on the wall, drill where the marks are, press the bolts (already attached to the 1″ x 2″), then tighten:

SoundBaffles 21

Take your panel and hang it on the 1″ x 2″. You can attach, with screws or nails, the panel to the 1″ x 2″, but I find it unnecessary. Plus if you leave them free hanging you can move them around if you get bored with the way they look.

SoundBaffles 25

That’s pretty much it. I realized that this wasn’t particularly novel when I realized that this guy did almost the same thing independently, but I think the coffee sacks were a nice touch.

Oh…and ATS Acoustics offers their own coffee sack acoustic panels…for a price…

Another Schwinn Prelude?

After a leisurely lunch on the Marietta Square yesterday, I came across this:

SchwinnPrelude-79

Another Schwinn Prelude!

It seems I’m not the only one who was unimpressed with the original rusted gunmetal gray look.

The owner of this Prelude painted theirs similarly to mine. A base coat of cream with an accent color for the lugs and forks. Observe:

SchwinnPrelude-75

 

This Prelude owner went with green, no doubt as an accent to the sexy leather Brooks seat and handlebar tape. I also like the fork paint:

SchwinnPrelude-76

 

No detail was left:

SchwinnPrelude-77SchwinnPrelude-78

 

All in all a very impressive redux! Anyone else have a Schwinn Prelude Redux to Share?

Todo-CL 2.0.0

A while back I created a simple command line tool that allowed me to create tasks from Launchy and send them directly to Toodledo. My process was simple. I’d create a bunch of tasks throughout the day while doing other stuff, then sometime that night (or the next morning) I’d go through all those tasks and put them in the right container, assign due dates, and make projects out of them if necessary. This works great for tasks that can wait a day.

But what about tasks that can’t wait a day?

I realized that what I needed was a way to add a due date of ‘today’ inline with the task. I played with the code and in about 10 minutes or so I had the feature added.

That was easy, why not take it further?

So I did. Todo-CL has a slew of new options for creating tasks from the command line, or in my case, from Launchy. Here is a snapshot of the README file, which includes the new context switches for adding tasks on the fly:

Additional Options

  • -t –tags comma delimited list of tags

    todo.exe a task with tags -t work,play,tag3

  • -f –folder folder to insert the task into

    todo.exe a task with a folder -f Inbox

  • -c –context context to use

    todo.exe a task with a context -c Home

  • -l –length length of the task in minutes

    todo.exe a task with a length -l 20

  • -s –set set a default property

    Format = PROPERTY:VALUE (ex: folder:Actions)

    todo.exe set default folder -s folder:Inbox todo.ext set default context -s context:Home

    If set all new tasks will go to the default folder or context

  • -h –help display this help screen

To download version 2.0.0 visit the project page on github.

Is it Avant Jazz Industrial Noise? No, It’s STFUnity.

2933683006-1

Its not jazz. It’s not fusion. It’s not electronic. It’s not industrial. I don’t have a word to describe what happened when musicians of very different backgrounds got together virtually to create music.

I can only call it STFUnity.

Finished while I was on holiday in India, STFUnity is what happens when an anarchist saxophonist blasts over the work of a precision drum programmer. Its what happens when an algorithmic composer high-fives his drum kit, then asks for someone to play a solo over it. Its what happens when a keyboardist demands that the entire album be mixed into one of the tracks…indeterminately. Its alternately gentle and violent instrumental frosting spread over an electronic layer cake that got up and triple-lindyed off a countertop.

I haven’t listened to many of the the tracks since their early completion some time ago, and I find myself remembering fondly the process of creating them as much as the result. Built almost entirely over the web, the project was initiated by Bill Graham and Jason Blain early in 2010. My contributions came primarily in the form of sound design and algorithmic control, though a few tracks I laid the base for, leaving Jason and Bill to render further. You can read about that here and here.

One track I haven’t mentioned is BitBlit. Written in 25/8 time, I played the drums live, then sliced what can liberally be called a “pattern” into constituent parts varying in length between 8th and half notes. Then, using GOLSequencer I changed the entry point and various effects, mangling the once straightforward 4/4, 5/8, 7/8, 5/8 sequence into something unrecognizable.

That ‘straightforward’ part is supposed to be a joke.

It’s worthwhile to listen to a before and after, so you can see how much different the tracks are once other members of the group get a hold of them. Notice how BitBlit as I rendered it graduates to full-fledged song from cheesy video game interstitial.

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BitBlit Before

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BitBlit After

So, what are you waiting for? Download it. It’ll crush your bones at no cost (that means it’s free). Click here.

In Defense of Shoes

Go to your favorite hiking trail. Walk down the path, then sit down for a moment and take off your shoes and socks. Keep walking.

Notice where your eyes go.

If you’re anything like me, or the people I’ve watched perform this same exercise, your eyes go directly to the path in front of you. Sharp rocks wait to slice your foot open, introducing hookworms or bacteria into your bloodstream. Tree roots have grown across the path plotting a stubbed toe for every passerby. Acorns roll onto the trail from a nearby oak, lying in wait to do some damage to those tender arches. The path, no matter how well-trod, is rife with danger. So you keep your eyes peeled to avoid even the tiniest obstacles.

But think about where your eyes aren’t.

No longer are you surveying the landscape for a hidden predator. No longer are you keeping your eyes peeled for a blackberry patch or a rabbit, frozen by the appearance of a potential enemy. No longer are you thinking of how beautiful it is to see the blooms of a wild cherry tree as the wind rustles their tiny petals. No, you must keep your eyes on the road ahead.

You can put your shoes back on now, and enjoy those cherry trees.

Shoes have gotten a bad rap lately. Blamed for everything from knee problems to spinal injury, walking shod is starting to look like less of a boon than a liability. But as the exercise above illustrates there are distinct advantages, especially to our hunter-gatherer ancestors, to sporting something on your soles.

Shoes are a tool. Like most human inventions, it gave us a distinct advantage over our competitors and the environment, allowing us to perform a simple act:

Looking around.

The ability to become less concerned with the path under our feet, and concentrate on the road ahead is too tremendous to describe.

To draw a nerd parallel, computer programs often have "watchdog" routines built into them. These watchdogs prevent the program from crashing by performing constant checks to make sure that everything is moving smoothly. These watchdog routines take time. They consume processing ability. They take up space. If you could remove these watchdogs, you’d have capacity for other things. If you can become less concerned with what you’re walking on, you can become more concerned with the beauty of the mountain pass you’re walking through.

Shoes are important. No matter how much our modern minds would like to demonize what walking shod has done to us, its important to remember what walking shod has done for us. Is it clear that poorly designed shoes can cause detriment to our gait and posture? Absolutely, and our modern ability to examine this can in some small way be traced to that fact that we at some point decided that we were tired of training our eyes 3 feet in front of us, and instead began to look miles ahead.

I go barefoot often. I have been running and walking in goofy toe shoes for years. But I respect ancient man’s decision to wear shoes, no matter how poorly we’ve designed them in recent years. The same goes for the agricultural revolution, which has received some poor press in modern times. I may not eat wheat, but that doesn’t diminish it’s importance to our ancestors.

It’s imperative to recognize that human civilization is built with a scaffolding. That scaffolding at times is found to be dangerous, and alternatives are sought and implemented. Bamboo is replaced with pine. Pine is replaced with steel. Then you find that there was nothing wrong with the bamboo and you return to it. It’s just scaffolding, the civilization is what you’re building.

That’s ok.

You live in the times that you live in and you climb the scaffolding that you’re given thinking its the safest place to be.

So respect shoes, even if you don’t wear them all the time. Who knows how much of our modern world depended on that simple innovation.

Image courtesy of matthetube. Article first published as In Defense of Shoes on Blogcritics.

JTTE: A Final Word on India

210601_10150511011125160_595550159_18180009_3882883_o“So how was India?”

Next to ‘how ya doin?’, this is the most common question I’ve had in the past week from relatives, family, friends and co-workers. I don’t mind actually; every time the question is posed I get to reminisce about the trip.

“It was awesome. It’s an amazing place”

India will teach you things. You’ll learn how different we all are, and how foreign a culture can be. You’ll also learn how similar we are, even half a world apart. You’ll see what a country transitioning between ancient custom and modern convenience looks like. You’ll see a country that has managed to respect those customs while still adopting western technology, or refusing to adopt it because its just doesn’t work for them. You’ll see what real poverty looks like, and you’ll see people getting by just the same. You’ll see people who have woven work and life together in such a way that they occur at the same time, without making them burned out or in danger of going postal. Sure, it’s dirty, but it’s a raw dirt, like a gravel country road that hasn’t been paved. It feels lived in, like an old house, endearing and warm.

210289_10150511012020160_595550159_18180036_6636474_oI find myself missing it. I’m happy to be home to my clean air, my vast expanses of open living space, and orderly street traffic, but where is the nearest kulfi stand? I miss the barber on the corner with a line of men waiting in patient conversation to have their whiskers trimmed. I miss the smell of the corner tea shop, masala chai on the boil over an open flame. I miss the street bazaars. I miss the cows. I can understand how many Indian expatriates yearn to return to their home, there is a lot to miss.

India is going to be a different place in 10 years. Hell, as fast as they got the Delhi airport up, maybe 5. I have it on good authority from the world’s biggest Tata fan that it will be even less. The Indians are proving that they can make a new world quicker than we can take the old one in, if you want to see it the way it is, you had better get out there before it happens.

So did we have a good time? I’d say so, we’re already planning our next trip.

Cary, who took the lion’s share of the pictures, has been uploading edited pictures. I’ll be returning to the old posts day by day and adding links to them as she posts them.

With that said, I compiled a list of most humorous, but still applicable do’s and don’t if you find yourself making a trip in the near future. Feel free to add to it in the comments!

Do’s and Don’ts
  • Stay away from the water. Don’t brush your teeth with it. Shower with your mouth tightly closed. Ingesting the water is the quickest way to get sick in India. Are you likely to get deathly ill? No, I know from experience that it’s not that bad, but it’s still something to be avoided if you want to enjoy your trip.
  • If you do get a stomach bug, eat the local curd. Even if you don’t get sick, it’s tasty stuff. Lassi. Yogurt. Etc. Obviously I’m not a doctor and my advice is only empirical, but this worked like a dream for me. I found I was better capable of handling the water if I had been drinking lassi’s all day.  Make sure that they aren’t adding ice or water to the curd though…
  • Avoid raw fruits and vegetables. Why? They wash them with the water. And if they didn’t wash them with anything, then you really don’t want to eat them.
  • You’ll get a better deal if you pay in cash.
  • Try not to pay more than 50% of the asking price, unless the price is so low that you don’t feel like haggling. Especially in tourist towns like Agra, bargain your way down to half the asking at the very minimum.
  • Don’t give money to beggars. Even children. Ever see Slum dog Millionaire? Seriously, don’t do it.
  • Get over the smell. You can’t escape it anyway.
  • Use hand sanitizer frequently.
  • Bring camping toilet paper with you. You will not find toilet paper in public restrooms. Hell, you may not even find a toilet. Plan to poop like you would on a camping trip, and you’ll do fine.
  • Learn to use that little sprayer next to the toilet. Its better than paper anyway.
  • Don’t even think of renting a car. Rent a driver. You will kill someone or something if you try to take your terrible western driving skills on to the road in India.
  • Don’t be freaked out or homophobic about dudes holding hands, hugging, or lounging together. They develop different relationships than we do, it doesn’t make them homosexual.
  • It would not be prudent to say “Whatchoo lookin’ at?” to someone staring at you. You are weird looking. Get over it. They are a fairly pacifist group of folks, they aren’t sizing you up for a confrontation like we on the western side of the world do. People are staring at you because you stand out. It’s ok.

JTTE: Coming Home

India-2386There is nothing exciting about waking up at 4:00 in the morning to start a 12 hour car ride from Udaipur to Delhi. Suffice it to say that that is what we did.

There isn’t much exciting about a 12 hour car ride either. We did that too.

Upon arriving in Delhi we had far less time than we would have had we taken the train, which cut out a lot of the last minute sightseeing we had planned on. We shrugged and agreed that since we’d have to come through Delhi on our way to virtually any other location in India, that we’d have the chance to see the Lodi Gardens, Lotus Temple, and Gandhi House next time.

We did have time to grab dinner with my long-time friend and co-worker at one of the top restaurants in Delhi, R.E.D. (Rare Eastern Dining). It was nice meal, certainly for the food, but more so for the opportunity to have a drink with an old friend, relate the details of our trip, get clarification on some of the customs, and have an intelligent conversation about the future of India. It was a nice time and I’m glad I got to treat him to a meal, since he greased the tracks for our successful vacation.

After dinner we jumped on our 8 hour flight to Amsterdam. The plan was to sleep as much as possible on this flight, then arrive in Amsterdam well-rested and ready for the day there, our 12 hour bonus day iIndia-2409n the Netherlands. The plan worked, and we dozed through almost all of the trip. We spent an hour in the airport sipping a real coffee (not instant!) and planning our day. Early morning on Tuesday, we set out for the city by train.

We took a walking tour of Amsterdam, occasionally stopping into a coffee shop to warm-up and have a cafe crème before moving on. It was too early for much of the city to be open for business, but that didn’t keep us from wandering around the streets, viewing the canals and seeing some sights.

To be honest there wasn’t much to see in Amsterdam. Not really in the mood for museums, we took the opportunity to unwindIndia-2449, eat some chocolate, and otherwise get back into "Western" mode. The contrast between New Delhi and Amsterdam was stark, the density of Delhi making Amsterdam feel like a ghost town. Amsterdam is also one of the cleanest cities I’ve ever visited, making the transition from east to west even harder to fathom.

As the day wore on, we made the rounds at the Albert Cuyp market. I sampled some raw herring with pickle, which was so fantastic I kept sampling it. I hadn’t had a raw anything in almost three weeks, and just to get a few uncooked onions was deeply satisfying. I had a few beers; Heineken tastes the same everywhere, La Chouffe doesn’t. We walked the surprisingly tame red light district, though it was only just after lunch and I assume things "heat up" after dark arIndia-2459ound there. I got some vlames frites, and will forever refer to mayonnaise as "Dutch sauce" as a result.

In the end our tiny taste of Amsterdam was bittersweet. I missed some of the constant action of India, the din of people everywhere replaced by the solitude of the Netherlands was too much, too soon. Amsterdam is certainly a beautiful city, and I plan to return, but perhaps not so soon after a trip to the far east.

We hopped on our last plane ride. I fidgeted through most of it, got grumpy during customs, then fell asleep a few times on our way home. With only one recovery day to follow this long trip up with, we hit the pillow hard that night. The trip was finally over. It was good to be home to my city, my home, my dogs, and my own bed.

One thing I’ve failed to mention is that Cary takes all of the pictures you see here. I know how to use a camera, but she has a way with it. I do some editing and throw this stuff together, and that’s about it. Cary makes these trips, and forces me out of my comfort zone (though she probably says the same of me). I wouldn’t have had half as much fun on this trip, or any trip without her. To be honest, I probably would have come home after the first week. Thanks Cary, you make life worth living.

JTTE: The Hell with the Train

India-1925We got an early start on our first full day in Udaipur as their was much to see and do. Our first stop was the Jagdish Temple, very much a working Hindu temple near to our haveli. We proceeded clockwise around the grounds to each of the small shrines, examining the elephant plinth and the representations of the gods around the base of the temple. We had arrived early and several people were performing their morning prayers; we did our best not to disturb them.

After traversing the outer temple we proceeded inside. The temple was constructed of carved, unpainted stone with a central shrine where several worshipers with giving offerings. Speaking of offerings, a man dressed in typical Indian security garb, beret and all, tried to insist that we pay him 50 rupees to enter the temple. I sensed a shady deal, especially as the false guard skulked behind the columns of the temple while rubbing two grubby fingers together like a bellboy begging for a tip. I cocked an eyebrow and shook my head. No chance buddy. We wandered the temple, trying hard to keep ourselves from taking pictures inside out of respect for those worshipping quietly. I also had to try very hard not to drag my new bellboy out by his goofy beret and beat the hell out of him; you know, respect.

Breathe deep, my friend. Calm as a Hindu cow.

India-1951We left the tranquility of the temple for the hustle of the narrow streets and headed up towards the City Palace where a crowd of tour buses had gathered. When you’re on vacation you don’t realize when the week begins and ends, and we hadn’t realized it was Sunday until we encountered the huge crowd at the palace.

The City Palace in Udaipur is much like the one in Jaipur. Formerly the home of the Maharana of the city, the royalty has quietly sequestered themselves into a much smaller segment of the palace and opened the majority to the public as a museum. Several of the halls, including the now familiar Moti Mahal have been opened to view the fine glass work and fixtures. Several segments of the palace have been devoted to museums of Mughal art portraying tiger hunts, battles, and games featuring the Maharana and his sortie. You get the impression that in Udaipur, there is still a great amount of respect paid to their royalty. We would find out later that he is still drawn by horse and carriage, in full regalia, during a procession through the streets of Udaipur on Holi. We had just missed it by a few days.

India-2230After the tour of the City Palace museum, we took a boat ride around Lake Pichola and onto Jag Mandir. Formerly a prince’s pleasure palace, now a luxury hotel and spa, the accommodations of the manmade island that aren’t open to tourists are available starting at around $899 per night. Cary and I checked our wallets and decided we might consider booking here after a few years of saving. On the other hand the spa did smell nice, and the gardens were well maintained. I don’t usually dig on spas, but I would certainly consider taking a day to indulge here; if it was good enough for a Rajput prince, it’s good enough for me.

We left the island by boat and meandered back to our hotel. Our intention was to grab a bite to eat, and do some last minute shopping for family before heading off to the railway station to catch our train.

"Waitlist 1 and 2? I’m sure you’ll get on the train, I have been waitlisted as far back as 14 and still gotten. You have nothing to worry about."

We heard this same story at least a dozen times on our second day in Udaipur, intended to put us at ease as our seats had not yet been confirmed on the train back to Delhi. We still checked our ticket status constantly to be sure, but at least in our minds and the local’s, we were as good as home. Our local Tata connoisseur looked up our ticket info. "Oh no, you’ve made a blunder!" he said. I apparently didn’t know the ins and outs of the India rail system when I booked the ticket, and had inadvertently booked the most difficult seats to get. He gave us a ton of useful information and urged us to rush to the train station as soon as possible to try and get our tickets modified.

Only a certain number of seats are actually reserved on the trains in India, the rest are put into statuses such as "reserved against cancellation" and "waitlist". We were in the latter group. Additionally there are several other mechanisms like "foreign tourist quotas" and "emergency seats" and something called Taktal that are held in case any last minute travelers must get on the train. Our strategy was to get into one of these quotas, and we were equipped with some pretty decent information regarding how to do it. Then the reality of the Indian Railway bureaucracy set in.

If any of the above information looks like a lot of nonsense, that’s because it is.

India-1991We arrived at the train station and found out that our tickets had effectively been cancelled; even the highest ranking waitlist ticket is still a waitlist ticket, thus we could not board. Furthermore a very surly ticket collector poring over a huge paper chart took one look at our ticket and waved us off, saying in some kind of broken English "train is full". I spoke with the superintendent as well as the tourist office manager. Apparently there was nothing anyone could do. We would not be getting on the train.

We left the train station with mixed emotions. Bewildered at the silliness of the bureaucracy, I no longer desired to take a train in India, and we were both having a great time in Udaipur anyway. Staying another night and riding back with Mashtan was our backup plan, and executing it didn’t bother us at all. We shrugged our India rail experience off, went back to our inviting haveli (the owner’s of which were incredulous that we couldn’t get on the train), and took up residence in our former room.

India-2294This gave us time to take a rickshaw to another tourist destination in Udaipur, the Classic Cars Museum. Over the years, the Maharana of the city have gathered a collection of cars, on display in what is essentially his garage. It was an experience. The guard at the gate took us by each individual garage, unlocked it and threw open the doors, describing the vehicle inside and what it was used for. There was a Rolls-Royce for everything; one that was hacked up to look like a jeep for royal hunts, another opened up like a truck to transport the cricket team. There were a few ancient Chevrolet trucks and buses, as well as cars whose manufacturers I had never heard of, like Morris and Nash. It was here that we had a look at the Maharana’s official carriage as well. It turned out to be a fascinating side trip, and well worth the rickshaw ride.

We left the car museum and slowly made our way back to our haveli. We had a restful evening planned; we couldn’t have picked a better city in India to be stuck. We took up residence in one of the best seats in the house on the terrace, had a lassi or two, then retired around midnight. About 4 hours from then we would be en route to Delhi by car. It was going to be a long ride.