A Little Bike Ride

Pack

My old bike. I bought it for sixty bucks at a pawn shop over fifteen years ago.

I’m finally feeling back to my normal mediocre self and Texas is having its handful of decent weather days so I’d like to get some bike riding in. It’s tough during the week because I’m so tired when I get home from work that, even though I might have a few minutes of sunlight, all I can think of is to fall into bed and decompress, even if I don’t fall completely asleep.

Well, in this modern age, you have to try and do double duty in everything. There is no time left – it feels as if it has all been used up. Not only do you have to be doing something all the time, you have to be doing two things if you don’t want to fall further behind. In that spirit, we were out of milk. So I decided to ride my bicycle to the Target Superstore and buy a gallon plus a few other sundries that we were in need of.

That’s doing double duty. Shopping and exercise. It isn’t very far – about a mile, plus no real traffic – I can ride the new trail down to the park and then cut over on a little-used feeder road. Then across the back mall parking lot. Our neighborhood strip of big boxes sits where a big ‘ol traditional mall used to squat. For years it was declining, used more as a foul-weather walking route for elderly folks than as a place to fleece excited shoppers. At any rate, they bulldozed it, leaving the anchor tenants on the end and filling in with a row of familiar warehouse-style establishments. The food court was replaced by a line of fast-food slinging eateries strung along the main road like a string of pearls before swing.

But behind this capitalist extravaganza the huge old mall back parking lot remains empty and immense, used only to give motorcycle lessons on weekend mornings – two-wheeled newbies slowly winding between long groupings of red plastic cones. Today, though, it was deserted except for some guy out in the middle changing his oil, an occasional truck coming in to pull and replace a smelly dumpster, and one pair of isolated cars – probably teenagers hooking up. It’s easy for me to cross this vast desert of asphalt – the only thing to look out for are a few drainage grates with long, wheel grabbing slots, always facing the wrong way – parallel to the direction I’m riding.

There is nothing as stupid looking and pitiful as an old fat man riding a bicycle. I feel so idiotic and silly, but I have had a lifetime of experience ignoring my ridiculousness, so I pedal on.

I had a surprisingly difficult time getting there. It’s a bit of an uphill slog coming up from the creek and then, crossing the lot, I ran into a strong headwind. Off to the west was a black roll of approaching storm cloud and the humid south wind was spinning into the complex, feeding the tempest. Still, I caught my breath, downshifted a cog, and kept on going.

Locking my bike and backpack to a steel bench out in front (the nice thing about having a fifteen year old piece of crap bike is that I don’t need the highest security lock) I went in to get my gallon of milk and other stuff. I noticed that once I stopped pedaling and started walking around the cool store, my shirt became spotted in sweat. I looked extra stupid amongst other, car borne shoppers. The Next time, wear a dark t-shirt – mental note.

So I stuffed my gallon of milk into the backpack (it fit easier than I expected) and headed home. I guess I underestimated the wind, because I was able to get almost all the way back without even turning a pedal – propelled by the brisk breeze at my back.

Buoyed by my success, I made a list of close in destinations I could ride my bike to. Along this route, there is the big box variety/grocery store, two hardware stores, a couple of Pho places, tons of fast food, an office supply store, and a haircut place. The other way is the big Vietnamese shopping center – and I can get there without leaving the trail. If I want to go a little farther, I can cut through an industrial area and get to the DART rail station, library, and a whole complex of diverse ethic eateries.

Jeez – if the weather was nicer for more of the year I could get rid of the car.

I’m still pretty stupid looking, though.

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What I learned this week, March 23, 2012

I love the idea of local folks still doing this sort of thing. I remember when I was a little kid I’d visit the newspaper office in the tiny town out in the wheat fields where my family was from. He set the paper in linotype and I loved watching the lead letter slugs being made. I remember being amazed at how hot the slugs were when he could pick them up (his hands were so callused).


Your Brain on Fiction

A really interesting article from the New York Times on how reading fiction can improve our minds.

Brain scans are revealing what happens in our heads when we read a detailed description, an evocative metaphor or an emotional exchange between characters. Stories, this research is showing, stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life.

I found these passages particularly provocative:

The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated.

Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto (and a published novelist), has proposed that reading produces a vivid simulation of reality, one that “runs on minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers.” Fiction — with its redolent details, imaginative metaphors and attentive descriptions of people and their actions — offers an especially rich replica. Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.

The novel, of course, is an unequaled medium for the exploration of human social and emotional life. And there is evidence that just as the brain responds to depictions of smells and textures and movements as if they were the real thing, so it treats the interactions among fictional characters as something like real-life social encounters.

I have always wondered if reading is a waste of time.

Apparently not.


I don’t know if I agree with the guy’s riding style – and it’s really just a long commercial for a brand of bike tire – but man, what a cool video!

Motivation.


It’s the battery, stupid: The looming 4G smartphone crisis

As more power, faster processor, fancier features are added to smartphones, the battery life becomes less and less. This is the one problem that will limit the post-laptop technological revolution. If your battery doesn’t work, your phone (or tablet) is useless.

The trouble with batteries, as everyone who makes phones will tell you, is that they don’t follow Moore’s Law. Batteries are an ancient technology that depend on chemistry that scientists have already pretty much optimized.

Very interesting article. I wonder if we will see a bifurcation in the phone market, with folks carrying both an old-technology phone for voice and text only (I only have to charge my crappy work Blackberry in my car during my commute) and another smart phone or tablet or in-between form factor (and leave this turned off most of the time) for all the other goodies.


The only way to play guitar


NEWSPAPERS AMERICA’S FASTEST SHRINKING INDUSTRY

“But we make the best buggy-whips in the world!”

Another dinosaur. We subscribe to the newspaper on the weekends so that I can access its digital content.



19 Signs That America Has Become A Crazy Control Freak Nation Where Almost Everything Is Illegal

#1 One California town is actually considering making it illegal to smoke in your own backyard.

#2 In Louisiana, a church was recently ordered to stop giving out water because it did not have a permit to do so.

#3 In the United States it is illegal to operate a train that does not have an “F” painted on the front. Apparently without that “F” we all might not know where the front of the train is.

#4 In many U.S. states is it now illegal to collect rain that falls from the sky on to your own property.

#5 In America today it is illegal to milk your cow and sell the milk to your neighbor. If you do this, there is a good chance that federal agents will raid your home at the crack of dawn.

#6 In Washington D.C. it is illegal not to recycle cat litter.

#7 It is illegal to give a tour of the monuments in Washington D.C. without a license.

#8 In the United States it is illegal to sell natural cures for cancer – even if they work.

#9 In the state of Massachusetts it is illegal to deface a milk carton.

#10 In the state of Alabama, bear wrestling is completely illegal.

#11 In Fairbanks, Alaska it is illegal to give alcoholic beverages to a moose.

#12 In Lake Elmo, Minnesota it is illegal to sell pumpkins or Christmas trees that are grown outside city limits.

#13 There is a federal law that makes it illegal to be “annoying” on the Internet.

#14 If you register with a false name on MySpace or Facebook you could potentially “spend five years in federal prison“.

#15 In Hazelwood, Missouri it is illegal for little girls to sell girl scout cookies in the front yards of their own homes.

#16 All over the United States lemonade stands run by children are being shut down because they do not have the proper permits.

#17 In Florida, it is illegal to bring a plastic butter knife to school.

#18 In San Juan Capistrano, California it is illegal to hold a home Bible study without a “conditional use permit“.

#19 In the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania it is illegal to make even a single dollar from a blog unless you buy a $300 business license.

Azaleas

On our visit to Lafayette we could not help but notice the beauty of all the azaleas blooming across south Louisiana. No matter how humble your little cottage might be, you can have all the color you want exploding outside.

Azalea in Lafayette, Louisiana

I stepped out of a little restaurant and walked around back to take this picture. As I was raising the camera a couple of guys tumbled out of the business next door. They looked a little mixed between confused and upset and one said, “Is there anything I can do to help you?” – and not in a tone of voice that implied he really wanted to help me with anything.

“Nope, I’m just taking pictures of the flowers.”

“He’s just taking pictures of the flowers,” the guy said to his buddy, in a disgusted tone, and they went back inside without another glance at me.

Azaleas don’t do very well in Dallas, where I live. The soil is not acidic enough – right under the surface is a thick layer of limestone (caliche) that keeps the soil basic. A lot of people do plant them and fight the acidity. Some pour swimming pool acid (hydrochloric) into a trench before planting – the best thing is to dig a big hole and fill it with peat moss. Still, no matter what you do, eventually the caliche will infiltrate the soil and your flowering bushes are toast.

East Texas has beautiful azeleas. I remember, years ago, doing a bicycle ride along the Azalea Trail in Tyler. It was gorgeous. Maybe a road trip this spring would be an idea.

Dallas is right on the edge between two areas of vegetation. To the east, it’s all piney woods, dogwood, and azaleas. To the west – mequite and prickly pear.

None of it is like what I saw in South Louisiana, though. The things seemed to grow like weeds.

Green House Food Truck

There were a lot of choices in food trucks down in the Dallas Arts District on Friday. Most of my Favorites Were There – but, as always, when presented with a temptation, I chose one I had never tried before.

I have seen the Green House Truck on several occasions, but, for no good reason, hadn’t tried it yet. It was one of the first trucks in Dallas, it may be the first one – a pioneer from the days that they were highly restricted.

The Green House is known for healthy food. Looking over the menu, I chose a Portobello Mushroom sandwich on Ciabatta bread with walnut/basil pesto, grilled vegetables, and a side order of sweet potato fries.

Makes you hungry just thinkin’ ’bout it, doesn’t it.

My food was really good – I regret not trying the truck before – I’ll definitely look for them again.

Green House Food Truck – Follow them on Facebook – from their home page – Schedule/Location and finally – their Twitter

Dallas Arts District Sets Stage for Food Trucks

Gourmet food truck brings healthy fare to Dallas business districts

Green House Truck Rolls Into Dallas

A lot of trucks and a lot of hungry people.

Ordering from the Green House Truck

Your order is up.

At work in the truck's kitchen. I like the sauce bottles. Sriracha rules.

Portobello on Ciabatta sandwich with sweet potato fries.

Available Light

Friday… there was going to be a lot going on down in the Dallas Arts District. It was the end of spring break week, the streets would be blocked off and all the venues would have events scheduled. I decided to take some pictures. My plan was to get out of work and take the train down before the sun set – taking advantage of Daylight Savings Time to get some shots off during the magic hour.

Unfortunately, everything wrapped around the spindle and I didn’t get out of work on time. When I reached the Arts District it was dark as pitch. I wandered around – there was a band playing in the garden of the Nasher, and they were going to show Hugo in 3D on a giant portable screen, but every square inch of space was already spoken for by blanket-toting families and groups of partiers that had invaded while I was still in my cubicle. Their multi-colored quilts marked off the territory of every clan like patchwork Balkans that no tardy invader could penetrate.

I retreated from the Nasher Museum and wandered the streets. A short time ago only a handful of food trucks would show up down in the Arts District for these events but the phenomenon has rapidly grown and well over a dozen lined both sides of Harwood street. There was music and food and a huge crowd surging in the darkness. Folks poured in and out of the Nasher, Dallas Museum of Art, and the Crow Collection of Asian Art.

Despite the lack of available light I experimented snapping some shots. Some day I want to learn how to use a flash properly, but, still, I have a strong desire to use available light only. I want to steal the stories of the people I’m shooting and a flash warns them of the upcoming thievery. Forget about a tripod in a crowd like this.

The problem is when there isn’t enough available light. I set ISO all the way up (grainy photographs), Aperture Wide Open (no depth of field, everything out of focus) and Speed as Slow as Possible (anything moving is extra fuzzy). There was no way to avoid blurriness, so I tried my best to minimize and control it. I’d prop my camera on a pillar or lean against a light pole, trying to gather in all the photons I could before it all goes to crap.

I don’t know if the blur is artistic or simply poor technique. I like it though… I guess that’s something.

Waiting to order at the Ssahm Korean BBQ truck.

Sharing a foam plate and a quiet moment in the surging crowd.

The colorful blur in the left is a guy walking around selling light sticks from a bag - ten dollars a piece.

(Click to Enlarge)

(Click to Enlarge)

I didn’t stay long. Shooting all these people in the dark filled me with a terrible loneliness – the kind you can only get inside of a festive crowd. So I packed in all in and headed back to the train station. When I got off in my neighborhood I still had about six hours left on my train pass so I stuck it into the money slot of the ticket vending kiosk. Hopefully somebody else could use it, out for a night on the town.

Old Barn (again)

Old Barn (click to enlarge)

Another picture of another old barn. This one is from pretty much the same spot as the one  I posted the other day, taken only a few seconds later in another direction. It was processed with the same software, but going for a different effect.

All the Information in the World

In my surfing a few days ago I came across, as I’m sure you did, the news that after 244 years Encyclopedia Britannica was giving up on its print edition.

We never had Britannica in our house – it was too expensive. We had a cheaper, more “modern” looking set… I don’t remember the brand. Of course, my schools – every school (I went to… I think twelve different ones)  library had a set of Britannicas. I wasn’t a big fan of them; they seemed too stuffy for my taste. I loved the top-line World Book (which looks like it is still in print) – I remember when I discovered the transparent acetate pages that showed the human anatomy in several layers. It seemed like amazing information luxury to me.

Most kids used the various encyclopedias to plagiarize their school reports, usually cribbing the short paragraphs out verbatim.  I, on the other hand, used to read encyclopedias cover to cover, from AA, through Z, and on to devour each annual update and addendum. I loved reading them. I’d read my books at home, then I devour the ones in the school library, then on to the history sets (I loved these because they were in chronological order) and finally the long shelves of Time/Life educational books.

Sitting here, writing this, I remember the hours spent turning the pages, the slight fungus odor of the old paper, the weight of the editions as they came off the shelf, the nasty paper cuts – I remember following the footnotes and then the memory of getting to the same article in alphabetical order. I retained a surprisingly large amount of information – not sure how much good it did me. The tomes were good on dry facts but not so much on wisdom.

I am not overwhelmed with wistful nostalgic sadness, though. Plenty of people are full of woe that an age has passed and they lament the disappearance of such a totem of their youth. My thoughts run in a different direction. What I think about is what a kid that, in a vain attempt to satisfy his unquenchable curiosity, was forced to read encyclopedias cover to cover, volume to volume, could have done if he had been born a few decades later and had access to the internet. It would have been like drinking from a fire hydrant.

I’ve been seeing headlines like, “Encyclopedia Britannica killed by Wikipedia!” That is not true at all – Wikipedia is a great thing, but sometimes you want information that wasn’t written by nineteen-year-olds. There will always be a place for the verified truth.

“This has nothing to do with Wikipedia or Google,” Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. President Jorge Cauz said. “This has to do with the fact that now Britannica sells its digital products to a large number of people.”

The top year for the printed encyclopedia was 1990, when 120,000 sets were sold, Cauz said. That number fell to 40,000 just six years later in 1996, he said. The company started exploring digital publishing in the 1970s. The first CD-ROM edition was published in 1989 and a version went online in 1994.

The final hardcover encyclopedia set weighs 129 pounds and is available for sale at Britannica’s website for $1,395.

An entire set costs more than an iPad. A low-end tablet is half that.  There is an iOS app which is free, but has a $1.99 a month subscription for unlimited content.

If you went back in time to, say 1969, and said, “Hey, for half the cost of that shelf full of heavy books, I’m going to give you a little book or pad, about the size of a magazine, that you can take anywhere with you and when you touch it, the content you are looking for will appear on it, more or less instantly. It will be in full color, with sound and full-motion television, when appropriate. You’ll have to throw the old, paper ones away, though. To keep it updated you’ll have to pay two dollars a month. Oh, and if you need a break you can play Angry Birds on it too.”

What do you think the reaction would have been? It makes me think of Arthur C Clarke’s third law- Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. A fully loaded iPad would have looked like magic in 1969. And that’s 1969! I remember 1969. I was twelve. I was reading encyclopedias in 1969.

I wish I had had an iPad.

This is me in 1969 (or so). I look like a kid that read encyclopedias cover to cover.

#Britannica

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