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Silver Pixel from GoogleI picked up a new-to-me Google Pixel to replace my aging, beloved Nexus 5. I grabbed it off Swappa, my first-ever use of this great little marketplace. The seller offered a great price on a pristine 128GB silver version, complete with all packaging and the Daydream VR headset and four cases.

I like the Nexus (or Nexi?), but Google abandoned the Nexus line of reasonably priced "pure" Android phones before rebranding its flagship phone as a Pixel. The Nexus phone had a run through "Nexus 6." (Bladerunner, anyone?) For me, it seemed that everything went all phablet after the Nexus 5, or so it seemed. I'm not interested in a two-hander that won't fit in my front pocket. This explains my choice of the Pixel over the XL version, even though the XL seems easier to acquire aftermarket. (It's hard to get ANY Pixel direct from Google; they have a production problem.)

All was wonderful with my purchase, until I found the phone had an unlocked bootloader, which threw up cautions when the phone booted up. Turning a problem into an opportunity, I took a couple hours to research the issue. The seller was also helpful.

No biggie. I just needed to install Android Studio on my computer, open a Terminal, hook up my Pixel, and lock it down. It was a little more complicated since I didn't know the commands. But the Internet came to the rescue - again. Obstacle one overcome.

And overcoming that obstacle forced me to do some things I've been wanting to try for years: install some tools on my Mac that will enable me to root a phone to put newer versions of Android on it. I think I'll try that with the Nexus 5 down the road.

Project Fi was on my radar for a while. I figured I'd free up some shared data for the kids and the cost would mostly be a wash in the move. (I could be on Fi for $30/month, I think.) But it turned out that moving my number off the family's plan to play with Fi would not save me money. (Funny. I was sure it would.) Curses!

 

John Carlos and Tommie Smith

"The Silent Protest: Open Hands, Closed Fists, and Composition's Political Turn"

Why run in Mexico and crawl at home?

In 1968, John Carlos and Tommie Smith each raised a gloved, clenched fist during the Olympic medals ceremony as the national anthem played. Gold and silver medalists, the two African-American runners were frustrated by prejudice and racism at home at the same time they were "representing" the US in the Olympics.

John Carlos spoke at the 2013 CCCC. He shared his memories of black-white relations, and his interactions growing up in New York. From neighborhoods full of bars and liquor stores to mistreatment by others. He recounted the time he went to see Malcolm X speak and approached him after his speech. Malcolm X invited John Carlos to follow him around, if he could keep up. And he credits his parents and relatively stable home for much of his character. As he put it, his parents taught him to be "honest and faithful."

His conundrum: To whom should he be honest and faithful? Man or God? A major theme in his talk was the way that man's law is sometimes (often?) in opposition to God's law. Which law does one follow? This is a fascinating perspective on the challenge of following the laws one perceives as unjust. It provides a person with a critical perspective on the laws of the state. At the same time, though, it potentially leads down the path to anarchy.

"When I got on the plane to go from Harlem to Texas, I was John Carlos. The minute I got off the plane my name changed to boy." As he put it, people in Texas had never seen someone with his talent, and they tried to tell him what he could do. This tension brought out the frustration in a man unaccustomed to the kind of full-bore segregation he experienced in Texas and culminated in the events in Mexico City.

Carlos' talk was fascinating precisely because he talked about how he used the celebrity of his athleticism as a "springboard" to advance the cause of social justice and was prepared to suffer the negative reaction to his gesture. I had not realized it, but Carlos explained that he and Tommie Smith thought a great deal about their actions before they did it. They thought through the possible repercussions, considered how to protest, and made a decision about the timing. His "platform" for a statement came from his success as a gold medal runner. The question was whether to use that platform to make a statement or to use it celebrate his athletic achievement.

Would Carlos become just an example that shows that America is a land of opportunity? Or would he become a conduit for channeling African-Americans' frustration with prejudice, racism, and inequality in the US?

The last week has been a tech nightmare.

My university switched its email/calendar provider in the middle of the semester and in the middle of the week. On Tuesday night, IT moved students, administrators, and faculty from Google Apps for Education to Microsoft Office 365. But the move to MS has been limited to email/calendar - for now. The rest of the band-aid comes off at some unspecified future date. After spending nearly a year communicating to the community that we're moving to Google Apps for Education (from a woefully outdated and undersupported local solution that many still used), the leadership changed course almost instantly.

Impact on me: At least 10 hours of lost productivity as I worked to re-cobble together a unified solution to bring my mail and calendaring together into my mail and calendar clients in a way that enables me to share my availability with my wife. Did I mention this happened in the middle of the week and in the middle of the term!

More important than the email/calendar insanity is the impact of the switch on my department's student learning and assessment plans. After embracing Google Apps (because we're a Google Apps university) and planning to launch a major ePortfolio initiative in Google Sites, the whiplash-quick pivot from Google left me holding a bag of, well, nothing. With a colleague requiring ePortfolio in our pilot course, I could NOT in good conscience move forward with a platform I knew would be deprecated once the MS migration was complete. (Goodbye Google Sites template for student ePortfolios!) Result: Two crazy days trying to decide on another solution.

Enter WordPress! After pricing a non-university hosting solution, I was able to work out an arrangement with the university to host student ePortfolios in a WordPress Network installation on site.  This is, frankly, the best solution for us because it keeps the project in a .edu domain, it is a platform with which I'm familiar, and it has real portability for students after they graduate. And WordPress is much more than a blog tool these days. We're implementing a full-on CMS.  The whole thing would be ideal, but our rollout timeline is, unfortunately, quite compressed since we have ePortfolio running in a class right now!

As if this weren't enough for a week, today I received a "vulnerable script" warning from my own web host. After some digging, it turns out that my archived WordPress-based course websites now need to be upgraded to close some security loopholes in 2.x versions of WordPress.  This looming upgrade headache and CSS update has me pondering the value of maintaining live, visible course archives in the first place. Nice.

Hopefully, this set of three significant headaches will mean the pox has moved on to someone else.

After living for more than 20 years without cable, I was "forced" to sign on with Time Warner when I relocated to Maine. I'm exaggerating about the lack of cable: I spent years with Dish Network, and later adopted AT&T's uVerse service when it hit my neighborhood and bundling meant a savings fo $50/month.

It's funny, but I loved the Dish UI, and the uVerse UI was also reasonably decent. (Where Dish simply hid unsubscribed channels, uVerse gave me visual cues that showed channels I didn't get.) TWC's UI is just awful! They tease you by showing you the entire package of programs, and many of them are not really available without significant subscription charges. And, oddly, the entire system has a time lag in the UI - try scrolling through a channels menu and the system can't keep up. This from a company that advertises super high speeds.  (My guess is that Dish and AT&T DL channel menus to a HDD, but TWC prefers to serve it all up over and over.

Anyway, I've just completed my one year "teaser" rate on the bundled TV, Phone, Internet service.  (It's really about the only game in town, or in the woods where I live.) When I called to secure a continued discount I learned that I'd be getting the "step" rate. I get a discount over full retail pricing, but it's less than the teaser.  This is like getting the second bag of dope at half price. Why the discount? To lock you even longer so you really feel the pain of loss (withdrawal?) should you cancel.

So we're cutting the cable! Think cold turkey.  OK, not quite.  I'm implementing a hodgepodge setup for media.  Netflix streaming and a DVD plan, something we've had for nearly a decade.  I've spent a whopping $79 on the refurbished high end Roku box, with the bonus of a HD Netflix stream that far exceeds the quality we've been getting through our Wii.  And now I'm working up a set of channels on the Roku that will get us some of what we'll lose by cutting cable. Plex is going to be an awesome way to stream our own media to the TV without putting a computer in the room. And I'm likely to subscribe to Hulu Plus to get some network programming.  For the networks, I'm toying with the OTA HD reception we can pull in from the Portland stations.  That's a project, but I can already see it working reasonably well.We'll end up saving about $40/month, so it will take a couple months to recoup the Roku investment. And a decent HD antenna will run me close to $100.  Of course, that's all equipment I get to keep, unlike that cable box I rent for about $100/year.

We'll lose Disney, and the kids do watch 2-3 of their shows pretty regularly. And Cartoon Network is a favorite for the Clone Wars animated series.  I'm working on solutions for those challenges. I'm hoping that I might use Plex, iTunes, and possibly Hulu Plus to assist here. And I don't have a DVR solution in the mix - yet.

And we're also talking about dropping the landline for another $30 savings.  I'm still feeling too old fashioned to be without a phone, but we're already getting a VOIP phone setup through TWC. We don't get the old phone system that works in power outages anyway, making the security of a landline a kind a mental fiction. There's no reason I can't implement a third party VOIP solution at a fraction of the TWC price, and I've looked into it. My real hesitation: TWC has my number and won't allow another VOIP provider to port it out.  We'd need to get a new phone number! Local calling only is my fall back option here. Save money, but keep the phone number. Our cell plan could easily handle our national calling, particularly if mostly restricted to cell-to-cell and evening calling.

 

 

I finally sat down and started some serious work on a print stylesheet for Across the Disciplines. While there are some kinks in the general printout, and I'm certain that tables, figures, and some other visual elements aren't going to print so cleanly in the current version, The print version of the journal's articles are far more attractive than they were just a few days ago.

We're hiding header graphics and nav, and are actually restyling headings for a black-and-white document. Hanging indents in the References are now carried over into the print articles. And more.

I had planned to write a print CSS for Across the Disciplines soon after I recoded the journal for XHTML 1.0 Transitional back around 2007 or 2008. It had been on the agenda for quite some time. It seemed that every time I thought I'd turn some attention to what is really a fairly straightforward project I found myself working on some other part of the site.

Most recently, I thought I'd finally write the stylesheet in December 2010. But then I spent a good bit of late December and January ensuring that the articles in the journal complied with HTML5 standards following a major site-wide overhaul of The WAC Clearinghouse.  The result is a site that will certainly remain compliant for some time since HTML5 is still just a draft specification. But that work really left little energy for CSS coding.

Lesson: Write a damn print CSS at the same time you write the screen CSS. It's easy enough to do and it's possible that readers will thank you for saving color ink, whitespace, and paper.

This is my second attempt at a POV video of a Mount Agamenticus ride. The first attempt involved a great 25-degree cold weather ride, but the cam was pointed at the ground and one could get no perspective.  On this second attempt, I tried to get the cam mounted in a better position.  Things start out ok, but the duct tape/bubble gum rig I have set up just seems unable to hold the cam in the right position. All the bouncing over rocks doesn't help.

The audio for this video is courtesy of Youtube's Audio Swap feature. Apparently, I wasn't careful enough with fair use in dropping in my own music; Youtube graciously deleted the audio associated with my original before publishing the project. (Thanks, I think.)

The Rig

HTC Evo mounted to a plastic lightswitch cover using zip ties and o-rings. That apparatus is then mounted to the decent quality helmet mount for my night light rig. But the weight of the phone seems to be too much for the little adjustment hinge on the night light rig.

The Ride

I like this challenging little ride. The first part involves a decent climb up the west side of Mt. A, and around to the north. It's mostly a wide double-track, but there are plenty of decent boulders, slippery wet washouts, and some serious roots to ride. On a dry day it's 100% doable, provided you've got the legs and lungs to take it. In the video, it's pretty clear that things are very wet and loose. The decaying leaves complicate matters by hiding the treacherous stuff that'll cause the rear wheel to give way, the front end to stall on a big root, or worse.

The video doesn't capture the ride to the summit because I skipped that part of the ride that day. It does capture the easterly descent from Mt. A and over to Second Hill. That's a hairy downhill section with some sizable 2' drops off boulders that head right into a tangled nest of roots and loose rocks, followed by some nice technical switchbacks that head to Porcupine and Second Hill.

The ascent of Second Hill is another good little workout that's about 95% doable, at least when it's mostly dry. I've done this hill about 15 times and I have yet to pull up the last little piece of rock to get clear to the summit.  Mostly, it's because it's a near vertical face, but there's also the thigh burn to contend with by that point. Descending Second Hill on the north side is a fun section because it isn't quite as rocky and root-infested as so much of the other hills, at least until you get near the bottom. At the bottom, there's a pretty serious washout and root-laden section that'll draw some blood if a tire slips out at the wrong time. In the video, there's a nice foot-deep puddle marking the end of the descent. I'm sure some folks have wiped out there and gotten wet. Thankfully, I've avoided that problem.

There's some nice, somewhat challenging up and down riding on the way back over to Mt. A, and I actually wish there were more of that sort of terrain on my ride. And then it's a good backtrack up the mountain and down the northwest side to the parking lot.

As I suspected in the fall, Smith Preserve is a beautiful, local winter getaway. The trails are frequented by cross country skiers and hikers alike, and it is a beautifully quiet place to spend an hour or two. I strapped on snowshoes a couple weeks ago during a deep freeze.  I found solitude, crisp air, and frozen streams.

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This week I took another late afternoon/early evening hike in Smith.  As I rounded the bend on a loop I've been taking an owl flew right across the trail, landing in a tree about 50' from the trail and 20' off the ground.

I dropped my poles and headed off into the woods to see if I could get a closer look.  Amazing! The owl was both completely aware of my presence the whole time and undisturbed by my effort to get close.  I stood under the owl and we stared at each other.  I took about a half dozen pictures with my phone, though darkness was beginning to set in and so it was tough to get a nice shot.

Smith Preserve is proving to be a really sweet spot. It's halfway between home and office, and it's position on the commute makes it ideal for a quick trip into the woods.

My friend Daniel and some of his colleagues have been hard at work on a really important documentary about development in New York. Having done a lot of the hard work behind the documentary, they're now at a financial impasse.  They need additional money to be able to purchase rights to some of the archival footage they want for their documentary.

To help generate funds for this important next stage of their project they've turned to Kickstarter, a really interesting crowdsource-based fund-raising tool. And they've created a trailer to both set up the context for their project and to solicit donations.

The clock is ticking. Consider a pledge.

Ski Butternut
Butternut, January 2011

We took a couple days last week to ski Butternut in the Berkshires. Butternut is a nice little mountain, a little larger than Mohawk, our normal ski stop. We had two days of great weather, and since we went during the week we avoided most of the crowds.

I found myself wondering why we hadn't driven the extra 30 minutes to hit Butternut before now. The terrain isn't particularly challenging, and so the kids can ski the entire mountain without any difficulty. We'll definitely drive up again this season. And with Will in 5th grade, he skis for free every time we go.

One highlight: There's a cool little concrete snowman on one of the trails. But he was missing one of his stick arms. We stopped to help him out and Nate added the missing arm to make him complete.

After driving past Smith Preserve for a month or so, I decided to give it a shot.  There's a clear sign indicating that mountain biking is allowed there. It's a network of double-track trails likely to draw cross-country skiers in the winter months, along with some single-track that I have yet to fully explore because I don't want to be lost in the dark back there. Mostly, I've managed to eke out small 30-minute rides before fearing that darkness will set in and leave me hanging. It's clear that there's more to explore, and I have yet to find a soul in the woods.

It's not at all challenging from a technical perspective, though the flat terrain does make for a good cardio ride.  It's a soupy mess in places, owing to the general marshy nature of the entire Kennebunkport area.  Autumn leaves littering the trail do make the ride a bit challenging since boulders, downed logs, and more hide in the puddles.  There are definitely trail hazards in there. Even with a good night light, the dusk rides get a bit scary in places.

It's hunting season as well.  Pick-ups are parked all around the area, a clear sign that one could get shot.  My guess is that the preserve is off limits, but I'm not sure.  I broke out my fluorescent orange waterproof cycling jacket for the occasion. The bonus is that it keeps me warm enough to ride as the temperature dips.  No frosty rides - yet.

I started to struggle to get myself around Mt. Agamenticus before darkness set in once we turned back the clocks.  Not wanting to be caught out in the cold and the dark on the mountain, and tiring of the 35-minute drive just to hit a trail, I had to strike out and find another riding spot if I wanted to stay on the bike. Smith Preserve fits the bill just fine right now.