Thursday, July 31, 2008

the birthday cupcake

birthday cupcake
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

Well, it's that time of the year again, the time to seek out a high place, provisioned with candle, matches, and cupcake, and sing a party song.

I had a hankering to visit the Midstate Trail, and I decided on this view of Wachusett. That is Wachusett in the background of the photo, but it's hard to tell because it was so hazy.

It took me all of seven minutes to hike to this spot. There was only a slight breeze, which was never enough to blow out the candle. After devouring the cupcake, I went for a sweet celebratory hike, about 4.5 miles in 1.5 hours.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Slackline yoga

My brother sent me an article from the Wall Street Journal, of all places, about a "slackline yoga" practitioner by the name of Jason Magness. Magness is a climbing bum with a difference; he performs yoga moves on a rope suspended above the ground.
Mr. Magness's father, Mark Magness, a retired Air Force lawyer, says he spent 23 years in a job he couldn't stand. So he avoids pressuring Mr. Magness to find traditional work. He admires his son's resourcefulness and spirit, but says he still struggles to accept that Mr. Magness lives in a van. "It pushes all these buttons," he says. "There was part of me that said, 'You need to be secure; security is important, happiness can wait.' Though watching him, that's become less obvious to me.
At the end of the article, Magness is quoted as saying there's a part of him that wants to live a normal life, with a family. I kind of wonder if he isn't lying to himself there... it sounds like he's doing exactly what he wants!

A story about "Angelina Jolie's: Notes from My Travels"

by Angelina Jolie

I’ve just finished reading “Mission to Africa,” the first section of Angelina Jolie’s Notes from My Travels.

In the Introduction, she writes “I don’t know how this will be as a book, how readers will find it. I am not a writer.” You can tell that; her writing style is fairly simplistic, and this is not a standard travel journal. But she still does a good job at telling her stories from her unique perspective.

Jolie seems to be much more of a “feeling” person, not so much a “thinking” person. I don’t mean this in a bad way. There’s not a lot of introspection here about how she came to be interested in humanitarian issues. There’s very little historical detail or context provided. She’s telling you what she sees and feels, in a very raw and unprocessed way. She’s really very good at conveying her feelings and her horror at events going on in the world, and her empathy for the people suffering through them. The book seems to reveal as much about her as a person as it does about the situations she observes. So far, it’s an interesting view. I hope the book finds a wide audience.


Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

My absolute favorite piece at the DeCordova is Pine Sharks, by Kitty Wales. They're like weird science fiction sharks, able to fly, circling in the air above you.

DeCordova sculpture park

tube thing
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

A friend is in town, so I'm doing the tourist thing. Yesterday, we went to the DeCordova sculpture park and spent almost the entire day there. I love visiting sculpture gardens.

This sculpture is one of my favorites, Reflex, by Michael Hansel. From this angle, it looks like an abstract horse creature rearing up on its hind legs.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Tank fifty-five

Total miles: 20317. Trip miles: 464.5. Gallons: 8.582. Price per gallon: $4.059.

Screen mileage: 58.6 mpg. Tank mileage: 54.1 mpg.

A few highway trips intermingled with short (about 10 minute long) commutes. This tank lasted three weeks, which is nice.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A review of "The Ophiuchi Hotline (Sf Collector's)"

by John Varley

Alien invaders evicted humanity from the earth, but the human race managed to survive by scattering to form societies on the moon and the other planets. They get a lot of help from highly advanced technological data streaming from the direction of the star 70 Ophiuchi. The advances in biotechnology are most noteworthy. People routinely restructure their body parts, and store the contents of their psyche in memory recordings which can be used to “reconstitute” a person who has died. It is in this universe that we follow our heroine as she becomes an unwilling participant in a mission to free the earth from the invaders.

I must have read The Ophiuchi Hotline the first time in my late teens or early twenties. I’ve read a good deal more science fiction since then, and this story holds up pretty well. The ending is a teensy bit weak because it seems to be setting us up for a sequel.

There aren’t a lot of female perspectives in science fiction, and this book does it so superbly that when I first read it I was convinced that “John Varley” was a pseudonym for a female author. I was wrong! Thanks again for writing this great story, Mr. Varley!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

is a weightlifting workout effective the day after a seven-hour hike?

I was sore and tired today, but I did my lower body workout anyway. I suspect there wasn't much point to it; that's not what they mean by a "pre-exhaustion" workout! However, I've got less time over the next couple of weeks, so I figure I'd better get my workouts in whenever I have the chance.

Midstate Trail end marker

Midstate Trail end marker
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

I never found the Midstate Trail terminus marker. Well darn, where is it? I'll have to go back for another look soon, and allow more time for sight-seeing.

Instead, I found this odd octagonal marker. It reads:
"BORDEN 1834".

According to nhfours, it "was erected by Simeon Borden as a control station for the first accurate trigonometrical survey of Massachusetts." Very cool!

After taking the shortcut back to the Rt 119 parking lot at Watatic State Reservation, I retraced my path up until I got to Blueberry Hill. There I stopped to review the trail guide and find out if there were any more shortcuts that I could take. I decided to go over blacktop from Camp Winnekeag back to my car, following Rt 101 south and then Rt 12 southeast.

I didn't like the idea of road walking without knowing how much room there would be at the side of the road for pedestrians, how fast traffic was going, or how much traffic there would be. But I knew that my pace would be much faster over tarmac, and the route was relatively free of elevation changes. Also, I knew that even though the sun would set after 8 pm, it would still be pretty dark on the trail. It was already pretty dark at midday, at certain points. Finally, my knees and hips were complaining a bit on the hills and walking on the flat would spare them.

That little road hike went pretty well. I walked towards oncoming traffic, and put myself far enough out in the road so that drivers would see me from far away, only backing off onto the shoulder when they were closer. Almost every driver was kind enough to give me more than enough room, although there were a couple of dingbats who actually swerved towards me.

That last bit was about 4 miles long and my pace was 3 mph. I was back at the car around 7:15. By that time I felt like every part of my body was aching!

I guess I overextended myself, since I'm still feeling achy today. I'm glad I went, anyway! With this section finished, I've done the first 25 miles of the Midstate Trail, from N.H. down to Wachusett Mountain, as round-trips. I am hoping to do the entire trail this summer, but the Wapack Trail calls as well.

trail's end

trail's end
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

After passing over Mt Watatic, the end of the trail had to be near. Eventually I came to this confusing sign. It reads:

← Wapack Trail →
Mt Watatic ←1.2
MA. Rt. 119 ← 2.4
N.H. Rt 123/124 → 4-4.5

And there's a little sign pointing back towards Nutting Hill, too.

There are blue blazes running along the wall to the north.

And there is no mention of the Midstate Trail whatsoever.

So I sat there on the wall for a minute trying to figure out what to do. If this was the end of the trail, why wasn't there a sign saying so? And where were the two monuments described in the guide book?

My brain was fried and I missed the clue in the trail guide about the state boundary being marked by blue blazes. I wasn't expecting big neon lights flashing the words "You are now leaving MA, welcome to NH", but some sign that I was crossing the border was expected... So I kept going! I followed the damned yellow triangles for another 15 minutes before deciding that this corner must have been the boundary to NH.

I knew that the yellow triangles are used to mark the Wapack Trail in this area, as well, I just didn't realize that the Wapack Trail continues on into NH. Live and learn.

So I spent another 15 minutes trudging back (uphill, of course) to this stone wall corner. I re-read the guide book, and went 200 ft west of this point to look for the "original terminus monument." I found something, but I'm not sure that it was the terminus monument.

And then, given that it was 4:30 pm, I decided to take the shortcut back to the parking lot, rather than reverse tracks and go back over Watatic. Wise move! I probably saved about 45 minutes or so going that way.


Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

Although I did a very cursory inspection of the peak of Mt Watatic, I did manage to spot this geodetic survey marker. Score!

It reads:

reference mark

view from Mt Watatic

view from Mt Watatic
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

I didn't get to spend as much time as I wanted at the summit of Mt Watatic. I will have to go back soon.

view from Mt Watatic

view from Mt Watatic
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

On the hike up Mt Watatic, you come to a clearing where there's a glimpse of another peak in the distance. I didn't check my compass but I think this view is to the south. So that could be Fisher Hill or Mt Hunger, but it could be any number of other hills in the vicinity.

pond at Mt Watatic

pond at Mt Watatic
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

This lovely, still pond greets you upon entry to Mount Watatic Reservation. I would have taken my shoes off for a dipping if there had been time, and if it hadn't looked kind of, uh, icky upon closer inspection. I think the dusty looking stuff on the surface at the edges of the pond was pollen, but I'm not sure.

Old Pierce Rd

Pierce Rd
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

This is the view down Old Pierce Rd. It's a crumbling, poorly maintained road, but it does get a little traffic. Once you get here, you know you're closing in on Mt Watatic.


Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

This is a section of the Midstate Trail between Rt 101 and R 119. I think it's in the vicinity of Fisher Hill. When I stopped to check my pace here, I became even more concerned about the time.

I don't like hurrying while hiking. But it was pretty clear that I needed to hurry if I were to make it to the trail's end at the New Hampshire border, which I really wanted to do, and still be able to get back to the car before dark.

So I decided to stop for fewer photos and rest breaks, and to walk faster than I'd prefer on the downhills and straightaways. I kept a normal pace on the uphills, since I knew that attempting to power up those would be counterproductive and wind up slowing me down in the long term.

There's quite a lot of logging going on in this section of the trail. Heading over Blueberry Hill, the trail markers are scattered about poorly, probably due to the cutting. I had to stop and hunt around for a while to find out where the trail had disappeared to.

view of Mt Watatic from Mt Hunger

view of Mt Watatic from Mt Hunger
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

That's Stodge Meadow Pond in the foreground with Mt Watatic over on the left.

I did about 2 mph up Mt Hunger, hitting this lookout with a great view just around noon, in time for lunch. I ate my buttered bagel undisturbed, in the shade. I was fortunate in finding the place completely empty, since hikers usually like to lunch where there's a view. (Come to think of it, this section of the Midstate Trail was pretty empty. I didn't meet a soul until I came to Mount Watatic State Reservation.)

I knew that I had to pass over Mt Watatic before getting to the end of the trail in New Hampshire. From this point, Watatic seemed impossibly far. Could it really be only 5 miles away? Given my pace, I began to have some doubts that I'd get to New Hampshire and make it back before nightfall.

At this point, I began thinking about stashing my sleeping bag and tent somewhere to lighten the load. But I decided to continue on as is. I still felt very fresh, and I didn't want to lose the opportunity to get some training in.


Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

Yesterday's hike: 7 h 10 min | 16.1 mi | 2.2 mph

I went hiking on the Midstate Trail, from Rt 12 to the New Hampshire border.

I had a tough time deciding what kind of hike to do. Originally, I had planned to do a long hike with a partially loaded backpack to get some training in. Maybe even camp out. But the weather report said the temperature would be in the 90s and there was a potential for thunderstorms. Didn't sound like a good day for backpacking.

In the end, I buckled down anyway, and brought my backpack loaded with my sleeping bag, tent, and 4 liters of water. The loaded bag weighed about 21 lbs. I figured since I did so well (in terms of speed) last week, I would turn things up a notch this week.

By the time I got to the trailhead at Jewell Hill Rd, I had begun to have some doubts about carrying so much weight in the bag. I was starting later than I wanted to, around 10:30 am, and it really was beastly hot. I decided to take the bag as it was, anyway, and started down the trail. It heads northwest up Rt 12 here, and soon turns north into the woods, running over private property. The entire section of the trail between Rt 12 and Russell Hill Rd was pretty buggy and wet.

North of Russell Hill Rd, you pick up a little elevation gain. The air became drier, and the mosquitoes left off. There are a lot of blueberry bushes along this section of the trail. The berries in this photo are from a lowbush variety, and they were the biggest and most delicious berries I've ever tasted from a lowbush blueberry.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Joss Whedon alert

[Via my friend Maria]: Joss Whedon graces us with his godlike genius yet again!

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

Starring Nathan Fillion, Neil Patrick Harris, and Felicia Day.

You do not want to miss this, scoot on over there now!

Sunday, July 13, 2008


trail in Lincoln
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

I went on a hike closer to home today; 1.5 hours on the trails in Lincoln. The weather was splendid; weekends are too short.

Is flickr evil?

I used to have the warm and fuzzies about flickr, but these days I've begun to wonder if they're evil. Presumably they were turned into zombie brain-eating evil bastards after being consumed by Yahoo!.

I recently found that one of my photos that I had posted on flickr had been posted to a third party website to accompany an article. The website gave me credit and obeyed flickr's rules that they must post a link to the photo on flickr.

There's only one "small" detail that they neglected to consider: all of my flickr photos are copyright me, with all rights reserved. But they did not request my permission to use the photo on their site! It was only by accident that I discovered that they had violated my copyright. Presumably the copyright violation was unintentional, otherwise they wouldn't have posted my name right next to the photo. Ironically, it would have taken them half a minute to ask me for permission to publish, and I would have enthusiastically replied "yes!".

Jim Goldstein has written a detailed article describing what he feels is a malicious neglect of flickr to enforce copyright rules.

It will be an incredible nuisance to either nuke my flickr account or make my photos private. The whole point of uploading my photos to a site like flickr is to make it possible for me to share my stuff with the world (but not for the world to violate my legal rights!). It's not like I'm a professional photographer, with photos that knock your socks off, so the theft of my rights is not hugely damaging to me. But it still hurts, and there are other flickr users who feel much worse about the situation, as is clear from the comments in response to Goldstein's post.

I like the idea of photo-sharing sites, and I don't see why third parties find it such a problem to simply ask for permission to use flickr photos from their owners. I hope flickr does something to rectify this situation soon. I'm going to begin looking for a site that pays more than lip service to protecting the copyright of content owners.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Midstate Foot Trail

Midstate Trail sign
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

This is the trail sign just off Rt 12.

Next time I hike over here, I will probably hit New Hampshire, where the Midstate Trail begins. That's just under eight miles away from this sign.


Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

This little grave is adjacent to the farmland off Bragg Hill Road. The marker reads

BORN 1979
DIED 2001
I wish I knew the story behind that!

field and bales

field and bales
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

The Midstate Trail crosses this little patch of farmland at around mile 13 (from N to S), just off Bragg Hill Rd. I think the crop was alfalfa. I love the way this field has a little roll to it.

I've noticed as I pass through the farms along the trail that the farm workers are active on the weekends. I hope they get to rest on some other days of the week!

truck wreckage

car wreck
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

Apparently, people like to dump their autos along the trails in Massachusetts too.


Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

When I arrived at Rt 12, I noticed a little plaque on a large boulder across the road, so of course I had to go check it out. It's kind of sweet. It reads:

A.D. 1913

pickerelweed on Muddy Pond

Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

There's a lot of pickerelweed in Muddy Pond. It grows in patches near the shoreline. This shot was taken off the little pier near the open face shelter.

Muddy Pond shelter

Muddy Pond shelter
Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

Today's hike: 5 h 45 min | 16.4 mi | 2.8 mph

I did another stretch of the Midstate Trail today. I kept a blistering pace (I average about 2 mph), although it didn't feel like that. The elevation changs are small, which is what made the faster pace possible.

I started at the Schenck Property Trails trailhead in Westminster. That trail system looks pretty new. I went all the way out to Rt 12 and back.

I like this section of the trail. It's pretty quiet, even though you have to cross some roads and pass through some farmland.

There are tons of mosquitoes throughout this section; that may be because it has been a very rainy year so far. The mosquitoes are careless. I'm used to mosquitoes flying away when you swipe at them. Almost all of the ones that landed on me were killed with ease; they seemed oblivious to the breeze produced by my oncoming hand.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A review of "Wanted [Theatrical Release]"

Wanted tries to be The Matrix meets Fight Club, but lacks the soul of either. Our hero starts out as a neurotic, pathetic mess with poor judgment. He winds up a psychotic, pathetic mess with poor judgment. There’s lots of killing in between. The message seems to be that if you kill enough people unthinkingly, your life will have meaning.

I like action movies, and I will happily view movies containing tons of gratuitous violence. I don’t like that this movie tried to tack some deep life lesson onto a story that was developed in a very shallow way.

Someone should extract all the great action sequences from this movie and splice them together for viewing. The rest can go in the trash. Unfortunately that means we’d miss seeing Morgan Freeman, but this is not his most significant work.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Tank fifty-four

Total miles: 19853 Trip miles: 506.7. Gallons: 9.489. Price per gallon: $4.159.

Screen mileage: 56.8 mpg. Tank mileage: 53.4 mpg.

Almost all highway trips; more attention was paid to saving time and less to gas (which means higher speeds). Now let's see if I can make the next tank last more than one week!

Friday, July 04, 2008

second tick this year

I was bitten by another tick today. This is the second this year, which doesn't bode well. I was able to remove it easily, and it wasn't on me for long, so there's not much risk for Lyme.


Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

This marker is hidden slightly off the Summit Trail, up near the modern fire tower at around 530 feet, at Moose Hill. Someone had laid a small rock and a reflective disk next to it, perhaps to make it more noticeable.

It reads:
1886 1936

I love these things! It was a treasure to find; I almost missed it, since it was off the main trail.


Originally uploaded by wereldmuis.

This picturesque little bench perches on the bluffs at Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, where I went letterboxing at today.

I highly recommend the "Moose Hill" letterboxing set, both for the quality of the boxes and for the nice hike around the grounds. I spent 2.5 hours hiking, and quite a lot more time hunting, especially for the first box, which was tricky. And then I didn't have a map, and got all turned around, and wound up finding box #3 before box #2. I wasn't sure I'd find any of them, so it worked out well.

I was encouraged to become a member of Mass Audubon in order to avoid paying the $4 entry fee to Moose Hill. The cost of membership is $44, but I'm hopeful that I'll be using the Mass Audubon sanctuaries frequently. Plus I think it's a good cause. Lord knows the state of Massachusetts can use more conservation land, especially near Boston.

Why I want to consume "The Ophiuchi Hotline (Sf Collector's)"

by John Varley

I read John Varley’s The Ophiuchi Hotline ages ago, and it made a really big impact on me. I decided to give the man some props (and shekels) and revisit this novel.

Tank fifty-three

Total miles: 19346. Trip miles: 384.1. Gallons: 6.258. Price per gallon: $4.159.

Screen mileage: 57.9 mpg. Tank mileage: 61.4 mpg.

Two longer highway trips of about 150 miles each, plus some short commuting. Excellent mileage, but far too much driving!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Why I recommend "Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty"

by Muhammad Yunus

I’ll start by saying that I think Muhammad Yunus is a remarkable man, who has done some outstanding, commendable things.

Unfortunately, his book, Banker to the Poor, is not well written and could have used a strong editorial hand. It is disorganized, roaming from one subject to another without logical sequence. This makes the book hard to read, which is unfortunate, because I think the story is worth hearing.

Also, the book does not cover some topics that I’d expected to hear about. For one, I had once read that there is an Islamic prohibition against loans. Since this is a book about microcredit in Bangladesh, you’d think the topic would be given a few pages. Instead, it is given a few paragraphs which do little to explore how this affects microlending in Islamic countries. I felt like the subject was pushed under a rug.

From p 108 there is the following exchange between a conservative mullah and a woman who wishes to join Grameen:

“Go to the moneylender, he is a good Muslim [!], ” answered the confused mullah.
“He charges 10 percent a week! If you don’t want us to borrow from Grameen, then you lend us the money.”

And on p 109-110, there’s this:

We believe that Islam is not at all a hindrance to the eradication of poverty through micro-credit programs. Islam does not inherently prevent women from making a living for themselves or from improving their economic situation. In 1994, the adviser on women’s affairs to the president of Iran came to visit me in Dhaka and … she said, “There is nothing in Shariah law or the Quran against what you are doing. On the contrary, what you are doing is terrific. You are helping to educate a whole generation of children. And thanks to Grameen loans, women can work at home, instead of sitting around.”
Many Islamic scholars have also told us that the Shariah ban on the charging of interest cannot apply to Grameen, since the Grameen borrower is also an owner of the bank. The purpose of the religious injunction against interest is to protect the poor from usury, but where the poor own their own bank, the interest is in effect paid to the company they own, and therefore to themselves.

That’s about the entirety of the discussion on the subject in this book.

Another topic I would have liked to see explored in more detail is the difference between pure charitable giving and the microcredit system. Why is it that lending small amounts of money with interest works better than giving small amounts of money with no interest charge? We all hear about horrendous waste and corruption that leads charitable contributions to go into the pockets of those who don’t need it. Why doesn’t that happen in this case? Clearly, because Grameen workers meet directly with the people who are getting the loans, in their houses, and a direct evaluation is possible (and on a side note, Grameen workers are devoid of corruption, how does that happen?).

Where do these poor people store their loan money – how do they avoid theft? Why can’t a similar program be set up that is purely charitable in nature; why must it only work if the money must be paid back? I don’t think these questions are adequately answered.

I’d recommend the book despite its weaknesses because it succeeds in demonstrating that poverty can be alleviated and even eliminated. It’s interesting to read the last couple of chapters, in which the author’s social theories are examined (he believes in minimizing government and replacing its social functions with “social-conciousness driven business”) – even if I don’t agree with them.

I’d also recommend skimming the book, which would help to get over the bumpy parts faster. You can slow down and chew on the parts that spark an interest.