Tuesday, May 28, 2013

More of Fencing: Season Two

I took advantage of the nice weather and long weekend to finish the section of fence from the house to the garage. Prior to this weekend I had gotten the posts set into place, so now all that was left was to put the wood in place. I say that as though it was just a trifle of work. After all, the panels and the gate were already assembled and cut to length - how much more work could it be? A surprisingly large amount, as I discovered last year. I estimate I spent about 5 hours each on Sunday and Monday. The results are nice, but to do it properly is painstaking work - a task somewhere between rough framing and finish carpentry.

I mentioned that I had the panels made by a local company. However, unlike last year, they used the semi-decorative rails that aren't strictly rectangular in cross section, but rather have one convex face. They still attached to the metal posts alright, and would eventually be covered with facia boards. Still, it was, like the 7' posts that were actually 8', a vexing detail.

Another vexing detail: like I discovered with last year's fence, the large granite blocks that make up the foundation below grade step outward from the house the further down you go. So, instead of having this terminal post close up against the side of the house, it was a foot away. I would need to take this panel and split off a bit to mount on the other side, to close off the gap to the house.

One nice thing about white cedar: it is fantastically easy to make a quick, clean cut with hand tools.

I pulled the 4"-wide picket off the rails and replaced it with a 6" to close the gap to the house

That's starting to look like a fence. Except for that big hole in the middle. That's for the gate.

You can see here the gate installation in-progress. The gate post on the right, which is two of the metal posts back-to-back, has been fleshed out a bit more with 2"x2" segments, capped with 1"x5" boards and a whole bunch of screws holding the pieces tight to one another. This gives the post a bit more meat for attaching the gate hinge, and makes it look a lot more attractive than the bare metal.

Single-handedly getting the 40-lb gate up to just the right height, and level, and holding it in place while I attach the hinges to it and the gate post is no small feat. I managed it though, and it swings as smooth and easily as one could hope for. Unlike its predecessor, which dragged its way inwards across the grass, this one is set to swing outwards, and has a few inches of clearance above the pavement below. It won't do anything to stop cats from coming and going, but should be plenty against a wily, fuzzy black dog.

The facia wood for post opposite the gate came next, along with the gate latch. Some more cutting and screwing of facia boards, and I was ready to declare it done.

Looks pretty good from the outside, too.

So that's two of four fence sections in the back yard taken care of. The other two, which go along the property line, will be larger endeavors. For one, there's just a lot more footage to deal with. For another, it'll be 6' privacy fencing, which means taller posts (probably not set deeper, though) and much heavier panels - probably a two-person job. On the other hand, there won't be any gates to worry about, so locating the posts can be a bit more relaxed. Let's hope I can work up the courage to take it on soon.

Sunday, May 26, 2013


It has been overcast, rainy, and unseasonably chilly around here for the last week or so. We ran into the first of it on our way back from Placid training camp. This evening I caught a glimpse at the thermostat (well, thermostats, there are several in the house) - all registering in the low 60s.

I try not to complain about the weather: we chose to live here, after all. But when I turned off the heater a month ago I figured that would be it for the season. We'll see if some sunshine bring it back up tomorrow. I'll be miffed if I have to turn on the furnace on Memorial Day. That's just plain wrong.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Training Camp

The sign is no joke: it is located just past a turnoff that is part of the running course for Ironman Lake Placid. It is also about 1/4 mile from where Hilary and I spent last weekend, at a training camp. Hilary and I are not, not, racing IMLP this year, and have no particular desire to do it any other year. But we know people who are, and Hilary's coach was organizing a training weekend for them and invited us along. This is what counts as a fun weekend away for us these days: leave B with the grandparents, then go kick our butts for a few days of hard exercise.

But there are fun things about training camp, too, other than putting in some serious time. Eating, for one: when you are burning 500-1000 cal/hr for a couple hours straight, you have license to eat and snack basically whatever you want. Behold the kitchen table of the rental house:

The other nice thing about training camp: hanging out with a bunch of like-minded athletes who actually do enjoy getting out there and working hard. Especially on the group rides, when you are cycling together, it's nice to chat (when you can) while watching the awesome scenery glide by. Then, when you all regroup at the end of the day for a big meal, you can commiserate and trade war stories of this and that race.

Not technically part of the training camp, it was a part of the whole experience. We ran in the annual Rock-n-Race 5K, which starts and ends at the statehouse, and circles close to our neighborhood. We've run this race before, and keep aiming to outdo ourselves. I was aiming to break 20:00 this year. I didn't quite hit that mark, but I did shave about 30 seconds off last year's time. It was about a second off my PR. Hilary, likewise, made a good improvement over last year's time, but didn't quite hit her goal. Ah well, although we've been doing lots of training, we haven't exactly been training for a race like this - not enough speed work, too much other stuff (ya know, like swimming and biking).

After what seemed like an awfully long time to get cleaned up, finish packing, and say goodbye to B, Hilary and I hit the road around 8:30. It's about 4-1/2 hours to Lake Placid, so it made for quite a late drive. We had some run-ins with the locals in Vermont. Along the way, we almost ran into: one deer crossing the road, two cows sleeping in a ditch alongside a dirt road we got lost on, and one moose ambling up the same pass in the Green Mountains we happened to be on. There was also much confusion trying to get through Middlebury and onto the correct road to take us to the crazy sigmoid bridge that crosses Lake Champlain. I've got enough familiarity with the Lake Placid area that we were able to find the rental house easily enough once we arrived, and promptly crashed into the bunks around 1:30 am

Hilary and I had every intention of sleeping in, then going for a long bike ride on our own. But the rest of the group roused us from bed around 7:30 with their own preparations, so we got our act together and headed out with them. The Ironman course does two, 56-mile loops from the middle of town, past the ski jumps, bomb down a long descent into Keene, head north towards Jay and Upper Jay, west towards Whiteface Mountain, and then south through a gorge and back into town.

Got it? Let's ride!

Aside from one technical mishap (our fastest rider had a chain break in the first mile. he drove into town, got it replaced, and caught up to us by mile 40), the ride was a great. Hilary and I hadn't ever done more than 40 miles before this. It was a nice confidence boost to know that we could bike the full half-iron distance in a reasonable time with a strong group. We didn't bike the whole thing flat out: although our moving time was a touch over three hours, we were gone for nearly four, stopping at major intersections to refuel and regroup. There were plenty of stretches where I felt really good keeping a 20+ mph pace. Drafting behind some of the other riders certainly helped (something not allowed in races), but I took the lead in places, too.

And all that before lunch! Hilary and I took the afternoon off, while many of the others - those training for an actual Ironman - went off for a second loop. I made guacamole late in the afternoon, followed by black bean enchiladas with salsa verde as our contribution to dinner. There were no leftovers.

Here's the aftermath of the day's adventures:

Clothes drying

More clothes drying, plus the view off the back porch: north towards Whiteface.

Oh look, $10,000 worth of bicycles

And what is this? Another $10,000 worth of bicycles.

We were up again around 7:30, but at least this time we'd gotten something like nine hours' sleep. Many folks today were going out for long trail runs/hikes. For some reason this hadn't occurred to me: although Hilary and I love hiking, and I'm familiar with the Adirondacks, somehow I didn't think to bring appropriate equipment for that kind of outing. It was just as well - the two groups were looking at 15 or 20 miles, with many thousands of feet of elevation involved. Instead, Hilary and I took a long run along River Road, which forms part of the Ironman run course (which is also a two-loop affair). Hilary had one pace in mind, which I gamely followed for a few miles, then thought it would be great to step it up a bit. I figured I would run a little ways past the turnaround, then double back and catch up to Hilary. Great idea, except I made a simple math error. If I wanted to give Hilary a 2-minute head start (which, at a 1:00/mi faster pace, I could make up in two miles), I should run on for about one minute before turning around, not two. Actually, feeling bold and brash, I did 2:30. I did eventually catch her, but only in the final mile of the run. I had some help, too: Hilary got waylaid by a golden retriever that had run off and needed escorting back to its house.

A 9-mile run seems like a solid way to start the day. What could be better after such an excursion than a nice refreshing swim? Although there is an actual Lake Placid just north of town, the body of water within the town itself is Mirror Lake. That is where they do the swim portion of the Ironman. They even have the course buoys set up for those crazies that want to train. Hilary and I are such crazies - sort of. Given that it's only mid-May, and we're in northern NY, we knew this would be a cold swim. The water temperature was 55-60, about as cold as I can tolerate with my wetsuit. It's not so bad after the first five minutes - once your feet stop aching. Yes, there's also that difficult time when the water is tricking into the suit down your back. Eventually you have to put your face in, and that's kinda tough, too.

Alright, I'll admit: it was freakin' cold!

At the outset, Hilary and I figured we'd swim down to the end of the course and back - 1.2 miles, 35-40 minutes. But plan and execution are different things. We'd strike out, swim maybe 50-100 yards, then pull up for 30 seconds to make sure the other was still doing OK, then go on a bit further. There was an element of chicken involved: however far out you go, you have to swim just as far to get back. In the end, I don't think we even made it halfway before packing it in. Our first race of the season is in two weeks, though hopefully not so cold. We'll need some more open water practice before then.

After cleaning up and having lunch, we came back into town to... go to the movies. This is supposed to be a vacation, right? We saw the new Star Trek and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. By the way: the small Palace Theater on main street (and other north country community movie theaters) is trying desperately to raise enough money to buy a digital projector. In the next few months, the major studios are going to stop making actual 35-mm prints of new films, and instead go all-digital. If you feel like helping them out, go here.

We chipped in to the dinner effort again that night: roasted sweet potato salad with black beans and avocado. There were no leftovers.

Up again bright and early. Hilary and I had carefully planned backwards from our 1:00 pm check-out time, and set out for a bike-run workout close to the Olympic distance we've been training for. From a parking area near Upper Jay we headed towards Wilmington along a hilly Springfield Road. We then continued heading north from Wilmington on Haselton road, which used to be a major out-and-back portion of the Ironman bike course. They chopped all but a mile of it a couple of years ago. Too bad: it is a lovely stretch. I could feel the last few days in my legs: I had decent speed on the flats, but no power to climb the hills.

We then turned around and headed back to the car - about 27 miles all told. At the car we made a quick transition to a 4-mile run along rt 9N. We would have done 6 miles (a 10k run is part of the Olympic distance), but just didn't have time. Back at the house we did a quick shower, change, and pack. Others trickled in from their own workouts and did the same. We left a bit after 1:00, heading south towards Brattleboro, where we'd meet Hilary's parents for dinner and a Brynna exchange.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Fencing: season two

Fencing: season two is not the latest hit TV program. And despite its physical toll, it is not the latest fitness craze. Nope, it's just me, my post hole digger, and another section of the backyard fence that needs replacing. In truth, it all needs replacing, except the part that I replaced last summer, but I can only do so much at once.

This new section is a project about the same size and difficulty as last year's. It runs from the house to the garage, about 20' long, with a gate in the middle. Break out the post hole digger!

Like I said about the fencing I replaced last year: it might have looked good for the first few days after it was installed ~10 years ago. But it was cheap crap then, and it sure didn't last. Looks like the posts were only sunk about two feet into the ground. These had rotted all away; I pulled them easily with my own two hands. The pickets themselves were in close contact to the ground and had likewise rotted away. The gate could not be opened more than halfway, and then only by lifting and dragging it.

I am replacing them with steel posts, partially set in concrete, that are rated for 20 years. The wood that's attached to them may not last that long, but will be trivial to replace. For this 4' fence, only about 3-1/2' of post needs to be above grade. Last year I had used 7' steel posts and sunk about half into the ground. I ordered 7' posts again this year. My distributor ordered 7' posts. Master Halco sent 8' posts. Above, you can see one leftover post from last year's project set atop one from the order I received.

A part of me wouldn't mind so much: I got more product for the same cost. But sinking nearly 5' of steel into the ground for a light perimeter seems downright silly. What is more, I simply can't dig a hole that deep with my post hole diggers, nor would I want to even if I could.

Solution? Hack away. With the combination of dremel and hacksaw (which is missing about 1/3 of its teeth now), it's only a 5-10 minute job per post. A part of me was tempted to take them into work: the stockroom for our machine shop has a mighty nice metal cutting band saw that would have made quick work of these.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Kickstarting Power

I like to cruise through Kickstarter and find neat projects that people are working on. Occasionally I'll pledge money to a project. Perhaps it is aspirational: I may have a project of my own some day, and would appreciate having backers.

This week, after dithering for a few weeks about whether I wanted to plunk money down on it, I have backed the Siva Cycle Atom bike generator. This little widget mounts to the rear hub and uses a fraction of your pedal power to generate electricity. That power gets dumped either into a lithium-ion battery or to a USB port on the device.

If Hilary and I ever make good on our hope to bike tour across Nova Scotia, this would be mighty handy. It would also be a useful backup for our phones it we lost power for a long while. Goodness knows Hilary and I crank out many watts on our bikes. In fact, maybe we'll use it to power the iPad next winter, where we'll spend many hours watching netflix while on the stationary trainer in our pain cave.

Or, who knows, perhaps it'll end up as a gift to a deserving two-wheeled friend.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Tweet Map

I'm not on Twitter, and don't follow anyone on twitter other than what ends up in wider social and media circles. But I'm not a luddite - I'm an engineer and technophile - so I am not immune to Twitter usefulness and impact on the world. So I read with interest a blog post from the Smithsonian, reporting on research done by The Global Twitter Heartbeat project out of the University of Illinois. They took the geographic information from millions of tweets and graphed it on a map:

Which looks impressively like the global distribution of electric lights:

But they went further and looked at the where is, and more importantly, where there isn't overlap. For instance, the maps show places that don't have widespread electrification, but a decent amount of twitter traffic (e.g., the Amazon). Conversely, places that have electrification but very little twitter traffic (e.g., Iran, where twitter is banned).

There is also geographic analysis of what language gets used where. So, for instance, they found that, unsurprisingly, that a country's native language is also the most likely to be used for tweets from that country. However, they could also find where, for instance, there were heavy infusions of Spanish-language tweets from within the U.S.

Good data visualization is something I greatly enjoy. These guys have done a neat job with it. I urge you all to have a look.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Race Recon

This was, apparently, a big weekend in the world of triathlon. As we were driving down to CT friday night, Hilary noticed that Ironman Taiwan was happening on Saturday - at that moment, actually. Saturday there were two major races going on: the Wildflower Long Course (70.3 miles, a half-iron distance) in sunny california, and the US Pro 70.3 Championships at St. George, Utah. We weren't there for either, but followed them with some interest. We've been following the exploits of pro triathlete Jesse Thomas for a while. Picky Bars, the race nutrition that Thomas and his pro-runner wife, Lauren Fleshman, produce, are Hilary's power-up of choice these days. In Utah, Amber Ferreira, a pro triathlete we know from Concord, had a pretty good day against a tough course and packed field.

Hilary and I are getting psyched for our first tri of the season coming up in less than a month: Rev3 Quassy. We'll be doing the Olympic on Saturday, then spectate the half-iron the following day. We'll be bringing down a sizable contingent of our Capital Multisport teammates, too. The race happens to be near to Hilary's hometown, so it was easy to stay with her folks - who entertain B much better than we do these days - and scope out the bike and run courses. Hilary had already done this about a month ago, and was a bit discouraged by the hilly bike course, solo, on her road bike, on a day of crummy weather. This weekend, under clear skies, warm sun, on her super awesome tri bike, and already knowing the course, it was much better.

Saturday we hit the 10-k course. It has two serious climbs in the middle, followed by one quad-killing downhill, and one final climb to the finish, set along well-shaded residential streets. There were lots of people out and about scoping out the courses, too, though I suspect more of them are doing the half-iron. Neither Hilary nor I pushed it, but mostly enjoyed ourselves. Hilary's got a training schedule she's sticking to, which did not include a fast run that day. I had done a hard and fast five miles Friday before we left, and was feeling it in my legs. The ice cream for dessert that night was well earned.

Sunday was the main event: following the 25-mile bike course, then immediately running the 10-k again. (Training one discipline right after the other, like a bike-run combo, is called a "brick".) Again it was gorgeous weather, and with Hilary's familiarity with the course, we made pretty good time. Again, we weren't trying to race the course, just scope it out at a decent pace. We only made one wrong turn, which tacked on an extra 2.5 miles and a small climb. You can't go anywhere in this part of CT without going up and down hills. Overall the course has some 1800 feet of climbing - something we've been trying to emphasize in our training over the last month or so. It feels good knowing what to expect, or at least knowing you won't be surprised and daunted by the hills when you come to them. We both felt really good going into the run, and managed to push our respective paces even up the climbs. More ice cream tonight.

On the whole, we are feeling pretty good about this race coming up. It should be a good time with family and teammates, and we should be able to perform well. This is not to say that either of us are aiming for the podium. To be frank: we just aren't at that level. The top finishers in our age groups will probably be 10-15 minutes ahead. That's OK, we're just looking forward to a fun weekend.