Bike share is finally here

27
May
2013

It feels like I have been waiting forever for New York’s bike sharing program to get off the ground. The system finally opened today for annual members (like me; It will open to everyone else a week from now), so I took one out for a brief spin. Here are my observations:

1. The bikes feel sturdy and easy to use (once you figure out how to undock them) and are generally a pleasure to ride.

2. It isn’t exactly obvious what the rules are when one is not in a well marked bike lane, and the handbook they provided is rather mute on the subject, but I will figure it out.

3. The weather is gorgeous out today, which made for a great riding experience. I wonder what it will be like in rain and snow and cold.

4. I know I should wear a helmut, though I don’t have one yet.

5. I would like to see more bike lanes built (like on 10th ave).

6. Predictably, my biggest gripes with the system are technology related:

a. The map was down so you couldn’t tell what stations were available, etc. This is a temporary problem that they will fix, but it did not inspire confidence that it was down on the first day

b. The phone app should automatically alert you when you are close to being out of riding time (45 minutes) and direct you to the nearest open station, but there is no part of it to do so. You can set an alarm in the app (but you could do this on your regular clock so big woop) and search directly for open stations (when it is up and running that is).

c. The app should have a way for you to login and see your current account info, trips taken, etc. (You can do this on the website, but not in the app).

All in all, I am super excited and realize that the program is still in its early days, so perhaps they will fix some of the things above. I feel pretty confident that the system will become as popular as it is in other cities, and it will be great to see it expanded to uptown and other boroughs soon. All the hand-wringing and belly aching in the press about them up until now I am completely nonplussed by, it is all bullshit. I have especially little patience for people who talk about them destroying the “character” of their neighborhoods, when they are just fine and dandy with cars in the same spots now allotted to a small number of bikes. They will get used to them the way they are used to any other part of the urban environment, and soon neighborhoods will be begging for them.

 

Truly a teacher

21
May
2013

I was saddened today to learn of the passing of an old high school teacher of mine, Diane Comstock. There aren’t many teachers that I remember as fondly as her, she taught me valuable lessons about critical thinking and not always following the “wisdom” of the crowd. She was an unabashedly liberal voice of reason in the very conservative world of the Indiana of my youth. She believed in the values of fairness and justice and equality, and often made us think about these issues in our English and literature studies. It is odd to think that I remember some of her warmth and lessons so many years later, when much of that period is lost to me. I remember the time she gave us an assignment to analyse a poem by Keats called “On the Grasshopper and the Cricket”. Most of the class looked for whatever virtues they could find in the piece, praising its meager insights in an attempt to please. But I found it lacking and my analysis was critical and concluded that it was worthless. I received an ‘A’ with the rest of the class receiving a low grade. Ms. Comstock (as we called her) informed us that we needed to be more critical, and that not everything she would give to us had value merely because she said so, we needed to form our own opinions by looking closely at what was in front of us. It was a lesson I would never forget. On another occasion I remember someone (a student or perhaps another teacher) taunting her by asking why she was a registered Democrat in a place so filled with Republicans. Her response stays with me to this day: “Because I believe that a poor, black child in Alabama has as much right to an education as a rich, white one.” Ms. Comstock never stopped believing in equal rights for everyone, not just those with access to money and power. She was exceptionally good friends with the head of the English department, who was gay and closeted (although I have no doubt she knew), and I often wonder what it would have been like to have been able to come out to her. I have no doubt she would have been supportive, even all those years ago. On a few occasions after high school I would take the time to visit her briefly when I was back in Indianapolis, but it had been many years since our last meeting when my brother alerted me to her passing this morning. I hope she knew how much she was needed, how much she meant to so many students, and ultimately understood her part in making the world a better place. Goodbye, Ms. Comstock, and thank you.

Vampire gymnastics

18
May
2013

As you all know, I have had some ongoing back pain recently that stubbornly refuses to heal (although it has seemed a bit better in the past week or so). After talking with some friends who are fans of the practice, and reading up about it online, I decided to try a little inversion therapy. After checking out all the pros and cons of the various types, I settled on this fairly inexpensive thing-a-ma-bob (and really, what can’t you order on Amazon these days?):

photo

It was kind of a pain to assemble, but with a little help (thanks cousin and uncle!) it is put together and I had my first, er, inversion session. I hung upside down (well, at about 70 degrees anyway) for about 5 minutes. I felt a little light headed at first, but pretty good right now. I plan to do this a couple of times a day over the next week or two, and I will let you know how the experiment works out. If it turns out to be useless as a back pain relief tool, I suppose the mechanics of the thing do suggest numerous other possible uses (use your imagination here and try not to blush.)

Foggy days

11
May
2013

And I am not just talking about the weather, although the last few days have been a mix of fog and rain and periods of glorious sunshine. I went to see the sports medicine specialist a few days ago about my back and he prescribed a round of prednisone which has really impeded my ability to concentrate the last few days. This drug is pretty toxic, they actually use the same on transplant patients to lower their immune system response to prevent rejection. It has made me weak and confused, and I am glad to be almost done with it. And although I think it has made my back pain a little better, mostly it has just changed the character of it somewhat from “pinchy” to “achey” if I had to describe the difference. And yesterday, I went to have an MRI for my lumbar area, and the doctor called later in the afternoon with the preliminary results. He told me there does seem to be a “disc issue” in the lower back between the 4th and 5th vertebrae. So I will go back to him next week for follow up. I like this guy, he is very upfront and it was nice that he called me to discuss the results in advance, but even he told me last week that if you took an MRI of any 10 people and looked at them, you would probably see problem areas or abnormalities, whether or not they were complaining of any pain. So it could be that my 4th and 5th vertebrae always looked like that, who knows. This naturally leads me to a question I always have vis a vis pain. Namely, if pain is a signal from your body to you that something is wrong, should you not fix it? Or does it really matter if you can simply get rid of the pain? Let’s say my vertebrae are screwed up or out of alignment from some perfect or “normal” state. So what if I am not experiencing any pain or discomfort because of it? One can also think of tons of examples where people are in pain, but there is no underlying problem to “fix”. The scientist/engineer/programmer in me can’t help but want to fix bugs and problems, but if there is no outward manifestation of these problems, and the body/machine/program is working, why bother chasing an underlying perfection? There are often times in my own work where (especially examining code that I wrote years ago) I see how something could have been built in a much more efficient or better way. I may cringe at design decisions I made at the time that I would never make today. But if the site or project continues to work just fine for the client, so what? Seeking perfection for its own sake is foolish, as it does not exist.

Poked, stabbed, needled, what-have-you

6
May
2013

So, as everyone within earshot knows, my lower back has been fucked up (that’s the technical term btw) for over a month. In that time, while traveling, I have seen two massage therapists, one osteopath, and a doctor (who at least prescribed me pain meds and told me to get a scan when I got home). But let’s face it, it is hard to deal with a problem like this when one is on the move every couple of days, often in a very bumpy vehicle. Add to that the constant lifting of bags and the full Goldilocks array of bed types and hotels, and it isn’t too surprising that I haven’t exactly been able to follow a rigid treatment plan.  I have an appointment with a specialist tomorrow, but today I went to see an acupuncturist that my cousin highly recommended and that I had made an appointment with two weeks ago from the road while in a moment of exasperation. When you are in constant pain, you are willing to try anything to alleviate it. My past experiences with acupuncture have not exactly made me a huge fan, but neither have they been super negative. The woman I went to see today seemed a better practitioner than the last one I went to, and she seemed to really understand what was causing my pain anyway. She stuck all kinds of needles into my front and back sides, and I jerked and jumped quite a few times as they were going in. I can’t really say that this healed my back, but it certainly didn’t make it any worse, and I at least left feeling pretty relaxed. I may go back and see her in about 10 days time, or I may not, depending on what I hear from the other doc tomorrow and how my back feels over the next couple of days.

Productivity seminar

5
May
2013

You know what? You can be surprisingly productive when suffering from jet-lag and waking up at 4:40 in the morning. I got my laundry done, caught up on some mail, uploaded photos from the trip (see here for some albums), got the first appointment at the Apple Store and got my laptop fixed (battery was not holding a charge), deposited some checks, signed up for the new bike share program, and did my grocery shopping — and the day is only half over. The downside of course is that I will probably be wrecked by around 7pm.

Dublin airport customs interlude

4
May
2013

When I got to the Dublin airport, I was surprised that there was some odd security and something called “US Preclearance” to go through before heading to my gate. The departures screen in the main part of the airport listed not the gate but the preclearance directive, and upon arriving at the preclearance area I had to give my customs declaration as if arriving in the US. Another odd twist was that while passing through passport control, they showed me a picture on the screen of my luggage and asked me if it was mine, which it was. It was a little surprising to me that they were (even) that sophisticated, and after I declared that it was in fact my bag, the agent took my customs declaration and gave me back my passport. At first I was a little pissed at this whole procedure (figuring I was going to have to go through the same thing upon arrival in the US), but the agent explained to me that having passed that point, I was now just like any other domestic passenger inside the US (despite being in Dublin), and there would be no other passport control. This made me very happy, as this is one of the biggest pains in the ass upon re-entering the US.

MAD -> DUB -> JFK

4
May
2013

The day is finally here, my vacation is over. I am at the airport in Madrid, awaiting my Aer Lingus (what a dirty sounding name) flight to Dublin, then on to New York after a couple of hours’ layover. The variety of places I have seen, foods I have eaten, and experiences I have had on this trip have been amazing. From my brief but wonderful stay in Amsterdam, to our trip at the edge of the Sahara in southern Morocco, to the rest of the country (and the fascinating cities of Marrakech, Fes, Chefchauen, Tetouan and Tangier), and finally with the last few days in Spain, I have been incredibly blessed on this vacation. The only thing that put a small damper on it was my ongoing back pain, and I am scheduled to see several doctors when I get back to New York, so hopefully I can dispense with that quickly. Even given that physical hassle, I am very glad I came on this trip. I am looking forward to retuning home though, seeing my friends and experiencing late spring in my home city. See you on the other side.

To Madrid briefly before home…

3
May
2013

We took the fast train from Sevilla to Madrid earlier today, and spent the afternoon walking around Madrid in the gorgeous spring weather. Yesterday was pretty amazing, involving a visit to several small towns in the region of Castaño, one of the most delicious meals I have ever had, and a trip to a farm to hear (in a bit too much detail) about how they make their special Jamon Iberico. This evening was meandering and tapas and now we are packing and getting ready to return to the states tomorrow. I still don’t have a good enough internet connection to upload photos (note: do NOT ever stay at the NH Nacional in Madrid, they are lying when they say they have WiFi), so that will have to wait until I return to the states alas. Suffice it to say I have a lot of them, and they are super interesting, and one day soon I hope to upload them.

By this time tomorrow, I should be somewhere over the the Atlantic, about an hour or two from landing. This trip has been amazing, but I am ready to be home in New York.

Calming Castaño

2
May
2013

Marites and I are having a fabulous and relaxing time in the country house of my friends Jose and Andres in Castaño, Spain, along with Andres’ mother and Jose’s sister. I don’t have much internet, so photos will have to wait, but trust me it is beautiful here.